Lackan Cottage Farm
Demonstrating practical sustainability
Lackan Cottage Farm is a six acre smallholding where we are growing food using organic methods, and applying permaculture design to create something unique. As well as being our family home we welcome visitors and volunteers from all over the world to join us, as the site becomes part working demonstration, part experiment. Now in our seventh year on the site we are off grid for electricity and fuel, manage our own greywater and waste and have a variety of heating and cooking systems.
We’ve used natural building techniques and materials, produce much of our own food and are starting to manage the birch woodland, as well as using it as a space for teaching, crafts and retreat. What is important is that we share our experiences of day to day living a more self sustaining lifestyle. Scroll on down for a taste of what is happening here.
Off grid comfort
Birch cottage was originally a barn, rebuilt in the 1950’s as a house, and now reborn as a well insulated solar powered tiny home. The cottage is off grid and uses natural and local materials throughout It features a high performance heating system that uses just the sun and a small woodburner to ensure that it is carbon neutral in use. We have experimented with a variety of different natural building materials such as woodfibre insulation, lime plaster, breathable recycled paper membranes, wood-wool board and sheep’s wool insulation.
This is a demonstration of how old buildings can be reused and find a new life, while remaining comfortable and cheap to run.
We now visitors the opportunity to stay in Northern Ireland’s only off grid self catering accommodation, which is one of only a handful to achieve Green Tourism’s Gold standard.
Several months of the year, the cottage can provide heating and hot water from solar thermal panels alone, and the rest of the year requires only a small amount of firewood in the woodburner to top it up. Firewood comes from our own managed woodland. Electricity comes from our own solar pv and wind installation, and so running costs are minimal. There is no reason that more homes could not be like this – none of the materials or techniques used are complicated or hard to find.
Our birch woodland grows on cut over bog, and is a magical place. We are slowly coppicing some of the trees to produce a fuel supply, and use the woodland clearings for woodturning, courses, retreats, camping and as a place to unwind and escape from the outside world.
Being responsible for generating our own power makes us more aware of how we use it. We try to strike a balance between using less, and still retaining things that make life easier – for instance a fridge, freezer and washing machine. Because at times we have a surplus, we have learned how to use that to save in other areas such as heating or hot water. Having both solar and wind power ensures that we are unlikely to be without significant supply, and this has proved to be the case.
Our 4.5kw solar pv arrays are made up largely of used panels that are several years old and still producing their original output. They produce enough power for the whole site, and often a surplus which is used in space and water heating. The wind turbine is a 3.5kw unit, on a used mast. All the equipment was installed by us, so we know how to maintain and fix it if necessary. We record what we generate and use, making the information freely available so that people can see what is possible at our northerly latitude and plan accordingly.
Just a few years ago this space was grazing land with hedges flailed down to a couple of feet high. Now a mixture of native broadleaf and fruit trees are providing new habitats, edible hedging gives us food, and pollinator friendly planting exists amongst vegetable crops. We have added some thirty species of apple tree as well as a variety of berries, and over 1000 native trees have been planted. Our polytunnels allow us to grow year round and have a healthy frog population to help with pest control. We also run chickens and ducks in the orchard and woodland areas to manage the grass and manage slug populations. All part of a permaculture design that gives structure to the way we develop the land.
Our pond is a vital stage in water purification. As greywater flows from the buildings, it is cleaned in the reedbed and then passes to the big pond. An overflow will eventually run to a second lower pond in a wet area of the field. Dug by hand with the help of volunteers, the pond provides habitat for a huge range of creatures, and is much loved byan array of wildlife.
Horizontal flow reed beds
Water from the bath, shower and sinks exits as greywater from the cottages, and arrives at a settlement tank, which catches any food waste, before the water arrives at the reedbeds. There, sand and gravel layers populated with oxygenating plants filter the water, make use of nutrients, and then release the cleaner water to our pond. Still a work in progress as we attempt to get the flow rate right, and the plants establish themselves properly.
Making good use of a valuable resource and taking reponsibility for our own waste are an important part of our way of life. The dry composting toilet separates urine and faeces – the dry matter is then composted with sawdust and other woody material for two years, at which point any pathogens are dead and it is safe to use around trees; the urine is used to accelerate compost heaps or diluted to make an incredibly effective nitrogen fertiliser.
The geodesic dome
We love interesting structures, and so when the opportunity came up to acquire this geodesic dome, we couldn’t resist the chance to use it as a space to bring on young plants. The geodome was pioneered by Buckminster Fuller, and dome homes were all the rage in the 70’s as folk such as Lloyd Kahn experimented with the structures. This one originally featured in Susie Cahn’s permaculture garden on the RTE series ‘Super Gardens’.