Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

Mid Summer Workbee

In my humble opinion, the word Workbee should be a common household word.  I want everyone to know this word, and better still, i would love it if everyone knew it because they had participated in one (or more), either at someone’s home or their own, or perhaps pulling invasive weeds in a nearby beloved park or wild place.   A workbee is where people, probably friends and neighbours, sometimes strangers who are passing through, come together and help on a project, because we all know, more hands make short work….and, they are super fun!  No money is exchanges, payment is in good karma, some sweat, learning, and if you’re lucky, great food.
And so it was for the rest of the plastering of the house.  And, what a gift.  Major thanks to Angela, Odin, Sage, Cedar and Yarrow, Daniel, Camilche and Robin, Marianne and Zack, Tony, Travis and Stepha, Llew, and I know I am missing a few names, since, alas, it was a wee bit of time ago (did i say i was a regular “blogger”? no), and i am also not the greatest note taker (next time?).  Here are some visuals to enjoy:

Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living


Well, in one word, the Earth Plaster workshop led by the Mud Girls Collective, was:  awesome.   In more words, it was truly inspiring, successful, fun, educational, and often times comedic (in a good way). Not only did we manage to sign up 17 participants, one who came from as far as Ontario, and some from as close as neighbouring communities, they all showed up, set up their tents, worked their butts off in the heat or in the rain, laughed, cried, sang, danced, ate together,  made life long connections… and learned an earth friendly skill.  Oh ya, and plastered our straw bale home and made it even more beautiful…the icing on the cake as it were!
We ourselves learned tons about how to put a workshop on, and we would love to do it again!  maybe a straw bale sauna?  guest house, barn, who knows.  It was just so much fun!

Thanks first, photos next!
in no particular order….big thanks go out to:

  • Stepha, the workshop cook and our comrade, who cheerfully worked 14 hr days creating delicious, healthy meals, for 34 people no less, in unconventional conditions…plus help set up the outdoor kitchen and prepare for the workshop in general
  • the Go Boy for Stepha, us, everyone, set up/ take down dude, the all amazing Travis
  • Jen the awesome and hilarious and competent Mud Girls coordinator for this project, and founder of the Collective
  • her wonderfully skillful and energetic cohorts Molly and Sheera
  • Devora, the incredibly creative and energetic and cheerful child care provider!
  • the Participants: Jaylene, Erik, Brianna, Jai’leen, Theresa, Marla, Christine, Badger, Dawn, Dianne, Marianne, Zack, Lauren and 8 1/2 month belly!, Krista, Heidi, Meagan and JJ – we loved meeting you all, endless thanks
  • Wren our niece, and neighbour Ayla for helping to entertain the kids!
  • Ayla and Robin for contributing desserts and such, Chrissie for the greens
  • the beautiful kids Arthur, Willow, Isis, Aquinna, Coast, Rowan and our own Jamie who kept us laughing and smiling
  • Becca and Tony the ever pleasant and hard working WWOOFers who kept the gardens from being overthrown by weeds, helped in the kitchen, fed the horses, etc etc…
  • Leslie who came in towards the end of the workshop and got muddy, who has helped build our house almost from the beginning and continues to pop in and lend a hand
  • our community for having things available to use like giant tent canopies, stainless steel counters and sinks, tables, dishes, buckets for the plastering, and people to visit us and check out what this was all about, and go to town for us for supplies…mucho gracias
  • of course, everyone who has ever had anything to do with the creation of this house…
  • if i have forgotten anyone, you will let me know, yes?
DAY 1 – clay slip layer numero uno

Day 2 and onward: smiling

oh they’re so clean!

Day 6: creative time

The colour I aimed for: straw colour = it worked!

The Crew!

Our Fearless Leaders!

and then we had a community workbee to finish off what we hadn’t finished in the workshop…but that’s another post!

Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living


here it is at last, a marriage between the Mud Girls and a house that needs to get plastered….
Come Explore the Ancient Art of Earth Plaster!
Experience the elegant simplicity of this truly sustainable building technique in a six-day  workshop facilitated by members of the Mudgirls Natural Building Collective, June 6th-11th (2011).  Over the course of the workshop you will learn, through instruction and hands-on experience, about the materials, proportions, mixing and application of earth plaster to straw-bale walls, inside and out of a hand crafted post and beam home.  Camp out in a beautiful meadow at the foot of Vast Mountain (30 km outside of Lillooet), make new friends, get muddy, and learn! Free child-care provided, as well as three delicious, mostly organic vegetarian and/or vegan meals per day for a minimal cost ($35/day per person going towards paying a cook and food), and your labour in exchange for teaching.THIS IS A COED WORKSHOP.
For more information about the workshop and your hosts, please contact Gillian by email :, and check out the rest of this blog!  Registration is limited – please register by May 15th.  TO REGISTER, and for more information about earth plaster, your instructors and their work, check out
Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

Planning for Spring

The sun is returning, and between updating websites, making herbal medicine as always, and cleaning out closets, I am making an inventory of my seeds, thinking about what to order, with a view to grow even more food this year, and getting super excited about next week’s Seedy Saturday!  Lillooet’s 3rd annual Seedy Saturday will be on Feb 12th at the Friendship Centre, followed by a seed saving workshop by local seed saver expert Sue Senger.  This is hosted by a group I am happy to be part of, Lillooet Food Matters, which formed in 2008 to address our bioregion’s food security.
On the home front, we are looking forward to the spring when we can turn the water back on at the house site and start plastering.  The bales are surviving the winter well, due to the large overhangs of the roof, designed to reduce the intense solar gain during the summer and still allow the winter’s sun rays in.   The plastering, we hope, will be accomplished with the help of the infamous and wonderful Mud Girls, who we are currently communicating with and who will hopefully facilitate an earth plaster workshop, here, sometime in May.  Stay tuned!  If you are interested in attending such a skill sharing workshop, where you will learn the ins and outs of earth plastering in exchange for your labour (and a small daily fee for yummy organic food), let me know by email:  info at gilliansherbs dot com.  

You may also be interested in a volunteer, work exchange, apprenticeship arrangement (often known as WWOOFing) – read the older posts (esp. 2008) to find out more about us and what we offer, and/or sign up with WWOOF Canada ( and search for Vast Mountain.  You can also email me directly (see above).  We are most interested in people who can commit to more than a couple of weeks, preferring a longer term stay, and who want to learn and help with growing food and all that entails, herbal medicine making, and who like kids!

Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

Straw, thanks to so many!

Straw, THANKS to so many!
Near the end of the first straw bale raising workbee: Tony, Jonathan and me,
with Joshua doing some stuffing
Holy huge thanks to (in no particular order): Nathalie and Tim, who win the award for coming the farthest distance to help: England no less; to Jim, Roy (for all the days), Toby, Daniel and Wren, M & P, Tony, Laurie, Robin and Camilche, Thekla, Seamus and Elimar, Roger and Sarah, John, Eleanor, Van, Llew, Joshua, Jude, Odin, Simon, Oliver, Jenine, Stepha and Travis, and i am sure i am missing one or 2 others – you know who you are, and of course to all the others who got us this far (James).  Putting up the straw bales was easier than we thought, thanks to the huge turnout for the workbee(s).  Though, there were glitches, of course. Ah, details details, for which, if you are interested, 
you will need to come talk to us in person and ask us 
what we would do differently, if we were to do it again (HA!). 

Thanks to the 2010 WWOOFers who made it possible to have
delicious organic food growing
and happy animals cared for while the house grew, slowly but surely:
Phil, Lisbeth, Stephanie and Paula. It was a blast and a total pleasure to have you here!
Many thanks, merci beaucoup!
And endless thanks to our loyal worker Earen, who worked
incessantly all summer it seemed on that blasted roof, among other stages!
Thanks also to Robin for sitting in for Swamp for the meat bird slaughtering so he could focus on the house, some more.  And for cooking us dinner on another occasion:  WOW!
Last but not least, thanks to the hundreds of firefighters for saving our neck of the woods, yet again, and to the powers that be, for not evacuating us this time.
Also thanks to our very own finest fire protection workbees crews.
What a summer…

Going back in time, to recap the summer’s work:

After much, much milling…the framing – oh those dormers, how they are beautiful, and time consuming!
This is one dormer in the big people’s bedroom, looking east/southeast.

Summer Solstice time.

Through the alfalfa and crested wheatgrass.

Through, an apple tree!

Oh! Koda, our new dog!
That sure is a lot of strapping, a lot of wood, mostly logged and milled by Jonathan and co.

Our first Apples! YUM
Holy amount of wood!  Holy amount of angles!
Earen, an awesome, loyal worker, flashing…

Daniel, strapped in – those poor knees!

The roof, almost finished! (4 dormers: never again!?)

JUMP FORWARD: the FIRST bale! What a happy moment, happy day!
Nat, queen straw stuffer!

Jim, an experienced straw baler and cobber

Roy, ever so present, helpful and cheerful throughout many of the stages! Here, threading the baling needle

Roy’s truck, Jude’s trailer
Thekla and Elimar, who (both) helped stuff, re-tie and take photos


The smiling boss man!
Seamus, King of the Last Row!
Toby, re-tying bales
Laurie – get ‘er in there!

Jamie and Logan, having fun!

Camilche, wire guy

Tony, resting!

THAT WAS A FUN DAY! Thank you everyone!!

The plastering, well, is still in the experimental phase.  We want to use an earth plaster, and so far, we have found it cracking and shrinking a lot.  One more try with more sand, and therefore less clay in the mix, and then maybe we will give up on the completely natural way and go with lime cement?  hmm.  Luckily, we live in a dry climate, and Jonathan designed big overhangs on the roof to lessen the solar heat in the summer time (notice the lack of shade from trees!), so with the straw bales up, we can relax, a little…

Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living


HOLY COW! OK, when they say buildings take longer than expected, THEY’RE RIGHT! It’s been a while since I’ve posted here (ya, a year), cause really, sawing trees, milling timbers and lumber just wasn’t so exciting for me to share. I saw Jonathan coming and going on many days, exhausted and covered in sawdust, stinking of chainsaw fuel, grumbling about the mill, but a house I did not see! That’s what we get for choosing to build a post and beam house, the slow way (one maybe 2 people working on it part time) while also maintaining gardens, chickens, horses, child, homeschooling, work, and whatnot. Oh ya, there were the FIRES in the summer that set us back a wee bit to say the least. Jamie and I were evacuated for 2 weeks while Jonathan stayed home working 12 hour days along with 40 other community members working on structural protection and building firebreaks. That is done with now, it is the wet season and the earth is thankful for it.

BUT NOW THIS IS EXCITING! In just 2 1/2 short days (short cause we are now battling day length and cold temperatures), we went from just a floor platform to this.

Pure beauty in our eyes. Yippee. We are all lighter for it too, even Jamie: “Wow, Mama, look at our HOUSE!”.
It all went pretty smoothly despite the snow that had to be shoveled off the floor. Some adjustments had to be made, which is normal. The backhoe was a life saver, otherwise it was going to be some scaffolding and rope tricks and more back work than was worth it. Gotta love machines!

BIG thanks to Roy, Daniel, Tony, Martin, Earen, Camilche, John and Dale and their backhoe power, and especially James Heigh for his calm and cheerful expertise. These people made up the most recent crew, and we would also like to thank WWOOFers ExtraOrdinaire Laurence, Nicola, Marie, Benjamin, Tom, Brenda, and Laurent, as well as Larry and Barbara, and to all the others we have thanked in previous posts – every bit of help got us to this stage!

Here are some other photos to tell the tale: 


these are the details that took so long and were well worth the trouble. 18 posts and 20 beam sections later…

is this safe, really?

Now it’s on with building the second floor platform, milling more wood, constructing the trusses for the roof, and putting said roof on. 400 bales of straw await a drier season to be infilled into the walls, and they are nicely stored in the old hay barn. Much has to be done before that stage – framing all the doors and windows for example. Onward!

Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

The Fall Report

A busy summer has blended nicely into a warm and forgiving fall, and we are bringing in the last of the garden’s bounty (despite the deer!) : tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, winter squash, pumpkins, green beans, lettuce and kales, potatoes, garlic, onions, shallots, peppers, carrots, beets (mostly eaten by those pesky deer!), and herbs galore: thyme, oregano, basil, sage, fennel, tarragon, chickweed, calendula, echinacea, valerian, chamomile, coriander; the list goes on.

Now we have time to reflect on all the help on the house and land, for which we will be eternally grateful : lets see if i can remember all of your names! In no particular order, you are Ryan, Kevin, Emma, Craig, Leslie, Roy, Oliver, Steve, Nathan, Odin, Sage and Cedar. Some of these fine folks hailed from the WWOOF program (yay WWOOF!), one from the Caretakers Gazette (check that out if you want to travel and stay in cool places for free!), and others are friends or friends of friends, but ALL of our helpers are now newly, and hopefully proudly, appointed Friends of the Buck Creek Ranch Straw Bale House on the Foot of Vast Mountain. (My poet husband sleeps while i write this so please bare with me!). We may not have gotten as much done as we would have liked, but hey, what the heck, the process as much as the end result is what turns us on (well we’ll see once there is an end to this…if ever?). It was sure a lot of fun hosting our helpers, and many thanks go out to Crannog Ales for keeping the fluids up.
Here are some recent pics that unfortunately do not fully display the amount of time and work and effort it took to get even to this point.

One of the most time consuming parts was figuring out and constructing the footing for the masonry heater, which you can see is the concrete part in the floor platform. This is built as such to take the weight of the heater weighing up to and around 3000 lbs. yikes.

Jonathan and i and Jamie too will continue to putter away on the house as much as we can over the winter, and see how far we get.

Help is always welcome and let us know if you would prefer the deluxe tipi with firepit, the separate cabin with its airy ceiling and woodstove, or if those are full, a tent, or a couch inside the cosy (translation: small) trailer. I know it sounds like a B&B ad, maybe its practice for the future.

Time to get more firewood in, clean and organize indoors in order to maintain (or acquire?) sanity, and plan for next year.

Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

mid summer update, at last

ok so its mid summer already! I guess we’ve been busy! Here is an update, with new photos, at last!

On the house front, Jonathan and our WWOOFers Ryan and Kevin and friend Oliver have finished laying bricks on the basement root cellar walls, made and installed opening vents in the root cellar, moved dirt piles and finished backfilling the root cellar, surveyed and layed out string lines for the footings, dug more footing holes, cut and tied rebar, and poured cement footings.

We had wished to be much further ahead than this by now, but that’s what we hear from all builders. Our wood order from a local sawmill is not coming after many months of waiting, so plans B and C are in the works (as well as saving up for our own portable saw mill – thanks to the pine beetle, there are a lot of dead pine in our forests around here, so we might as well take advantage of this beautiful and valuable resource at our doorstep). There have been other reasons for the slow pace: our Solstice community reunion, work on and off the farm, people falling off hay trucks, the usual!

And oh yes, the latest addition to our family also took up some time away from the home site, Mandy the Horse. She is just what we wanted, older, retired, a well trained ranch horse, gentle, wise and a little quirky, unflinching around excited kids, neighbouring dogs and passing ATVs or motorbikes, and respectful of a single strand electric fence. She is actually more like a dog in many ways, loves to be at the picnic table while we eat, and stays close to the house without fencing her in. One of the perks of owning a horse is that she is walking chipper shredder composting machine, hence the huge manure pile we have already…a thing of beauty for any gardener! I should have a photo of that but don’t…yet.
We had a great crop of hay this year, and a wonderful workbee with many community members coming out to help pick it up and stack it in the barn before the rain got to it. Unfortunately, one of our helpers fell off the hay truck and hurt herself badly. That meant a few days in a larger centre with a bigger hospital, and time recovering. Now she is back and helping lots even with one arm in a cast! What commitment! Lessons learned: no one gets to ride on top of a hay truck no matter how fun it looks, and no one helps us without health insurance…!!

WWOOFer Emma weeded and mulched the trees we have planted in the garden area at the house site. She and our son Jamie planted many many bulbs albeit not in the best season but what the hay…under and around the Gala apple, the Gravenstein apple, 2 apricot trees, and 1 purple flowering Locust, a nitrogen fixer and attractant to pollinators, fast growing, drought tolerant and pretty to boot. I also planted comfrey and horseradish under and near the Gala and an apricot to provide a living mulch, as well as medicine for the future.

Unfortunately i can’t landscape close to the house right now, Zone 1 in permacultural language, which is where i will garden the most…but patience is required as it is still a construction site and will be for a while. No worries, we dug a heavenly bed for the asparagus, planted it and they are growing well, and next on my list is a raspberry and strawberry patch, as well as more fruit trees, though deer fencing is always an issue. More t-stakes and chicken wire for now. We also have a large area rototilled and planted with buckwheat, to get more organic matter into the soil, in an area we will plant with potatoes, beans, peas and a trial area for tomatoes – the sun is hot and long there compared to where we currently live a 10 minute walk away so we have high hopes for a big tomato patch. I dug up some carragana seedlings and moved them out there into their own nursery – this is another drought tolerant, nitrogen fixing, bee and hummingbird loving bush, which could be used as a living fence we hope. The deer will let us know eventually.

Meanwhile, we (that is us with the generous help of our WWOOFers) are growing some food right by our current dwelling, and growing root crops such as garlic, onions (sweet and storage), beets, with our neighbour who lives within laughing distance. This includes a 50 or so variety potato patch (that’s reduced from 70 varieties!). My herb business flourishes and keeps me on my toes: here is a quick list of the herbs we have harvested so far this year, either from the wild or from our gardens here, in no particular order: arnica, raspberry leaf, yarrow, mint, anise hyssop, chamomile, calendula, plantain, oregon grape leaf and root, lemon catnip, monarda, johnny jump ups, roses, st. john’s wort, vervain, horsetail, alfalfa, dandelion, chickweed. Oils and tinctures are infusing and being pressed on a regular basis. We’ve blended teas, made some new ones, made the Seven Herb Healing Salve, Hard Working Hands Salve, Baby Balm, Belly Balm, mixed batches of Mineral Mix, blended aromatherapy facial mists/room sprays, made bath bombs, bath salts and blended tincture formulas. Orders come in and the products go out…there is a constant buzz in the herb room with things in various degrees of dryness, boxes of products to be labelled on a rainy day, etc.

Other harvesting so far this year includes picking wild saskatoons, black caps, hooshum or soap berries, and domestic Queen Anne, sour and black cherries. I have made a makeshift solar dryer using metal shelves from old fridges, and plan to build a wooden box with a glass cover so as to avoid the plastic trays commonly used in dehydrators.

We have another WWOOFer coming soon who has an affinity for woodworking, as well as a friend of a friend and then that friend coming also to help us get more work done on the house. Phew!

We cannot say enough how much we appreciate these helpers coming here – not only have they traveled from all directions, and help us with all (well, most) aspects of our lives including playing with our son when we’re trying to cook supper, or grooming Mandy, taking the compost out, or helping with the bottomless pit of dishes, but they also offer us a fresh vision, a new perspective, with their eyes seeing our place for the first time, and its been wonderful to have them not only meet our expectations, but exceed them.
I can only thank them profusely and hope that their experience here will prove to be a gift in itself for them.