Ah, hot ol’ August again in Oklahoma, the only month that, despite my hatred for it, I miss the wind. Some days are 100 degrees with no breeze at all. It makes working on the house dreadful at times. Particularly the tamping. It requires some serious core body muscles. You know, the ones you don’t want to use when it’s 100 degrees, like your lower back, chest, and abs. I’ve decided that the work required for building an earthbag home uses every single muscle in your body at different phases of the build, so that by the time the house is complete, you will have had an entire full body-building and toning routine. You know, the kind you’d get from working with a personal trainer. Only you didn’t have to pay a personal trainer, and you got a house out of the deal. The digging required for ground-breaking prepares your back for all the wear and tear you’ll give it for the walls. The packing of the tires works and tones your upper back and biceps, as well as your quadriceps. Filling bags is a 2 two person job. The one on the ground filling and passing buckets (me) gets a superior upper back, bicep, and shoulder work out, while the guy on the wall (Aaron) gets a full body work out, from the toes for balance to the fingers for shuffling the tube. Once you get to the cobbing, the calves and ankles become Hulk-like. And the whole process, with all the cutting, folding, and tearing, requires constant use of the forearms, hands, and fingers. It’s earthbag building yoga!
Speaking of ankles, Aaron’s has finally healed. Thanking the stars, I am so happy to be done with his of moving fence for the cows. The lack of rain makes the ground extremely hard and overwhelmingly frustrating to push the posts in. I spent hours out there in the pasture moving posts around, moving cows, reeling and unreeling the lines, and hooking up the solar charger, only to be impaled in the face by grasshoppers on my way back to the house in the 90 degree, sun-scorching heat. Whew! I did not sign up for this, was my constant train of thought. I tried really hard not to dwell on how much I hated it by “being here now.” I tried to focus on all the smells of the pasture job. I came up with about 5 distinct fragrances; Pabst Blue Ribbon, onions, marijuana, ammonia, and occasionally, you’ll be surprised by this, cow manure. During my agonizing job of pasture management I saw 1 snake, 1 dead skunk, 3 blue-tailed skinks, and a grasshopper that had jumped face-first into the point of a barb on the barb-wire fence. I wish I’d had my camera with me then.
I did have the camera handy for this next phenomenon in the ever-entertaining world of gallus gallus domesticus. So, we had 6 adult chickens that we adopted from some nice people in town. They rarely laid eggs and seemed a rather big nuisance most of the time, eating our garden vegetables and pooping in our club-house, i.e. the birthing stable. However, one of them, whom I call Henny Penny, became “broody.” This means that she decided she wanted to be a mother, sitting on her eggs, which were never going to hatch because we don’t have a rooster. Unaware of that fact, there she sat, on two eggs, leaving only to catch grasshoppers in the evening and get a drink of water before bed. This was also the time the new chicks and guinea keets arrived. We put them into a small cage inside of the coop, so’d they’d have protection from the adult chickens, but still be able to get acquainted with the coop as their home.
After a few days, we removed Henny Penny’s eggs, for fear of a rotten stench (common in 100 degree weather) and later removed Henny Penny, so we could shut the coop door and allow the babies more room. Little did we know, she had made up her mind that the two eggs had not only hatched two babies, but 15 chicks and 15 guineas! “Oh my! I did a great job caring for those eggs, because there are quite a few babies here,” she must have been thinking. Henny Penny continued to stay by the coop. It wasn’t until we noticed her bringing grasshoppers to a crack in the coop door that we realized she was their adoptive mother.
At 5 and a half weeks old, we let out one chick or guinea at a time and allowed Henny Penny to show it around. She always brought it back at sunset. Then we let them all out, trusting Henny Penny’s motherly judgement. It was so fun to watch them explore for the first time, trying out various weeds and seeds and bugs. They tried out their wings too, and guineas can get quite high for as small as they are.
I wonder if she thinks the keets are just ugly chicks. In any case, she has been their mentor and protector ever since. They are now 7 weeks old. Henny Penny takes them around the farm and shows them how to catch grasshoppers. They always return to the coop at night. If you are thinking of getting guineas, I highly recommend getting some chicks to bond them with.
Progress, progress, progress!! We have added so many bags to the west dome, it is over 6 feet tall. I’ve gotten really good at tossing buckets of dirt up to Aaron on the wall. It’s a really nice bonding time for us a couple. We noticed the other day that a couple of the bags have become weakened by constant solar degradation. This makes them very susceptible to rips and tears. If they are bumped by a tamper or the ladder, some of the hardened earth becomes exposed. We had read that many people chose to cob-as-you-go, meaning you fill your bags, then cover them with the first coat of cob, so they are protected from the sun. After a bit of experimentation, we’ve come up with a great cob mix and have slapped it on the walls in vulnerable areas. Reminder: cob has nothing to do with corn cobs. It is a mixture of earth, water, and straw. Or, as our friend Mike calls it, Community Organic Building. It’s a nice break from filling bags.
The cobbing process protects the bags from photodegredation, as well as offering a little protection from accidental bumps. Our 8 year old thinks its cool to add some squished grasshoppers to the mix. It’s a nice break in between filling bags, and it can be really fun! Aaron wants to have a cob-making kegger, the rule will be you have to be standing in the mud to fill your mug. I’m worried we don’t know enough people and we’ll just end up rolling in the mud.
My favorite part of August was when my dearest mother and 16-year old niece came to visit. On our way through the pasture to the house one day, my niece asked, “What are those little yellow birds flying out of the grass?” Confused, I looked around a bit before realizing, “Oh, them’s grayasshoppers! They might as well be the state bird around these parts.” She was slightly disgusted.