Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Coming soon...dirt filled tires

The last week has been filled with end of school activities. Two awards assemblies took place this week from which Stephen and Katie walked away with several awards. Helen, being a primary student, can't wait until she might get some hardware/certificates!

Baseball ended this week. Stephen came into his own this year and has proven to be a good pitcher. He and Helen were on the same Mites team coached by our friend Dave Tremblay. It was Helen's first year and after Dave finally got her to start swinging, she started to hit a few things. Our children seem to figure out early on in their ball careers that if they simply stand in the batter's box, the chances are good that the 8-year-old pitcher is going to walk them.

I had a good laugh this year when Dave ended up umping one of his own games (this happens sometimes due to a shortage of umpires) and called strikes for every time a ball was thrown at Stephen (even if it was WAAYYY outside of the strike zone. Getting struck out is the most effective way to get a reluctant swinger to swing!

Piano recital was this past week as well and all five of us played at least one song. As usual the kids were fantastic. If they were nervous, they sure didn't show it. Katie and her classmate did an exceptionally good job on a duet called Campus Capers.

Chris and I still struggle with stage fright and no matter how we analyze it (and we do!) we seem to lose some control over our fingers when playing in front of a crowd! It's been a while since we've done a duet and we are thinking that we will try that next time. Safety in numbers.

Today, after 26 years of warnings from the various dentists in my adult life, two of my four wisdom teeth came out. I can't say that is an experience I'd like to repeat, but I'm going to. The last two come out on August 20th. I had them out today with just the freezing and am sitting now with a big bottle of ibuprofen in front of me and some T3s as backup. So far no swelling, but I'm told that could appear tomorrow.

After I've recovered this weekend I'll be able to start pounding tires! Chris has accumulated what he thinks are the materials we will need to begin. On Wednesday Sean and Anna Renaud arrive from Edmonton. Until recently they had been living in New Zealand. We have been corresponding with them since March about coming to help us for a month. It's still a bit amazing to us that a young couple would give up some of their summer to work on our house, but it is something that we might have done 15 years ago, too.

We have some temporary digs for them (better than a tent) and the kids, Chris and I are looking forward to meeting them finally.

Stay tuned! Our next entry may be a picture of the first dirt filled tire!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Help us identify the mystery flower

Stephen's student teacher gave him seeds in February before she went back to school. He couldn't remember what they were so we planted them indoors and this spring we transplanted outdoors. The plant was green for the longest time (and snaked out like a vine). The stems and leaves are rubbery. A few weeks ago the green stems and leaves started to turn red. A few days ago it bloomed! It closes at night and then opens again during the day. Nobody we know has been able to identify this flower! Can anybody put us out of our misery????

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A garden to live in

Chris mentioned visiting a friend's garden last week and being very impressed by the coziness of it. That friend is Jennifer Kerslake of Barriere and a few days ago I asked if I could return to take photos with the intention of posting them here. She agreed!

Jennifer was in Band with me at Barriere Secondary School, many years ago. I'm a little older than she (one of her brothers was in my graduating class, though!), so we didn't spend much time together, but she eventually became a teacher and is teaching our daughter Helen this year at Barriere Elementary School. We've gotten to know her a bit better the last few years through piano lessons, 4-H, and of course, the school Katie, Stephen and Helen attend. (Small towns!)

Here's a view of her garden, taken from her back porch, and tucked against the fence at the back of the picture. I had to include the tree in the foreground because it framed the picture so nicely! You can see her new greenhouse on the right.

I don't think I could show you Jenn's garden without mentioning her husband Robbie (who also grew up in Barriere!) I think that Jenn has the gardening "bug" but Robbie is the dirt mover, builder, and garage sale professional. Everytime I asked Jenn where she found something decorative or functional, it seemed that it was one of Robbie's finds or manufacturing projects! Robbie is something of a handyman; pretty accomplished at many things. He actually operates his own business as, you guessed it, a handyman. What really impressed me is that he built an igloo in their back yard this past winter and spent a night in it with their two children! Very cool (literally, I guess!)

Here is a picture of the greenhouse, which Robbie built this year after their old one collapsed over winter. Jenn is experimenting and has put plants directly into the dirt floor of the greenhouse. I'll try to get a picture of this when I go back in a month's time for "progress" pictures of the garden.

Here's the garden to the left of the greenhouse. Notice that there are no rows!!! Many of the gardens we admire (including our own) are rows, grids and patches. Totally functional. Nothing wrong with that. But Jenn's garden, which is mostly vegetable and fruit, is a little botanical garden. She and Robbie have been in the house five years and each year they keep adding to the end of the garden strip. Their garden now stretches from one end of the lot to the back fence! And, it's a reasonably large lot.

Here's a nice touch!

The hose pipe! Yes, I did a double take, too, but the spray nozzle was either attached by one of their children or was screwed in to keep track of it! Apparently Robbie found a coil hose (like the springy plastic wrist bands that hold keys) that can be attached to this nostalgic hand pump so that Jenn can water plants inside the greenhouse.

Here's something neat. A series of metal hoops extending perhaps 15-20 feet allow raspberries to twine around, making the raspberry bush an archway.

A creative use for an old wire basket...something for a vine plant to grab on to.

A miniature wishing well.

A view of the back end of the garden. There's a bench in the back corner that just invites a cup of tea and a good book!

Chris and I are always very curious about other people's gardens as we are such newbie gardeners. We have spent a few years really thinking about soil, varieties, and in some instances, just wondering how to get things to grow and bear fruit! We have been talking a bit over the last year about how our indoor planters would look in the Earthship and Jenn's concept of "garden" really appeals to us.

We've also been discussing what our front yard would look like once we remove the old office and move into the Earthship. Traditional lawn is high maintenance and requires lots of water. But, we still wanted a front yard that we could sit in, barbecue in and entertain comfortably in. We also want to use every available bit of front yard for the production of our food (and flowers) and for living space. Although I'm sure Jenn's garden is not the only garden that has moved away from the "row" concept, it is certainly the first one we've seen up close.

And we like it!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

First Tomatoes Spotted

I got a thrill this afternoon while weeding the garden. A tomato plant has two tiny green tomatoes started on it! I was surprised ... the plants have been flowering but I did not expect to see tomatoes yet.

I added the second tire to my potato stacks today. I have started six stacks in total and the claim is fifty pounds of potatoes per stack. We'll be in potatoes all winter!

The dog continues to dig in the garden. Onions seem to be her favourite choice so I have put a string fence around that planter. I may have to resort to more drastic measures, although I am not sure what those measures would be ...

Sandra and I visited a friend's garden this evening. She has done an amazing job with her garden. It is very inviting and cozy ... something to aspire to. We walked away with four plants, and I now have high hopes that we will be feasting on eggplant before the summer is out.

We are planning to go kayak camping tomorrow for four days. Katie is sick (Stephen already had it) but we are hoping she will be feeling well tomorrow. This is our first trip of the season and we are going to Clearwater lake. The kids are excited! Stephen got freeze dried food in his stocking last Christmas and he is looking forward to his apple cobbler.

When we return we should be back to thinking about the house within a couple of days!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Catch up!

It seems that life has been incredibly busy the last week or so. Chris and I (and Helen) participated in the Kamloops Energy Fair on May 23rd at McArthur Island Park. We couldn't believe how busy it was!

We talked non-stop for four hours and met lots of people interested in sustainable building. Some old friends stopped by including a former employee of my father's, who, it turned out, worked on a tire building in Kamloops over 20 years ago.

The interview I taped with CBC's All Points West aired (unbeknownst to me!) at 4:10 the day before and many people we spoke to had heard it and had wanted to come down to talk to us.

Fortunately there was a great kids area at the Fair and even Helen enjoyed herself, acing the recycling game, and learning even more about worm composting. The two young people in charge were amazing and kept many children engaged while their parents browsed the fair.

Our hole is now ready for tires but we had to set aside the project for a few weeks to honour some log home commitments we made several years ago. Hopefully the two buildings we are working on will soon be complete and we can return to our own home project.

After my rant about Costco and shopping in Kamloops I ran into my friend Maureen at the Barriere post office. We talked a little about food supply (she had just read Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver) and the conversation turned to our local organic farm here in Barriere, Watersmeet. I learned from Maureen that one of the owners, Gerard, had tried to grow cucumbers over the winter and that he was, in fact, selling early lettuces, asparagas and a few other vegetables (already!!).

So I put my money where my mouth was and went for a visit. I had a good chat with Gerard and as our conversation moved to the label of organic and the controversy around that labelling, I was amazed that many of the concepts and ideas I had been reading about in Michael Pollan's books, In Defense of Food, and the Omnivore's Dillema, were coming out of Gerard's mouth! Truly our food supply issues are being examined at a very local level, too!

After grabbing (and paying!) for two pounds of asparagas I resolved that I would pay more for my produce in order to get the best of the nutrition in them, instead of simply spending the least amount of money at the Superstore. It also led me to a flurry of weeding in our garden!

Our first batch of radishes are ready and the peas are nine or ten inches tall. Chris' tomatoes and mystery plants (I think they are green peppers) that he planted in the cold frame are excelling. They look greenhouse perfect! Onions are up and beans, which we planted for the first time, have poked their heads up. Even the heritage brocolli I decided to give a whirl is coming up. Chris' spuds in a tire are also starting to take off.

On another note, I am re-evaluating solar hot water. After hooking our waterline during excavation, we had to re-connect using a garden house above ground. By noon each day running the cold water tap generates a good gallon or two of really hot water. Heated for the sun! There's something in this concept...especially in the summer.

We put a little effort into our sheep pasture and set up a large area with electrical fencing. After making each lamb touch the wire with its nose a few times (none of us felt great about doing it) they are all respecting it and we no longer have to move the small pasture fencing each evening. We borrowed Mike and Linda's post pounder and shiny green John Deere tractor and put in some more so that when the lambs are finished with this pasture, we can create another one while it recovers.

We started free ranging the hens. The first day we opened the coop doors, the hens all stood in the doorway for a few hours. Nothing could convince them to come out! Now they are exploring the yard and pecking away at hopefully scrumptious bugs. More omega-3 for my eggs! They are all now roosting on Chris' makeshift roosting bars in the coop. Only 21 fit on them so the other four hang out on the hook holding the automatic waterer. Now Chris is turning his thoughts to building the proper roosts...

We had our first chicken a few nights ago. We had a family get-together at Dad's and my cousin Gerald and his family joined us. Sister-in-law Stephanie cut it up and merinated it and then BBQ'ed it. Delicious. So much better than factory produced chicken. I have to say that the difference is quite noticeable. So the dilemma is now whether we can stand to raise this breed again for the taste/nutrition difference. I think it is still a no to the breed, but perhaps we will investigate something different next year.

We are planning a kayak trip for four or five days before school is out. We are all quite excited and hope that this, and a few other trips, will get us polished and ready for the Bowron Lakes Circuit in August.

Next up for us is a multitude of baseball games and practices for the kids, and polishing our piano recital pieces for June 20th!