It's been a little more than a month now since we moved into our little strawbale home, so we thought it was time for a little reflection on the things that we've learned and are still learning about home building and living on the land.
Probably the most surprising thing has been just how liveable (dare we say 'spacious'?) the place actually is. It's just on 24 square metres. Just so you know, the size of the average house being built in Sydney these days is around 300-400 square metres. So it's small. It's one room, with a loft. But it has everything we need, and still room for toys and books and fun stuff like that. And we haven't even built our undercover outdoor kitchen-y bit yet. We're feeling really good about keeping things small, though Pearl is missing having a kitchen (new birthday books like The Gourmet Farmer Deli Book aren't really helping on this front). Yes it's true, Pearl can feel her fingers aching for some baking action or some handmade cheese action but none of this is possible with our current bare bones infrastructure. However, on the up, we will be building a wood-fired cob oven sometime soon and so we anticipate some great baking days ahead. Also the delay on having a home with a proper kitchen is a good thing in terms of having the time and space to really think through what our kitchen should entail - mega-pantry and cold store anyone? Special room for hanging handmade smallgoods? Oh yeah....
Annie is still not totally over the floor debacle, and it seems that our 'flagstones' are still shrinking, so the puttying/grouting/filling task remains ongoing. The rug (complete with springy, freecycled underlay!) in the 'loungeroom' helps things, and Annie is slowly working on a braided and coiled rag rug, so it's not all bad. In fact, Annie is pretty sure that if the whole thing hadn't been such a bitter disappointment, she probably wouldn't even notice it. She just doesn't cope well with failure. But it's OK! It's been a learning experience, and we've definitely made note of the things we'll do differently next time (yes, we will be making another earth floor when we build again) like not using any bagged clay and making a more sturdily rammed substrate using something like road base. We'll probably also do a cob floor, rather than rammed.
We're all completely in love with our sleeping loft. We probably always thought it'd be a nice cosy place, but it's far surpassed expectations. It is beautiful. The sunrise/sunsets are beautiful, the Bermagui-oiled ancient floorboards are beautiful, the fence-palings are beautiful and the view is freaking amazing. And yeah - it's comfy and cosy as well. We actually don't know that I'll be rushing into having a bedroom any time soon, so enamoured with the loft are we.
We're really pleased with how the lime-washing has stabilised the clay walls. When it was just clay it was a little dusty, but the lime-wash seems to have bound it all together. It's also just so beautiful and light. We love the bale walls, perhaps more than we thought, and can safely say that we are absolute card-carrying strawbale devotees and would not even consider any other type of building. Not that we're absolutist or anything...
No but seriously, this little straw bale is just so comfy temperature wise. When we were building, and people asked us what kind of heating we'd have, our answer of "We're not having heating - it's a passive-solar-designed strawbale house - we won't need it" was inevitably met with chuckles (read:"damn hippies don't know what they're talking about"), wry, knowing smiles, or comments like "Ah... you've never lived through a Bega winter, have you...".
So relentless were such responses that we actually started doubting our little building before it was even finished, and started looking around for a little wood stove or some such. But, even though we moved in here in Wintertime when the night time temperatures get down below zero and we wake up and see frost all around, in our little strawbs with the old (ie. non-double glazed) curtainless windows, we have been quite snug without a fire or any form of heating. Is that not amazing?
The land itself continues to delight us, and has shown us some quite lovely little surprises in the form of stunningly rich black soil with crazy-good water-holding capacity and a spring-fed dam, which is a major asset. We are, of course, still discovering it all, and expect more surprise and excitement as the days go by..... Seeing how happy our kids are here on our land has been so heartwarming. It's like the physical space has allowed their imaginations to soar and they spend so many hours immersed in amazing play scenarios together and alone. We're seeing new sides to both of them as they embark on new adventures and journeys and discover their new world.
We still have so much to do. The coming weeks' to do list looks something like this: finish the outside lime render, instal more fence paling sealing inside, build a covered pergola over our dining room, paint, instal solar system, finish kid's cubby, slash grass, get ducks, build fences, get chickens, mulch kids play area, prepare the ground for the 850 trees we are planting as part of a windbreak/wildlife corridor, continue to plant out our first veg and herb garden, start to plan our first food forest garden, plant citrus, olives, pomegranates, almonds and avocadoes, make some decisions re livestock... Oh and on it goes.... But now we're here, actually here on our land it all feels very possible and really pretty fun.