Interior of the new greenhouse, built with pallets, white cloth, wire mesh and adobe.
The original strawbale solar greenhouse built in 2010.

Thirteen years ago, I built a ´solar´ greenhouse with straw bales. It was to be a multi-functional space with a solar shower, vegetable beds and a DIY workbench. It was a kind of experiment and a test to what is possible with straw bales, using the bales that were left over from the house building. As a test, it really worked out quite well, lasting more than a decade and if I had undertaken the foundations and the plastering a little bit more thoroughly, it would probably have been useful for another decade. Bit by bit rainwater and gnawing animals found their way through the plastering and straw, debilitating the building. A quite mysterious and inexplicable strong wind gust (or was it a local tornado?) blew half of the fibre roof away during my absence last summer and that was exactly the stimulus I needed to rebuild the greenhouse from the ground.

This time I decided not to use straw bales again. The extraordinary insulating qualities of straw are quite overridden by the very poor insulating qualities of the transparent fibre roof and the many windows. Instead I was curious about the possibilities of using wooden pallets in combination with metal mesh, adobe and (geo-textile) cloth. Pallets can be obtained for free anywhere and the soil I live on contains excellent clay for adobe ( a mix of sand, clay and straw).

Continue reading

July 2018. The sedum roof in all its glory, 4 years after its installation.

Being a fan of botany and natural vegetation, I have always been fascinated by green (or vegetation) roofs, which are quite fashionable these days, at least in countries like Holland, Germany and Scandinavia. Green rooofs have quite some advantages: they protect the waterproof black EPDM sheet, they insulate the house against heat and cold and they work as a water buffer, regulating the water drainage with heavy rains. This may especially hold true in cities where climate change seems to provoke more irregular and heavy rainfall. Urban green roofs also offer welcome new opportunities for insects, birds and plant life. Another personal motivation for green roofs is that they can be very economical, especially if you do everything yourself with the method I propose. When you hire professional help or buy the ready made green carpets from the garden center, you will have to spent 5 to 10 times as much.

Continue reading

the treatment of grey water and human excrement

An aerial overview of the present situation with the different elements of the filter and compost systems.
March 2010. The greenhouse on the left and the first ´module´of the strawbale house on the right. The down sloping filter canal is made with black EPDM sheet and filled up with gravel and irregular (´conglomerate´) stones, while the filter pond is lined with smoother river boulders and gravel to avoid damaging the sheet.

As I live almost off the grid, half a kilometer from the village (but am connected to the public water supply system) I had to find ways to treat the waste (´grey´) water from the sink, shower and washing machine and the `dark` material from the toilet. After studying the internet, I decided to start with relative simple systems and make them more sophisticated if needed. After almost 10 years I can say that more sophistication is not needed and that the systems work quite satisfactorily. By that I mean that there are almost no smells and for example the vegetation in the filtering ponds is doing fine. Part of the success is probable due to the use of biodegradable detergent, soap and straw. I will give a brief description of the two filter ponds and then discuss the equally successful compost toilet which treats the ´dark´ waste.

Continue reading

An important objective of the mowing and pruning management is establishing a parklike landscape with many transitions between grassland and wood. 26 May 2016.

These days, at the end of July, I have started to mow the vegetation around the house. Time and frequency of mowing depend mainly on the weather, the soil and on what you want to focus on. In my case one of the main objectives is enriching the vegetation with as many different spontaneous plant species as possible and then it is important to make the soil less fertile with your mowing management so that aggressive species have less opportunities.Continue reading

The sun is shining more than 300 days a year in this region. Better use its infinite power. 11 November 2017.

I already use solar energy for my electricity supply and for a hot shower (in the greenhouse), but for the heating of my straw bale dwelling I was heavily dependent on the wood stove, apart from the heating effect of the big window of the living room which is exposed to the south.  A straw bale building is extremely well insulated and a minimum amount of heating can already have a significant effect. A radiant floor or radiant wall heating, powered by a solar panel seemed to be an interesting option, especially because I can make use of the existing plaster layer of clay inside the walls of the house. Continue reading

One of the most frequent and conspicous orchids on the terrain is Orchis purpurea with almost 100 flowering plants every year. 15 April 2007

Cephalanthera damasonium appeared this spring with 3 representatives on this spot in the shade of the oak wood. It was probably already present in former years but only with bulbs or leaves or perhaps it was eaten before flowering, which happened with 2 of the 3 specimen afterwards. 23 May 2018.

The fact that one hectare of land harbours more than 250 native species is already a feat but the presence of at least 9 different species of the Orchid family is remarkable. This spring  they were exceptionally abundant. This ´orgy´ was probably partly due to the very wet weather but I have noticed a steady increase over the years, not only in plant numbers but also in species number. For example this year I welcomed the sudden arrival of 3 plants of Cephalanthera damasonium. Members of the Orchid family are notorious for their erratic and unexpected behavior, appearing one year in abundance and then hiding for several years.

Ophrys apifera. 10 June 2007.

Ophrys apifera. 10 June 2007

Continue reading