Getting Inspired About Natural Building

Getting Inspired About Natural Building

by Ali Ostergard

Over the years of natural building at Rancho Mastatal my feelings on the process have gone through many stages. From the initial excitement of- wow, how cool you can build a house from the materials on your land, and all it takes is time, practice, and anyone can do this! To over time, after building many walls, an understanding of how long it takes to build a natural home and all the work that it entails.

The style we use at the Ranch for many buildings is a timber framed structure with wattle and daub walls. This is a faster and more effective method of building a natural home than say a pure cob house, which requires much more materials and time. Although, wattle and daub is a faster method, it still takes a fair amount of time and labor. Over the years my excitement for building wattle and daub walls has decreased as I’ve experienced the long, slow, drawn out process of it. Until this year when my hope for natural building was born again!

In the past years, we have purposefully left building projects for our educational groups, in order to give them the experience of natural building. Last year it was the walls for the Food Smithery, the year before that was the walls for the Honey Hut shower, the list goes on and on. This year we decided to try a different method in order to move our new guest cabin, Bernie’s Bungalow, forward faster.

Every year we host a Natural Building Course. This course is 10-14 days long and is an intensive break down of many different styles and methods of natural building. This course is more expensive because we bring down well known natural builders from around the world, the students get a diverse exposure to different topics, and hands on experiences with natural building. In these courses the students work on different structures and move projects forward around the Ranch, but finishing a project isn’t the goal for this course because of the wide range of topics covered. So, we decided to trial a Natural Building Practicum. A week-long program that was affordable, but more labor intensive. With the goal of finishing as many wattle and daub walls in the guest cabin as possible.

In December we received eleven sign ups, from people from all over the world that wanted to have a hands-on experience with natural building and an affordable way to visit the Ranch. Our first Practicum was under way!

The experience was amazing for myself and I believe the group. We watched every day our progress get better and better and the walls get higher and higher. We worked every day from 9am-5pm for a week. We developed a good system for rotating through the different stages: sifting clay, hauling sand, making mix, and applying to the walls. There were no lectures, power points, or hand outs to this practicum, but there was a general overview of wattle and daub, lots of teachable moments, and many questions from the students as we worked. It was a long and exhausting week, but with that many hands it made the walls fly up!

This made a world of difference to my opinion on natural building. Instead of slowly watching a building get put together over a years’ time, and never really feeling like you accomplished a good amount of wall building in a session. This practicum made it feel like natural building didn’t have to be such a long burden. It gave me satisfaction to see what many hands, working hard for a short period of time can accomplish. I don’t want to sound like natural building is a huge burden and that no one should take on a project, and of course buildings can be built over time with just a few people. But when you have as many buildings on the list as we do it really makes a difference to the moral if they can get pushed forward at a reasonable speed.

We will be offering another Natural Building Practicum from May 24th-30th, 2017 (cost $120 for 7 days). The structure that we will be working on will be much smaller than the guest cabin and we hope to be able to start and finish the entire wall system with the group! So if you’re interested in coming down to stay at the Ranch at a very affordable rate, get a little dirty in the mud, and probably sweat a lot then sign on up and we will see you in May!

Across the Permaculture Universe

Our friends at Black Sheep are promoting a new model of regenerative resource management in Costa Rica. For the last few years they have been finding vulnerable properties in the Puriscal region and bringing together investors to purchase the land and plant timber trees and cash crops. They have once again hired Scott and Rachel to complete the permaculture master plan of a 300 acre property. We are excited to partner up with so many great local change-agents on another great project.

Speaking of permaculture master planning, we want to give a shout out to our friend Zach Weiss of Elemental Ecosystem. Zach is Sepp Holzer's protege and a young permaculture designer you should be paying attention to, especially if you are interested in water management!

And for anyone feeling generous, long time Ranch friend Eileen Richardson is part of the Rocky Mountain Land Library which is on the last leg of a Kickstarter campaign. They are hoping to transform an old cattle ranch into a home for writers and artist.  Please support!


The Ranch Crew