To my eyes, everything that nature brings forth is beautiful. By contrast, we humans – especially in our more modern manifestations – can be responsible for quite some ugliness… especially with our more utilitarian concrete and metal constructions.

One aspect of what we are trying to accomplish in our experiments here in Ransberg is the co-creation of beauty with nature. What can we humans, with our quirky perspectives and our best intentions, contribute to what nature already does without us?

Here are some glimpses…

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Humanure revisited

Back in 2012, I was extolling the virtues of composting toilets. Our adventures with humanure have continued as… well… our first digestion box filled to the brim with goodness and the dear, brimful yellow buckets started proliferating again.

Proliferating yellow buckets

Proliferating yellow buckets

This state of affairs continued until we were faced with the prospect of no more empty buckets… And that rather motivated these girls to take action!

Not having a handyman handy (like last time), we reverted to our favourite mantra: “What if it’s easy?” Looking around, we found the ingredients we needed: Some of Pedro’s pallets, and some blue nylon string saved from the straw bales now firmly sealed inside the walls of our living space. That’s all it took to cobble together a fine new humanure digestion station down by the wood shed, and within an hour, the yellow buckets were decanted, the huge pile of freshly scythed nettles and brambles were snugly layered between each packet of goodness and the thermometer was victoriously perched on top of the pile.

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Half an hour later and we were again the happy possessors of a row of clean, empty yellow buckets, waiting ready to receive new goodness. Time for a cup of tea and one of Chrisje’s sweet treats…

Another few months' peace of mind!

Another few months’ peace of mind!


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Ecotuin dagen – Eco-garden days

Open door...

Open door…

Last year and this year, in June, we opened our garden to the ‘public’ under the auspices of Velt – an association for ecological living and gardening active in Flanders and the Netherlands. Members and non-members alike, including a good smattering of curious neighbours from the village, drifted in and out of our gates for two days, enjoying the weather and the beauty, sharing knowledge, connections and friendship.

In 2013 we welcomed more than 70 visitors (folks are always curious when a new garden comes into the list). This year fewer came, but the rewards to those who did were substantial: herb tea and Chrisje’s divine bluberry tart (made with locally picked blueberries). We also had picture books to show the story of the place and how things have changed since we started – a great source of stories and inspiration.

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The Wood Shed

We started the wood shed back in the summer of 2012. Martin built the basic struture out of wood from the demolition of the outbuildings and some of the old roof beams.

We had loads of discussions about how to roof the shed. As I understood the conversation (not having strong opinions either way), Ria didn’t want the shed to be too tall (at the back) because it would disrupt the view over the valley. Martin didn’t want the shed to be too low (at the front) because, being a tall man, he knows what it’s like to keep bumping your head in places that aren’t spacious. In the end, both had their way, with the result that the slope from back to front of the roof was not steep enough for roof tiles to do their work effectively (you will remember we had PLENTY of roof tiles waiting for a new incarnation).

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So the roof remained in the unmanifest realm until we finally sourced and placed some water-resistant-but-environmentally-friendly ‘onderdak’ panels (I still don’t know the English word!) in September 2013. We used some of the broader planks from the outhouses to side the shed, to keep out the elements. By this time we had also inherited loads of lovely wooden pallets from the neighbour, who was paving his carpark. Those were perfect to create a floor for the shed, to keep the logs and tools out of the wet earth.

Of course then came the work of shifting all the various piles of logs we had built up (I am rather generously including myself in this ‘we’, because I did very little of the work of either building those piles or shifting them into the shed – that somehow always got done while I was off in Brussels. I just got to witness the result, with deep gratitude to the staying power and muscles of my sisters Ria and Chrisje).

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The final touch came this summer, when Ria’s son Toon took time out from working on the first floor in the house to place some tiles on the roof (for aesthetic purposes only!) and put up a gutter and rain barrel to catch all the lovely water that falls from the sky…

Finished at last!

Finished at last!

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Picking up the threads

Friends, I am living witness to what happens when you don’t get round to blogging for a while! Almost a year has passed since I last posted here – and so much has happened since then that I don’t know where to start!

We had some time in the doldrums – no money, so no progress on the work in the house. Just gently moving into the new living space, even before it was finished (nature abhors a vacuum) and becoming more and more comfortable and settled. And of course the land has moved through the seasons, with Ria’s and Chrisje’s tender care and attention to beauty – more about that in another blog.

Some highlights of life in our new living space below:


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Open work weekend

August 2, 3, 4 August 2013

raspberriesThe raspberry canes are as high as an elephant’s eye, and bearing fruit twice daily. Everything is green and lush – a real pleasure to behold. And there are a couple of pieces of work we need to complete that call for more arms and legs than three women can provide.

The party wall with our neighbour Pedro needs a couple of coats of paint – Guido, our friendly eco-builder has lent us the scaffolding to be able to do it, but we need some (wo)manpower to help us get it done (perhaps including putting up the scaffolding).

And there are some other jobs – like roofing our woodshed, transporting some old wooden beams, harvesting vegetables, etc. – that would welcome some co-creative energy.

As always, Chrisje will be transforming the fruits of the garden into delicious fuel for our labours, and there will be friendship and good conversation as we work.

You are welcome to join us

on Friday 2 August, Saturday 3 August and/or Sunday 3 August

from 10 am until tired, fed up or dark!

For those who want to make a holiday of it and stay for one or both nights, we do have some mattresses, and there’s plenty of space for pitching tents.

Please let us know if you are coming so we can cater. Either send a mail to Ria or Helen or post a comment here.

Bring working gloves (we do have some though!), old clothes and stout outdoor shoes/boots. If it’s raining that weekend, please check with us before setting off, because we might need to shift to another weekend!

We are looking forward to welcoming you and having a good time together!

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Open garden days – June 1 & 2 2013

As part of the Velt Ecotuindagen, Dorpsstraat 136 in Ransberg is opening its doors to

Velt ecotuindagen

welcome visitors who want to come and explore our land and garden, and discover the story that Ria, Chrisje and I have been living these past 3 years.

You are most welcome to come between 10.00 and 18.00 on Saturday 1 June and Sunday 2 June. The address is:

Dorpsstraat 136, 3470 Ransberg, Belgium

This being Belgium, we recommend sensible outdoor shoes! If you think you might like to ‘potter’ a bit, bring your gardening gloves with you…

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