Reflections on January, 2014

Steel Belted Radials in a Windy, Dry Month

row of packed tires

Tires make the foundation wall.

The labor is strenuous and the air is cold, but the worst part is the wind.  It blows so hard here sometimes, I feel like it truly has some personal vendetta against my being here.  It aids gravity in pushing over the already wobbly wheelbarrow full of dirt, and blows the pieces of cardboard out of my hand and over the fence, gone to decompose on some other rancher’s pasture, if only it had some rain to help it along.

This January had zero precipitation, unless you count the 0.04 inch accumulation of fog and dew on the 8th.  For Oklahoma City, this is the 6th driest January on record.  The driest was January of 1986.  This is the average for Oklahoma though, so we should get used to it.  I just don’t think I will ever get used to that unsympathetic wind.  There has been a burn ban of course, and 2 days with severe wind advisories.  As far as the temperature was concerned, January has been mild.  We had 5 days above 65 degrees, great for working, and only 8 days colder than 40 degrees.

The dry weather has been good for working the steel belted radials, aka tires.  We filled about 50 tires for our lower two domes’ foundation walls.  We used 225/60/R-16s for the bottom row, which were packed full of gravel, and 215/60/R-16s for the top row, filled with dirt.  At the places where two walls meet, or where there will be an arched doorway, we used 275/85/24.5s stacked 3 high.  These are the big semi-truck tires and man, do they take a lot of filling!  Fortunately we had our first visitors come and help with those big tires.  Work is so much more fun with friends!

I get by with a little help from my friends

I get by with a little help from my friends

When I’m pounding tires, I can’t help but read all the information on the sidewalls.  We have filled tires with names like Pirelli, Continental, Yokohama, Sumitomo, Doral (shares a name with cigarettes), Dunlop, Goodyear, and even tires from Shandong Linglong Tyre Company.  In case you were wondering, (I never understood the code) the first number is the width of the tire in millimeters, the second  is the ratio of height to width, R means radial, and the last number is the rim diameter.  The first rubber tire was created in Belfast in 1887 by a father who wanted something to cushion the ride for his son’s bicycle.  Later, in the 1920’s, tires became the norm and Goodyear was the first major tire company, still in operation today, of course.  When we first started filling and pounding, I thought all the tires looked the same.  Then we conversed about the various histories of each tire.  How each one was unique and had traveled a different road to arrive in here at HOME Farm, as we did.  Ah the zen of packing steel-belted radials.

kitty in tire

Kitty comes to help, but lazes bout in the tires.

If the tires don’t fit nicely end to end, we have to cut one and wrap it around the next to make a half-tire.  We still have the last dome’s foundation to complete before we can start laying bags.  We also started to back-fill around the outside perimeter of the tire walls and set the pink board.  The pink board, which has an R value of 4 (thermal resistance) prevents frost heaving, that pushing and loosening of topsoil by mother nature.  Frost heaving is what happens to sidewalks when you see them cracked and heaved up out of the ground.

Pink board insulation prevents frost heaving

Pink board insulation prevents frost heaving

We laid our natural air conditioning units into 2 of our domes as well.  Our “Earthtubes,” as they are called in the natural building world, are 6 inches in diameter, about 100 feet long, and extend from inside the walls of the home, underground to an opening, away from the house.  If you’ve ever visited a cave, you’ve noticed that no matter how hot it was outside, the cave was a cool 60ish degrees.  This is the concept of the earthtubes.  When we have the earthtube doors open in the walls, they will deliver a constant underground temperature of fresh air into the house.  I have visions of planting strong smelling herbs and flowers at the openings of the tubes for natural air-fresheners.

Earthtube Diagram

Earthtube Diagram

Earthtubes come out of the back of each dome

Earthtubes come out of the back of each dome

When we’re not working on the house, we’re busy with plant research and trying to meld the ideas of the permaculture key-hole garden with annual vegetables.  The first keyhole garden plan we’ve come up with is the three sisters; corn, beans, and squash.  It is a challenge to find ways to plant close together to get a micro-climate effect, while providing enough space (physical or in time) to be able to save seed for next year.  I’ve decided that planting a dual purpose corn (the Bloody Butcher) will be our best option because it provides sweet corn early on and after it turns maroon, a dry corn that can be ground for flour.  The beans do not cross pollinate, or at least they rarely do, so we’re planting a yard long variety, a cowpea, and a rattlesnake pole bean.  Winter spaghetti squash and one of Baker Creek’s fine melon’s will do a good job of shading the ground around the corn.

The keyhole garden.

The keyhole garden. 10′ diameter

Most of the keyhole gardens I have seen are quite raised, an ideal way to garden for ease of access, or if too much moisture is an issue.  Our climate is dry for most of the summer, so it needs all the help it can get collecting and storing rainwater.  Being lower in the ground, there is less wind on the soil surface in an attempt to avoid evaporation.  Also, tall crops like corn already have a hard time standing erect on flat ground.  I can’t imagine they’d resist lodging (falling over) if they were even higher up.  Being lower in the ground also offers small tender seedlings some protection from the wind.  We may start with just 3 to 5 of these lowered keyhole gardens and then if they prove beneficial to our climate, we’ll do more and maybe even have a workshop for local gardeners.  We’ll keep you updated on how this method works.

And lastly, a poem by my mother who shares my feelings about this dreaded phenomena:

Wind
You accursed wind!  I detest you!
A cold slap in the face you are, hurtful as a backhand, when I meet you around a corner.
You, a ravaging fury, take my actual breath from me!
I wait impatiently, recovering, (breathe in through the nose, and slowly out through pursed lips).
You cut, you bite, your grimey Fagin-fingers claw at my precious papers in my arms,
And throw them, flapping and fluttering, up and up and
Away down the street… far away… Lost, gone forever, because… YOU KNOW I can’t chase them.
I have not the breath.
From behind, you push me down the walk,
You slam me against my car,
The door flies open and you hold it open.  I cannot pull it shut.
A young boy walks by and shuts it for me.
I have not the strength.
When it snows, you whip that beautiful white into barricades, treacherous, terrible, turning us from our way.
You!…You!…are the most uncaring of all the elements Mother Nature has created!
Against you, I feel small and helpless.
You unfeeling wind!

Written by my beloved mother, Carole, who has less breath than she used to.  March/April 2013

More photos and updates on the progress of our Earthbag Home can be found on our Facebook page: Earthbag Build Oklahoma.

If you’re interested in seeing our progress or getting some hands-on learning, send us a message!

 

 

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