Sunday, November 07, 2010

Winter volunteering.

Last winter, we had a very successful season working with some great volunteers which has encouraged us to do it all again. We’re offering free accommodation in our cosy cob holiday cottage and hot tasty meals on workdays in exchange for enthusiastic help from couples or single people.

By way of introduction, here is a guest blog, written by Russell and Laura, who visited us last February, deciding to do a hybrid week as volunteers/paying guests to give them more time to explore beautiful Brittany.

Over to Russell …

As we only had a week’s break and wanted to explore the region, we decided to volunteer for just three days. On the first day, we visited Erquy and Cap Ferrel to discover the spectacular rocky coastline and bays, take a walk around Sable d’Or and eat a variety of cheeses, coming back to a cosy evening in front of the woodstove.

Next morning we were up bright and early to harvest woodfuel from Gabrielle's and Stuart's 11 acre woodland. Laura and I collected the logs from where they had been felled, taking them to the track, where Paul, a neighbouring farmer could reverse in his tractor and trailer. With Laura and I working in the wood and Paul and Stuart transporting and off loading at the other end we soon had it all shifted; Gabrielle and Stuart will certainly be warm enough next winter. Our reward that evening was delicious home-reared roast lamb.

The following day we stayed closer to their permaculture smallholding and Stuart and I went off to slash and burn some bramble around the site of their proposed new house. With Stuart using a traditional scythe and me raking it clear we soon amassed a sizable amount for a good bonfire. After half an hour blowing my guts out and Stuart telling me I need more fuel I managed a modest fire that sparked and crackled away. It was only then when I looked over my shoulder to see that I wasn’t the only firestarter in the village. Plumes of smoke rose behind the chicken shed. I ran over only to see my sweet girlfriend standing over a blazing strawberry bed with matches in hand and pyromania in her eyes; I’d been out done. The short of it was that Laura and Gabrielle were burning the leaves off the plants which removes any diseased leaves and kills pests, all without harming the plant itself. I went back to my smouldering pile of embarrassment, dumped all the brambles on and finally got a blaze to be proud of.

Stuart wanted to superimpose a CAD image of their future hemp and lime house over a photo of the site for the planning application. To do this we had to mark a level height on the 4 canes that stuck in the ground, marking the 4 corners of the house. The technique used was rather intriguing and a very exciting opportunity for Laura and I to learn about using a bunyip level, a long piece of transparent tubing filled with water which is a very easy method of finding similar levels over ground. We were amazed how simple and effective it was [see here and here for the what, how and why of bunyip levels].

Our final day volunteering was a bit wetter than most, but Stuart must have realised the affect of the weather on a man’s soul and spent no time at all getting me to erect some stock fencing, getting me warm and spirited. Anyone who tells me that permaculture with animals is low labour needs to come and try putting a hundred odd posts into the ground to keep their livestock in! Stuart has done for all three of his sheep fields. It was quite a work out knocking just 10 in, but it was a great thing to do; I’ll never look at stock fencing again without feeling some of the pain. Later that day we finished constructing a sheep shelter made from reclaimed materials for the sheep to gather in during harsher weather.

The experience was uplifting and we want to thank Gabrielle and Stuart again for a wonderful time. It has inspired us to consider further volunteering and to start to think seriously about the way we want to live in the future.

Photos show Russell banging in a fencepost; creating a datum point to superimpose an image of our house on this plot; Stuart and Russell standing proudly by a finished sheep shelter and Laura serving up a rice timballo (cooked for us following several phone calls to "Mama" in Italy to get the recipe right).

Follow this link if you fancy volunteering yourself.