NEWS (2012)

Some of you will already have heard our news, and for some, this will come as a surprise.

After a long hard year of discernment we have decided it is time for our charity to leave Craigencalt Farm and the shores of Kinghorn Loch. We didn’t want to leave the Earthship behind for fear of it not being well cared for. Rather, we decided to create Projects of Hope and decommission the building. We will document the process for research purposes, including the condition of the tyre walls after 20 years of burial.

SCI continues to work as a grass roots charity, focusing this year on our nature connection work, working with children and young adults. We will also continue to be the “Earthship folk” through our website – providing information and inspiration for anyone interested in the Earthship concept.

We are delighted to report that we estimate we have re-homed somewhere between 80-90% of the building, although that is a hard thing to quantify!

What we can say with certainty is that we only had 1 eight cubic yard skip of waste – made up mainly of scraps of liners, membranes, and the like. In addition to the 1 skip we took a small trailer load of metal to the scrapyard but it was too light to weigh in, in other words because it was mostly pieces of chicken wire that we used when required for plastering situations, it was very light.

We were over the moon to re-home all the tyres – 100 of them went to a small farm where the owner is developing a community food project, a few went to build a retaining wall for some of our volunteers, other volunteers took them to grow food in, and the bulk that was left (approximately 500) went to build retaining walls for a sustainable glamping project where the owners are demonstrating as much reused materials as possible. Our very special tyre, called Ted, has been re-settled in a local house in Burntisland, we believe he too is going to have food planted in him.

There will be more detail on the re-using of the Earthship in our Deconstruction Report, which we hope will be ready in a couple of months time. Please check our website.

Sat 26 Sept’20

Wind turbine broken

The wind turbine looks very sad with a broken spring.

This is a down-wind turbine; that is opposite of most wind turbines – most wind turbines keep (in some way) their ‘head’ in the wind to generate power and they have the dynamo in the ‘tail’. Our wind turbine is the other way around. Looking at it, you can see that the wind would push against the ‘fin’ under the dynamo and that way is turning the whole thing so the wind pushes against what we would think of as the ‘back of the blades’. Springs are holding the blades in the wind and when the wind gets to strong, the springs give in a little too let the wind slip past – that way we do not need to worry about the blades getting damaged in the Scottish gales.

The picture shows what happens when one is the springs is broken: one blade flops.

We have new springs ready (it is recommended to replace all three springs at the same time) but we need winch to lower the mast, so we can replace the springs and do a general service (a bit of grease on the bearings and check that it all looks in a good condition).

Just in case you may be able to help with a winch, this is what the Proven wind turbine manual suggests as a minimum for a winch:

TirFor winch TWT508  850kg static with 20m wire rope (with strop for attachment at anchor pin end; rope with hook or loop and large D-shackle). Then we need something with a similar strength to attach the winch to a tree or other fixed point

Earthship sewage systems & Permaculture

I thought I would share an email that I wrote this week.

Dear Permaculture friend

I have extracted the text from your original email

> I’m involved in a project where a number of bungalows will be built
> plus a farm shop with an attached cafe. As there is no mains drains
> we are having to consider a treatment plant of some kind. Is it
> possible to do permaculture with black water as well as grey
> (yes I know grey water can be done)

I am replying from the Earthship design perspective, not a Permaculture perspective. I am assuming that you know a bit about Earthship systems, but if not, please ask for further explanations.

The original Earthship designs were created with the desert conditions in New Mexico in mind. These sewage systems do not discharge any water into the environment for the simple reason that they want to retain any water for growing plants and creating a green space in the desert – a very much appreciated commodity in that environment. A soakaway would get rid of the excess water, but it would not feed any plants.

The result presents us with an interesting prospect from an environmental, sustainability viewpoint: if you do not discharge any water into the environment, you are not making any impact on the environment – a great example of taking responsibility

But being practical about it, in most other climates we do not need to be so extreme and discharging processed sewage into the environment is acceptable. If we process our sewage to a high standard, then the impact on the environment is minimal and often beneficial (don’t forget the ‘nutrition’ present in wastewater). Such methods are often used and accepted by the authorities in remote locations in the UK. You may want to process your sewage to a _better_ level than the legal requirements and to always keep the impact on the environment in mind when ‘producing’ waste water (e.g. choice of detergents, consider that chemicals in medicines may pass through the human body and end up in the wastewater).

There are various approved and reliable methods, for example: reed beds, Findhorn’s Living Machine, septic tank.

Our experience with the Earthship systems:

1) the Grey Water Bed is indoors and works very well, but it creates a very humid atmosphere inside; you will need regular, good ventilation to maintain good air quality (many more air exchanges than building regulations specify)

2) the Black Water Bed (according to building regulations) must be at least 15 meters away from the inhabited area; that puts it outside; we have build a greenhouse to keep the plants active during the winter, but even then the lower temperatures and reduced daylight reduce the capacity of the black water processing. (composting toilets seem an easier option)

3) the capacity/size of Grey and Black Water Bed botanical cells: in the Earthship documentation we can find formulas to calculate their size, but this is based on very low water consumption (and therefore low wastewater production): Earthship residents in New Mexico live off the rain water they get (on average 8 inches a year). I suggest that, in our climate, we would need much larger botanical cells if we do not want to discharge any processed sewage into the environment. I wonder if we could use Earthship-like botanical cells as filtering systems (with a soakaway) instead of fully closed systems (will need to be demonstrated to work for the Environment Protection Agency)

I hope the above will assist you in your planning. Please do not hesitate to ask further questions.

Thank you for your willingness to take responsibility for the impact you make on the environment.

Wednesday 26 Aug’20

What a lot of rain we have had!

Groundwater as come into the Black Water Bed (BWB). That is not a problem: 1) water only ever runs into the BWB, never out (if you do not understand how it works, that may be hard to believe); 2) actually it really helps because during the summer the BWB uses up so much sewage that it can dry out and then the plants would die – some summers we have to add water from the burn to keep the plants alive.

Lots of water for the hydro turbine too. I tried opening both nozzles, but something was wrong: I got less power! Investigating, I found that the medium size nozzle was broken so the jet of water was more like a spray with very little strength and losing all the pressure.

The dirty white thing is the broken nozzle (the red disk is the top of the hydro turbine, you can see the valve to open and close one of the nozzles, the bicycle chain is part of a tool that I use to remove the nozzle)

I could not find our spare new nozzles (that happens when you have just moved) so I put in an old large nozzle (I need to look up the actual sizes for you)

It worked fine because there is enough water coming down the burn. There was enough water for both nozzles: the large one and the small one.

Look at the water gushing out

It is now generating 270-280 Watts – that is a lot of power when you generate that 24 hours a day: over 6.5 kWh per day (have I got that right?)

But have a think about it: what can you do with 280 Watts? Quite a few light (eco) bulbs, a desktop computer – no problem! But can you boil the kettle or do the ironing? I don’t think so! That is why you need batteries to build up a ‘store’ of electricity so you have extra power for the short periods that you need it.

Enough technology. There was a heron today, fishing!

As a Dutchman I am used to see herons in open countryside so I was surprised to see her/him under the trees

Weekend 15-16 Aug’20

For me the second time back after (or rather: during) COVID-19 lockdown. I was very reluctant to go on public transport with the risks of “picking up the virus”, but last week I did come over. As long as everyone behaves (hand washing, face masks, good cleaning practice) I think it will be ok.

Not so sure about starting to do guided tours (muffled in my face mask; total of two ‘families’, counting me as one; Earthship Fife is quite small so social distancing limits the group to a few people only). We are keeping an eye on changes of government guidelines, but for now, not much scope.

Patrick has done a good job, keeping the plant growth in the labyrinth and near the Earthship in check while the rest of us were in lockdown. Thank you very much, Patrick!

Yesterday a flood on the path.

During the thunderstorm and “tropical” rains this week, the abundant watercress in the lower pond of the cascade had dislodged itself and had partially blocked the culvert under the path and raised the waterlevel in the lower pond, so it was overflowing in places where it shouldn’t. It took me two hours to clear it – wet and muddy to over my elbows. Fortunately not cold, so being wet wasn’t a big problem.

Wednesday 20 Feb 2019

It was quite cold in the grey water bed (indoor garden, conservatory) when I arrived at 1 o’clock, even though the sun was out this morning. It felt like a door or window was left open, but that was not the case.
Stephan from Paul Heat Recovery came to give us a plan and a price for installing heat recovery ventilation. We are applying for funding to make a few improvements to the Earthship. We have ‘lived’ with the Earthship for many years now and we have had to fix a few problems and we have found a few things that could be improved. It would be nice to apply some of those lessons learned and demonstrate in practice that these improvements are worth doing.

Stephan mentioned that he can also supply a probiotic air purifier (I think that is what he called it). I am quite keen to try that out to see if that reduces the smell caused by the humid air from the plants. That may be cheaper than running a dehumidifier. I will keep you posted.

Another visitor today was looking for a site where he could try out some simple design (DIY) hydro turbines. His designs are “low head” turbines, which need a higher amount of water than the turbine we have. He was not sure if the stream has enough flow for his tests. I did give him some ideas where he might find better sites nearby. I have asked him to share his results and ideas with us (if he does, I will put links on our website).

Saturday 16 Feb 2019

Hydro turbine 12psi medium nozzle 160-170 Watts.

PV panels 50 Watts (at about 2pm, clouded)

Batteries full. Dump load warm.

Guided tour for 5 people. Plus two more who joined us part the way through and they stayed for a chat and looking at some of the parts of the tour that they missed.

Some crisp packets and cigarette buds in the yurt (I did not have time to clean up).

Mahony in black water bed is about to spring into bloom – amazing how sewage can smell so nice!

Saturday 2 Febr 2019

Ice in the loch today. Frosty and beautiful sunny. It feels nice and warm in the Earthship though the thermometer says 18.7°C.

A pretty little bird (great tit, I think) was singing and eating the seeds from the cones in the larch tree.

The dehumidifier that was on loan, was returned to the owner 10 days ago. The air is starting to smell sightly musty. We are considering installing MHRV (mechanical heat recovery ventilation) and we are looking into the technicalities and costs. Let me remind you: normally one gets rid of humid air (shower, cooking, breathing, plants) by ventilation; in the standard design, an Earthship ventilation (using convection) loses too much warmth (in our climate). A dehumidifier will extract humidity from the air, but will not exchange stale air and costs electricity to run. We tried a dehumidifier as a test, but it was not a permanent solution. We expect that MHRV will use less electricity and will exchange stale air for fresh air with minimal heat loss.

Sunday 30 Dec 2018

Thank you for collecting some firewood.

Hydro turbine

The hydro turbine is running fine: 10psi water pressure with both nozzles open, producing 180 Watts.
I cleaned some twigs from intake; they were not blocking anything yet but they would have caught more leaves and twigs if not removed


The dehumidifier tank was full – emptied out.

  • %RH dropped from 70.2 to 65.8 in an hour.
  • It used 10kwh since 15 Dec, so I think someone has emptied the tank twice since then (thank you).
  • The air quality has definitely improved since we started using the dehumidifier. This is quite good evidence that the ventilation is insufficient in the current design (in our climate we cannot ventilate using Michael Reynolds’ convection method because it loses too much warmth)


Since 9 Dec we used 27kwh (of which 13 was used by the dehumidifier) and generated 86.3 kwh (1.6 wind, 6.9 PV, 77.8 hydro) (so we ‘dumped’ almost 60kwh)