Mas del Encanto: Past, Present & Future.

Mas del Encanto: Past, Present & Future.

Thankfully, no scary ghosts visited us over the holidays. However, we’re in the middle of a winter break, and that is giving us ample time to think.

We’re on a break from the B&B, but that doesn’t mean we’re lazying about: we’ve got plenty of winter projects going on.

Making it pretty

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Jabba’s guests Tilly and Tuppence are helping him inspecting the progress on the terrace wall (november 2016)

First and foremost, we needed to make things prettier. Although the guest rooms have been finished since May 2016, the surroundings of the house still looked like a bulldozer went through (which it actually did, it was a construction site after all). In november and december we’ve had a group of volunteers over to help us build a terrace wall in front of the house; next month, we’ll be planting plants, herbs, flowers and shrubs on the new terrace so the view from the guest rooms will be even better than before.

Making it comfortable

Since this winter, we’ve got central heating. Currently it works on a gas boiler, which is a good back-up but we don’t want to depend on fossil fuels forever; in a few weeks, we’re having a wood burner installed which will not only heat the radiator water, but provide for hot showers in winter as well. Bye bye gas bills, hello heating our house with wood from olive & almond pruning!

Making it practical

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Foggy weather & a cold sun

In the first part of the winter, we had a good group of volunteers at the farm to help us work on the terrace wall – however, it rained for most of the time – which meant they spent a lot of time inside. Worse: they spent most of that time in the “cave”, digging it out until it started resembling a normal cellar, more or less… It just needs a bit of finishing and a floor, and then we’ll be able to use it for (wine?) storage.

We still have a few things to finish this winter – building wood storage, building storage for the gas bottles, tiling a few bits that get too muddy in the winter and too dusty in the summer… Hopefully by half March, it will all be perfect.

Expanding the chicken project

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Fatima, who is faithfully laying us one egg a day. She only stopped for two days around New Year’s, it was just too cold and dark and foggy. 

I’m really full of ideas for my chicken project!

First, the chickens already had a fixed run since last spring – they will get a fixed coop now as well. That way, they’ll be completely safe from predators and still have space to run around.
I will be separating the roosters from the laying hens; the roosters will be kept inside a moveable electric fence, and move around on the land while keeping the grass short, fertilising the ground and doing some bug control. It’s an experiment (some people say it’s possible to keep several roosters peacefully if there are no hens about – others have bad experiences with it), but we really need chickens to clean up the land and I would rather keep my best layers close to the house.

I am also doubling up on the incubating efforts; I now have the first (small) batch of eggs in, but in a few weeks our friends Dan & Mellissa are kindly lending me their (bigger) incubator and I will hopefully be hatching chicks until May or so. I will incubate my own eggs (of course), but will also order fertile eggs from other places for a bit of variation. I have plans to get some Barnevelders, Araucanas (which lay eggs with blue coloured shells), Marans (dark brown eggs) and of course more Brahmas. Some of these will be up for sale; as small chicks (4-6 weeks old, if you want to see your chickens grow up), pullets (4-6 months old, if you want egg-laying chickens) or for chicken dinner, if we end up having too many. Contact me if you’re interested!

If all goes well, we hope to have eggs for sale by summertime. They will be organic and free range.

Preparing for Spring season in the garden

The most fun part at the moment, is preparing the garden for spring. Thankfully after a few foggy and rainy months, the sun is back (and it looks like it’s here to stay… at least for the next few days). Axel has built me a few raised beds (he’ll make more!) and I’ve been filling them up with compost, manure and organic material. I’ll be sowing ground cover in them first, and plant out seedlings as soon as I can… Hopefully resulting in an abundant harvest this spring.

The trees have been well taken care of too; most almonds have been pruned, and many of the trees got a protective circle around them, clearing the grass and making a small trench that will catch some extra water. A layer of mulch will be applied around them (next week!), for fertilising and protection.

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Ramon crowing his lungs out

Preparing for Spring season at the B&B

We’ve learned so much from last year’s trial season – and now we’re taking these lessons and planning for next year’s first real bed & breakfast season. Getting the paperwork done (soon! I hope), installing a small kitchen in the breakfast room, buying little things our guests missed in their rooms last season, and deciding on pricing. Unfortunately we had to slightly raise the rates for next season, to account for the share agents like booking.com or airbnb.com are getting; however we’re doing an “early bird” promotion before we go public, so people can book at lower prices if they book in time.
More on that later this week!

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It all started with an Earthship

We have been thinking about going to live abroad for quite a while, but the last nudge we needed, was a “Grand Designs” episode on an earthship / ground house in France. I have always been interested in weird and organic architecture and had come across earthships before (I even saw that Grand Designs episode once before), but I never thought it was for me: I have 2 left hands and would definitely not consider building my own house without the proper guidance and education. However as I saw the show again in December 2012, Axel was very enthusiastic – we started talking about it, and realised it would be possible to build an earthship with the help of volunteers or something…

First off, I need to say something about earthships.

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There is the name, of course; it sounds as if it could lift off into space any minute. The concept has been around for ages but the name has been invented (and patented, I think) by architect Michael Reynolds, who has an earthship-building company and test ground in New Mexico. Another group calls it a “ground house”, and some people just call it whatever they want to call it.

Basically, earthships are radically sustainable and self-providing buildings, based on 6 principles:

  1. They are (supposed to be) built with recycled and natural materials: most are built with old tires, but can or bottle walls are also possible, or you could theoretically use stones you find on your land.
  2. The house harvests its own water, and re-uses it too
  3. They use thermal and solar heating and cooling only
  4. They use solar and wind electricity only
  5. Contained sewage treatment: after water has been used for washing, cooking or drinking, it is filtered by plants and then used to flush the toilets; after that, it goes into plant beds as well
  6. Food production: a part of the house can be used as a greenhouse to grow vegetables and fruit trees in, especially in extreme climates.

Earthships harvest water on their flat roof, but the back and sides are completely dug into the earth, so it can use thermal wrap as a way to keep constant temperatures, summer and winter. At the (south-facing) front, there is a double glass wall that gets sunlight to come all the way to the back of the house in the winter (nice and warm), but also acts as a heath buffer in summer (when the summer is higher and doesn’t reach to the second layer of glass).

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While we were looking for land to build our own earthship on, we also paid a visit to a few existing earthships, did some research, looked at other types of “sustainable” homes, and decided that earthships really sounded too good to be true (at least, in our case). And this is why:

  1. Most earthships are built with tires. All tires must be exactly the same size, and you spend days and days driving around the country to find companies who have second hand tires in exactly the size you need.
  2. Although earthships seem to work really well in the desert of New Mexico, in colder countries they need a solid concrete foundation in order to cope with humidity. In our case, buildings built into the mountain have to be extra insulated (by law) in order to keep the humidity out – and this would mean that the thermal heat wouldn’t work as well.
  3. In Spain, a second layer of glass doesn’t seem to be necessary in the winter; however, it gets far too hot on sunny days.
  4. In the region where we live, it rains A LOT from time to time, and then it doesn’t rain for months in summer. This means that if you harvest water from your own roof, in september you’ll be drinking the water you harvested in March. It creates a few challenges when it comes to keeping water disease-free for so long when it’s so hot, even when you bury your cisterns under the ground… Also we have plenty of water from a borehole on the land, so we can use the water we harvest as irrigation water only. However, we will build a system that can easily be transformed from a water system depending on a bore hole, to a self-harvesting system. You just never know when your borehole goes dry!

We plan to work with the other principles though. Our house will run on mainly on solar power, even though Spanish law says you need a heating system that can work on gas; we are getting a hybrid system, and hope we don’t have to use the gas too often. We won’t build our house with recycled materials, but we’re making sure most of the materials are produced locally. We will re-use our water and have the sewage filtered by plants; the lower gallery of our house will hopefully be the place where we can keep a few fruit plants that wouldn’t survive the freezing winters outside. We will also be researching and experimenting with several techniques that can make the house work better without external energy: solar powered warm water, a heath pump for air cooling and heating, use of recycled water for irrigation,…

Our first aim is of course to have a home that is cosy and comfortable to live in – but we hope to achieve it by using the best and most sustainable technologies available. This way not only will our housing have a lower impact on the environment, but of course it’s nice to know that things like electricity, hot water or a big part of our food could be obtained for free for the rest of our lives.

Last week, we have finally applied for a building permit (actually, our architect Manel did that), and we’re hoping to start building in September 2014… Let’s see how that works out!