why rising earth?

The title of this blog draws from my time as an apprentice at the Cob Cottage Company in costal Oregon. If you spend time with natural building folk, you'll eventually find yourself around a fire, sing silly songs about cob and natural building. Folks usually refer to these oftentimes improvised tunes as "cobsongs". I often sang..."There is a house in old coquille, they call the rising earth, it's been the work of many hands, and you know what that's worth..."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kitchen 'Crete

After months of scheming, planning, and mostly being occupied by other responsibilities at work, I've finally begun actual work on the outdoor kitchen at Oxmoor Farm. Last Friday with the help of Kitty and Adam, I poured the footing for the foundation repair.

You can see that the foundation rests on bedrock, which is limestone here in central KY. The channels and holes in the stone were created by both water and plants. Limestone is primarily calcium carbonate and is soluble in slightly acid conditions, such as groundwater. I had to root out three large honeysuckle bushes that had grown out of the foundation, and were likely the cause of it's damage. The roots twined down the channels you can see in the picture and dove down through tiny cracks in the stone, secreting organic acids which dissolve the limestone and allow the plants to absorb the minerals.

Securing the forms was a little challenging because the extra thin topsoil made it impossible to drive stakes in the ground. I had to brace the forms with the dirt I excavated, and luckily it was enough support.

The straight form boards left gaps between themselves and the bedrock which I filled with stone and packed soil outside the form to prevent concrete seepage. I also installed a drainage system towards the inside of the wall to get rid of water that may build up inside the wall.

Here are Kitty and Adam, helping with the pour while I ran the mixer.

After the concrete was placed, I let it cure for a few hours and touched it up with a steel trowel. I stuck in some rebar, roughed up the surface to adhere to the next pour, scratched the date in a section that will be exposed, and covered it with plastic and straw because the forecast called for freezing temperatures. Concrete can't be allowed to freeze for some time after it's poured, but I think it will be ok because it's in contact with the ground which hasn't frozen, the curing of concrete is an exothermic chemical reaction which creates heat, and it's covered in insulation. Stay tuned, I hope to complete the concrete work this week, if the weather get's out of the 20's! (it should be in the 40s by weeks' end)

Monday, November 15, 2010

cob oven

I haven't posted in over a year, so I suppose an update is due. I've done some building since my last posts, although I don't have pictures of much. I worked on the foundation and framing of a strawbale building in rural Kentucky, did some residential remodeling, and re-plastered the strawbale at Bonnaroo. One thing I have pictures of is the cob oven I built this summer on a farm. It's my first one and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. It functions really well, and I've enjoyed a number of great meals with elementary school students, who visit the farm on field trips. Best pizza in Louisville.

The oven is at the site of my next project, the outdoor kitchen at the Food Literacy Project, located on historic Oxmoor Farm in Louisville, Kentucky. The materials for the oven were completely free. I salvaged the lumber from an abandoned arbor. The clay and stone were taken from the site. gravel and sand were found in small piles outside a barn, covered in a few years growth of pokeweed and thistle. I used loose straw from the barn floor in the cob and dried grass in the plaster. The fire brick was taken from an earlier attempt at an earthen oven that was built a few years ago and never really worked. Metal roofing and screws were donated by home depot, along with 6 bags of quickrete, but didn't end up using it. I tamped the posts in gravel to facilitate drainage.

I am about to begin building a post and beam outdoor kitchen on an old foundation about 6 yards from the oven, I'll upload some pictures soon.