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: