Monday, December 1, 2014

Cob House Update

November 2014 - Cob House Update 

My last post on the cob house was early in August, when we were still working on the foundation. Since then we've raised the inner walls up to the level of the outer stem walls (the part of the stone wall that rises above the ground), and have started to create the space for the door. However when it started raining in early November we found that we've had no dry periods long enough to lay down more cob. So the site is covered and we will probably have to wait until the end of the rainy season sometime in late March or April to make more cob. In the meantime we plan to gather more stones and build the foundation and stem walls for the second bedroom and the bathroom.

This is where we were at the end of July.

We still had to gather a lot of rocks, along the roadsides and creek beds. We'd traded our 1996 Peugeot in for a 2008 Fiat Uno - less trunk space but enough to carry a good load of rocks.

My son Victor helped out one Sunday afternoon, but he was disappointed that the rocks were so small.

Our neighbors - three generations - helped out with their pickup truck and a lot of good energy.

 Now we had a lot of rocks to choose from.
The stem walls started going up.

We used a mortar of earth and lime to hold the stones.
For first time stone builders we feel pretty good about our results.
Sofia and Kimberly prepare the first cob.

Now it's time to mix another batch. Kimberly brought the earth up from the pit, and Lisa, wielding the machete, cut the straw that gets mixed into the cob.

The other inside wall.

It was wonderful to have Sofia, Lisa and Kimberly help us get the cob walls started. Their energy and enthusiasm gave us a big boost. After they left Guy and I carried on.

We were blessed with the visit of a woofer (world wide organic farm volunteer), Hale from Turkey, who spent a week with us in September. Sofia and my granddaughter joined in on the weekend to make a cob.

Detail of the wall where the cob gets laid on the stem wall at the joint with the 
wall of the next room. Pieces of straw will help bind one wall to the other. 

We had to stop shortly after we reached this point, because of the heavy rains and high humidity. The space where the board lies is the opening for the door. 

And here you can see the outline of the second bedroom. We plan to work on the foundation and stem wall for this room and the joining bathroom while we await the rains to diminish some time in March or April.

Hopefully these photos give you a good idea of the simplicity of cob construction. It's work but something that everyone, old and young, can do, requiring very little in the way of tools and gadgets. Granted, when the walls get higher it will complicate matters, and we'll show you how we do it as we go along. Setting in the door and windows, laying the floor, and finishing the walls - all this lies ahead. So keep checking - it's a real adventure.

Construction inspector, Mr. Fofo, on the job.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day

                                                  Be sure to check the update on our cob house in a new post this weekend.

Thanksgiving Day 2014

View from our house - November 2014
We're thankful today for the privilege of living on this peaceful and abundant land, and the opportunity to work on projects that are meaningful to us and will hopefully add a few drops to the bucket of inspired efforts around the planet to build a more sustainable world. The Cerrado (Central Brazil) is indeed a special and beautiful place, threatened by big agribusiness including cattle, and soy, corn, and other monocultures. Our project is to develop a small (one acre) piece of farmland into a permaculture homestead. If this is the first time you're reading this blog I invite you to go back and at least skim the entries since August 2012.

We’ve been living on this little parcel of land for over two years now – the builders completed our house and we moved in at the end of October 2012.

Our house with a jaboticaba tree in the foreground and a large mango tree to the left side.

When we arrived here there were already five mature mango trees, as well as two jaboticabeiras and a lemon tree that I’ve pruned back to health after years of abuse by the cattle that pastured here. We’ve planted about fifteen fruit trees that have established themselves successfully, and another ten or so that are coming along fairly well. We also have a grape vine, a passion fruit vine, two neem trees, two bougainvilleas and a bamboo plant that are doing well. Two little coffee trees will produce their first small harvest this year.

One of two coffee trees we panted last year.
They're producing their first coffee beans.


Our pets

Lolita joined us this September and had become best friends with Fofo. Both Guy and I enjoy our furry friends who give us affection and hours of entertainment. They each have a job to perform: Fofo keeps the place free of mice and rats, and Lolita warns us when anything strange makes an appearance. She’s still figuring things out – she barks at rain and shadows, and beetles and moths. And she’ll bark loudly when a person or animal approaches while at the same time she scampers to safety on the porch.
We’re hoping to put in some chickens soon but we have to figure out how to keep them safe as well as protecting our young vegetables from them. 

Lolita, who came to us as a puppy in September.

Fofo, who showed up on our doorstep in March.

Our biggest job this year has been the new cob construction we undertook as of May. The last two posts (June and August) show the planning phase, the clay model, the trial bench, and the beginning of the foundation. In a day or two I'll post an update of the cob house, but today I want to express our gratitude for those who helped us make cob and build the walls: Sofia, Kimberly, Lisa and Hale. Also, Victor who helped collect rocks, and both Enriques - son and father - who helped with the design.

Thanks for your visit. Please leave a comment if you have one, and tell others about this blog. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Finishing the cob bench

August 14, 2014 - Backtracking a couple of months

 The cob bench served as an experiment for us first-time cob-makers. It's about as thick as the walls we plan to make for our house, which is now in progress. This post is mainly a photo gallery as I go through the steps of plastering the bench, to protect it frm the elements and make it prettier.

Gathering subsoil from an area of our property that will eventually be a fish pond.
Sofia and Guy sift sand to add to the soil/sand/straw plastering
mixture. The sand is left over from the construction of our first house

Sofia mixes the cob.
Water to wet down the bench that has dried out completely, and scraping
to prepare the surface for the new cob plaster to adhere.
Testing the plaster mix by flinging it from a few feet - if it sticks it's good.
Guy and Greta start applying the plaster.
Sofia and Greta pat on the plaster.

It's a sensual earthy experience.
Guy and Sofia adding final layer of plaster.

Smoothing it down. We added a significant amount of fresh cow dung to the final
mixture for increased strength and added impermeability.

Here it is! It had to dry for a few days. It's as solid as we hoped and we feel confident 
about the walls we'll be making for our cob house.

My son from the States and his son (Zeke and Luke) came to Brazil for the World Cup in June and early July. Along with my daughter, Sofia, and other son, his wife and their daughter (Victor, Ana Claudia and Camila), they spent a lot of time on the farm where we watched most of the games together.

Family gathered on porch of farm house.
My grandchildren enjoying the bench.
And where was Fofo during all this? Just hanging out, paying attention.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Working on the Cob House

July and August 2014 

Traditional earth dwellings of the Pueblo Indians, Taos, NM
Vernacular buildings record lifestyles of the past, when people had to find a sustainable way of life or perish. Just as we will have to now. The new importance of vernacular building is that it has vital ecological lessons for today.  Building with Cob: A Step-by-Step Guide, David Pearson, Earth & Spirit  Weismann, Adam; Bryce, Katy (2006-02-01). 


Would you like to spend a few months in Brazil this year? We’re looking for one or two people to live with us for a while and work alongside us on a variety of projects - permaculture, gardening, bio-construction, advanced composting, and working with bamboo. We offer room and board in exchange for a few hours of work a day. You pay your own round trip fare to Brasilia, we pick you up at the airport, show you around, assist you with practical matters, help you learn Portuguese if you wish. If you’d like to know more, please email me at    

Bit by bit we’ve been building the foundation for our cob house. Guy dug the trenches and lined them with gravel, placing rounded tiles along the bottom of the trenches to provide a conduit for rainwater to drain. However when he tamped down the gravel it appears that the tiles broke. We believe it won’t be a problem here since the earth drains well, but we do plan to make a second ditch about a meter above the house to draw excess water away.

The trench digger

Fofo inspects the trench

Since we’re trying to build as much as we can with local materials that can be had for the taking, we’ve been collecting rocks along roads and streams within a 3-mile range.

White rocks along a sandy road, at 4000 ft altitude.
Sparkling creek and smooth well shaped rocks.

Building those muscles.

The rock pile grows.

Building with rocks is new to both of us and we’re learning as we go along.

The first puzzle-like layer.

Greta's second layer

Guy's second layer.

Mixing the sand/lime mortar.