Holistically Organized Multidisciplinary Endeavors Farm

Reflections on July, 2018

ladder, own it, home-farm, earthbag building

What to do With a Perfect Day: Own It.  July, 2018

I am standing on a ladder, one that my husband made from scrap wood.  The spacing between the rungs is not consistent, and the length of the support board is bowed, but I’ve grown to love this ladder.  I actually have such an attachment to it that I will miss it when it breaks.  Hopefully I won’t be standing on it when it goes.

So I’m standing on this ladder, with my water bucket and my cob bucket perched on top, leaned against the wall.  My hands are getting their daily organic exfoliation in the mud.  I know the curve of this wall like the back of my hand.  I’ve cobbed it before.  This is a positive story; let’s not discuss the inconvenient truth that I had to chip off the old crumbly stuff before applying this batch.  I slap the blobs onto the wall and smooth them out like a high-paid sculptor.  I’m not getting paid.  Not in cash anyway.  Today, like most days, that doesn’t bother me.

The big kid is inside doing homework.  He’s enthusiastic about his history homework because he just made the connection between the Renaissance artists and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  On his own.  Mind=Blown.  The little kids are just around the corner giggling and splashing in the rain-catch pond.  They are far enough away that they can’t demand my attention.  Instead, I hear the sweet rhythms of bluegrass on the speaker.  I am so grateful that we have that speaker.  And Spotify.  And that on this particular day, my Daily Mix is the perfect combination of bluegrass, jam-band, and instrument-driven electronic music.  Not dubstep; not today.  Today we have the uplifting sounds of real instrumentation backed by some electronic beats and vibes.

Some days I feel like we’re pecking away at an elaborate fort.  A fortress of dirt that will take even more years to complete.  Not today.  Today I am loving the life we’re living.  I am fully appreciating and sitting with the feeling that this is happiness.  We’re living our dream.  The house is nearing completion and we still have the energy to keep pushing.  We have this land.  We have this house.  Our future.  Each other.  I have taken no drugs today, except my usual 2 cups of joe this morning, but I am high as a kite.  I have chills listening to that old Phish song that sounds like, “wash your face and drive me to the land’s end.”

At times like these, I often get the absurd feeling that something bad must be around the corner.  Not today.  Anxiety and worry will not take this feeling from me.  I own it.

ladder, own it, home-farm, earthbag building
Perfect Day? Own it!

Building Progress

We’ve made some great strides here at the homestead, folks.  The utility/water closet is coming along nicely.  Aaron reconfigured the water module for efficiency and accessibility.  He purchased 3 whole house water filters and installed those in the line.  In redesigning the system, we had to chip out some old anchors from the wall, re-cob, sand, and repaint.  The electric sander is fast and easy, but excessively dusty.

sanding utility closet, dusty, earthbag building, perfect day
“Daddy, you look like a thief in the night!”

 

home-farm, WOM, house filter, water closet, off-grid water, rain-water
WOM: Water Operating Module

I have been pretty steadily getting 1 batch of cob up on the exterior every day.  I kept coming to a recurring problem outside in the back.  My bluetooth solar powered speaker along with Spotify is a must for making and applying cob.  I just have to have music.  But where to set the darn thing where the baby can’t reach it?  And, depending on the time of day; the baby consistently spills my coffee, my water, or my beer.  So, cob to the rescue!  In a matter of days (it could have been done in one, but I have to make 3 meals a day, among other priorities) I built out and extruded this little shelf.  It’s not finished, and it might not even stay there long term.  But for now, my music and drinks are safe.

music speaker, shelf made of cob, home-farm, earthbag building, cob shelf
Music is safe from baby

While the shelf is doing its job, I’ve been doing mine around this west door.  This is the door to our bedroom, but it’s also the one closest to the parking area, so it’s kind of like the front door that everyone uses when they visit.  We wanted to give it a big, bold entry border.  We tossed around some ideas.  One involved a thin border at the top, increasing ever wider at the bottom.  I made a smallish one first and Aaron said, “make it bigger.”  I made it wider and Aaron said, “I think it should be bigger.”  So I added more.  And more.  “Make it bigger,” he said.  And what do you know, it’s turning into the first design I came up with.  I think I’ll divide it into 2 planes, and use 2 shades of earthen paint to make it pop.

cob doorway, earthbag build oklahoma, home-farm
Agreeing on the entranceway design

Off-Grid Water Purification

I think I mentioned in last month’s blog that Aaron had been reading up on sand bed filters.  Well, while he was working in the utility/water closet, he began bringing to life this next big step to self-sufficiency.  He procured two 55-gallon drums and set them up on a stand that he built.  Black iron is quickly becoming our favorite heavy-duty building material, after earthen cob of course.  He used it to build the pan rack that hangs above the stove, as well as the bars that hold the water pressure tank up in the corner of the closet.  The barrels need to be up off the ground to accommodate the barrel buried in the floor.  If you’ll remember, that in-ground barrel holds fifty-five gallons of water in the event the pipes freeze.

sand, home-farm, sand-bed filter
Choosing sand for the slow sand bed filter

He bought several types of sand to try, from left to right: Aqua Quartz filter sand, Ash Grove play sand, and Quikcrete play sand.  The Quartz was the most uniform, but also the largest.  Ash Grove was the medium grade and not as uniform as the quartz, and the Quikcrete was not uniform and so tiny that it was almost dusty.  Did you know that these bags of play sand have warnings that they shouldn’t be played with indoors because of the risk of silica-induced lung problems?  Basically, you shouldn’t breathe it in, but it makes a great habitat for microbes that filter water.

He ended up using 4″ of pea gravel on the bottom, then 19″ of the Ash Grove play sand and 6 very well washed  inches of the Quikcrete play sand.

So what is a slow sand bed filter? How does it work?  It’s a biological, physical and chemical water filter.  Source water goes in at the top. As it descends through the sand, organic particles and organisms are caught within the sand matrix.  Aerobic microbes that live in the top layer of sand “polish” the water by consuming the contaminates.  The byproducts are adsorbed onto the surface of the substrate.  Before exiting through the bottom of the barrel the water passes through a zone hosting anaerobic microbes which further contaminate reduction.

Did you notice the part about the “byproducts are adsorbed onto the surface of the substrate” part?  That’s what we we’re thinking about while trying to choose the right sand.  Maximum surface area and adequate flow.  Aaron thinks we’ve got it right.  Our sand bed filter has a re-circulation system.  One 55 gallon barrel is the filter, one 55 gallon barrel is the filtered water reservoir and one old square 12 gallon dog food box is the re-circuation tank.  For now it’s a manual.  Soon it’ll be an automatic, pumps in the mail.  It cycles 40-50 gallons a day.  We normally use 5-10 gallons of potable water a day.  So, if we’re only using roughly 15% a day we should have a large buffer and lots of opportunity for re-polishing.

Passionate about all his projects, my dear partner is especially invested in this one because of its power to free us from dependance on outside sources. Have you ever seen the movie Castaway, with Tom Hanks?  Remember the scene where he starts the fire and he’s jumping around yelling he’s so happy?  This is that feeling but with water.     While we so appreciate our 3-jug water system, we will love fresh potable on-site water even more.  We’ve joked that Daddy is in his man-cave, listening to the water drip through the sand.

man-cave, home-farm, utility closet, earthbag home, sand-bed filter, black iron stand, 55 gallon drums, perfect day
Resting in Man-cave after leaping around yelling FIRE! Drip, drip, drip

Electricity

When he’s not in the man-cave, he’s been up on the ladder, working on the electrical system of our house.  First he installed two tiny DC fans, which push a surprising amount of air around . One is located above the lounging spot; ie the couch and the other is above the bed.  Next he cut into several places in the wall with the drill and a hole-saw bit, cutting a groove into the finished cob, plaster, and paint.  It is actually easier to do it this way than to place the electrical line on the wall and cob over it, due to the uneven nature of earthbag walls.  After he places the line in the groove, I secure it with cob, we allow it to dry, he sands it, and repaints.

earthbab building, hat rack, home-farm, perfect day
How to wire electricity without conduit in earthbag walls

 

cob, wiring, electrical, earthbag building
Cobbed in and sanded. Ready for repair paint.

We’re working on some DIY light fixtures, but I don’t want to discuss them until I can show step-by-step pictures, so that’ll come next month.  (Hint: made from a favorite material). We also placed outlets and light-switches and had fun discussing and choosing outlet covers.

Hot Water

Now, for an exciting break-through in the comfort of living.  We have hot water!!  Aaron installed the “dumb” hot water heater.  It is dumb because it lacks any bells or whistles and has a basic thermometer and heating elements.  It’s hooked to a disconnect, the disconnect goes through a breaker, and the breaker goes straight to an element on the water heater.  It was going through some thermostats, but those got fried pretty fast.  We’ll replace those soon and use them in series with a 120 volt AC contactor.  The contactor connects the 240 volts DC with the heating elements.  For now, we just flip the breaker on for about 30 to 40 minutes a day, and we have hot water!

bath tub, babies, earthbag build, hot water heater, home-farm
We have hot water!!

We have all taken our first baths in our giant porcelain bathtub!  We lack a shower curtain, but it’s on the list, and the shower works!  Previously, we had to bathe with methods familiar to someone from the wild west, or head to the in-laws to clean up.  Such an advancement.  Such a sigh of relief.

Other Tidbits from July

Our mama cat had kittens, despite ever seeing any cats within 2 miles of our house.  As soon as they’re weaned, she’s heading to the vet for a spay.  Remember to spay and neuter your pets, folks.

kittens, home-farm
Cody cat had kittens

This Fourth of July, we did our usual trip to the nearby small town to watch the fireworks.  But this year I brought my DSLR camera and captured some pretty sweet pics with manual settings.

fireworks, dslr
Fireworks 2018

We also tried manual settings and my new tripod for playing with sparklers and little backyard fireworks. This is one of those little side hobbies that I wish I had more time for.

sparklers 2018
Manual settings and a tripod make fun photos

Family Reading Log for July, 2018

Kyias (16 months): Board books.  All of them.  One page each.  All over the floor.

Mason (4 yo): We finished up our bedtime reading of The BFG.  Mason thought all the scrumdidilyumptious language was hilarious.  Then, we read George’s Marvelous Medicine, by the same author, Roald Dahl.  Special thanks to our old trailer park neighbor friend, MJ, for donating those Dahl books to our library.  We miss you!  And currently, we’re reading the original Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  Wow!  It’s so different, maybe even better than the film I grew up with.  He’s also getting his rich literature life through podcasts like Little Stories for Tiny People.

Julius (turned 12 this month): I went around the house and collected all the books he’d read this month and put them in a pile.  I don’t think he realized how much reading he’d done until he saw the stack.

stack of books, 12 yo
This boy can read

Aaron (35): Unwind and Unbound by Neil Shusterman.  He raved about these books to more than 3 people while reading them.  Sci-Fi future dystopian novels where the norm is to reuse body parts.  Lots of deep dives into social justice, abortion, and human nature.  Great books.  He also read The Magician’s Apprentice by Tom McGowan, and Double Helix by Nancy Werlin.

Yours Truly (30-something): I finally got through a book!  Yay!  Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt was a re-read as part of my 2018 Reading Challenge.  I love his stories about being in the classroom with all those emotional high school kids.  He really know how to put you right there in the classroom with him.  I could smell the chalk dust and the bustling city of New York outside the window.  Great writer.

In addition, and because I haven’t been able to actually sit down with a book, but crave information and stories, I’ve been binging these podcasts lately:

A Worldview Apart with Eric Garza: New one for me about all things natural, human, and real.

Hidden Brain (NPR): I especially want to recommend the episode “When Everything Clicks,” about how we learn.  Really interesting!

Sage Family Podcast: All about gentle parenting, values, and becoming your best self.

Stuff You Should Know: I particularly liked the episode on Frida Kahlo, and “When Words Take on New Meanings.”

Looking Ahead

We are expecting a very important shipment to come in August that will upgrade our quality of life even further!  Stay tuned.

You can subscribe over there in the right hand sidebar to receive these monthly blog posts in your e-mail. You can also follow us on Facebook at Earthbag Build Oklahoma and find us on Instagram @earthbagbuildoklahoma.

 

 

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Hey.  I’m Alison; author, artist, and off-grid homeschooling mama of three.  I love painting, exploring the outdoors, and a hoppy IPA.  My partner and I work together to bring this website and blog to you.  We hope you enjoy!