Tag Archives: workshop

Sputtering towards Spring

Organized workshop

In between the unusual arctic blasts that continue to pummel the area I’ve been quietly preparing for the inevitable coming thaw. We’re now back in another round of near record-low temperatures, but before that happened I got some much needed clean-up done as well as set up a really simple coldframe/mini-greenhouse for seed starting.

Ever since I brought my first load of stuff out to the property there’s essentially been an amorphous pile of stuff including everything from private affects and clothes to tools and materials all piled together with little rhyme or reason. It was under tarps strung between trees for the first 3 years, and then about a year ago it moved underneath the protection of the new shed.

Organized shed

Well, I finally went through ALL of the boxes of stuff and organized at least roughly. I can’t tell you how many things I found that I’d spent crazy amounts of time looking for.

The shed is a long way from done, and I’ll have to move some of the stuff again to work on the root cellar, but it’s so wonderful to easily find the tools and materials for projects and then know exactly where they go when I’m done. There’s an actual place for that kind of object now!  Also, I finally have space to pull in a vehicle to work on it when I need to.  Will wonders never cease!

Simple Coldframe

Hay and straw bale cold frame mini-greenhouseI made a rectangle from 8 old hay bales someone gave me and then stacked another 3 bales on the north wall of it.  Then I put down about 6″ of straw within a rectangle to insulate the floor and then draped a clear plastic drop cloth over a few 2×2 boards.  I secured the drop cloth with some of the scrap chunks of granite I have for various projects, mainly the footing around the straw bale buildings.

I also put a couple of the bigger dark pieces of granite inside of it, propped up against the back wall.  These chunks of granite are thermal mass that moderate the temperature, absorbing heat and keeping it from getting too hot during the day, and then re-radiating that heat back out at night.

Opened coldframe with onion trays

Today the outside temperature topped out at 26F, but inside the bale greenhouse it was 80F.  I’ve been bringing the seedlings inside at night since it’s been getting into the single digits and it gets below freezing inside the greenhouse, but soon it’ll protect against mild frosts and I can start getting tomato and pepper soil blocks started in there along with the onion trays I’ve already got growing.

Eventually there will be a greenhouse attached to the front of the common house and I won’t need to set a variation of this up every year.


August 2012 Newsletter: It’s Liveable!

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.

The Drought

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.

1st Annual Harvest Festival – September 29th

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.


June 2012 Newsletter

It was a very hot, dry, yet productive June.  Many people have asked about us during the recent heat wave and we appreciate your concern.  I can almost guarantee we fared far better than those who lost power and cooling by default.  We worked during the cool mornings and by around noon it was too hot for that, and we’d retreat to the common house or the lake or creek for a dip.

The temperatures in the common house hovered around 80, although if we hadn’t been leaving the doors open to dry the slip straw interior walls it may have been more comfortable.   John’s cabin topped out at 75, while our highs hit 107 on a couple of occasions. The fan seems to really be necessary to get the benefits of the coolness of the house, otherwise it can get quite muggy.  You heat up the air around you and sit in a hot pocket of air otherwise.

Framed Up

Many of you may have seen our progress through our posts in our facebook group, but we’ve made significant progress on the shed and duplex.  We rented an auger and drilled the holes for all of the cedar posts we harvested this spring.  Digging holes especially 2′ deep holes is really hard difficult work.  The auger knocked out probably a week or more of extremely hard labor in less than 24 hours.

We used a lot of the lumber we salvaged from the old neighbor’s house, but still ended up spending about $1k on lumber for both projects.  It’s amazing how quickly the structures went from nothing to a whole skeleton.  There’s still an enormous amount of work left on both structures, but it’s nice to be able to see the outline.

The next step on the shed is to finish putting in a few posts and then it’s on to the root cellar, which still has some digging left to do before plastering and putting in the roof and stairs.

We’re working on getting the foundation insulation/drainage trench dug and then putting in the gravel bag stem wall so that we can be putting in earthen floor for our natural building workshop on July 21.

We got the bales for the duplex delivered, but we won’t put them in until the base layer of earthen floor finishes drying.  It’s about $2/bale if you pick the bales out of the field, but we missed our window this year because of the early spring.  Last year we pulled bales on the weekend of July 4th, but when we started looking around all of the bales had already been pulled out of the fields.  We found a farmer willing to deliver for $3/bale so we went with that.  Next time we’ll keep an eye out earlier in the year, or find someone to let us know when they’re ready for us to pick them up.

 Workshops Rescheduled

The primitive skills workshop was a smashing success.  I wouldn’t have believed that someone could light a friction fire on their first attempt, but several people were able to do it.  The next time someone asks for a light I’ll make sure to have a couple of sticks handy.  Ok, maybe not, but it would certainly be impressive.

The flint knapping demonstration was well done and the wood-working section was interesting.  I was especially impressed with everyone’s proficiency with an at’latl after just a few tries.  It took me quite a few  attempts my first time to get it to even move in the right direction.

We had to reschedule/cancel a couple of workshops this month.  Our June 30 natural building workshop is now on July 21, we simply didn’t have the duplex to the right stage to do what he had planned for the earthen floor.  We cancelled the trail building workshop and will just have the trail building workshop we already had scheduled for October 13.

If you’re interested in attending any of our workshops please fill out the form on our website here, or if you’re in our facebook group you can just add yourself to the event.

Garden Struggles

It’s been a tough year for the garden weather-wise.  We started with too much rain, then late frosts, then 2 months of drought, extreme temperatures, and now plagues of insects.  We started getting quite a bit of summer squash and zucchini out of the garden around the first week of June, the heat seemed to take a toll on the flowers.  We got our first ripe tomato on June 28, but tomatoes need a certain temperature range to ripen and they’ve mostly been sitting green on the vine.  We’re getting some peppers now as well, and the melons are just about to ripen.

Squash bugs have continued to be a nuisance, my new strategy involves the soap spray, which I spray on the ground around the squash, which drives the adults up and can then easily be picked off.  The juveniles just need to be sprayed.  I know we’re not getting all of them because of the number of egg clusters we continue to find, but it seems to be keeping them mostly at bay as long as we’re persistent.

On a downside we got invaded by thousands of blister beetles a couple days ago and they’ve been moving around to different parts of the garden every day.  I’ve picked off 500 or more by hand and thrown them in a bucket of soapy water.  The soapy spray doesn’t kill them, but it seems to deter them from eating that particular plant.  They disappeared altogether this evening, but I’m not convinced they’re really gone.

Another nuisance are the cucumber beetles, whose population has recently exploded.  I’m going to try some simple organic controls like spreading wood ash around, spraying them with hot peppers, garlic, and maybe making some sticky traps.


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.



The Big Chill

My name is Jesse, and I am the newest full time Maya Creek resident.

Weather Vs. Progress

The weather here has turned to Fall literally overnight. The temperatures were in the upper 90’s for most of August, then suddenlyplunged to the upper 70’s last week. Today the high was 65 and rainy. Its going to be 36 degrees tonight. The rapid change was the perfect opportunity to get some of the sweaty work out of the way.

As of yesterday we are now about 3/4 finished with the second layer of the floor. Once we finish that, we can put in the indoor shower.

In the garden, we dug up the oldest compost and piled all of its goodness on thebeds, then created a new compost pile. We are still waiting for the floor in John’s winter cabin to dry, then we can put on the finish coat and then window and door. He should stay nice and warm in there. Now Its cold and wet. We can’t do any work so, I have time to write a blog as well as catch up with friends and family. Having time is important, kill your TV.


Since the chill we stacked strawbales on the roof of my camper, and created a small wall around the bedroom for insulation. It has helped noticably, especially on the hotter days when it stays much cooler in there. I hope it will keep the heat inside this winter too.Its going to be 36 degrees tonight, it should be an excellent test to see if I will make it all winter. The camper has heat but…even if we finish the solar upgrade, I’m not sure we can supply the electric blower through the winter. What an unusual year of weather.  Since it just rained and it was cold last night, we decided to have a campfire.



We had a great visit from Caitlin for a week. She learned about earthen floors, composting, alternative energy, straw bale building, and we also attended an Organic Beekeeping workshop at the Possibility Alliance. Caitlin ended her stay as a “Master” earthen floor installer.  Thanks for all your hard work Caitlin!

As soon as Caitlin left, we welcomed 3 new visitors. Dustin, Janet and Oatie the quaker parrot. Everone helped pour more earthen floor and sift clay on their first day. The second night is looking pretty chilly.

Sustainability Fair

Come Join us at the Sustainable Living Fair in Columbia, Missouri this Sunday from 11am to 6pm. Look for the Maya Creek, Sustain Missou, and Peace Nook booths! Details and directions can be found at http://www.slfcolumbia.org/ Sponsored by Peaceworks’ Center for Sustainable Living.