Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Building an Earthen Oven

Early in September we hosted a sustainable building workshop facilitated by our neighbor Sasha Rabin of vertical clay.  The weekend was an amazing introduction to natural building.  We spent all day Saturday and Sunday building an earthen oven which will be used to bake wood fired pizza, hand made bread, and much more.  Everyone who participated had a wonderful time.  Even the kids had a blast and ended up designing and creating their very own cob oven (kids and mud are a great combination). 
We can't wait to fire her up for the first time!

We did some prep for the workshop, building the base out of urbanite, bricks, gravel, and some cob.
For the base we wanted to use materials we had on the property.  We basically dry stacked urbanite (no mortar), then filled in the center with broken brick pieces and gravel.  Next was the insulation layer.  We used some kiln bricks we had been saving.  Then we filled it all in with sand and leveled off the top.  A batch of cob was mixed up to patch up the cracks around the base. 

There was also some prep to the site before beginning the base...(digging about six inches down, filling in with gravel and some drainage tube/cloth.) 

The workshop started out with laying out the fire bricks, some measuring and sketching....

Not quite complete, she still needs a finish coat of plaster (we're thinking red).  It really is amazing to learn what you can build with the ground under your feet.  We have been truly inspired.  Thanks to all who participated!

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Water Harvesting and Carbon Farming...

One of the challenges with the landscape here is the fact that we are farming on a hillside which, over the years, has laid victim to over grazing and erosion. It only takes a moment to stand back and look at the current state and where things are headed to know something needs to be done.  Retaining walls will not maintain the natural contour of the land. Terracing sounds nice but not quite in the budget.

So taking our first steps toward improving the soil integrity and preventing erosion on our property, we have begun the process of digging swales or long trenches that follow the keylines on the contours of the land.  (To get a better understanding of how this works, you can watch the youtube below from Harvesting Rainwater the Permaculture Way by Geoff Lawton.)  Swales catch the rain water and allow it to soak into the soil instead of running off down the hillside (causing more dreaded erosion).  Being beginning permaculture students, this may all be a big experiment, but after much thought and planning about how to irrigate our garden crops and keep our hillside intact, this seems like the best idea.  So on we go will be a few ponds to feed the seems there may be a grand scheme in the works.   

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Scenes From August

August was an extremely busy month on the home front.  (Not much time to connect into cyber space, hence the hiatus from blog posting.)  Our harvest was pretty early so we are now focusing on which winter crops we want to grow.  We experienced some loss and some gain this past month, the loss of one special goat named Poppy (I will miss you!) and the gain of 18 feral chickens. 

Now that we are back to the school schedule there is less time to work in the garden, less time to play, and it's still hot!  September and October bring us some of the warmest days of the year in northern Cali.  Looking forward to all the harvest festivals, collecting what we hope will be lots of honey from the bees, firing up our new cob oven, and sneaking in a few more beach days.  Here are some pics from the month that was....

peach picking in Brentwood

stocking the shelves with summer goodness
carrot harvest

dehydrating for soups and stocks
making some pumpkin butter

blackberry picking near our home

a handsome passenger

goodbye amaranth

working on a mural over barn doors

Oh, and P.S...I ended up clipping the chickens wings after all and it's working out great!