22 June 2009


I just came back from a really neat straw bale workshop at Everdale. It was pretty amazing actually. I knew it would be something I'd be very interested in, and attending the workshop totally solidified everything i was feeling about natural building. I would really love to go do a more in depth course. I know that the haliburton school of arts offers one, and the natural building institute on Manitoulin island also offers a natural building apprenticeship deal. In any case, the workshop demonstrated to me how accessible the methods of natural building are, how sturdy and how healthy for the body and earth they are. I've read tonnes of books, but to see the straw bales literally just get stacked and then knowing all that's left is to apply plaster is so neat. That's all the wall is essentially. I can't wait to go to the cob workshop and then the follow up to the straw bale Plastering workshop too. Cob really interests me. It'll be fun to sculpt the cob bricks and get all muddy. Whether it's rammed earth, cob or straw bales, I can't wait to one day build my own home with my own hands on my own land. :)

The workshop was led by Ben Polly of Harvest Homes in Guelph and started with a tour of a completely off grid straw bale home which, to the naked eye, appeared like any other home, inside and out. It was really beautiful inside. I love how the depth of the wall manifests itself in the windows. You can form the window openings to whatever curve you feel like! It can be no curve, some curve, curved on three sides and then a nice rock sill on the bottom.. or whatever you desire! I personally like the latter...curved on the top and sides with a flat bottom sill that supports some sort of slab. The house had solar hot water, grey water planters, wind power and some other fun off the grid things. The floor was a mottled slab floor.. really nice. It was a good size too, not huge, not too small. Smaller than what people would tend to think the *need* for their families, but in reality, our houses are way to large for us anyway. Ben actually lives in the home so could talk first hand about the way things work in there. He then went on to talk about the process of building a bale house. And that was the first night.

The next day began with a communal breakfast (all meals were communal in the main hall) and a brief run down of the days events. We separated into three groups, and Ben divvied up the day's agenda in three stations. Framing the curb, framing the window and door bucks, and framing/building the top plates.

curb rails:

window buck:

top plates sitting on stacked walls:

Our group started with the window buck. Once the plaster is on the bales it pretty much solidifies the whole thing and takes care of the load. The window buck is there to provide framing for the window and to hold it up and level just until the plaster is applied... then it doesn't do anything at all, therefore it's just built out of a few 2x6's. Same with the door. Second station for us was the top plates. These go on top of a load bearing wall after it's stacked. Cinching wires are then run about every 4 feet or so through the foundation up over the plates and cinched together with come alongs. The top plates are built with some 2x4's, plywood and rockwool insulation. Vapour barrier is at the top wrapping down the sides in between the plywood and insulation. These were actually pretty heavy to lift and move around... and they should match up with the curb at the bottom. The third station was the curb which is basically two rails of 2x4 with insulation in between the blocking. The window and door bucks stand on top of the curb, and the bales get stacked right on top of them. The curb we built was the exact width of the bails which were stacked on edge and not flat.

So saturday entirely was spent framing and preparing for the stacking of the bales. Corner guides went up as well to help keep the bales plumb when stacking. These come off after the compression of the bales with the wire, while the door and window bucks stay in place.

corner guides and stacked walls:

Saturday night we had a good veggie dinner and some tea, and then took off into guelph for a beer :).

Sunday started off early again with a nice breakfast and then right to raising the bales. Ben went through some choices one would have to make when building straw bale. A couple of major ones like choosing whether the walls are going to be post and beam with straw infill, or load bearing straw bale walls with minimal framing. Another choice is how to orient the bales. Flat or on the cut edge? The structure we were raising was a load bearing wall with bales stacked on the cut edge. For both choices there's an equal amount of advantages and disadvantages.

So with the load bearing walls, it's important not to squeeze the bails in, not even a little. We saw the effects of this error when we took our corner guides off after the compression and the wall corners kind of puffed out a tiny bit. Ben said that it's not detrimental in any way structurally, it's just an aesthetic thing. If you come to a space while stacking, then is too small for a bale, you have to retie a bale to that new size.

measuring for retying the bale:

retied bale in place:

If it doesn't just drop right in vertically, with absolutely no fiddling and squishing, then you can pull a bunch of straw out of either end and keep trying until it drops in. The top of the window and door bucks are filled after the top plates are on and cinched. Any holes or gaps between the bales can be filled while people are cinching the top plates.

Once the top plates are cinched and the top is leveled, it's time to put the mesh up, which will provide a surface for the plaster to grab onto. Any wood that was exposed to where the plaster will be was previously covered with vapor barrier and diamond lath. After the mesh is cut and tacked up, a *sewing* of the mesh is performed. Pairs of two pass a large needle with polymer thread attached back and forth wherever the plaster is sticking out more than an inch. This is done for all the walls. The reason this is done is that only an inch total of plaster is applied. Any electrical boxes are installed at this point too. While the mesh is going up, The curved window and door frames are formed with some loose straw, diamond lath and alot of finesse. Sills, windows and doors would be installed and prepped for plastering at this point too I think, although we didn't do this.

The whole process was just sooo incredibly neat. I really want to continue learning and building and experiencing these methods. Everdale was really fun too. The goats had just had kids the week previous, so we got to see little baby goat kids running around being goofy. There were a myriad of other animals there, solar showers, composting toilets and a bunch of other interesting sustainable things. I can't wait to go back!

17 June 2009

New Crew Member

Now that Sophie is ok again after a bout with crystals, I decided to adopt a new little crew member from Niagara Action for Animals. :) She is adorable. Say hi to Private Penga.

On sunday, june 28th Nafa is holding a vegan bake sale as part of the worldwide vegan bake sale initiative to promote the reasons behind the vegan lifestyle. I've been kind of baking obsessed lately, so am excited to have an excuse to try more cupcake recipes from my new book!

14 June 2009

Zippered Pouches

I'm experimenting with developing a pattern I like to make a bunch of square bag zippered pouches. They are a little difficult to figure out as there are three layers, outside, interfacing and the lining. The first two turned out ok. I like the 2nd one a little better because of the side and some small details I changed from the first. However, I'd like to put little tabs on either side where the zipper ends... and maybe instead of the handle attach a d-ring with a wristlet band or something. Next up.. I'd like to sew myself a new wallet. My poor astroboy is like 10 years old now, dirty and more than a little bit ripped in places. :)

I also did a bunch of gardening this weekend. More of the maintenance kind, but still important. I moved my raspberries to a new spot so they would stop their invasion of my next door neighbour's yard. They look sad now, hopefully they'll pull through. I also weeded my entire yard. Pawl helped with the thistles and dandelions. Some of those things were HUGE.

Today I'm going to bake some radish chips. mmm

12 June 2009

Green Tea Cupcakes!

I was in Guelph on the weekend, and we meandered into a bookstore where I bought a copy of Vegan Cupcakes take over the World from the same girl who wrote Vegan with a Vengeance. I was super excited because I'd been meaning to order this for a while. The first recipe I made resulted in the cupcakes above, however, mine come with a twist! Green tea cupcakes with red bean paste filling! (thanks for the idea pawl) I love baking with matcha powder! Now I'll have to go get some more.

Here is a link to a flickr group that posts pictures of cupcakes they've baked from this book. yum!

11 June 2009

vegan BLT ... yum

MMM! This was good. We followed a recipe from Just the Food again. Put the patties onto some nice panini breads, topped with some tomato and lettuce from the garden and then ate them! The bacon bits were awesome again. Today, we will eat the rest for lunch!

5 June 2009

Sweater Mania

I made a couple sweaters recently and I really like making wearable tops. :) The top one is a nice and easy top down raglan pattern from Knitting up a Storm. I love the top down concept, as you can make it as long as you want and try it on as you go which makes deciding where the waist shaping should go pretty easy. I wish I would've made it a couple stripes longer, to be more of a tunic. Next time, as I know I'll be making this pattern again.

Below are pictures of a sweater that I made with an owl cable pattern around the yoke. This sweater was bottom up. I think if i knit it again, I'll convert the pattern to a top down as it's much easier. Attaching the sleeves was very tedious, and annoying as I had to pull so hard to get some stitches off the needles. Eventually after a couple of rows it eases up, so it ended up fine. But still. It'd be a nice challenge to see if my understanding of patterns is good enough to convert it to top down. I sewed some buttons for the eyes of the owls. There's 20 owls, so FORTY buttons had to be sewed on. *phew. Totally worth it though, they look really cute with eyes!

Vegan Blueberry Jello and Peppermint

Vegan Jello Jigglers are awesome!! This recipe is also from my recently favourite vegan blog Just the Food. They are so simple and fun to make. These ones are blueberry flavoured and all that's in them are a cup of frozen blueberries, a can of coconut milk, some water and agar agar. I would like to get some cute molds to pour the mixture into so they set in some cool shapes. But for now muffin tins work fine. It made about 12 half filled muffin sized jigglers. At first i thought they were too small, but, they are quite rich because of the coconut milk. A perfect size for the jigglers! I would love to make all different kinds. Or have layered jigglers with banana on the bottom and strawberry on the top. Or blueberry and raspberry. I think even little mandarin orange ones would be good times!

I harvested my first batch of peppermint a couple of days ago. Last year i had about 8 jars of dried peppermint, and I pretty much went through that in the winter for tea. This year I aim to be more ambitious in my harvesting, maybe about every 1.5 weeks or so. This way I'll definitely collect enough for that many jars. yum!

2 June 2009

Rhubarb Party

Since rhubarb grows at an insane speed, and can get out of control, I try to find fun ways to use it throughout the summer so to keep it in check. It's actually pretty great that it grows so fast, as normally I'm waiting until later on in the summer to start making jam. With rhubarb, you can start as soon as enough comes out of the ground in may-ish!! Last year I made some blueberry rhubarb and bumbleberry jams that both called for rhubarb. However, since most berries aren't in season yet, I decided to make a straight up rhubarb jam. I found a great recipe for an Oriental Rhubarb Jam which contained some candied ginger and some chinese five spice. It turned out pretty great and it has an interesting flavour while maintaining a nice sweetness.

Earlier in the week, I'd made some rhubarb squares from my Extraveganza cookbook, which were pretty similar to a rhubarb crumble. They too, came out tasting really good, especially warmed up and on some frozen yogurt or ice cream!

1 June 2009


i would love to see her live. :)