Monthly Archives: June 2009

Hitting a Stem Wall

Filled rubble trenchWe haven’t made much progress in the last couple of weeks.  We got delayed roughly a week due to the rain, but we finally got the drains in and filled the rubble trench with gravel and tamped it down.  Unfortunately, not much else has been done for the last week.  I’ve been searching and searching for a source of broken-up cement, also known as “urbanite”, as well as rocks that we could mortar together to build the stem wall.  I haven’t had any luck.

The stem wall is what the bales will sit on and is built directly over the filled in rubble trench.  I’ve thought I’d almost found a supply of building material a couple times, but they’ve all fallen through.  Now we’ve moved to plan b (pun sadly intended), I’ve ordered about 1,000 misprinted polypropylene feed sacks which we’ll fill with gravel and build our stem wall out of.  A couple of strands of barbed wire will be put in between each course of bags to create tensile strength.  I ran the whole thing by a natural building guru online and he said that’s been tried and tested and as long as we make sure to cover up the bags to protect them from uv-ray degradation, it should last indefinitely.  He did suggest double bagging them so that’s why I ordered 1,000.  We’ll still probably have some left over, but I’m sure we can find a use for them down the road.  It’ll probably be slightly more than building with urbanite, but we won’t have to buy any cement.

Pinkie chillin'It’s been oppresively hot and humid the last week, which hasn’t exactly been motivational in getting work done.  Liz and I have been working down at the lake cleaning up the gazebo, fixing the steps, and removing the trees from dam and along the shore blocking the gazebo view.  The roots in the dam can weaken it and cause it to fail.  We’ve also become fond of swimming in the lake.  The water in the first foot or two is extremely warm, and it gets cold very quickly beneath that.  At first we didn’t know if we liked it or not, but it actually gives you a lot more control over the temperature than a uniformly heated swimming hole.

Gazebo with trees clearedThe trees right along the water have been pretty hard to get out since they lean out over the water which means I have to secure them and wench them back so they don’t fall in the water.  I let one fall in the water though so it’ll become fish habitat.  We’ve turned in our application to the Missouri Department of Conservation to have our pond stocked for free.  There was a rumor going around that you had to open up the pond to the public to fish in, but it’s not true.  They’re going to stock it with large mouth bass, bluegill, and catfish.  We’re also adding a grass carp or two to control the duck weed floating on the surface and possibly some fathead minnows which eat mosquito larvae and make excellent bass food.

Speaking of trees, we sadly also had our application for donated trees from the big nursery around here denied.  Apparently they had a good year and didn’t have anything left over.  We talked to another group that had applied and they were told the same thing, so maybe it wasn’t just us.

Liz's engagement ringOn the happier side, I’m proud to announce that Elizabeth Stanfill and I are now engaged.  I know some people are shocked since I’ve never been one for traditional things, especially something as institutionalized as marriage, but meeting the right person can change your perspective on things.  I considered getting her a ring without a diamond at all, but none of them seemed right.  Then I hit upon guaranteed conflict-free diamonds with recycled-gold bands.  So, it’s somewhere between traditional and sustainable.  We don’t know when the date is yet, probably sometime late next spring in Virginia where most of Liz’s family lives.

Daniel flowersOver the course of the last week or two there has been an explosion of color as a wide variety of wild flowers have begun blooming.  We woke up one morning to find Daniel had collected a bouquet after his morning run.  He added to it later as he found more and more kinds.

Large labeled mapWe’ve also discovered something that has changed our road construction plans for next year.  I went down to the county assessor’s office and got a print-out of the satellite imagery of our property with the property lines overlayed on it.  It appears that we do own the land right along the road all the way down until Jerry Austin’s farm equipment area.  We’d been under the impression we didn’t own the strip directly along the road and so were going to have to build a much longer and more difficult road back to where we plan on building.  Now we’re looking at simply cutting across a few small gullies and connecting up with the more well-established road back to the lake and middle field beyond it.  The other road we’d been planning would have gone along Maya creek and been incredibly beautiful, but would have involved some bridge-building, drainage control, and just a lot of manual labor in general.  We’d still like to make a trail along it, but if we can get away without having to do all of that we will.

garden-june-27The garden has gained new life.  A lot of plants that didn’t look like they were going to make it, such as the beans, a lot of the transplants, tomatoes, etc, have greened back up and started growing.  A few things that initially looked very promising have faded such as the onions, and the peas looked good, then looked bad, then looked like they might be getting better, and now seem to have petered out again.  We’re hoping that next year the manure will have broken down and be more accessible to more of the plants.

Some of the plants don’t seem to mind one way or the other.  The squash and zucchini are starting to come in, although it’ll probably be another 3-4 days at least before we can actually pick some of them.  The corn is doing awesome, and we actually wish the lettuce would stop growing so fast.  We think we planted too much in too large of an area.  Also, some of the varieties in the mix we sowed aren’t as tasty as we’d hoped.  Some of the lettuce that looks like it should be bland has a bitter taste to it, and the arugula has a very strong nutty flavor that can be nice in small amounts but the taste has already gotten old.

We took a trip into Columbia today for “Free Mulch Day” and got 2 pick-up loads of what looks to be excellent stuff to put on the garden.  We were hoping we could use it for the paths as well but it’s got a lot of dirt and larger sticks in it that wouldn’t be too good for that.

Oh, and I’ve switched over from my own personal blogging software to a WordPress blog because it offers more features than I could ever have had time to program.  Specifically the photo stuff was killing me.  Sorry, but it means I lost all of the comments on the old posts.

Consider it Dug

It took us about 2 weeks of digging, but the foundation is finally dug.  We still have a bit of leveling and finishing to get done today, but all of the really hard stuff is done.  It wouldn’t even have taken us 2 weeks if we hadn’t had to stop for a couple days every time there was a hard rain.  We were also helped along by Liz’s idea to dig the sub-floor out to 2 different depths rather than removing all of the dirt to the lowest point.  It saved a huge amount of digging.

The Hand-dug Foundation

I think a lot of people doubted that we’d actually be able to dig the whole foundation with hand tools.  If there had been a lot of rocks in the dirt or it had been more compacted that may have been the case, but it was pretty much pure clay that wasn’t too awful to get out.  We’ll also be able to use it to plaster the house, make the earthen floor, and build the bench for the rocket stove.  Don’t get me wrong it was still a lot of hard sweaty work, but I found it extremely satisfying. Plus I got a nice tan out of it and a shirtless picture of me, of which the world can never be blessed with enough of.

It’s been exciting to see the building floor emerge from the earth.  It makes imagining the rooms and the space a much more tangible exercise.  It’s going to be a very nice sized building, not too small and not too big.  I’m also happy that we were able to orient it for passive solar.  I had begun to think we weren’t going to be able to until I found that true south wasn’t where I had thought it was.

The trenches seem to be draining pretty well for the most part, but the sub-floor needs to have the edges leveled down so that the water drains off of it a bit better. The next step after tamping and leveling is going to be laying down a perforated drain pipe in the middle of the rubble trench and leading down the drain ditch.  We also need to install an duct pipe that’ll allow us to run wires and flexible tubing inside the building without going through the straw bale wall which might allow moisture to get into the bales.  A drain pipe for all the faucets and the shower is going to need to be laid so that it connects up with the perforated drain pipe in the rubble trench.

We’ll also be putting in 2” panels of rigid foam polystyrene insulation on the outside section of the rubble trench to insulate the foundation somewhat.  I’m not very happy about using polystyrene in the building, but I haven’t been able to find a better alternative and I want to make sure that the foundation has a little insulation.  I may find out it’s not that important to have, but until then I want to make sure we don’t have a well insulated house with a heat sink for a floor.

The 6 new guinea chicks

After all that is laid down we’ll start filling the whole thing up with gravel and tamping it down until it’s all 6” below grade, and then we’ll start building the urbanite(reclaimed cement chunk) stem wall mortared together that will extend at least 1’ above ground.

In other news, I built a 4’x8’ guinea henhouse and got it stocked with 6 guineas that Daniel and I got from a poultry swap meet a couple hours south of here.  It was the only place we knew we could reliably find guinea chicks that were old enough that they didn’t need a heat lamp but not so old that they’d run away whenever we let them out.  I got 3 each from 2 different ladies, one group is 3 weeks old and the other group is 4-5 weeks old.

We’re going to have to keep them in the henhouse for at least a couple weeks, maybe significantly more so that they know its home.  I’m also going to start teaching them to come to me with a call and giving them some white millet.  Liz might take that over from me when she gets back from her weddings in Virginia on Wednesday.

The Guinea Henhouse

It’s not dropping below 60 now and the birds just finished their 2nd night and seem to be fine.  I put a cardboard box inside the henhouse and put some straw in it and then covered it with straw for more insulation.  I put them in there at night since otherwise they all just group together in a corner.  It’s good that they group together, but if it’s just up against the plywood their going to loose a lot of heat so I put them in the box and they group up in there instead.

I’m looking forward to letting the little guys and girls out to eat bugs to their heart’s content.  A guinea can eat 200 ticks a day, multiply that by 6 and we’ve dealt a massive blow to the tick population around here.  They also range up to a ¼ of a mile radius and get up to 90% of their food from ranging which makes them extremely cheap and effective.  They don’t scratch the ground and they only eat grass and seeds apart from insects so they’re great to have in the garden as long as you don’t start feeding them vegetable scraps, because then they’ll start finding those vegetables in the garden.