Sunday, 9 September 2012

Making a home out of Earthbags

From :
The earthbag dome, while awesome, has been somewhat of a side-project since the first big gush of effort dedicated to its bag-raising (if that is a term) in Feb 2011. But now it’s time to get it done.

Partly because done is the engine of more, and partly because we want Rose to have a cosy haven after a big day of cookery. Nearly there now….

There’s a bit of an in-joke going around the farm about the earthbag dome… it’s been re-christened the effort dome. While we all appreciate that earthbag building can be an awesome building technique for earthquake and tsunami-prone areas, and is definitely fabulous insofar that it can be done with only some bags, barbed wire, local earth and a whole lot of human energy, the total human effort involved is quite immense.

On the upside for the earthbag dome, it will definitely outlast us all. When the tinyhouse has crumbled in generations to come, the earthbag dome will still be sitting, hobbit-like in the landscape, providing solidity, warmth and cosiness to whoever cares to start a fire in the domelet.

I've always been interested in alternative construction techniques. Earthbag building techniques have been used for a number of years both as emergency building and in wars. The downside is that they do require a lot of effort to make. On the other hand they are inexpensive to make and beautiful.

There is a post elsewhere on the internet where someone tried to demolish one of these buildings, and despite removing almost the entire bottom layer of bags it still remained standing. Quite amazing.

The article has a lot of pictures...they made a beautiful building IMHO.

Problems with Sheering Sheep

From :
Shearing Sheep

The whether-or-not depended on the weather and as we’d ‘enjoyed’ le temps pourri (rotten weather) since some super days back in March, I thought the sheep would be glad to hold onto their outdoor coats. Their summer-wear, like our own, was left safely in a suitcase in the attic.

The other aspect of my apprehension is the risk of cutting the sheep. One must avoid the temptation to push wool away, which can tent the skin leaving it vulnerable to the next ‘blow’ of the shears but rather pull the skin towards oneself, so flattening it out.

I’m better once I get started but the bad weather played to my procrastination. I’ve checked my notes and I sheared in May (2009) then early June (2010) then mid to late June last year and this year is was mid July when la météo confidently announced a string of hot days coming up.

There’s another issue, which is that of flystrike, where a (certain type of fly) lays it’s eggs on a sheep, whose maggots then start burrowing into the poor beast.

All done in a day and not a single nick, I think I might just be getting the hang of this.

We have had an almighty time sheering our own flock. It spend a good four months raining on and off, and it is bad for the sheep to sheer them if they are wet. You can cut the sheep and get fly strike. The other worry is that the rain actually breaks down some of the wool coat which produces a smell that flies are attracted to.

Unfortunately that meant we got one case of fly strike this year - luckily easily cured.

A second problem we have with sheering is that Hebrideans are notoriously canny sheep. A Breed that is very hardy but also sensitive if anything out of the usual is happening. They go into the pen like good sheep every day except when the sheering is done.

It is very interesting to read about someone else sheering their flock. We have a friend that comes round every year to do it - maybe not the cheapest way, but he can do it in a few minutes of effortless work, whereas we don't have enough practice.

A couple start up their own smallholding

From :

Nathan Levy is a tall sun-cured older man, teaching a small group the basics of permaculture. Right now, they are learning how to make dirt.
“You need something green, something brown, and some manure,” Levy says. “Basically you need nitrogen, carbon, and organisms.”
Making soil is better than buying soil, Levy explains. Purchased soil can be sterilized, devoid of any pathogens, including the good ones.
“With good soil, you’ll get a great vine and leaves but no sweet potato,” Levy says. “You can eat those leaves. People don’t realize there are greens that grow in Florida in the summertime.”
The greens that grow in Florida’s heat and sandy soil may not be like the romaine lettuce you are used to.
...“This is an entire community of bugs,” Levy says. On one side a pile of old eggshells and debris is a feast for all matter of life inside. What comes out the other end is some of the richest soil around. Thin red worms squirm through deep brown and black dirt.
Levy sits everyone down in the shade and hands out water.
“So what are everyone’s plans? Where are you going to grow?”
“We never got into this to make money,” Tina says. “We just realized that most people who grow for themselves always grow too much.”
“We’ve never been healthier,” Tina says. “We really want others to become self-sustaining, especially with the rising costs of food.”
“The stuff they sell at the grocery stories is terrible,” Nathan says. “I said to myself, I’ve gotta grow some vegetables.”
It's thrilling to hear about people making a living out of gardening and growing crops. Levy teaches how to compost, how to grow and harvest produce, and has set up a green box scheme where local smallholders can sell their produce.

Commeth the Man, Commeth the winter.

This year had very strange and challenging weather. First, until March there was a drought where we had very low rainfall all winter and hose pipe bans. Of course, from the day the hose pipe bans were announced we had continuous rain until the water company removed them. It was certainly one of the wettest droughts on record!
The consequences of this period of rain have been felt in our apple crop. We have around a dozen old apple trees that were originally put in long before we came to our home... and they haven’t shown the slightest hint of an apple this year! Normally it’s a case of not even being able to harvest them all – we give a lot of them to the sheep every year. This year nada. For the first time since we moved into this house we have had to buy in apples for crumble! The Shame!
One good result of the rains is that unlike last year I have not been stung by a horde of evil bees while doing the scything. On the other hand the rain seems to have encouraged the evil red ants to make dozens of nests in the long grass. Swish! Goeth the scythe. Attack! Goeth the ants. Let me tell you now ants in your pants is NOT FUNNY.
I seem to be very sensitive to them. My skin goes really red and scratchy.
Tomatoes... blight.
Runner Beans have done well.
Sweatcorn... we were lucky. The rain stopped at just the right time so this year our sweatcorn crop is better than ever. Delicious, too!
Sorry about the lack of updates on the blog. I will try to write more often, but my original plans went haywire due to medical problems which meant that something had to go... and this blog was it! But maybe I will post more often now things have settled down.
Hint for the day: If you are scything in a tall meadow, make sure that you wear long trousers, and tuck them into your socks for maximum protection. You don’t want ants in your pants! Oh, no sir.