Earthbag Cellar – 21 Belgian Scouts

Iulia arranged for a group of 21 Belgian scouts to visit with us to work on the cellar (numerous such groups visit Romania every year). The initiative was supported by our local municipality who provided the group with the sports hall as a residence and a kitchen where they could cook and eat.

The weather was not on our side for the first couple of days it was rainy and muddy … unsuitable conditions for working with earth. On the first day we held a circle in the sports hall.

The mayor then sprung his first surprise and, to celebrate his birthday, invited the group for a meal of traditional Romanian food and … Tuica!!!

Later, when the weather cleared we made a decision to visit Bhudeva and see the work site (they had a 45 minute walk to get from the village center to Bhudeva).

The next day we focused on secondary, wood-related tasks we had prepared. One was to move into the woodshed the piles that had been drying outside for the better part of a year. It was a joy for me to see the woodshed full again.

Then there was moving a large pile of junk/rotting wood from storage next to the barn and out into a field. The pile now marks a swale line that will be excavated in the near future. The swale will start with a water hole to capture runoff water coming down the valley floor, water will then overflow into the swale and into another field (instead of flowing down and eroding the road). The swale itself will be a hugelkultur bed (once covered with the soil excavated for the swale).

And the 3rd wood-project was peeling acacia logs that are intended to become the roof cover for the small cellar room.

To my pleasant surprise, on the third day these tasks were mostly completed and we were able during the second half of the day to experiment with cob-mixing (to see if the soil was workable) … and it was 🙂

… and we were able to build a kind of cob-bond-beam that went all around the cellar – filling the spaces between the beams and wrapping them all around the periphery. The next day the soil was also workable enough to fill the (almost!) last earthbags.

In the evening the mayor joined again with another authentic taste of Romania. A local council member donated a freshly butchered sheep and the mayor guided the group in cooking goulash in a traditional large-copper pot over an open-fire.

Belgian teens singing scout songs in French alongside a Romanian Goulash.

… while the food was cooking some of the Belgian teens joined a local soccer game.

The next days was all about cob … two dance-mixing teams and the rest carrying it up onto the wall and laying it in place. Bhudeva had never been so active!

When the work was flowing reliably I invited a few of the guys (who did not like the mud) to char the acacia logs in preparation for putting them on the roof … they soon discovered that though fire is exciting … the work itself … when the novelty wears off … is not 🙂

The last day was short because everyone (them and us) was tired … so we finished up the cob work and did some preparation for finishing the walls.

… and a group photo brought that part of our journey to an end.

Later in the afternoon there was a cultural exchange gathering. Some kids came for a weekly rehearsal of local traditional dancing. The Belgians watched … then joined … and everyone seemed to have a good time 🙂

After the dancing the Belgians introduced the kids to some games 🙂

The next day was about clean up and departure. The mayor provided yet another traditional lunch of Mititei which was again much appreciated by the group as they were heading out to a long day of travel.

It was an intense week. Bhudeva, which is usually a quiet, meditative place, became a place of party and play. That alone was exhausting for me. There was also a language barrier that made me feel awkward and unable to sense them as individuals or as a group. Fortunately they had 3 group leaders (in their early twenties) who did a great job in keeping the group together (and translating).

We encountered a fundamental conflict of values that was interesting to me. We (Iulia and I) invited everyone to inhabit a space of personal freedom: be where you want to be, don’t be where you don’t want to be – if someone didn’t want to work, they were welcome, as far as we were concerned to sleep in the grass somewhere. Yet, amongst themselves ,as a group, they agreed that, no matter what, they stay together.

It was also intriguing for me to see how plenty of working hands can be coordinated to make good progress in work. It was also intriguing to be reminded that any task, no matter how simple can be done well if there is care and attention, or poorly if there is a lack of interest.

Adventure #2 for summer 2018 is behind us 🙂

Next up … completing the roof and completing the the cellar burial.

Earthbag Cellar – Roof Forming

We are off to a late(r then I would have liked) start this year. This was primarily because of my allergy and a very rain season. It was also because we got stuck with the roof!

Our primary plan to make a roof out of acacia vigas was deserted when we failed to source logs.  We tried using some logs we had lying around. When we did … I stepped back and felt a clear “no” … I felt they were not uniform enough to build a good roof.

I then decided that we would use standard (easily available) soft-wood boards to create beams (charred to preserve and protect them).

… and after we got the beams onto the large room and sat inside it … we felt the structure gained a whole new dimension of life … the shadows were striking:

Beams now stretch across the entire structure and are ready to take on a roof.

We’ve decided to conduct an experiment:

  1. The roof on the large room (intended to be dry) will be built using the same standard soft-wood boards.
  2. The roof on the small room (intended to be a moist room to store root vegetables) will be made of small acacia logs (long-lasting and rot resistant).

And so we embarked on a first-of-its-kind-for-us adventure into our small acacia forest to cut down some trees (while thinning a dense and overgrown forest). I thought I’d seen this car do everything … today it did this:

Tomorrow ad midnight a group of 21 Belgian youth are arriving at our village to spend 8 days with us (that may be more than all the people I’ve met face to face and interacted with during the last year!). If the weather permits (we’ve had a very rainy season), by the time they leave, the roof will be complete and the walls will be covered with an earthen finish and we will be ready for the final burial (so that the structure will no longer be eroded by the elements).

Let’s do this!

Our Second Second Rocket Mass Heater

We finally decided to go ahead and rebuild our second rocket stove (the one in the living room). My primary wishes were to rebuild the core (better) and to convert the relatively useless mass into a (small) bench. Iulia decided to make it a workshop and …  3 interested people showed up.

During the first day we settled into being together. I left the existing rocket mass heater in tact so we could review its shortcomings together and learn from that. We talked about the basic workings of a rocket stove while talking about the existing stove.

… and then we took it apart:

We had only one wheel barrow of waste which was non-toxic and we dumped it as back-filling at the earthbag cellar.

Though there was some soot in the rocket (sometimes it didn’t burn completely clean) there was very little of it given that it worked for 6 winters. There was a 1cm layer of light and fluffy ash sitting at the top of the heat riser (accumulated over the same period of time).

Until we reached the brick platform upon which the rocket was built.

We then layed out the expansion of platform for the new rocket.

… and started building it … giving everyone their first experience at working with mortar and laying bricks.

The next morning we finished it!

With the platform done we built a mockup of the core (while learning about dimensions and sizing using standard brick sizes) and its place on the platform (and relationship to the bench).

We then settled into a rhythm in which two people were laying bricks (one working on the core, the other working on the bench) and two others were preparing soil for mortar and cob (and doing other support tasks such as cleaning bricks so that the brick layers could work smoothly).

As the chamber that is under the bench started to take for, I figured out how we were going to close the top of the chamber  (close from the chamber that makes the bench. The plan I came up with involved recycling two concrete slabs we had lying around together with some bricks. Next I had to figure out how to create a structure that could support that top while allowing a good flow of gasses through the chamber itself. It was a bit of a puzzle but we solved it.

… and the core was rising up

… and the chamber was rising up … and we were starting to apply cob (especially on the back side where access would become more difficult as the construction grew):

… and I think this is where we finished up on day 2:

On day 3 as most of the riddles were behind us and everyone had a better sense of the materials and the work, progressed flowed and accelerated. The core was completed and the chamber layout finalized. While the chamber was being closed up the heat riser was growing.

Pretty soon we were insulating the core with  perlite in a clay slip (recycled from the previous rocket) in the chamber built around the core:

… and then the insulation sleeve around the riser was put in place (recycled from the previous rocket) … and also filled with perlite:

… and finally the barrel came on (for the last time – we had quite a few fittings), we sealed all around it with cob … and lit the stove … and despite adverse conditions (a new rocket filled with moisture, on a warm summer day) we all smiled when we saw the flames getting sucked into the rocket and the dragon came to life. Very soon we were in an overheated room with a warm bench (that nobody wanted to sit on).

… in the excitement (and a bit of rush to accommodate the schedule of one of the participants) I missed taking a picture of the barrel on the “raw” rocket … but the next day (today!), with Liam’s help preparing soil and mixing cob, we were able to get much of the cob work done (and we may complete the rough structure tomorrow).

Even though it is using the same floor area as the previous rocket, the footprint of the new build is much larger … and it dwarfs the room … which feels a bit off. That is a price we’ve paid for having a warm bench to sit on (without taking on a much larger renovation).

It was an intense weekend. I’m glad to have had an opportunity to share rocket stoves with Tudor (missing from the picture below because he had to leave before we took it) , Dan and Liam and Iulia. I’m glad to have a good core with hopefully a comfortable bench for next winter.

2018 Rocket Stove workshop

Our rocket-stoves journey

We have a journey of rocket stove building at Bhudeva… first it was the first rocket stove (bedroom, 2011), then fixing it (2012) then the second one (living room, 2012) and rebuilding the first one (2014).

We cook food and bake on both rockets most of the winter time.

It’s time to try a next step – we are going to rebuild the one in  the living room, this time we are going to make it even more efficient and add a heated bench for two on it :).

We are open to make it as a mini-workshop where you can come over and learn by doing.

The workshop

We will be building a rocket stove with a small mass attached to it and a place for sitting / reading / resting. It will be an opportunity to learn what were the limitations of the previous design (and why they were introduced in the first place) and the considerations that went into the new design. We will be building a typical rocket core with an attached brick chamber with some cob to add more mass and bring it altogether. It is a tight design that will fill a tight space.

You will have an opportunity to:

  • Learn about rocket stove design,
  • Participate in all stages of construction,
  • Meet the materials and the tools involved,
  • Spend some time at and learn about Bhudeva.

All within the settings and limitations of a traditional Romanian village house.

The build/workshop is estimated to take place in 15-17 of June 2018. The workshop time is Friday (half day), Saturday (full day) and Sunday (until 16:00). If you’ll join us, please arrive sometime Friday until 13:00 (so we can have the second part of the day for working).

There are 5 places available for participants. Sleeping will be in tents (there is plenty of space).  The price for the workshop is 540 lei / participant. We are asking for 200 lei in advance (bank deposit or transfer), when registering, for booking your place. The rest will be paid cash at Bhudeva.

Please acknowledge that English is the communication language at Bhudeva.

 

Living conditions

We are assuming you will want to stay at Bhudeva, however there may be other options one of which is a new pensiune just outside the village (a few minutes drive) which has recently opened its doors to visitors.

If you do choose to stay with us, here are a few things you may wish to know:

  1. You will be camping in a tent (that you need to bring with you). We do not yet have built structures to house other people. We have one small house which is a private space and we prefer to keep is that way, for now.
  2. We have one composting toilet in the house. If you stay here for a few days or more, you will learn not just to use it (make contributions) but also learn to care for it (emptying it in our humanure hacienda).
  3. We have a small outdoor kitchen. We are inviting you too cook together or, if this doesn’t suit you, please bring your own food. If we will cook together, you are invited to bring with you some of the next produce: “bob lung” rice, spaghetti pasta, avocados, honey from verified source (we’ll coordinate this by email).
  4. We eat mostly vegetables and fruits, with some dairy productions and eggs. Most of it locally (in the village) produced.
  5. We intend to be doing everything together: working, cooking, cleaning. We’ll see how this flows.

Visiting Bhudeva, you are going to encounter also our solar dryers, earthbag cellar (we are now at the green roof preparation), hugel beds, solar panel or other things we play with and experiment here.

🙂

If you’re interested to partake please write Iulia at iulia [dot] sara [at] gmail [dot] com… in English and include your phone number and the questions you want to be answered before coming to the workshop (and maybe during the workshop, if you already have something in mind).

Iulia and Ronen

New River

Last winter we witnessed 24+ hours of water flowing down our road … millions of liters. The sound of running water was beautiful but the sight of that water escaping was sad. It caused some damage to the road leading up to our property.

It was, I believe, a result of a wet season and years of over-grazing higher up in the valley (causing lack of vegetation to slow the flow of water and reduced water holding capacity in the soil).

When I talked about this with someone in the village he explained to me that it was my responsiblity (as the owner of the property) to build water ditches alongside the road to divert the water flow + “we’ve been doing it like this for generations, and there’s never been a problem!”  It was as if he didn’t hear me … I could not find a way to show a deeper chain of causality where choices that we make upstream in our ecological cycles have downtstream effects.

Today I came across this video and wanted to make a note of it as evidence for future reference:

source