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Friday, October 20, 2017

Spend now to save later

Posted by steve on February 9, 2011

Yes we can … but we shouldn’t

Posted by steve on January 31, 2011

Eco-villages are your best investment

Posted by steve on October 13, 2010

Despite the widely held faith in the efficiency of free markets, the industrial capitalist model has arguably failed to deliver. Specifically, it fails to provide lasting economic security, food and shelter to large percentages of the world population. Furthermore, despite being blessed with the easy availability of massive amounts of fossil fuel, many countries are heavily in debt, threatening to burden each and every citizen for a long time to come.

The total land mass of the Earth is about 14,8 billion hectares. With a population of about 6,8 billion this means there are just over two hectares of land per person. Of this, only one hectare of land per person is habitable. We need to rethink what we invest in.

Whilst land is scarce and getting scarcer, so is oil. Figures from several sources indicate world oil production has reaches its maximum and is likely to fall per capita in the near future.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

At last, a course in setting up an eco-unit is available

Posted by steve on August 19, 2010

Eco Unit

Many people dream of living in a way that burdens neither nature nor their personal finances. They seek a sense of closeness to and connection with nature. We have developed a course to help.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

ECO Units: a definition document

Posted by steve on August 8, 2010

This document provides a broad definition of an  Eco-Unit to act as a starting point for people wanting to develop their own eco-village. I believe it can help development of eco-villages if the owners and administrators can agree at an early stage what it is they are aiming for. A document like this sets up the basic framework for an eco-village. Your group can add, change or amend to make it your own.

pdficonDownload document:

Description ecounits A2B

Grey water recycling imagestream

Posted by steve on November 2, 2009

I have seen several experiments carried out where vegetable beds clean grey water. I was curious to see if I could imagestream a good way of doing this so I could experiment myself on the Eco-unit. <more links>

I felt I needed clues as to how I could move forward. I tried to frame my quest as “I want to see somewhere that uses grey water recycling – where each house has its own set-up. Let me see how they do it, and to get some good ideas for my experiments. I want to see the equipment and how it all fits together”

My stream started off in a large, high, glass dome that seemed to be a shopping mall or airport. A set of benches in the middle formed a square around some ornamental plants. I sat on a bench and looked over at some lifts shaped like large concrete tubes. Walking over to these lifts, I saw one with a yellow button on it saying “grey water recycling”.
I got into the lift, and noticed I was being followed by a very shy facilitator.

“The other one is on holiday,” he said.

The lift turned on its side so I had to strap myself into a seat. Safely strapped in I felt it turn horizontally and we sped off, stopping at a large greenhouse.
Inside, this greenhouse felt like an exhibition hall. I had come to some kind of ideal garden exhibition. I saw a sink, some vegetables, some beans –  I wandered around it and  saw a large transparent tank, round, holding maybe 50 litres. It’s a demo, with grey water in it and a load of see-through pipes to demonstrate its workings.

The pipe fed grey water onto a series of what looked like window boxes arranged in steps, about 1,3 meters high and the same wide. The grey water ran through the boxes down to the bottom where it collects into a pond with a water feature. The water is pumped back up again and circulates around.

grey water1
Each of the boxes contains soil, then some Leca balls then a mesh to hold it above the run-off channels in the bottom of the boxes. The boxes have holes in the bottom to drain into the next layer. The boxes are about 25cm deep and maybe 90 cm wide made of plastic or cast in concrete.

When casting, you can  use bits of plastic foam to keep the holes open. I get the feeling you can build these steps up inside of brick or stones and soil. If they are compact, the whole structure absorbs heat during the summer and releases it during the colder season, thus prolonging the growing period of the plants. Kept in a greenhouse, the structure makes the seasons even longer.

I look around for alternatives – or are these step-like constructions the only ones they use? I see you can make pyramid shapes, put them in squares or get creative against walls.

I find a flat alternative; the water just comes under a flat growing bed that is a couple of meters long and about 60 cm deep. It is made in concrete the same way, with the soil kept away from the run-off channels by nets.

Things that surprised me

  • I was surprised there was no real wall structure, as the designs I have seen already call for a wall. Maybe it’s because you can get more in a step design and that it is lower, making harvesting easier.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by the idea of casting in concrete. It seem fairly straightforward

Questions for follow-up.

  • I need to understand how the water not only flows back, but how it is cleaned further for pumping back to the house for use again.
  • More details on how to cast boxes would be good, and to understand the angles of slopes required.
  • For an apartment block, a larger version would be interesting it possible.
  • The dispenser and storage tank had a mechanism I did not really understand. More work needed there.

Things to try now.

  • I’ll try and draw a design for the boxes to be cast in concrete. If it seems to work I’ll try it out!

Ready for the next inventing session? Click here.

Self-pick woodland gardening

Posted by steve on August 12, 2009

I can’t remember where I heard about it, but there is this idea that you can grow all you need in a Forest. Agriculture as we know it – huge areas of monoculture using a lot of fossil fuel – could be mostly replaced by people just going into the forest and getting what they needed. This is what they used to do, before agriculture was invented.

Not everything, though, if I remember correctly, some things like root vegetables and cereals fared best on open land because of the amount of sun needed.

The other thing I liked about the idea was where the forest was rather like a supermarket. So instead of doing the food shopping you would go and harvest what you needed for the next day or two. That sounds more natural. There are a lot of benefits to this that I’ll discuss later. Let me take you through my imagestream first.

Framing the assignment

I wanted to explore a place that had housing close to a woodland garden where residents went and picked their food. I want to find out the techniques of implementing this in a climate like the place where I live. I wanted to know everything, like how to implement such a system, the techniques, how you plant the growing, take care of it, harvest etc.

The stream

I was shown around this world by an earlier “friend” – the facilitator – who took me to a center of relocalization. This is a place I had encountered earlier, designed to be a center of learning and excellence, to help communities and individuals relocalize.

He took me to a garden where small seedlings were growing close to the residence. These are seedlings that are propagated, raised and taken care of to be planted out in the forest later.

He then took me to an area where people were cutting trees down and putting them into a wood chipper. The chips are left on the forest floor, to make soil.

I gathered that the trees in the forest are thinned to 20 feet (6 metres) between them. Between them they were planting berry bushes in triangles. I had a lot of difficulty with the idea of planting things in triangles in the forest, but they explained that the triangle planting confuses animals and keeps them off what is inside the triangles – vegetables.

The vegetables are grown in circle inside the triangles. They dig a small circular pit into which they throw organic material. They cover it then with earth, so it makes a mound on which to grow vegetables.


This makes up the three layers of the woodland garden: trees, bushes and vegetables and herbs.

I saw it as “cells” about 12 meters wide, made up of triangles of 6 meters. See the illustration below.

woodland garden pattern

woodland garden pattern

I must say at this point I wasn’t really sure I had kind of “got it”. I asked to see more, and they showed me an area that had been fenced off, it was a garden where you could go and sit. They were growing herbs in it. Further down the slope (this was the south side) they were growing fruit trees and nut trees and even further down, they had terraces where they were growing crops on raised beds.

The area was designed so you could walk around it, and pick what you needed. It dawned on me that I was being shown a demonstration area.

I must say I thought it all looked rather ugly, but conceded that I had never asked for anything pleasing to the eye – only functional.

I asked to see the planning and they took me back to the office. They make a plan of the forest, ensuring that which is needed most frequently and is heaviest is closest to the houses. The north side of a hill is just or growing timber for houses etc.

Path design: deer are kept away by the triangular bush layout. The heart of the garden has to be simply fenced off. They make “cells” from seven trees each, and fence off from the animals that they need to protect from.

For dimensioning, they grow what they can in these low-maintenance areas, but need to complement with other kinds of gardening.

To summarize what I learned:

Self-pick woodland gardening serves a number of houses, something like 50 for a 10 hectare woodland. The south side is thinned into “cells” for various uses, the North side is managed for timber for building (the North side grows slower and denser).

To make a woodland garden you use rather brutal methods to get started, like chipping all felled trees.

Harvesting is one of the most labour intensive parts of agriculture. By having people do their own harvesting, food production is made more efficient. Plus there seems to be something eminently human about gathering.

Questions the stream raises

  • What about fairness? How do you make sure people do not take more than they need, or “hog” the best bits?
  • What kind of “cells” can you have in a temperate climate? I would like more details.
  • Watering: do they use any methods to ensure the cells get water?
  • Patterns: Was it hexagonal or was it pentagonal or did I miss this?
  • Seeds: where do they get these? Do they let things go to seed so they self seed – perennials?
  • Protein: where do people get protein?
  • Storage: do they need root cellars or freezers or do they preserve?

Our own experiments

One triangular sub-cell with fruit bushes and vegetable mound

One triangular sub-cell with fruit bushes and vegetable mound

Our Eco-unit is just planting a fruit forest. We have not created a sort of a triangle of berry bushes between the trees (just about visible in this picture). The dimensions given in the imagestream seem to work out, as the central mound is less than 1,5 meters in diameter, meaning you can reach from all sides without having to step on the soil.

Our Swedish Eco-unit: baby steps

Posted by steve on

In May, 2009, together with five others, I purchased a horse-farm about one and half hour’s drive out of Stockholm, Sweden. The intention is to transform the site into a co-housing combi-farm, or Eco-unit.

View pictures of the farm here, and learn more of the background to what an Eco-unit is here.

To get started we have been holding courses in permaculture, natural building techniques and local economic development. And of course there is always a lot of work to do!

I will be sharing experiences with developing the site and the community over the coming months.