New sewage plant for our eco lodge

We’ve chosen a bio rock sewage treatment system for the new Eco lodge. It uses no power, is good with variable loads and has an excellent discharge quality.

Here it is being ‘discharged’ from the lorry! A bit of a tricky moment for Ian but at least they don’t factory test them before delivery.

Solar PV and hot water for the new Eco lodge

Source Renewable, a local firm from South Molton, is installing solar PV on the new Eco lodge. it’s just under 4kW at peak generation. They’ve been really helpful with the solar hot water Ian is putting on too, advising on special mounting for our tin roof.

Worst bit was finding rust spots in the roofing sheets that needed to be fixed. But Ian pinched a sheet from the car shed that had the same profile and all was well.

The inverters take up a fair bit of room in what we hoped would be the reading hide-away, but we’ll box them in. They can’t go in the loft as it would get too hot.

Biofuel powered mowers arrive for new orchard



Our new mowers have arrived for the orchard, recently planted with traditional Devon apple varieties.
The mowers are powered by biofuel – the grass in the orchard – and should be almost carbon neutral. We can’t really afford (and don’t understand) this high tech approach so we’ve loaned the technology from our helpful friends at Higher Punchardon Farm. Marvellous – they’ll even do most of the serious maintenance on them. Basically, so long as we can count to 5 and check the water is topped up these should be pretty reliable machines…

The sheep arrive. They’re used to chickens but the chickens are not used to them!

Andrew and Fiona delivering the new mowers from the production line half a mile down the road.

Eco lodge update: plastering and insulation, and a look back at the windows

Here’s a short video update for the eco lodge. We blogged about the windows when they arrived, but I don’t think we showed it on video. So here they are, coming off the lorry and then opening wide for the view. Wow!

Local plasterers Martin and Edward plastered the whole of the inside ‘envelope’, ie the air tight layer on the inside of the building. So then it was time for internal partition walls (woodwool), ceilings with insulation above them, and more plastering. The insulation was not sheeps wool in the end, but a combination of warmcell – recycled newspaper – and recycled bottle insulation, like a big duvet. But Ian can tell the tale.

EV charging points at our Devon farm

Our electric vehicle charging points are fully installed and ready to go. They were donated by Zero Carbon World (Thanks guys!) who want to free motorists from having to carry lots of different smart cards around when they travel. It’s much more simple here! Just ring Ian on 07780 708 747 if you want to recharge your car. It’s free to guests (or come without a car at all!) and costs £15 to non guests. If the farm shop’s open we’ll run you up there while you wait (good tea and coffee). If we can fit it in we’d love to take you on a nature walk. Or you should be able to pick up our WiFi if you’ve got things you need to get done. It’s early days, and we may change arrangements as we go along, so just ring us for details.

Eco lodges get charging point for electric cars

We’ve installed two electric car charging stations for the eco lodges, and also for the general public. The charging stations were donated by Zero Carbon World and we’ll be on their Open Charge map. The idea is to get lots of charging stations that don’t need smart cards. That should make life easier for electric car users. If you’re staying here at Wheatland Farm eco ldoges you can charge your car for free. If you’re just passing through there’ll be a small charge, but we’ll run you up the road to the farm shop where you can get tea and cakes while you wait, or take you on a walk around the nature reserve. Telephone 07780708747 to book a slot.

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.

Wind turbine puts our Devon eco lodges back into energy credit

We’re celebrating, drinking Devon bubbly from Pebblebed wines because the wind turbine has put us back in energy credit. Ie it has now caught up and overtaken our overall consumption despite a busy ‘season’.

Here’s the graph that shows our cumulatiave consumption (purple), our generation (blue), our export (red) and grid import (green). Basically, after a good start the turbine couldn’t keep up with high season summer consumption (to be expected), then kept pretty much parallel for ages into the autumn – we kept expecting the lines would cross but they jogged along.

Wind seems to have picked up a bit now – but it will be interesting to see how things develop from here. It’ll probably be March before we have any sensible idea about what it will generate over a year. We’re almost empty now but busy again at Christmas and New Year, and they are bound to be fairly energy intensive, so we hope to build up a bit of credit before then!

Paper and bottles for roof insulation

We’re insulating the roof in the new eco lodge with recycled newspaper and bottles. Originally it was going to be local sheep wool, but the factory doesn’t treat it against moths etc so we’d have had to get into the roof and spray it each year – and that wasn’t really practical. So instead we’ve gone for a mixture.

On the flat sections it’s warmcell – treated pulverised newspaper that you ‘fluff’ into a thick heat retaining layer.

But that won’t work on the sloping sections, so here we’re using insulation made from bottles – it just looks like the the inside of a nice new duvet! It’s 85% recycled. Shame it’s not 100%, but never mind. It’s important to be closing the waste loop and buying products made from what might otherwise have been rubbish. These industries need support.

Reparing a sofabed

Repairing and strengthening the sofa bed with a strip of aluminium left over from a previous life will give this bit of furniture a new lease of life. It’s invisible — on the inside, and good wood glue is essential too. Repairing rather than replacing is our strongly preferred option, mostly because it avoids all the up-stream environmental costs, be it logging for the timber or just delivering the bed down Devon’s narrow lanes.

Too cool for school lunch boxes

We try to minimize waste, even when it’s a big birthday party. We re-use and recycle as much as possible, and now the kids love their lunch boxes for the new term.

They are made from from recycled beer kegs! Ingredients? Mini beer barrel (drink contents), an old seat belt, a brass door knob from our old house, a cupboard handle we couldn’t bear to throw away, and some wood offcuts Ian turned on the lathe.

As for the party (a while ago now), it was great fun to see so many friends and we were really pleased to manage it without disposable plates or glasses etc. People bought food contributions, the freezer bulged for a while afterwards, and just about everything got used. Best of all there was just the normal amount of rubbish at the end of the week.

Water from the well?

We’re investigating whether we can switch some of our water consumption to the well. It’s close to the house and has been bugging us for ages that we’re not using it. So Ian has made a start on investigating the feasiblity, pumping it out, and storing water for the garden in a borrowed tank. Now it’s refilling, so we can assess the rate of flow. It must be about the driest part of the year – and it’s certainly the driest I’ve seen the farm in the past 5 years.

But it seems to be replenishing at only around 100 litres an hour. There was a store of 5-6000 litres when it was full, but it’s not recovered yet (about a week later). So it looks like we could probably run the house on it, and maybe the laundry, but probably not the lodges.

Using it just ourselves would make it easier on sterilising it to begin with too. We could keep mains for drinking water (no bottled stuff here), but run the loos, shower, bath and probably the laundry on well water from a header tank.

Exactly when is another question though. It wouldn’t cost that much, but it would be disruptive, digging up concrete for pipes and pumps, replumbing part of the house. Meanwhile, we’re flat out with guests and the new eco lodge. So it’s on the ‘to do’ list, but realistically there are other things ahead of it for the time being.

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!

Scythes over strimmers

Well we do use the strimmer, and a ride on mower (in moderation), but we also try to use hand tools where we can… It’s quieter, it’s more selective, and it cuts fuel use.

Here’s WWOOFer Scott taking the scythe to the long vegetation on the drive way. He’d make a good grim reaper!

Greening the cleaning

Here’s how (and why) we keep our cleaning as green as we can, and with as few chemicals as possible getting into Devon’s streams and rivers.
It’s time to buy some more cleaner. To be honest I can’t remember when I last bought any, and that’s with 5 houses to clean.

We generally use Ecover because of it’s claim to break down fast in aquatic environments. And that’s what it’s about. All those chemicals end up going down the drain. Even here, where we’re on private drainage, anything that goes down the sink eventually ends up in ditches and then streams and rivers.

Up to half the water in some UK rivers is effluent from waste water treatment plants – ie it’s already been round the system at least once. And it carries with it countless tiny chemical traces that add up to a cocktail that can disrupt fish hormone systems and may even now be affecting human male fertility (here’s a link to more about that research).

So we try to keep them out in the first place!

It sounds, and is, really obvious. But it’s good for the environment and cuts costs too.

So here are our top tips (shh, don’t tell the cleaning company marketing department):

Ignore all that ridiculous advertising trying to persuade you that dousing your home with ‘antibacterial’ cleaners will keep you healthy. It won’t. And not all bacteria are bad anyway – about 1000 different species probably live on your own skin! We do use it on toilet seats and flush handles between bookings, but no-where else.

Obviously you’ve got to do some cleaning… So put the cleaner on the cloth not the thing you’re cleaning – you’ll find you use so much less.

And have two cloths – one to get soapy and one to rinse off. Otherwise you’re always rinsing those expensive cleaners down the sink, then spraying on more.

That’s it really, other than to resist the seductive call of all that packaging. We only use one multipurpose cleaner rather than lots of different products with their additional packagaing and distribution costs.

It works for us, clean accommodation is the most important thing our holiday makers look for. But it doesn’t have to cost the Earth.

The wind turbine is producing more energy than we consume

It’s early days yet. But we’ve had the turbine up and running for about a month and a half. And so far it’s producing more electricity than we consume. May and June aren’t usually windy months, though this year they’ve been breezy. And the turbine is doing well, generating more energy, overall, than our business (your holidays!) and our home uses. Here’s the graph of total generation, as it climbs day on day, and our total energy use, also day by day, since 16 May.

More about the turbine’s installation here.

Water consumption drops at the lodges and cottage

Last June our average water use was about 110 litres per person per day. Now it’s down to about 81. The UK average is 150 per person per day. There was a blip in between – we had a leak last autumn.

And we’d never have spotted it if we hadn’t been monitoring. So taking the readings, and then doing something with them (plotting them), has been really worthwhile.

Even so, it was hard to pin down the leak until the end of the busy season when most people went home and the water consumption for the four of us looked enormous!

Since then we’ve been keeping a close eye on things. The leak was fixed around the end of November.

The points are the average useage per person per night for each month. When they’re averaged, it comes out at 81 litres per person per day. The average for the UK as a whole is 150 litres per person per day(Waterwise 2011 – see link below).

OK, so people don’t do much clothes washing here (though we offer a shared machine). But these winter bookings do include bed linen, laundered on site. And since winter breaks are often weekends, that can mean sheets washed for just a two night stay. Our efficient washing machine helps, as do the low flow rates in the accommodation, and the (recycled) water butts for outside water use.

It’s not that water is scarce in Devon. But it still all has to be cleaned up before we use it (even for clothes washing). And for most people it has to be taken away and cleaned up again via the sewage system afterwards (we’re on private drainage here).

Water consumption per person is rising (by about 1 per cent a year), and as population grows there’s more and more demand. Where Maggie grew up in Sussex, wetlands have already disappeared. We don’t want that to happen here in Devon.

Here’s a link to more about reducing water wastage in the UK.

Energy exporters, long may it last…

We are net exporters to the grid – for now at least. The wind turbine, installed on 16th May, has generated 280kWh of power, and we’ve used 220kWh. That’s for the house and the 4 holiday accommodation units.

Of course, the wind won’t always blow, and our requirements will vary. But it’s a good start and we’ll be monitoring our progress so others can judge whether this is a good way to go.

Overall, if wind estimates are anything to go by (and there’s always the risk they aren’t), we expect the turbine to cover our energy needs for the house and business. Even with the new eco lodge we hope to at least break even and generate the equivalent of 100% of our own power requirements. Watch this space!

Meanwhile, here’s a little clip of the installation process – to balance the rather more dynamic, ‘dramatic music’ version the manufacturers produce!

Excuse the voices off – this is life at Wheatland Farm.

Our wind turbine is up, but not yet turning

Our 11kW Gaia wind turbine was craned into place yesterday. It should make us entirely self sufficient in clean, green, local energy. We’ve been lucky with the weather, the dry spring kept the ground solid so the crane had no trouble getting into the field.

Here’s Ian helping local contractor Andrew Tucker get the blades off Andrew’s special front- and rear-steering trailer.

And the turbine being put together in the field.

And the tower finally being craned into position.
The turbine is not turning yet – we’re still waiting on a new meter from Good Energy, electricity supplier.