Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Gravity All Its Own

There have been a lot of great developments at Maya Creek in the 6 weeks since my last blog post.  I’ll start with the oldest and work my way up to the present.

The roof has been completely insulated.  Dakota and I spent 2 days blowing insulation into the roof space we’d created between the rafters with used billboard tarps.  The inside of the roof isn’t the prettiest, but I’m planning on getting some kind of fabric or saris, and hanging them up over the tarp to make it prettier and to add some character.  Even without doors or windows it’s noticeably cooler and less humid inside the house.

After the roof was finished we started preparing the walls for the earthen plaster.  That mainly involved stuffing cracks and spaces with straw slip, essentially straw dipped in a clay/water mix about the consistency of cream. We also taped off some parts that we wanted to protect from the plaster.  Afterwards we made a gritty adhesion coat out of flour paste, sand, and clay.  The adhesion coat was smeared on all of the non-straw surfaces that were going to get plastered such as wood, parts of the gravel bag stem wall, and the metal compression wires.  We also stuffed some of the spaces between the gravel bags with cob to minimize the amount of plaster that would have go in there to even it out.

Next we rented an air compressor and stucco gun and blasted the straw bale walls with clay slip, the clay/water mixture about the consistency of heavy cream.  At that point I bought a cement mixer and generator to help with the mixing and it has already been incredibly helpful in mixing the plaster as well.  While I could see mixing plaster by hand for a small project, the cement mixer has probably doubled the speed at which we’re plastering both with the time it takes to actually mix and the energy saved and used on applying the plaster.

The 4th of July: Get Plastered weekend event was a resounding success as far as I was concerned.  14 people showed up at one point or another and there were a dozen that helped with the actual plastering.  It was extremely gratifying for me to see my old friends getting along so well with my new friends.  It took us a good 6 hours to get 3 of the outside walls done and we finished up the last wall in a couple hours on the 2nd day.  Dakota and I built a dock at the lake just in the time for the party and the bonfire was quite impressive, seen here with flames only half as high as they got to be.

It sounds cliche, but it really is hard for me to put into words how grateful I am to everyone who has helped me along the way so far, not just the people at the plaster party, but all the support I have gotten with the ecovillage project.  It is fueling the progress here, not to mention giving fire to my determination to see this through.  Without it, this simply would not be possible and so I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I have an optimism about the future that I have never experienced before as an adult.

Whew, now that I’ve let that wave of emotion sweep over me let me get back to the business at hand.  I have a new work exchanger, Emily.  She arrived from Ohio a day or so before the plaster party.  She’s inquisitive and hard-working and we seem to get along well.  Dakota was planning on leaving after the plaster party, but seems to find it harder and harder to leave.  This place seems to be developing a type of gravity all its own because he’s not the only one.

Over the plaster party weekend I talked with Justin and Melainia and they wanted to start construction on a DIY yurt.  I’ve already seen some of the initial plans on it and it seems fantastic.  They’re wanting to start some time this summer and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  They’re already good friends to me and I welcome them whole-heartedly as the first community members apart from myself.  The construction of a small dwelling in the actual ecovillage area fits in exactly with that I’d envisioned for the first phase of the main ecovillage area construction.

I’d only met Patrick once before early this spring.  I liked him after that one encounter, but after the plaster party weekend he’s already entered the ranks as a good friend as well.  He’s been building a geodesic dome about an hour or so from here and hung around an extra day after the plaster party weekend.  He seemed to be at home here and I was sad to see him leave.  I’d already been conspiring on how I could get him more involved here when he e-mailed me and said that he had to be a part of Maya Creek sooner rather than later and wants to build a small dome here this summer.

There’s this sense that the pieces are starting to fall into place and that my “start building it and they will come and help you” strategy is working.  I feel like I’ve been able to attract exactly the kind of people I’d been hoping to find.  The ecovillage seems to be well on it’s way to becoming an actual village and not just a wild man in the woods.

So, getting back to the more hum-drum ecovillage news.  The plaster is still going up.  Dakota, Emily, and I have already significantly improved our plastering methods and are moving much quicker than I had thought possible judging by how much we got done at the plaster party.  It’s quite a relief since it was beginning to look like a herculean feet to finish the next 2 coats, especially since the next coat involves 3-4 times more plaster than the discovery coat we’re still applying does.

I’d like to put out an open invitation for a plaster party this Saturday, July 17 as well as one on Saturday, July 31.  Everyone is welcome to camp for the weekend.  There are a number of tents already set up on raised platforms with protective tarps.  A few of them have mattresses, and I’m looking for a couple of double mattresses to throw in two of them.  If you’re coming out remember to bring clothes that you don’t care about since clay can stain clothing.

In non-housing related news the garden has exploded in productivity and lushness.  Many of the companion planted flowers are blooming, tomatoes are ripening, zucchini, squash, and cucumbers are growing faster than I can pick them, and my only regret is that I can’t spend more time there examining bugs, growth patterns, and generally just poking around.  A couple raccoons got in one night and ravaged the sweet corn, but it’s recovered fairly well and I’ve since trapped and relocated the rascals about 20 miles away.

A couple fruit trees have died, and some are struggling.  A few seem to be doing really well though, which is I suppose to be expected in essentially unimproved clay soil.  Next year I’m really going to kick my compost-making operation into high gear and make it so that I can grow pretty much any plant the climate will allow.  I have the sources for material and means of delivery, just not the time to do it right now.

Sadly I’ve lost two of the three laying hens I bought this year.  The first one happened when the chickens accidentally got locked out of their coop one night and nested in a tree.  I could hear it screaming as something attacked it and ran down and scared away whatever was attacking it, but it was mortally wounded and I had to put it out if it’s misery.  The other was mortally wounded by some dogs and was likewise mercy killed.  It’s really pretty depressing, and I’ve begun to wonder if the act of butchering these animals is worth the meat.  I’m almost to the point of burying them in the garden and using them as fertilizer.  It seems right since that’s essentially what I want done with my own body, except in the forest, not the garden.  Jason is raising some guineas for the both of us, and so I should have 4 or so of them running around tick-hunting in a couple months.

Maya Creek is also now solar-powered.  The wind generator doesn’t reliably produce very much power.  The turbine needs to be higher above the trees, but I’m hoping that in the winter when the leaves are down and the winds are generally stronger and more sustained I’ll see more production out of it.  If not I have a plan to raise it another 5-10′ and possibly trim some tree tops.

The 90W of amorphous silicon solar panels are doing the trick on these hot sunny summer days.  The battery bank had been consistently topped off, but as more people have arrived and the weather has gotten cloudier, they may not be enough for what we’ve been demanding.  I’ve got 2 new LED lighbulbs that put off a nice omni-directional warm light that only use 5 watts each.  Over the winter I’m also going to be looking at getting a new super-efficient laptop.

In more recent news, I’ve lost my dumpster diving cherry.  I spent most of the time laughing at the incredible amount of perfectly good food thrown out.  I didn’t even notice a smell in most of the dumpsters and within the course of an hour or two the car was packed to the brim with a huge array of food and goodies, including a perfectly fine step ladder, which had been on my list of things to get for plastering.  If I had to estimate what it would have cost to buy the stuff we got, I’d put it somewhere in the area of $200-300, if not more.

We did all of that on the way back from St. Louis where we went to an event remembering the 1877 general strike in St. Louis.  The main reason we went was to see David Rovics.  I designed David’s site about 5 years ago and had never met him until yesterday.  He introduced me to some extremely interesting people in the St. Louis area and I’m really looking forward to getting to know them better.