Dream Seed Farms

Monday, June 27, 2011

Earthbag Spiral House in Nagano

Here is a distilled version of the nearly 500 pictures I took of the four-day earthbag workshop held at the farm where we are studying Permaculture. While integral to many PC design principles, the time frame for building a house is beyond the scope of the PC course we are in. We still get to work on the house every class, but only for a couple hours, so that there is still time to learn about other design principals, farming, etc.

I was more than happy to take many buses on my own to go to Nagano and volunteer my labor in exchange for the priceless hands on experience of building an earthbag house. Michie and I are leaning towards this style of building for our own place, once we get the land. So, this was an awesome trial run for us, especially considering that they are basically using my spiral concept for the layout of the house.

Their roof will be much different than mine. They will actually have one!

It was great fun too to get to meet over 20 more really cool Japanese people. In everyday life here they remain buried under so much formality and duplicitous facades, but once among like-minded, inspired, engaged individuals they really tend to open up. I met some folks that I would be honored to have a long time friendship with. I think I even scored some helpers for our own projects whenever we are able to start them.

Plus, during the workshop they needed some volunteers to help prepare meals for all the hungry helpers. I pitched in and made a couple really good dishes each meal, and even surprised myself with a couple soups that were not all that shabby. I got to work with a professional macrobiotic chef and a vegan tempura and buckwheat noodle soup chef too. I think the creative juices were flowing on and off the worksite...even so far as to motivate me to create a vegan bamboo shoot gratin, now the stuff of legends. Seriously, it is legendary. I made a divine soymilk bechamel sauce, and coated a pile of roasted bamboo shoots, which our hosts received and prepared ahead of the workshop. I mixed in some welsh onions and broiled it to perfection. We ate bamboo everyday for every meal because there was so much. But, seriously, people are still talking about my gratin!!!

I digress...on to the earthbags...All of the pictures are mine except those with links to their source, taken by our PC teachers. Let's start with a slideshow our teacher put together of the whole process so far:

And now, the rest of our story...

Marking the foundation boundaries

Two lines for the price of one

Backbreaking but satisfying work...

While convenient, machines change the dynamic of a work site

We dug the foundation 60 cm deep, then began to fill it back in again

First a layer of bull rock

Then lots of pea gravel
Then lots of chipped rock and sand

Michi-kun, the carpenter, lays the first earthbags

Measure twice and tamp bags into place

The first course defines the space and makes the house seem real

Barbed wire is lain between courses for tensile and shear strength

Tamping staggered bags for a strong, uniform wall (ideally)

The first two course are filled with dry cement that will cure and complete the foundation

Back fill first two courses

Waterproof barrier, 6 mil plastic. Are there better options?

Cut and fill

Raising the central post, and glad for the machine this time

It looks like a house already

Five more courses define the space even more

End of the day with rain in the forecast

The window bucks get placed

1 meter rebar pounded into every other bag after the 8th course

Window bucks and outer stepping logs placed

Five concrete/earth mixed bags for arched lintel

The firewood just holds the barbed wire down temporarily

Done for the day. Time for some watermelon!

Everything gets more challenging the higher you go

More rebar and a bigger hammer this time around

The lower cinder blocks were for a rocket stove access panel (but minds changed)

Precision triangular tamping on concrete/earth bag arch

Almost done. I threw the keystone bag up there all by myself!

Michi-kun gets it just the way he likes it

My 'dream spiral' come to life...on our friends' farm


This was an extraordinary experience and I am so thankful to have been able to participate and learn so much. So many hopes and dreams coalesced into our being here right now at this time, to being able to study Permaculture, to having the PC group build an earthbag house, to meeting so many amazing and inspiring people in one go. Michie and I are very fortunate, and profoundly grateful!!!

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