Saturday, May 4, 2013

Island Life

This update on Fox Wood is long overdue - apologies! What has happened since my last update? A few things … and not a lot.

The thing that didn't happen for a long time was spring. Yes, shortly after I wrote the last update everything started to freeze up. The bluebells half-emerged and then stopped in their tracks. Winter weather returned and didn't let up for weeks on end. It even snowed! That didn't stop me doing some work on the field. I spent a couple of days planting trees with my daughters - fair wind or foul - although mostly foul.

We now have a number of fruit trees growing there, protected from the rabbits by plastic tubes. I also stuck in a couple of silver birches which I saw, sorry and sad, outside a supermarket in plastic bags. Not the best start to life but hopefully they will thrive and I love looking at silver birches in clear Autumnal sun.

I have also re-evaluated some of the things I plan to do with the land. This, in large part, is due to having been deeply engrossed and captivated by Joel Salatin's book, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, which a friend lent me.


Salatin, a self-professed, crank and lunatic, is one of the sanest people on planet earth! His mission is to heal the earth - well at least the bit on his farm, by a process of bio-remidaition. Eschewing most chemical and petroleum inputs, he has more or less restored the carbon cycle on his Virginia farm and is  experiencing sheer ectasy in the process. I want to do the same!

But I have found out that Fox Wood is an island surrounded by plastic. Yes, almost overnight, all the surrounding fields, once the first crop of flowers had been harvested and sold, suddenly were covered in plastic. I took this picture - on the left is the Fox Wood future food forest field and on the right is the nameless agribusiness field suddenly covered with plastic. I believe potatoes have been planted underneath.

The fields of Cornwall have been shrink-wrapped. It's the new agribusiness craze to get at least two crops a year out of the poor exhausted soils

This stuff has appeared all over the countryside. It's reminiscent of the awful plasticultura landscapes of southern Spain. Fox Wood is quite isolated in the middle of all this agricultural abuse.

On a more positive note, I attended a talk in Penzance given by a fellow from Friends of the Earth and Brigit Strawbridge about bees. I won't go into details about the terrible plight bees are in, probably due in part to neonicotinoid chemicals, but it did spur me to at least do something positive. I went around the land digging out small islands of soil from the field and sowing wildflower seeds. When they grow it should be at least a bit of relief for the beleaguered bees in the area who have to deal with all the fields suddenly being turned to plastic. In the future I'm planning to turn some of the field over to being a wildflower meadow because a) It'll be beautiful and b) It will attract pollinating insects to my fruit trees. I also put a few bird boxes up to try and encourage avian friends - birds are welcome at Fox Wood!

As for Joel Salatin and his book, which I mentioned above, he's convinced me to not drill a well, which I had been planning to do. Instead, I'm going to dig a series of PONDS! Yes, ponds, with water harvested from the ample downpours that hit this area for much of the year, flowing down through my terraced hand-dug fields like a Spanish acequia. The soil I have excavated so far is rich and deep and full of earthworms. I'm not worried about its fertility.

Only after I'd dug a few of these bee rehab wildflower mini-meadow zones did I realise that they could be mistaken for shallow graves ...

BTW my large poly tunnel has arrived - 30ft long and 10ft wide - and I have plenty of plans for what is going to happen inside it. As have various hand-crafted tools, such as a Swedish axe, a hardened steel billhook - and the Spanish azada will be arriving soon (why use a spade when you can use one of these?). I'm thinking chickens and moveable electric fences, egg mobiles and aquaculture. I might need to borrow a couple of pigs to clear the underbrush in the woodland. My worm compost pile is back in full production now after the Danish vermicide episode and even my daughters' guinea pigs are providing some fine carbon-based enrichment for the land. Things are getting going - although the Fox Wood money fund is dwindling fast, so it'll be free and easy things from here on it.

Honestly, sometimes at the moment, I have so many ideas I can hardly sleep at night.

There's probably some other things too, but I'm going to work there tomorrow so will take some more pictures and provide another update sooner rather than later.

I found this badger hole in the woodland - nice use of a tree root as a lintel over the front door


  1. Unfortunately sounds like good fences make good neighbours for fox wood. Make sure you understand the nuances of planning rules so you get to do whatever you want on your land.

    1. At present there are no nuances - if you want to build an ecological roundhouse you can't - unless you prove that 75% or more of your income comes from that land.

  2. Your neighbors sound like par for the course. It's true here, in the Palookaville sector of Whoville, as well. I think it's true everywhere. When you unplug from the Matrix you begin seeing people how they really are. They actually require flatulence to stay alive. Something to do with corrupted alveolar sacs and Faustus. Whatever the's why they have their heads planted firmly up their asses. All the better to get their required flatulence.

    Ponds are the best idea. That's what I would do. You can always do an above ground cistern as well. At least for your own household water needs. For every 1000 sqft of impermeable surface, in a 1" rain, you can supposedly capture around 600 gallons of water. I have a 500 gallon cistern, and I've seen it fill in one day before.

    1. Well - I got chatting again with the old man and his wife yesterday. They have lived in that hamlet all their lives, but now they are the only original inhabitants. Most of the others seem to be management consultants, IT professionals etc who can cut it by working online. Mind you, I've spoken to a few more of them now and they are generally quite friendly and curious about what I'm doing. One woman thought I was planning to cut the whole lot down - so was pretty happy to find out that I was actually turning it into a lunatic inspired eco carbon recycling extreme biodiversity hotspot.

      Very interested in the cistern idea. There is so much rain falling on this part of the world I can't believe I would ever have much of a problem keeping everything flu up. Just need to figure out how to collect it all ...

    2. Not sure if it would work on your side of the pond, but I recall my father in law (grew up on depression era farm) noting that septic tanks might make a good cistern, with the advantage that local contractor were used to working with them. When I was working on rainwater catchment systems, I was stunned by how little rain was needed to fill up even some very large containers. On the other hand I was also stunned by how much water was used in flushing at elementary school bathrooms.

  3. Jason: Even with bad luck on the neighbors, it's got to be exciting as all get out actually starting the transition. As much as I like Joel Saletin, I highly recommend Mark Sheperd's Book "Restoration Agriculture" as additional reference material. He is an original visionary similar to Joel, with a bit more emphasis on trees and permaculture than Joel. In addition to ponds, he described rain capture keyline swales as a method to keep ALL the rain that falls on your land. His book covers many other topics with details derived from 15 years of experience on his permaculture farm doing what you are setting out to do.

    1. Steve - thanks for the tip! I am definitely going to check out Mark Shepherd now. Joel Salatin is a very inspiring person, but his farm is very different to the little bit of land I have.

  4. Hi Jason,
    Lovely that you are busy with tree planting and wild flowers. Your friendly local may also be able to give you an idea about what traditionally thrives in your area.

    I hardly think water is going to be too much of a worry in Cornwall, but where to live might be. Have you read "Low Impact Development:Planning and people in a sustainable Countryside" by Simon Fairlie? I have a copy I can send you if not. It does cover the ins and outs of the planning system, although there are supposed to be changes a foot that favour sustainable developments. I'm not holding my breath though.

    I'm not sure it is wise to mention trying to evade detection of your (future) roundhouse on here, because if there ever is an appeal it could be evidence. Can you delete that bit? You may have to delete this too. I am not an expert, but I seriously wanted to do what you are planning to do and did a lot of research. Good luck!


    1. Hi Judy. Yes, my friendly (old) neighbour told me some pretty interesting stories about the wood, which I'll divulge in a future post.

      I haven't read Simon Fairlie's book but will definitely check it out - thanks! As far as a house goes, I'm really not even considering doing anything in the next five years or so. By then I'm hoping that the law will have changed … as it stands (how I understand it) you have to derive 75% of your income from the actual land to even be considered. I'm hoping that common sense will prevail, and if it doesn't then I'll have to consider other courses of action.