Natural Building Family Camp, August 24-29

Natural Building CAMP!

Natural Building School Interns and Friends

Natural Building School Interns and Friends

Well, well, well! It’s been many a year since Culture’s Edge at Earthaven hosted a natural building camp. But this August (24-29), we once again are offering a full six-day adventure into the world of cob and its sophisticated cousin, compressed earth block.

Both cob and the blocks are started with the same basic ingredients—a good, clay-y soil, and sand. Cob, however, also has a significant amount of straw crushed into it and is put on quite wet in cobs, or loaves. Compressed earth blocks are made without additional water or straw, and often a small amount (ten percent) of Portland cement is used in the mix.

The other big difference is that the neat rectangular blocks are made by a big machine requiring mechanical power, and are set in place with an earthen mortar, whereas cob can be made by a pair of folks and a tarp (although it can also be mixed several other ways) and requires no mortar at all.

Block

Since cob is a basically seamless material, the way the molecules adhere to each other depends especially on the water and the straw in the mix. Ideally, the soil is soaked in water ahead of time to allow the molecules to fully absorb the water and become as sticky as possible. The straw acts like a crisscross of fibrous “nails” that interweave the cob mix and make it the most solid of natural building materials. Another similar earthen material is adobe brick, which is a hand-made version that is pressed wet into forms. Adobe brick thus takes significant drying time to use and is probably in its best setting in dry climates.

At this year’s Natural Building Camp, participants will be working on a cob and block tower for the new Village Arts Building at Earthaven. The recently built rubble trench foundation with its two-foot stacked stone base wall will take a couple of rounds of cob and then be continued with the earth blocks.

Village Arts Studio

Village Arts Building

The Camp will begin with a comprehensive tour of natural and green buildings at Earthaven, featuring a wide variety of traditional and experimental techniques. Our experienced staff and natural building interns will be on hand to demonstrate, teach and guide participants through the basics of hands-on natural building. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion, plus all the good things about summer camp—group meals, walks in the woods, dips in the creek, and starry nights around the campfire.

As the famous cob builder, Becky Bee, explains in the documentary First Earth, there’s nothing like natural building to bring people of all skill levels together, creating the very sense of community we seek by the process we use to do it. We’re very excited to be reintroducing this delightful approach to housing ourselves and our activities to the public. Folks are welcome to sign up for the entire six day camp or to come just for the weekend. More information is available at www.culturesedge.net.

Tomato Project at Village Terraces

There is a cooperative tomato project going on at Village Terraces. Provisional members eli and Jonathan are partnering with the Imani Farm Coop (Mihaly, Lee, Martha, & Finch), along with work exchanger Liz, to grow a variety of tomatoes to be sold fresh and turned into value-added products, such as canned tomato sauce.

Many members of the ecovillage have pitched in to help at all stages of the project. We started by letting our pigs roam in the lower Imani field to root up weeds. Then came the hard work of preparing the soil, setting in posts, planting, mulching, tying up the plants, watering, etc. The Village Terraces Garden Coop lent some of its irrigation equipment to the tomato project.

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Now we are harvesting, eating, and processing! There are beefsteak tomatoes, plum tomatoes, salad tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, etc. The fresh tomatoes are available in the Village Terraces Common Kitchen. More photos below:

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Forest Garden Neighborhood, July 20

Chioke, Amakiasu, & Ayo in Forest Garden Neighborhood

On her next-to-last day at Earthaven, our Forest Children’s Collective tutor Amakiasu (center), and her kids Chioke, 17 (left) and Ayo, 13 (right), sheet-mulched the slope between Greg’s homesite and our place with cardboard and straw. You can also see one of our water-catchment tanks, the greenhouse (with a shower inside for lodgers and neighbors), and in the far left, Greg’s apartment and workshop, and his solar panels.

Chioke near the greenhouse

Another view of our cleaned-up slope. Our lodging units and greenhouse are at the top, and our row of compost bins below. Thanks to the sheet-mulching, people driving into Earthaven, our lodgers, and Greg won’t have to look at a jungly mass of pokeberries, sumacs, tiny poplar trees, blackberries-on-steroids, horse-thistle (eek!), and other assorted “please-don’t-grow-here!” plants. (For about 6 months anyway.) Someday this slope will grow berries!

Thank you, Amakiasu, Ayo, and Chioke. Goodbye . . . and . . . come back soon!



Salvation Alley Cleanup – Slide Shows

Today Mihaly and Tom focalized a community work day to clean up Salvation Alley. It was amazing how much was accomplished!

I don’t have a before picture yet. In the meantime, I have made a couple of slide shows of the experience. I’m a beginner at the slide show thing, so let me know if they don’t work for you….

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Here is another slide show. For some reason the captions are off.

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Garlic harvesting day!

Debbie and Steve digging up garlic. Photo by Martha.

Garlic is one of the highest value plants we grow in our Village Terraces neighborhood garden – it’s one of the few things everyone eats and is expensive to buy. I especially enjoy that we plant the bulbs in the fall when it’s cool and other gardening tasks have slowed down, and then the new garlic shoots are the first green and growing inhabitants of the spring garden – well before we’ve organized to plant anything else. Other than a couple weedings, they don’t take much care.

This summer started out with some rain and we’ve had dry weather for most of the past three weeks – excellent garlic weather! The bulbs actually went past ripe before we noticed.

Jonathan and Liz with half the harvested garlic. Photo by Martha.

This morning I went out to harvest them before they stayed in the ground another hot day. Steve, Jonathan, and Liz were in the kitchen considering what farm task the could do together for the morning and came out to help. Marie noticed the activity and joined the party.

After three hours of working together we have enough garlic for the whole neighborhood for the upcoming year curing in our woodshed.

Prevent Birds from Striking Windows

Our passive solar home--Photo by Caroline Williford

Millions of birds are killed each year when they strike windows of homes and offices. I used to worry about cats killing birds, but window strikes are a significantly bigger problem. Here at Earthaven, our passive solar homes have large, south-facing windows that can be lethal for wild birds.

I was distraught last spring when a bluebird father and the fledgling he was feeding both hit our building at high speed. I tried out a simple, inexpensive technique that was described on David Sibley’s website, and it has virtually eliminated the problem of birds striking our windows.

Just get a flourescent yellow highlighter and draw a grid on the inside of the windows. It will be virtually invisible to humans, but for birds it breaks up the reflection that otherwise induces them to fly into the windows at top speed.

Please try this solution and let me know if it works for you. (It is best to apply the highlighter when the window isn’t too dusty–otherwise the grid is more visible.) Please comment if you have had any luck with other methods of reducing bird strikes.

Tales of the Ecovillage

In this blog, members and residents of Earthaven Ecovillage will post their stories, news, and inspiration. We have several goals. We want to share what it is really like to try living more sustainably, so we can inspire others to take their own steps toward environmentally friendly living. We wish to connect with people who hold similar values and commitment to caring for people and the Earth. And we want to document the beauty and the challenges of our journey–to entertain, engage, educate, and amuse.