Natural Building, Day 3

Intensity was the name of the game today. From the early-morning cob-making, to noontime truss-setting, to a trio of techniques in the afternoon, to a spontaneous talent show/ drum circle. Yesterday’s persistence at the building framing paid off. Everyone’s energy level is high, and the rapid transformation is unbelievable. A week ago today, Cliff had not yet arrived at Koinonia and Wayne hadn’t yet begun the front yard swales. Tomorrow we will be putting the finishing touches on the building…but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:


Homeschool Cooperative students, getting in on the cob oven construction


Cob is all about community...all ages and lots of fun!


The first layer going around the oven sand form. Trinity and Ida showing Wayne how it's done


Alex and Julie hard at work...nearly finished by lunchtime.


Hey mom, look what we helped build!


Ryan and Alex tamping down the central slip-straw wall, one section at a time


Nicole and Ned moving right along...


Barry takes it to the next level.


Mike, Josh and Cliff filling the first earth bag for the base of the outer wall.


Happy Brendan!


Cliff, tamping the earth bags


Nicole learning to mix earth plaster


The "aha!" moment...getting the plaster just right


Alex and Sunny applying earth plaster to bamboo lath


David and Penryn filling the gaps with cob


With all this activity, even the bunnies are tired.


Plaster wall complete!

Grand finale coming tomorrow night!


Twisted Persistence

Morning glories have always been one of my favorite flowers. Their simple faces, turned towards the dawn, seem to rekindle forgotten promises. I used to take early morning walks along the dirt road near Koinonia’s chapel, and the blooms of purple, white and periwinkle would brighten the slowly emerging light.

Now that I spend more time in the garden, I’m coming to despise the sight of morning glory vines. They are fast-growing weeds, prolific producers of seed, and they quickly swallow garden beds and crape myrtle bushes in my back yard. No matter how diligent I try to be about weeding, every summer there comes a week when I cannot keep up, and by the end of that week the morning glories are trying to show me who’s in charge.

On a recent morning in the kitchen garden, I had set my sights on the tomato cages. The tomato plants are already over six feet tall, producing well, but the new growth had started to be swallowed up by an intricate web of morning glories. It’s a delicate matter to remove the tiny twists, because if you pull too hard, you risk severing the tomato plant’s tender leaves.

The twining ends of the vines reach out to grab anything in reach...

As I slowly untangled each arm of the weeds, I was awed by the nature of my nemesis. What struck me first was how quickly something that I had once found to be beautiful could be transformed into an exasperating nuisance. The context of the plant’s placement where it was not wanted had caused me to deem it a weed, and rather than enjoy the colorful blossoms I began to attack it with a vengeance. I wonder how many people are stuck in situations where they are considered a nuisance, but given the proper context they would be allowed and even encouraged to bloom and proliferate.

Another lesson from the morning glory is persistence. Morning glory vines can grow up to 20′ long, with several arms coming from each plant. Each vine bears dozens of blossoms, and each flower can then produce from 4-8 seeds. In 5 years we have never planted morning glory seeds in our garden. Yet they are prolific because they scatter seed throughout the season in every direction.

I did not manage to remove all the morning glory vines from all the tomato cages that morning. In fact, I probably didn’t even remove half of them. In the end, I resorted to getting rid of the ones that were causing immediate problems to the tomatoes, and I had to settle for leaving the rest for another gardener on another day.

Morning glories are least for today.

Which brings me to my final lesson: at the end of the day, it turned out that the mostly harmless vines were more of a distraction than anything else. Rather than spending my time prepping new beds or harvesting the tomatoes, I got bogged down in trying to bring on perfection. And while it’s important to keep up with the patches of weeds, at the end of the day, every natural garden is going to have some tangles, some grasses, and some briars to contend with.

Maybe some day I’ll come to live in harmony and balance with the morning glories. But until that day comes, I pray that I never forget the simple wonder that such life can exist at all.