Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

Second Earth Plaster workshop!

                                      Come Explore the Art of Earth Plaster!
                                                    June 7th – June 10th 2012

  After our highly successful and inspiring experience last summer of hosting an Earth Plaster workshop facilitated by the Mud Girls Natural Building Collective, we are ready to dive in to doing our part to spread and promote the traditions of this ancient and noble building technology! Come experience the elegant simplicity of making and applying plaster from completely natural and easily available materials, in a four day workshop at our homestead near Lillooet, BC, where we are building a post-and-beam, straw bale house.

  Over the course of the workshop you will learn, through instruction and hands-on practice, about the materials, proportions, mixing and application of earth plaster in a variety of building applications, from interior lath-and-plaster walls, to facing a cob stove, as well as applying decorative details and earth-based pigmented colours.

  Camp out in a beautiful meadow at the foot of Vast Mountain, discover the satisfaction and power of focused, co-operative endeavors, get muddy, and learn! Free child-care provided, as well as three delicious, mostly organic vegetarian and/or vegan meals per day for a modest cost ($35 per person per day, to pay for food and cooking), and your labour in exchange for teaching and facilitation.

  Herbalist, gardener, local activist Gillian Smith, and builder/poet Jonathan, with their young son, Jamie, are a small family living in a long-standing, close-knit community of alternatively minded folks in the mountains of BC’s Southern Interior (St’at’imc Territory). We are committed to the preservation and propagation of skills, arts and life-ways that provide a respectful and harmonious means of relating to this Earth that is the source of everything we are.  Jonathan will be your fearless leader, and we will endeavor to all work as a team in a cooperative, supportive and fun filled way.

  For more information about the workshop, or to register, please contact Gillian by email :,  and check out our blog : for photos and more information about our place. Registration is limited – please register by May 15th.  If you can’t make it in June, we hope to have another workshop in August. 

To learn more about the Mud Girls’ work, check out

Make sure you check out our previous posts to see photos of our work in progress!

Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

Hearth Centre

The Masonry Heater ~ our hearth centre, our main source of heat.   The idea is that small, hot fires warm up the immense thermal mass, which then becomes the source of heat, as opposed to feeding a woodstove all…day…long, knowing that most of the heat is going out the chimney.   

The first masonry heater we saw was in a large, 2 storey restaurant in  Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, and at -20C, between the heater and the open kitchen, (and the bodies), the place was toasty!  Masonry heaters can serve as the primary heater in a modern home of 1500 to 2000 sq. ft (140 to 185 m2), particularly when located in the middle of an open plan living space.  On each firing of 50 lbs (22 kg) of wood, a Temp-Cast 2000 fireplace can deliver up to 250,000 BTUs (73.2 kw) of radiant heat. Total heat output is controlled by the amount of fuel burned, while the rate at which heat is delivered remains relatively constant.  Some exceptions to these guidelines are noteworthy. Thermal mass construction, such as log homes, earth-sheltered homes, sod homes, and even straw-wall homes are perfectly suited to radiant masonry heaters. The structural mass retains a large portion of the heat from the fireplace and radiates it back to the occupants, allowing it to heat more area, or to be burned less often (

Not only one of the most efficient ways to burn wood to heat a building, masonry heaters are beautiful as well.  Here are some of the stages in building ours:

The Tempcast 2000 masonry heater core kit assembled.  This was shipped from Toronto, Ontario,  and though not huge in size, it was HEAVY! 

 Masonry heaters work by radiating the energy stored in their masonry mass. Heaters like the Temp-Cast 2000 are simply heat storage banks. A short, hot fire heats the masonry mass, which stores and radiates it back to the space slowly and evenly for many hours. This creates a very gentle heater, with almost imperceptible warmth. Radiant heat from a masonry heater is very similar to the radiant heat from the sun. Just as the sun warms the earth, the masonry stove heats by warming solid objects in the home, such as walls, floors, furniture and people. And like a miniature sun in the centre of your home, this radiant energy from the heater does not directly heat the air that it travels through, which has some important health benefits, detailed in Section 2 (see website).  From the first time the fireplace is fired, the heating cycle is very even, only slightly cooler in the morning than in the previous evening. This is quite unlike traditional wood heating systems, which create a very hot space around them, cool considerably during the night and then super-heat the area when re-loaded in the morning. In addition, radiant masonry heating produces an “all over” warmth, as the solid objects in the area are warmed and then re-radiate the warmth to you.(

Normally, people face their masonry heaters with brick or stone, but, having become enamoured of clay, sand and straw, we opted for cob, instead.  (Plus, we had a big pile o clay sitting outside!).  We made bricks and one by one, built it up, and around.  Here, you can see them being laid over and on cardboard, which is used as an air “layer” between the bricks and the cob.

We even made shelves with cob, you know, for the nick nacks in our life!  Important stuff!

 … and there it stands, the heart of our home, complete with decorative shelves, sculpted from cob. Next step, build the chimney, and then apply a finishing layer of plaster, and whatever decorative touches we decide on.  (Note: the chimney is done, and we are ready to plaster it and the masonry heater during our second Earth Plaster workshop, to be held in June 2012!)  
Posted in Gardening & Backyard Farming

The Backyard Farmer video update three bin composter, how to collect eggs, and worm update. In this update, I let you know the importance of collecting your eggs from your chickens more often than not. I also give you an update on the worms in the roll over worm bin and how they have acclimated and made it thier home. I give a short introduction to the three bin composter that I am currently working on and I leak out the opportunity of signing up for The Backyard Farmer newsletter. Visit and sign up for the free quarterly newsletter. In the newsletter I discuss a lot of topics about backyard farming and what I have learned to become more self sufficient.
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Posted in Gardening & Backyard Farming

wood burning stoves – super efficient rocket mass heater http Ernie and Erica Wisner have created over 700 rocket mass heaters, quite probably the most efficient woord burning stoves made. Ernie and Erica moderate the wood burning stoves forum at and help thousands of people build these stoves. This video is of their latest wood burning stove. They've had snow on the ground for months, and have seen a fair bit of sub zero temperatures. And they stay warm all day with just one small fire each day. We talk about how warm we feel indoors 19 hours after the last fire was burned. This wood burning stove has some enhancements over other rocket mass heaters in that it has a barrel top that will come off, plus the barrel has an extension at the bottom. The heat riser core is made of firebrick. After a couple months of use you can see the ash build up inside. Relevant threads at permies: music by Jimmy Pardo
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