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 ...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Blogger is driving me crazy!

I've been posting very few pictures lately, and have been slow to post about our kayaking trip. One one hand, the camera that Chris and I use has packed it in. On the other hand, I am having many issues manipulating photos in Blogger.

My first beef is that when I upload pictures they appear at the BEGINNING of my blog posting and I have to pull them down little by little until they are roughly near where I want them in my post. It's never exact and often my preview of the blog shows the picture in a different location than when I am editing.

My second beef is that lately when I upload pictures the upload process posts a box saying that the connection to the server has been reset and to try again when it is not busy...what???

I am often writing late at night and don't really want to wait hours to try again. If I try repeatedly right after the first error message, I can never successfully upload. So I go to bed!

One of the plusses of Blogger is that it's free. I like that a lot. We continue to streamline our expenses and I didn't really want to pay a monthly fee for blogging (frugal me!) On the other hand, my experience is quickly cheapening (oh, that deadly feeling!) and I'm beginning to weaken and start to consider more sophisticated software.

But there MUST be a way around my issues. I'm related to too many computer geeks (oops, make that geniuses!) to let this problem keep on sending me off the deep end.

On a really good note, tomorrow I begin shopping for a digital SLR camera. I bought myself a regular SLR camera when I was in university in Ottawa more than 20 years ago and I simply LOVED it. It had a breakdown that was going to cost me a few hundred dollars about 8 years ago and at that time we invested in a compact digital. The time has come to upgrade!

I've been looking at prices and have decided that Katie will love working part-time while in college or university....

Any suggestions about my blogging frustrations??

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More of the same, but new people!

On Tuesday Mike Slobogean drove up from White Rock and the next morning we were initiating him to filling tires. He just left this afternoon and with his help we completed row #6. Peter Robinson of Westbank arrived last night and today we gave a crash course in earthships, as he is leaving us tomorrow morning sometime.

My cousin Gerald and his partner/wife/ and one of their sons, Arlo, arrived this evening just in time to help out, too. We are almost finished the first "U" of the seventh round.

My cousin Trevor (he is actually my cousin Alan's son and Gerald's nephew; I'll let you sort it out) showed up to get his hands dirty too. So we had a fairly sizeable crew for a few hours this evening.

Our photos are fairly repetitive right now. Tires, dirt, more tires, more dirt.

Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me when I headed down to our pharmacy to pick up more cardboard a few days ago. My friend Shelly had shown me where the store stacks its cardboard outside and I had been picking it up as needed. This time when I went there was a raised cage that cardboard was being stored in. It had a slot at the top and it was locked. Rather than wait for the store to open to ask them to unlock it, I went to the hardware store to see if they had any cardboard.

The hardware store also had one of these wooden cages and when I asked if they could unlock it and let me take the contents I was told that the cages were part of the town's new cardboard collection program. Hmmm. I drove quickly around town and discovered that while we were shooting the rapids in Bowron, Barriere was locking up its garbage!!!

I quickly phoned Chris for ideas as we were desperate for that cardboard.

He had talked to the folks at the dump and had been told we could go through their huge bins whenever we wanted. All the cardboard in these cages ends up there eventually anyway.

So up to the dump where Alan cranked open the great big green bin and voila!!! My PICK of corrugated cardboard. I was so excited I fell over my own feet and knocked my shin against the bin, leaving me with a whopper of a bruise. To match the one Mike gave me when he shoveled a rock onto my hand!

We will be working away on round #7 with an eye to completing it before Tuesday...wish us luck!

On Tuesday I will be shopping for a new camera as ours died and the kids are pretty protective of their own digital cameras!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back at the Tires!

Chris and I started filling tires again today. We've got 12 done on the 6th round and the best news is that Chris thinks we may only have to do nine rounds! We are welcoming some more volunteers this week and weekend. Glad that the weather is cooler, but we lose the light earlier in the evening.

Friday, August 21, 2009

First installment of our Bowron Lake trip

We've been procrastinating about posting about our kayaking trip in Bowron Lake Provincial Park. So many things needed to be done when we returned; unpacking, 4-H, wisdom teeth removal, repairs to equipment and organizing ourselves for our next round of earthship volunteers.

Preparations for the trip took about a week. We evaluated our equipment, filled in the gaps ($700 worth), built a kayak rack for our trailer, planned menus, dehydrated food, froze food, packaged food, made checklists, marked checklists off...I was EXHAUSTED before we even left.

For the 10 days before we left we had been looking after hens and lambs for our neighbours and friends, the Schillings, while they were on holidays in Saskatchewan. They looked after ours when we left; however there was a three-day overlap where none of us were in the North Thompson. Thanks to Mickey Kinloch, our across-the-road neighbour, our lambs were fed, the eggs collected (they started laying in earnest and word has it that Mickey stuffed the overflow egg production in neighbours' newspaper boxes while we were gone! Excellent!) and our garden watered.

Our 350 km drive to Wells, B.C. took us most of Thursday, August 6th. Our kids used to sleep on long trips, now we have to stop for pee breaks, photo opportunities, lunch, to stretch our legs...

We arrived at the Bowron Lake provincial campground late afternoon where we had arranged to meet with Mike and Linda Casey (in the photo), friends of the Burkholder family from way back. Mike and Linda are avid outdoorspeople and hunters so their wilderness experience was welcomed by all of us. Later that evening my brother Tom and sister-in-law Stephanie showed up with friends Alan Yu, Pawan & Simita Pandoh. That evening Chris, the kids and I took the mandatory orientation which told us which beverage containers were prohibited -- somehow a Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade (or two) appeared on Day 3, emerging from my dry ice bag, much to my delight, oops, make that chagrin, along with crispy cold butter and sausages. During the orientation we were warned of a bear sighting at site 15, which was closed for the short term.

The best news was that a group reservation had canceled and we were offered the spot! Although Stephanie had tried to reserve our troupe of 12 people as a group (which guarantees a camping spot each night) we were too late back when she reserved in April. But now, there was a campsite waiting for us every night as long as we followed the 7 night schedule. No problem, we had only planned on spending 8 days in the park anyway.

The morning of August 7th we took all our belongings to the scale to be weighed. Because of the phenomenal traffic on the Bowron Lakes circuit, each boat (canoe or kayak) can only carry 60 lbs of gear/food in the watercraft while portaging to save the portage trails. We had weighed our gear before we left and we knew we were going to have to carry some of our gear in packs on our backs during the portages. Fortunately, we Newtons had three boats, so we could carry 180 pounds in the boats on the portages.

After hearing lots of stories of the strictness of this weigh in procedure we were pleasantly surprised that the parks official was fairly lenient. I figure that we probably ended up with her o.k. on about 70-80 pounds per boat. By the time we were weighed in we were left with about 15 pounds of gear; not worth bringing a backpack. We had also been told that if the kids were carrying backpacks and became tired they could throw them in the boats on the portaging. The trails were hardpacked because of the hot weather and because our first meal was a fairly substantial one, we stuffed our pockets with a few things and threw the remaining gear in the boats. Backpack-free! The photo of the five of us is our starting photo taken at the very beginning of the circuit. The first portage starts right behind us. Notice our smiles, notice our clean clothing, notice how well the kayaks are packed with all our gear stowed below decks. Notice my new camping sweater...made to dry quickly and keep me warm. I was to quickly give this to Katie when her 4-H sweater got soaked on Day 2 and never did get dry again. Katie assured me every 8 hours after getting my sweater, especially on the cold rainy days, that she was "really warm".

The circuit started with a 2.4 km portage from the registration cabin (go to ) for the park brochure and map. We were a little worried about how the kids would do portaging the Pungo but they did quite well, although later they figured out if they fed half a paddle through the front carrying handle, they could be as effective as horses in pulling it. Yes, we got the sound effects for most of the 8 days, too!

We hit a little glitch at about the 1.8 km mark when Tom and Chris went back to look for Pawan and Simmie, who had still been weighing gear when we left. They had too much to put in the canoe and hadn't brought backpacks, so Chris ran back to our truck and grabbed one of our backpacks for them to use. The photo to the left is Pawan (pronounced Paw-ven) taking a break at one of the rests on the very first portage. When we got to Kibbee Lake we all piled in and paddled to group site #7.

While we were eating we could hear a bit of yelling at site #6 and wondered if we had a rowdy bunch of neighbours. By 9:00 pm we were all in bed, with Stephen in his own tent, the girls in theirs and Chris and I in ours. At 9:20 we heard somebody in our campsite warning us that they'd chased a black bear away and it was headed our way. I got out of the tent, as did Tom. A few minutes later most of the adults were out of bed, too. As a group we decided to wake up our wilderness experts. I leaned down to their opening and whispered, "Mike?" No answer. A little louder, "MIKE?". I got a groggy reply and told him what we'd heard. There was a silence and Mike replied, that he wouldn't worry about it too much. Linda helpfully added, "I've got some bear spray here, just in case."

Which reminded me that I should grab ours. Which I did and joined the other adults who, I have to say were a bit giddy. There seemed to be a lot of jokes about bear bait and such. Unfortunately, the portage hadn't worn out Katie sufficiently and she was still awake when we were warned by our neighbour. So we spent a lot of time hanging around in the near dark trying to re-assure her.

About 9:45 we spotted him. Everyone was quiet for a bit and we watched him walk across our campsite, about 30-40 feet from us. I haven't seen a bear up close in quite a while and it certainly struck me how lithe and graceful they are...until it walked up to Stephen's tent and started sniffing it. And it suddenly struck me that it was quite possible, despite our years of warnings, that one of the kids may have taken food into their tents. So I started to get a bit agitated and woke Mike up, who unzipped his tent and stuck his head out. The bear turned around and walked back towards us and that suddenly was enough for us. We started banging pots and making noise. Katie blew her whistle.

I don't think Mike was in accord with our methods as he quietly said we should just let him be. After what seemed like far too long, it seemed like we managed to scare the bear off. At this point Katie was in a right state and Chris and I decided to move our real estate. We moved our tent to the same tent pad as the girls and Katie slept with me. Chris moved in with Stephen. Neither Helen nor Stephen woke during the evenings activities!

The next morning I was awake at 5:30 and decided to sit by the lake and write in my journal, which I had optimistically brought along. Here is my journal entry for August 8th, 2009:

I'm writing this at 5:45 on Saturday. The sun isn't even up on Indian Point Lake but the sky, which has been clear for days, promises a great sunrise at some point this morning.

Last night a camper from the site next to us came over after we had all retired to our tents to warn us that they had chased a bear away and it was headed our way! Talk about heart racing information!

Chris and I got up as did Tom. Eventually all the adults were out of their tents and by consensus I woke Mike, who has probably had
more experience with wildlife (dead or alive) than all of us put together.

After explaining to him what we had been told, he groggily replied "He's probably
not going to come anywhere near us". After brief directions about where their bear spray was...silence pointedly emanated from their tent.

By this time, Katie, who was still awake, of course, had gone from quietly falling to pieces to sobbing quietly in the tent she shared with Helen. I told her if she felt better about it she could join the adults. Helen and Stephen were taking a page from Mike and Linda's book and continued to sleep.

With Katie by my side, and the other six, non-Casey adults now dressed and gathered in front of tents, we waited. Self deprecating comments about our ability to outrun a bear followed comments about how the bear would find the shortest person the tastiest.

Katie is tall but still is 4 or 5 inches shorter than I am. I felt her stiffen next to me, even more so when Simmie laughed and expressed great relief that we had children with us so that she wasn't the shortest person in the group! Helen and Stephen....SH*T!

How do I explain my expletive? Well as I was writing I heard dishes clanking and thinking that Chris had woken up and was making tea for me, I stood up to look over the tent, only to be staring eyeball to eyeball with the bear! O.K. not quite eyeball to eyeball, but about 25 feet separated us. It's an interesting observation about my personality that I sat right back down, wrote my expletive, underlined it and put an exclamation mark at the end before I unzipped the tent and dove in. Katie and Helen were awake and wanted to get out. I had a split second debate with myself about what to do to avert panic, but decided the truth should prevail. I whispered the news to the girls and got some very round eyes.

I then leaned over and woke up Mike. (I seemed to wake him up a lot.)

At this point everyone got dressed and got out of their tents. After pacing the campsite the bear headed to the water and our boats. Our kayaks to be exact. After a few minutes the men started banging and yelling and it disappeared into the bushes. With half of the Newton stash of peanuts/smarties snacks for the week. (We figured this out later when Mike retrieved the bag which had been stashed behind my seat in the kayak.) I take full responsibility for this oversight; it wasn't the usual place for our food and I missed it the previous night when we emptied gear. However, this bear had obviously found human food many times before so I can console myself somewhat that I didn't actually create a problem; I just fed it.

Our group made breakfast and stayed close together around a single fire pit (not lit, there was a campfire ban in effect throughout B.C.) We kept an eye on the bear but after a while it got nosy again and Mike thought we should pack up and leave. My last sight of this bear was Pawan standing on the lakeshore with his arms spread, yelling and trying to back himself into his canoe with an approaching bear, while the rest of us were pushing off!

Here are some more photos from our first few days on the circuit. Installment #2 to be posted in a few days.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Bear!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

We're Back!!!

We just returned today from paddling the Bowron Lakes Circuit in Bowron Lake Provincial Park. What a week! We were hassled by a black bear on the first night (he was pretty aggressive, but a few of the non scared-sh**less of our party got great photos!), shot the rapids (some of us), got rained on, saw lots of other wildlife like moose, osprey, loons, otters. We got rained on some more, met other people, (did I say we got rained on???). We saw swamps and waterfalls, paddled the silty Cariboo River and the kids were great whether they were paddling solo in the Pungo 120 or doubling up with Chris and me in the tandems.

My brother Tom, and his wife, Steph and their friends hit a deer on the way home last night and totalled their truck. We took the kids to Barkerville on the way out and ate burgers, fries and Blizzards in Quesnel until we were stuffed! I think we had a more enjoyable evening!

Took lots of pictures and videos (stay tuned over the coming week). We came home to a bountiful garden (thanks Mickey Kinloch and the Schilling family for looking after it, our lambs and chickens). The hens are laying about a dozen eggs a day and the lambs are looking fatter. The next week will see us doing mounds of laundry and cleaning kayaks and equipment as well as canning and drying garden produce AND getting back to tires. I have numerous emails to respond to from prospective volunteers. Please be patient with us!

It's good to be home and have clean hair and underwear :) !

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Green Shoots!

I've spent the last couple of months reading quite a bit ... trying to make sense of the economy; the economic green shoots that are apparently springing up all around us, and the withered stocks that are dying before our eyes.

The cost of building and construction materials have sky rocketed over the past couple of years.

I'm trying to figure out if the cost of materials is going to drop dramatically, continue to increase, or stay the same. This impacts our decisions to purchase materials early or hold off until we really need them.

Bear with me ...

My reading eventually seemed to centre on credit expansion and contraction, the definitions of inflation and deflation and the true value of the dollar we use everyday for our economic transactions.

It appears that our woes of the last year are due to unchecked expansion of available credit (a.k.a. the credit bubble). To further increase our standard of living we leveraged our existing equity using this credit and everybody felt like they were wealthier. The apparent sad reality is we were all living on borrowed wealth and when the first people defaulted (the infamous subprime borrowers) a cascade of defaulted loans occurred that is causing all of our supposed wealth to disappear (the process of deleveraging). Depending on who you listen to the process is almost over or it has barely just begun.

Many analysts point to the real estate bubble that rocked the Japanese economy in the eighties and nineties as a precursor to what the global economy is now experiencing. The Japanese economy has not yet really recovered from this bubble, and the last two decades are referred to as the lost decades in economic terms because the stock market has never matched its pre-collapse highs.

For that matter my holdings in the Altamira Asia Pacific equity mutual fund certainly never went anywhere. I bought in the early nineties and just decided to sell it all last week. Nobody can accuse me of hasty decisions ... Some analysts state that our global credit bubble is massive compared to the Japanese experience.

All of this talk about credit expansion and contraction seems to naturally lead to a discussion of inflation and deflation. Inflation exists in an economy when the available supply of money and credit increases faster than available real goods and services. In other words growth in the money supply exceeds growth in goods. Deflation occurs when the supply of credit and money decreases relative to available goods and services.

So, contrary to my old assumptions, increasing wages or decreasing costs for goods are not necessarily inflationary or deflationary. Increasing wages are however typical in an inflationary period, and decreasing costs are not unusual in a period of deflation. The potential irony of a deflationary period is that although costs may be decreasing (as is currently happening with real estate prices in the United States), our actual ability to buy is poor because the money and credit supply is collapsing (deleveraging). I always assumed deflation would be a good thing because we would get more bang for our bucks!

The foregoing has really led me to think about the value of the dollar bills in my wallet. Don't worry! I have not rushed out and put my life savings into canned goods ... yet! We all accept dollars in exchange for goods and services. We are confident that the time spent earning dollars will allow us to buy the stuff that we need to live comfortably. However, if enough people lose confidence in the currency system for whatever reasons, then the usefulness of dollars becomes questionable (think Zimbabwe).

The picture at the top of the post shows my favorite green shoots this year. I planted a plum tree this spring and it is doing really well. The darker green leaves were on the tree when I planted it and the lighter green ones are the new shoots.

I planted the tree about twenty feet away from the sheep barn, and filled in around the tree with compost (This is not a parable ... the tree is not the economy, and the compost does not represent banks).

I also made an automatic water system for the sheep this year. This means that the water fills up automatically as the sheep drink from it. It works a lot like a toilet ... not surprising since some of the parts are for a toilet.

The best part about this system is that it drains right underneath my newly planted plum tree. Every time the water system is flushed the plant is watered ... gray water at its best!

So ... where does all of this leave me with regard to timing the purchase of materials for our house project? Completely confused! For all of the reading I have done I cannot make heads or tails of the direction of the economy. I do not know if we are headed for green shoots or barren stocks.

Given my recent passion for gardening it is interesting to me that economic descriptions are still rooted in the environment, while we act like the economy and the environment are completely decoupled. For all of its potential for poor results, I think I'll stick to the green shoots I can actually grow. There are not so many conflicting theories, and when things fail the cause is pretty obvious!

Monday, August 3, 2009

More photos

For more construction photos visit (Kim and Curt Robinson's site). They've posted more photos from a few weeks ago. They have a better camera AND better photographers!

There's some photos of Anna who became our primary "tire press operator" and is probably responsible for filling 90 percent of the tires at this position (after lots of grunts like me filled them by hand and before the "strong men" came behind with the tire tamper and compressed the middles).

Josh and Sean and and Monica are in these too, along with the cute Kid Robinsons and our own Darfield Froggy. None of Nikki or James in these ones; sorry guys!



We have spent the last week working (sporadically) on the thermal wrap (insulation and moisture barrier) at the back of the building.

This process has involved laying out a 'wall' of rigid insulation behind the building and covering that wall with a double layer of 6 mil poly.

We also ran the wire and piping from the utility room to a culvert located just behind the building in the bermed area. We are not ready to do anything with the services so they terminate in this culvert. When we are ready to connect the services we will make connections here. In the interim, the culvert can be buried in the berm.

After the thermal wrap is in place we are using an excavator to backfill behind the tires and to berm around the thermal wrap. We tried using the backhoe but it was an exercise in frustration. Due to its age and hard use the backhoe is difficult to control (its worn out!) and this job requires precision, otherwise the insulation gets damaged. With the tractor pushing dirt to the excavator this job went fairly quickly. The following video gives you an idea ...

The entire process of laying out the thermal wrap has been slow and frustrating. It is a slow job, requires a fair bit of patience and is poorly documented in the literature on earthhips. I did notice in the last couple of weeks that Earthship Biotecture has posted on this subject on their website and apparently the second edition of Comfort in Any Climate will have some more detail.

We are now ready to carry on filling tires (five more rows to go), and will start again when we get back from our kayaking trip mid-august!