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!


Earthbag Cellar Second Backfilling

Originally we intended to backfill only once, about half way through and then at the end when we bury the structure. But, the structure is going to be a bit higher then expected and working higher up becomes trickier, especially for two people … so … after finishing level 16 we decided to backfill again.

Work started yesterday when we pulled up the plastic cover and scanned it for tears and wholes. Most of it was in good shape (it got buried in some soil which protected it from the sun). We replaces one section that was torn and brittle.

Florin arrived at 10am and started by clearing a path (we cleared most of it by peeling away soil as we filled the tubes):

He brought soil into the tight corner with the front loader then used the spoon to move / push it into a place:

Then he came around the top of the site and started filling behind the structure

And with a bit of manual labor we the first corner was full

And moving gradually along the wall … until is was all full

… bringing us to the other side which had better access so that the front loader could be used to bring soil in

then we went back around to the first corner (which we left slightly exposed in case we needed to bring in more soil) … and buried it:

… it was done in 3 hours … and now again we get to work at “ground level” … this time all the way to the top:

It is amazing to see how quickly wild grasses and weeds went to work healing the soil around the site … and now, after the excavator, how bare everything looks again … we are already looking forward to bringing in plants to heal the site and help nature take over once again.

Earthbag Cellar Level 14, 15 …and Arches

We tend give much attention to the growing walls, but we would like to acknowledge the unsung heroes of this project … the cans we toss up the walls to move soil from wheelbarrows into the sacks and tubes. We recently retired the first pair of cans … and here you can see side be side a new can next to a can that has moved ~25 cubic meters of soil (one can at a time!).

My sister, Orit came to visit for a few days and joined us for a few sessions … we now regularly sit on the walls to take in the sunset (horizon rising):

Istvan also visited with us briefly, showed us saturn in his telescope and joined us for a work session:

Liviu and Ana also visited with us and Liviu also joined us for a morning session (we forgot to take a picture … so you’ll have to take my word for it) … and we have finished levels 14 and 15, we are now working on 16 and the arches have started to form:

The arches have started to draw a finish line … the walls will be finished when the arches are complete and one additional level has been layed on top. Right now, my estimate is that 21 levels should get us there … but that will become more clear as we start to move up through the next layers.

We are currently inquiring about two options for a roof … more on that in an upcoming post.