Batch Box Rocket Mass Heater Workshop 2nd to 6th Nov – Mallorca

Batch Box Rocket Mass Heater Workshop 2nd to 6th Nov – Mallorca

Its been a long time!!!

We have been hard at work building the house, having a baby and getting up and running with my new business running Wim Hof Method workshops, but we are back!!

From the 2nd till the 6th of November we will be hosting a batch box rocket mass heater workshop by Peter Van Den Berg.

We are bringing Peter over to help us build our Bach Box Rocket Mass Heater as we thought it would be a great opportunity to do our first “Permaculture” related course and get one of the best in the game to help us build our heater.  Multiple functions and all that 😉

We have chosen Peter Van Den Berg because, as far as I can make out on the internet, he is “THE MAN” when it comes to batch box rocket stoves.  He took a concept put forward by someone else and improved and expanded it.  He is basically the inventor of the batch box rocket mass heater as we know it today, even though the concepts that are used are from other people.

In Peter’s own words “I took an idea of Lasse Holmes and added the venturi port, among other things. The implementation of bell technology in the batchrocket concept is all my doing but of course it existed before, as is the venturi.

I see myself more as developer and designer, bringing diverse pieces of tech together. That’s what most inventors do these days, building on the work and combining work of others.”

What is a Batch Box Rocket Mass Heater?
A Batch Box Rocket Mass Heater is a very efficient wood burning stove that burns at a very high temperature and then feeds the gases of the burn through (in our case) a masonry bench.  The bench captures the heat and then acts as a radiator a.k.a “butt warmer”.

batch box

A batch box burning palette wood from one of Peter’s builds.

A “batch box” rocket mass heater is different from the more commonly known rocket mass heaters(RMH) in that it has a firebox that looks more live a conventional fireplace instead of the “j-tube”.  This means that you can actually see some flames in the box and gives you a more traditional feel although it burns very differently, so you wont be getting the nice little flames that you get from a conventional fireplace.  It also allows you to put a big “batch” of wood in (which is where it gets its name from) light it up and walk away as opposed to the normal RMH that you have to keep feeding throughout the burn.  The batch box RMH generally doesn’t have the oil drum burn chamber that is customary of RHM’s and instead has a brick “bell”.  This isn’t always the case though.

The classic RMH with

The classic RMH with “J tube” firebox

With Peter’s help we designed our heater to fit in a corner of our house with a nice “butt warmer” bench.  We chose the batch box over the normal type RMH because we didn’t want an oil drum in the middle of our lounge and because I like the idea of being able to chuck in a batch of wood and forget about it.

batch box rocket mass heater

Peter’s design for our batch box rocket mass heater

From what I have seen on the internet, it is usual to just have to burn one or two batches per day to keep the house warm, as opposed to a conventional fire place that needs to be constantly on the go.  This is because a rocket mass heater heats the “mass” of the bench that then keeps on radiating heat into the house (even though the fire is out).

Another  benefit of RMH’s is that you can burn any type of wood, from logs from trees to scrap wood like palettes etc.  The high temperature burn also means that these are very safe, as they don’t form creosote in the chimney, so there is no risk of creosote fires.

All in all we love the efficiency of the batch box rocket mass heater, the “butt warmer” and the fact that you can build one yourself.  They are much more efficient than anything you can buy and they use only 1/4 the wood of other wood burning stoves, which will save us a lot of money in the long run.

If you want to learn more about batch box rocket mass heaters you can visit Peter’s website or better than that you can come to our workshop, meet Peter and learn directly from him while you help us build our heater.

In full disclosure, we are not making any money from this course.  We will try to cover some of the costs of getting Peter over here to help us build the heater. Part of our motivation for this blog and building our home is to inspire  and empower others to go out and do the same, if that is what you want.  This all means that the course is very cheap! and its a win win for everyone involved.

Link to Peter Van Den Berg’s site:
http://batchrocket.eu/en/

Link to the Batch Box Rocket Workshop on the 2nd November 2017
https://www.facebook.com/events/362508594170400/

I will also try to do a video update soon as the house has changed a lot since our last update!

Its been a long time!!

Its been a long time!!

Its been since February since we put up a post but a lot has happened since then!

I have just added an instagram widget which you can see on the right of the screen.  I take a couple of photos and videos a week, mostly when I go outside and have a “wow” moment.  The scenery here is always changing and really beautiful around sunrise and sunset.  So you will find plenty of photos to see what we have been up to lately there.

This summer we took the roof off the building and insulated with 15cm of polystyrene.  We went for polystyrene over something more “eco” because of the cost. Our sustainable ethics can only stretch as far as our budget and we have maximized the use of natural building materials elsewhere.  Also for the same price we would have only been able to insulate with 5 cm of natural cork instead of 15cm, and polystyrene has much better insulation qualities at the same thickness than natural cork.

We noticed a difference straight away in how cool the house was over the summer.  If we closed all of the windows in the morning while the house was cool, it stayed that way all day.
photo of roof with insulation

We have just finished plastering the outside of the building.  We chose to go with an insulated lime, cork and diatomaceous earth plaster at about 1.5cm thickness.  This  is really a minimum, but we think that with the roof being well insulated and the fireplace, we will make it just fine through the winter using a minimum of wood.

At the moment the temperature is about 9 degrees C in the mornings and the house is staying at around 19 – 20 degrees C even with the windows open.

Here is a video about the plaster:

The house looks great!  And that is one of the major jobs we had left that is finished.
house with lime plaster

Here is a video of the final lime plaster coat being applied over the insulation base layer:

The boys hard at work! #limeplaster #naturalbuilding

A video posted by Luke Wills (@lukemallorca) on

The lime plaster for the finish coats is made locally and the company that makes it have been very helpful with recommending good workmen for applying lime.  It is also great to be able to support a local company that make sustainable building materials.
You can find out more about them here:
https://www.unicmall.com/es/

We now have just the final coat on a couple of walls on the inside of the building and a bathroom to finish, and that will be all of the big stuff done!

This week I have been digging trenches for the cables to the solar panels. Today I have to dig some holes for the foundation of the solar panel structure which is arriving next week.  After the solar panel structure is built, we will order the rest of the solar panels and the batteries and install our big system.

I often put up videos on our youtube channel and dont update the blog so you can get small updates there and on the instagram feed.

Click here to visit out youtube channel

Click here to visit our instagram

New Year, New Home!

After two years of hard work, we are finally in!

We now have running, hot water in the house, electricity from solar panels and internet!

We have been living here since just after Christmas and are really enjoying it.  We get to watch the sunrise every day while having breakfast and then see the stars come out at night.  Its amazing how disconnected you get from all of this when living in the city.  In the last place we lived in, we were surrounded by buildings and never saw the moon or stars, you couldn’t even tell if it was a nice day from inside the house. Its a real pleasure to live in a house that faces south, with big windows that let the light stream right in all day long which is a massive bonus on these short winter days.

Here is a quick video showing our progress on the finca and going over the basic things that we needed to get sorted so that we could start living here.

We will make more in depth videos on each of the individual components solar, water, chickens etc.  this video is just a quickie to wish you a Happy New Year and show some signs of life as our last post was a while back.

The general pace of the build has slowed down now and we have more time for other things (apart from just trying to get in) so I will make an effort to put up videos on a more regular basis.

Grey Water System – Half Barrel Box Trough

We aren’t going to have a septic tank at the house, instead we are going to have a composting toilet and a grey water system.

What is Grey Water?

Grey water is everything that doesn’t come from the toilets, i.e bathroom sinks, shower drains etc.  The kitchen is considered by some to be black water as it contains lots of fat from cooking and bits of food.  The general consensus on the kitchen sink is that its not worth the hassle of trying to build a fat trap and filter to remove food particles, which has to be cleaned out periodically (and is absolutely disgusting from what I hear) and so should just be treated like black water.

Half Barrel Box Trough

As we don’t have a septic tank the solution I found was a half barrel box trough.  A half barrel box trough is made out of half of a 200 litre plastic drum buried underground.  This creates an air cavity where the water can take its time to sink in and where colonies of bacteria will grow to eat any organic matter and fat from food.  This is great because it won’t smell and you don’t have to deal with the fat. If you plant trees and other plants around it they can still get the benefit of the extra water without it being a health hazard for humans or a bad smelling area.  Commercial equivalents of this system are called infiltration galleys.

The Problem with Black Water

In common houses the grey water gets mixed with the black water which immediately turns it into black water.  Grey water is relatively clean and can be used (with some precautions) to water plants around the house without any sort of treatment, creating what is known as “the oasis zone”.  The combining of grey water with black water means that the water treatment plants have to deal with a lot more water than is necessary which ends up turning into pollution.

If all of our houses had grey water systems we would have lusher gardens, lower water bills and would drastically decrease the amount of black water that needs to be treated also reducing the problems that are associated with dumping “treated” water into the sea.

The Oasis Zone
Re using our house hold grey water is a great solution to this problem and easy to implement if you are building a house from scratch.  If designed properly, the use of this “waste” stream can be used to create a beautiful,  lush area of vegetation around the house that doesn’t need any extra watering.

Here is a video on how we made our grey water box trough:

If you’re interested in learning more about grey water systems check out:
http://oasisdesign.net/

and check out their great book:
Create an Oasis with Grey Water

I will also be doing more posts about our grey water system and composting toilets in the not so distant future.

Big Update! – Lime Plaster – Floor Tiled – Terrace – Sep 2015

We have been hard at work even though the blog has been quiet.

Building a house with no previous experience is a lot of hard work, both physically and mentally.  You spend long hard days doing physical labour and then when you get home its time to get stuck into books, internet and youtube to figure out what comes next and how you are going to do it.  Its one long learning process.

My initial idea for the blog was that I was going to do more “how to” videos and quickly realised that this wasn’t going to be possible.  Its too difficult to film, edit, upload while you also have to learn to build and build.  The filming tends to get in the way.  I shoot mainly on a small point and shoot camera and so cant just set it up and leave it filming while I get on with it.  That wouldn’t be all that interesting anyway and would mean hours of sorting through footage and editing which I just don’t have the energy for.

I have been filming bits and bobs as I go along and am now going to make an effort to try and post an update every week or two.  When most of the building is complete I have the intention to make some more in detail write ups and videos on our building process.

So what has been going on at Ca’n Mandala?

Lime Plastering

Base Coats

We have almost all of the walls finished with a base coat.  The only room left to do base coats on is the master bathroom which has been our bedroom up until now.  That bathroom will be the last room to get finished as we are currently working on the smaller guest bathroom so that we can get in this winter.

Insulated Lime Plaster

As we aren’t going to be able to insulate and finish the outside of the building this winter we decided to do an insulated lime plaster on the north walls of the house.  In the winter, this will keep the heat in the house and the cold out.  I will upload a video on that some time soon.

Lime Plaster – Finish Coats

We have the finish coats done on the big walls in the living room and the kitchen.  We got two guys that were recommended to us by the place we get our lime from(Unicmall) to do the big walls and they did an excellent job!

Pic of the boys in action:
lime palstering in action

Here is a quick video on that:

On the second floor where we have done the insulated plaster, we have decided that in order to get in sooner we would just lime wash the base coat.  We might apply a finish coat later on when most of the more important things have been done.

Trial and Error

We have also done a finish coat in the bedroom where the wardrobe will be.  This was a test to see how this fine finish coat would go on.  Unfortunately we started doing this just when it started to get really hot.

Lime plaster needs to “set” or harden slowly, if it sets too fast then it doesn’t “carbonate” and it just powders off the wall.  This is especially true of thin finish coats that are only 1 or 2 mm thick.  It was 40 degrees C the day we wanted to do it and so it was setting so fast that it was turning to powder and not letting us polish it.  The plaster we had chosen was a type of stucco or polished lime finish, but the conditions made it impossible to finish properly.  Luckily, we did do a trial run inside the wardrobe before going on to do this process on one of the main walls in the house.

It has actually dried a lot lighter than you see in the pic and doesn’t look bad.
lime plaster

Here are some colour tests that we did to choose a colour for a wall in the living room.
some colour tests of lime plaster

Floor is Tiled!

Last weekend we got the floor tiled in most of the house and it looks amazing!  It has really changed everything and being able to live at the finca has suddenly become a reality.  With the dirty, dusty lime slab it all seemed a little far away still but now we are getting very close!

Terrace

We have finally covered the water tank and now have a lovely terrace!

There have been a few other things going on which I will cover in my next post.

If you would like to keep up to date on new videos and posts then please subscribe to our blog and youtube channel. Keep an eye on our youtube channel as I often upload videos there but dont make a post about them here.

Click here for our youtube channel

I will try and write a post every other week and hopefully in the not too distant future I will be able to give a little back to the internet community which has helped me so much along this journey by doing some “how to” videos.

If you have any specific questions then please leave them in the comments and I will try to get back to you as soon as I can.

Time Flies!

Time Flies!

Where does the time go?

Its been four months since our last update and we have got a lot of work done although the winter has been a little slow.

Slow Motion

We worked really long hard days through the summer and then when the clocks changed in Autumn, it seemed like we were dropped in a vat of honey and everything was going in slow motion.  Being used to the long light hours I got caught out more than once finishing a job in pitch black, in the middle of nowhere, cleaning the cement mixer and tools by headlamp.  Not all that nice when you are tired and all you want to do is get home.
The short days combined with me working mainly on my own (as Tracy had been offered some extra work) meant that progress was veeeeery very slow.  This situation ended up running me down and the build started to feel a little overwhelming. I didn’t feel like all the hard work I was putting in was actually moving us forward much.  I was doing mainly prep work for plastering which isn’t very rewarding.  You’re basically filling in small holes and making the wall as flat as you can for a better finish while plastering.  I was also putting off any large walls for plastering as it goes very slow when you have to make mix, plaster, stop and make more mix when you run out and then wait for it to firm up so that the wall can be “floated” to even it out.  Also, having done most of the plastering in the summer I was used to it firming up a lot faster.  This  was one of the main reasons why in the winter the darkness was closing in while I waited to float the wall.

Tracy to the rescue!

Luckily, just at the point where I was hitting saturation, Tracy took a few days off and together we covered 3 big walls.  This made a huge difference and renewed my enthusiasm and energy for the project.


Spring is here and with the extra hours of light we are full steam ahead trying to get in.  We have all of the walls in the south side of the house with the first layer of plaster applied, and soon we will be getting some help to finish the second coats and final smooth coat.

We have lots more exciting stuff to tell you about and I will try to upload a video update of our progress in the next week or so.

The Mandala Garden Keeps Growing

It was spring when we planted and wrote about our first mandala (read the post here). We wrote of our plans to plant 6 mandalas, 2 weeks apart… This didn’t quite happen! Life and building took over and in reality the 6th mandala has yet to be planted. But our huerto has given us a lot of food ever since the beginning of summer and we are growing ever more fond if it!

P1010894

For me it has been and continues to be quite a learning experience, but the main lesson I have learned is that with a bit of effort and commitment, you can grow your own food with very little knowledge. I remember at first feeling very inexperienced and inadequate, and quite overwhelmed when we came back from the seedling place with what seemed like hundreds of little plants needing planted and nurtured… we had kind of agreed that the huerto would be my thing while Luke got on with the build itself but I didn’t feel at all ready to be left alone with it! Luke gave me a few basic instructions and left me to get on with it – I spent ages wondering whether each plant should be planted deeper into the earth, whether it would be better here or there, whether I had pressed the soil in enough or too much… I laugh now when I look back at my uncertainty as I plant away these days, quickly moving round each bed.

So we made it to 3 summer mandalas, which have kept us well fed on varying amounts of tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, chillis, beetroot, aubergine, onions and leeks at different times throughout.

October Aubergines in Mandala 3

October Aubergines in Mandala 3

We also had other fruit and veg planted outside the mandalas, as they needed more space to grow: melons, pumpkins, cucumber, butternut squash, courgettes, artichokes and okra. We enjoyed a lot of delicious artichokes, simply sliced and then fried in grass-fed butter…

Artichoke feast!

Artichoke feast!

 

Artichokes fried in grass-fed butter. Mmmmm!

Artichokes fried in grass-fed butter. Mmmmm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and this at a time when apparently nobody else’s artichokes were growing! Everyone was so surprised to hear that our plants were bearing fruit out of season – we were none the wiser and have now learned that this plant does not usually require a lot of water and we were watering it along with everything else and they obviously liked it! Let’s see what happens for the rest of the year when the “normal” artichoke season comes round! In the meantime they are providing some beautiful purple flowers that rather remind us of the thistles of Scotland.

Artichoke flowers masquerading as thistles

Artichoke flowers masquerading as thistles

It does make sense for me to be in charge of the huerto since I am also in charge of putting nutritious food on our table. As many of you know Luke and I are very selective about what we put in our bodies and what better way to control this than to grow our own food. It has been quite a challenge at times but also in a good way, encouraging me to look for recipes to create with the ripening food in our garden. One of my fave discoveries of the year was my tomato soup, invented on a strangely cold and rainy day in August when salad was on the menu but we needed something to warm us up. Luckily I could get my nephew-in-law the superchef Stewie on whats’app to check my progress and ask for tips and I was amazed how well this improvised soup turned out (I was brought up on tinned tomato soup and this is like a natural home made version of the Heinz classic). See the recipe here.

Ca'n Mandala tomato soup

Ca’n Mandala tomato soup

Anyhoo… we planted Mandala 4 in mid July, with our first winter veg and some black cherry tomatoes. We are very much still learning about what to plant when, how long the season lasts for certain veg, when to expect things to be ready… at first I felt a bit stressed by the not knowing, but now I have learnt to relax into the mystery! We are still eating from M4’s cherries and have just eaten our first broccoli, steamed, smothered in grassfed butter and sprinkled with sea salt – Mmmmmmmm!!!! However the cauliflowers and cabbages seem to take a little longer and they will also take a bit more prep I guess… happy to receive any suggestions for recipes for these as I have never cooked a cabbage in my life and feel like I’ve got hundreds on the way!

Before I sign off I must tell you about our latest salad. We have planted some straight beds to make the most of the areas where we had the melons and cucumbers in summer and they are looking just splendid. And since we have been having such amazing weather for October, and having had a bit of a break from salad since a bit of an overdose in summer, we are really enjoying the tender young lettuces along with the black cherry tomatoes, some feta cheese, walnuts and pomegranate seeds, both from our generous neighbour Pepe. We then dress the salad with a spritz of balsamic and a drizzle of our other neighbour Rafa’s olive oil, fruit of the olive grove we can see on the west side of our house.

P1010884

It is so beautiful to already be feeding ourselves from our land, before we even live here, and to be cultivating relationships with our neighbours, with whom we intend to share and exchange many more things in the future. We really are tasting the life we are creating for ourselves, getting away from the city and the need for public infrastructure, creating our own reality for the life we want to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ca’n Mandala Tomato Soup Recipe

INGREDIENTS
Loads of tomatoes (like enough to fill a large pot)
Some leeks and / or onion
2 or 3 garlic cloves
About 3 teaspoons sugar / Xilitol (a healthy sugar alternative made from Birch)
About 3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (same amount as sugar / xilitol)
Salt
Water or stock

Score the tomatoes on the bottom with a sharp knife and then plunge into boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove and plunge into cold water. Remove from the water and peel of the skins which should come away easily. It’s still quite a faff. An alternative to peeling the tomatoes is to make the soup with the skins on and then pass it all through a seive at the end. I have not tried this but am tempted to.

Meanwhile in a large pot, fry off your onions and/or leeks in some grass-fed butter. Contrary to popular belief, olive oil is not ideal for cooking with as it has quite a low smoking point and the oil goes rancid which is then not healthy to consume. I use mostly butter and coconut oil for cooking.

Once the onions/leeks are halfway done, add in your chopped/crushed garlic. Then chuck your tomatoes in, roughly chopped. I would probably throw the salt in about now. Add water or stock until the tomatoes are just covered in liquid (I personally use just water and get a delicious full flavour but if you have a good home-made stock I’m sure it would be even better).

Actually I think I added about a tablespoon of xilitol at this stage although we will add more at the end so I’m not sure how important it is to add now. Up to you.

Let the soup simmer on low for at least an hour – Stewie explained to me that this helps get rid of the bitterness in the tomatoes. Once cooked, blend.

Finally make your balsamic reduction by combining equal quantities of balsamic and sugar until it begins to thicken. Then add this mixture little by little to the soup, tasting as you go to decide how much to add.

DELICIOUS!!

Ca'n Mandala tomato soup

Ca’n Mandala tomato soup

The Making of: Biochar TLUD Kiln for our DIY water filtration system

You can download plans to make the biochar kiln here:
http://www.aqsolutions.org/images/2010/06/gasifier-handbook.pdf

You can learn more and download the plans to make the water filtration system here:
http://www.aqsolutions.org/images/2010/06/portable-WTP-handbook.pdf

for further information about the water filtration and purification system:
http://www.aqsolutions.org/

If you missed our last post on the water purification system you can find that here:
DIY Water Filtration and Purification System