Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cob house update

November 26

Update on Cob House

Save the Cerrado, a permaculture blog, started publishing three years ago, in August, 2012. If this is your first time visiting this blog please check back  from the beginning (check postings in right column) to understand our approach to permaculture and to see the photos that  document our progress so far.                           

We’re getting ready to receive our first long term guest, Grace, who responded to the invitation we put here on this blog in May. Her arrival in mid-December has been a great incentive to speed up the work on the cob house where she will be living. You can see in the photos below that we’ve made a lot of progress since we got back from the States in early October.

           October 20 – Expecting rain; the cob needs to be protected.

    November 8 – That’s better. Let’s hope the tarps can withstand the winds. 
                                          Walls are up several feet.

Second bedroom and bathroom.

Row of glass bottles to let some light into the bathroom.

Outside view of the bottles.

November 25 – Walls have reached full height. We had a fierce storm last night with lots of wind. and rain. The tarps held fast and the house remained dry. 

Guy has set the window frame in place. It still needs to be tied into the cob wall.

We tested a patch of plaster for the first coat: earth, sand and finely chopped grass straw.

The first bedroom begins to look inviting. By December 5 the second window frame as well as the door frame should be in place for the carpenter who will install the windows and door.

The second bedroom is coming along too. The floors still need to be finished and ceilings will be added soon, but the tarp covering should stay in place until we're ready to put in a permanent roof.

Meanwhile farm life goes on:

Lolita monitors all comings and goings.

An older Rhode Island Red joined our flock, and NoName hatched a healthy flock of chicks.

Nina and Polly and five-month-old Nellie are doing well. We're milking only Nina.

Here Nina and Daisy share their food with bees.  

November 29 - Today we're in Brasilia to participate in the Global Climate Change March, which had already seen large demonstrations in the Philippines, Japan, Paris and elsewhere. 

    Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Back on the farm

October 16

Wild cashews, ripe when we returned from the States in early October

Back on the farm, work on the  cob house continues apace. The next step is to build a large temporary roof that will cover the three rooms we’re working on so that building can continue as the rainy season starts up. So far, since we arrived from the States, we’ve had only one rain, a storm with wind, lightning and thunder and copious water. Guy hadn’t uncovered the cob construction yet, so damage was minimal. But our large blue tarps allowed water to collect in big pockets and some water also got in on the floor, a danger to the base of the cob walls. So this coming week a wood frame will go up with cross beams to support the tarps, which are still the least expensive way to cover the area for now. Not attractive but functional.

Daisy, our second goat born on the farm
Two days before we arrived from our trip, Nina the mama goat, gave birth to her tiny black and white kid, whom we’ve named Daisy. Mother and daughter are well. Three days later we started milking Nina. One of her teats was overly full – I don’t think Daisy had nursed on that side at all. 

Often goats have two kids at a time but both Polly and Nina only had one, their first pregnancies, and I noticed that both kids developed a preference for one teat. Nina’s milk for the first three days tasted strong and unpleasant, probably some colostrum at first.

Nina's newborn, Daisy, nurses inside the shed. Nellie nibbles the plastic container while Polly watches Guy.

        We’ve also restarted milking Polly, after five weeks when only her kid Nellie, nursed the milk. We’re getting two to three cups of milk each morning, enough for our needs. Soon we’ll start experimenting with yogurt and cheese. And we can’t wait to try the milk pump I bought in the States from UdderlyEZ.

Another farm mama welcomed us with eight tiny chicks. Henny-Penny is the  hen given to us by friends back in June with nine chicks that have turned into six little roosters and three small hens. The hens should start laying eggs at 22 weeks, or the second week in November.

The cockerels have to go, butchered, sold or exchanged for hens, leaving one to rule the flock if we decide to keep one. The hens will continue to lay eggs without a cock but the eggs will be infertile, which means we’d have to bring in fertilized eggs from elsewhere if we want to let the hens hatch a brood when they go broody.

Right now we have another hen, NoName, who was given to us by a neighbor, who went broody back in August. Thinking the seven eggs she’d layed weren’t fertilized – our cockerels were just eight weeks old – we tried to break her out of the broodiness. It turns out she remained broody the whole time we were gone and insisted on sitting on two old eggs I’d left in the nest to encourage any layers. Now I’ve acquired ten eggs from a neighbor, mostly Rhode Island Reds, and by November 4 we should have a new batch of chicks. All this population explosion disturbs Guy who thought we were aiming for four to six hens. I guess I like the whole chicken yard scene, with little chicks and a rooster to announce the morning.

"How many chickens do we need just to get a few eggs? This is population explosion."

Now that we're back we reflect: How does flying, with its heavy carbon footprint, fit in with our permaculture lifestyle? Ideally, it doesn’t. But permaculture as I understand it is not dogmatic. It makes room for the reality of the world around us. Seeing family and friends in the States is important to us and the five weeks we spent in Massachusetts, the Lehigh Valley, and Silver Spring, MD, were invaluable. On Labor Day Weekend we watched our grandsons play four or five soccer games near Needham, MA. 

Grandson Luke, number 24, watches the ball intently.

Guy, grandson Isaiah, and my son Zeke walk back to the car.
Zeke, Luke and Isaiah.
In the Lehigh Valley we saw some of Guy's relatives and many dear friends. We went to a LEPOCO celebration and dance, and stayed in the homes of two women who plan on visiting us on the farm soon, Jaqi and Grace. In Silver Spring we visited my daughter Sofia who just moved back to the States. While she was living in Brasilia in 2013 and 2014 Sofia was a constant companion to us on the farm and participated in most of our permaculture projects. It was a delight to see her. 

I've been scanning old photos each time I go to the States and I'll share three of them with you:

Our farm is situated in the part of the world where this photo taken, in the Central Highlands of Brazil,
when I was 11, with my sister and brothers. (I'm the child at the left)

My first efforts at farming.
My brother, George, with a neighbor's goat in Ohio.
                                         Check back soon for an update on the cob house.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Closure of sorts

August 31, 2015

View from our bedroom window

Away from the farm

On Monday we fly to the States for a five week visit. Guy was there last October but I haven’t left Brazil since July 2013, a long time for me, the erstwhile traveler. I look forward to seeing family and friends - perhaps you who are reading this post.

A June photo of Sofia with Polly, the goat, and Lolita.

Leaving a small homestead with chickens and goats, a beloved dog, trees and other plants that need attention requires a tough examination of one’s priorities. The unending demands that preclude the family’s absence rank high among the hardships of the working farmer. A co-housing or other cooperative situation, where two or more households live within shouting distance and can fill in for each other, would help solve this dilemma.

Our nine chickens spend the night in this enclosure.

They're out and about during the day - free range for the time being.
Polly and Nina.

At 7 weeks Nellie love to explore her world and thinks
the new feed box was just made for her.

We do have neighbors, half a mile from us, who will help out by feeding the animals twice a day and watering the plants once a week, as well as keeping an eye on the place, but things will be unattended for long hours including every night. I worry but we trust the neighbors and, on the other hand, we’re not dependent on the plants and animals for our livelihood. If accidents happen while we’re away they might have happened even with us here – like the ants stripping our trees.

Nina doesn't show very much yet so she may not have her kid(s) until late September or early October. 
Nina, our pregnant goat, may give birth while we’re away. Fortunately goats are very self-sufficient, accostumed as a species to live in wandering herds. When Polly gave birth to Nellie all we had to do was clean up after her. In the wild she would have wandered on leaving the after-birth behind.  Our neighbors more knowledgeable about farm life than we are so Nina and her kid(s) will be in good hands.

Guy and Marli, the neighbor who saved the day for us
when I had to stop working.

The first bedroom is full height.
The second bedroom and bathroom have started going up.

The rainy season should only get serious in November or December, so when we return work on the cob house will continue. With a roof on the first bedroom we’ll be able do inside work in preparation for visitors we hope to accommodate later in the year. If we’re lucky two rooms and the bathroom will be useable – safe, dry and comfortable. 

Guy dreamed up this covering at night while he worried about the rain.

All the cob covered up while we're away.

The arched bamboo will keep the rain from pooling or collapsing the cover.
A porthole in our new cob bedroom.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cob house update

August 13, 2015

First bottle in the wall

Here’s the good news: the walls to the room we’ve been building now reach almost six feet, with spaces for a door, and two windows for which we have the frames ready to be mounted. The rounded walls remind us of a castle and feel like they’ll last forever. The foundation for the second bedroom and the bathroom await their first layer of cob, and the foundation for the rest of the house, the livingroom/kitchen area, has been built up to six inches or so and we can enjoy its pleasing curves.

Two weeks ago - stripes of foundation stones, dry cob from many weeks ago, current wet cob.  
Guy in doorway of our castle last week.

View from second bedroom.

The bad news laps at the heels of the good: it’s already mid-August and we haven’t completed the walls of the first room. (We’re going to the States for five weeks, as of Aug 31st) We still hope to have at least one bedroom ready for guests in late October and then for a young friend who plans to live with us for a few months, arriving in December. By then the second bedroom and the bathroom should be well along.

Guy cuts out section of cob for small round window.

Window frames ready to be mounted.
Why, you might ask, and we ask ourselves at times, put so much effort into a cob house, risking disappointment and failure, when construction stores line  the streets in town with mountains of bricks and hills of cement bags?

It’s not just the cool factor though I admit to that motivation among others. Nor is it sheer stubborness in face of the difficulties. So? Permaculture, my friends, and the idealism that holds fast and true since the sixites when The Whole Earth Catalogue showed the way for the back-to-the-earth movement, and feminism painted the picture of women and men working together to create a more people-friendly society, and the doors of perception opened on the grand view of alternatives to a punishing, greedy, individualistic work ethic …  Ooops, am I waxing too grandiose? losing my audience? I’m sure you get the picture.

Recpitulating, for myself as well as my dear reader, we’re here to do our tiny bit in generating a sustainable society where, if human life hasn’t gone extinct, our great-grandchildren around the world will be able to build their own shelters, grow their own food, and live a decent and just life. Cobbing is part of this effort: building with the soil from our own property, avoiding as much as possible the environmental costs of industrial products as well as rediscovering the age-old techniques of building with what’s at hand and fits with the local habitat.

A couple of updates: Sofia, my daughter, has returned to live in the States for the time being.

Sofia, Greta, and Lulu - last day on the farm.

Sofia and Guy - getting ready to go.
She kept us company and worked alongside us for three years, clearing the land for planting and cobbing, making vegetable beds, digging deep holes for saplings, loving our pets (Fofo and Lolita), and generally cheering us on. For the cob house she collected stones with me for the foundation, helped mix the first batch of cob, and brought friends out on several Saturdays to do some building. We already miss her and will always be grateful for her support.

Fresh goat milk - yum.
We’re milking Polly, the mama goat, every morning now. We’re up before 7, in the cold mornings, but we warm up quickly as we put ourselves and Polly through the paces. We’re consistently getting two cups of milk, which we immediately use for our coffee and for granola. Tastes great, just like cow's milk. Perhaps we’ll get up to a quart before we leave for the States. When we get back in October Nina, the pregnant goat, will have birthed her one or two kids and we’ll be back to milking. With experience under our belts we won’t have to start at two tablespoons as we did with Polly.

In the meantime we enjoy the farm views in the daytime and the stars at night.

Bougainvillea (red), mango flowers (pinkish), and quaresma (purple).