Our Natural Building World

Our Natural Building World

by Ali Ostergard

In the natural building world at Rancho Mastatal there is no lack of projects to be done. I think as a team we have collected a list that will take us past 2020. And we already have been building our infrastructure for the past 16 years. One could say we are natural building addicts!

But as Rancho Mastatal grows as a community, education center, and business our building list keeps getting bigger to accommodate our many needs. Although the upfront cost of building infrastructures is high in the long run the benefits should pay back plenty.

Taking stock of the different building projects that started and finished in the last year amazed me. Up until then I hadn’t thought about all that was accomplished. It is good to step back and look at the full picture, to feel satisfaction for what you have achieved. Especially in those times when you have been working on the same project for what seems like decades.

Here is a brief rundown of what was started or finished in the natural building world at Rancho Mastatal in the past year. With the help and hard work of our core team, apprentice crew, and our local staff we are proud to have accomplished so much!

We began our season with building and completing a timber framed compost toilet for our dorm room. We realized that it was finally time to have two toilets to a house that fits 20! This has definitely paid off!

Then we gave the two bedrooms at the Casucha a face lift. After removing the old plaster, we brightened the place up with a natural lime plaster finish inside and outside. Then we installed a beautiful hardwood floor.

We were honored to have Benito Steen, an amazing natural builder and plasterer, come down to live and work with us for six weeks. In that time, he taught us many new methods for building and plastering. Including a new, lighter earthen mixture for wattle and daub that has revolutionized our wall building; recipes and methods for Japanese clay, lime, tamped earthen floors; a bomber clay, lime, straw plaster; and just his overall skills in the entire building world! Along with all that, Benito helped us finish the floors and walls at the Honey Hut shower.

After a year of construction, in which nearly every group that came through our doors contributed to building the walls; we were delighted to finish the food processing kitchen wattle and daub walls and apply a beautiful burnished lime plaster. The entire food processing kitchen is coming together nicely and providing an area to productively accommodate the many needs surrounding food for our community.

Even with all the building we still seem to have a lack of space. With the hope to have 6-7 apprentices each year, and our current apprentice house only fitting 5, we decided to renovate our old goat barn into apprentice quarters. This structure was started in the Natural Building Course, and will be finished by our current year long apprentices. In the course, students learn to build various different walls systems including: wattle and daub, adobe brick, and cob. We are imagining this as a good cabina for a couple or two single apprentices.

While this was all happening, we also started the foundations and timber frame for our new 800 sq. foot guest cabin called Bernie’s Bungalow. By mid-season we raised the timber frame structure and began to frame the walls for the wattle and daub. We started the wattle and daub walls with our apprentices and then pushed them forward with a Natural Building Practicum which proved very successful. We are excited to finally be done with the walls for our guest cabin and beginning the process of plastering, making the earthen floors, furniture, and everything else to make this a cozy tropical space.

Finally, somewhere in the mix of all this natural building being done throughout the Ranch. We ran a ten-day Timber Framing Course with our good friends Skip and Lizbeth. In this course, we cut and rose the frame for Nic and Ali’s house. We are running a seven-day Natural Building Practicum from May 24th-30th. In this practicum, we hope to be able to start and finish all the wattle and daub walls for this house. It will be a big task, but we think we can make it happen! Participants pay a nominal fee that covers the cost of their food and we spend a focused week long period working on the walls. This allows much faster progress not just because of the focused time but because you can see the walls going up so fast it keeps you motivated, excited and learning. This is a great opportunity for anyone who would like to get some experience of building with earth, work with skilled professionals and come and visit the Ranch for a very affordable “working holiday” or break.

There it is; a recap of our past year's natural building season. Not too shabby of a list. In the process, we have learned a lot, discovered new methods, and bad methods, and everything in between. Even after all these years of natural building at the Ranch there is always something new to learn. We are thankful for all those natural builders that have and will come through Rancho Mastatal.

Cheers to muddy feet!

Across the Permaculture Universe

We still have space in a few upcoming workshops:

Help us spread the word and fill them up!

We are also starting to interview and accept 2018 apprentices. If you know anyone who is seeking a life-changing experience please send them our way.


The Ranch Crew