Earthbag Cellar – Guests, Roof, Floor & Burial

Iulia asked for a few pictures of the cob process … so: first we make a dry mix (we call a lasagna) of sand and our (clay rich) soil in a wheelbarrow … dump it on to a tarp and add water while dancing it into a consistent mix:

We then add straw and dance that in … then roll the mix into a sausage by pulling the tarp (we repeat all this twice … so that the straw is mixed in well and not clumped):

… and that results in cob (which can take on various textures depending on the specific recipe and what we want to do with it):

… and for us it has been many batches going on to the roof … we previously completed the roof on top of the small room (relatively thick cob layer to fill and seal round acacia logs) … and then moved on to the large room (relatively thin and uniform cob layer to cover and seal flat boards):

… and if I recall correctly after 10 batches of cob the large room was also covered:

… we then had an unexpected visit from Alin who stayed with us for a couple of days … his help meant that we finished the entrance segment of the roof earlier then expected (forgot to take pictures of that … but basically more cob).

… and we decided to take advantage of Alin’s presence to tackle the floor. The floor was originally planned for later in the project (after the walls  were done!) … but since we had Alin’s help, and since the floor takes a few weeks to set, and since we are going away for a couple of weeks … we decided to do the floor …. another first experiment for us … another cob recipe … and another application technique … and I am blown away by the versatility of this natural material:

We were then in for another surprise. Alin’s friend Sandu (a high energy athletic person!) decided to also stop by for a short visit on his way home. He arrived late (~21:30) just as we were winding down. He jumped out of the car, changed into work clothes and started cob-dancing … “one more batch” he said … again … (Iulia hung some lights) and again … and again …. and again …

….and we worked almost until midnight … got a large part of the floor done!

… then the next day Sandu called Alin again in the morning … he wanted to see the place in day light and help some more … and he came out with his wife and Alin’s wife:

… and we finished the floor!

The next day (monday) we were planned to have the excavator over to do the burial, but he was only able to get here on Teusday (yesterday). While Iulia was doing our weekly market shopping I completed the plastic covering (if you are wondering about water draining and a flat roof … there is more to come!).

… but then the weather got cloudy with potential for rain … and so I placed tarps back on the plastic to protect it

… fortunately the weather cleared and we were on for burying the cellar.

and the first corner started going under.

… and then the back was almost filled

… and I stopped taking picture because we needed to get involved in moving and directing soil (careful to avoid overloading the roof).

The front sides were a bit difficult because they ended up being very steep (it was a tight construction area). When we excavated into the hill I felt that we dug in too deep … it turns out deeper would have been even better.

the last part was the inner front corner … and that proved the trickiest place to fill (limited access for the excavator).

… and after ~3 hours the cellar was buried … and, as planned, only the opening into the hill remained.

we are going away for two weeks … while we are away everything will have a chance to settle: the newly placed earth, the structure itself and the earth floor. When we come back we will create the water-shed umbrella and do the final burial … then electricity, plenty of finishing work, doors, shelves … healing the surrounding earth … still quite a journey ahead!

We are both tired from the last intense weeks … so glad to be pausing the work and taking some time to relax and breathe.

Earthbag – Roof: Wood & Cob

The roof on top of the large room is made of wood planks that have been charred in place.

With the planks in place we started cobbing around the edge of the roof.

In the smaller room we were still on a journey to see if we could make acacia logs work as a cover.  It was not an easy task, I found it to be frustrating … you can see in the background of the picture above that we were still working on that puzzle. But eventually we figured it out (after I surrendered and let Iulia make and own some of the decisions).

We were not able to get a uniform height, and as you can see below there were some gaps which were larger than we would have wanted.

We also placed acacia beams over the entrance … and in this picture you can see all three parts of the roof in place.

… and for quite a few days now we’ve been cobbing and cobbing and cobbing. First we finished the entire edge of the roof and have now started covering and sealing the entire surface.

There isn’t much to show in terms of pictures because cobbing is repetitive work. Also, the structure is usually covered in tarps and we only uncover the area we are working on … and usually at the end of a session when we are tired and muddy we are not inclined to take pictures.

Below you can see the last of acacia logs from the small room getting swallowed by the cob surface. It took almost 12 batches of cob (a batch starts as a wheelbarrow of dry material).

The small room is now in complete and cool darkness  – it works!

The other roof sections (the large room with the planks and the entrance) should be easier and quicker work. We hope to finish that in the coming days and then the burial of the entire structure … finally protecting (most of) it from the elements.

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!

Earthbag Cellar – Walls Done!

After winding down from the full-house weekend … we got back to our “regular schedule”. Marta stayed with us a while longer and helped us get almost to the finish line.

We were excited to finally get to level 21. Here we are passing over the front arch for the first time:

When we finished that wall segment we finally got to pull out the forms … and … it was exhilarating to unveil the self-supporting arches … so simple, powerful (the more we weight we put on it – and we will be putting on quite a bit – the stronger it gets!)and beautiful (I’m really glad we decided to give arches a try!):

Yesterday we finished, with Marta’s, help going all the way around the structure and were left with only with two small segments of the outside wings.

Today Iulia and I went out and completed those two small segments – counting down the last of 6 sacks … and suddenly the the last can is tossed up, the last sack is placed down … the last tamping … earthbag walls were complete!

Fascinating journey from a crater to a structure… made of the same earth we dug out!

We are now waiting to see if we can get the acacia logs we want to make into a roof (our preferred option). If we do, they will be freshly cut and will need some time to cure … meaning that we won’t be able to place them on the structure before winter. If we don’t get the logs we will rever to plan B: regular 2×8 to build a flat roof. That may still happen in the coming weeks.

Depending on the weather we may be able to get some more primary rendering work done … but that is optional … maybe continue with the electrical wiring …  I am relieved and satisfied we got this part done … much to share … too tired to do so now.



Earthbag Cellar at Level 20

Iulia was a way for a few days and I took the opportunity to do some initial finishing tests.

Then Iulia came back and brought with her a wave of people. We’ve just been through a full weekend here at Bhudeva. Christina and Marta came out to help in the final levels and they were joined for one day by Luci and Stefan. We’ve completed 19 and are two-thirds into 20.

It was moving to see 5 people on and around the walls working in two teams … until this weekend I could only imagine what this might look like.

AND the day felt way more productive then the already productive work we did get done … because soon after as we started level 20 … Iulia and Chritina got to work on this sack:

… and when they laid it down and, after tamping, it met the top of the arch, it became clear to us that 21 would be the last level … and the idea of level 22 disintegrated and we were suddenly another level closer to finishing the walls:

If all goes well we should be finished in a few days. Our fingers are still crossed that the acacia logs for the roof will be cut down soon and that we can get them to Bhudeva and get them on before winter.

Earthbag Cellar at Level 19

The day before yesterday we finished level 18. Yesterday we started level 19 by putting in the ventillation pipes (for air flowing out of the two rooms). We cobbed them in place and then continued to work aroud them.

Today we focused on the arch above the entry door … and we started by adding two more arch pieces on each side until we were ready for the last 3 sacks that cap the arch.

… and cap it we did

I am soooo looking forward to taking out the forms … but holding off until we add the final layer on top of the arches 🙂

I thought we would be able to finish with 21 levels … but now that the first arch is complete and the highest point is set it looks like we will need to go up to 22.

Iulia is going away for a few days … after which we hope we will be able to finish before deep frosts settle upon us (temperatures are dropping rapidly).

If all goes well (we will in the coming days) we wil have acacia (strong and rot resistant) logs to cover the entire roof … keeping our fingers crossed that we will be able to close the cellar before winter!