Thursday, June 30, 2011

Good Bye Christo & Xavi

Thank you both for all the memories and teaching and laughs. Its not the same around here without you. Hope to see you both soon again!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Windows and doors have arrived!!

We recieved our windows and doors and started cobbing them into the walls. We were fortunate to have a few days where the weather allowed us to continue our cob mixing and the walls are looking really beautiful. After the windows going up the house really started to take its form.

The Rumford fire place has had its first fire after connecting the chimney flue. It provides a very warm and cozy space. Paul gave a lecture last week about interior design and has challenged us to come up with designs for this space.
The bay window will be going in soon! It is a massive window.
We did a lot of wood work this past week which consisted of building window frames as well as frames for the clay slip infill system we will be applying here.
More windows!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sour Dough – “Christo” style


Use Rye Organic Wholemeal flour
50ml water and 50g flour in a jar with muslin to allow it to breath and keep flies etc out
Keep in a warm and dry place
Stir 3 times a day approx and when active/bubbling add a teaspoon of flour and a drop of water

After 1 week you should have a good quantity. Keep feeding to avoid it getting too sour.

Maintaining Starter

Wetter & Warmer = More active
So to slow down; keep it cool and dry (add more flour than water)
Or to activate; bring to 30°C and ad water

Feed it its own weight in flour and water (double it) every 6 hours
Avoid letting started go black (putrefied)

Making Bread

To activate starter the day before baking add water and store in a warm place


***For 2 loaves***
180g white + 340g wholemeal + 350ml water + 1 tablespoon salt +1.5decilitres of starter

***3 Bucket Approach – 12 loafs***
Starter in bucket1
Fill 1/8th of Bucket2 and Bucket3 with starter
Save some starter in Bucket1 for next week. Add flour and water, replace lid and store in cold place
In each bucket add:
3 tablespoons of dissolved sea salt
1lt water (Not lukewarm but not too cold)
1500g of flour (50% wholemeal and 50% white for beginners – 60% wholemeal and 40% white ) or 6 cups of both
One bucket will make 6 loaves...add water if needed

Mixing in the bucket
Kneed for 5 to 10 minutes
Keep one hand clean to rotate the bucket
If adding nuts or fruit, or sun-dried tomatoes, pre-soak and add now
For spices or cheese add later, or add olive oil for pizza dough later

Close lid tight and leave for 3 to 4hrs (The longer it is left the more sour the bread will become)

Final Kneed
After 3 to 4 hrs (1 hr before bake – just after firing the oven)
Spread flour on table
Add a little flour on top of dough and down sides of bucket to pop dough out of bucket
Cut into 6 pieces and coat with flour
Kneed for 5 mins adding small amounts of flour if needed to prevent sticking. Keep maintaining the shape of circular loaf. Also stretch and bang off table to stretch the gluten
If you wish add seeds, herbs, fruit, nuts or spices by spreading dough flat and evenly dispersing seeds etc and kneed in circular motion to mix throughout bread
Place on flour and cover with a linen towel (cotton will stick to bread)

Allow 30mintues to rise and perform final shaping
Slice top of each loaf
Bake 40mins at approx 180°C (7 seconds tolerance for “some forearms” in earthen oven)
Check after 20minutes
Place in damp towel after removing from oven to avoid hardening of crust

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Following a week of heavy rain and intense woodworking we got back to cobbing during our fourth week here in Nenagh. We had started to put back on the few pounds we had shed over the previous weeks so it was nice to get back to getting our feet and hands dirty again. To speed up the building process and the drying time we set about creating a very high “spine and ribs” at the end of every lift of wall. This meant that we could build higher but it would also dry faster, allowing us to add another layer sooner.

mmmm, pedicure anyone?

We were joined this week by cob legend Christo and his lovely colleague Xavi, all the way from Holland, who are to spend two weeks with us giving us invaluable tips on many of the finer aspects of cob building, including the light straw clay process, plastering and some input into design approaches. But first they introduced us to a new cob dance (which we will dub the “tarp shuffle” - a very elegant way to mix cob with a partner). It took a while to get used to this innovation but we were soon shuffling along quite nicely. Not sure if we’d win any prizes but it was fun..

The latest dance craze -watch out Maximus!

As we continued building up the walls it became apparent that certain areas needed some more design consideration especially where the external walls connect to the internal ones. This was particularly the case for the living room area, where the internal cob wall around the fireplace integrates with the exterior wall. Paul asked each of us to look at the room and think of some design solutions for this particular space and took us through some elements and principles of designing interior spaces. It is definitely an advantage to have a general idea of where you will place shelves, built-in seating, niches, etc. at this stage to save time later on. Designing early on can give unity to a house as a whole, bringing balance and harmony to a project. Lots to think about!

Great excitement on site on Wednesday as the external windows and doors arrived – double glazed with hardwood timber frames. We set about getting the window openings ready for installation. A team screened earth using a wire mesh to make a refined cob mix without large stones. We then made a template for the width of the windows allowing a tolerance of a few centimetres to get the window into the opening. The already roughly built walls then had to be cut back to these dimensions. The windows were then lifted into place on the stone sills, levelled and then braced back to the timber frame. After being secured in the right place we used the refined mix in around the frames to set them into the wall. So we now have full height windows and half height walls!

We also started on the framing for the light straw clay wall –not so easy when nothing in the building is square! Christo thankfully kept us on track with his ingenious ideas. Another task tackled was making the recesses for the round wood window mullions for the large bay window in the living room. There was a lot of chiselling and checking going on with a great result after the long hours put into it. It’s really starting to look like a house now with some of the windows installed.

TherĂ©se celebrated her birthday with us this week. Happy Birthday again! To mark the occasion our resident Basque and Gallegan maestros cooked us up delicious paella dishes full of yummy treats like seafood, chicken and chorizo – Que rico! We also had the raw food chefs whisk together another great raw cake.. What a feast! On the theme of food it should be mentioned loudly that we have been treated to lots of yummy bread since Christo arrived -this man has many many talents! Thanks to all the great efforts to make us fat!


This weekend we had the good fortune to attend a cob oven workshop being given by Christo and Xavi and being hosted by the wonderful sculptor Philip Quinn and his lovely family, Liz, Kate, Eve, Ruairi and Will at their home in Holycross. Some more cobbing on our days off but great to see what you can do with cob over two days. Thanks to Philip and family for the great food and hospitality. More about the earth oven building will be written in detail -watch this space!

So almost a month has passed and things are slowly settling into a routine.. Ralphie is keeping us on our toes stealing the cobber's thumbs, Johnny is complaining about the weather and brings us little gifts that he has skillfully hunted down and the rest of us animals are alive and kicking -happily Ben's hand is still in one piece!

Ralphie hard at work!

One of Johnny's offerings

So that’s all for now folks ‘til the next thrilling installation..

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cobbers Settled In!

Cob-mixers on a cloudy day

These past three weeks have gone by in a flash. Seven volunteers with ages ranging 21-45, from different countries, cultures, even continents, have joined together to build this house here in Tipperary. We all feel very grateful for the opportunity to be involved in this apprenticeship. Trading our sweat for knowledge; there is something so honest in this.

So here we are three weeks in now, atrophied muscles have awoken, callouses have thickened, stomachs adapted(all vegetarian diet).

Well what should we discuss? How about the weather? Irish people love talking about the weather, and for good reason... They have it! It seems every 5 minutes the weather changes. All of the volunteers have been camping in the nearby field and the weatherproofing of our tents has been well tested. Gale force winds, torrential downpours, hail, then sunny with a balmy 23 degrees, and that is just in the course of an afternoon. If you are visiting Ireland a waterproof jacket and wellingtons are essential.

Our life on-site

Our headquarters is a mobile-home beside the construction site. There, we cook our communal vegetarian meals. We also have a small cob cottage on the Western side of the construction site. This cottage was built a couple of years back by human power alone, with no assistance from electric power tools. Its main room is heated by a wood stove and serves as our library. The other room is the bedroom for our instructor Paul, and is available for any one of us in the group to enjoy at times when Paul is staying off-site.

At the moment, fixed weekly deliveries of groceries are brought to us by Paul and his wife Therese, and this will be shared between us for the whole week. Cooking with fixed rations in a group is fine practice for becoming conscious of food consumption and sharing. Often times the people who cook the first part of the week are required to be thoughtful so there would be more inspirational ingredients also left for Thursday and Friday. Ones who cook later on in the week can use the virtue and joy of creativity (no kidding, the challenge can be enjoyable :), as the abundance of the week’s beginning has somewhat reduced.

Each of us is provided a chore that rotates weekly. We could be responsible for cooking breakfast, gardening, firewood, compost toilet emptying and maintenance, making yogurt and bread, tidiness of site and other specified chores. This system gives each of us an opportunity to have an overall perspective and learn from of all our activities.

We have a well on-site and running water is drawn up to the trailer with the help of an electric pump. For hot water, we have a small heater in the trailer that works on-demand. As the group is communally responsible for butane purchases, we are gradually becoming more aware of our hot water consumption and constantly entertaining creative ways to cut down.

Paul instructs on leveling window sills

Our weeks from Monday to Friday are busy with building work starting at 7 am and finishing at 6 pm with a 2 hour lunch break and 1 hour for breakfast mid-morning. By far we have mixed (literally!) tons of cob with our feet, piled it up to more than a meter of wall height, set up stone window sills and chiseled out knee braces for the timber frame structure as well as support posts and lintels for the windows.
Weekends include more time for relaxation and support is given for any personal projects we want to undertake during our free hours.

Checking distance from wall to drip line below window sill

Working in a group is intricate, but sharing the same kinds of core values feels truly helpful. All of us are, in our own ways, on our path to figure out alternatives to what we have been taught within the wider context of society – ways and skills to a more healthy and sustainable way of life. This alone has brought us together from different walks of life, and it also feels like a glue that ties us together, regardless of our personal differences.

After close to a month of sun, rain and heavy winds, we are looking forward to the rest of our season of building and learning.

Fruits of our labor: Level cob base for the West side wall of light straw clay.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

...3 Weeks Already!

I'm a rainbow too

The weather has been very Irish since we began 3 weeks ago. But that has made for some great rainbows!

We have managed to do some cobbing on the south side and building is going well. We have also been finishing off knee braces on the timber frame and preparing mullians and lintels for the bay window