The rain falls and breathes new life into the soil, enticing green stuff to reach for the sky. It is during this month that I actually feel like Oklahoma is alive. The red dirt can sustain green life, after such a long period of dry, brittle brown. The sky is such a brilliant blue and dotted with fluffy puffs of white. And at times, the sky just above the horizon is dark, an ominous storm may approach, and it contrasts the bold green surface of the earth. Sometimes the storm comes, sometimes it is a great tease. I am still learning to appreciate the forecasts here. In Illinois it seems, when rain was in the forecast, more often than not, it rained. Here, when rain is in the forecast, even when there are anvil-shaped sinister blobs of darkness just over the next hill, many times, not a drop will fall on our soil.
We did get enough rain to spring forth the great elusive delicacy of fungi. Aaron went into our woodsy area, down by the creek to move some fence for the cows and he found some great little morel specimens. We didn’t have any flour, so after their overnight saltwater soak, I fried them in a pan with Kerrygold butter, the-best-butter-in-the-world according to our 8 year old son. That is, the best butter we can get until we have a milk cow and can produce our own of course. We had them with eggs for breakfast and, saturated with that campfire smoky flavor, they were delicious!
Also devouring has been our insatiable appetite for progress on the house. This year or working season rather, has proved to move along much faster than the last. We’ve attributed this to the following: 1) Knowing what to expect goes a long way in decreasing stress and making things run more smoothly. We know what we’re doing and how to do it. 2) We have little play areas for baby in and around the house that are a safe distance from dangers, but within eyesight. Plus, he’s 10 months old now and on a more reliable schedule. We get a lot accomplished during that hour and a half morning nap. 3) We have better access to dirt in better places due to our landscaping. If we’re working on the front of the house, we have a pile from landscaping there and if we’re working on the back, we have a pile to dip into from landscaping there. 4) The moisture content of the dirt has been ideal due to April showers. It hasn’t been necessary to mix the dirt with shovels or add water or cover our piles with tarps. When the soil is ideal, we simply scoop it up into the wheelbarrow, and with a few tosses of the bucket, it’s up on the wall. 5) Aaron has forgone the sono tube (circular cardboard concrete form) as a bag dispenser. When he’s high up on the wall, the dispenser was useful for keeping all the extra bag intact, but with long lengths of bag, upwards of 20 feet, the dispenser would get clogged, particularly when the dirt was moister. Now, he’s decided that creating a cuff, by rolling and folding the bag into itself is much easier to work with. It makes a strong handhold, much like the cardboard tube, and can be easily unfolded when more bag is needed. That has greatly decreased time spent on the wall. I think that these improvements will ensure we have a roof on before winter.
We opened a new roll of bag! Each roll is 100 meters, which is 3280 feet. We’ve already plowed through 3280 feet of bag! I don’t believe we’ll use more than 1/3 of this new roll before we’re done with walls.
We removed our first large arch form!! This is the arch form that connects the west room to the central room. By the way, I’ve been calling them domes, even though they are not going to be domes, as we previously thought. I am trying to come up with a new term. Kiva, room, and circle are the less-than-adequate words I’ve come up with to describe our round rooms. So, if I use the term dome, forgive me. We are not building domes, at least on our first structure. Anyway, back to the arch. It was really a momentous day. We adjusted the keystone bags that we had set in last fall. They immediately felt and looked much stronger, sturdier, and uniform. After that, we laid two 15 foot long bags side by side over the arch and tamped them in place together. That took some time because much of it is sloped, which means I have to hold the tamper at awkward angles to get the bag to a uniform thickness. After it was all tamped, Aaron began zipping out the screws and the bottom of the form basically fell right out. We needed to do a little shoving to get the arched part of the form out. This meant I had to stand beneath the 400+ pound massive structure while it was removed. I wasn’t worried. My limited, yet sincere experience in physical science taught me that the downward forces of the keystone bags were being pushed outward away from the center of the arch. And all of a sudden, there was a huge archway that we could walk through from room to room!!
It only took a couple of batches of cob to cover all the underneath and vertical surfaces of the arch. It looks amazing if I do say so myself. Aaron thinks we should build a way bigger one. Maybe big enough to drive a car through. I told him we should get a roof on our house first.
We only lack about 2 courses of bag on the west room before roofing becomes a reality. We removed all the forms from the west room as well. It gets a lot of light! The wind blows in quite a bit too, making cooking in there a tad difficult, but we manage. With the protruding forms gone, tarping the 10 foot walls is easier now. April showers bring May flowers, and hopefully less frequent rain, so less tarping. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate tarps? We actually have a decent method now. Aaron climbs up on the wall and adjusts the tarps from above, while I pull them out to reach the ground at the bottom. Then I throw him the tires which are tied together by ropes so he can drape them over the walls. They have different lengths for the different heights of the walls, so we try to keep them close to their needed locations on the ground when we remove them. The tarps are essential, I tell myself. The tarps keep the cob on the wall. The cob keeps the bags protected. The bags hold the dirt in place. The tarps are good. DO NOT GET MAD AT THE TARPS.
After that amazing progress, we shifted our focus to the front door area and added bags over the windows there. It only took a couple of days to get to this:
The last part of April, we’ve focused on the east room, aka the boys’ room. With the small window arch forms removed, Aaron had a vision of using them a second time. So, we decided that, if placed on the south side of the east room, they could become either small windows, or cute little cubbies. Remember, the forms are only there to hold a space while we continue wall construction. When we remove these forms, we can slide in a sheet of wood and cover the exterior of it with cob. Or, we can build a little frame and slide in some half-circle glass for small windows. On the outside of the southern wall of this east dome will be an attached greenhouse, so if the windows were to open, they could help to heat the room in the winter.
On some of our rainy days, I’ve had some time to mull over the kitchen design some more. Here is the last design I came up with:
If you read Reflections on January 2015, you know the reasons I designed it this way. Upon further thought, and advice from one of my readers, I rearranged some counters and the sink in order to make the kitchen more separate from the entrance-way. This allows a more private kitchen work triangle (without people walking through it) and I believe it allows more counter space.
This design will assuredly evolve more, so stay tuned for the latest!
Now, onto guinea news! So, we found a couple of eggs lying around the farm, right? And we moved them into the nesting boxes of the chicken coop, right? Well, I was taking a peek in there in early April, and what to my wondering, eggs should appear! 15, 20, 26 eggs in the corner of the coop! Hurrah! We thought about moving them to the nesting boxes, but thought maybe we should just let them be. It seems that all the guineas take turns sitting on them, but we’re not sure if they sit on them enough. We often look in there and find the eggs all alone. Only time will tell if they’ll hatch into little guinea keats! I’ve read that guineas don’t make very good mothers. It may be too late to throw a chicken hen in there. Stay tuned for more guinea news!
More life on the farm! A little baby oak tree that we did not intentionally plant, showed up on the west end of my kitchen garden bed. I think it has picked a great place, because it will shade the herbs in the hottest part of the day from the afternoon sun. Other trees are popping up in the pasture around our house. Mostly elms, which were previously eaten by the continuous grazing of the cows are now protected and allowed to grow. Also, there is what may be a honey locust. It is thorny and scary.
On this 1st day of May, the day I published this blog post, we began a 67 foot bag that spans the north wall from the east door, over the boys’ room, the utility closet, the kitchen, and the pantry closet. This will be the longest bag we’ve attempted yet. It should move pretty quickly due to the before-mentioned improvements.
Edited: After beginning to fold and cuff that bag, we decided it was way too long. So, we cut it into 2 roughly 33 foot bags.
This next month is my favorite. I look forward to Mother’s day, the beautiful mild weather, and lots of progress toward what will be a gorgeous, efficient, and sustainable place to call home.