We really enjoyed the recent permaculture weekend course, and one of the exercises we regularly do is to ask participants to look at our site and see if they can come up with suggestions or improvements. We got several great ones this time around and so set about acting on them. The first was the observation that the area around the pond was being wasted (and the huge bank of nettles was shading the willow planting), so the day after the course, we set to and carefully weeded the entire area, before adding horse manure to the area that gets the most sun, and covering it with cardboard to suppress any weeds and retain moisture. The rest of the bank we have mulched with woodchip, the idea being to plant blueberries into it. The main area of the bank will get squash, pumpkins and courgettes.

One of the practical sessions on the course was building a small vertical flow reedbed above our existing horizontal flow reedbed, as it didn’t seem enough to properly clean the greywater before releasing it into the pond. It has been hard to get the reedbeds right  this is our third incarnation of them so far. The new bed is basically an IBC tank with the top sliced off. We added a layer of large stones at the bottom; 20mm gravel above that, and sand at the top, which is planted with the reeds. So far the results seem to be great, and the water entering the pond is noticably cleaner.

The second big thing that was mentioned on the course was the need for rainwater harvesting – perhaps the single biggest project yet to be undertaken. Initially my impulse was to run out and hire a digger, but after some consideration we decided to make use of the bank in front of the house, and dig it out by hand. The tanks would end up just low enough to run rainwater down into, be handy for the existing pump if we need it, and still be in the right spot to run a gravity feed down to the polytunnels if necessary. We were given a tank, and got a couple more locally off gumtree.

Preparing the site was a good day’s work, shifting a couple of tonnes of soil and stone, as well as a 20 foot birch tree, which we seem to have successfully rehomed down by the lower pond.

It’s guyed for now until its roots establish, but we got it out with them all intact so with any luck it won’t be long before it can manage on it’s own.

Having cleared the site, it was time to clean up our somewhat motley collection of IBC’s using brushes, soap and lots of hot water. All but one came up well and I’m happy that they will be safe to drink filtered water from if we need to. Certainly they don’t contain anything that would harm plants. It took an entire day and a half to clean them though.

The next step was to remove the plastic ‘bottles’ from the cages, wrap them in black plastic and replace them. This is to keep the light out and reduce algal growth in the tanks. We had some plastic given to us, but anything opaque will do, or they can be painted. Here’s a couple in situ (there will be 4 altogether).

The next step is to connect them all together, hook up the pump, and the inlet from our gutters, and wait for rain…