THE MANDALA GARDEN by the Apprentice Permaculturist

Today was a momentous day – we started our veggie garden! It’s hard work but it’s worth it, knowing with every shovel of earth we are a little bit closer to eating our own organic veg ūüôā

So our huerto (Spanish for vegetable garden) is – obviously – based on the principals of permaculture. As most of you know I am an Apprentice Permaculturist so was happy to work under the Head Permaculturist’s guidance while he got on with fitting the door to the solar battery cupboard! One of the first steps with permaculture, whatever you are doing, is planning: the better you design it, the better it will serve you and the more yield it will give you for the least effort. It appears that the current stage is where most of the effort goes – hard digging on a hot spring day!

So we are following a design for a mandala garden¬†from Linda Woodrow’s book the Permaculture Home Garden. The concept is that the veggie beds are circular (which is the most efficient use of space) and in a keyhole design so that you can reach all over the bed either by walking round the edge or by standing in the centre. This is so that you never have to step on the bed and therefore avoid compacting the soil which would mean re-digging every season. Each bed is 4 metres from side to side and there are 6 beds, arranged in equal spacing around a central circle of the same size.

keyhole bedThe Permaculture Home Garden

After marking the outline of each of the beds, we chose one to start working on and then dug a path all the way round the edge, just wide enough to be comfortable to walk on. The earth that was dug out from the path was chucked inside the circle to allow more earth for planting. What this also does is to raise the bed up a bit, above the level of the path, so that in the case of heavy rain, the water will drain off into the path and the bed itself will not get waterlogged.

Once the path was dug and the earth evened out on the bed, it was time for one of the principal concepts in the world of permaculture: MULCHING! Mulching, a wonderful and very important word which is becoming a big part of my life. It basically means “composting in place” and is a great example of another key concept in permaculture: MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS. All you do is to lay¬†organic material over the earth and look at all the functions this covers:

  • Protects the earth from the harsh rays of the sun to stop from scolding and drying out, keeping it cool and damp and stopping evaporation
  • Allows any water to seep in gradually to soak the earth in a more even and effective way
  • Provides protection for worms and beneficial insects
  • The organic material will decompose over time and enrich the soil
  • A thick layer of mulch will also provide wind protection for seedlings until they grow a little stronger.

Good materials for mulching are hay, cardboard (recycling!), paper (watch out for prints which may contain toxic ink), or any garden refuse that you may have from trimming back other plants. We are using hay as we have a few bales of it on the land right now. Don’t forget to wet the soil before starting to mulch, and if you are mulching quite heavily then you can wet in between layers too.

Mandala Veggie Plot

So now we have a nicely prepared bed awaiting the first round of veggies which are to be planted this weekend!  Yum yum yum yum…..





The Road!

When it rains, it pours!

We showed up on the first planned day of work and it was absolutely pouring with rain.  The workers showed up and got their van stuck in the mud.  It took us 20 minutes to get the van out and that was the end of our first day of work.  It was clear that if we wanted to be able to get in and out of the plot when it was raining and get materials delivered we were going to have to fix the road.  We hadnt planned to do the road so this was the first of our unexpected costs.

We got recommended a machine driver by our friendly neighbour and so we called him in to see what he suggested.  He suggested to dig down 30cm lay some stone and then pour gravel over the top to level and for the final finish.  With that we wouldnt have any more problems.

Ohh yes, we started work again three weeks later as that’s how long it took to stop raining.¬† When it rains it pours!!

Waste is just something you havent figured out a use for.

We were a bit worried about the cost of this as there was about 250m of road plus 150square metres of parking to dig and fill.  It was going to need a lot of material.  Luckily we demolished the inside of the building which was mainly sandstone and that made a big pile of rubble to put down as a base.  This was a great use for it anyway as otherwise we would have had to pay for it to be taken to landfill somewhere else.  Here it stays on our land and we turn a waste product into something useful.

Dirt Dug

First stones laid

Waiting for gravel

One man¬īs waste is another man¬īs gold!

We got the rest of the stones from a neighbours field who has been clearing them  for years while ploughing.

First load of free stones

More free stones!

Then we had some special sand and gravel mix for roads delivered to finish off the job.


I had to spend hours raking it to get a nice flat finish and spread the gravel evenly but I’m happy with it now.

I found another great use for a pallet while thinking about ways to spread the gravel evenly.  I tied a rope to either end of a pallet making a loop.  Put it with the slats face down and tied a heavy brick to the top.
Next i put the loop around my waist and ran up and down the track.¬† The pallet dug in where there was too much gravel and accumulated the surplus in a mound on top of the slats which then emptied as I went over an uneven bit.¬† Unfortunately I thought of this right at the end but it saved me some work and levelled everything nicely.¬† I got some funny looks from the neighbours driving by , don’t know what they must have been thinking seeing me running around like a plough animal dragging that pallet.¬† Its multiple functions too as I levelled my road and got a good workout.¬† Nothing like pushing or dragging something heavy to get your heart rate going!

And so, it begins!

We started the blog promising lots of info and updates and then…… silence…

We have been very busy!

Here is a quick update of what has been going on in the last couple of weeks.

pile of rubble


On the first day our builders came in and started knocking the place down immediately. They had the inside completely demolished in the first two days.  We now had a large pile of rubble that we used as part of the base for our road.

Foundation Repair

Foundation reinforcementThe house is an old barn from the 60¬īs or earlier and so the foundation is just a large sandstone block laid on its side.¬† We thought it might be a good idea to reinforce the foundations with some reinforced concrete.

We want to use as little concrete as possible in the house but all of the people I consulted said that we couldn’t use lime for this job as it wasn’t strong enough.

We dug a ditch all the way round the outside of the interior wall, placed a re-bar grid and filled with concrete.

Once the concrete set, we dug out the rest of the earth down to a depth of 30cm and then filled it in with large gravel.  This will stop damp rising into the building.

Electricity and Plumbing

On top of the gravel layer we have all of our clean water, grey water and black water pipes laid and the electricity has also gone in.
I will give you more detailed information on all of this when i have some more time as some of you may be asking yourselves what the hell grey water is..


In the second week of work the digger arrived and started digging up the dirt track¬† gravel roadWe dug down 30cm, laid stones that my neighbour has been removing from his nicely ploughed field for years and then put some sandy gravel on top.¬† This is a great example of how “one man¬īs rubbish is another man¬īs treasure”.¬† We got 8, 18 tonne truck loads full of stones almost for free, if we had bought the stones they would have cost us around 800‚ā¨ so it worked out great for both of us.

One thing to really be aware of when you have a digger moving earth is where you want to put the earth that comes out of the holes.¬† There will be¬† a lot more than you think!¬† I had been told about this before but didn’t really pay much attention to it.¬† We now have a dune that is 2.5m x 1m x 200m long. We have put it running along the north side of the property, so it gives us some immediate low level windbreak and a raised bed to plant trees in.¬† Had I have planned it better we could have made it run on contour to soak up more water…¬† you live and learn!

Water tank

Once the digger got finished with the road he started digging the hole for our water tank.  We will be building a 30000litre rain water tank that will be filled up from the run off from the roof.

We have a well that is about 100metres away from the house that is hand dug by the original owner and only about 5 metres deep so we knew that the water table was very high in this area.

We dug the tank about two weeks ago and it has slowly started to fill up with water.  This may be a problem as we need it to be dry to make the slab for the base of the tank.  We might have to wait till the water level goes down in the summer to be able to make the tank.


sliding gateWe now have a gate!¬† Up till now we just had a loose piece of fencing that we had to tie and untie every time we went to the finca so I am sooooo happy that we don’t have to do that any more.¬† Its a nice sliding wooden gate with sandstone (mares) pillars.¬† We went for a sliding gate as it was the best we could find for the money and it will be easy to automate in the future.

The gate has really brought everything together and now it feels so much more like a house rather than just a fenced in field.


Things have slowly ground to a halt over christmas which has given us time to go over our finances, take stock of everything that has happened and plan the next stage.

We will be starting work again on Tuesday laying the insulated floor slab.  We are using lime instead of concrete as its more eco friendly and  its breathable which means that it deals with water and humidity better and improves the living standards in the building.

This has just been a quick update to let you all know what has been going on.  I will go into more detail on each subject sometime in the near future.

Happy New Year!

Passive Solar Composting Toilet Part 1- The Design Process

We will finally (after almost two years waiting for paper work to come through) be starting work on our barn conversion next week!

We decided that we needed a toilet on the land so that the builders who are coming to demolish the inside don’t leave little presents all over the place for us.¬† I thought that this would be a good opportunity to try out “Light Straw Clay” also known as “Slip Straw” as we want to make the interior walls this way.¬† We dont have any previous experience with this type of building (or any type of building for that matter) so it will be fun and we can get a feel for technique.

Light Straw Clay is a system that was originally used in Germany.¬† I really like the sound of it because it looks really easy.¬† All you have to do is make some “clay slip”(clay mixed with water), toss it over some straw like if you were dressing a salad and then pack it into a form.¬† Repeat the process until your¬† wall is finished, leave to dry, remove the forms and presto!¬† You have a wall that is ready for plastering and is well insulated.

Passive Solar Design

I have been studying passive solar design for a couple of years now and our composting toilepassive solar imaget project is a great excuse to put all of the theory into practise.  It will be an exterior loo, so it could get chilly in the winter and probably not the nicest place to be in if its just a dark and sombre outhouse.  I have designed it so that the sun will shine in and heat it up in the winter, making it a comfortable, warm and bright place to do your duties.

For those of you that are still wondering what Passive Solar Design is; it is basically the use of the heat of the sun shining onto something that will store that heat (mass, normally stone, brick, adobe, etc) to warm  a space.

The Design

I first designed the porta potty in a program called Google Sketchup as it lets me make a scale model and then place it in the exact virtual geographical location to see how the light and shadows react at different times of day and throughout the year.  This is great because it allows you to make changes, try out different configurations until you have something that works.

Our passive solar composting toilet design.

Here it is!

This is the design that I came up with for the shed that will house our composting toilet.  Its form is dictated purely by function.
The roof is slanted at 21.6 degrees which is the angle of the sun at solar noon on the winter solstice (21st of December) in our region.  I have set the roof at that angle so that the sun shines directly inside through the large window at the top giving light and heat which will be captured by the light straw clay and earthen plaster (mass) and then released slowly as night falls.  The light straw clay also acts as insulation which will help to maintain the temperatures fairly constant on the inside.

The overhang is designed so that as the sun gets higher in the sky (closer to summer) it will stop shining straight in and  wont heat the space any more.   If I have done everything correctly the space will be warm and bright in the winter and cool and shady in the summer.

In my next post I will show you my progress with making the frame.

I am hoping that we will be ready for the winter solstice so that I can see if my maths (which is rubbish) is correct and feel the warm sun on my face while depositing a little packet of future fertility for our fruit trees.

The first steps to a dream-come-true

When I went on my first date with Luke on 21st April 2012 I had never heard of Permaculture. By the end of the day I had had quite an intense introduction, as Luke explained the concept to me from the point of view of his dream, while we rock-climbed in Calvi√†, ate pizza on the dock in Port Andratx, and walked Luna in the forest of Paguera. We said our first goodbye under the lemon tree at his gate, a mere 20 metres from where I sit now, but not before he had bamboozled me with the plans he had drawn for Ca’n Mandala, his permaculture dream-to-come-true.

Already then, we shared a common desire to live in harmony with nature, it’s just that he had already got into much more detail about how that was going to happen! Gradually Ca’n Mandala became a dream that we dream together, a dream that is now becoming a reality. A home built with natural materials (many of which will be reclaimed), which will warm us in the winter and cool us in the summer… where we can re-use all of our waste water on the land, turning our bodily waste into compost to nourish the earth… where we can step outside and collect vegetables from our garden and fruit from our food forest… where animals will help us to farm the land, just by doing what they do best… where we can be happy living a simple life together.

Luna in Kitchen doorway

August 2012

August 2012

We are at the beginning of a very exciting journey, as we build our house and our life together, and we hope you will join us as we share our experiences, the things we learn and the mistakes we make, the joys and the challenges, the triumphs and disappointments. Join us, dear friends, and if you would like to get involved, make some suggestions, lend a hand, please feel free! Welcome one and all.