Monday, October 12, 2009

mercedes, new chickens and a broody american..

We had an avocado tree that had grown from a seed and was about as tall as me. Note the past tense. The culprit is in the background there, innocently munching on grass like she was supposed to in the first place. I was fortunate enough to have picked most of the best leaves off the basil to be frozen in readiness for the coming months before Mercedes decimated it too. Lucky she is such a sweetie, otherwise I might be tempted to listen to my father-in-law's espousing the virtue of goat at (or perhaps more correctly, on) the table.

We have a new clutch of chickens to keep the old boilers company. They haven't started laying yet but when they do we will have an absolute glut of eggs. If the broody american doesn't steal them. She has been sitting on her eggs for two weeks now and we found that she was stealing the other chook's eggs to add to her clutch. Oscar's dad came over the other night with a special light and we checked all of the eggs to see if there were actually any chickens inside them. Of the 12 she was sitting on, only two have chicks. No disappointment for me - who want's a hundred chickens anyway?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Searing temperatures, torrential rains and how we coped.

So! Our first summer in the earthship is coming to a close. It is still pretty warm here during the day but nights have cooled down enough to need a light cover on the bed. As you can see from the title of this post, Valencia has been subjected to some pretty extreme weather over the past few months. I was lucky enough to be in Australia for two of them and so missed most of the terrible heat, but Oscar bravely stuck it out. How was it, you ask?
Well, the design of our earthship has vertical windows as opposed to the sloping ones that you most often see. This was to ensure that the angle of the sun in summer would lessen the amount of light entering the house and therefore keep it cool. We also have 16mm climalit glass with a thermal coating on the inner layer. However neither measure is anywhere near enough to stop the heat of the sun hitting the glass and convecting in through the house during the long, torrid summer days. Our bedroom, which had little plant cover and no trees outside shading the windows, got up to 30º celsius (outside it was generally between 39 and 45ºC). We need blinds! I tried some old sheets when I got back from my trip and though they provided slight relief it really wasn't enough. The inner section of Carla's bedroom, which has a partition wall shading it from the light was the coolest room of all, but was still in the mid to high 20s. The skylights in each room (120cm square - huge things) were another source of heat and will also have to have their own little coverings. Of course we haven't had enough money to buy these lovely blinds yet, but they are a priority for the coming year. We just need to save about 4500 US dollars. Ho hum.

Towards the end of September we had absolutely incredible rains for about two weeks. The tanks filled up and overflowed on the first day it was so heavy (they were at about half capacity so that means in one afternoon we collected about 17,000 litres of water). And it just kept raining. At first there were no drips and I was well pleased but after about the fourth day water had wangled its insidious way into the roof and we had to have a few buckets and saucepans strategically placed around the floor. I think the main problem comes from the openeings in the roof. I suppose this is logical but I still can't understand where it is getting in. Everything seems to be tighly sealed. I do have a theory, but to prove it I have to dismantle the skylights and pull up sections of the metal roofing. Not something I am looking forward to but it will have to be done. Luckily the drips are only that, little drips. A more serious problem was that the outer wall in our bedroom grew a damp patch. It was about 2 metres up and about 50cm in diametre. How odd. Investigation revealed an enormous ant's nest dug right up against the wall into the earth berm which had simply flooded with all the rain, running the water up against the tyres and mud, though these are covered with a layer of plastic as per earthship instructions.
We have to fill the ant's nest and pile some more dirt on top.
The damp area has already dried itself out. This is the great wonder of mud wall coverings, they breath and dry so well, no peeling paint or bulging render. Phew.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What to do when you finish building your house...

Build a chicken house and coop in the corner of the garden (chickens to come).

Make much needed cupboards like you've been saying you would for months now.
Doors pending.

Build a bookcase to be filled with some of Carla's books.

Then re-plaster and re-floor the hut so that it people can visit!

And suddenly it's summer!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oh my Goat...a Mercedes!

Oscar has wanted something to keep all the grasses and weeds under control for quite a while now, and I assumed he would eventually get around to buying a whipper-snipper or some such. Imagine my surprise when on Sunday last this arrived.

We have named her Mercedes and she follows us round like a little puppy, bleating when we disappear from sight. She still smells like baby goat instead of goaty-goat which is endearing. At two months, she is obviously far too young to have kids and give us milk, but we hope that in a year or so we will be having to milk her a couple of times a day and watching our grassy patches get mowed in silence.
Fingers crossed for the rest of the garden...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

flowering front face

all of the creepers and the valerian and lavender and sage and rosemary and thyme and...well everything is in gorgeous flower on the front face. this is good, not only because they are beautiful, but also because they are watered by the dew that we collect from our roof. it runs down into our first flush pipes and then through a tap we installed into drip irrigation all along the front face rock garden that Oscar built.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


This is a picture of me sitting on the berm (the big mound of earth which buries the back of the house) at the back of the house which, as you can see is all overgrown and wonderfully green, no landslides for us!
We are looking into the world of curtains and blinds for privacy and a bit of respite from the amazing amount of light that the house is always flooded with. I have sourced some in the US which are really cool - Kirsten has them and you can see what they are like here. I love them but am afraid we will have to wait until the piggy bank gets a bit fatter. So for this summer methinks we will be hanging old sheets over the windows if we want to enjoy the obligatory siesta.

Here is a photo of the whole house taken last week in a crazy storm, you can see that the plants are beginning to cover all the bits they ought to:

The rain and hail have filled our water tanks to overflowing for the summer to come. Good.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


Well, Oscar rootled about a bit in the dirt and peat moss, and found that the moss itself was causing a build up of water, slowing the filtering process down to nought. So he dug up a strip of the stuff and replaced it with rocks and gravel. The water gushed through and I promptly did two loads of washing, no overflow. Yippee. I love it when everything actually works!

Monday, March 23, 2009

A hitch...

Ah the joy of the grey water planter! You have a shower, do a load of washing or the dishes, and all that lovely dirty water swills down the drain to your indoor botanical cell, running through gravel, plant roots and peat moss until it collects, pretty much cleansed of odour and gack, in a small well to be pumped into your toilet cistern instead of using perfectly good, precious in fact, drinking water to flush.
That is the theory anyway. We have been having a little bit of trouble with our planter. The water doesn't flow as serenely as it ought and we are ending up with very wet soil, an overflowing entry point and only just enough water for the toilet. Somewhere, something is slowing things down a bit too much. Not a disaster but a bit of a bother.
We are absolutely loathe to dig the whole planter up - the plants as you can see are gorgeous, lush, healthy, flowering, fabulous. But I have the sneaking suspicion that we put too much sand and soil on top and it is somehow getting down into the gravel and clogging the planter. Argh.
Any suggestions?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Uncivil Guard

In Spain there is a military-style police corps called La Guardia Civil. They are largely disliked for their association with the Franco regime of oppression and violence and for the fact that they only speak in Castilian Spanish regardless of the time they spend in any of the autonomous provinces which have their own language, such as Catalonia, or the Basque country. They are also renowned for their chuleria, their bullying and chest puffing aggressiveness. One arm of their organization is responsible for policing traffic and patrolling areas where there have been outbreaks of crime.
Oscar and I live about 6 kilometres away from the nearest town and the roads to our place are narrow, twisting country lanes. Because Oscar is a musician, he often comes home in the early hours of the morning and as a solitary male, is a prime target for being pulled over and questioned or searched by the Civil Guard. They usually wave a light at him, ask for his documentation, occasionally ask him to get out of the car and search through for drugs or stolen goods, which of course they never find because Oscar is always on his way home from a gig, not from buying heroin or burgling the neighbours. They are always in their marked cars, always in uniform and always reasonably civil, though certainly never polite.
Recently there have been rumours of people who dress up as Civil Guard officers, stop unsuspecting drivers in the middle of the night and, after making them get out of their car – sometimes at gunpoint, rob them of everything including the car. So it is not surprising that when Oscar came upon two unmarked cars stopped in the middle of one of these country lanes last night he was wary and more than a little apprehensive. A man waved him down, and thinking there may have been an accident he slowed to a stop. The man was young, maybe 22 or so and wearing a dark jacket and trousers with no visible insignias. He came to the window and asked Oscar for his DNI, the Spanish identity card. This in itself is unusual as the Civil Guard usually request your vehicle documents and driver’s license, so wary as he was, Oscar asked the man to identify himself. The man yanked his jacket open, pulling his V-neck sweater down to reveal a small plaque on his chest with a letter K followed by a few numbers. “Is this identification enough?” he demanded. Now, I am convinced that very few people would be able to recognize the authenticity of a Civil Guard plaque, and the man still hadn’t actually said that he was part of any police force, so Oscar replied that no, it wasn’t really and could he produce some other form of accreditation. At this, the man became very aggressive, pulled aside his right jacket flap to show his pistol in its holster and yelled “Is this enough accreditation for you?”. Oscar, in the middle of the night on a quiet country lane, with two unmarked cars and an aggressive young man flashing his gun at him replied “no, it isn’t”. Immediately the man yelled at him to get out of the car and Oscar, with every reason to be frightened, accelerated past him and drove off as fast as he could.
A few bends in the road, maybe a kilometre later, a glance into the rear vision mirror showed a car giving chase with a flashing blue light in on its dashboard. Ah, so they actually were police. Oscar pulled over immediately.
“Get out of the car! Show your hands!” guns pointed, voices raised. Oscar was frisked and the car rudimentarily searched. “Where are you going?”
“Home, I live here, I am on my way home from a concert”.
“No you’re, not. You are on your way to the police station. Get in the car”, guns still pointing.
The police station is about eight kilometres from where the Civil Guard made Oscar lock and leave the car. Once there, Oscar, in the language native to the region, tried to explain his reasons for having driven off, but was interrupted by the officer shouting “to me, you speak in Spanish”. He gave positive on the breathalyser, coming in at 0.03 (the legal limit is 0.025). This is unfortunate but must be accepted. What is not acceptable, apart from the shouting and gun-waving, is that he was then charged with having ignored an officer’s orders to stop, and with dangerous driving risking collision with a patrol car (I wonder how, when driving forwards, one can collide with a car which is most definitely behind). Nor is it acceptable that his phone was taken from him and when he protested, the officer virtually screamed that he was the one in charge here, he was the boss, then (cryptically) that first comes one and them comes two, and that if Oscar continued like that he was going to “win it”. Added to this, Oscar was not offered even a drink of water in the two hours that he was retained, nor was he offered any means of transport back to the car. He had to walk two kilometres to town, get a bike we happen to keep there and ride back to the car. In the dark, at five in the morning.
How very Civil.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

spring 2009

The peach trees are in glorious blossom and the weather, though windy is benign. I had to slow down the other day for a horse and cart on the road home. I'm glad. It's nice to take the foot of the accelerator from time to time.
We have kitchen shelves and some lamps in the house now, I must take some pictures. For now I leave you with the peach blossom and the cat in the box. Have you ever met a cat that didn't like a box?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Winter in the earthship

Well, winter has really arrived and it's a cold one here in Valencia this year. We were at minus 2 this morning and it hasn't got much above 7ºC all day. The house is holding up pretty well. We have a gas heater which we use at night in the living area. Without the heater the house is still warm. On cloudy days it stays around 16ºC but if the sun comes out it gets up into the 20s. We must install blinds to keep all that lovely heat from escaping through the glass at night. I forgot to close one of our skylights yesterday afternoon and when we got home at 8pm our bedroom had gone down to 14ºC. I think it was about -3 outside. We have decided to look out for a good fireplace and install it to be really comfortable.
Apart from that everything is going well with the house. There is certainly a lot of condensation on the windows in front of the planter but it isn't really a problem as the timber is treated and the mud just dries out if it gets a dribble of water on it.
We haven't done any work on the place at all - we are taking a bit of a break and looking for furniture and light fittings etc.
Our little house, the hut that we lived in for five years is falling apart on the inside. The walls are all flaking and need to be scraped and re-rendered. I feel sorry for it, as it seems to have become depressed now that we don't live in it. Poor little hut. As the weather improves we will fix it up and open it to visitors. I'll let you all know when!