Tag Archives: rocket stove

Fall 2014

This Fall was relatively uneventful, but I did get a few minor projects done that have made Winter much more pleasant.  Also, I hosted wine-making workshop, which didn’t draw as many people as I imagined it would.  My volunteers from Chicago left at the beginning of October heading to another farm in Georgia.  They took my long-term volunteer, Billy, with them and as far as I know he’s still at that farm.

Rocket stove flue extended through the roofFirewood

The volunteers helped me split a good bit of firewood before they headed out, and I spent most of the Fall preparing for Winter in one way or another.  After they left I hauled some more logs, split them, and stacked up about a chord of wood.  I also cut down a big oak tree that had died over the summer and was leaning precariously towards the shed.  I cut that up, split it, and stacked it to cure for next Winter.

Flue Extension

I also finally extended the common house rocket stove flue pipe up through the porch roof.  The exhaust from the stove had been getting hung up under the porch and the moisture was condensing on the rafters to the point it was practically raining underneath the porch.   I used a dremel to cut a precise hole for the flue and a butyl rubber to seal around it.  The draft on the rocket stove has improved and I haven’t seen it back-smoke at all since the improvement.

Rocket-Powered Hot Water!

Rocket stove barrel copper hot water heating coilsLast winter I combined a couple of ideas and came up with a plan to have hot water year-round.  I built the solar hot water heating panel and installed the hot and cold barrels earlier in the spring, but the panel will only work in above-freezing temperatures because the water would freeze in the panel and burst the pipes.

I came up with the idea of using the same thermosiphon principle that worked on the solar panel, but wrapping copper tubing around the rocket stove barrel compared to the sun heating up the water in the panel.  It was a little tricky getting the copper wound tightly around the barrel, but luckily when you buy large sections of copper tubing it comes in coils to begin with making it easier to avoid crinkling the pipe when I bent it around the barrel.

After running the stove the average 6-8 hours it takes to heat the common house up for several days the water in the 55 gallon hot water barrel will be upwards of 120F.  The mass of the water and insulation on the barrel keeps the water hot for a couple of days, so it holds the heat almost the same amount of time as the house does.


Duplex Disaster and Recovery

We had a serious failure in the duplex, but were able to save the vast majority of the building thanks to some helping hands.  The following videos cover briefly the cause of the fire and then the reconstruction results. I took more footage of the recovery process, but I will save that for a longer length video at another time.

And now the recovery.

Battening the Hatches: September/October 2012 Newsletter

September was spent doing a lot of earthen plastering on the strawbale duplex. We managed to finish the 1st coat on the exterior and interior and got the 2nd, much more time consuming coat, on the interior of my(Tao) side of the duplex.

It would have been nice to finish the interior of both sides, and especially nice to get the finish plaster and floor in so that we wouldn’t have to move out to do that next year, but since the 2nd coat of interior plaster is still drying on my side there’s no way that was possible.  It’s been exactly a month and the 2nd coat is almost dry.

Anyway, that’s where we decided to cease major construction for the year and give ourselves a healthy amount of time to prep for winter. Prepping for winter includes taking down all of the tarps, tents, the pop-up camper, cleaning out the garden, spreading compost, and generally cleaning up and battening the hatches to stay warm.

The Common House

Yesterday I built some shelves for the pantry, and it’s actually being used for pantry-like functions for the first time in its existence. Having our food spread out in an easy to see and accessible way is probably more novel than it should be. I feel like I’m standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open.

Moving the kitchen in and out has become one of the dreaded spring/fall tasks. Until we finish the walls and the floor of the common house we have to move everything out to work on it. We were hoping this would be the last year we’d have to move it in and out, but we’ll have to do it all again next year as well.

We’re prioritizing the finish work on the common house for next year. The water system(hot indoor on-demand showers!) is the driving force. It’s also getting old explaining to every visitor that no, the common house isn’t done yet. We want to have at least one nice finished place to show as an example of what can be done using these sustainable techniques as soon as possible.

Rocket Stoves!

We’ve also been working on heating for the winter. I just finished work on the rocket stove in my side of the duplex. Jesse has the first phases of his complete, and John is gathering materials for his slightly more complex design.

The only thing I would do different on mine so far is to use 5″ flue pipe instead of 4″. Still though, it works remarkably well, and since it basically just burns twigs and small branches I can collect enough wood to burn for 4-6 hours in just a few minutes and I don’t even have to chop anything!

The draft created by the chimney effect and the insulated burn chamber are really exceptional. The sound it makes reminds me of the sound the space shuttles made(past-tense boo!) when they were taking off.  I find it very soothing.

I set mine up with a small cooking area as well as a platform to keep things hot.  I’ve cooked a couple batches of ramen(don’t judge me) on it so far, but I see a lot of tea being brewed in the future.

Harvest Festival

The harvest festival went well, although we’re contemplating moving it later in the year and using it as a time to celebrate our accomplishments for the year and to essentially close out the building season. We had a good turnout of friends and neighbors though, and I believe everyone had a good time.  The homemade hard lemonade certainly didn’t hurt!

Adventures in E. Coli

Many of our neighbors are hesitant to eat anything we’ve grown since word is out that we use humanure to grow our food. With that in mind I ran some tests for e.coli(Thanks to Sarah for acquiring the tests!) just to make sure we’re doing things correctly.

I tested our garden soil that I hadn’t added humanure to, some that I added humanure to last year, straight 1 year old humanure, and 1 year old composted alpaca manure. The results are in! The alpaca manure showed 4 e. coli colonies on the 2 tests, which is within safe limits, there was 1 e. coli colony on 1 of the tests that just had plain garden soil and there were no e.coli colonies found on any of the 7 tests that were done on straight humanure or soil amended with humanure.

Let me repeat that, despite doing more tests on the humanure compost and humanure-amended soil than on the other samples, we were unable to find a single cell of e. coli.  In other words, our humanure compost is totally safe!

We believe the alpaca manure didn’t compost as thoroughly because of how compacted it was.  The manure came from cleaning out the alpaca stalls in the spring and had been tromped on all winter.

While that should put everyone’s mind at ease I doubt the fecalphobes, ie most of society, will be too reassured. In order to utilize our humanure while still compromising with the fecalphobes we’re now only applying the humanure to the fruit trees and using alpaca manure on the veggie beds, despite it showing higher levels of e. coli than the humanure, although still within safe levels.

Winter Goals

We’re organizing ourselves for winter projects. Those include working on organizational aspects such as becoming a non-profit organization, restructuring our volunteer program, and getting training as meeting facilitators. I personally plan on doing more introspective work, meditating, reading, taking long walks, etc.  Oh, and I’ll also be working on editing together the video footage we shot this year into something presentable.


May 2012 Newsletter

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.



Shifting Gears

After making my way through the final push of the year, including cleaning up and taking down tarpopolis, finishing the rocket stove, and putting doors and windows on the house, I now find myself breathing a sigh of relief and am looking forward to a long winter of reading, planning, and preparing for next year’s warm weather.  By the time the weather actually warms up enough to start on projects I’ll be chomping at the bit to get started, and the whole cycle will start again.

Project Updates

The rocket stove is finally complete, well, for the most part at-least, I still have some tweaks to do.  The thermal mass bench took quite awhile, mainly because I had to let it dry in layers to avoid crushing the flue pipes.  Ianto Evans, the guy who literally wrote the book on rocket stoves, says that you won’t have a problem with crushed flue pipes if you build the bench with love.  So either I didn’t add enough love to my cob mix or he should be a little more detailed.

It took awhile to figure out exactly how to burn the stove and what size firewood to cut and how to position it to stop smoke from escaping inside the house, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  If I make any modification to the rocket stove it will probably be to raise the height of the feed tube to make it harder for smoke to escape and so longer wood can be used.

Altogether though I’m extremely pleased.  I can burn the stove for 5-6 hours and have the house stay in the mid-70’s for the next 2 days with sub-freezing temperatures outside.  The constant temperature is also great for sleeping because I don’t keep waking up having to add blankets like I did in the camper.

Also, cooking on the stove is really great, especially since it means I don’t have to use the propane stove very much.  It gets hotter than I was told to expect, which works out well because I can use it to cook just about anything or boil water for tea.  To slow-cook or just keep things I warm I set the pot on a raised metal stand.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I undumpstered the top to a bbq grill that fits perfectly over the top of the barrel.  I’m hoping that I can use it to turn the stove into an oven.  Experimentation is required.

In other news, I’ve expanded my brewing abilities.  I’ve got a gallon of blueberry wine fermenting away and a 5 gallon batch of experimental wheat beer going as well.  I invested about $200 in parts and equipment so that I’ll be brewing my beer from actual grains starting with my next batch. It’s a somewhat more labor-intense process, but I’ll immediately drop my cost per beer from about 90 cents to 40 cents.  I’ve been reading on how to use the spent yeast from one batch to use in the next so that will drop my costs another 5 cents a beer, and then once I get hops and brewing herbs planted next year I ought to be able to get it down to about 20-25 cents per delicious home-brew beer.

The off-grid power system got another serious upgrade.  The limiting factor on the system was storage capacity.  The system was making way more power than it could store, which isn’t a problem if it’s sunny and windy every day, but for weeks of overcast doldrums it becomes a problem.  So, I bought 6 new deep-cycle batteries to add to just the 2 I had previously.  That brings the system to 450 amp-hours from 112.  Enough to easily run all the lights and my beast of a laptop for hundreds of hours on a full charge, which I get from a single sunny day.

Winter Goals

I was beginning to physically wear down near the end of the warm season, and now that my body has recovered from that my brain is anxious to get to work.

The main goals will be organizational this winter.  I want to start holding monthly meetings for everyone interested in Maya Creek at whatever level.  I want to involve everyone in the decision-making process, figure out things like what it would mean to be a member here, how the membership process would work, how the decision-making process would work, etc.  I have ideas on a lot of these aspects, most of which I’ve posted on the website, but I want to hear from people interested in this place, what ideas and concerns they have, etc.  A dozen heads are better than one. It’s also just a good excuse to get everyone together to try out my beer and wine.

Apart from the meetings I’m going to start recruitment efforts for next year.  Last year was great, and I was lucky to have the people helping me that I did.  I didn’t do much in the way of recruiting volunteers or work exchangers, partly because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with being in charge of directing a large number of people.  Now that I have a little experience with it I have some ideas how I can handle a lot more help.

The first thing is going to be getting at least 2 or 3 work exchangers to be here all year.  These people will essentially be like foreman.  I have several large projects which I would want them to oversee next year such as building semi-permanent summer cabins in the camping area where the tent platforms are, making a trail from the camping area that goes to the ecovillage site, and starting on the main driveway to the ecovillage site itself.  Once they feel confident about the different projects I’ll essentially let them oversee them and put them in charge of short-term volunteers who come out to help.

I know the colleges and universities near here are brimming with people interested in what’s going on here, it’s just about letting the right people know what opportunities are available. So, I’m going to start a more aggressive campaign to get the word out at the universities this winter, try to identify organizations and professors who would be interested and let them know what I have going on.  I’m also going to post a detailed description of what the work exchangers would be involved in and responsible for and once I find them to start preparing them however I can for those projects as well as just generally being prepared for life out here.

My other mission this winter is to make Maya Creek Ecovillage a bonified legal entity.  I’m going to attempt to set it up as 501C3 tax-exempt non-profit educational organization.  It will make it much much easier to get grants as well as donations.  When that gets set up Maya Creek can create a formal agreement with the land trust, and once that agreement is in place it should serve to allay concerns about members’ property rights and provide a framework for what Maya Creek can do with the land which would facilitate more long-term planning.

Recent Events

I’d like to thank everyone for the attending the sweat lodge.  A memorable 30th birthday to be sure.  Justin and I will be reworking the sweat lodge to be smaller, more accessible, and ultimately much hotter.  After all, you’re not going on a vision quest unless you’re on the verge of losing consciousness.  Justin and I will hopefully have it down to an art for the next gathering.

Maya Creek also hosted the Weill/Lundemo family Thanksgiving this year.  Despite the house still being only roughly livable everyone seemed to be impressed and enjoyed learning about the different building aspects and other projects going on around the land.  There’s a profound since of satisfaction at having built a structure to protect your loved ones from the elements, especially when Thanksgiving day was the coldest day of the winter so far.

My dad enjoyed splitting firewood while he was here.  It’s also become one of my favorite new past-times because it involves and improves concentration, hand-eye coordination, strength, and when you’re done you’ve also produced something useful.  Last winter I had trouble finding ways to stay in reasonable shape, but this year it found me.

Upcoming Events

As I mentioned earlier I’m going to start holding monthly meetings for everyone interested in being a part of Maya Creek in one way or another.  So I’d like to announce the first Second Saturday Meeting on December 11, 2010 at 4pm. If that date and/or time doesn’t work for a lot of people then we can move it.  Please let me know if you plan on attending the meeting here at Maya Creek so I’ll know to expect you.  If you need directions or more info contact me.  I expect the meeting will last a couple of hours and time will be credited to everyone in the work log.

Rocketing into Fall

It’s hard to believe that the building season is already coming to an end.  The house isn’t as far as I’d hoped, but I’ve begun to get used to that.  As long as the progress is tangible it’s hard to get too depressed.  Watching the granite footing go up with Emily’s hard work has been exciting and has turned the house into a work of art.  The loft and interior wall studs in conjuction with the first half of the base layer of earthen floor have added a new dimension to the interior and although it’s still probably a whole building season from being done the finish line is in sight.

With the first light frost of the year and the leaves changing and finding their way to the forest floor where they’ll keep the tree roots well-mulched and cozy I’m reminded of my own winter preparations.  It would be easy to get stressed about all of the work still to be done over the next couple months, but I know I’ll get it done. Just knowing that I won’t have to spend the winter cramped in my tin can of a camper again is enough to keep my spirits high.

My most pressing project is getting the rocket stove done.  A rocket stove is a type of wood-burning stove similar to a masonry stove in that rather than the heat going straight up and out of a normal chimney, the flue runs horizontally through a bench made up of really heavy materials like rocks, bricks, and clay so that the heat is absorbed inside the house before the stove gases exit.  This means that the temperature of the air leaving through the flue is only a hundred degrees or so, even though the stove burns cleanly and efficiently at over a thousand degrees.  After setting up a mock-up of the heat riser guts of the stove at the last work party there are at least 3 new stoves in the planning stages by impressed observers.  I foresee many winter nights and days spent on the thermal mass bench in the future.

The earthen floor base layer is only a little over half done.  I held off doing the whole base layer because I wanted to bury the rocket stove in the floor so that the floor will also hold the heat.  I was more than ready to be done with the tedious work of mixing and leveling the floor.  Each batch of mix only created a couple square feet of floor space, so it would easily take 300 batches to do the whole layer.  Even after 3 weeks of running a couple of fans to dry it out it’s just now really begun to dry out.  There are two more layers, which involve a lot less material, and thus less mixing and work.  Any more work on the floor is going to have to wait until next year so I’ll have a half-gravel floor for the winter.  No big deal.

The solar power system has gotten a significant upgrade.  We’ve now got 400 watts of panel on the roof and new MPPT charge controller which is significantly more efficient at charging the batteries with those panels.  I’ve cut a couple trees down that were blocking significant sunshine and I’ll have to cut down several more before it’s all said and done unfortunately.  I also need to get some more battery capacity since we’re making way more power than we can hold when it’s sunny, but it only lasts a couple days with regular usage.

My first attempt at a brewing beer since I stopped about 5 years ago was a resounding success.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading on brewing beer with more raw materials so I can lower the price and have more control over it.  I’ve also got my first batch of wine brewing and plan on doing a lot more brewing and experimenting this winter as my pet project.  I’d like to have a lot of beverages tucked away for next year.  We go through a lot of beer and wine, and I figure this will cut down a lot on our recycling and expenses.

Emily finished the solar dehydrator that she’d taken on as her own pet project.  We’ve tried bananas, apples, persimmons, tomatoes, acorns, and herbs and they’ve all been delicious.  I’m especially fond of the fruits when they’re only partially dry and chewy.  It’s going to be a lot less depressing not seeing tomatoes and other veggies going bad because we don’t eat them or give them away fast enough.

Dakota headed out in September, and Emily has just headed back early to Ohio.  She’d expected to stay through Thanksgiving, but her father’s health has taken a turn for the worse and she’s gone back to spend some time with him.  Both her and Dakota were really crucial in getting as far as we did this year, not to mention just being good company.  Hopefully I won’t be too lonely this winter though, Justin is putting the finishing touches on his tipi cover and is planning on having a tipi-raising party in the next week or two.