Reflections on November: Groundbreaking!
Why is Oklahoma so windy?
Because I don’t want to offend anyone from Kansas or Texas, you’ll have to Google the joke.
But seriously, Oklahoma is VERY windy. It’s as if, during the creation of the great state, someone said, “Let’s make Oklahoma a hardy state,” meaning that anything that can survive here, be it people, grasses, or furry wildlife, must be hardy individuals. Mother Nature has no tolerance for the weak, especially in this neck of the woods. When its hot, it’s 115 and when it’s cold it’s 10 with fierce, stinging winds. I cannot fathom life here when the first white men came to build their homesteads.
One animal that is not very hardy is Gallus gallus domesticus, or the chicken. November 3rd was an alarming and disturbing day because our 15 remaining chickens were killed by a dog. The dog belonged to Aaron’s parents and he was just doing what Jack Russell Terriers do, killing the small “varmints.” We learned a very valuable lesson that day. Having an open bottom mobile chicken coop is a great idea because the poops fall right onto the ground and there is virtually no cleaning. But, an open bottom NEEDS to be secured with hardware cloth to keep out burrowing animals such as weasels, skunks and terriers. This event really motivated us to get out onto our land.
Our homestead began it’s formation from cattle-grazed grassland to H.O.M.E. Farm! We broke ground on our earthbag home building endeavor on November 5th! We didn’t want to wait for our right-of-way road any longer, so we decided that if we have to drive across a pasture and open 2 gates every time, so be it! We needed our homestead to begin.
When we started, the weather was perfect. Though a bit chilly in the morning, we were peeling off layers by noon. Digging trenches is hard work and I can see why many would be quick to rent an excavator. We dug the trenches for our 3 domes by hand, with some areas as shallow as 18 inches and some as deep as 30 inches. You’d think that wet dirt would be heavier to move, but Oklahoma dirt gets so hard when it’s dry, it’s as dense as rock and very hard to cut with the shovel. When it rained and wet the earth, it was like slicing into a soft pie. In fact, we likened the red earth to ice-cream cake in some places, and cold, hard fudge in others.
After we dug the trenches, we laid our French drains. A French drain allows rising ground water a place to drain away from our walls. Basically it is a pipe with holes buried in gravel. We chose to use 4 inch corrugated flexible HDPE (high density polyethylene) drainage pipe. If there is a lot of water sitting around the foundation, it could be wicked up into the walls and cause the plaster to crack. We live in a dry climate and our sandy soil drains well. So, I’m not sure that we really need the french drain, but as Aaron says, “An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.” We were already going to be digging the trenches and hauling in the gravel ourselves, so laying a pipe seemed like minor additional cost and labor for a greater piece of mind.
Then, we poured loose gravel over the pipe and used our handy transit and 6′ level to get all that gravel level. We used approximately 6-8 inches of gravel. We had to take a couple of days off to wait for the snow to melt. I LOVE snow and taking breaks, so this didn’t bother me.
The next step will be to lay a row of tires. The first row will be pounded full of gravel for drainage. Then a second row of tires will be stacked on top of those and filled with dirt. We’ve collected the tires from various nearby tire shops. In this area, they give the used tires away free, as I imagine most places would. We just have to haul them. We’ve found that the most common size is the 225-60-R16. After that, the earthbags begin! However, if the bags are filled with wet dirt and then exposed to freezing temperatures, the bags can expand. One option to avoid this would be to plaster as we go, but just to be safe, we will wait until Spring to begin building up the bag walls. After they are plastered, the earthen walls will hold out the elements and keep the inside temperature constant. In this blog, I explain just how hardy earthbag homes can be.
I feel like we’ve made quite a bit of progress for this first month of work. On our hours sheet, we’ve got 120 hours between the two of us. By the time we’ve got a livable home, we’ll be able to tell you exactly how many man hours it takes to build one of these homes, which we’ve only found estimates for on others’ homes. Our hours sheet only tracks hours spent on the work site. We do not include hauling tires or trips to the hardware store. We’re also keeping track of all the expenses for this build.
If you’ve got any questions about this unique and awesome building technique or want to come and get some hands-on experience, let us know on the contact us form or comment below. We’ve also created a Facebook page where we’ll be adding photos of the constant progress.