Thursday, September 13, 2012

She's got skirts!

 We had yet another successful, FUN and fruitful workbee last weekend, 
and the house now has her skirts!  

 We got far more done than we expected, since we had no idea how many people would show up.  Over 2 days the volunteer crew applied 2 coats of earth plaster on the skirting wall (on wood lath) and if you scroll down, you will see some photos of interior walls (upstairs) being worked on during the afternoon of the second day.  
WAY TO GO CREW! Thank you so much!
 We are yet again reminded of the power and beauty of community, and love that anyone, young or old, can help on a natural building project.  

Now that the house has her skirts, we are that much closer to being able to move in (sometime this winter, fingers crossed).  The skirting wall provides yet another layer or wall of insulation from the elements.  The house no longer looks like it's standing on stilts - it's connected to the earth, and now we have a really nice crawl space under the house, which will protect the plumbing from freezing, keep the main floor warmer, the root cellar cooler....all even temperatures as it should be.  And, I have a mushroom growing space within it too and time will tell if it will work or not (the glass blocks are for letting some light in).  The mushrooms I want to grow (Shiitake, Oyster, etc) in bags filled with sawdust  like temperatures between 1C and 10C and filtered light, so we shall see!  It's a good thing I'm short, but I might have to enlist the help of a gnome or elf to help...

The mushroom growing corner
Here are some photos to show off the work, the people and the fun we had!
MIXERS EXTRAORDINAIRE! The mix: 4 parts Sand (sifted), 1 part Clay (sifted), 1 part Horse Manure (fresh dried and sifted), 1/2 part Straw (chopped), water.  Mix with bare feet until it rolls out like dough.

Screening Horse Manure = Very Important Job!

 The work went so well, with so many people, that we were able to finish some interior walls as well, left over from the last Earth Plaster workshop in June.  This was a really nice surprise for us. The second coat was applied, which does not include straw.  
These guys really know how to have a good time, no matter what they're doing!

~ The list of thank yous is not short, and we are so so grateful to all who could come this time to lend a hand, to add food to the table to feed the workers, to learn, and to get dirty with us yet again!  Many repeats, so I think some of you are hooked!  Yippee, more people for the natural building revolution!  
Big and Life Long Thanks to: Jan Wilson, Angela, Odin & kids, Mariko & kids, Andrew & Regan, Marty & Ashley, Toby & Wren, Llew, Van & Eleanor, Zack, Roy, Ina & Phil, Travis, Stepha & Lynda, Robin, Josh & Gabi, Tina, Oliver & Jenine, dogs (Canyon, Shade, Morley and Blue), and Laurie for coming at the end for moral and beer support!  

To all who have helped from the beginning:
Let us know how we can return the favour! 
 love...gillian, swamp, jamie and koda

Monday, July 30, 2012

What Up...

I see from other blogs that posting regularly is the norm, though why i should start conforming to the norm now is another question! Anyhow, thought i could post a "short" one without pics to outline what we are up to these days with the house.

The most exciting (and expensive!) thing recently has been the burial of the power cable and water line to our house from the main infrastructure on the property.  Thanks to John and Cole Barten and their awesome machines, with Jonathan, Roy and Travis on the ground, we have hundreds of feet of cable and pipe carefully buried in the meadow.
At the house itself, the stairs to the root cellar are done ~ yippee! For those of you who don't know, the root cellar is under the house, our basement really, with a door right off the convenient is that! 
Jonathan and helpers are picking away when time allows at the skirting wall; the footing is almost complete, then onward to building the stem wall.  This is a must before living in the house, to keep the floors warm in the winter, cool in the summer, to help insulate and protect exposed plumbing underneath the house, and as a bonus give us more covered storage (aka hiding places for Jamie and friends!).  There will be at least 2 access doors, and i have finally convinced Jonathan to add glass blocks to one section so that i can grow edible mushrooms (namely Shitake and Oyster, hoping Reishi some day) under the house which like diffuse light and cooler temperatures. Permaculture requires that everything has at least 2 functions, so this skirting project covers that very well!
We have bought tile to lay out this week we hope, that will go under and around the Pioneer Maid cook stove, around the chimney and masonry heater.  We bought beautiful and not too expensive slate tiles, and hope they don't chip themselves away to bareness...hmm.  
In preparation for tiling, the footing pad for the chimney was leveled.
The kitchen cabinets get some attention when there's a break in the other projects.
Meanwhile outside, the WWOOFers and I are busy weeding, watering and mulching all the babies we have planted this year and in years past:  apricots from the compost pile, yellow currants, Choke cherries and Nanking cherries, Poplar (Okanese), Lilacs, and Mock Orange, all planted pretty close together to act as a living fence and windbreak....with some luck, the deer won't eat them all, and yes they do eat everything at least once to try it out.  The Lilacs are well ahead of the others - go for it! 
We also planted a few cherry trees this year, mmm cherries!  A spruce tree was given to us as a house / yard warming from friends who live in Horsefly, and i planted it fairly close to the house to act as grey water catchment, since they love water so much, being from further north or higher altitudes.
I also gave in at a market and bought a Linden tree, supposedly good luck or good Karma or some do the deer!
Oh, and a Blacklace Elderberry was planted too and is doing very well.
In the garden, we have 20 tomato plants doing superbly well, peppers, and 3 large rows of garlic, ready to be harvested this week.  

Next:  mixing and painting the interior walls and masonry heater, first doing some decorative tiling on the heater with Mexican tiles...pretty.  Tiling the bathroom shower and bath and sink areas, tiling the kitchen sink area and window sill above it.  Finishing wiring, starting on interior plumbing.  The ceiling will get insulated and covered hoping with nice birch plywood.  Then the wood floor, using sustainably harvested, tongue and groove Fir from Vancouver Island.   Doors for the pantry and root cellar too, cabinets and sink installation in the apothecary, front hall closet door and finishing, and the list goes on....sigh!  The emphasis is on finishing the first floor so we can move in and finish the second floor during the winter, sleeping in our moveable cabin if need be.  
The house looks more and more like a home every step of the way, and we are so excited, with a move in date of Winter Solstice in mind.  We shall see!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Muddy Success

Our 2nd Earth Plaster workshop was a total success!  This was actually our very first workshop on our own, meaning we took the plunge, and with the blessing of the Mud Girls, did this one on our own.  Hats off to the Mud Girls for showing us how it's done ~ we are forever grateful to you!  Their workshops are HIGHLY recommended by the way (visit

We had the pleasure of hosting 10 wonderful people from as far away as Egypt (ok, via Montreal), and from as close as Lillooet, who took time out of their busy lives to come help us plaster the interior walls (on lath), plus our cob masonry heater and cement block chimney, as well as apply natural paint on the outside of our home.  The crew learned from scratch and mastered the art of earth plastering within days.  Karim, Hanaa, Coral, Joni, Jose, Glenda, Nelson, Lauriel, Mark and Diane...we thank you again for your help, enthusiasm, sense of adventure and love of all things mud!  The weather tried to challenge us, but nonetheless, we carried on and got tons done on the house.  The food was divine and plentiful, once again, huge thanks to Stepha and Anna.  Thanks to Devora, also once again, the kids were so well cared for and they had a blast!  Thanks also to Roy and Travis for being the behind the scenes people.  And to Camilche and Osha for coming in towards the end to lend a hand.  Thanks everybody... mi casa es su casa.

Getting down and dirty

Mastering the second coat
Natural painting with yellow ochre

Even kids can do it!

Time out to play a tune or two

Jonathan demonstrating the art of mixing natural paint to an attentive crew

Plastering the cob masonry heater

Our little village

The Crew ~ dogs, kids and Pumpy Pumpy Spray Thing included!

 Though it was only 4 days together, we all left the workshop feeling like family, or like it was the last day of camp ~ we lived and learned and ate and worked and sang and danced and talked and got down in the mud together, and got along extremely well to boot! The feedback during our closing circle was overwhelmingly positive. 'Twas a beautiful and fun time for sure.

These photos can only convey a hint of the experience - but, like chocolate, one has to try it to really know what it's like...there will be more workshops, keep your eyes peeled and let us know if you'd like to be on the list!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Second Earth Plaster workshop!

                                      Come Explore the Art of Earth Plaster!
                                                    June 7th - June 10th 2012

  After our highly successful and inspiring experience last summer of hosting an Earth Plaster workshop facilitated by the Mud Girls Natural Building Collective, we are ready to dive in to doing our part to spread and promote the traditions of this ancient and noble building technology! Come experience the elegant simplicity of making and applying plaster from completely natural and easily available materials, in a four day workshop at our homestead near Lillooet, BC, where we are building a post-and-beam, straw bale house.

  Over the course of the workshop you will learn, through instruction and hands-on practice, about the materials, proportions, mixing and application of earth plaster in a variety of building applications, from interior lath-and-plaster walls, to facing a cob stove, as well as applying decorative details and earth-based pigmented colours.

  Camp out in a beautiful meadow at the foot of Vast Mountain, discover the satisfaction and power of focused, co-operative endeavors, get muddy, and learn! Free child-care provided, as well as three delicious, mostly organic vegetarian and/or vegan meals per day for a modest cost ($35 per person per day, to pay for food and cooking), and your labour in exchange for teaching and facilitation.

  Herbalist, gardener, local activist Gillian Smith, and builder/poet Jonathan, with their young son, Jamie, are a small family living in a long-standing, close-knit community of alternatively minded folks in the mountains of BC's Southern Interior (St'at'imc Territory). We are committed to the preservation and propagation of skills, arts and life-ways that provide a respectful and harmonious means of relating to this Earth that is the source of everything we are.  Jonathan will be your fearless leader, and we will endeavor to all work as a team in a cooperative, supportive and fun filled way.

  For more information about the workshop, or to register, please contact Gillian by email :,  and check out our blog : for photos and more information about our place. Registration is limited - please register by May 15th.  If you can't make it in June, we hope to have another workshop in August. 

To learn more about the Mud Girls' work, check out

Make sure you check out our previous posts to see photos of our work in progress!

Hearth Centre

The Masonry Heater ~ our hearth centre, our main source of heat.   The idea is that small, hot fires warm up the immense thermal mass, which then becomes the source of heat, as opposed to feeding a woodstove, knowing that most of the heat is going out the chimney.   

The first masonry heater we saw was in a large, 2 storey restaurant in  Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, and at -20C, between the heater and the open kitchen, (and the bodies), the place was toasty!  Masonry heaters can serve as the primary heater in a modern home of 1500 to 2000 sq. ft (140 to 185 m2), particularly when located in the middle of an open plan living space.  On each firing of 50 lbs (22 kg) of wood, a Temp-Cast 2000 fireplace can deliver up to 250,000 BTUs (73.2 kw) of radiant heat. Total heat output is controlled by the amount of fuel burned, while the rate at which heat is delivered remains relatively constant.  Some exceptions to these guidelines are noteworthy. Thermal mass construction, such as log homes, earth-sheltered homes, sod homes, and even straw-wall homes are perfectly suited to radiant masonry heaters. The structural mass retains a large portion of the heat from the fireplace and radiates it back to the occupants, allowing it to heat more area, or to be burned less often (

Not only one of the most efficient ways to burn wood to heat a building, masonry heaters are beautiful as well.  Here are some of the stages in building ours:
The Tempcast 2000 masonry heater core kit assembled.  This was shipped from Toronto, Ontario,  and though not huge in size, it was HEAVY! 

 Masonry heaters work by radiating the energy stored in their masonry mass. Heaters like the Temp-Cast 2000 are simply heat storage banks. A short, hot fire heats the masonry mass, which stores and radiates it back to the space slowly and evenly for many hours. This creates a very gentle heater, with almost imperceptible warmth. Radiant heat from a masonry heater is very similar to the radiant heat from the sun. Just as the sun warms the earth, the masonry stove heats by warming solid objects in the home, such as walls, floors, furniture and people. And like a miniature sun in the centre of your home, this radiant energy from the heater does not directly heat the air that it travels through, which has some important health benefits, detailed in Section 2 (see website).  From the first time the fireplace is fired, the heating cycle is very even, only slightly cooler in the morning than in the previous evening. This is quite unlike traditional wood heating systems, which create a very hot space around them, cool considerably during the night and then super-heat the area when re-loaded in the morning. In addition, radiant masonry heating produces an "all over" warmth, as the solid objects in the area are warmed and then re-radiate the warmth to you.(
Normally, people face their masonry heaters with brick or stone, but, having become enamoured of clay, sand and straw, we opted for cob, instead.  (Plus, we had a big pile o clay sitting outside!).  We made bricks and one by one, built it up, and around.  Here, you can see them being laid over and on cardboard, which is used as an air "layer" between the bricks and the cob.

We even made shelves with cob, you know, for the nick nacks in our life!  Important stuff!

 ... and there it stands, the heart of our home, complete with decorative shelves, sculpted from cob. Next step, build the chimney, and then apply a finishing layer of plaster, and whatever decorative touches we decide on.  (Note: the chimney is done, and we are ready to plaster it and the masonry heater during our second Earth Plaster workshop, to be held in June 2012!)


Saturday, February 11, 2012

July 2011

In July 2011, we had the rest of the plastering done, via workbee and Swamp and Travis mostly working on the gaps...see previous post "Mid Summer Workbee".

Then, the windows went in!  What a transformation!  Exciting stuff, and a little sad too, to see the separation of outside and inside become a reality...sigh.  Would love to live in a place that didn't require windows, but then again, they sure are handy when the wind blows too hard, or the mosquitos want a piece of me, or yes, when the winter comes to life, Bali.  anyway, they went in fast and relatively easy, so Swamp and Travis tell me.  In an ideal world, we would have chosen wooden framed windows, but the cost was prohibitive.  Such is life.  These will last longer, or so that is what we console ourselves with...

Mid Summer Workbee

In my humble opinion, the word Workbee should be a common household word.  I want everyone to know this word, and better still, i would love it if everyone knew it because they had participated in one (or more), either at someone's home or their own, or perhaps pulling invasive weeds in a nearby beloved park or wild place.   A workbee is where people, probably friends and neighbours, sometimes strangers who are passing through, come together and help on a project, because we all know, more hands make short work....and, they are super fun!  No money is exchanges, payment is in good karma, some sweat, learning, and if you're lucky, great food.
And so it was for the rest of the plastering of the house.  And, what a gift.  Major thanks to Angela, Odin, Sage, Cedar and Yarrow, Daniel, Camilche and Robin, Marianne and Zack, Tony, Travis and Stepha, Llew, and I know I am missing a few names, since, alas, it was a wee bit of time ago (did i say i was a regular "blogger"? no), and i am also not the greatest note taker (next time?).  Here are some visuals to enjoy: