The idea behind sustainability is that you are creating system that does not degrade its foundations and the resources it requires so that the system can continue indefinitely. It suggests a sort of equilibrium, but really what is needed is a system that is regenerative, that continually reinforces its foundations and increases its resources or becomes more efficient at their use and reuse. Nature does exactly that, it improves the soil tilth with continual growth and decay of plant material. Roots slowly breakdown bed rock and clay into soluble nutrients replacing nutrients lost to erosion and leaching. Evolution is the process of finding ways to become more efficient.
To think that we can create an independent system as elegant or as tried and true as the natural system that created us in the first place is arrogant and naive. Our goal at Maya Creek is to observe the natural system around us and discover ways that we can fit our own needs, activities, products, and waste as seamlessly as possible into a symbiotic relationship with it. We hope to do more than sustain our existence. We intend to thrive.
Posted by Tao on December 20, 2012
Posted by Tao on August 30, 2012
The heat wave broke in mid-August and our energy levels went up along with a noticeable improvement in everyone’s spirits.
We’ve continued to re-evaluate what is possible with the remainder of the year, and have begun prioritizing. The duplex topped the list, followed by finishing the root cellar so that we can move all of our tools and materials out of our makeshift tool tent. The last thing we’d like to accomplish is put the finish coats of plaster and floor in the common house to keep the dust down this winter.
That said, the last few weeks we’ve almost solely focused on the duplex. We’ve gotten better at stacking bales so that the corners are more square. The key is not to stuff the spaces around the corner bales to tightly or it’ll push them out. Apart from stacking the bales, stuffing the gaps, and trimming them we’ve also put in several electrical outlets connected to our off-grid grid.
To put the outlets in we nail the outlet boxes to plywood stakes, cut out space for the box in a bale with a chainsaw and then drive the stake/outlet box into the wall. The electrical wire is just tucked in between the bales.
For the roof we installed two pieces of tarp as interior liner and used trim to secure it to the roof rafters. Then we packed in scrap alpaca wool to fill in the space made by the liners and the 2×12 rafters. We sprayed the wool with a borax solution to keep pests out and help with fire resistance, though wool is naturally fire retardant and straw bales coated in earthen plaster won’t burn.
Next, we put another tarp over the alpaca fiber to keep critters out of it and to act as secondary barrier like tar paper in case the metal roof ever leaks. Lastly we put on the metal roof. The only thing left to do on the roof is to put the gutters on.
Apart from putting in a couple more wine bottles in our walls to let more light in we’re ready to start plastering. Earthen plastering is a very labor-intensive part of straw bale construction, though we generally find it to be satisfying work. We hope those who joined our August 18th workshop felt the same way! Luckily we’ve got a couple of new volunteers showing up early next week. They’re well aware that we’ve got a bunch of plastering for them and so that should speed us along.
Our goal for the year is to get the base coat of plaster(it’s one of three coats) on the interior and exterior, and then to at least get the second coat or infill coat of plaster on the exterior, but hopefully the interior as well. We’d like to build our rocket stoves before winter too, but we may have to make due with kerosene heaters if time doesn’t permit it.
We managed to get all of 1/2″ of rain last weekend, and it looks like hurricane Isaac may deliver us some more hopefully. The problem is that’s all the rain we’ve gotten this month. Out average rainfall for August is typically 4.25″. I have no idea what kind deficit we’re running for the year, but we may have gotten 2″ since the end of April. Even the wild trees are dying. It seems contained to dogwoods and maples at the moment, although you can tell the oaks and other big trees are stressed too.
Apart from the tomatoes, peppers, and a few other plants we’ve essentially given up on the garden for the year. You can’t win them all.
In other news, we’ll be holding our first ever harvest festival. There will be a wine making workshop, archery, disc golf tournament, hiking, swimming(weather permitting), home-brew tasting, a potluck dinner, and camping. Everyone is invited, just please RSVP especially if you plan on camping and/or want to stay in one of our guest tents.
Posted by Tao on August 15, 2012
We finished construction of the window bucks today. We’re using small high-efficiency double-glaze low-e windows which we were able to score from a couple different places for $25/each. I wish we’d used pre-built windows and doors in the common house. Unfortunately, we’re not skilled enough carpenters yet to make doors and windows that seal well.
These bucks are known as floating bucks because they won’t be secured to the frame, but will simply rest on the bales and be held in place by compression. We’ll put some screws on the outside of them so that they bite into the bales.
All that’s left is to stain and oil them. Then we’ll be ready to start stacking bales!
Posted by Tao on June 19, 2012
We set the cedar posts for the duplex today. It’s a good feeling seeing it rise above ground level. At every step we get a little clearer sense of the space. Even if it just looks like something they set up for monkeys to play on at the zoo right now, it’s a little more believable that Jesse and I will actually have private quarters this winter.
Working with round rough cut posts isn’t the easiest thing. Assuming that the post isn’t warped, it inevitably tapers and so it’s only really possible to get one edge relatively straight. On the corners we do our best, and then we use string as a guide to line the other intermediate posts up.
Although it’s not exactly sustainable, we cemented in the posts. We’ll also likely use cement to set the granite footing around the base. Altogether though we’ll probably only use 2 bags of cement for the whole structure.
Posted by Tao on June 3, 2012
This past month we transitioned from clearing out and processing trees to actually breaking ground on our major projects. Just today we finished up grading the foundation for the straw bale duplex. Yesterday, we had the excavator dig out as much of the root cellar as he was able to and then graded the shed/workshop site. That’s been the major hold up on our projects, and with that completed we’ll be splitting up somewhat and focusing on specific projects.
John and Tony are working on the shed/workshop/root cellar, and recently refined their roof plans. They’ve already built a few roof trusses and we received the lumber to do the rest of them yesterday. The root cellar is going to need quite a bit more digging, but they may wait until they get the shed roof up to do that.
Jesse is tasked with the duplex, although I’ll be helping him with the planning. Now that the foundation is graded we’ll start in on building the timberframe. Once it’s protected with the basic frame and roof we’ll start on the rubble trench, stem wall, and then the earthen floor.
I’ll be heading up the work on the common house and the rainwater catchment system and cistern. Over the last several weeks we’ve put in a little less than half of the interior walls using rammed straw lightly coated with clay. Because the forms won’t fit over things like light switches, outlets, and plumbing that sticks out of the wall we’re using cob to fill in around those spots. We’re also using cob at the top of the walls since there’s no space to ram the straw down if you put the forms all the way to the top. So far it seems to be working well.
We’re reclaiming some broken chunks of concrete (AKA urbanite) from an old patio that was being ripped out. We’ll use that for the retaining wall on the cistern and whatever is left over we’ll use in the stem wall in the duplex.
We’ve also done some work on John’s cabin. We’ve cobbed in the open areas in the roof except for a spot in the back where he’s putting in a flue for a small rocket stove. We’ve also put the first coat of earthen plaster on the roof bales and started on the second coat of plaster, or infill coat, on the lower part of the cabin.
Clay is a hugely fundamental part of our building methods here, and so any innovation in our sifting technique that speeds it up or makes it easier help greatly. We’ve begun layering the different sifting screens and placing wheelbarrows underneath them. This means less bending and shoveling, and has increased our sifting rate by probably 33% or so.
I applaud the people who bravely attended the humanure workshop. It went well and we’ll post the video from the workshop when we have time to edit it together. The next workshop will be the Primitive Skills Primer on June 16 taught by Justin McClain.
So far all we’ve harvested from the garden has been lettuce and peas, although that should be changing in the near future. Our squash plants have taken off and the tomatoes and potatoes are not far behind. With the help of Bobbie and Janis we’ve managed to stay on top of the weeds this year. Also, we’ve discovered that s spray of just water and a small amount of Dr. Bronner’s soap will kill squash bugs. It looks to be an epic year for squash, and with the dehydrator cooking away we should be able to preserve huge amounts of it when the time comes.
Unfortunately for the garden we haven’t gotten much rain in the last month, although that has certainly helped with our construction plans. We’ve been watering sporadically the few plants that need it from our rainwater barrels by the solar shower, but unless the drought breaks soon we may be forced to truck in some city water.
We’ve raised $4,700 towards our fundraising goal of $8,000! Thank you to everyone who has contributed!
We’ve got more pictures posted in our photo gallery for those who are interested.