Solid Earth

I left Claudia down in Otago and went to Wakapuaka, north of Nelson. There I worked all day for four days to help the small adobe brick company, Solid Earth, prepare for an earthen building workshop. In exchange for my help, I would be able to take the workshop free of charge.

The first day of prep consisted of finishing a form for a small greenhouse’s concrete foundation. The other helper, Chrissy, and myself then dug out the foundation about 6 inches below ground level. We then cut, bent, and installed the rebar that would support the concrete.

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Day two we spent all day mixing and pouring the concrete. This was a bit of a chore as all mixing had to be done by hand.

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Day three we installed adobe bricks as flooring, and filled a big part of the same floor with ‘poured earth’. It would be plastered smooth at a later date.

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Day four was cleaning up loose ends.

The workshop was a whirlwind of information and experiences. We learned about plastering with earth. Earth plaster is an amazing alternative to painting walls. When done well it is smooth and solid and is very pleasing to the eye. Clay has the added benefits of moderating humidity and temperature within a house. The result leads to a very comfortable living space.

We build a cob pizza oven as well. WWOOFing, I see these things all over the place. It feels like everyone wants a cob outdoor oven these days. They are very fun to use, and consequentially, we’ve had ‘pizza days’ at three of the WWOOF sites I’ve been to in New Zealand. To use them, you build a fire in the same chamber that the food is to be cooked in. After the fire has gone on long enough to heat up all the thermal mass provided by the cob, you push the embers to the sides of the chamber to make space to cook. At first the oven is rip roaring hot, and great for pizzas. As it cools you can then cook foods that require less and less heat: bread, cookies, meat roasts, yogurt. They are also very easy to build.

We built a waddle and daub wall, as well as a light earth infill wall. Waddle and daub is an incredibly easy building system. You put up some sort of lattice work to support cob. People use plastic mesh, sticks, or maybe bamboo. After that is up, you simply spread cob over it until it is as thick as you’d like. Light earth infill is a bit different though still very simple. It’s not too unlike pouring concrete as you build a form, fill it, wait for the fill to dry, then take down the form. The difference is that you use a mud mixed with a light fill substance like perlite that you find in soil mixtures, and fill your walls.

My favorite part was making adobe bricks and building a wall with them. Mud is a very forgiving substance. We were able to cut the adobe bricks into whatever shape we wanted, and fill any mistakes or large gaps with mud.

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I think there will be mud in my house someday.

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