Nov 1, 2012 0
Jul 31, 2012 0
The rest of the earthship build is all done. The last two weeks I focused almost entirely on plumbing and got experience building and plumbing the greywater cells, water organizing module, and lots of other goodies. I know so many of you are thirsty for pictures and I finally got a chance to sit down at a computer and have a link to a series of albums of the entire build, nearly day by day.
Concerning earthships, I feel like they incorporate many design principles I value. This particular build incorporated a tremendous amount of concrete and other materials that I am not too fond of. However, in speaking with the Earthship crew members, it was encouraging to hear them speak of and support the possibility of constructing these structures without any concrete. Instead they spoke of using adobe for packout, walls, flooring, plastering, etc.
Our camp in the woods also was quite memorable. After spending so much time together, we became a little family.
Build photos. (Note: These are not mine…) Enjoy.
Vermont was tremendously beautiful and the people and the place combined for a very postitive experience. Swimming holes aplenty, delicious food, dirt roads, no billboards, friendly locals… I look forward to returning.
I write to you now from the woods in New Hampshire. Staying with a friend, we’ve been making flour from red oak acorns, dry scraping beaver hides and picking blueberries for fruit leather. More goodness to come….
Jul 6, 2012 0
Updates thus far have been from a mobile device; thus the content has been curt. Now I write from a full-fledged machine.
A recap of construction techniques from the build:
- Site was assessed for house location before crew arrived. Re-bar was set for corner posts and strings were laid down to demarcate the corners of the structure, the centers of the U-shaped rooms, etc.
- Rammed-earth (pounded) tires were laid down to start the first course (layer) of the rear part of the structure. Tires are placed by following a pre-determined distance from the architectural drawings, measured from the center post of the room to the outer wall of the tire. For example, the first room we worked on had an 8 foot radius, so we measured 8 feet from the center re-bar in the room to each tire on each course that we laid down. Each tire is checked before and after pounding such that the radius curves evenly around the room. Tires are selected carefully for their size. It is wise to select tires of the same height when laying on their side with each course, as consistent sizing will allow each course to lay flat, so that the stacks remain level. This is easily done by reading the tire dimensions printed on the side of the tires. For example we commonly used 235/65 R16 tires. [Size guide] This would mean we would keep the first number (235) constant with each course. The second dimension (65) would refer to the sidewall depth. Larger numbers would indicate large profile tires, which are preferable to their low-pro counterparts, as they allow more dirt to be pounded into the tire. The final dimension (here =16) designates the diameter of the wheel (here 16 inches). We also aim for consistency here, as it keeps the courses in a consistent form. Tires are pounded exhaustively and take an enormous amount of dirt to fill. We line the bottom course with plastic before filling, and each additional course with cardboard before filling. First fill with dirt by hand, then pound the sidewalls with a sledge, until the sidewalls bulge. Then fill the center and pound. It might take 15 buckets of material to fill a tire. They become extremely heavy. Level each one and recheck their distance from the center post before moving onto the next tire. Be sure to alternate tire placement in the courses to ensure structural rigidity.
A note about the tires – these are all waste tires. Typically these are a liability and tire shops have to pay to dispose them. They are either burned or take up space in a landfill after their useful life. This way a waste-stream is diverted into a useful structure. The tire walls provide structural support and thermal mass to help keep the temperature stable inside the home.
- As tire course are being laid out, large metal tubes are laid horizontally and space is provided to allow these tubes to enter the room at the base. These tubes will run in this case 40 feet outwards to the north away from the house, and will act to draw in air from the outside. The air will cool passively in the earth as it is drawn into the house, also taking out any moisture along the way. These will be buried soon into the construction process. Grills to keep out pests and doors lined with insulation and a seal are placed at each end of the piping.
- Rebar is cut and bent into a squared upside-down U shape and pounded into the finished courses of tires. These are leveled using a leveled sight or surveying tool. These re-bar pieces will support the roof arches.
- Arched roofs are constructed by a separate team. Each roof structure is made of a re-bar skeleton and covered with a 6×6 inch re-mesh wire mesh, or cloth. This also has an layer on the bottom of metal lath. The re-bar is bent by hand to size and cut with a manual cutter. No machines necessary and no welding needed, either. These are all held together with bailing wire. Once finished a large group of people pick up these domes and walk them over to the building, carefully lowering them into place, adjusting them as needed. They are then attached to re-bar with more bailing wire, double tied.
- Behind the tire courses on the north side of the structure a small gap is dug, and behind this are placed two sheets of R-13 insulation with a poly sheet acting as a vapor barrier on their outside. The space between them and the tire walls are filled with earth.
- Rainwater catchment tanks are placed behind the insulation boards.
- Screws are set into the top course of tires to ‘porcupine’ the surface in preparation for cement.
- Cement is layered atop the tire courses narrowly, to support and accept aluminum beer or soda cans which have been squeezed in the center. They are set horizontally in layers. Concrete > cans > concrete > cans, etc, until the wall of bond beam created is 3 inches above the base of the arched roof’s base layer of horizontal re-bar.
- Temporary wooden frames are placed inside the roof domes to keep its shape for the oncoming processes that have great loads.
- Cement is laid atop the domes in thin layers.
- Trenches are dug at the front of the house and poured with concrete with vertical re-bar inserts. (Horizontal rebar laying across the trenches, too?). These will support the frames of the window panes and doors for each room.
- Simultaneously a solar (PV) system is being assembled. At this project, 12 x 230 watt panels are linked up with 4 sets of 3 panels in series. These feed two charge controllers, a bank of (HOW MANY WHAT TYPE OF) batteries, and a DC > AC inverter. The house’s lighting and refrigeration will be run off DC and any appliances that can’t accept this will be run of the inverter with AC. This allows for the inverter to be shut off for a lot of the time, which is quieter and more efficient.
- Another set of tire courses is laid a few feet in front of the house.
- A massive trench is dug between the frames at the front of the house and the tire courses.
- The site is covered each day with a massive tarp to keep off rain and other weather-related damage.
Apr 24, 2012 0
The four of us agreed to meet every other Tuesday. We would work in the same kitchen, and cook up enough such that each of us could go home with a quart of food from each participant, to enjoy over the coming two weeks. This one meeting and cooking extravaganza in 3 to 4 hours would provide us with fun, practice in scaling up our favorite dishes, and save us from spending more time dedicated to cooking individual meals.
Our first meeting, tonight, was a smashing success. Two teamed up to produce a chili with local black beans and produce from the public market, my dish was a South-Indian lentil soup, and the last a local root vegetable roast with an almond-sunflower-miso dressing, along with a local roasted organic chicken. To boot, we had enough food for chili-veggie-egg breakfast burritacos and enough to share with our pals.
Our tallied expenditures ran us $26.25 or so, for what we estimate to be 40+ meals, including our dinner for six this evening. We felt good about all of the ingredients and their quality, to boot.
I’m not sure how to call this event but we are most definitely going to be doing it again, and again.
You can, too.
Aug 31, 2011 0
I recently realized that I have not used the indoor shower in the house for some time now. Most days I end up taking a swim in the river. This is what people used to do. It feels good.
Mar 18, 2011 1
I recently came upon a video by a fellow who shows how to use tree branches or twigs as a toothbrush. Some of my friends and I often examine many store-bought products we use in our everyday lives and question what was used before industrialization for these purposes. Besides the fact that the ancient peoples had diets without refined sugars and starches, they definitely used, and still continue to use in certain regions, plants, as a toothbrush.
Yesterday I was hiking here in Israel with my pal Sharon (sounds like sharOwn) and I picked two small branches of the diameter of a pencil from a very old, wild Olive tree at the forest edge. This morning after breakfast I followed the instructions and much to my delight, my teeth feel really clean and my gums are happy. The video doesn’t seem to explain that when your saliva moistens the plant fibers, they separate, fanning out, making what looks just like a brush. It makes sense and it works. I’ll continue trying this and I’ll let you all know how it goes in time.
Here is a link to a lengthy google doc he wrote on the subject. It has wonderful descriptions of the tool and also species of trees that he recommends trying, based on your region and such: Toothbrushes that grow on trees
And here is his funny little youtube video.
Feb 16, 2011 2
In 2009 I had my first experience skinning and butchering a roadkill rabbit. I had been motivated to learn how to work with animals in this way, already. This experience was very educational. Kirill and I had no previous experience, and learned after we picked the rabbit from the road, how to properly gut and skin and cook the meat. YouTube and other internet searching proved to be useful. The experience did not leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, in any way, and instead inspired me to want to learn more about butchering.
This past summer I wrote about the experience I had with Bri and Anastasia, when we did the same thing with a porcupine.
Well, a friend in Portland is a big hunter. Before making my way out West I emailed his wife to let him know I was interested in going out this year, but sadly that didn’t end up working out. However, upon the second night of my trip to Feral Farm, someone spotted a raccoon that had been hit on the road, and it was still warm when Matt picked it up, and it didn’t look too badly damaged. It came home with us, and in the morning Terri and I began the process of skinning, gutting, and separating the parts of the animal. This time I had much more confidence in working with the animal than I had in the previous experiences.
The following morning, Ethan and I were working on transplanting some honeyberry and elderberry plants, at Feral Farm. Matt got a phone call that one of his dogs had been found on the road with some other dogs, who were getting themselves into a deer that had presumably been hit by a car. Apparently it was still warm, and so we got in Matt’s truck and drove to the next driveway down the road. A large female deer lay motionless in the gully. She was still warm, and had been hit on her backside by a vehicle. She was truly beautiful. Being so close to a wild animal, putting your hand on her coat, and feeling the presence of such a creature is something I will never forget. We picked her up by her feet and placed her in the bed of the pickup, and took her home.
For the rest of the entire day, into the evening, and part of the next morning, the deer required the time and attention of a few of us, constantly. It was an amazing amount of work, and therefore meat, that came from this one animal. There was no waste produced during the process either. The skin was saved, as was the brain for tanning the hide. The dogs and other animals around ate the innards, the meat was separated into various cuts, those pieces that were not large were ‘stew meat’ and we even saved the bones for their marrow and for making broth. Each cut of meat was cleaned in a diluted vinegar solution and wrapped in butcher paper, which Matt had on hand for this purpose. Nearly three boxes were full by the end, which we took to a friends house that has electricity, where a few friends share the use of a freezer. This deer will provide Matt and his friends with all the meat they need for the winter.
It seems that this type of activity is truly embedded within us as humans, as far as I can tell, from my experiences. There isn’t much anyone can tell you besides what orders of procedures tend to work out well. What I mean is that the process of butchering the animal seems to be something I didn’t need to learn in detail. It just works. This is not to say that it could not be improved upon – I have much to learn. However, when handed a the complete leg of a deer with the expectation that you have to take it apart and separate the cuts of meat, it seems that the process just makes sense. The muscle groups are all separated by thin layers of fascia and it just seems to all be quite logical.
Wild meat – why would we eat this, many of us ask. Well for the bulk of history, humans have been eating wild meat. There was no such this as eating an animal domesticated by humans until fairly recently in our past. Why, though, with the option of eating beef from the supermarket, one might ask, would one choose the deer? Or, the raccoon for that matter?
Imagine two different situations. In the first you have a cow. This cow, Bessy, is born on a factory farm in the mid-west. Bessy is confined to live within electric fences and occupies a small space in close proximity to a very large number of other cows. Bessy eats some corn fed to her from stainless steel industrial equipment, often mixed with other animal parts, and often other things I don’t want to mention here. Bessy might get sick, so she is fed antibiotics and a wide variety of other drugs. This is not to mention that she could be given growth hormones to speed up the process of growth so she can be turned into meat for sale, more quickly. Bessy is a product. Bessy has no choices and is not in an environment that is natural where she can be happy and use her instincts to eat what she wants or find the right part of the environment in which she and her body tell her to be. Bessy is funneled into a loud, scary, industrial building and is put on a conveyor belt. She is rolled up to a large machine where a piece of metal is forced into her skull to kill her. Her body is then picked up by another machine, and she is butchered on an assembly line, sealed on styrofoam trays, and shipped on trucks for hundreds or thousands of miles to refrigerators, where people eat parts of her body, separately, and have no connection to her, or her life. By paying for this meat, they are investing in the company who brought Bessy up, and in all the companies involved in getting her to market.
In the second situation I want you to imagine Bambi. Bambi was born in a forest in a heavily forested part of Maine. Bambi’s mother was able to find a secluded and fairly safe spot to birth her babies. Following the millions of years of instincts they had, the deer learned how to participate in the world by imitating their mother. Sadly, one of the babies wasn’t fast enough and was eaten by a mountain lion. While this is sad, the remaining deer in the pack, including Bambi, are the strongest, most able-bodied, and healthy deer. When they have babies, they will have naturally been selected as the survivors. Bambi lives her life away from machines, away from roadways, and is able to create a diet comprised of foraged flora about the forest. When her body tells her it’s time for Cedar, that’s what she eats. When the seasons change, so do her food options, and that is what nature provides and intended for her. She runs freely without pens or a stable keeping her from moving her body and becoming flexible and healthy. The forest while of course being a place where she must use caution, is her natural habitat. We will explore two outcomes for Bambi’s life. In the first, Bambi sadly is trying to get from one area to another to forage. But, there is a large black line, pavement, separating one area of the forest from the other. She tries to cross but is hit by a very, very heavy animal made of metal that is crossing her path. Someone comes along and then finds this beautiful animal, and can potentially take Bambi and make wonderful use of her meat, her bones, her skin, cartilage, and even her brain. Every part of her will be enjoyed. Her meat is lean, as she is exercising daily, and because she chooses her food, she has based her diet to be completely herbacious. Her inputs are organic, pure and simple. This meat also has no economic cost, and required no industry to manufacture it. Wild meat has no managers, no waste, and no labor hierarchy. It happens, naturally and spontaneously. In the second outcome, there are a group of people living in the forest. They know the winter is coming and they are in need of a food source for when the snow comes. They wait and silently watch the patterns of the deer in their area. They want to find the weakest family member in the pack. They scout and wait and finally comes a time when they have a very likely chance of killing their targeted prey. Bambi takes a quick and unexpected shot to her heart, and is killed instantly. Bambi is taken home, butchered, and feeds a small family for the winter time. She is appreciated, and her coat becomes clothing for the family, as well.
What do you think? We could be planting out our forests more intelligently, and not have to build industrial meat farms, at least here in the North-East. This might not support a massive population but you get the idea. I’m tired now so forgive any run on sentences or statements that are not cohesive or thought out fully.
This is in no way an attempt to convert anyone or change certain habits or anything. I am just speaking my mind.
Think about it.
Feb 11, 2011 13
This just happened to be in the middle of a tough pull. Matt was at ease during his time here with the deer.
Feral Farm. My favorite. Matt is one of the very few people I’ve ever met who does exactly what he thinks is a good plan, and he is not pretentious about it, either. Matt, thank you for being who you are and doing what you do. It is people like this, all working hard without asking for any attention, who are quietly creating solutions for the planet that are practical and have the potential to work in the event that we are unable to count on the massive energy resource base we base our lives upon today.
Feral Farm is on 46 acres in the Northwest Cascade mountains, about 90 miles north of Seattle. It is in a town of 200 people. Matt is living off the grid, although he purchases some propane to cook with. The structures he builds are less than 200 square feet and are within the limit of requiring zoning regulations and such. Matt does all the work by hand, is creative, resourceful, and always attempts to find salvaged and second-hand materials whenever possible.
Concerning vegetation, Matt is a perennial plant expert, and is working in what I think to be one of the most healthy and realistic ways to find solutions for growing food on his site. Matt is not asking what he wants to eat, then going ahead and buying seeds for the stock, annual organic vegetables we all know and love. Instead, Matt takes a much more realistic and long-term approach to this problem. He first asks questions like “what is my soil-type?” and then does experiments with very large numbers of species that will be potential survivors on his land. Then, after planting, he lets the plants fight for life on their own, instead of babying them. He is in this way letting nature be the decider, to see what will be able to compete and do well with the conditions on his land. This helps him quickly weed out the species that are not productive or well-suited to his site. He can then focus on the winners and the highly productive species instead. Another reason that Matt is so focused on perennial species instead of the highly domesticated annual varieties, is that those more wild plants have more nutrition, and are less susceptible to disease, in addition to not needing to be replanted each year and having to laboriously save their seeds. Perennials rock. They also build soil nutrition, as in the case of the numerous woody nitrogen-fixing shrubs he has all over the property.
Most people of Matt’s age want to earn more money to impress people and buy new things. One of the only things Matt seems to buy a lot of are books. One of his 192 square foot buildings is the library. He has hundreds upon hundreds of books, all of which are useful texts on subjects ranging from herbal health to fermented foods, nut tree propogation, Native American botanical references, natural building and even fungus identification books.
Instead of being a world-traveler, which I know conflicts with how I’ve been living, Matt instead has been spending his life investing in his local community and the land base in which he lives. He has now developed an ongoing relationship with the land, where he knows the wild growing plants and their uses, he understands how the natives used to work with the area, and of course has relationships with locals, too. On Christmas, we had a number of people over for a potluck meal which included fiddle playing, a raccoon stew, venison chili, and other country-style fun like the fact that the party ended around eight o’clock because Matt uses oil lamps and we started at 2pm. Oh, and Matt retrofitted an old, found, fish-breeding tank into a wood-fired hot tub, which you can see in the photos above.
I love Feral Farm, and sincerely hope to go back for another stay.
By the way, Matt wrote a zine titled “Beyond agriculture” a few years ago. I transcribed it completely, so if anyone out there wants a copy, I can hook you up. Just ask.
Feb 11, 2011 1
Ethan had been wanting to get out to the Mountain Homestead ever since he met Chip, the founder of Mountain Homestead last year. So, we took a series of buses down to the Oregon Coast, and were picked up by long term resident, Ish at the station. Many thanks to Ethan for finding this gem, and to the whole crew at the homestead for hosting us, styling us, and showing us such wonderful hospitality.
There is much I could say about this place, but I’ll keep it short. These people have put together so many elements of Permaculture into living practice. From water-harvesting ponds driving their micro-hydro turbines for electricity generation, to their eco forestry, wide-spread natural building, to taking care of Clara as a team, these folks have a tremendously impressive and inspiring site. Ethan and I participated in work-trade, and were given cozy shelter in a hand-made building, along with plenty of wonderful food, in exchange for a few hours of help on the site, each day. We were involved in their weekly meeting, and given lengthy hikes and tours of the property, too.
There are a bunch of photos Ive posted, if you click on the image above.
Visit their website for more information. www.mountainhomestead.org [edit: It looks like there is a problem with their site, so hopefully they'll solve the issue...]
Feb 8, 2011 1
Check it out: