Go cart joins the eco lodge bike fleet

Here comes the new go cart! Everyone should have a go cart hill in their childhood. George is the main technician on this one with a bit of help from Ian and some additions from Euan. Continue reading “Go cart joins the eco lodge bike fleet”

Reclaimed kitchen takes shape in Balebarn Ecolodge

Balebarn Lodge’s new kitchen is finally taking shape, put together by Simon from Exeter firm Chunky Monkey, who custom make furniture out of reclaimed wood. The worktops will be storm damaged sycamore. The cupboard fronts are pieced together from offcuts and then sand blasted and painted. We’re really looking forward to seeing it in its full glory!

[update: in autumn Chunky Monkey won the Devon Environmental Business Initiative’s Green Manufacturer award 2013. Well done Nigel and Jackie!].

Local flooring for the new eco lodge

No, not some modern art or fancy jenga game – it’s the larch for the new eco lodge, once again felled just 8 miles away in Mike Moser’s conservation woodland. He milled it for us, but we had to have it ‘thicknessed’ and then sanded. For that it made the short (15 miles) to Mike Latham’s joinery at South Molton. ‘Bit of a pile’, he said, when we rang to arrange collection. ‘Oh’ replied Ian ‘but I said it was about 100m2?’. ‘Yes’, said Mike, ‘But I forgot to mention that to the lads!’.

So here’s some of it stacked inside the lodge ready for flooring.

New pillows from recycled polyester

We’ve bought some new pillows, and they’re made from recycled bottles…

If we want recycling facilities we also have to ‘close the loop’ and buy recycled products. So like the duvets we bought last winter, we looked for pillows made from recycled material. It wasn’t that easy. I looked online first, and didn’t come up with anything much. But I knew Marks and Spencers had their ‘Plan A (because there is no Plan B)’, and sure enough, there it was in the small print of their pillow page.

But I still wanted to check what the pillows actually felt like, so I rang my Mum who lives near a store and sent her on a pillow-pinching mission. When she got to the shop she asked “a group of young staff” where she could find pillows with recycled filling and they looked at her blankly.

One offered to ‘ring head office’ and did so, reporting back that “it was a one off bulk buy and we don’t have them any more”. Hmmm. Plan A because there is no Plan B?? Surely not?

And indeed when I next was near a store and went in, there were the pillows and they feel fine. At the cashier’s desk I made a point of saying why I’d bought them. More blank looks. So good marks to M&S for corporate responsibility, but a bit more staff awareness is required!

Our new mower from the local recycling centre

Our new mower. Well it was new in 1972…

It’s a Hayterette ‘rough meadow mower’. Ian spotted it in the ‘for sale’section at the Okehampton recycling centre and paid £5 for it. Despite straw and bird poo, he’d spotted the name – and the extremely reliable Briggs and Stratton engine.

It has a cast aluminium deck (they’re mostly plastic these days) and the blades came free easily enough. The engine turned over, but needed a new spark generator.

And that was about it, apart from a little sharpening up. A new one costs five to six hundred pounds. Recyling clearly pays!

Death of the dyson? Not for the want of 2 tiny parts…

The Dyson ‘blew up’ mid clean. We always said we’d buy a new one if we needed to, as it has been so indispensible. But did we need to? Not yet! After googling how to take the thing apart (it wasn’t obvious) Ian has found what’s wrong (worn out brushes in the motor, as suspected) and ordered replacements online for a mere £3.05. And Ebay has provided a whole replacement cylinder unit for a further £25 – that will be our back up. Until it all arrives, we’ll have to resort to the broom and the workshop vac. Better than a 50 mile round trip to the shops, and yet another electrical item off to the dump for want of two tiny parts.

Meanwhile, an opportunity for a quick engineering lesson…

Foundations go in for the wind turbine

The foundations are in for the new wind turbine… and it’s been a fair amount of disruption, with diggers, dumpers and concrete arriving. The cabling has had to go in a metre deep trench across a field and an half – that’s a fair lot of digging.

We wanted to get Andrew Tucker, a Winkleigh contractor, to do it, but the task came as a job lot with laying the foundations and putting in specialist steel supports.

It was these that scuppered our plan – the steels alone from our local supplier came in at more than the entire job with a Cornish company. I guess a one-off order was bound to be pricey compared to a company that buys the kit routinely. Still, at least we got the contractor to hire a local digger.

The foundations themselves are only 5m by 5m, and will be grassed over when the turbine tower goes up. But it was still a big job. The hole had to be dug, the foundations assembled, and the concrete (3 truck loads) poured. We have been lucky with the weather, but even so there’s more mud than we wanted. Oh well, it will green up quickly.

Then the transformer had to be changed – we need a 3 phase supply to connect the turbine to the national grid. And to get the supply to the house the new heavier wire had to go underground, not across the yard. So a pole had to come down and concrete had to be drilled out and another trench dug. Andrew got that job at least.

I want to say a big thankyou to our guests who overlapped this work, which included a power cut that lasted most of a day. And major thanks are also due to all our neighbours, who bore the noise and several severages of un-mapped services with admirable tolerance.

OK – it’s done now. Phew. Only the tower to go and that should take a day at most. We’re not sure when yet though…

And then, with normal winds, we should be generating more than we use. We’ll still be trying to minimize our energy use though, and already our monitoring shows our efforts are paying off.

Repairing not replacing

We’ve been using the new shave horse Martin the WWOOFer made us to fashion replacement handles for worn out tools…

We try to use hand tools wherever and whenever practical, and some or ours are looking a bit run down. So Ian has been putting some of the ash we’ve been pollarding to good use. It’s a satisfying job, as Ian’s face clearly shows, and makes us think that summer will soon be here – when we’ll be putting sickles and scythes to good use again.

Lodges get new duvets made from recycled bottles

We’ve bought some new duvets, made from recycled plastic bottles…

And they weren’t that expensive – around £15 each. They’re warm, at 15 tog (we want people to be able to turn down the night-time heating in the acccommodation without getting cold)and light. I can’t tell the difference between the ones made from recycled fibres and our existing conventional ones.

Interestingly, they weren’t that easy to find though, even though I eventually bought them from a mainstream retailer – Argos. Their eco credentials are clear on the labelling, but not on the marketing. That’s a shame I think – so here is a ‘brand’ image in case anyone else wants to find them. It all helps close the waste loop.

Repairing not replacing

How long do you think a chair should last? Personally I think it should be more than the two years this one managed. I guess someone gave it a bit of abuse – one of the front legs was levered out of its fixings.

So that meant more fixing for Ian to do. We always try to repair rather than to replace things that break – quailty permitting. And this time I suspect Ian’s repairs have actually made it stronger. It wasn’t the most sturdy original build I’ve ever seen. And it took most of a morning to rebuild. So that makes it quite an expensive chair now, considering what else we could have been doing with the time.

But shouldn’t ‘consumer durables’ be built to last a little longer? The manufacturing date stamp on the bottom said 8 Nov 2008.

Windows arrive for the new eco lodge

It’s nail biting stuff when it’s your own £8000 worth of windows coming off the lorry… The double glazing for the new eco lodge has arrived from ecomerchant, an ethical company supplying sustainably-sourced goods. We went for double glazed throughout in the end, as we wanted the incoming heat (solar gain) that mainly south-facing double glazing offers and didn’t really need the noise reduction triple glazing confers (or the price tag). The windows will still be extremely efficient in terms of energy conservation.

When ecomerchant rang with the delivery details we said ‘OK, we’ll get some friends lined up to help.’

‘You’ll need a lot of good and strong friends’ came the answer!

And one of the nicest things about the day was that people readily turned out to help us get the glazing under cover. Bruce from the school car share, Paul who put us in touch with the gosling lady, Andrew and Tim Roberts, our neighbouring farmers. Thanks to you all, and to local contractor Andrew Tucker for going above and beyond the brief handling job we asked for.

It was like something off Grand Designs, and when the telescopic handler started lifting the main window out of the lorry I was terrified. But Andrew clearly knew what he was doing. You must need real patience to move such a big bit of machinery so carefully and slowly.

Cutting it fine with the lime

Ian has just about finished the lime render ‘scratch coat’ on the eco lodge – just about in time. Lime needs to stay frost free for several weeks after application or its surface spoils. So it’s pretty late in the year to be rendering the outside of the new eco lodge. But we needed to get it done so we can finish putting back the wooden boards on the higher sections, where they hold down a vapour-permeable membrane that in turn protects the wood-wool boards.

So rather than risk the whole thing Ian has just done the base coat, and the top coat can wait until next spring.

Meanwhile, he’s also started on the other side of the ‘sandwich’ wall, putting up the wood wool boards on the inside – and the straw bales behind it. Here he is, taking a break from stuffing the gaps.The lime render, by the way, came from local supplier JJ Sharpe, just 10 miles away in Merton.Constructing the wood wool and straw bale sandwich to insulate Balebarn Ecolodge

Straw bales arrive for the eco lodge

The bales have arrived for the eco lodge – 300 of them…

…but they’ve not come far. From just 4 fields away to be precise, supplied by our neighbouring farmer Denzil Pinhey. For now, we’ve unloaded them into the garage. Next task will be to figure out how to go about getting them up. The straw is the sandwich filling between 2 slices of wood wool. But do we put the timbers or the straw up first? I guess we’ll do a bit of test construction before gathering a bale- raising party.

A new A+ fridge for Beech Lodge

We’ve bought a new fridge for Beech Lodge. It was time really. It’s our policy to by the most efficient we can manage…

…so this time we chose an A+ model. Instead of sitting inside a cupboard (which restricts air flow and so lowers efficiency) this one is free standing.

And the old one? Well eventually it will either be freecycled or taken for proper disposal, but for this summer we hope to use it for a trial of pies and quiches, made by Fiona’s Farm Fayre, just up the road, but available onsite with an honesty box. Hommity pie within easy reach – almost unbearable temptation!

New chairs from a very local supplier

A guest coming to the lodges in September recently asked me if I’d heard of Winkleigh Pine, because a friend of hers had a great kitchen made by them. It reminded me to blog the new chairs for Nuthatch Lodge, bought from Winkleigh Pine who are ‘just round the corner’ at Seckington Cross. They make lovely furniture, much of it out of reclaimed timber. They’re on the road just north of Winkleigh as you get out towards the WW2 airfield. When the last set of chairs had given up the ghost and had started a new life as bee hive stands I bought the new ones from them. We prefer to shop locally (less than a mile here) and even if these chairs aren’t from old wood, it’s good to support a business that sources so much of it’s materials sustainably. Winkleigh Pine’s website is here, though the pictures don’t really do justice to the lovely stuff they make. And if you go in the shop, look out for the suit of armour!

Collecting more sustainable timber for the new lodge

Here come the joists for the mezzanine floor in the new lodge. They are larch, and about twice as heavy as the spruce we’ve bought for the walls.

But like the spruce it has all come from Mike Moser’s oak woodland restoration project 8 miles away in Week. Not your average looking lumber yard perhaps, and we had to borrow the trailer from Andrew at the farm shop, but Ian brought it all back and and stored it away.

We don’t need it yet – Mike wanted it out of the way. He milled it last winter. Some of it is still losing resin. The bees might like that – they use resin to make propilis (filler to glue up gaps in their hives).

The new ecolodge master bedroom – framing the view with wood wool boards

Finally some walls are going up, and we can begin to envisage the views. This is looking out from the master bedroom through walls taking shape out of wood wool. View from Balebarn eco lodge master bedroom window, framed as the woodwool boards go up

To quote the supplier, Ty Mawr,:”They are strands of wood bound together with minerals. The Ty-Mawr range of boards conform to EN 13168 and are certified Ecobiocompatible. They are waterproof, freeze-proof and damp-proof, making them appropriate for use in even the most severe temperature conditions. Swiss regulations classify these products as practically incombustable.”

And as an added bonus, they have low embodied energy and they’re good sound barriers too, which will be useful for the internal walls.

The wood wool boards make a sandwich, with straw bales for insulation in between. They’ll be rendered (probably with lime) on the outside. I quite like their tactile appearance, but it could be a bit overpowering!

Wood wool boards stacked inside the shell of Balebarn ecolodge

Here they are stacked up. One advantage on a self build is that they’re pretty robust to the elements, and don’t have to be covered up immediately.

Not what it says on the box (and that’s good!)

When a box bearing this green labelling arrived I wasn’t all that impressed at first…

But looking closer I see that Machine Mart Ltd, where we bought replacement emergency lights for the lodges and cottage, really are reducing their packaging by re-using it.

Instead of sporting company branding, the outer box had orignally held staples.

Inside, instead of polystyrene, there was a mesh-cut cardboard sheet for padding.

So good for them! Simply using less and reusing more should be common, and hopefully commercial, good sense.

And yes, it will go back in the recycling for another round of the system.

Buying local brings us local benefits

Once again we’re seeing the value of buying local. Ian is working on the floor for the new eco lodge. The first step was to get rid of the old floor and non-structural block walls. We were going to break up the concrete and re-use it in gabions to build a bank and reinforce the front of the building (waste not want not!). But Martin Bragg, our local (and reliable … and well-priced…) digger driver had a better idea – scrape up a temporary bund, build the bank with the recycled concrete, then cover over with earth. Thanks Martin, that saved a few pounds on difficult-to-fill wire gabions, gave us the structure we needed, and created a much better feature. Digger reusing construction waste to create a bund outside Balebarn ecolodge

Next task was to source the aggregate for the floor. The first lot came from Jewsons in Okehampton (11 miles), but it arrived in a huge delivery truck that buckled the edge of the concrete drive and barely manoeuvred through the gate. So when we realised a local builders merchant, AMP building supplies, was based at Winkleigh’s old WWII airfield, that seemed much more sensible. Phil turned up in a much smaller vehicle, and instead of having to set up a business account, with credit references etc, he just said ‘I’ll leave the tab open if you’ll be wanting some more’.

And once that was done, we needed some custom-made steel ‘shoes’ to keep the existing wooden posts inside the building from penetrating the damp course (see picture). Sounds complicated. But luckily, Chris Hodgson’s engineering workshop in nearby Hollocombe was more than willing to help, even tidying up Ian’s sketched drawings before they went for fabrication.

It’s surprising what’s available on your doorstep when you look! It’s good for us, and it’s good for the local economy too – these are the people we meet ‘down the pub’ and in the village, and that make Winkleigh a thriving community.

Recycled office paper

We buy recycled paper for our Devon eco business, just not much of it! I’ve bought a ream of recycled copier paper. Not big news, you’d think…


…Except that I can’t remember when we last bought paper, so this time I thought I’d make a note of it and see how long it lasts.

We just don’t use it much – the prompt this time was needing to refresh the welcome information in the lodges and cottage.

We used to buy office supplies from Viking, but got so fed up with endless catalogues we asked them to take us off their mailing list. The last thing we bought from them was a replacement printer I think – delivered to the farm house door. A fat brochure was delived to the door separately the next day by courier. The paperwork was delivered to the door separately the day after that by the postman. And we’d partly done it to save driving to a shop!

This recycled paper came from a local high street retailer, though I’ve seen it in the big supper markets too. At least it’s getting easier to buy recycled products now.

I’ll add a comment on this post when the paper runs out. Sweepstake anyone?

Rainwater harvesting in recycled industrial containers

[Maggie] 2000 litres of lime and ginger body lotion, 1000 litres of tri enzyme rejuvenating mask and 1000 litres of Japanese camelia oil – supplies for our self catering welcome packs? Not quite… They are four 1000 litre industrial storage cubes we’ll be re-using in the new eco lodge to store rain water off the roof. Because of the legislation about drinking water quality in the accommodation we’ll probably only be able to use rain water for flushing the loos, unless we get into energy intensive treatment sytems. But we’ll see. Maybe a clearly labled tap in the kitchen and or bathroom?

The cubes have come from a local company, Barnstaple-based Devon Pallet Recycling. They cost of £48 each. A new one might have cost us up to £600. So thanks are due to our friend Paul for the tip. And good on Devon Pallet Recycling for turning waste into a marketable resource.

The cubes will need a bit of a rinse. Ian reckons there may be a litre or so of the lime and ginger left in one. If I get body lotion in my stocking in a recycled plastic bottle I’ll not know whether to be apalled or impressed.

Probably appalled actually – lime and ginger isn’t really me.

Buying recycled goods

support recycling - buy recycled products! [Maggie] It may seem obvious, but if we want to be able to recycle our rubbish we’d better buy it back again…


support recycling - buy recycled products! …otherwise there’ll be no market. It makes sense intrinsically, but I have to admit I’ve only recently really taken it on board. Of course, we’ve long bought recycled toilet and kitchen paper. And charity shops provide our replacement teapots etc. But that has been more about not cutting down trees and reducing waste rather than closing the recycling loop.

So in future, I’ll be looking out for products made from recycled materials as a matter of priciple. Yes, I bought these from Tesco. Some might question my principles there… But at least the labling was clear – they’re made in the UK from recycled farm plastic. And today I almost got conned into buying ‘recyclable’ bags in Lidl. On the shelf it said Recycle rubbish bags. Bad English? An eco instruction? More like a fiddle. On closer inspection, the bags were made from recyclable, not recycled, plastic. Well, most of it is if you have the right facilities – but who recycles their bin bag?! Certainly not the council after they’ve collected it. Green wash I call it.

Buying a reconditioned phone

Ian has bought a refurbished / reconditioned phone. The scroll buttons on his old one finally wore out and he could no-longer read more than the first couple of lines of a message. So we had to change it.

The good-as-new ERI 200i came from Dextra solutions, ordered online and delivered to the door for £22.51 all in.

Ian’s old phone will go for recycling too – once we’ve managed to get all the numbers off it!

Wind Turbine?

site survey for a wind turbine at our Devon eco lodges and cottage Wind – when the wind blows…. we could be generating our own energy…


site survey for a wind turbine at our Devon eco lodges and cottage We’re looking into a Gaia 11kw wind turbine for the big cow field. It’ll need planning permission of course – and wind. But the databases put us safely inside the ‘doable’ range of wind speeds. We reckon, very roughly, that we (and the business) use about 28,000 kWh a year, and that a 18m high (to the centre of the blades) turbine might produce about 31,000 kWh a year.

It wouldn’t get rid of our entire electricity bill though. Here’s how it works. You get paid 23p per kWh ‘feed in tarrif’ (from April 2010) whether or not you use the juice – but on a still day we’d still be drawing power from the National Grid, and paying for it.

At first I thought this meant there was no incentive for being frugal – just turn up the heating when it’s windy – which seemed a shame. But thinking about it, it would make us much more aware of our Energy use patterns, trying not to exceed our own generating capacity and therefore incurring a bill, especially as it’s not going to be windy all the time.

I know there are lots of voices against wind power, but we have to throw everything we’ve got at cutting our fossil energy use – renewables, energy efficiencey, maybe even nuclear though I hate the thought. Personally, I think they are very elegant, unlike pylons, which no-body ever seems to raise an eyebrow about.

I think David Attenborough had it right when he spoke at the public enquiry into a wind turbine for Glyndebourne opera house in Sussex last year: “there’s always a good reason for somebody else to do something else somewhere else.”

Well, we’ve had the full site survey (from Greenthinking, a Devon firm). Now we have to do the maths and think about taking the leap. It will be a big investment with an unknown pay-back time.

But I would love to have a wind turbine…

Recycling an AA van!

Wheatland Farm holiday cottage and ecolodges yellow van!
We’ve bought an ex AA van! Here’s our reasoning:

Wheatland Farm holiday cottage and ecolodges yellow van!

    It does better mpg as the previous car it replaces (Ian’s BMW)
    It’s diesel, giving us the option to use biodisel
    It makes it much more practical to pick up guests plus their luggage from the station, or to give them, and perhaps bikes, a lift
    It has loads of room for taking non-collected recyling to the council recycling centre in Okehampton
    We were able to buy it from a garage in Winkleigh, supporting our local economy
    We’ll be able to go camping on Dartmoor
    And we’ll never ever lose the car again in a car park!

diary pages for details..