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Milkwood Blog

Earthbag dome: getting it done…

September 9, 2012 | Natural Building | 7 comments | Author:

The deal with Rose the permachef returning to Milkwood Farm this Spring is this: apon her return (which is imminent) she will move into the completed (ok nearly) earthbag dome, ensuring her personal seclusion and wood-fired comfort for the coming season.

The earthbag dome, while awesome, has been somewhat of a side-project since the first big gush of effort dedicated to its bag-raising (if that is a term) in Feb 2011. But now it’s time to get it done.

Partly because done is the engine of more, and partly because we want Rose to have a cosy haven after a big day of cookery. Nearly there now….

Shane applies what we hope is the final coat of clay render to the outside of the dome
Small windows in the southern side, made of terracotta pipes ended with pyrex glass dishes

Nick and Shane with their low-fi but effective measuring apparatus for checking that the woodstove will fit in the domelet

Always make sure your wood stove is on level ground. Find this out before you install a very heavy lump of cast iron, it’s better that way.
Nick and the fab old Metters woodstove, kindly donated by Nick’s sister (a shed find, I believe). Lots of bits to clean out before installing it in the earthbag dome
Inside with final clay render, and domelet ready to receive woodstove (and storing floor bricks in the meantime)
Skylight with air vent pipes just beneath (to be capped when not in use), before the final inside render
Flue for domelet vaguely in place, Shane sorts out the waterproofing of the roof…

Flue installed, just the inside to complete now…
Sorting out the floor. We were going to do a poured earth floor, but it’s tricky to get right without experience and in our current weather would take weeks and weeks to complete. Time is of the essence now, so getting it done, using what we have available (gravel, bricks, concrete).
The back curve of the bed hoop
Our friend Tree designed the bed solution for this space – it will give Rose a good-sized bed and lots of storage underneath…

Done is the engine of more…

There’s a bit of an in-joke going around the farm about the earthbag dome… it’s been re-christened the effort dome. While we all appreciate that earthbag building can be an awesome building technique for earthquake and tsunami-prone areas, and is definitely fabulous insofar that it can be done with only some bags, barbed wire, local earth and a whole lot of human energy, the total human effort involved is quite immense.

Like anything, this building technique has it’s upsides and downsides. If you have very few building materials available and heaps (and heaps) of available and enthusiastic labor, then earthbag might be a great idea.

Given that this experimental building hasn’t been crucial to the seasonal goings-on for Milkwood Farm thus far, getting the earthbag dome completed has just not made it to the top of the list. And during the active and ongoing establishment of our, well, our everything at this farm, if it’s not up the top of the list, it probably won’t get done.

There’s no real downtime here where we wonder what we should do today, and get to work on non-essential stuff (like prettymuch everyone else I know in a farmish scenario, particularly if that farm didn’t come with a bunch of pre-built buildings and general infrastructure). Lucky no-one told me that 6 years ago or I might still be in inner-city Melbourne.

But anyway. Rose needs a cosy spot, and a cute little caravan, while lovely, just won’t do the job with our sometimes nutty Spring weather. Better finish the effort dome and move her into a cosy and truly unique abode.

For our particular scenario, having just about completed both this earthbag dome and a very beautiful if somewhat experimental wattle-and-daub tiny house, it’s been a huge and awesome learning process about what constitutes effective use of time and available energy for us, as well as what we’re prepared to bear ethically in terms of embodied energy, for the sake of building new structures.

Suffice to say we expect to focus on building small strawbale boxes with good passive solar aspect as our primary building technique from here on in at Milkwood Farm.

On the upside for the earthbag dome, it will definitely outlast us all. When the tinyhouse has crumbled in generations to come, the earthbag dome will still be sitting, hobbit-like in the landscape, providing solidity, warmth and cosiness to whoever cares to start a fire in the domelet.

And very soon, it will be a small and gorgeous place for Rose to rest in, nestled amongst the trees, impervious to wild storms, providing a cosy, soundproof and solid nook of peace and quiet on the hillside. So we’re learning from what we now know, and appreciating the earthbag dome for what it is. I’ll post photos once it’s finished in the next week.



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7 COMMENTS


  • Fraser September 9, 2012 at 6:33 am | Reply

    Very nice and well done. Our house extension is still survey pegs and everytime I look like making a step, another farm job takes priority. Slowly but inexorably forward we go.


  • Andriana Treasure September 9, 2012 at 9:25 am | Reply

    Wow factor. You are doing fantastic creation. Well done


  • annie September 10, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply

    Love the pyrex! What a great idea…


  • shandy September 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Reply

    Thats going to be one seriously excited chef!


  • greatnanni September 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Reply

    Reblogged this on greatnanni.


  • Chris September 11, 2012 at 8:05 am | Reply

    My husband is a chef, so we are well aware of the efforts fascilities go to, to keep chefs working in a remote location. But this little earthbag dome would have to take the cake! ;)

    Seriously, I know it’s a lot of work (we often look at all the retaining walls we’ve built around here, trailer load by painful barrow load) but ulitimately you never know what you are capable of doing, until you throw yourself into the giants lair.

    I often think that living on acerage is like walking into the land of the giants. But it’s also a very exciting place to live too.


  • Sharn September 16, 2012 at 11:54 am | Reply

    Wow, I love how light the internal clay render has come up – thank goodness as I reckon it was getting a little too cozy in there with dark walls! Can’t wait to see the final pics :)



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