A journal of low impact camping from our sustainable eco campsite in North Cornwall.
Tips, tricks and reviews on how to make green camping comfortable and fun.
We're trying out ways of cooking outdoors, solar powered charging, building with natural materials and much more. Then put all of our discoveries on here so that people can learn from our mistakes.
Friday, 19 September 2014
Really and truly I shouldn't be writing
the blog on our wonderful clay pizza oven. It was dreamt up,
designed, created, built, wept over, laughed about and ultimately
completed by our team of wonderful volunteers. I have however,
benefited from its use and so I feel qualified to write this blog now
that most of the participants have moved on.
So... where to start? Perhaps at the
very beginning. November 2013 we attempted to build a clay oven. It
failed. The reasons for this were
We tried to build with clay in the
We tried to build with clay in the
What we learned from this is 'Don't
build with clay whilst it's raining'
July 2014 – Success!
The base was built from meticulously
cleaned, recycled bricks from our recently demolished house.
initially dug from the ground and an area created for the cleaning of
the clay. This proved far too difficult and everyday deteriorated
into clay fights or phallic modelling classes. Basically the dirt was
Finally Patrick and Ben arrived at the genius idea of
digging the clay from the bottom of our wildlife pond. Galloping with
excitement (not forgetting the obligatory arm swinging), they began.
We all watched with baited breath and fingers crossed that the water
wouldn't start to drain from our pond with each fresh extraction of
Luckily after about a week of removal
and eight dirty, wet, slightly disgruntled volunteers, we had enough
clay, a full pond and a date to begin 'the build'.
We first laid some fire bricks,
reclaimed from a local church which was undergoing refurbishment,
onto the base. After this we then surreptitiously stole a small
amount of sand from the beach to make a mold for the oven. From this
we learned that even a small back pack of sand carried for 1.5 miles
is a heavy load!
We covered the sand mold in wet
newspaper and began the first layer of clay. The clay needed to be
around 7 or 8 cm thick on the first layer, so we started to build
around the bottom. Gradually the oven took shape and we let it dry in
the British summer time.
Whist drying, Tano made a beautiful
chimney from clay and wire to allow the smoke out. We then covered
the oven in more recycled bricks, creating an arched doorway at the
front, using more clay as mortar.
When this was dry, all the sand was
scraped out and a fire was built to dry the clay and burn off any
left over newspaper.
Finally the day arrived when we could
eat pizza, but where was Stefano when we needed him? Never mind, with
Spanish, French, Dutch, Australians and English we managed to light
the fire and make siliceous pizza. This was our first attempt, so we
ate at around 11:30pm by which time a few celebratory bevvies had
been consumed and the pizza, although delicious, was definitely under
Fast forward a month and we gain a
genuine full blooded Sicilian (Australian). With vast amounts of
pizza and cooking skills he lit the fire 2 hours in advance and we
took up dough, tomato sauce and toppings for DIY pizza night. These
were spectacular and cooked in around 4 minutes... Success!
A big thank you to everyone who helped
on this project.
Being first time gardeners, we have had
quite a lot to learn as of late.
Being newly responsible for the
gardening last winter, we started preparing the patch for the coming
season. After much googling, asking questions, discussions and
numerous cups of tea, we finally came up with a plan methodically
scribbled on the back of a brown envelope.
So we got to it, removing all of last
seasons plants, re-planting things that shouldn't have been in the
veggie patch and taking out chunks of carpet and plastic from under
the earth. We had some help from the lovely Alice, on recommending
techniques from her permaculture course and some Bude Haven work
experience boys with preparing the ground. We covered the entire
patch with manure, nettles, seaweed and mulch and let it rot down
over the winter months.
When the time came, we raked off the
top layer of mulch, dug the earth over and divided the patch up into
vegetable beds. We spent a lot of time deliberating about what we
would plant and the size and layout of the garden. Eventually, we had
to go with what worked in the space available to us so as to maximise
our growing potential. To do this we needed to plant vegetables which
would prolong our growing season, that were easily harvested by
everyone throughout the camping season, ones that could be preserved
over winter and also make sure we planted everybody's favourites. We
also needed to choose varieties of species that were easy to grow and
would be successful despite our limited experience.
Tomatoes were a definite... everybody
loves tomatoes, they are 10. We also chose spinach, which could be
planted and harvested in the poly-tunnel over winter and then outside
during the summer. Others included broccoli, garlic, onions, leeks,
courgettes, peppers, chillies, lettuce, broad beans, mange touts,
peas, corn, parsnips, carrots, pumpkins, squash, French beans,
potatoes, strawberries and of course, Jerusalem artichokes. We also love our herbs,
so we decided to grow a fairly large herb garden, some of which were
from seed, some were given to us by our lovely neighbours and others
we had from last year.
We then had to decide where to plant
everything. Brassicas, such as broccoli and spinach should be planted
in the same bed, so that they the crops could be rotated next year to
prevent potential disease and lack of soil nutrition. From our
experience over winter of digging up hundreds of Jerusalem artichokes
and potatoes from all over the vegetable patch, we decided to make a
separate area for these. The Jerusalem artichokes we planted far away
at the top of the camping field next to our cattle trailer shelter,
these also provide a great wind break during some of the British
summer. Mum found a genius and space saving technique for growing in
a box, so we tried this out in front of our poly-tunnel and in our
forest garden, which included two different varieties of potato.
After these veg were placed we generally tried to keep similar
varieties together for convenience.
Throughout spring we planted up our
seeds in the poly-tunnel, timing it from our fantastic month by month
gardening book bought for us by Ben South. Our books now a little
faded and watermarked from constant use with the odd added splatter
of chicken poo. None of us expected the shear level of excitement
when our seeds started to germinate and our veggies began to take
shape. With a lot of re-potting, thinning and love, we could
eventually plant them out into our poly-tunnel and outside beds as
the weather improved.
We wanted our vegetables to be organic
but also to grow strong and healthy, we therefore spent a lot of time
on google, researching natural fertilisers, compost and pesticides.
We made nettle tea fertiliser by collecting some of the abundant
stinging nettles in the area and soaking them in water, usable after
4 days. We love to add this to our tomatoes and they are growing so
well that we are now over run with tomato plants. Nettles are
nitrogen fixing, which means they make the present nitrogen in the
soil available to use by the plants. We therefore used it on all of
our plants that love nitrogen, such as tomatoes, peppers, corn and
chillies. We also found that coffee grounds are a great organic
fertiliser. Luckily we drink a lot of coffee, so this was always in
abundance and we add it to our veg every few days and then water it
in. It doesn't seem to be hindering the growth, so we are just going
to continue with that and hope for the best.
Early in the season one particular
variety of lettuce seemed to be hosting some kind of bug. We
therefore resumed our google searching and found a recipe for organic
pesticide. This involved citrus rinds, biodegradable soap and water,
with which we then sprayed the leaves. This was the most organic
recipe we could find using the ingredients we had at hand, and it
seemed to work well. Luckily none of us are too fussy about a few
bugs in our lettuce.
We found some half filled compost bins
in amongst the nettles at the back of the poly-tunnel that needed
some attention. We dug them out, cut back the undergrowth, took out
the plastic and started to turn them over to add air and
so that they would produce
enough heat to compost down. We then proceeded to collect all of our
un-cooked kitchen scraps and add them to one of the buckets each day.
It was incredible how quickly this became beautiful compost, perfect
for growing our new veg.
From the advice gleaned from many
people we discovered that the most common mistake gardeners make is
to overcrowd there seedlings when planting out so they do not have
space to grow well and produce a good yield. We can understand how
tempting this is, as we didn't want to sacrifice any of our well
loved seedlings during the planting process. We therefore made a
separate veg bed next to our picnic area where all of the
'left-overs' could be planted for us and campers to help themselves.
We have broad beans, some herbs, leeks, tomatoes, a bay tree, a fig
tree, squash, pumpkins and currents up here. It's a little more wild
but seems to be producing well. We also decided to make a pea roof
from hanging baskets for the shelter in front of our caravan cafe.
These seem to be doing ok, although they need a fair amount of
attention, but now we are able to sit and eat our lunch while picking
peas from the roof.
The season isn't over yet, and there is
still a lot to do. It seems weeds and grass love to grow in June, so
we spend a lot of our time pulling that up at the moment. We also
seem to be constantly potting up tomatoes as we got a little excited
when planting the seeds and now we have hundreds of tomato plants.
Anyone visiting is obliged to take away at least two with them. It's
been a big learning curve, growing our own veg, and although we feel
we've done well this year, there are things that we could change in
the future. The proof is in the pudding though, so lets see what food
we'll be eating come August.
Part of the animal menagerie here at Cerenety includes five horses and ponies of all shapes and sizes.
First of all there is Nana, a miniature shetland pony. She is very cute and cuddley and possibly the tiniest pony you will ever come across. She's very inquisitive and often tries to get involved when I'm working with the horses in the field, although this isn't always very helpful!
Due to her size the other horses are a bit baffled by her and seem to think of her as more of a sheep than a pony. It is rather sad as she loves to play with the other ponies but they don't seem all that interested. However, I noticed the other day that she has employed a new tactic to get their attention, namely running around as fast as her short legs will carry her after the others, a bizarre squealing noise emanating from her mouth. After a while the others get so annoyed with this they eventually have to notice her existence, even if it's just to make her go away. It's not all bad news for Nana though as she gets more than her fair share of attention in the summer as all the children that camp here adore her and love to see her at animal feeding time.
Secondly there are the two welsh section A ponies, Torrie and Maisy, who both come from a local breeder. Maisy was already broken in and was being ridden when she came here but, as there is no one here small enough to ride her, she seemed to be destined to munch her way through life relaxing in a field. Therefore she wasn't all too pleased when I started working her again. I've been getting her back in to the idea of being ridden by tacking her up and long reigning her out on little hacks. I have also been lunging her as she has gotten a little too fat for her own good! She was also ridden for the first time in a long time the other day by another volunteer and, I'm pleased to say, was as good as gold. Maisy is a typical mare, sweet as anything one minute an absolute pain in the rear end the next. However, I have found her to be interesting and very entertaining to work with. She can also be extremely endearing when she wants to be.
Welsh Section As are often bred specifically to pull and this is our aim with Torrie. As none of us have any experience in this I have relied on the good old tinternet to get started. I have begun with long reigning him so he gets used to being controlled by someone behind him rather than on top of him.
I have had some fun setting up small obstacle courses for him and putting him through his paces. I have also been long reiging him out a lot on the lanes so he becomes used to this and to desensitise him of all those malicious plastic bags out there! The next step is to get him used to the harness and to pulling weight, starting with an old tyre or two and working it up. Hopefully we will have some help once we come to the point when we want to put a carriage on him as it is not advisable to do this with no previous experience. We hope we will soon have him pulling a cart round the field delivering wood to the campers for their camp fires.
Another one of the ponies here is Rupert, a beautiful moorland pony. When he was taken off the moors he was destined for the knackers yard. However, a friend saw him at an auction and took pity on him. Therefore, he came to cerenety and was broken in for riding here. He now gets ridden everyday out on the country lanes and gets stopped repeatedly to be petted and told how beautiful he is. Rupert is a typical baby boy, active, extremely inquisitive and a little bit boisterous. He's a nice steady ride and is perfect for beginners. He's also a joy to ride as he's always eager and interested in everything he comes across. We would like to train him to pull as well. So far he has been very nonchalant about having the harness put on and has happily pulled a tyre round the field. The plan now is to carry on with this to build up his fitness and appropriate muscles. Hopefully soon a little pony and trap will be seen meandering down the lanes around Bude.
Lastly, a horse that I've spent a long time working with and have enjoyed every minute of it, our ex-racehorse Red. Red turned out to be a thoroughly awful race horse, coming last in every single race he was in. Therefore he was soon sold off to a young girl who planned to use him for hunting. However, she found she couldn't cope with him as he's not the simplest or calmest of horses. So, sadly, she neglected him, leaving him for a long time without food, water or any sort of care and attention. Therefore, when he came to us he was extremely thin, riddled with worms and his feet were an absolute mess. Not many people thought he would get better, but we have proven them wrong! He's now an excellent weight, even keeping the weight on through the winter, he has a beautiful shiny coat, he's fitter and seems so much happier. His feet, sadly, will never be perfect but are a lot better. We have now even started riding him. I dealt with this challenge slowly and cautiously as he has had so many problems in the past and, as a result, has a habit of rearing. I started off using the Monty Roberts method of 'join up' to gain his trust and respect. I believe this was the most important step as after so much maltreatment he needed to feel safe and loved. It also helped with the rearing as I believe this was a response to how badly he was treated. It took a couple of tries before he joined up properly but once he did I couldn't keep the smile off my face for the rest of the day. To make a breakthrough like that was extremely satisfying.
It felt the same the first time I rode him as he didn't play up at all, he was perfect. I have now ridden him out a few times and he's been a real gentleman, all the work leading up to this point has most certainly been worth it.
As I have spent so much time with Red I have gotten to know his character extremely well. I know it's wrong of me but I have to express a certain favouritism towards him. He's a very intelligent and sensitive horse, he picks up on everything. Even after all the things he's been through he remains strong and still has so much fight in him. I think he's very special and I'm so glad I have been able to work with him.