Monthly Archives: May 2012

A day at Sunseed

A bright day dawned, as always at Sunseed, and we were woken to the dulcet tones of Iain singing and playing guitar.

We breakfasted well on porridge, toast and fruit before forming a circle for announcements with department coordinators describing morning jobs and volunteers then taking their pick. Current jobs include creating a low-cost solar tracker, mulching vegetable beds and planting out, maintaining the waste-water system, baking bread in the wood-fired oven, renovating a compost toilet and translation work for the website.

These jobs are carried out, with a welcomed respite for tea and homemade bread, until the bell rings and there is a stampede for lunch. In sunnier months, the various solar cookers harness solar energy to prepare inventive meals full of fresh vegetables from the gardens. There is typically a brief silence at the start of meals as everyone tucks in, ravenous, before compliments about the food, general chatter and laughter fill the air. Days are becoming steadily hotter and the scent of the fig trees, orange blossom and roses creates a heady mix.

The working hours changed recently and now there is a siesta break before afternoon work. Today (and most days) this involved running to and diving into the deliciously refreshing cana pools. Long-term volunteers then work on a project of their choosing in the afternoons (see the project pack for examples). Once a week there is a seminar on, for instance, reciprocal roofs, compost toilets or international communities.

Early evening is a beautiful time for walking in the mountains, doing laughter meditation with Jyoti, yoga with Mimi or catching up with others. During dinner time, a hike was planned to Monkey’s Head to see the sunset so a group of us set off, with cartons Dom Simon (classy!), to sit atop of the peak, gawping at the extraordinarily beautiful landscape surrounding us.

In honour of Johann’s birthday we held a Rave in a Cave part III which was fantastic, full of dancing, laughing and cake and complete with a slightly bizarre amalgamation of romantic candles and hardcore trance music.

No two days are the same at Sunseed but each leaves you feeling positive and with new knowledge, excited for the following days’ adventures.

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thermal mass stove course 11-17 May

by kirsty, project coordinator

As we roll into summer it is hard to imagine needing heat here but those people who have visited in the winter months will know how important the stove in the main house is. Jef ran a course in Kachelofen building, a thermal mass stove with the potential to heat many rooms in a house. Along with the 6 people who came on the course he started reconstruction on our existing Kachelofen. The new design will incorporate an oven for bread. The stove just has more and more functions: room heating, water heating (for showers), and now cooking; all of this using a fraction of the wood in a normal stove, thermal mass stoves use 70% less wood. The group who came on the course had a brilliant and intensive time working hard and learning lots each day. They learned about bricklaying, clay mortar mixing, chimney building and how to calculate the dimensions for different spaces and stoves. They all want to build their own in their own homes as they understand the importance of small-scale and local energy sufficiency. Asking lots of questions and taking notes and photos, the participants now have some of the skills to do it themselves.

Natural Clay Plaster Course 19-20 May

This was followed by a weekend course in Natural Clay Plasters where people learned how to build a bench with cob, plaster walls with sand and clay mixes and make up paints with natural dyes such as paprika and turmeric spices.

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may 2012

by kirsty, project coordinator

Permaculture Design and Action

Following the Introduction to Permaculture course in April several volunteers wanted to get more experience designing a garden. I have been working with volunteers Rebecca and Hannah on a design for the Far Terrace; we started by surveying, doing interviews with the gardeners, and drawing maps and beginning the design concepts. The three of us made several visits to the garden then sat around a table with paper, reference books and coloured pencils and came up with a beautiful design.

The design brief is: 1) to simplify paths and water channels so that it is easier to navigate the garden and 2) increase the yield from the garden with a focus on perennial plants that don’t need as much attention as the annual plants. The final design includes reforming existing paths and irrigation channels into a branching pattern to ensure a better distribution of water. Also planting 4 new trees (apple, hazel, sweet orange, kaki) and many grape vines and kiwis; the idea is that in 5 years time the shade from these plants will create microclimates for plants that can’t stand the heat of the summer. We will also make sweet potato beds and grow them perennially; if you leave some of the tubers in the ground they will produce more the following year. Other perennials such as strawberries, rhubarb, perennial kale, and asparagus were included in guilds around the new trees. We researched different guilds which are communities of plants that like to grow near each other- as designers we can help to create beneficial relationships between plants.

The design started to be implemented on a Communal work day; 20 people took to the field at the Far terrace, cutting, digging, clearing, mulching beds thickly with manure, newspaper then seaweed and then planting planting planting! The trees have been planted with healthy piles of well composted humanure. Next steps include sourcing the sweet potatoes and sprouting them before planting out. We will also be checking the newly formed irrigation channels to see if the water flow is easier to manage. On the same day volunteer Maria, a permaculture teacher herself, demonstrated Berkely composting, a form of composting that takes only 18 days. The mix includes goat manure, green leafy plants, wood ash, urine, a few layers of ready made compost, and lots of water to keep it moist- essential in this hot dry climate. The trick is to keep it juicy and keep it moving; the heap gets turned every 3 days. After 18 days you can see that it is fairly well broken down, turning a rich dark brown. Only the seaweed is taking a bit longer. We have been putting handfuls of this micro-organism rich compost next to nearby plants to give them a boost.

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Can you teach First Aid?

We would like to do an exchange with someone who is qualified to teach First Aid. Come and stay for free with us for a week and while you are here run an accredited day course for staff and volunteers.  If you are interested contact us at

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