The Cob Oven!

1 October 2017

It's done!  It's usable! We've used it! It works! 

This thing was a mighty labour of love but we couldn't be more pleased with the results! It's a little unrefined at this point. We didn't get around to doing the final finishing layer quite yet, but it's 100% usable as it is right now, and I'm A OK with that. 

The final oven step (everything above the base) took us a full morning/afternoon with no kids around. It was by far the most satisfying but nerve wracking part. Would this dirt I dug up actually hold up as building material?! Will it collapse once we remove the sand form?! But alas, it all worked out! The walls are now about 12 inches thick and even when the fire has been burning for a few hours the outside is still cool enough to touch. 

It takes about 2-3 hours to heat up the oven so it's hot enough for pizza. Which seems like a lot of wood to use but again our neighbours have been amazing giving us scrap wood so we haven't had to buy any yet. Usually if we're having pizza for dinner I'll start a fire around 2 and throw a few pieces of wood in it every 20 minutes or so when it starts to burn down. Once we're ready to cook the pizzas I use a metal hoe and either remove some of the ash/coals into a metal bucket or push them to the back of the oven. Then, using a wet mop-like tool Dave fashioned out of a scrap fabric and a wooden pole, I'll quickly mop the floor of the hearth to clean up any ash. Then you just slid your pizza right on to the hearth and cook it! It took a while to get the hang of it but now I feel pretty confident making upwards of 10-12 pizzas depending how many people we're feeding. 

Words cannot describe how amazing it was to eat the first (albeit slightly charred) pizza from the cob oven. Pizza has never tasted so good! And fast! The first few pizzas only take about a minute to cook.

Our next goal is to build a removable door for the oven so we can start baking bread in it. For bread baking you need to remove all the ash and coals from the oven before you bake. Plus you need a door to keep the residual heat inside. I recently took a sourdough bread making class at Little City Farm (where they bake their bread in a cob oven too) so I'm really excited to try that next. 

Some Final Thoughts 

  • I know I've said this throughout the entire process but I cannot believe that we built this! Using stuff we mostly found and with dirt in our own backyard! It has really opened my eyes up to what we can do if we only take the time and just start
  • Our cob oven took all summer to complete but I would say that is 100% due to having two little kids around. Most of the building took place either during naps, once the kids went to sleep or when Dave could fully take on kid duty to free me up to concentrate on the oven. If you don't have kids you could probably get this done in 2 weekends
  • I think in total we spent around $150 for everything, not bad! 

I'm thrilled and slightly relieved that this project is now complete. It will be so nice to enjoy the oven and move on to a new project :)

I didn't get into the specifics of how we built our oven (it would take forever) but if you are interested in making one of these for yourself you have to check out Kiko Denzer's book. Ours is totally covered in mud and well worn now. Or shoot us an email! We'd be happy to chat more about it :) 

The Cob Oven: We Have a Base!

7 August 2017

Now we're getting somewhere! The base is complete! This part was really intimidating at first but once I got going it was surprisingly easy. Do I have any experience laying brick you might ask? Nope! I watched a few youtube videos and called myself an expert. Most videos I watched seemed way too intense and technical. I figured I wasn't building a wall for our house or anything so I could probably wing it a bit more than most videos suggested. Here's what I did:

  1. Filled up the hole with small drainage rock to ground level. (We bought a cubic yard for around $40 and our neigbour with a trailer helped us pick it up. If you have it delivered you pay around $120, yikes!)
  2. Leveled out the rock layer as much as I could
  3. Laid the first layer of brick directly on to the rocks and checked it with a level
  4. Bricked and mortared up until I had used up all the brick (We spent about $25 on mortar)
  5. Once the mortar had dried for 24 hours we filled the entire base with drainage rock

Is it perfect? Not exactly. But it sure is sturdy and it looks pretty good I think! 

Next up is the wine bottle and sawdust + building soil layer for insulation.  I actually did this already too but it was a total flop. I looked around for sawdust but most local hardware stores cut MDF and other non-hard wood so I didn't want that junk in with the sawdust. I ended up finding a giant bag of sawdust/shavings on kijiji for $10 but long story short, shavings are not good for this layer. Ugh. Ideally this layer would have dried hard but since my sawdust was more wood shavings it just dried as dirty wood shavings.

No big deal though! I'm just scooping it out and trying again with actual sawdust. I ended up contacting a packing company that a friend told me about and they said I could come by and pick up the sawdust later this week, yay!

In the meantime I'm in the process of sifting the building soil that I'll use to build the oven. Dave whipped up a sifter for me using some scrap wood and hardware cloth (you can see it in the top photo).

So that's where I'm at now! Not too bad! My goal is to have it done before Dave goes back to work in the fall.
I got this.

Backyard Herbology: Yarrow

1 August 2017

Recently I took a 4 week Practical Herbalist course at Little City Farm. I learned so much! What was really inspiring was realizing how many useful things grow around us, usually considered as weeds! Last week I was browsing through this book looking at a plant called yarrow when Dave peers over my shoulder and says "Hey, I think we have that growing in the front lawn". Turns out he was right!

Side Note: Turns out when we "forgot" to mow the front lawn for a few weeks a bunch of cool stuff popped up! Besides yarrow we found wild strawberries, thyme and daisies! Love it!

So with my trusty harvester Iris, we snipped all the yarrow flowers that were growing out of our overgrown lawn to make a tincture. A tincture is basically just where you steep/infuse something in alcohol. I currently have a jar of all our yarrow flowers infusing in a jar of vodka on our windowsill. You may be asking, what the heck are you going to do with a large jar of weed vodka?! Ha! Well after a few weeks I'll strain it into a few small dosage bottles and it can be used for a bunch of low-key medicinal purposes such as reducing fevers, relieving stomach cramps and indigestion, and for *ahem* crampy lady problems. Plus tinctures last a loooong time so I'm looking forward to learning other ways I can use it too.

This is one of the first medicinal herb things I've made so I'm curious how it turns out and works later. I've always been a bit skeptical of natural or alternative medicine but hey I'm willing to try new things! Especially when it's just for everyday kind of maladies.

The Cob Oven: Step Two

22 June 2017

I've made some big progress this past week on the cob oven! We had been putting off this step because it seemed like one of the bigger manual labour aspects of it: digging the hole for the foundation. Dave spent a few summers with a shovel in-hand doing irrigation and cable work so he was the more realistic of the two of us about how hard digging a three foot deep hole would be. So one night while he was at frisbee and the kids went down early I got out the shovel and decided to dig the damn hole myself.

Not going to lie, it was pretty hard to get through the sod. But I just kept going. Then I hit a layer of straight up rocks.  Gah. But I kept going! Wouldn't you know it I dug a 3 foot hole in just about 2 hours! I'm still bragging about it. As someone who has never dug a large hole before I must say it was very satisfying. Then I tamped down the bottom of the hole as much as I could, and filled it with a small layer of drainage rock. Then I just tossed in a bunch of rubble and filled in the holes/gaps with smaller drainage rock until I got close to the top. (I ran out of small rocks so that's not what it's supposed to look like. Work in progress!)

When Dave got home, well, let's just say he was very surprised and impressed (yep, still bragging!). 

We've had a few people ask why we're digging down for a cob oven. You don't necessarily have to. Some people build them right on the ground.  But, by digging down and filling it with rock it helps with drainage and insulation. We are making an oven so the more heat it can retain the better.

Next steps:
  1. Brick and mortar up the brick base
  2. Get some more drainage rock to fill the base

This project has been so satisfying. I have absolutely no building experience and I'm both really surprised and pumped by how I'm doing this lol. You just start and figure out the next step as it happens :) 

P.S In case you're wondering, I was sore as hell the next day.

Broody Hens

21 June 2017

Well we've run into our first major snag with the hens. They've gone broody! 

Broody pretty much means that they stop laying eggs because they want to hatch some baby chicks. So they pluck out their belly feathers (for skin to egg contact), sit in the nesting box ALL DAY AND NIGHT, and generally turn into little grumps. At first we noticed Nellie wouldn't leave the nesting box and would try to peck us whenever we went near her. She would even do this weird growly thing. So obviously we automatically assumed the worst; "oh man what if there is an egg stuck in her?! Do we call a vet? Can you call a vet for a chicken?!" Then someone in the urban hens community gently pointed out that she was probably just broody. 

Which she was. 

No big deal. 

But then Rosa wouldn't leave the nesting box and then Frida wouldn't either. So three of our four hens are currently not laying eggs. *grumble* To make sure they eat and drink we'll kick everyone out of the coop for the majority of the day, or else they would literally just sit in the nesting box and not leave. 

Apparently this will last around 21 days before they snap out of it, or you can take matters into your own hands and try to "persuade" them out of it. We looked into those methods of persuasion but most of them seemed kinda mean. One particular method said to keep the hen separated in a grate bottomed cage and have a fan blowing on her at all times. The idea was to make her so uncomfortable that she forgets how broody she is. Mean right?! So for the meantime we are (somewhat embarrassingly) buying our eggs until they snap out of it.

Note to others: 
Some chicken breeds are more prone to "broodiness" than others. Such as bantam varieties. Like Nellie and Rosa...

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