Reflections on April, 2016

Our achievements have been as abundant as the rain.

Our achievements have been as abundant as the rain.

In order to accurately reflect on the month of April of 2016, achievements and milestones would fill a copious list.  While I’m surely going to miss a couple of these things, I will try to get most of them into this blog post.  And because I don’t want to bore you with a list, I’ll try to narrate our stories with some gusto, which should be easy, because they were mostly fun.

First of all, we got some seeds and saplings in the ground.  Resisting the temptation to buy everything in the Oikos Trees catalog, we ordered no more than 30 different items.  We may have unintentionally planted some of them on Earthday, though we were so busy, its hard to keep track of which days were which.  The most important and exciting items were the red mulberries, the red willows, and the majestic chestnut trees.  We planted them together as a family, including a toddler hand gently patting the mounds of fresh earth, which makes my heart happy.  I hope the trees’ hearts remain happy (and alive) through the grasshopper season.  We’re not going to let those heartless green chompers devour our tree treasures like they did last year.  In our arsenal of protection for them we have a troop of guineas, some netting cloth, and some neem oil.  Still on track to be delivered are three precocious hazelnuts and one American hazelnut.

Catalpa tree, transplanted last spring.

Catalpa tree, transplanted last spring.

It also makes my heart happy to know that there are some little elms popping up in our pasture, and a catalpa tree that we transplanted from down by the creek last year is pushing leaves!  If you have read previous blogs, you’ll know how dearly I desire the numerous pleasantries that trees can create.

Baby elms: future south wind shields!

Elms: future south wind shields!

The annual plants we got in the ground this month are watermelons, basil, cilantro, lettuce, beets, lots of different dry beans, and marigolds.  We also planted cherry tomatoes, snap beans, and green beans, which all require what common garden structure?

Pyramid trellis and camera mount.

Pyramid trellis and camera mount.

Small garden plot. "The pyramid garden."

Small garden plot. “The pyramid garden.”

That’s right.  A trellis.  after the recycling of the clubhouse/birthing stable, we realized we’d need a replacement structure on which to mount our game camera.  It’s been taking pictures nearly every day of our house build since we began in 2013.  I have this picture in my mind of a wall of green growing up and filling in all that space with little peas, beans and cherry tomatoes that the kids can pick and eat while they lie underneath, in it’s shade.  We will see how that little fantasy pans out over the next couple of months.

Now, on to rock fun!  Do you have a trustworthy dealer?  You know, one who operates face-to-face, with no middle men, who is local and doesn’t have too much traffic?  Well we do!  A granite dealer is what you need if you’re doing any kind of building or landscaping.  I just love to play with granite pieces.  Sorting them by shape, color, and thickness is just what my INFP personality craves on afternoons that are too windy to do anything else.  The pieces come in a variety of unique and brilliant colors from Lapis blues to red Dakota Mahoganies and exquisite specimens of Labradorite.

We have used these granite scraps as stepping stones, spillways on our swales, fill material for holes in our dirt road, window sills, decorative in-lay in our cob walls, mass around our barrel stove, and toddler building blocks.  This month though, we’ve utilized them in an artistic and functional way that I think you’ll enjoy as much as we have.

Spring 2016

To complete our roof in its entirety, we’ve got to connect our wrap around porch, so we’ll need pillars or columns to hold it up.  Those columns need footers for stabilization.  Our Granite Smith lent his creative genius.

For these footers, we dug holes approximately 10 feet away from the wall and used a transit and string line to assure the top of the cylinder form, or sono tube, was level.

Finding the right depth and level.

Finding the right depth and level.

Then we mixed up 2 bags of concrete on a tarp, not a wheelbarrow, and added 1 bucket of otherwise useless granite chips to displace that amount of ready mix for a super strong footer.  That concrete went in the bottom of the hole.

Granite chip filler.

Granite chip filler.

Meanwhile, I got to play with hot glue and granite pieces and arrange them in fun patterns along the inside of the tubes.  We tried using double-sided stick tape at first but that turned out to be inadequate.

Granite pieces hot glue fun!

Granite pieces hot glue fun!

Then we placed the sono tube into the hole and fixed it at the right depth with some wooden forms and screws.  This requires two people, one to hold the tube, and one to screw it in place.  Then 2 more bags got mixed on the tarp, this time without the granite chips and got shoveled into the granite-lined tube.

Carefully shoveling in the concrete.

Carefully shoveling in the concrete.

Some of the pieces do fall off when they get bumped by the shovel, but we have been using the glue gun to restick them in the tube.  This is probably the least fun part of the process.

The concrete filled in around the granite pieces fairly well, and then we learned from a builder-friend in southern Illinois, that by making contact on the outside of the tube with the reciprocating saw, we could quickly and efficiently vibrate the remaining bubbles out of the concrete.

Vibrating the concrete into the form.

Vibrating the concrete into the form.

The top of the tube, now filled to the brim with Ready Mix is then smoothed over and 48-72 hours passed before we removed the outer layer.

Anticipation!

Anticipation!

They don’t look quite like we’d imagined, but I think that over time and with weathering, the footers will have a more tidy appearance.

Finished Footer!

Finished Footer!

As of the publishing of this blog, we’ve done 12 footers and have 9 more to go.  The process goes rather quickly, but with toddler help, we’ve been busting out an average of 3 a day.  Hopefully next month, we’ll get into standing up some posts on them.

If you were to come visit us, say tomorrow, the other most noticeable difference you’d see would be all the cob that has washed off in the driving rains of Oklahoma’s monsoon season.  I had just completed almost the entire back wall with cob when a huge storm with hail and sideways rain blasted it off.  It looked terrible and all the time and effort I spent was quite literally washed away.

Our awesome earthbag buddies up in Watonga recently painted their bags with a 50/50 mixture of latex paint and sand.  We gave it a try on our walls and are amazed at the ease of application, the look, and the protection the mixture provides from those driving rains.  So, our house has had a bit of a makeover.

Top half: washed off cob, bottom half: latex sand paint.

Top half: washed off cob, bottom half: latex sand paint.

Accomplishment number 42 this month is that we’ve got our middle room totally covered and dry now!  With me steadily pulling pallets apart and handing them up to Aaron on the roof, he built the topper in no time.

Spring 2016

That’s new 1/4″ plywood on the top. It’s the exception for lumber use.

I just love the look of the mini-reciprocal frame up there.  Too bad we had to cover it up.

Spring 2016

Applying underlayment is much easier on days with little or no wind.  Luckily we had a couple of those this month.

Spring 2016

Now that we have 2 rooms dry, it feels more like home!  The next phase of roof construction is insulation and then shade cloth, and then latex cement, which we have been experimenting with this month.  Aaron is trying to figure out a way to incorporate biochar’s insulating properties into the roof.  It would be great not to have to use foam insulation.  More on that in the coming months.

Some other little accomplishments include uprighting the guinea house and outhouse after a big storm, mounting a birdhouse on a nearby fence, and adding some poles to mount birdhouses in the garden.  These poles were left over from the compasses we used to keep our round walls plumb.  The cement was some that was leftover from footers. We’ll definitely be putting up more bird poles as we continue making footers.

Posts for birdhouses.

Posts for birdhouses.

Our reading this month has been slightly less due to the progress on the house, but here it is:

I finished Jane Eyre and would like to report that if you had a similar apprehension to reading the classics, you may want to check out this podcast.  Just the Books is hosted by Heather Ordover who plays a chapter of each audiobook per episode and gives some literary analysis and defines some of the words that we’re not accustomed to in classic literature.  I have absolutely benefited from this format and will be looking for my next classic on her podcast.  As far as Jane Eyre goes, it wasn’t my usual style, but I enjoyed it.  I thought Jane was an inspiring character while Rochester was pitiful and I secretly did not want my Jane to be with him.  Such is life.

We had to put The Hobbit on hold as our older guy has been busy with his school play.

I’m still working on Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle in little snippets before bed.  I love it and wish I could just devour the whole thing, but this house must get built!

Most of our reading has been picture books before bed including but not limited to; the Little Critter Series, Little Quack’s bedtime (at least 15 times this month) Little Bear, and my personal favorite, Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet.  I might just have all of the witch’s lines (and her cackle) memorized.

Raising readers.

Raising readers.

A trip to the library is in the works hopefully sooner than later.  What are you reading besides my blog, dear readers?

Home is where the heart is.

Home is where the heart is.

P.S. You can find us on Facebook at Earthbag Build Oklahoma and on Instagram @homefarm.  Happy Homesteading!

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