Wyrdwood Acres

Follow one families adventure as they build a new life of self-reliance and sustainable living, embrace permaculture and undertake a mammoth task of self-building a straw-bale forever home in the sun.

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Thursday, 6 December 2018

Forward Motion

I just want to start by saying how grateful we are for all the comments, messages and words of encouragement that we have received since our last blog post came out last week. It's really helped our overall morale but it's also given us some food for thought too.

To update you a little - if you remember towards the end of my last blog, I spoke about how the bank we are currently working with to get a mortgage have pretty much ghosted us. We were waiting on an urgent review of our house valuation and survey which had been done incorrectly(they'd only valued our land and not the house project. Duh!). When we called on the deadline day, our bank contact wasn't in. She still isn't back at work now, the manager is apparently away until the 17th of December. The person who is working in the bank at the moment told us that the bank have changed their rules and will not be granted mortgages on any new builds and now she is not returning my phone calls. Fantastic. So we haven't heard any more news since then and to be honest, we spent a while feeling pretty much lost and like we couldn't move forward.

But then we changed our minds. Ok, so we don't know what is happening with the bank right now for certain, but it obviously seems like that's not going to work out. So do we give up and mourn our house dreams that never came true? 

Hell no. We find another way. We are warriors. 

Our architect gave us the details of a couple of Eco specific mortgage/lending companies and we have contacted one. Maybe something will come of that, who knows. But we've decided that we're not going to wait around.

The thing is with our self-build is that we don't need all of the money upfront.  There are bits and bobs we can start with. We can get the ball rolling. We might not have a big nest egg of savings, but we do have some money spare each month, and so we've decided that it's best to chip away, little by little. To keep the forward motion going. To feel like we're getting somewhere.

So we've decided to break ground, we're going to dig and pour the foundations. 

We know that our biggest outlay for the house build will be all of the timber we need for the frame. But before we get to that stage we can get the foundations ready, we can build some temporary shelter and toilets, we can plant some trees, we can do some things, at least. Maybe we can run some courses and gather up some money for the timber that way. We've had some ideas of how we can try and get some extra money in. Maybe all this hassle with the banks is a sign that we're not destined to have a mortgage. We need to be flexible and ready to try different things. Who knows. We're gonna figure it out.

But making a start is important, and so, as always, we're gonna jump in with both feet and see where we land. 








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Wednesday, 28 November 2018

When Life Doesn't Give You Lemons...

OK. I've started to type an opening line at least 12 times now and then proceeded to backspace every single letter...This is gonna be a tough post to write. I can already feel a lump in my throat forming - a physical manifestation of my words getting stuck.

No one, particular thing has lead me to write this post this evening, but there's been a nagging in the back of my mind. A gnawing that I can't ignore any longer. So here I am.

This isn't a post that's full of devastating news. But it's real, and it's uncomfortable and mostly it's hard to accept, let alone write about. But I think I need to. It'll be cathartic in the least and hopefully, it could help someone one day. Perhaps even myself when I read this back to myself in 20 years time.

I don't really know where to start - hence the waffle. I'm just gonna dive in head first, I guess.

So, if you're a friend or family member, or maybe even a follower of this blog, or one of our other blogs, you might be able to think back and remember our big dreams. Let's start there - the Dream.

We had a dream. In 2016 we sold our 3-bed terrace in Essex to uproots and move to Spain. We would buy a plot of land in Spain. We would build the eco-house of our dreams. We would implement permaculture into our land and our lives. Live a good, slow life. One full of nature and wonder and happiness. We would create our paradise and find a way to share it with others. A way to show people who were interested in that kinda stuff that it was possible. That if we could do it...well, then surely anyone can.

But, that's the thing. We haven't done it.

...yet.

I'm adding the 'yet' on because that's an important and integral word right there.

I'm not ready to give up. Not yet. So I want to share our journey so far and continue to share it, because I'm sure there must be other people in a similar boat and maybe there can be some strength found in solidarity, because I need to find some strength from somewhere.

Let's start at the beginning...

When we sold our house in the UK we had made a healthy profit of around 70k. We originally thought that that would be enough to purchase our land and build our house. If you recall, we planned on self-building from the start and so the cost for building our house wouldn't include labour costs, luckily (thanks Dad). So not only did myself (Carly), my husband Tricky and our 2 children up sticks and move to Spain, but also my Mum and Dad. The 6 of us decided to go on this roller coaster together.

The first hurdles came when we were selling our house in the UK. Months of delays, buyers pulling out, valuations coming in way under the agreed sale price...hell. Tricky and my Dad moved over with a lorry full of our belongings while myself, my Mum and the kids stayed in the UK for a month to finalise the sale. We had no furniture, no beds...it was not id eal! In the mean time, the boys had arrived in Spain to a cockroach ridden partial cave house that definitely did not look like the photos on the rental website, and spent a month panic cleaning and organising to make the place livable before we arrived with the kids. After living apart for a month, and with the sale of the house no closer to being completed, we decided to go ahead and move anyway. Whether we stayed in the UK or not, the sale would go ahead at it's own pace, right? Actually, it left us with no money to live on for months when we first moved over to Spain. My business had only just started to make a decent amount of money and it was sporadic, and so we struggled. Hard.

The rental house in Spain was grim. I'll be upfront and tell you that when we moved in, I wondered how we were gonna stick it out for a year, but I honestly believed that we would only be there for a year tops! I figured that once the house sold we could buy the land which we were told would only take 30 days, and then we'd start the building process.

How bloody naive. The sale of the UK house took 6 months to go through. Remember that we already picked our plot of land before we moved, and so we pretty much marched straight into the estate agents to get the ball rolling for the land purchase once the house sale money went into our account.

30 days my arse. So the sale of the house finally finalised in January 2017, and we finally signed at the notary for our land on the 8th June 2017. Oh, that wasn't without it's hiccups either - we were told when in the notary office, pen in hand, that there actually wasn't any water connection to our land. Great. But we went ahead with it, because what else could we do? We hadn't seen any other similar-sized plots in our region, with the option to build, for that sort of money.

We'd already got the ball rolling with our architect. Now, don't get me wrong, our architect is amazing and the plans she have made are everything we could have ever dreamed of, plus an extra sprinkling of amazing just for good measure. BUT. And it's medium sized but. The architect fees are more than we had anticipated. Way more. When we first met with the Eco build specialist company who our architect is in conjunction with, we showed them our plans and told them we were on a tight budget. By that point I think we had about 35k left after purchasing the land. They made it sound like it would be totally do-able for that sum, as we intended to self build etc. I'm not passing any blame at all, and this is not a dig at our architect who is also now a friend, but it's a dig at our own naivety and lack of budgeting effectively.

It isn't just the house stuff. Everyone's mental health has suffered since we moved here. This rental is not a nice place to live. Cave houses are not fun, folks. They're dark and depressing and stale. Tricky has made it no secret that he intended to take his life that summer. The stuggle just got too much for him. Luckily, he didn't as I managed to stop him in time. But the weight of the living situation and lack of forward motion was obviously taking it's toll.

As if that wasn't enough, a bigger bomb drops.

On New Years Eve 2017 we planned a family visit to the land. We were gearing up for starting the build and we just wanted to be over there, and set the intentions to build our house the coming year. Myself, Tricky, the kids and our 2 new dogs went in the car and my parents followed on my Dad's motorbike. Mum and Dad didn't make it to the land. They had a terrible crash on the bendy vineyard roads about half way there and my Mum broke her neck. I can't go into it too much because I still find it too upsetting. Ultimately, Dad managed to scrape by without any broken bones but with bad tissue and muscle damage and was bed ridden for a few weeks. My poor Mum wasn't so lucky. She spent a night in ICU with severe concussion and memory loss. She had a cave in one side of her head, by one temple, that looked like someone had smacked her with a baseball bat. AND she was wearing a full face helmet when she crashed. She had other fractured bones too but the neck was worrying. Because of the language barrier we didn't learn of the broken neck for a couple of days. Not until they came to fit the rigid neck brace. I stayed with her in hospital for 4 days and nights, sleeping in 5 minute bursts on a solid armchair while my Mum cried in pain every couple of hours. Whether from the fire-like pain in her hands and feet (the nerve damage) or the pain from the neck brace being fitted incorrectly and literally cutting a chunk of her scalp away at the base of her head...it was an actual nightmare that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

She came home after the 4 days in hospital but had to spend 8 weeks in a rigid neck brace. She'd fractured C5 and C6 vertebrae and had a lesion on her spinal cord. How she survived, no one knows. She's a miracle. None of the Dr's can believe that she has managed to recover with minimal nerve damage to her hands and that's it. We battled pulled groin muscles, depression, bed sores, not eating, anger....all of it.

But boy, were the first few months of 2018 tough. My business is run by myself and my Mum, so while she was recovering, I was having to try and keep the house running and the business a float. I think that despite my best efforts, we did eat into our savings. One woman trying to hustle enough to keep 6 other people and 2 dogs and 6 chickens alive on little to no sleep and a hell of a lot of stress, was not an easy feat. My brother had come to stay, and we had so much help from friends, luckily. I don't think we'd have got through it otherwise.

But, despite the odds, Mum and Dad both recovered. Fast forward to April 2018 and our house plans had been complete (Projecto simple) and the town hall granted our building permissions. Amazing news! It was just what we needed after the past 4 months from hell. We went to the land on the 16th April 2018 which we agreed with the town hall would be our official start date, and we spent that windy day with our architect and technical architect plotting our house, and marking the foundations. What an amazing day. Being able to see the outlines of our house on our ground was pretty incredible.

But the thing is...we'd run out of money. We'd spent thousands on architect fees, license fees applying for mortgage fees...and now we had nothing left to show for it but our dream house planned out on paper and drawn out in spray paint on our land. Torture of the highest degree, let me tell you.

When we realised that money was running low we applied for a mortgage of 75k. We figured that would be enough to build the house, furnish it, pay the fees, get the decent bio digester and the rest of it. But that bank decided at the last minute (after 6 months of back and forth, paying yet more fees for surveys etc) that if we wanted a mortgage for 75k, we we would need to have the difference between the mortgage amount and the house build estimate, in our bank as a deposit. The house build is valued at 150k in the projecto simple. But the thing is, the house build estimation is based on employing contractors and labourers and skilled tradesmen. We are planning to build ourselves, (my dad is a constructor and amazingly talented handy man) and so we wouldn't actually need to pay out for any labour costs. So if we wanted a 75k mortgage, we would need 75k in the bank. Well obviously Mr Bank Manager, if we had 75k in the bank, we wouldn't need a mortgage!

So, we tried a different bank. They agreed that we wouldn't need to show a deposit in the bank as they would take our outlay for the land and architect fees into account. Amazing! But, they didn't work with the same surveyors/valuators that the previous bank did, and so we'd have to agree to have the land and project surveyed again. The valuation came in from the last bank at 254k as an estimation for when the house build was complete. As we were only asking for 75k, that would be easy peasy, they said. 4 weeks and it would be sorted, they promised. That was July 2018.

Finally, 2 weeks ago, we were called for a meeting at the bank. The survey had finally been done (for some reason the survey company didn't get the 4 week memo). The valuation came in at 54k. How is that possible for what will be a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 2 kitchen, A rated Eco-house on a 5 acre plot of land? Well it wasn't. They had only valued the land and not the house that we wanted the mortgage for. So the bank ordered an urgent valuation report to be done, with Friday just gone as the deadline. So, we call on Friday and our contact at the bank is not in. Monday, not in. Manager isn't in either. No one seems to know what is happening. We get told that the lady we are dealing with at the bank is ill and will be off work for 14 days. We get told the manager is on holiday until the 17th December.

We then get told that actually, this bank has now changed the rules, and they won't lend a mortgage on a new build. Over the phone. Like it was no big deal. I'm sorry, WHAT?! After months of toing and froing, after money wasted on insurance policies and new bank accounts that we were told to open and take out for the sake of the mortgage application. All we needed was the survey to be done correctly and we could sign the papers. And now this. We fall at the final hurdle.

I've done pretty well to not swear so far, but fuck my life. My fight is running so fucking low right now and I just don't know what to do. Why have things been this tough? Why is everything a fight? Why is it such a struggle? I feel like all the odds are stacked against us. Is the universe telling us to just give up, because it really feels like it sometimes. I'm a fighter, I don't give up easily, but I'm pretty damn close.

But the thing is, we want this. We need this. We could not build a house in the UK. We could not afford a house in the UK. We could not afford to live on what we do here, in the UK. We are not willing to go back to the 9-5's, daily grind, that we gave up.

I'm incredibly aware of our privilege as I spew this blog post out. We are self employed. We have our dream creative jobs, working for ourselves. We set no alarms to wake up early. We get to spend so much time with our kids and watch them grow up. We own land. We have a lot of freedom.

But we're also in a rental that was only intended to be lived in for a year max. We stress and worry constantly about how we will build our house. We've sunk our life savings into this project and I can't, no refuse, to believe that this is the end.

I don't know the way forward right now, but I will fucking find one. I promise. And I will update the journey on here more frequently.

I had always put off writing on this blog until we'd started the build. Until it was real. But that's not authentic. This is part of the journey. I always said that this blog would be somewhere we'd share the real shit of our house-build journey, and I didn't feel like it would be legit to share anything before we started. But no. That's not what's gonna happen. I always said that the highs and the lows would be documented to maybe help someone else in the future, and so I will share. Even if I only have the lows to share.

I'm signing off with a picture of my warrior, Rori that we took when we were last on the land. She reminds me everyday to be fierce and strong and to keep fighting.









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Thursday, 31 August 2017

Wyrdwood Manor

It's been a while since we shared our plans with our awesome readers here so I thought I'd spend 5 minutes to bring you all up to speed.


This was our initial basic layout for the plot when we very first bought the land:

Wyrdwood Acres Permaculture Retreat Initial Layout Plan
Starting from the road access on the left, we will have:

Farm Market Stall for fresh produce and products with an honesty box

The first box will be parking for residents and visitors
The second blue box will be the kitchen garden which will supply annual crops to the house
Then we will have the tool shed for storage
Next is the geodome for starting seedlings and extending the growing season
The four blue boxes next are the fields that we will eventually rotate our chickens and goats in
Everything after that will be allowed to go somewhat wild as a food forest, with the classroom and yurts for visitors among the trees. We'll be running courses and workshops for visitors so the classroom area is essential for us. Each yurt will have it's own outhouse with compost toilet but the shower block and kitchen areas will be communal.

We've also included a pond although we are not sure that there is enough rainfall in the area to sustain it, we'll have to wait and see.

We hope that over time we'll be able to establish a living fence around the entire perimeter as a shelter belt and another source of edibles. It will be interesting to see how the layout and plan changes as we go forwards, one of the reasons we're going to be posting it all on here is so we can look back on it in the future. Hopefully we won't have too many mistakes to learn from!

Carly has painted a beautiful watercolour impression of the initial plan:

Wyrdwood Acres Permaculture Retreat - Watercolour Layout

Where Wyrdwood Manor will be located on the land

We've shared these plans before in the past, but one thing we haven't shown you all yet is what we're designing for our forever home. We already had our hearts set on building with straw bales when we moved out here and were lucky enough to find an architect that specialises in sustainable building particularly with earth and straw and with her help we have been able to create a one of a kind plan for the house. Our land is planted almost exclusively with Almonds, so we thought it was only fitting to honour the spirit of the land by drawing inspiration from the patterns in nature that are right in front of us, afterall humans are not designed to live in tidy little boxes, there are no straight lines in nature. For the shape of the main house we drew inspiration from the almond tree flowers,  for the separate work studio we will build it in the shape of the almond nut:


Design for the Almond Flower House and Almond Nut Studio
When it is built it will be truly unique and a stunning example of what can be done with natural materials. The walls will be built using straw bales and then lime rendered on the outside and earth rendered on the inside. All grey water will be directed through a reed bed filtering system and put back into the land, the house will take care of all of its own waste and electricity needs and be as self sufficient as possible.

Wyrdwood Manor Design Layout
 There will be a three bedroom house on the eastern side of the building for my family, the west side is a self contained 1 bedroom annex for my mother-in-law and father-in-law. The are both connected by the central pentagon, this will be a library /study/ meditation area with an open roof covered by a geodome at the top.

South and North Elevations of the house
I think the central area is what I am most excited about, being able to see the sky during the day and the stars at night will make it quite a spiritual place, sheltered within the house but still connected to the natural world.

Cross Section Of The Centre Of The House
The roof will be an earth covered green roof planted with wildflowers to provide additional habitat for all important pollinators, I'm hoping to put a bee hive or two up there as well eventually.

3D Artists Impression
 So you see it will all be really quite stunning once it's finished. We're planning to do all of the building ourselves so will be inviting anyone that wants to come and help and learn to join us in this undertaking. The roof of the Studio will house all of our solar installations so as not to impact on the aesthetics of the main house, so the studio has been specifically designed with this in mind to house batteries and such at one end.

Work Studio

Studio elevations

At the moment we have submitted plans to the town hall, they have already told us they have no problem with any of it as our architect is in constant contact with them so we expect to have our building permission back by the end of September so we can really get moving with the project physically. Now to design a kitchen garden that will be worthy of such a project!
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Thursday, 13 July 2017

Article in Permaculture Magazine

Tricky Wolf -  Permaculture Magazine Article
We've had an article published on Permaculture Magazine!

It's a quick article explaining a bit of our background story, how we got to where we are and what we're hoping to achieve, if you'd like to catch up with the article follow the link below:

Click here to read the full article
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Thursday, 1 June 2017

Slowly but Surely

Things finally feel like they're happening. After months and months of what feels like endless waiting around, we should FINALLY be signing for our land next week. 

This is it. this is the beginning. No more scheming and dreaming. Now it's time to start putting the wheels into motion.

We're going to be sharing all about our adventure. The highs and, possibly more importantly, the lows. I feel it's important to be transparent about this process and discuss our triumphs and losses. We have no need for secrecy and if our experiences can help somebody else who is hoping to do something similar to us, then that's amazing in my eyes. 

So, deep breath. Let's do this!


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Saturday, 18 March 2017

5 Ways To Test Your Soil Without A Kit


So many people go about their garden with a sort of haphazard, hope for the best approach without observing what type of soil they are working with or having any idea what sort of problems they may come up against.


Since it's almost time for people to get stuck in to their gardening this year I thought it might be useful to share with you some different ways to test your soil so you have a rough idea of what you're working with, which will allow you to figure out maybe what amendments you may need to apply and help you get the most from your Garden this year. Most of these methods were covered in my Permaculture Design Course and are easy to do at home without forking out on complicated professional soil testing kits or specialist equipment.

You can collect soil for different parts of your land and mix it to give you an overall picture or you can target specific parts of the garden to get an more intimate knowledge of your soil.


1 - Glass Jar Soil Test


Take a clear glass jar and fill half way with soil. Fill the rest of the jar with water leaving a 1" air gap at the top to allow you to shake the mixture. Attach the lid and shake vigorously for a minute to break up any clods in the soil and allow all particles to become suspended in the water. Put the jar in an out of the way place to allow the particles to settle undisturbed

Glass Jar Soil Test
The next day your sample should have settled in to something vaguely resembling the photo above. If you look closely you should be able to see the separate layers that make up your soil. Sand are the largest particles and make up the bottom layer, Silt forms the middle layer and Clay is the smallest mineral component and falls on top. By looking at the ratio of each you can build a rough picture of what type of soil you have, in my photo example the soil is from the part of our land where the kitchen garden will go and you can see that I have almost equal parts Clay, Silt and Sand which classes my soil type as Loam - one of the best soils to garden with.

The perfect combination for garden soil is 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand.
If the combination is 30% clay, 60% silt, 10% sand = It is a Silty Clay Loam soil.
If the combination is 15% clay, 20% silt, 65% sand = It is a Sandy Loam soil.
If the combination is 15% clay, 65% silt, 20% sand = It is a Silty Loam soil.

To confirm your results if you are unsure you can couple them with the next technique:

2 - Hand Soil Test


Hand Soil Test - Form A Bolus

The following test when used in conjunction with the jar test can help form a picture of what type of soil you really have, it's time to get our hands dirty!

Use the following infographic to find out your soil type using your hands (click to see full size)

Hand Soil Texture Test
Hand Soil Test - Forming A Ribbon

Knowing your soil makeup can help to foresee what you might expect to come up against. If your garden is predominantly Clay then you will find it may be prone to waterlogging in the winter, backbreaking to dig in the summer and difficult to grow things like carrots, although brassicas will thrive on the high nutrient content that it provides. If you have mostly Sandy soil it will be fast draining and may not hold enough water for thirsty plants like tomatoes but will suit long rooted plants like tomatoes/parsnips perfectly. 

Once you know the texture it is a good idea to find out if you have acid or alkaline earth with the next soil tests

3 - Alkaline Soil Test


Collect 1 cup of soil from your garden and put 2 spoonfuls into separate containers. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the soil. If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil, with a pH probably between 7 and 8.

4 - Acid Soil Test


If it doesn’t fizz after doing the vinegar test, then add distilled water to the other container until 2 teaspoons of soil are muddy. Add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes you have acidic soil, most likely with a pH between 5 and 6.
If  your soil doesn’t react at all it is neutral with a pH of 7 and you are very lucky!

5 - Worm Test


The worm test requires a bit more energy and enthusiasm! Worms are a good indicator of your overall soil health, and it's easy to test your soil at home with a worm test. Wait until soil is warm and moist, mark out a 12 inch x 12 inch square then dig out a 12 inch cube of soil and place the earth on a tarp etc, Sift through the soil and count the earthworms. If you have at least 10 worms (the more worms the better) then your soil is healthy and passes the test. If your soil is low on worms it could be an indicator of underlying soil problems, it could be down to lack of organic matter, contamination of chemical pollutants or high salts and worms will also die if your soil is consistently too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold, too acidic, or too alkaline.
Since these wriggly subterranean helpers do so much to improve the soil in your garden it is well worth giving them a favourable environment; Earthworms adore damp organic matter like compost and love to chill out beneath mulch and no till gardens in general. 

Whatever your soil type do not despair, there is no type of soil that cannot provide an abundance if given the right TLC. I have yet to find any soil that does not benefit from good quality compost and organic matter, after all you can garden on top of solid rock/concrete with raised beds of good compost!


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Friday, 17 March 2017

Permaculture Diploma

It seems like forever since I updated everyone! over the next few days I'll bring you all up to speed, sorry for leaving you all hanging!

Today I took the next step in my Permaculture journey by joining the Permaculture Association and submitting my application for a Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design.

Harvesting Bamboo in the Spanish Mountains

Permaculture has been such a massive positive energy in our lives since I completed my Permaculture Design Course in 2016 and has been the driving force in us completely changing our lives for the better. I'm really excited to be working with my old mentor Graham Burnett, he is a published author, writer and owner of Spiralseed as well as being, in my opinion, the Yoda of Permaculture!

The Diploma takes a minimum of 2 years but I am going to give myself 4 years to complete it, I think that the fact I will be building my own house & homestead would leave me too time poor to attempt to do my diploma portfolio any quicker than that, and it gives me optimum time for reflection and evaluation of my designs. I will be writing more about my permaculture designs on our website for our homestead, Wyrdwood Acres which we home to build in to a flourishing permaculture centre over the next few years and can't wait to share our progress with you all :)
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