Monday, 8 July 2013

Bloomin' Lovely

Well, this post has been a long time coming, but it'll be a good one - fear not! Below is a major pic spam of the lovely plants which are working so hard to make our garden a nicer place to be. I'll give you a major run-down of progress in a bullet-pointy form, in order to make up for the mass of pictures.

  • The lawn arrived and we now have a patch of grass! We can't stand on it yet, but it's there. It's so nice to have a big area of garden which is no longer producing broken glass or anything of that ilk! 
  • The levelling of the patio area has been completed, so we're now pretty much ready to lay it. Sort of. Once I've watched loads of Youtube videos about laying permeable patios and ordered some sand, we'll be good to go!
  • We've stopped having work weekends and started having a work day every two weeks. I'll try to remember to post and let you know when they're upcoming in case anyone wants to help.
  • A few fruit bushes have gone in along the bottom fence. 
  • We've been eating some salad and herbs from the garden on a regular basis, and Finn has started grazing on mangetout and strawberries. We've had one radish so far, but there are plenty more to come. We're not making huge amounts of food, but considering all this was concrete just a few months ago, I'm not complaining :)
  • Also, we haven't weeded once :D There are weeds, but they're not doing any harm, so I'm leaving them. It'll be interesting to see how all this lazy gardening turns out.

The lawn, with newly flattened patio bit and path to the right.

Polycultures are just so pretty.

This is a mystery squash. Courgette? We'll soon see!

The comfrey is gigantic - time to make plant food from it!

This squash has been shown to a neighbouring shrub for support.

Runner beans with peas growing up them, surrounding a perennial while it gets going.

Helianthus jungle!

Well done if you've made it this far - this wasn't even all of them! In other news, we're still trying to work out what to do with the roof and how to pay for it. This might include solar panels, and it might not, but either way we won't be doing the bulk of the work. We might paint the house at the same time though. Woop!

- Hannah

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

June Work Weekend Details

Having just written the job list for this work weekend, I thought I'd share it on the blog so that you can see if you fancy coming along.

So here's what we'll be up to:

Fill skip - We'll be moving rubble and possibly some top soil down the garden steps into a skip at the back.

Lift flagstones - We found some Victorian flagstones under the concrete, and they need lifting for re-use. We had a little go and didn't manage it, so if you like problem solving and using crow bars you might like this job!

Level lawn and create slope -  This is a pick-axing, digging, wheelbarrowing kind of job. We're so close to getting the lawn sorted (and therefore the fruit bush beds) and this is the last job in the way!

Dig out buddleia/brambles - These are big plants and might involve quite a lot of digging (or building a fire on top of them).

Finish shed floor - This is a job which we'll only do if the others get done.

There'll be a simple lunch for volunteers (soup, I imagine), tea and biscuits, and copious good company. Let me know if you can make it!

- Hannah

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Birthdays and Beds

Since my last post we've actually passed out first big milestone - a year in the house! I meant to do a big review of the past year and the things we've accomplished, but I actually just ended up cooking a nice dinner for everyone instead. It seemed a good enough marker of 365 days of community without needing it's own blog post.

Anyway, not much has happened with the house work-wise. We're still accidentally saving up for the roof (by virtue of not spending money on anything else). However, the garden is coming on apace. That's one of the many virtues of plants - once you put them in they do the work themselves. In lieu of hearing me go on about the intricacies of sledgehammering concrete (a process at which we're becoming rather adept), I've put together a slideshow of the garden over the last year and a bit so you can see what we've achieved so far.

If you want to see where we're going, you can read my permaculture design here. If you'd like to join us in making more garden magic happen, our next work weekend is on the 15th and 16th of June. There will be lunch and dinner for volunteers, and a mix of digging and bashing type work, and gentler things. Let us know if you'd like to get involved. Crash space is available if you're coming from further afield too. - Hannah x

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Plodding On

With a month from the last blog post to this one, it's nice to have some photos that prove we've been doing things. Progress on the garden is slow but steady, as we concentrate on that to allow funds to accumulate in our bank account for the next big job on the house. I'm not feeling wordy today, so have lots of pictures instead :)

Day one of installing the reclaimed paving.

A small patch of sanity in a sea of crap.

Finn's been heavily involved in the planting process.

The sea beet is in rude health, and the mountain sorrel at it's base too!

Everything's looking happy, but is sadly still in pots.

Progress! More paving and the start of the back fences.

Plants! In The ground! In our garden!

The paving and the planting are starting to show the garden's future potential :D

In other news, I've finished the permaculture design for the garden (good thing as we've started implementing it!). When I work out how to put a link to a PDF you can have a flick through.

- Hannah

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Garden Work Weekend Update (or 'Mud day!' as Finn called it)

A good sign of success is that there was a queue for the shower yesterday, so muddy and wet were we all from a day of digging, smashing, lugging and bashing. Although today was a quieter affair, we still got loads done and the garden is starting to shape up! There is much work still to be done, but making all this progress is a great start.

I'm going to spare you my usual lengthy narrative, and thanks to Toby's mad camera skills, resort to spamming you with pictures instead!

But before that, a list of acknowledgements seems appropriate, since we received so much help (sorry if I forget anyone). Thank you to Heather, Lis and Julia for the loan of tools, it made everything so much easier, and thank you to Todd, Toby and Ryan for doing masses of work. Ryan didn't even know there was a work weekend, he was just visiting for his birthday. He got stuck in nevertheless. What a legend. Thanks to Toby for taking pictures or we wouldn't have a record of all the frenzied activity. And thanks to Finn, for doing more digging today than you would imagine a 2 year old would be up for, and managing to do it in an actually useful fashion. Between that and his tendency to shout "grow more plants! grow more seeds!" I have high hopes for his future.

On to the pictures!

Day One

There was a breeze block wall on top of this stone one only hours before.

That's some of it in a heap centre-left, next to all our sexy recycled paving materials!

Lifting concrete to make a home for the compost bins.

Flick is a professional digger, and she found a clay pipe stem!

Knocking down the wall revealed next door's rubbish heap - which Toby promptly sorted and bagged for recycling :)

Victorian flagstones under the concrete show how much the ground level has risen.

Day Two

Start of day two: so much ground to level!

Marking out the edge of the patio so we can start not standing on the beds.

It's a family affair :D

Finn asked Toby to take this picture. Quite right too.

The future shed floor is now levelled!

A nice tidy garden, with newly housed compost bins!

Cleaned tools at the end of the day. Woop!
Our newest treasure - a buried shopping trolley!

Monday, 8 April 2013

More Work Weekend Information

Hello again!

I promised I'd be back with more details of the work weekend, and here I am. Although this is all subject to change, I just wanted people to have an idea of what we were going to be up to.

Below is a picture of me clutching the demented brilliant permaculture design I've done for the garden, further details of which will be in a future blogpost. This is what you'll be helping us to realise :D

Crinkled, but awesome. I promise it makes sense!
So, these jobs are all ones which don't cost any money, which after the palaver of the garden wall is quite a relief for us. These jobs are therefore more likely to happen than the costly ones.

- scrub left hand wall ready for painting (may need to buy a couple of stiff brushes)
- knock down breeze block wall to the right
- put breeze blocks in hole left by building the new wall (makes sense when you see it)
- break up concrete where compost bins are going to go
- save big bits for paving and put small bits in garden refuse bags to re-use on the green roof
- move compost bins
- break up as much of the rest of the concrete as we can manage, concentrating on the edges where beds are going to be
- mark out main parts of garden plan
- level lawn and create slope between lawn and patio

It's all brilliant stuff, and also all necessary before we can get to the really fun bit, which is of course the planting!

If we do find some cash to spend on the garden immediately it will most likely be on fencing as we currently have a couple of impressive drops from the new wall and steps. There may also be some painting, but don't hold your breath for that one.

What do you get in return? Besides a warm glow, you'll get lunch, dinner, somewhere to stay if you need it, and lots of love and gratitude from us. You'll also be helping to make an awesome permaculture garden which we hope will be used for open garden events in the future, and as a demonstration of small-scale urban permaculture, as well as a nice place for us to hang out with you when you visit.

So, who's coming? Email us at and let us know.

- Hannah

Thursday, 4 April 2013


It exists. It's beautiful. It's FINISHED!!!!!!

I don't have a photo of the beauteous steps to hand, but believe me, they are beauteous!

Now that all the excitement of the wall building is over, we have the new, extra exciting excitement which is THE GARDEN. The first of what will probably be many work weekends will be on April 13th-14th. This first phase will involve much in the way of smashing things up, demolishing things, and lugging stuff about. For the less Hulksmash amongst you, there may be painting, and there will definitely be playing with the toddler and making tea.

We can accommodate people overnight if need be, and there will be lunch and dinner for volunteers. Please let us know if you're coming so we can plan food. You'll need sensible boots and work clothes, but we have the tools required. I'll do another post with more details about what we'll be getting up to before next weekend.

- Hannah

Monday, 18 March 2013


Well hello, and what an exciting blog post we have today! I'm excited, anyway, and so are the others here at Golem HQ: the wall is in progress!

A week ago our lovely builders appeared at the bottom of the garden and, well, just got on with it. They've been there every week-day since, beavering away, and slowly but surely, the wall is growing. The retaining wall itself is nearly built, and the curtain wall for the steps is probably done (possibly requiring another course or two once the steps are up. They're back-filling the retaining wall and under the steps tomorrow, which will bring an end to the slope of doom once and for all. We're getting a quote for a gate today, and apparently all the building will probably be done by the end of the week. I know! If you pay people, stuff gets done! We are very fond of this new - if rather expensive - approach.

Without further ado, I'll post loads of photos so you can enjoy the process for yourself.

Ta da!
Day one - Finn was in truck heaven!

Digging out the footings

Footings poured (the concrete's under the water at the back)

Blocks arriving - another truck!

Day one of wall building

Day two

Day four (I forgot to photograph day three)

Both walls are actually higher than that last photo shows - I took it this morning. They are now both comfortably taller than Sven.

So, you can see the enormous progress that's already occurred, and tomorrow we should actually find out what level our garden is now. The builders asked today and I just shrugged. I have no idea! Sven  and I did some clambering on the heap of rubble and dragged out a whole load more stone to use for the patio and paths.

I'll post again when the whole thing's finished, and we can take photos of us running up and down the steps with glee!

- Hannah

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Foraging in Your Own Backyard

There was probably a point where I thought that the next blog post I put up would be about the glorious construction of the garden wall, with pictures of it gleaming in the sun whilst a Golem sprinted up the steps to demonstrate how wonderful it is to have rear access to the property.

Alas, as you can probably guess, the wall is still not started, and the slope of doom persists. Of course, it's been there for months now, but somehow this last few weeks of waiting for the builder to finish the job before us is dragging on spectacularly. The monster job which is re-roofing 3 tile roofs, installing one green roof (probably), re-roofing 4 flat roofs with fibreglass, re-cladding the dormers, repainting the front of the house and possibly replacing the entire guttering system awaits us, but we can't do a thing to start it (apart from working out the nitty gritty of how the hell we're going to do it) until the wall is done. Sad times.

There are a few things I've been doing in the meantime though, and being me they are all about the permaculture. Although my design for the garden is nowhere near completed, I've been trying to think of positive things to do to while away the waiting for the wall, and what with Spring having Sprung, there are all the lovely plants which will one day grace our garden to think about.

My garden design will focus heavily on perennials, partly because they're a vital part of any productive permaculture system, but also because they are resillient enough to cope with changing tenants and changing priorities. A garden of annuals relies on a gardener with the time and energy to get it up and running every year, but in a house where the tenants may change relatively frequently, and where the work needed on the house might drain energy and attention away from the garden, this can't be relied on. Perennial plantings are relatively neglect-proof, and should produce edible produce even if they're completely left alone, and in years where there are people here who fancy applying some TLC, the plants will quickly respond and become more productive.

Our current plantings are all perennials in pots

So to add to the perennials we already house (mostly herbs and berries) we now have a sea beet, some mountain sorrel, and some water dropwort. Finn and I will soon be planting seeds of globe artichoke, fennel, watercress and nasturtium (not perennial, but a prolific self-seeder) to add to them, and whenever the chance arises I'll be adding plants to our pot collection so that when we're in a position to start on the garden, the plants are ready and waiting.

Sea beet with a (when it gets established) groundcover of mountain sorrel

Water dropwort ('Flamingo'), which tastes like a cross between celery and something else...
We'll soon be foraging for co-op meals from our diverse and low-maintenance garden, and in the meantime we get the enjoyment of hunting for plants in the wider world, and scouring the slope of doom for materials for paving and raised bed building. This is our current crop, and it's nothing to what we might be able to forage out before the builder backfills behind the new wall and buries it all again.
Bricks at the back and stone at the front.

And it still looks like this!

Just to balance this post out with news of what some other people have been up to, Rob and Flick have been painting in the spare room, and barring a second coat on the cupboard and some touching up, it's done. The tiles have been bought, but aren't up yet. If anyone out there adores tiling then feel free to rescue me from this task - I've taken it on but I'm rubbish at tiling! There's almost certainly lunch and some baked goods in it for you :D

Sven and Cass fitted the extractor fan to the kitchen window, and both the prepayment meters have gone so we're in the process of switching to Good Energy for gas and electric. We had a maintenance workshop and now have a much more holistic maintenance plan which will hopefully ensure that when we do work on one element of the house, we do as much as we can at once (hence the slightly daunting list of work to do while the house is scaffolded). Games have been played, tea has been drunk. House life ticks on.

Hopefully my next post will manage to feature our good and glorious wall, but we shall see. Wish us luck ;)

- Hannah

Saturday, 19 January 2013

All The Small Things

So we're into our first winter living in the house, and only 4 months away from finishing the first year here. Christmas was a low-key event with some co-op members and some guests present, and we had a separate co-op Christmas day when the rest of the co-op were back. In general people were home lots, and this meant that things got done. A lot of the things were small, annoying jobs which have somehow lingered for months and months, so it was very exciting to get them out of the way!

Firstly, between me and Sven the kitchen floor is now entirely tiled! OK, so the wall behind the door isn't done, but it's still progress. It actually looks quite smart, and will look even better when the grout dirties up to match the rest of the floor.

Everyone realised they'd been stepping over this gap since we moved in!

Sven and I replaced the pane of glass in the kitchen window, which got cracked in August. We've had the glass since September, but it's only just been done - shocking! There were huge amounts of putty to hack off, and it turned out that the window had been interestingly altered by a previous bodger, so we had to bodge it back together in our own way. It's looking good now though, and when the putty's hardened we can paint the outside of the frame to protect it a bit more. Alas, we're still awaiting an exchange on the extractor fan which broke very soon after we got it. I wonder if manufacturers will ever learn that making moving parts out of tiny bits of plastic is a bad plan?

It's destined to look a lot less scraggy, I promise!

I finally finished altering the kitchen plumbing to include a pipe for the boiler condensate outlet thingy. Fun times!

Sven made a blackboard for the kitchen so it's easier for us to see what the next stage of different jobs is, and I think it's really helping.

Made out of stuff lying around the house by Sven's fair hands!
Between a number of different Golems, the spare room is now painted! Well, the cupboard isn't, and the doorframe needs doing, and there's tiling to do too (once we've picked the tiles) but still, yay! Although it is in need of furniture, soft furnishings and things on the wall to make it homely, this still feels like progress. So much so, in fact, that Sven has finally moved the bed out of the tool room, so anyone staying from now on won't have to sleep amongst piles of tools and random timber. Huzzah!
Guests used to have this lovely pit to sleep in...
... but now they will have this beautiful pit instead!
The bed is a temporary measure, just so you know!

We've had one of our pay-as-you-go meters taken out, and the gas meter should be going in a week or so. This is exciting for two reasons. Firstly, no more running out of gas or electricity at random hours of the night - yay! And secondly, it will mean we can switch our power supplies to Good Energy. Win!

The last small thing I can think of is less practical, but still feels like a major achievement. When we moved in, we did a rough estimate of what we thought we needed to pay as a contribution to bills. Everyone decided it was easier to pay a flat rate payment each month so we could budget better, and we came up with a payment of £36. This was to cover gas, electric, water, internet and TV licence (council tax is included in our rent), but we soon discovered there was also enough money to cover washing up liquid, washing liquid, toilet rolls, toilet cleaner, teas of various sorts, coffee, sugar and milk of various sorts.

Even with all of these things being included, we discovered we were paying too much, so from February our bill payments will go down by £10 to £26. £26 for all of those things! Although it might need adjusting upwards in the future, this still seems fantastic to me, and it's all by virtue of having a lot of people living in one house. Even with our total lack of insulation and draught-proofing (not forever, but at the moment it is a leaky old house) none of us are struggling to pay energy bills, or having to decide between food or heat, and I think that's a pretty awesome thing.

So this is what even a young housing co-op can do: provide affordable rent and affordable bills, the knowledge that neither will go up without warning, and the income to keep improving the house so that our bills become even more affordable. Now I think about it, I don't think that's a small thing at all.

- Hannah