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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Foundations

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It’s been another exciting week here at the Nid building site! As of last weekend I’d only just started to dig the trench for the foundation, and by now I am already starting to lay up the wall from the base layer of (very large) stones. Sand and cement is being acquired – my first bought materials – rocks are being hauled from the fallen parts of the ruined buildings and various piles around the property, and the details of the plan are coming along as I wait for the construction gods (aka the dump) to drop a sliding glass door or double french window in my lap. I’ve been ever so fortunate this week to have an old friend helping out with the Nid project, lending lots of muscle and energy in digging and moving rocks, as well as providing great company, which has put me a week or more ahead of where I’d otherwise be! I’ve also been taught the real meaning of a 10 hour work day: hard labour, in the sun, through the remorseless heat of the day. Builds personality.

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The foundation ditch ranges between 8″-12″, at about 18″ wide. The rear area (bathroom and storage under the loft) is dug out about 8″ deep throughout, to give a little more headroom below the loft floor. The rest of the floor is being leveled, and ultimately will be about 4″ above ground level, to give maximum drainage below. The bottom of the trench has a layer of large – as large as could be practically lifted and wheel-barrowed – rocks, each well bedded into the clay soil, flat side down, fitted as snugly together as possible (I have an uncanny eye for this particular process). 3″PVC pipe has been placed on the base layer of foundation rock, through which the eventual 2″ drain pipes for the shower and sink can be run.

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Meanwhile, water and power have been run to the Nid site, and there’s now a “two lane highway” to get to the Nid. By which I mean a wide enough trail to get not only the wheel barrow up, but also our little cement mixer…who’s wheels I had to remove today for a little TLC before we attempt to move the poor little beast tomorrow.

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Of course there are a million things going on at once, and the first “real” production run of bread is happening this Sunday! Last chance to order is Friday evening (3/28), pick up Sunday at Noon. This time around there is a choice of wholewheat or cooked-grain (contains whole brown rice) bread, in a medium loaf or 6 rolls for a $6 donation to the Nidulari tiny house fund. Orders can be made via email – next week I hope to publish the new tab which will include an online order form.

Don’t forget to “follow” Nidulari so that you get notified of new posts! Cheers!

Bread, breadier, breadiest…breadful?

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It’s three weeks to the day since I arrived on St Croix, beaten down from 30+ hours of flights and airports, feeling that it would take weeks to recover from such an ordeal. However, recovery of that nature was not to be, and instead I’ve been ever so hard at work. I’ve cleared my home site, trimmed the tree above it, re-cleared the site, staked out the foundation, and dug nearly halfway around the perimeter where the foundation wall will sit. But that is all for another post, another day. For today has been a big, exciting day, on which I built from the previous experimentation with the bread oven, and baked a real, production-size batch of sourdough bread in our home-built, wood-fired oven!

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The last test run of the oven was very successful, reaching a temperature of 500deg F in a relatively short time. This was achieved by decreasing the airflow into the firebox (the underneath of the oven where there fire is built), thereby trapping the hot air and giving it more time to heat the barrel (cooking chamber) before escaping out the chimney in the rear of the oven. I was able to successfully bake a loaf of banana bread and a small batch of sourdough, over the course of about 1.5hours.

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This time around I made enough dough for about a dozen small loaves (or eight regular loaves), which I split into loaves and rolls. The dough was a basic wholewheat, which is reliable and easy to handle, a good choice for while I’m still figuring out the finer points of the oven. To give you an idea of volume, this batch was about 20cups, or about 8lbs of flour. That’s a lot of dough to knead, so I was thankful for the great workout I’ve been getting from clearing and digging!

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This batch was certainly worth all the hard work, and the oven cooked beautifully…once I remembered to remove the brick blocking the chimney! Before that, not so good on the heating side of things. Pulling several oven loads of bread out of the oven, one after another, is incredibly satisfying, particularly after two days of nurturing the sourdough, feeding it, kneading it, shaping it…

It was also ever so wonderful to spoon some homemade boston beans onto slices of fresh-out-the-oven sourdough wholewheat bread for a delicious and easy dinner!

Due to the success of this batch of sourdough and the oven, I shall soon be accepting local orders for weekly baking, the proceeds of which will go towards the Nid tiny house and sustainable living project. Please check back soon on the Nidulari homepage for a new “products and produce” tab, which will include an online pre-order form for the bread, as well as listings of any excess produce from the garden and orchard.

Cheers!

Rainbows and Roundness

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Our own private mini-rainbow in the garden!

It’s been less than two weeks since I came “home” to St Croix, and much has already been accomplished. I have found a building site for my tiny house, cleared said site, and now re-filled the clearing with a huge mess of branches ensnared in a variety of vines which had to be trimmed from above the site. Soon those too shall be gone, and the digging of the foundation may commence. An old sail has been set up for shade, and I am mentally preparing myself for chainsawing large fallen branches, seemingly a good way to familiarize myself with our chainsaw before I try to do anything too precise with it.

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The wood-fired barrel oven that Mandy and Jan built before I arrived has now been heated for the first time…and the second time! Before trying it out I had to make a seal for the door, from kiln insulation wrapped with mesh and wire, and then I got to build a big fire and see how it works! The first attempt brought the oven up to 325F with a moderate fire; the goal is 450F, for the proper crust to form on my sourdough breads. The general conclusion from the “test” heating was that the door may need a layer of insulation on the inside, and that the fire chamber, currently open, may require a door to impede the airflow and thereby slow the burning of the wood whilst also trapping more heat within. With a little fine-tuning and experimentation I should soon be able to bake large batches of sourdough bread in it, to feed all you hungry people! For the second heating we’d added a layer of sand in the bottom of the cooking chamber, and a makeshift door to the firebox, but for whatever reason did not achieve a temperature over about 300deg F. More on that later, as we figure out what we’re doing wrong – it could be the chimney, or the lower airflow, or many other factors.

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Insulating around the oven door.

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Fire in the oven!

We’ve had a good bout of rain, daily for the past 4 or 5 days, which is sending the garden into copious production of everything, with more seedlings to be planted out next week to fill in any gaps. A good amount of mulching with tree bark (from dead, cut trees and logs) around our tomato beds seems to be keeping them from drying out as much in the hot afternoon sun; always a killer here. Currently we have about six varieties of greens, basil, oregano, tomatoes (not quite ripe), green beans, peppers, seasoning peppers, parsley, and (very small) mint producing, along with papayas, sour oranges, and bananas. We’re anxiously watching for flowers on the mango and avocado trees, and hoping that the heavy rains don’t damage all the flowers, preventing a good crop!

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Only 3 days after planting the seeds!

In regard to the Tiny House – nicknamed the “Nid” by my granddad – it’s plans continue to evolve slightly as time passes. The floor plan remains the same, but trimming the saman tree above the site has yielded some handy pieces of wood for massive posts, and Jan (my mother’s partner) and I have been tossing around ideas for round and elliptical windows. These might have bars or security screen built in, with an eyebrow above meaning that they could stay open in all except a raging storm. This idea was perhaps fueled by an entire day spent wrestling with the installation of burglar bars into the windows of our “cottage”, the rental unit on the property. Details details. Once the foundation is dug and built the Nid will start to rise from the ground, doubtless changing as it rises, a phoenix of wood and cement.

Next up will be posts on making fresh coconut milk by hand, using the wood-fired bread oven, and digging the Nid foundation! Cheers for now!

We’ve arrived!

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Machete: the only tool to use for hacking bush.

 

It was a journey. 34 hours. BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport) was not the best place to have to wait 8 hours while the temperature rose enough to where Zada could fly. Miami, however, was great, and extremely canine-friendly – lucky, since we had to spend a whole 16 hours there! But finally, finally, we made in to St Croix, with myself, Zada, and all the luggage in-tact. There are no photos of that ordeal, so it can be left far behind, and I will say, American Airlines was great about finding a way for us to fly with minimum delays and no extra cost!

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Zada is much happier after being shorn.

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Zozo knows the he’s next.

 

So here we are, in this disgustingly fabulous weather, on this beautiful island, with fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden in every meal. Wait…not so fast…unless you want to come hack bush, comprised of nettles, thorny shrubs, vines large and strong enough to easily hang someone with, and jack-spaniards nests (ferocious wasps, which got Mandy three times yesterday, causing her entire hand and arm to swell)…and with a machete, the only tool that can cope with that combination of flora. Upon surveying the property on my first day here, I found not only that parts of the property are severely overgrown, but that sadly there have been several blights, wiping out most of our citrus trees and some other plants as well. Between the blights and the lack of upkeep the food production on the land has been significantly reduced, but gradually that will be remedied as plants are pruned, weeds and vines are abolished, and the vegetable garden is more intensely managed. There is much to be done!

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Yesterday was spent bush-whacking through the rear part of the property, which has not been cleared or managed in over 20 years, seeking the ideal spot for my Tiny House. On my first round I looked at the spots I’d originally had in mind, and while perfectly fine, they didn’t entirely grab me. On the second time round, I cut through a corner of the land that has been largely ignored, and found my perfect building site! Located behind an old ruin, next to a large Saman tree that creates a lovely dell, on a slight rise above the level of the gut (storm waterway), and with easy road access, it is a dreamy, amazing spot, absolutely ideal for what I plan build.

 

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This morning, after dropping Mandy at the airport for her 3 week trip to Haiti, I took a machete and started hacking through the dense net of vines and small trees that have taken over the entire area, enveloping the Saman tree and making it difficult to even walk through my potential building site. After about 45 minutes of sweat and toil there was a good sized path into the patch, and a good sized blister or two on my hands! Progress shall be slow but steady, as I also attempt to fill in the vegetable garden, settle myself into the main house temporarily, and try to get Mandy’s bread oven up and running so that sourdough production may begin.

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Looking through to my building site, on the far side of the Saman tree.

 

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Mandy’s glorious Kapok tree, only 100ft or so from where my Tiny House will be!

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Looking from the back verandah of Mandy’s house (where I’m staying) to one of the ruins, the BBQ, and the bread oven. This is Zozo’s domain.

All in all, it’s good to be back! More soon on the first heating of the oven, and progress with the clearing!

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