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Strawbale Studio Diary

Page history last edited by Deanne Bednar 14 years, 5 months ago

Home   Calendar     Diary    Building Projects    Links    www.strawbalestudio.org




  •     1996 to 2008 Diary is below .


 History of The STRAWBALE STUDIO Project - from Vision to Reality


Photos: click on Online Tour.


Summer of 1996:

Fran reads the book "Place for the Soul" by Alexander Day about ecological and aesthetic buildings. Deanne has just come back from a three week "Start-to-Finish" Cob (Earthen) Building Course by the Cob Cottage Company, lead by Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley and Michael Smith, and proposes that she, along with Carolyn Koch, could create a beautiful studio incorporating these principles. We all decide that this is an exciting idea! Together we design the studio on the site, using an "intuitive process" guided by the Christopher Alexander's books "Timeless Way of Building" and "Pattern Language." The studio shape fits between existing trees, creating an irregular and curving footprint. We draw up plans, give the inspector information on Strawbale construction, and receive an agricultural permit to build our "Strawbale Studio."


Fall 1996:

Carolyn and Deanne rent a Bobcat backhoe, and dig out the foundation trench. Great fun. Easy to move/destroy land easily! We are given 50 spruce log timbers, which are brought to the site to be used for the frame and roof. We strip off the bark with draw knives, then stack the logs and let them dry out until the following fall.


Spring and Summer 1997:

Some of the foundation trench needs to be dug by hand to define a downward slope toward the dry well and create the curved "cozy nook" area. Small drain rock are put in the bottom of the 2 foot wide trench (dug to frost line - 42"), then miscellaneous sized rocks and stones fill the next foot of the trench. Then a cement and fieldstone wall is started 2 feet below the ground level, creating a "rat wall." Nine cement piers, which will support the log posts, are poured into 14" x 5' cardboard tubes. The piers are on the interior side of the foundational wall so that the log frame will also be on the inside of the structure. The sculptural wall is extended up above grade 2-3 feet creating a beautiful serpentine shape which will be the base for our Strawbale walls -- holding them well up off the ground! John Eisele, master stonemason, leads a one-day workshop demonstrating how to lay up a fieldstone wall below and above grade. From that point we are on our own to enjoy the process of setting in place beautiful rocks from nearby stone piles.


Fall 1997:

Top Plate Construction Company frames up the round logs to create a Dutch hip roof. We define and shape the split level floor, which conforms to the sloped site, and creates an interesting definition of various work areas. It will become an earthen floor, sealed with linseed oil and beeswax.


Winter 1997-1998:

Plans are made to bring Flemming Abrahamsson, Master Thatcher, over from Denmark in April, to lead a workshop on natural roof thatching. We learn how to collect local reed grass (Phragmite) for the thatched roof which is expected to last 40+ years. The winter is spent locating reed fields, getting permission from the DNR, Drain Commissioners, and private land owners to cut the Phragmite, and hiring local people to help us cut the 1500 bundles that will be needed to thatch the roof in the spring. Fran, Carolyn and Deanne, plus other volunteers also help cut, bundle and move the reed. With the help of Chuck Knoll and his stake truck, we transport the reed bundles to Carolyn's sister's barn, where we unload and stack it for drying and storage until the spring. We are able to get about 1200 bundles. It is a daunting and awesome task/adventure!


Spring 1998:

We prepare for the workshop! April 15th Flemming (and Ole Hav, also a thatcher), arrive from Denmark, and April 17th our 12-day workshop begins! Four students, from Vermont, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, MI, join with the three of us to learn the traditional craft of thatching on our studio roof. On April 25 we invite others to a one-day Introduction to Thatching, where Flemming gives a demonstration, discussion and slides. Thirty-five people attend, and the day is videotaped by Acclaim Video. April 30 the thatchers return to Denmark, the studio roof is 2/3rds thatched, and we find that we still need 500 more reed bundles! We will need to wait until next winter to collect them, so we tarp the unfinished parts of the roof reluctantly, and wait.

Summer 1998:

There are many things to do to prepare for the construction of the Strawbale walls - - finish the fieldstone wall, decide how to "cap" off the wall, research and purchase an environmentally friendly moisture sealer from Cedar Rose, try to get windows donated, (end up buying them from a local hardware, Dillman and Upton in Rochester, MI, with a partial donation from the hardware and the window company, Caradco), finish filling in the drywell, tie down the posts, reinforce the log framing with braces, build window and door frames, and lots of other miscellaneous decisions and activities.


August 22-23 1998:A Natural Building Workshop will take place, offered through the Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center, which will give participants an opportunity to some stucco work. Videos on natural building will also be shown, including the process of our own studio, and a cable interview help, on site, with the studio construction. We expect to be putting in the bale walls by that point, and may be able to do and filming of Mark Hoberecht's "Hut" near Cleveland Ohio.


August - September 1998:

We are constructing the strawbale walls, framing the windows, and having a great time seeing the curved walls take shape! As we go, we can adjust our plan and create new things as well. People are coming by to help in this very interesting and satisfying phase of the project!


Fall 1998 plans:

Create a sculptural heated bench "mass wood stove". Work on landscaping that will promote good drainage on the site.


Winter 1998 plans:

Gather, bundle and store 500 bundles of reed grass so we can finish the thatched roof in the spring.


A lot has been going on at the Strawbale Studio site in 1999

In the spring of 1999 we continued thatching the roof, this time on our own without the supervision of our Danish thatcher. It was challenging, very interesting, and slow work. We had to resolve a lot of new situations, so of course, learned a lot in the process! The roof is entirely thatched now with the exception of the ridge. We ran out of reed, and will be going out in December and January to the marshes to collect reed again.


We also have been working on "muddying" the interior: applying an earthen stucco on the strawbales and around the windows, and creating details such as sculptural window benches and a 3-dimensional tree on the wall of the South East corner! Too much fun!


Student groups and interested families and individuals still stop by and work with us, joining easily into the process, leaving their creative energy imprinted in their work. It is a joy to share: to teach and learn.


As we harvest reed this year, we will be using only hand tools. The gas powered reciprocating pole hedge trimmer works a bit faster, but the "down side" of speed and efficiency is the noise, the exhaust smell, the danger, the machine breaking down, etc. Our Japanese hand sickles are much more suited to our rhythms, and make the day more peaceful and satisfying. It's great out on the marshes in the winter if the weather is decent. One of our favorite things to do.


In addition to our progress on construction, we have had numerous interviews and articles and photos of the project in the newspapers. One article has gone out on the Associated Press, and is being picked up by newspapers in other cities. The Permaculture Activist magazine ran a multipage article on our thatching process, and we had an award-winning videographer come to the site and create a short TV film that was run on the 10 O'clock News in September! We are very pleased to have interest in our project, and to be able to share it through the media.


Our goals for spring and summer of 2000: thatch the ridge, put in an earthen floor, apply finish plasters throughout the building, and continue to share the "word" and the process with others!


Millennium 2000 Update

During January through March we collected the last 200 bundles of reed needed to finish the roof, gathering about 25-30 bundles per reed-collecting day! Slow, satisfying work. The time to harvest is when the ground is frozen, and the best reeds are one to two years old, straight and strong. We had a big surprise when we went out to the marsh in the early spring to load up the bundles we had hidden away during the winter. Knee deep water! And a big old turtle claiming one of our piles as a getaway island. We drug and floated the reed about 200 yards to the truck. Boots were useless, but we laughed a lot! I am glad that I was led into this unique and interesting nature opportunities by the necessity of having to get the reed!


Solar Energy "On Line" Party

We chose the longest day of the year, June 21, as our goal to complete the installation of the solar panels, electronics and batteries that Detroit Edison donated to our project. Bob Pratt from the energy co., came out and brought the equipment, and gave us information on how to set it up, while Jim Bates, a local electrician, helped us install everything. June 21 our first compact fluorescent lit up...powered by the sun on that strongly sunny day!


Mud and Music Work Party

As I write this it is July, and we just had a great work party and giveaway donation for the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. They are also doing strawbale building! Folks came in for the work party from Ohio and Indiana, as well as local folks, and we started the floor, and put several rows of thatching on the almost finished roof. A very good time in the company of excellent people!


Earthen Floor An Earthen floor ends up looking like beautiful waxed leather -- water repellent and hard. The bottom layer of our floor is six inches of 1-2" limestone from a local quarry. This layer functions as a capillary break, so that moisture doesn't wick from the ground below to the upper flooring. Over the stones, we put a 1 1/2" layer of cob (adobe-like mix of clay/sand/straw). And over that, as an experiment in natural insulation, we put 2 directionally alternating layers of 1'-2' reed ends. These left overs from our thatching process are hollow and bamboo-like and water resistant to a high degree. For this application we are coating them in "slip" to hold the reed layer together. The following flooring layer will again be 1 1/2" of cob, then a final finish layer of sifted cob and linseed oil/beeswax combination.


Thatched Roof Ridge

We are using what we call an "Oatstraw Burrito" for the ridge. Though a series of fax conversations with Flemming, our Thatching Instructor in Denmark, we chose this simple technique. Attach chicken wire about two feet down from the ridge, running its length on both sides. Then load in a bunch of oat straw, and wrap up the wire bundles, sewing the burrito together with wire at the top. Oat straw has lignin (or is it lignum)? A glue-like substance which causes the straw to glue itself together into a waterproof barrier.


August,12&13 Mud and Music Work Party!

Stay a few hours or into the evening for a bonfire, or even camp out, as you assist in what's happening at the site. Sift earth, mix mud, help with the floor, framing or roof work. There is something for every age and ability! Bring your own water and food to share. How about a musical Instrument? Camping? Contact Deanne Bednar


Summer and fall 2000

We are working on that ridge and the floor, then will begin sculpting the interior benches in the curved nook area of the studio. That sounds like fun. We can build the benches out of strawbales covered with cob. Curving. Sounds like fun to me. Then we'll put in the woodstove, and the two doors, and be ready to go for cold weather. I imagine that we'll do an interior plaster in the fall, which will lighten and smooth out the inside walls. We've also put in a glass covered "Truth Window" that shows the strawbales underneath the earthen cob plaster. The truth window is sculpted to look like a knot in a 3-D cob tree that spreads, life-size in the South east (rounded) corner. Very cool.


Winter 2000-2001

The building season stops and lies dormant just like the weather. We do not need to gather reed this winter, since we have enough, finally, to finish the roof...but we miss the reed collection, which was a wonderful winter activity with friends.


A new book by Athena & Bill Stein, The Beauty of Strawbale Homes, comes out, and features a 2 page spread on the Strawbale Studio! Deanne works at home on the illustrations for an upcoming natural building book by the Cob Cottage Company. Both of these books are published by Chelsea Green.


A grant from Home Depot -- to train assistants in natural building, and to monitor the building -- is applied for, but not received. Anyone have leads for a similar grant opportunity, or have funds to donate to this process?


Spring, 2001

Up on the roof we go...first thing! Peter McCreedy and Deanne, and Mike Jones from Toronto area finish up the "butt up" ridge application where the reeds are wired to the sways with stainless steel wire...in smaller 3" diameter bundles with their "bottom end" up. It is sort of like praying hands on the roof. It is such a pleasure to be handing out on the thatched roof these beautiful spring days!


The log door was reset in place so it opens fully, and a 10" x 30" double pane glass was "cobbed" into a transom area above the door. The rectangular shape was then cobbed to an arched shape, and decorative vines were experimentally sculptured out of cob onto the window.


Summer 2001 Events

We are looking forward to more people and energy coming into our project during the "Natural Building SANDWICHES" (2 weekends and the week in between) which will focus our productivity (and fun!). Come ANY or ALL days!


Saturday, June 23 through Sunday, July 1, 2001, and

Saturday, July 28 through Sunday, August 5.

Saturday, September 15 through Sunday, September 23


We will be learning about and doing natural building: hands-on experiences, resources on display, and tour of the studio ... and for those staying more than 2 days ... videos, evening discussions and slide shows on sustainability and natural building, as well as a tour of the Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center (Sod roof, earth-sheltered, wind, solar and wood-powered building located 5 miles south of the studio).


It is also possible to set up a special date for groups who want to do "hands on" work for a day or more. Contact Deanne


July 2001

Our June/July "Sandwich" was sucessful! Over the 9 day period, 15 people attended, some camping out in the meadow, and our goals were pretty much accomplished!


The interior finish plaster got about 3/4 completed, the bench basically shaped in, and the chimney installed through the roof!!


The chimney process was a major event and achievement. It was challenging to resolve the numerous and unique issues of working with a thatched roof: the thickness of the roof (having extra lengths fabricated), the safety issues (extra spark arrester,etc.), creative flashing around the chimney and thatching, getting the chimney pieces up on the roof, and adjusting them to the steep 45 degree angle. Whew! Thanks for helping, Peter!!


The finish plastering on the walls is almost done now...it has been really fun and aesthetically and artistically rewarding (What part of the building hasn't though?). We put our clay sand mix through a window screen to make it fine, and left out the straw, then added dry wheat paste and some borax. Yum...a lusciously smooth mixture that adhered and spread well, and didn't crack at all. We applied it by hand, troweled it smooth, then sponged it when it was set up a bit. Lots of experimenting and improvement in technique as we went along. It lightens up the place just to have the walls smooth. More reflection of light I assume. Later we will put on a natural paint wash to make the interior even more light.!


The bench in the nook area is fully shaped and soon to receive its finish coat. It was harder than I imagined to make a bench that "feels good" to sit on....all the correct shaped and angles. But now I understand the process...and the next bench will be much easier (What's new?).!


The sub floor is completely done, with ceramic piping under the floor to bring in fresh air to the future wood stove. (Gosh, I like this project!)!


We are still looking for double opening French Doors that we can afford. The section of the building where they will be (the East side looking out at the old oak tree and stone pile) has been an empty hole throughout the project...which has made it really easy to get in and out of the building. A boon, no doubt. However, the time has come to close it in. Keep your eyes open for some french doors, ya'll !!!


January 2002:

The French doors are in, with narrow windows to the sides and above, so that there is still a beautiful view looking out at the arching oak tree. It was the first double door we have hung, and it was a real challenge. Luckily we got advise from Fred Will, a local "fine carpenter".


The final plastering is complete throughout the interior, and we have installed the beautiful triangle windows with ventilation in the peaks formed by the roof. Thanks to the helpers who helped make that all happen!


The third sculpted bench, which divides the bi-level floor is now complete. It is a very aesthetically curved structure which serves as a bench for the lower level, and a low "sitting wall" for the upper level


. We have collected some reed this winter and would like to go out for more, so that we can use it on future small projects, such as a garden shed. Would you like to come and join us in reed gathering? It is a wonderful winter activity on the marshes near Lake St. Clair.


September 2003 :

We are closing in the building, making it airtight around the doors, and applying an earthen plaster to the underside of the thatched roof. The chimney is being put up again after the winds brought it down, and the trees will be trimmed around the studio so no branches overhang the roof. Plastering Parties are scheduled for October 11-3, 25-6 and November 8-9. We will make a mud mix (clay, sand, some fiber, and with wheat paste as a "sticking additive" ) which will be applied to the underside of the thatched roof, thus making it more wind-proof (and fire-proof). Check the Events page for details, or email Deanne at ecoartdb@aol.com


Come join us for our Winter/Spring "plerking" and finishing of the building!


For Work Parties, and updates check this website every so often. Or call 248-628-1887, if you or your group want to set up a special date to come and participate.


During 2004 the owner of the Strawbale Studio and the land, Fran Lee and her brother and wife (John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn) moved from this land, and I moved in. Various workshops have taken place since that time including


  • Earthen Plaster Workshop with Cedar Rose Guelberth of Carbondale,CO, director of buildingforhealth.com, and co-author of The Natural Plaster Book
  • Rustic Furniture making with instructor, Bim Willow
  • Introduction to Natural Paints and Plasters Workshops
  • Earthen Model-making Workshops
  • Creating Sacred Space Women's Weekend Retreat



Some 2005 Events




In July Catherine Wanek, along with Pete Fauss from Black Range, NM, comes to photograph the Strawbale Studio for her upcoming book. She also gives an evening slide show on Sustainable Design here at the Strawbale Studio lands' main house. In preparation for this event the studio was completed by the installation of a finish plaster on the earthen floor (without any sealers), the sculpting of roots on the transitional level between the two lower levels of the building, and various aesthetic additions like flowers, window cleaning, candles and oil lamps. Amber Baker, intern, was the driving force behind our sucessful completetion of the earthen finish plaster. Imagine Carolyn Koch, Amber and I persistantly mixing batch after batch, and applying the plaster on our hands and knees, from 8 pm to 2 am. A memorable exterience.


Several Interns helped in this process. Great thanks to Ed Laing, Amber Baker, Sarah Plessat, plus Carolyn Koch, Dante Espinosa and all others! (I am writing this 2 years after the fact, so please let me know if I left out anyone!)



"WILD NIGHT OUT" ~ a Rennaisance Meal in the Strawbale Studio


Organized by Lois Robbins, this evening is an auction item to raise funds for a local non-profit: The North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservation Association. This event has happened three consecutive years from 2004-6, and has been an absolutely fabulous evening ~ with serving wenches, music, costumes, candles and good spirits.


Summer and Fall 2006


Kensington Metropark Kids Cottage.

Go to www.glgi.org for a wonderful tour in photos and audio interviews of this collaborative project to create a learning space at Detroit's oldest and biggest metropark.


Wild Night Out ~ Rennaisance Meal

This fundraiser for the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservency was a great hit again. Guests came dressed up in magnificent costumes, and a gala evening was had by all, including the wait staff, cooks, and serving wenches!


2006 Interns (This is from memory and is only a partial - and potentially missspelled -list at this time!) Jason Howard, Laura Anderson, Hannah from New York, Astrid from Paris, France, Becky and Mark from Virginia,

Jake from Lapeer. Plus many short-term volunteers. Helpers who participated throughout the project were Felipe Arama, Don and Connie Booth, Hank, Melissa and Joe, Greg, and more


Fall 2006 - Summer 2007 Calendar

Winter Reed Collection which will provide phragmite for the thatched roof of the Kensington Kid's Project & the Peace Pole Playhouse. A class on thatching is scheduled for January, and the reed collection dates are to be determined. Check the Calendar for reed collection updates.


Plans have been created for a variety of winter/spring classes at the Strawbale Studio Property and a series of Natural/Green Building & Natural Art Classes through Amaizing U, a community education program through U of M Flint.

(These classes are not held, due to a lack of participants.) The Kensington Kid's Cottage will be finished in the spring of 2007. Classes and volunteer opportunities will be established to complete the earth plastering, Compressed Earth Block benches and to thatch the roof with reed. The Peace Pole Playhouse is a 7' x 9' "start-to-finish" building on the Strawbale Studio land outside Oxford, Michigan. It is designed for families to give all ages the opportunity to learn the different aspects of natural building from foundation to roof in a relatively short period of time.





Calling all Friends of the STRAWBALE STUDIO!

You will see by the “Year in Review” below, that a lot has been happening to further Natural Building Education in this region. Thanks for many ways that you have helped!


You are invited to help this work continue. . . by making a TAX-DEDUCTABLE DONATION http://www.strawbalestudio.org/donations.htm


or by attending a NEW YEARS EVE Fundraising Party at the Strawbale Studio!http://strawbale.pbwiki.com/NEW+YEARS+EVE+party+in+the+Strawbale+Studio


You can also help by simply passing this email on to others who might be interested.


2007 Year in Review: Strawbale Studio 2007 ACTIVITIES & ACCOMPLISHMENTS




• The Kensington Kids Cottage, Milford MI. Finished in Oct. 2007. This project, a collaboration of many, including the Raisin River Institute, includes a thatched roof, hybrid wall system including strawbale, compressed earth block and wattle & daub.

Located at the Farm Center, this natural building will seen by about 40,000 people per year. Sustainability Curriculum is being developed, and the grounds around the project are becoming a natural destination for visitors to the Farm Center at the park.

This collaborative project can be viewed at http://www.glgi.org/mediawiki/index.php?title=Kensington_Children%27s_Cottage



• New Projects underway at the Strawbale Studio land in Oxford, MI:

The Crescent Garden Greenhouse for year-round gardening

The Oxford Kids Cottage a small strawbale, round pole playhouse

The Spiral Chamber constructed of round poles, lashing, wattle & daub



2007 WORKSHOPS & EVENTS held at the Strawbale Studio land, (except first two)


• Reed Collecting - Winter, 2006-7 at sites in Oakland, St.Clair, Wayne, and Monroe counties.

• Natural Plastering Workshop held at the Kensington Metropark, Farm Center, Kids Cottage. August, 2007

• Full Moon Bonfire & Potluck – established as a monthly event to come together and share sustainable ideas. Strawbale Studio land.

• Pyromania & Plastering Workshops, Nov 17 & 18. Rocket Stove Heated Bench - principles, build a mockup of burn chamber, mix cob, sculpting on the bench, model-making.

• The Art of Thatching – tour and video Jan 12, 2007

• Introduction to Thatching Workshop Dec 14-16,2007

• Winter Reed Collection – ongoing through the winter to supply thatch for the Kids Cottage & Spiral Chamber.

• Tour of Strawbale Studio & Natural Building Video Evening. Dec 14, 2007



2007 TOURS of the Strawbale Studio & grounds.


• Environmental Design, Professor Vaid’s Class from Oakland University, Auburn Campus. April 17, 2007

• Architecture Progam, Professor Janice Means Class from Lawrence Technological University. Nov. 6, 20007

• IHM Motherhouse in Monroe, several visitors to Kensington Kids Cottage & SB Studio.

• Homeschooling teens & parents.

• Individual tours throughout the year



2007 TRAINING PROGRAMS at the Kensington Kids Cottage and the Strawbale Studio land.


• Internship Program – in 2007 seven interns stayed from a month to several months.

• Teen Build Program – an ongoing program, once a week, starting in October 2007,

• Volunteers - Approximately 10 different volunteers were trained per week at the Kensington Kids Cottage from June through September 2007.





• Earth Day Fair, April 20, 2007, Oakland University, Rochester, MI. Natural Building Presentation and Hands-on Activity. Ollie Bucolo, leader for SBS.

• Natural Building Colloquium East, Aug. 8, 2007. Bath, NY. Thatching presentation / demonstration

• Healthy Living Expo, Ann Arbor, MI. Fall 2007. Natural Building Exhibit.

• Lawrence Technological University, Oct 26, 2007. Natural Building presentation for Architecture Class.



2007 “HOSTED” at the Strawbale Studio land


• A weekend with Herbalist, David Winston, May 4 – 6, 2007

• A Rennaisance Meal & tour for 6. “Wild Night Out” fundraiser for the North Oakland Land Conservency.

• An Evening & Meal in the Strawbale Studio for 4, Dec 2, 2007.

• UPCOMING: A New Years Eve in the Strawbale Studio, Dec 31, 2007. A fundraiser potluck with a Cosmic Timeline Walk, natural crafts.




EcoLearning Center. Consultation on plastering for Jayne Leatherman Walker.

• Clarkston Music Conservancy, re potential of strawbale for proposed building.

• Natural Building on Native Lands: Rough sketches for 1100 sq. ft. home are made to further a Minnesota Reservation project.

• Rennovation suggestions for Tall Trees Gathering Building, and basement meeting room for Jim McDonald.


And many more conversations, connections, encouragements, sharing of resources.





• Posts on national / international websites including http://www.naturalhomes.org www.naturalbuildingnetwork.org

• Grant writing: Applied for 3 grants for natural building education and the development of a Regional Natural Building Network.

• Website Development: Sharon Howell created www.strawbalestuido.org and is consolidating my other websites. Many resources have been entered at www.strawbale.pbwiki.com .

• Visit and help on 5500 sq. ft. Strawbale Structure: Chatsfield Environmental Education Center, Lapeer, MI. Visit and help plaster strawbales on October 15, 2007.

• Extensive email & phone conversations! All about natural building.



REQUESTS under consideration/discussion:


• Exhibit and hands-on NB presentation at the 2008 CARE Fair in Charlevoix, MI (I am trying to find some folks to cover this.)

• Coordinate building a small structure on the Tall Trees Community, White Lake, MI (Under consideration)

• Present at the Huron Valley Code Officials Conference Jan 10-11, Begin discussion of the potential of setting up a 3 hr continuing education program.


Anything/anyone left out? Please let me know so I can make this diary complete! Sent corrections,additions to ecoartdb@gmail.com





Winter: We are REED COLLECTING this winter.  Come and join in, learn a unique skill, and help harvest reed for a thatched roof on a small strawbale structure called the Kids Cottage. 


Spring:   2008 Strawbale Studio Calendar  is done! The Oxford Kid's Cottage "Start-to-Finish" project is the big event, but that's not all! Check it out and see all the things that will be happening here and regionally. 


Teen Build.  A group of homeschooling teenagers and some of their parents are coming one day a week for 4 1/2 hours to build and explore other aspects of sustainability!  This has been happening since fall 2007.  We are starting to keep a journal.  Click here if you would like to follow our Teen Build


Exhibits and presentations:



Projects and events on the land:



Full Moon Bonfire & Potlucks!

April & May, 2008. Construction of the Oxford Kid's Cottage    


Oxford Kid's Cottage ~ Start-to-Finish Series  Strawbale Studio, Oxford, MI

This spring we have been reconstructing and "sculpting" the foundation trench which eroded because it was dug 2 years ago. Unfortunately the construction of this building which ended up being delayed because our efforts in 2006 & 2007 went into the wonderful Kensington Kid's Cottage project at the Kensington Metropark Farm Center outside Milford. But because of the delay in the Oxford Cottage schedule, the foundation hole through 2 winters of "freeze-thaw" cycle which degraded the edges of the trench ~  leading our having to rebuild the sides of the trench by hand!  This has been an amazingly challenging process, due to numerous "cave in's" (which took the Patience of Job to repair) and running into solid clay!  We have succeeded, however.  We dug the trench down to below the frost line (42" down) and sloped the bottom of the trench toward the dry well that is located several feet off the north east corner of the trench.  The base of the trench was sloped downward so that all water that might get in to the trench will flow away from the foundation and into the dry well. This is important because water in the trench could freeze, expand, heave the foundation, and disturb the entire building. Running into clay was a real mess. It would rain, and the trench got so muddy in parts that we would sink down about a foot in the muck while working!  We finally rigged a tarping system over the trench that prevented any further water from coming in, and eventually, through excavation of the mud and time passing of time, the trench finally dried out, and the bottom became solid. Whew!  We decided to put in a 4" diameter perforated polyethylene pipe (40% recycled plastic) we found at Lowe's. The five 10 foot sections cost a total of $25. This was a difficult decision, since our goal was to use only natural local materials.  At least polyethylene is more earth-friendly than PVC (which is carcinogenic). Additionally it was made from some recycled materials.  The sections of the pipe were snapped together and placed at the outer perimeter of the trench. We also sloped the trench from the interior to the exterior, so that any water would be inclined to go toward this drain pipe, which in turn would take any potential water out to the drywell.  The drywell is a pit dug several feet deeper than the trench and gives a place for the water to go, so that it will not stay in the foundation area. This pit will be filled in with rock, then domed a bit and covered with soil.  We think this drainage design will function adequately, but, still,  the building site is not ideal because of the clay layer, and the fact that the land is flat thus making it more challenging to get surface water to move away from the building. To deal with this we also dug  an additional 6 inch deep trench about 2 feet out from the foundation trench. This perimeter trench successfully  took water away from the building when it was tarped, and will continue to get the exterior water away from the cottage when the building is completed. 

At the bottom of the trench we put in a layer of about 3 inches of sand to help solidify the base, and help with drainage. Then we laid in the pipe, checking to make sure it slanted toward the dry well at all points. Since we didn't have a lot of gravel size rocks, we placed some flat rocks (4-6" sized) on top of the sand, then we put in our precious small gravel-sized rocks to fill in around, and stabilize the larger rocks. These small rocks were "hand-harvested" at great effort, from the sandy dirt dug out the foundation trench. We are trying to use only materials harvested from this land rather than buying and bringing in materials. The small  rocks were extracted from the sandy earth by shoveling the soil onto a 3x4 foot screen with ½ wire hardware cloth. The screen was placed over a wheel barrow, and  the soil was worked through the screen by hand. All the stones ½ inch and larger were captured by the screen. We accomplished two tasks by doing this ~ creating  a nice pile of sifted sandy soil which will be great for making earthen plasters, and a substantial pile of small rocks 1/2 inch in size and larger. The small rocks were rinsed clean in a wheel barrow so they will not wick up moisture or water that might get in the trench.  Dirt on rocks can carry moisture from one particle to another, so cleaned rocks are relatively important (in my understanding).  We put in enough small rocks in the trench so that the pipe would be protected from the weight of the larger miscellaneous sized rocks that we would put on top of the pipe, filling the trench.  We have lots and lots and lots of rocks on this land, tumbled here by the glaciers and put in piles and rows along the property line by those who farmed this land long ago.  A number of people helped move the rocks from the piles on the land to near the site: Interns, Amber Weber, Martha Murphy, Rachel, Carol Fink, Emily, and of course the teens, who really did a lot of the rock moving.

After the initial and careful placement of these first base rocks, including the small "gravel" rocks, we set in the cedar posts!  We used 4x4" milled cedar posts, 10 feet long,  (which had been previously purchased) for the 4 corners. The rest of the support posts were cedar trees harvested from a forest a few miles away.  These trees had already partially fallen over, but were still sound and not rotted.  We skinned the bark off of them with a draw shave (a sort of thick knife blade 14" long with handles, which is used to scrap bark off trees).  About 4 feet of our posts went in the ground and floor insulation level, and the remaining 6 feet of the posts will become the interior wall height.  The posts of course will support the roof structure. Strawbales (covered with earth plasters) will wrap around the outside of the posts to make insulated walls.  The north and most of the east and west walls will be Strawbale infill.  The south side of the building will be mostly windows, as this structure is solar oriented to let in the light and warmth of the sun.  There will also be a door on the south side, scaled down to "kid size" and only 5 feet tall. 

The posts were put into place, using a level to make sure they were vertical (plumb) in all directions, and then stabilized with support posts that went out at an angle and were secured by stakes in the ground.  We surveyed our window choices, and selected some which fit the size and style of the building, then made sure the posts would accommodate the windows as well as a window frame. The size and placement of the sleeping loft was also part of the consideration of the placement of the posts.

Entry by Deanne. 5/28/08


Upcoming events

  • May 31, June 1  08 Sat.-Sunday     *A Sampler of Practical Skills  Oxford, MI.  *4th course Oxford Kid's Cottage Series
  • Check out the Calendar for other workshops and opportunities.

July, 25,2008


Local Building !

We are midway into the building of the Oxford Kid's Cottage!  The rubble trench and drywell are in place, the cedar posts and framing of the roof, and now we are about to begin the thatching of the roof with Phragmite reed grass. We will be thatching in August after I return from the Natural Building Colloquium East in Bath, NY, up on Thunder Mountain at the Peaceweavers Retreat Center.  I will be doing a thatching demonstration, and enjoying catching up with old friends, meeting new, learning, and camping. 


Additional projects for this season:  Finish the Spirial Chamber, a small thatched wattle and daub structure, and put pex tubes in the floor of the Strawbale Studio so we can provide radiant heat from the wood stove.  We hope to have a fundraiser to help get this in gear. 


Rob Reese is charging up the solar system, and seeing if it will get going again to produce electricity for the Strawbale Studio.

Amber is fixing up the cedar cabin as a little get-away space.


Local Food update:  These last weeks we have harvested a few berries, gone to the 3 Roods Farm and have been enjoying our

greens, ocra, fava beans, chives, collards, lettuces, snow peas, yarrow, red currants, and more.  I buy their organic eggs from their happy chickens, and get goats milk from a local source now. 


In th gardens here and wild around the land I am harvesting kale, sage, basil, lambs quarters, purslane, and drying mint, St. John's wort, tincturing echinacea, making St John's wort oil, which turns a beautiful red.  Apples are starting to mature on the many trees, once orchards out on the land.  Fermenting is happening as well.  In the last weeks: komucha tea, kefir, Injira - Etheopian sponge bread (sourdough pancake-like). 


Gardening:  worm composting soil to the greenhouse!  Thanks Emilie and Julia!  Stones from the garden beds to the Kid's Cottage area for the dry well, in preparation for making a beautiful "mandalla permaculture garden" by the new greenhouse.  Thanks Amber and Tim!  The greenhouse is wrapped in deer fencing, so it gets rain and sun, naturally and kale, squash, and many other things  are growing there.   Potatoes are up closer to the house, and we are using the method of adding straw around the stalks to increase potatoe tuber production. 


Letters from Interns


Kensington Kid's Cottage update .


2008 Review and Photos 


2009 Diary .


Dear friends,

Funding has been a very important part of doing this work. Great Thanks to so many who have contributed in a variety of ways!



Community Energy Grants were recieved from the State of Michigan Energy Office in 2004 and 2005 for Natural Building Education outreach and programing through the Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center. In 2006 the CE Grant paritially supported the Kensington Kid's Cottage Project. Funding was also recieved several times from Scott Cameron, and the DeWald Foundation through the Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center and through the non-profit "SEEDS". Also,great thanks to all others who have contributed in so many ways!


Thanks for considering a tax-deductible donation, and perhaps passing this email on to those who might be interested.


Deanne Bednar




248 628 1887







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