Tag Archives: cob building

August on the roof

We decided to fix our kitchen roof this month. It was done about fifteen years ago with planks of waney edged board from our sawmill. We have started to experience rain on the breadboard so it was about time. Now the sawmill is happily churning out wood again we can continue the essential repairs.

First we took everything out of the kitchen. Which made it a challenge for those residents on domestic (day of cooking, cleaning, wood sawing duty). Some of us carried boards up the hill and baton. Some prised old board off the roof, and we took it in turns having the children. We put a layer of canvas down once all the old roof boards were off and swept all the cobwebs off he beams. Then we fixed the baton running down the beams to attach the new boards to. Getting the boards straight was not easy at the building is shall we say rustic and has slumped in places since it was built. Still sturdy though.

We also now benefit from a skylight above the rayburn in the kitchen which is truly life changing. When cooking you can now see what you are stirring. Good…or bad, depends i suppose.

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Raising the siege towers

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Rosie the cob mistress at work. She led volunteers in touching up the roundhouse walls (our communal living area) and re liming them. It looks very shiny, and just in time for the open day in September. She also took on the liming of the new guesthouse walls which are dazzling.

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Carnage in the roundhouse as walls are patched up and repaired.

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As promised a photograph of Ed and his Harris hawk Maya. He has been taking her out and training her and she is learning fast. She was unfortunately kept in a dark shed for many years without flying and so he is having to start from scratch really. Pardon the pun. First he flew her short distances on the rope, enticing her with meat, and then gradually longer and longer distances. Now she flies above while Ed walks down to the orchards to train her.

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Sometimes harrowing is. Harrowing, that is. But not this time. Charlie working hard with Sophia, Jake and Pedro.

We are clearing a bit of land that has been occasional pasture with a number of apple trees on it. It has been garden before and is right next to the poly tunnels so it makes sense to turn it in to garden again. We want to have enough space to grow oats and wheat. We are going to have to trim the russets a little though.

In the gardens… we have been busy sowing over wintering vegetables and salads. We are back to having to consume ten leeks a day. Green manures like crimson clover have been sown. The first succession of winter salads are getting there. Us gardeners have discussed ways of trying to thwart the hungry gap by over wintering things in the poly tunnels and sowing things very early. Will let you know how that plan works out in May and June next year!

My daughter has been snipping caterpillars in half, which is very useful but slightly disturbing that shes killing things already ( aged two and a half)! Those foul smelling cabbage whites. The children have been devouring wineberries, blackberries, plums and apples but also helping to make cakes and crumbles.

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Tinkers Bubble had a stall at the Ham Hill Woodland Fair last Saturday. Ham hill is the high hill we live on and is also a country park. It has a vivid history, having been quarried since the roman times, home to an iron age hill fort and medieval village.

We had a stall and did some horse logging and crosscut sawing demos. They also had chainsawing there, kids crafts, meat, sweets and some interesting wood carvers including traditional bow makers. We sold some juice, discovery apples, cake and vinegar.

Our Open Day is on the 19th of September. If you are local come along! I promise there will be cake.

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April, warm, dry and leeky

The strong smell of the lovely  laurel flowers drifts through the forest in early April. A big group of us started to cob the outside of the new badger house so dubbed because it now has the old badger house door.

The cob was made with a mixture of sandy soil and lime. Six buckets of sandy sub soil to one of lime. We mix it all up with wellie power in a big tarp. Then it is smoothed out over the walls. We did two layers during April. The lime is added to make it easier to apply the mix and help to weatherproof it.

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cobbing the walls with a lime and cob mix

Some parts of the wall needed a bit of chickenwire to give it integrity, there can be cracks between the bales or gaps under the eaves. These get stuffed with straw, the chicken wire goes over the top, held in with long staples made of metal fencing wire. The cob is smoothed over and you would never know.

The walls cracked quite a lot in april as we had virtually no rain. They have been hosed down a few times which stops them drying out to quickly and cracking.

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Saving the piano from the wreckage

In other news, we took down the old badger house, which was a big old ‘slug’ bender hybrid. It was about 15 years old or so I think. It had cob walls in some places, pallets with bottles and cob, big recycled windows and a bender roof of bend hazel and hornbeam branches. We spent a day dismanteling it together. The bottles were all taken down the hill to be recycled. The wood will be burnt in the steam engine and rayburn, some of the straw is good enough to use for mulch. Windows were taken down to be used in the barn and any new structures. And the piano… is in the new badger house. The site now is just a flat piece of land with a tidy stack of straw bales. All the materials were organic (or recyclable). A beautiful demolition.

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Finley in the kale forest

Food wise, april was a month of leeks, kale and yes! purple sprouting brocolli which is such a treat when it is first ready but then we ate it every day for a month. We are still eating bought in potatoes at the moment to supplement our brassica based diet. We unearthed some stray carrots too, tiny ones that are a pain to wash. That was a treat.We did have a couple of cauliflowers and a few calabrese. We have got lots of milk and some hard cheese so lots of leek and potato bakes and leeks with mashed potato and roast potato with cheesy leek bake, leek and potato soup with kale… Supplemented with nettles and the first salads, sorrel, chives and tons of wild garlic.

I planted out quite a few things in my new beds, asters, dahlias, poppies and a little wildflower patch of seeds that i have saved from hedgerows whilst walking and hitchhiking around in Devon. I miss the meadowsweet and blue alkanet which grew everywhere where i lived before. I also did a resowing of my carrots in places where they were looking thin. The wonderful thing about having a dry spring is that there have been virtually no slugs or weeds. But we have had to water our seedlings as there was almost no rain at all.

So many beautiful wild flowers coming out, red campion, white dead nettle, ground ivy, winter purslane, herb robert, cow parsley, wild comfrey, lungwort, phacelia, borage, blueberry, currants, gooseberries, rocket, kale, chives,unfurling ferns, buttercups, daisies. And of course, the apple blossom. Here is hoping for an abundant apple harvest this year.

Smoked cow, a roof on the little guest house, things start to grow

The new guest house now has a roof albeit a (hopefully) temporary one. We hope to cover it with our own boards once we have them sawn. It was finished enough for volunteers to stay in it for our february forestry weekend.

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We have started to cob the inside of the new guest house. To start with we collected some of our handily sandy clay soil, put it all on a tarp, added water and mixed in some straw. Then we squidged it lots with our wellies to mix the clay lumps in with the sand until it is sticky. We kept rolling it up into a slug and seeing whether we thought it was ready. You can see when it is well mixed, when the different colours of the sand and clay are mixed together and there are hardly any air bubbles. The straw gives it some body, helping it to hold together. Traditionally animal dung and hair would also be used.

First we filled in the cracks between the bales with a straw clay mix, with lots of straw in. Then we wetted the walls and applied the cob to the walls. I find it fun and satisfying smearing it on with my hands, smoothing the wet sticky mud over the rough dry straw.

Houses were made from mud (cob) in this country until very recently. Where I come from in Devon there are a lot of cob homes, barns and walls, still thatched as they would have beeIMG_0332n when they were built up to three or four hundred years ago. It is a versatile material, allowing room for creativity. Walls undulate naturally, there are no sharp straight lines or unnaturally flat surfaces. I lived in a cob house before I came to Tinkers Bubble and I can say from experience they certainly keep cool in the summer (not always great in our climate!) and retain heat well in the winter. Cob walls are strong and breatheable. Which is very important in damp old england where almost every house I have lived in has had mould on the walls. Traditional plasters and paints would also have been breatheable as they would have been made with natural materials. Modern homes are sealed up with concrete holding stones together, uPVC windows, concrete beneath the floors. Finished with chemical paints. No airflow. Personally I find this stifling.

Natural materials lend themselves so much more to creativity. I prefer curves to straight lines.

IMG_0329John cobbing the walls inside our new guest house with anni helping

I reIMG_0220ndered the fat from our bullock Brisket this month.

Which just means putting it all in a pan and heating it until all the lumps had melted. You can tell it is only fat left when it stops sizzling and you stop seeing any bubbles. Then I strained it through a sieve to remove the stubborn bits that refused to melt and poured it into sterilised jars I had handily placed in the oven earlier.

This was only the beggining of project preserve cow which Rosie headed up with Eds help. We sold most of the meat as we don’t have a freezer and can’t store it, but we obviously ate as much as we could and wanted to try and preserve some.

Rosie built a smoker from an old oil barrel. The meat was threaded onto wire strung up inside the barrel. A fire was lit beneath the barrel and apple wood shavings were placed in the bottom of the barrel to give the lovely smoky flavour. The first time, the meat was left to smoke for two long and was a little on the charred side but delicious! We ate that batch as we didn’t think there was much point storing it. The second batch went a lot better. We certainly learnt a lot from it. Ed told me he had smoked meat in a filing cabinet before! Maybe we could have a go at that next time.

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Rosie also salted some joints of beef, which will be an ongoing saga.

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February forestry was all about clearing an area of Douglas Fir next to the communual garden which was some hazel in between it. We plan to reinstate the hazel coppice by planting more hazel and caring for the existing trees. Another reason for felling in this area was to let more light into the adjoining garden.

We had ten volunteers who came for the weekend, five of whom came from Runnymeade eco village. It was interesting to find out about their experiences of land based living. We probably felled around thirty trees. Straight logs are cut to between 8 and 16 feet to be used in the sawmill. Wiggly logs are cut to 4 feet so we can cart them up the hill for firewood.

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Tomato seedlings
Tomato seedlings

In garden news, Ed sowed his baby tomatoes in his house in january with hot water bottles to give them a head start and they are now in the greenhouse. I sowed onions in the greenhouse in january too which are coming up now. I sowed part of a bed of onions in the autumn to overwinter but very few of them came up. I also sowed broadbeans and only one plant has surfaced! I will try again this spring. It is exciting to be planning what I will grow this year and looking forward to spending more time in the garden as it warms up and all the weeds start growing again.

There is still some apple tree pruning to be done and a few plum and stray trees to prune before the sap starts rising again, as well as fruit bushes if we get the time! We are still eating leeks, potatoes, carrots and kale in different forms every day, but with nine different people cooking, you get a good variety.

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The first inklings of springkling have arrived in the form of crocuses and daffodills following the snowdrops. Winter starts to loosen her grip.

(Also in the slightly more graphic form of copulating frogs in our pond.)

Life stirring.

and… er… humping stuff