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Cobbing a root cellar

root cellar gargoyles


Cob week for the Natural Building Skillbuilders and we’ve been building a Root cellar for O.U.R.Ecovillage.
Cob is still my favorite way of building: I simply feel happy as soon as my hands get into it.
This time around we have high production energy on the site. The goal was to get these walls up by the end of Friday and it was done by lunchtime.
The cob was made up by a bobcat and the group is packing it onto the walls in tall lifts- following a technique that Gord Baird from eco-sense shared with us. This technique allowed us to finish the walls of the first room in 4 days- and that included our learning curve!
Now new terms like “Baird Cob” and “power lifts” are floating and once again we see how there’s always more to learn and try out.
We’re playing with some sculptural detail as well: gargoyles surround vent pipes, buttresses and more.

rammed earth tires


Located on a North Slope, we started with a rammed tire foundation and retaining wall against the slope. This building will be earth sheltered on the South Side, is shaded from the east and west and we’ll give it good overhangs on the exposed sides.
Once the walls are finished we plan to lay a reciprocal roof structure and build up a living roof for more protection from sun exposure.
Doors are big enough to bring a wheelbarrow in: we imagine sacks of potatoes, crates of Apples and plenty of other delicious produce from the garden to be kept here in the winter.

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Water: sweet and salty

November 13

It only took a couple of days for our seeds to sprout . I planted some cowpeas earlier this week and now they are up and growing on the “fence”. The Mchicha greens also show and now I’m watching for the Zucchini.
It’s the presence of water that creates the magic of course. We use a lot of it at the Shamba:

  • Everything that’s planted needs to be watered daily.
  • The animals need drinking water
  • The builders use it for making bricks and mortar.
  • The kitchen needs water for cooking and washing.
  • People need water for washing.
  • We wash our clothes.
  • And the neighbors come to get water from us.
shower platform in banana circle

Part of what we’re trying to do is get more use out of the water by setting up greywater systems from every building so that used water from sinks and showers gets distributed for irrigation.
Our “Banana Shower”is the first step. We all enjoy the beautiful set up in the middle of the garden and the plants will love it too.

building the shower

The kitchen building will be sending its waste water to the garden as well. I am looking  for a simple solution for distribution of water without small parts (as we use in drip irrigation). Send me ideas! I look forward to having the books from Oasis Design to help us make decisions. Thank you Art!

Back in the garden: we are now preparing beds for more planting: layering seaweed and manure under mulch, and letting this sit for while before we plant.
Gabriel split a cluster of lemongrass and now we have several new starts which will provide us with lovely flavored tea. It’s pretty exciting to be part of all this!

The design for the kitchen is finalized and we will break ground on Monday- first by digging up a banana cluster and transplanting it.
The building will have a core storage room, a dishwashing area, cooking area, watchman’s station, shower, and upstairs a sleeping place for one of the staff. It will be located at the entrance to the “compound” with a fence connecting to it in the future.

the building site before starting

Making the trip to Bagamoyo town is not a big deal- the hardest part is making up my mind!
Today we all went in for a birthday pool party at the Millennium resort. A great excuse to lay on a lounge chair and read a book while the children were playing in the water with the current volunteers from Baobab. I slipped away for a dip in the ocean: it was warmer than the pool, salty and pretty choppy water. Yes its the Indian Ocean- you gotta love it.
Good timing for a day in town: this morning we found that we had no water at the site- and there’s that topic again….

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good rhythm


Giving people the space to learn and practice hands on skills is one of the central things at our village.
Last week interns were engaged in many tasks- and as leader of the building program I don’t get to fully observe what the garden team is up to. However, there they were on a sunny afternoon cutting the tall grass on a hillside with scythes.
There’s something about the rhythmic swinging movement that has an old fashioned appeal to me. It takes a while to find that rhythm, and once established the effort becomes easier. I tried and have to admit that I’ll need a lot more practice!

Meanwhile the Natural Building Skillbuilders were working on the Bathhouse: after laying most of the stone foundation the previous week we put in plumbing pipes and floors- or floor bases. The little building is set on a slope and we are stepping the floor levels to match that. This way our composting toilet will be accessed from a lower path on the West side, the shower and washing space has its own doorway from the East. The south wall will include some solar hot water system. Stay tuned for more on that.

Finally on Saturday a Wedding: We celebrated with our friends and danced until late last night to the tunes of the Ecclestons. Some good rhythms there for all to play!

 

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New Ground

The chickens have been covering new ground lately. Their fence was opened and suddenly their range has multiplied in size- namely into the new garden area. Without hesitation they went for the farthest reaches and scratched away happily.
There’s still machine work going on: areas of ground are being leveled so that we can install irrigation systems. A new pond has been dug and still requires finishing. And a central driving lane is part of the plan also: occasionally it’s important to be able to bring in a larger vehicle to offload compost, manure or other supplies.
Well the machine work means just more grub to the chickens. They closely follow the scoop and every time a bit of earth is scratched by this big tool, they’re there picking up the bounty.
The ground in our area is full of rocks- about the size of potatoes. (Just north of here is the rural community by the name of “Cobble Hill”) On top just a very thin layer of topsoil with some grass. So the first order of action is soil building. In a presentation I heard this weekend I learned that our top soil is being depleted at a frightening rate- much faster than it can be built up or recovered.
Of course without soil there’s no growth, without growth no product- or produce- or FOOD!
What does it take to build soil? Lots of compost, management of erosion, composting toilets, cover crops, crop rotation and probably a few more strategies. Remember I’m not a gardener!
Somewhere along my learning path I have heard about potatoes as first crop in a garden. So I was not surprised to see ground being prepared for potatoes here. Mike, a volunteer from Ireland, has taken it upon himself to plant an area with a method that he learned at home. So today, on this Equinox Sunday, I joined him in the field to see what he was doing. Its a simple strategy: Lay out the line with a string, cut a line with the spade and then dig once to one side turning over the grass and once more to the other side , thus creating between the dug trenches a bed of turned soil on top of the grass layer. This is where the potatoes will be planted- but that’s part of the next installation of this blog. Back to today: I showed up ready with my own spade and stepped on the edge- and hit a rock! And that is how it is here- digging is a struggle of wedging your shovel in between rocks, sometimes hand picking . Slow, hard work. Of course -you might have guessed- the chickens are right there at the end of the spade each time it turns a bit of soil: ready to find some yummy grub. Earthwork can be done in different ways- by spade and pick or by machinery. While I acknowledge that the spade is the more gentle way for the land, I do believe that a machine can become the extension of our arms and with its power move so much more soil in a day that then frees up the gardener to get on with the other tasks: composting, preparing beds and planting seeds.
On this First Sunday in the Spring of 2010 the air has that sweet smell of flowers, the song of birds and the nights now echo with the calling of the frogs. Blessings of the season to all!