Reflections on March, 2015

March Muscles

This month has been an exceptional one for weather, spring cleaning, getting back to work, and my mood, which has been positive and forward-thinking.  At the end of February, we took a trip to Illinois to visit family.  It was cold and snowing much of the time, but we did just what we planned.  We spent time with people we love.  I think that little vacation was just what we needed to give us the positive energy to get back to our land and building our earthbag home!

When we got out to the site, we quickly realized that some spring cleaning was in order.  The tarps billow, and being so brittle, small pieces break off and get carried all over the place with the wind.  Along with all those little tatters of white, there were other pieces of trash that got cleaned up.  We cleaned out the trailer as well, making it more like a little temporary home than ever before.  The mice decided it was a really nice home too.  After taking away their food supply; a bag of game-bird feed and a large package of buckwheat seeds, we thought they’d surely make their home elsewhere, but so far, we’ve had no such luck.  We can hear their little squeaks and chitters and scratching all night long.  I think they are trying to appease us, or pay rent in a way, because we have found, on a few occasions, seeds in our empty shoes.  I have to give them some credit; they use some really creative items in their nest building.  Small things like guinea feathers, shreds of paper, and pieces of bailing twine, but also big things, like glass chess pieces for decoration, and heavy brass hose fittings.  I suppose those make them feel more secure.  I’m thinking a new cat would be a nice addition to H.O.M.E. Farm.

After getting our homestead back in order, we visited our earthbag-building friends and checked out their site.  They are still in the digging phase.  Looking back, I can remember how excited we were to get started bagging and get done moving dirt.  Well, the dirt-moving never ends!  You need dirt to put in the bags and that has to come from somewhere.  Piles of dirt have to be moved before the wheelbarrow can get through tight spaces.  Dirt has to be moved away from the walls to prevent a wicking action.  Dirt has to be mixed with straw and water and slapped on the walls to protect them.  It has to be moved from a low place to a high place.  It has to be scooped in cans and thrown up on the wall.  It has to be cleaned out of your fingernails and ears and eyes!  This is the business of dirt.  Now that we’ve had our hands and feet in it again this season, I realize that we are true sculptors of earth.

We’ve gotten pretty dirty patching up some places that needed cob and adding more that hadn’t gotten done last winter.  I kind of enjoy making cob, when its not windy.  We’ve had quite a few windless days that have been perfect for it.  My handfuls of straw fall gently out of my hands and land in just the right places on the wet dirt.  I’ve heard that skin contact with the soil has some kind of anti-depressant action.  That must be true, because I have been feeling great about our home-building situation.

Applying 2 layers of cob

Applying 2 layers of cob

We laid some bags this month.  Over 100 feet of bag, actually.  We pulled out a couple of bags on our arch form and placed some new ones in.  The first bags didn’t fit all the way into the tight space, even after meticulous tamping.  So this time, we made them a bit smaller, without losing any of the taper, and fitted them right in.  The arch form now looks and feels more secure.  We are really excited to place another course of bags over the arch and then remove the form.  When that happens, we’ll be able to move from room to room without crawling out the kitchen door form and walking all the way around.  It may not sound like a very big deal, but it really is, and I am so excited about it!

Arch form BEFORE.  That middle keystone bag never seemed to settle into place.

Arch form BEFORE. That middle keystone bag never seemed to settle into place.

Arch form AFTER fixing

Arch form AFTER fixing

I think it has been easier this time around to get back to work.  My muscles seem to know what to do and I believe they are building back up.  My skin is not enjoying this work of course.  I have already burned my neck and calves.  I do have a wide-brimmed hat now to prevent the red-neck look, but it doesn’t stay on so well in the high winds.

Hats for sun protection!

Hats for sun protection!

Mason turned 9 months old this March and he has a better fitting hat to keep him protected from the sun.  He has taken 4 steps at a time so far and I think we’ll be chasing him around before long.  His legs and feet turn a permanent native-American-brown color after a couple of hours of crawling around in the dirt.  He enjoys watching Mommy throw buckets of dirt up to Daddy, high on the wall.  I wonder if he’ll remember any of this when he’s older.  His big brother, I know will remember this time very well; especially the evenings we have marshmallows toasted on the fire.

Cooking on the fire this time around has been so much easier.  We moved the fire ring into the west bedroom, so the wind is wonderfully diminished.  I talked to my scout leader dad about cooking on the fire and he gave me some ideas for easy dinners and deserts we can make in the dutch oven.  I should probably make a post about campfire cooking, with as much of it as I’ve done.  Even after 2-3 meals a day for 9 months, I still haven’t perfected the art of keeping the Oklahoma grit out of the food, but I’ve gotten a lot better at it.  We have had some pretty delicious grit-free meals on the fire.  One of my favorite things to make on the campfire is pancakes.  This is something that I only attempt on still mornings, due to the before-mentioned wind dilemma.  This was a simple batch.  I’m looking forward to trying some with nuts, shredded coconut, and fruit.

Campfire pancakes

Campfire pancakes

Guinea news:  6 guineas survived the winter!  This month, we’ve been watching them rather closely because they’ve exhibited some behavior common to many animals in the spring.  They have allowed some more room than usual in their little flock, each one going off in a different direction and calling with necks stretched to the farthest reach, a call which can only mean, “mate with me!”  After some close observation, we’ve determined that there are at least 2 females.  I cannot tell just by looking at them, other than they are different varieties.  “Grandma sweater,” is definitely a grandma.  They are laying eggs now.  I’ve read that guinea hens are not very good mothers, so we are attempting to lure them into broodiness by putting some straw in the nesting boxes and setting the abandoned eggs in there in hopes that they will take the hint.

This one is a male... I think

This one is a male… I think

We are happy to be back on the farm.  I know, it’s not really a farm yet.  We’re not even attempting to grow much this year.  Maybe some tomatoes and beets.  Jerusalem artichokes for sure.  Instead, we are focusing all of our remaining energy (after chasing around the little one) on getting this home built.  We are more excited than last year because we can see it taking shape.  We are really doing this!

Building!

 

 

 

5 comments to Reflections on March, 2015

  • Great work you guys! You are inspirational!

  • Laurie

    I love what you’re building! I also live in Oklahoma and desperately want to build an earth bag home. Do you have any advice on how to get a building permit for a rural area. Also, are there any special code requirements you have to adhere to being in a rural area? I would love to see your earth bag home. Any information is helpful. Thanks, Laurie

    • Laurie, the state doesn’t impose building codes. Our county doesn’t have any building codes. And we are outside of city limits. There is no code where we are. If you are outside of city limits, the easiest way to find out if your county has building codes, is to call the county clerk. It’s easy. Don’t be afraid to call. Let us know if you’d like to come visit sometime.

      • Laurie

        Thank you so much for your quick reply and information! Now I’m really excited about getting started on our earthbag house! I’ll give you a shout soon about coming for a visit. Thanks for the inspiration. Laurie

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