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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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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Sunday, 13 November 2016

Visiting the Land Before We Buy

As promised, here are the photos we took when we visited the land on Saturday:


We'll be buying 5 acres of this to build our new life on the land


We walked the perimeter to have a proper look around it


MiL and Fil Diane and Terry were with us





It is planted almost exclusively with almonds at the moment, but in the centre there is one olive tree


All of the trees are still in production, despite being neglected for a number of years now by the current owners




a panoramic shot:


Carly looks happy from her head....


...to her toes!


Even though it's mid November the weather here is still beautiful


Over the years we're hoping to turn this plot of land it to a thriving permaculture paradise, building the soil ecology and biodiversity up to repair the damage that man has done to the soil. It's not a small task but we love a challenge and can't wait to get stuck in as soon as everything comes to completion. We'll keep you all updated!


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Monday, 22 August 2016

Initial Layout Plan

When we decided that we had our hearts set on this journey one of the first things we did was book a place on a PDC, a Permaculture Design Course.



I did my course under the tutelage of Graham Burnett through his company Spiralseed. Graham is a fantastic teacher and has become a great friend, I thoroughly recommend booking a course with him.

We thought that learning about permaculture would help us achieve our plans, but instead it was more of a revelation than we could have imagined, and has ultimately shaped our plans more than anything else.

Below is the plan as it stands at the moment:


Our first action whilst we are waiting on building permissions for the house will be to put in the swales around the entire perimeter and to put the pathways in (shown in pink) for access around the plot and to avoid compacting the rest of the soil.

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!

If you have any ideas or thoughts we'd love to hear from you in the comments

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Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Land

So this is the land we will likely spend the rest of our lives on, living the good life and getting close to nature.

The land we have our hearts set on is 5 acres in southern Spain that is currently host to nothing but Almond trees. The plot is relatively narrow and long, so we would own as far as the eye can see in this first picture.




Spain's obsession with monoculture and constant weeding/ploughing between the trees leaves the earth bare, scorched and barren. It is our hope that by using Permaculture practices, introducing as much biological matter as we can to the soil and establishing ground cover will regenerate this land in to a green oasis.

The climate in the area is referred to as a local steppe climate. During the year there is little rainfall. This climate is considered to be BSk according to the Köppen-Geiger climate classification. The average annual temperature in el Pinós/Pinoso is 15.2 °C. The rainfall here averages 404 mm. The least amount of rainfall occurs in July. The average in this month is 9 mm. Most of the precipitation here falls in October, averaging 59 mm.

Since the area doesn't receive a very high annual rainfall, our first job will be to put the earthworks in place to help slow the movement of water and sink it in to the land. My plan for this is to dig trenches/swales around the perimeter of the property. since we are on a very slight hill this will allow us to collect the water that runs off our neighbours property and put it to use aswell as catching any water before runs off our own property at the other end. We'll also be utilising as much greywater as possible to help up the moisture available to our plants. With added biological matter in our soil it should hold more water better and for longer to minimise runoff and soil erosion. In the food forest we will also allow the native pioneer plants to pave the way as ground cover and slowly substitute them out for more beneficial or edible plants where appropriate.

We'll be introducing a wide variety of biodiversity as part of our design/plan for Wyrdwood Acres to help heal the land and build up the soil health. Dynamic accumulators like comfrey will be invaluable to us for their ability for to drill nutrients from deep in the soil and when composted re-distribute them through the upper layers of the soil where other plants can benefit from them. Animals will have their role to play in our system too, eventually we plan to keep quail, chickens, goats and possibly rabbits and pigs too, all of which will provide valuable manure to enrich the soil and get that vital microbiology going to create good healthy soil.





It will certainly be a challenge trying to implement our plans and designs but one that we are so excited to undertake. Check back often to see how we get on with achieving our homestead goals!






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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

5 Year Plan?.....not so much

Well it turns out that our 5 year plan has turned in to a 5 month plan!

Since our last post we have put the house up for sale, found a buyer and are set to exchange within the next 4 weeks!

We've been viewing land over in Spain and have our hearts set on a 5 acre plot in southern Spain where we plan to build a eco friendly sustainable homestead using natural materials such as straw bale construction and earth render.

We're so close to leaving the 9-5 world and diving head first in to our "Back to Nature" life, I cannot wait!
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Monday, 13 June 2016

And So It Begins...

This was the very first step we took in moving towards our goals:

http://fast-sos.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/permaculture-design-course.html



The lessons learn on the Permaculture Design Course have been invaluable to us and really shaped the designs for our plot of land. Things are going to move much quicker than we originally anticipated with our 5 year plan, watch this space!
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