Thursday, 30 May 2013

A duck house that doesn't cost the British taxpayer anything!

In a continuing quest to make as much of the stuff we do here from scratch and using recycled materials here is the tale of “The Pallet Duck House”
We’re lucky here in that the local garden center/agricultural suppliers in the local town put all their non returnable or damaged pallets out for general use. I think most people round here gather them for firewood as they do make good kindling. Here at Chez Powell we’re aiming for something a bit more creative. My skills are not yet complete and I’m a long way off some of the creations you can find with a quick google search but I have a go. Like the poly tunnel below I’m not going to claim that this is a “how to....” but a “how I did it”

The basic frame was made up of 5 pallets. One we found with no spaces for the base. I then attached one on each of three sides. I then took apart some that weren't suitable for use whole and used them to fill in the gaps. Ducks like a draft free but ventilated home so I overlapped the gap fillers leaving a gap at the top for ventilation.

As with all here crazy child is optional!

The front is another whole pallet, with a gap cut out for a door and restrengthened across the bottom. Ducks can be quite messy so I’ve built it (I would use the word design but to call anything I do a design would be an insult to designers and engineers everywhere) so that it can be lifted out for ease of cleaning. I’ve included a close up of what I came up with for those who are interested! It is simply two offset planks screwed into the sides. As with the sides the gaps were filled with more broken down pallet planks. The door is knocked up from some old bits of wood reclaimed from inside the house.

The closest thing to a design feature I've ever done!

The roof is the only bit we bought new. I don’t trust my skills enough to build a watertight roof from pallets so this was a concession. We did have a good look around for something suitable but couldn't find anything. It’s 10mm plywood cut to overhang the house. We put some baton round the edge for strength and some bit so it would sort of slot into place over the house. On either side I also put so pallet planks for extra wind proofing.

Shot so you can see the overlapping idea

So there it is. A nearly free duck house not paid for by the British taxpayer!! We put in 5 ducks from a very nice English lady with a farm up the road. (I would imagine you’ll hear more about them in the future!) However, there was an unfortunate incident involving an escape and a PBGV called Lottie. We now have three, who continue to astound us with their ability to get out of their enclosure through gaps I can’t even get my hand through.

Don't let her fool you, she's a cold blooded killer, attack dog (So long as you are small and feathered)
By way of a general update, as we're writing and all. Veg garden is pretty much all sown and most is coming along nicely despite this "interesting" spring weather Europe is having. Thanks to Maz we're also trialing some permiculture. This year is mostly to see what will survive the Correzienne winter before we do some actual designed planting in the next couple of years. We broke out War of the Ring this week as well, it was looking like I was going to crush the the Free peoples in full totalitarian style when Mrs Powell put in a cheeky military sortie in the North and stole victory from under me! Next time do-gooding elves, next time! I've also finished A Song of Ice and Fire, now I have to wait for George R R Martin to stop fannying around with the TV series and get writing the last two books.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Probably the best polytunnel in Viam! (But actually, probably not)

Every selfsufficienter needs some way to extend the growing season.  Here the locals tell you not to put anything other than potatoes and onions in the ground until the 15th of May unless it’s under cover!  In our case we decided to go for a polytunnel and the aim was to build it using as little bought materials as possible. A quick look around the various outbuildings and garden here at Chez Powell turned up a number of things we could use. So when our friends The Hopwoods (Maz’s blog is listed over to the right, lots of good stuff there so take a look) came to stay we got to work. What follows is a “How we did it” rather than a “How to...” as I'm sure it doesn't conform to any kind of poly tunnel norm! Which is just how we like it!

First for the base/frame we cut down some of the pines growing at the end of the garden. We made a rectangle base and A-frame at either end and in the middle.

  This was all lashed together rather than screwed or bolted to allow for the changing of the green pine wood. Thinking this way it can be tightened or loosed as necessary.  Matt’s a climber so taught me some knot technique along the way as well.

We found the frame work for a large garden gazebo in one of the outbuildings so we used a long pole as the ridge pole (Is it called a ridge pole outside of a tent? I don’t know) 

We then drilled some holes along the base and inserted more poles vertically, attached plastic water pipe to act as frame/support for the plastic film that will eventually go over the top.

We also drove in some chestnut fence posts (left over from the pig fencing) at either end to add a bit of extra support and strength. At the one end they will also act as the frame for the door.

The decision was made to dig out the beds and paths before putting the film on. Not fancying the saunaesque   conditions that would ensue with two 30something men digging inside a polytunnel, not to mention the smell!  All the turf was given to the pigs and chickens who love to root around in it to forage for greens and grubs.  

 At the end of the first day, two thirsty men took a break and posed for the up-coming calendar!

The following day, we then stretched the film over the top, weighted it down with rocks found around the land and screwed into the frame at either end.

The door was knocked up form some wood reclaimed from pallets and the hinges used were taken from an old door we took out of the house.  


We used stones found when digging to create a little border around the beds themselves, just to make it look nice.

All that remained was to plant it up. We had to wait a bit for the market as a frost killed our seedlings. It wasn’t just us some other English guys down the road had the same problem. So far we’ve put in tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and lettuces. We’re also trying out some companion planting with garlic and basil (Both keep aphids and blackfly off the toms) We have also got some pot marigolds to go in. When the whole thing is in bloom I’ll get some more pics on.   

Again many thanks to Maz and Matt for helping out. We had a great week and are looking forward to doing it again. Knitting our underwear from tofu next time!! Should mention that, Chells old man helped with the door and finishing the following week.