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!

Today is the first day of daylight savings time for this year. This switch of the clock is a reminder to me of (hu)man’s artificial ways of relating to life and nature.
I happily am in the position of waking up with the morning light most of the time. There’s a built in response in our bodies that wakes us at daybreak if we’re exposed to the light. In my experience I’m happiest if I follow that first natural wake-up call and actually get up.
On Sundays, however, I will allow myself to stay in bed and go for another round of dreams.
When I finally got up this morning, the day was in full swing. We had planned a clothing swap for the morning where we could offer up things we no longer use to others in our village. I scored some magazines which I plan to use for a vision board exercise with my group this summer.
There’s an unspoken agreement here at play on Sundays: we claim this day as personal time or family time. Living in community teaches everyone to give space, we know that the busy summer season will soon be here when the village fills up with students, interns and visitors. So for now we enjoy the luxury of quiet times.
Having said that there’s still things to do: the Credit Union, our central composting toilet in the garden is my care responsibility this week. So I clean, refill, and replace what’s needed. Someone has installed a magazine holder for toilet reading material. A toddler’s toilet seat has also been added recently.
Mike is out in the new garden area preparing for his special potato plot- I’ll write about that when I learn more.
I hear the dog barking and go out to meet two visitors I’m expecting. These folks called to come and talk about natural houses and hoped to actually go inside one. Yes! This is where that can happen! I take them for a walk to the Healing Sanctuary, our hybrid cob and straw-bale building. I’m watching their eyes light up as they walk through the sculpted space. We discuss the differences between the materials, how the process works and when they can come and learn. We move on to spend the rest of our visiting time in the Art Studio where I live. Made of cob and light clay, this building is full of fun details. My visitors chat for a while and leave with the statement:”I want to live in a house like this”. Yes I am very blessed to live here.

As this Sunday settles into a rainy afternoon I will go back to my book “The secret teachings of plants” which also has me thinking about our very limited ways of describing nature – just like the changed clock.


window at Permalot

Window at Permalot

Daylight comes slowly, and when it rains even more so it seems. The alcove we sleep in is on the east side of the building and has two windows allowing the first morning light to enter my sleep. In the summertime the morning sun tickles our faces, the winter sun never comes over the trees to touch the morningside of the studio.

Arched cob frames kitchen windows

I get up and move into the kitchen where the skylights light up the living space. I hear the rain drumming on the glass. If all windows were gone here the place would be perfectly lit up- if the skylights disappeared it would be dark in here. Daylight (and moonlight!) comes from the sky and if we can’t see the sky through the windows because of vegetation of other structures we don’t have natural light coming in.

window in my sleeping alcove

If not for light, what are windows for? They are the eyes to the world around us: we like to see if there are clouds rolling in, like to know when visitors approach. Working near a window allows us to watch over the children playing outside. I like to be connected to others in the neighborhood just by seeing them out and about. Windows also become the beacon to go to: think of a dark night when you see the lit up windows of a house. They allow a sneak preview of the space you enter: especially in stores. A town is more interesting to walk through when stores show window displays and people sit in window niches of cafes and restaurants.

light from skylights

skylights light up the sanctuary hall


When trying to plan an energy conservative house we want to be careful with window placement and sizing. Here are a few tips:

  1. Know the site: understand and observe the sunpath and design the building accordingly for optimum daylighting
  2. Be selective and intentional about size: a window doesn’t need to be large to give view. A window that is close to the eye is like a lense. Try holding a small frame in front of you and notice the difference of area you can see by changing the distance to your eye.
  3. Learn about the different types of glazing
  4. Use Solar tubes for daylight in deeper spaces
  5. There’s not much to see low to the floor: unless you specifically receive solar gain on your floor (thermal mass floor) lift the glass area up!
  6. Light colors on the walls that are facing windows and on window reveals reflect light into your space.
  7. Light from two sides: better two small windows on different walls than one large one; this avoids glare and brings life
  8. If you’re down because the winter days are too short….go outside everyday during daylight hours. Even a few minutes make a difference.

See you out there!

eye to the world outside