As part of a wish to live more simply, reduce our environmental impact, and as a reaction to the threat of a changing climate, and over reliance on fossil fuels, we are establishing an off grid smallholding using permaculture and organic principles. Our aim is to be able to provide working, practical solutions that people can learn about, and take away to use in their own lives.
We welcome and are host to volunteers from all over the world, who come to learn more about our way of life, and experience the beauty of Northern Ireland. For most, it is their first experience of our country and we aim to make it a positive one.
Within five years we aim to substantially meet our energy, food, water and waste requirements from our smallholding, and to provide a healthy and ecologically sound environment in which visitors can learn from our experiences and see how it is possible to live in a more sustainable manner without compromising their standard of living. We will provide opportunities to learn more about vegetable and fruit growing.
It is our intention to market our self catering cottage alongside short practical courses in a variety of ecological themes, as well as offering an ‘off grid experience’ to those seeking to live more simply, or more self reliantly. Rising food and energy prices, along with recent revelations about the complexity of the modern food chain mean that interest in home food production, and living ‘The Good Life’ are at an all time high. Although we realise that for many people, taking this to the level that we have is not practical, there are many aspects that they will be able to take away and adapt to fit into their lifestyles.
Our farm was established around 1840, and the holding has changed little since then, apart from some modernisation in the 1950’s. The land was once bog, but has been improved over the years – the original buildings are still in use, and the property had been passed on through inheritance until the elderly owners sold it to us in May 2012.
Reusing old buildings is less common in Northern Ireland than other parts of the UK, but we were keen to retain the cottages and retain their original character. We were concerned to use materials that were natural, low in chemicals, and which worked sympathetically with the stone structures whilst providing an energy efficient home. Materials such as sheep’s wool insulation, lime-hemp plasters and locally sourced timber have enabled us to achieve this.
Where practical, we have used recycled materials – flooring, sinks, bath, kitchen – often older items are made to a quality that is hard to find in modern counterparts and which can offer many more years of useful service.
Low Impact Living
In the UK, the average person uses resources that are equivalent to us needing five planet earths to support them. Our overall aim is to reduce our ecological footprint to a point where we use only a sustainable proportion of those resources. Here’s how:
Our electricity comes from a 4Kw photovoltaic system, which will supply both cottages. Modern production techniques mean that over the lifetime of the system, it is energy positive.
Cooking, central heating and domestic hot water, are fuelled using wood, produced from our own woodland, which is coppiced to ensure that we have a constant supply of timber. In addition to the existing woodland, we have planted an additional 800 trees over the last winter. We also have solar hot water heating to boost the supply, and provide domestic hot water in the summer when lighting a woodburner is less desirable.
We grow much of our own vegetables, and are planting an orchard which will provide all our fruit needs. We also keep hens, principally for eggs, but also for occasional meat. We are active members of GIY (Grow It Yourself) Ireland, and as part of a local network are able to barter and obtain all the vegetables we need, as well as a proportion of our meat. We shop locally wherever possible.
We aim to reduce domestic waste by avoiding excessive packaging, and recycle wherever possible. All kitchen waste is composted, and products such as wood ash are used in the garden.
Greywater from the sink and washing machine is cleaned by reed beds before being used for irrigation.
We use composting toilets, which separate urine from solid matter. Solids are mixed with sawdust, allowed to compost aerobically until the resulting composted matter is safe to use around fruit trees. Urine is used to accelerate garden compost heaps, and dilute as an excellent nitrogen ferlitiser.
Although for hygiene reasons we use treated mains water for drinking, we have a well supply, and collect rainwater to provide for the needs of our animals, for clothes washing, and in the garden.