Archives for the month of: June, 2011

The shape of the new building has been starting to emerge over the past few weeks as more of the timbers that form it have been added to the structure. When the body of the roof went on you started to get a feel for some of the finished dimensions, both internal and external.

Work has been continuing on the roof this week, but a couple of pretty interesting pieces of the structure have also been put into place as well.

The second set of wall plates have gone on, these hold the rafters as they go over the top of the straw bale walls. Now they are in you can see the gaps within which the bale walls will fit. Getting them into place with the roof and scaffolding in the way is a bit like threading the needle on a large scale. A gap in the scaffolding has a roller attached to it and then the telehandler is brought in to move the timber.

You should be able to see that it has already had the mortices cut in it so that it will slot straight onto the tenons that had been cut on top of the outer jowels.

Once the end was resting on the roller a bit of nifty reversing and driving is required to get the timber to roll over it up onto the scaffold into position.

Another timber that has been added to the structure this week is the newel post for the stairs. The stair treads will rediate out from this post as they wind around and up to the first floor, you can imagine resting a hand on it as you go upstairs. Its nice seeing some of the timbers going in that that will see the most of the people who will be living here.

It was lifted into the building mechanically but then raised into place using a block and tackle. The bottom of it rests on a padstone, and the top is attached to the rafters.

On a totally seperate note, if you followed my method for making elderflower champagne, now would be a good time to let a bit of pressure out of the bottles, I know from bitter experience just how messy a job it is cleaning up spills from exploded elderflower bottles and am hoping to save people some of the same trouble!

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This week the solar hot water panels went up on the basecamp roof. We are using flat plate collectors, you can see them waiting to be installed here.

The green technology we are putting in is in many ways one of the most exciting parts of this project. In the past our carbon footprint at Swan Barn Farm has not been anything to be proud of, but that is all changing this year, this is the latest step in that process.

The panels are fitted to bars which attach to brackets that reach through the tiles on the basecamp roof and attach to the rafters. Martyn the local bat worker has been present for the instalation of both these and the pv panels, we owe him a big thankyou for helping us with the work and ensuring that any disturbance to the roof didn’t cause any problems for the local bat population.

Flat plate collectors look a bit like massive iphones when they are strapped onto the roof, I guess there are a few arguments out there about the asthetics of this, but they are hidden on the back of the basecamp roof and I think they are a realy usefull piece of green technology.

They work by collecting the suns energy and focusing it on a pipe run which has an anti freeze solution within it. This solution passes along a pipe and into the bascamp plant room where the heat is exchanged inside a cylinder to heat the domestic hot water supply. On days when the sun is not providing enough heat the bring the water up to temperature the system will be boosted by a feed from the biomass boiler which we will be installing later in the year.

With the basecamp sleeping up to 19 people and 3 people in the new building you can imagine that there is quite a demand for hot water, especially after a hard days work in the woods. Our solar and biomass systems have been scaled to cope with this demand, and it will be a proud moment when they are switched on and we go over to using entirely sustainable sources of heat and hot water.

Meanwhile we have also had another working holiday helping with the project over the past week. The main job has been shingle making, and they have done a great job for us, making over 800 of them. Its not long untill we start the job of putting them on the roof, so its been crucial to get enough of them in stock to ensure first half of the roof can be completed in one go. Thanks guys, great work.
Before they go on the roof they all need to have a hole predrilled in them to ensure the nail that holds them in place doesn’t split the shingle in half. The holes need to be positioned accurately to ensure the shingles sit in nice level rows, this is where the jig comes in.

We made a jig (it makes sure each hole is exactly the same distance from the bottom of the shingle) and attached it to the pillar drill. Then it is a question of putting each of the 7500 or so shingles we need for the first part of the roof onto the jig and drilling the hole.

The volunteers made an excellent start on this, getting several wheelbarrow loads done. There is still a long way to go though, just another job to add to the list of stuff to do.

Some of you may remember us sending the oak for our floorboards down to the local sawmill, Wests near Petworth, we are using them as it is the nearest wood drying kiln we can access. The floorboards need kiln drying to ensure they don’t warp and leave gaps between then when they dry out.

The oak logs were sawn into planks a few months ago and ever since have been stacked in the wood yard air drying.

Despite the rain we have had over the last couple of weeks they had a long period of time out in very dry conditions, this weather will have meant they air dred very effectively. This takes them down to a certain level of moisture content, but to ensure they are stable in the building the time has come to move them into the kiln for the final drying. Here you can see them being moved in with a forklift.

Throughout the process the planks are all kept in the order they were cut out of the log, this helps ensure they dry out evenly and minimises warping.

The next stage will be the thicknessing and milling of the boards into their final form, I am really looking forward to seeing them after they have been finished, I have high hopes for our floor, they were lovely pieces of wood and the floor should look pretty spectacular.

Meanwhile back at the building the membrane and some of the counter battens have gone on the roof.

The membrane will ensure the building stays nice and watertight and the counter battens are the strips of wood which hold it in place onto the rafters. The counter battens will also ensure there is an air gap underneath the shingles, which should keep them dry and prolong their life.

It also means that from now on whenever anyone is working inside the building they will be able to stay dry, with the way things have been here lately that is quite a blessing.

It defines the shape of the roof as well, and means you can really start to get a picture of what the internal spaces are going to be like.

This week the sheep that graze the speckled wood orchard got their annual haircut.

Unfortunately my shearing skills leave rather a lot to be desired. I get the wool off, but they look a bit like they have been through a mincer and my time per animal is so bad I wont even mention it here.

So, Susie the shearer came to visit, and I am sure the girls were gratefull to be dealt with by her rather than having to put up with me.

Even so the one that is waiting to be shorn in the picture above has a decidedly suspicious look on her face. She is the oldest of the sheep and has seen it all before, she still didn’t seem too grateful though.

The fleeces will go to my freind Polly to be spun. I am told Jacob’s produce good quality wool for spinning, with the added bonus that you get both light and dark colours off one animal.

Its incredible how different they look after their haircut, they look about half the size. You might not believe it now, but it was a really sunny day and you can’t help wondering how it would have felt to be wearing that thick a wooly jumper and then taking it off, must be quite a relief.

The new building will be insulated using sheeps wool. Unfortunately my tiny flock only produced 8 fleeces, so the insulation will have to be bought in. Its been nice to see it being used more for insulating buildings in recent years though, it always seems a shame that at the moment many people still struggle to find a market for their fleeces. Wool production used to be such an important industry in this country, it shaped many of our best loved landscapes, maybe it is something that will become more important again in the future.

Last weekend I went over to Partridge Green for an open day to see a house that Ben Law and his team have recently finished building. It’s called Withyfield Cottage and was built as a self catering holiday let at Merrion Farm. I thought I could get some ideas about internal finishes, but it was also a chance to be a bit nosey and see how the build had turned out, I last saw it on a rainy cold day in January.

The roof and studwork had just been finished and the straw bale walls were starting to go in.

Six months later and the building is all finished and ready to let.

Some of the materials used at Withyfield are different to the ones we are using here at Swan Barn Farm, but the principle of using locally sourced sustainably produced wood is the same and it was really interesting to have a look around. The shingle roof in particular looks great, very different to the finish we will get on ours though, Withyfield’s is made of sawn western red ceder, ours will be made of sweet chestnut cleaved by hand.

The verandah looked like a lovely space to sit in the evening, and there were some nice touches on display in the way the wood had been jointed and finished.

Inside the cruck arches fly up through the open spaces to support the roof and floors.

Thanks very much to the owners for letting me have a look around. It was interesting to see how the building had turned out and made me start to think about how we are going to finish the inside of Speckled Wood.

I have been a bit busy lately, and nearly managed to completely miss the elderflower season. At the weekend I set out to rectify this. The flowers were out very early this year, but there are still a few around that are useable if you look.

I was very proud once when a freind told me she thought the wine I had made was “not completely awfull”. Bearing in mind that this is where the bar is set I always feel much happier serving people some elderflower champagne, I think it tastes really nice. If you get it right it tastes like summer in a bottle, and chilled on a sunny evening with friends it goes down a treat.

There are loads of recipes out there, a quick search on the internet will throw up a whole load which are all broadly similar. The best advice I can give is to actually smell the flowers as you are picking them. The weather, the time of day and the ages of the flowers all seem to make a big difference to how nice (or otherwise) the flowers smell, and this comes across in the finished article.

Here’s what I do. Gather 35 or so nice big elderflower heads. Make sure you leave plenty behind for the local insects on each bush.

You will need a vessel in which to ferment the champagne, a sterilised clean bucket will do if nothing else is available.

Boil 10-12 litres of water and allow to cool in the bucket. Add 2.5 kg granulated white sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the juice and zest from 5 lemons and 1 lime. Add 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar. Give the elderflowers a good shake in the garden to remove the small insects that have hitched a ride and then add these as well. Cover with a clean cloth.

Leave for a couple of days, then check to see if the natural yeasts on the flowers have started a fermentation (you should see bubbles and froth on the surface of the liquid). If for some reason the natural yeast isn’t working add a sachet of general purpose white wine yeast. Leave for 4-5 days to ferment. Then once the fermentation has slightly slowed strain and bottle. Don’t worry about the fact it will be a bit cloudy.

The idea is that the fermentation will finish in the bottle, this gives you the fizz. But, elderflower champagne comes with a warning, ignored at your peril! Depending on the point when you bottle it can be very, very fizzy. I have exploded a number of glass bottles over the years and would recomend caution. By far the safest is a plastic fizzy drink bottle, when the pressure builds up too much you can crack the lid open a bit to release pressure before it splits. If you do choose to use glass bottles make sure they are strong ones and keep one bottled in plastic alongside so you can see when to release the pressure.

It doesn’t keep for more than 3 or 4 months, so wait 5 or 6 weeks for a nice sunny day, chill and then enjoy!

Work on the roof of the speckled wood building has started, and today the first of the rafters went up.

They span the gap between the ridge pole and wall plates, on them will sit a membrane, then counter battens, battens and finally the shingles which people have been working so hard in the woods to make for us. Seeing the first shingle going on is going to be quite something, hundreds of hours of dedicated work by many teams of volunteers has gone in to making them.

The rafters were sawn out earlier in the spring here at Swan Barn Farm using Douglas Fir which we had felled just up the road.

They were cut out of some pretty hefty 5 metre long pieces of timber, fortunately our sawmill has a hydraulic handling system built into it which makes moving the timber into position much more easy. Above you can see Catherine cutting out 14 inch wide boards which were later cut in half to make 7×2 inch rafters.

Joining roundwood to sawn timber is quite a skill, the ridge pole and wall plate are made out of pretty long tree trunks, and so taper along their length. Getting the rafters to sit level so that the roof will be square takes some very careful jointing work.

Small notches are cut to the right depth to ensure they all sit at the right level. I’ve always thought that with any practicle work you can tell when someone is very good at it, they always manage to make it look easy, even when you know it isn’t. The guys on the framing team seem to have been doing a lot of that lately.

Its a bit difficult to tell from the picture above because of all the scaffolding, but the gable end frame has been erected as well, this is the one thats going to have glazing let into its roundwood poles. I reckon its going to look pretty smart.

Well, it seems to be at Swan Barn Farm at the moment anyway, in the last week things have really moved on with the building.

The scaffolding has really changed the appearance of the structure.

It allows access to the roof, which is where work is going to be focused over the coming weeks. The first job on this front has been to get the wallplates and some of the wind braces in position.

The Wallplates sit on top of the vertical jowel posts and will support the outer end of the rafters. They are made out of the long lengths of larch we fetched from Valewood earlier in the year. Getting them here was a real challenge, and a bit of an adventure, so seeing them going into their finished position in the building is really exciting.

The joints in it started to be cut while it was in the field next door.

It was then lifted into position for final fettling. The telehandler lifted it onto the roof, from where it could be raised and lowered using metal tripods with a block and tackle.

The windbraces are the short 45 degree pieces, there will be a number of them throughout the build, they are designed to stop the building racking, or twisting, in the wind.

Once all the mortice and tennons had been finished and it was all lined up it was dropped into position.

A maul (the big rubber hammer) tapped the wallplate down into its final position.

Work has also been continuing on the glazed gable end frame.

The rebates have been cut in it so that it will be ready for glass to be fitted once it is in position. We are hopeing it is going to turn out to be one of the real highlights of the finished structure.

We are past the 7000 mark now on the shingle counter, great progress (still another 8000 or so to do though!) and perfect timing as it should mean we will have enough to shingle one side of the roof on time. I am really looking forward to seeing the roof taking shape.

This week we the fencing has been going up around the coppice we cut at Swan Barn Farm last winter. The regrowth on the coppice stool’s is starting to grow and we need to protect it from the local deer population.

The new growth is really tender and suculant and is the favourite food of the roe deer that live in the woods. Deer populations are very much on the increase at the moment, and this can have quite a drastic effect on the woods. We are also starting to get new species of deer moving into the area, some of them, such as the muntjac are non native and escaped from private collections to become established in the wild.

The fencing is only temporary, as soon as the coppice has grown high enough so the deer can’t reach we take it down again. In practice this usually means we take down a block each time we put one up.

This fence was being taken down as the coppice was high enough, we will reuse the materials on the block we have cut this year.

Here the new line of posts is going in, with willow being as helpfull as ever! The posts are made out of sweet chestnut, which came from Ridden Corner Copse on Black Down.

Most of the woodland wild flowers have finished by now for the year, but there were still some really nice patches of foxgloves in the glades created by the work we do here.

They are a realy important nectar source, you can just make out a bumble bee’s bottom as it disappears into the second lowest flower. The coppice management we carry out provides the conditions of alternating light and shade which so many of our woodland wild flowers need in order to thrive.

Meanwhile the hedgerows through the farm are looking full of life, this was the one that was layed last winter.

Its starting to fill out nicely. In the other hedges through Swan Barn the sloes are starting to develop on the blackthorn (its looking good for sloe gin in the autumn!) and the wild roses are looking fantastic.

Meanwhile, on the Speckled Wood building scaffolding has been going up, it makes it look a little less gracefull, but means the next phase of work is starting. The wall plates and roof rafters will be going on soon, which means it wont be long until the first of those shingles starts to go on the roof.

I have been away for a few days camping on Exmoor, which is why I’ve been a bit quiet this week. It was really nice to get away for a few days, such a beautifull place and with good company too. It felt a bit like getting chance to breath after the pace of everything here recently. Glad to be back as well though, can’t wait to get back over to the build and see how things have moved on.

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