Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cobbing Fridays!!

For 3 Fridays in a row, Old Chimney Farm hosted "Cobbing Fridays," a collection of people gathered together to build out of the earth. Together, they built a cob bench that was built in a beautiful spot within the future food forest that will soon surround it.

What is cob? Cob is a mixture of sand, straw and clay rich soil. This material is readily available in the ground beneath our feet. It can be used to build cob benches, ovens,even houses! It can survive a fire and withstand earthquakes. It is the building material most widely used throughout the world. It has a low embodied energy, a truly "green" building material.

We built the bench foundation dry stacked with a mix of stone and brick/gravel infill. All of the material was just lying around the property. Sometimes you just have to make a few before you start to get it right, so if you don't know how to build a foundation, I encourage you to just give it a try. You'll get it. Just stagger the joints and when you hear a clunk instead of a clank, you'll know that was the right rock.

We mixed the cob at a ration of 2 parts clay soil to 1 part sand. We figured out this ratio by making a few test batches and checking for things such as cracking, brittleness, etc. A few of us worked as teams taking the batch of clay and sand and first mixing it on a tarp dry. After it was mixed we'd add water and do the cob dance, jumping around in the mud with our bare feet mixing the water into the material. After that was throughly mixed we added straw. We added as much as the mix could hold.

Now we have ourselves a good cob mix. Moist and plyable, ready to put onto the bench. We proceeded to build the bench with batch after batch of cob, kneading each new layer into the layer beneath with our thumbs. The kneading is very important because that is what gives the cob it's strength, the fact that it is one solid piece of earth. This goes on until you get the desired shape,leaving the bench rough and ready for a plaster.

We mixed plaster with a mix of sand, straw and clay, but just in different proportions to the cob. We added 2 parts sand to 1.5 parts clay (sifting the clay soil this time with a 1/2inch screen), with a medium cut straw. We spread this on as our base coat to the bench with our bare hands pushing up with the heal of our hands as well as with trowels. The Base coat went on pretty quick and easy,allowing us to move right on to the finish coat.

So one day I got a bunch of unfired clay flutes from this place downtown,100% pure clay. Great for finish plaster. You can pigment it any way you like. They had some red clay so we decided to go with that. Mixing it with sand, we applied this coat as a paste, almost painting it on to the bench and giving it color.

That's all it took, just three days, 6 people each day for 5 hours, piece of cake,right?
If anyone wants to build their own bench or has questions,just drop us a line.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rain & what to do with it?

The weather out here can be kind of nice for what we call a winter. Already January and we've only had 2 rains and plenty of 70 degree days. Most places would love to have that be their summers, let alone their winters. Around here though, we wish it was raining.

Over the past year we have been working on creating ways in which to store the water we get from our sporadic rainfalls. We want to see them put to use. It's remarkable how much rain can be saved off less than an inch of rainfall. We've had 2 rains so far and so far we've saved 100,000 gallons of water. Saving every drop is worth it, even in our dry climates.

On our farm, we harvest water in multiple ways, creating a redundancy in the system so that if one fails, more will take up the slack. We have built 3 ponds that hold over 80,000 gallons of water, we have 4 above ground water tanks that hold 30,000, an underground tank that holds 15,000 gallons and a huge network of swales that passively harvest even more water than all of those methods combined.

All our ponds, tanks and swales catch rain runoff from every roof and driveway on the property. Our catchment area is pretty sizeable allowing us to catch so much off such small rainfalls.

In future postings, we will describe the process we used to build our ponds, how we filter them, and how our system of swales work and what they are good for as well. Until that time, take a look around the place you live during our next rainfall to see where your water goes.

Have a Grateful Day!!!!
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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lemons and more lemons!

Food preservation is taking off here in our kitchen. And its the middle of the winter! We finished off the basil in pesto early December (gotta love Southern California) then came a delicious pickled beet, which seems very popular. Today we're saving the bounty of Meyer lemons in a test batch of Moroccan pickled lemons and a big batch of marmalade.

Moroccan Lemons
Cut lemons as if quartering, but leave top and bottom in tact.
Stuff sliced up lemons with salt
squish into a jar
(add extra lemon juice or boiling water if not covered.)

quarter lemons
blend in food processor - peels and all.
cover with water and boil 20 minutes with sugar -to taste. stir occasionally
add fruit pectin* (not yucky gelatin from cow hooves!)
can it up - no need to sterilize and seal

- one or two packs, depending on quantity. Don't worry about proportions, it'll be thicker or thinner each time, but always delicious! I try to make enough to fill my biggest pot (I think its 8 quarts) and add two packs.

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