Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley at The Cob Cottage Company, in Coquille, Oregon, have created probably the most complete permaculture site in the country. Permaculture sites, including our own, generally emphasize plants, animals and earthworks and ignore building your own home. I am beginning to see that one cannot have permaculture without building your own comfortable dwelling from the materials onsite.
This goes to a deeper level of what a permanent-culture is. I don’t believe that the urban/suburban model is permanent because it is based on two non-permanent things: fossil fuels and exploitation of remote communities’ resources and cheap labor. Most stick-frame buildings cannot be heated, lighted or water and sewer provided without fossil fuels. Even firewood has to come from a remote source, you cannot dismantle your neighbor’s house to heat yours.
The Cob Cottage Company (CCC) forest garden has a hobbit secret-garden feel. It is surrounded by a cirque of hand-built cob cottages and an artistic wall which also serves as a deer fence. An irrigation and drainage ditch system runs down the center of the enclosing cob village. Small ponds have been dug for cob to build structures. The craftsmanship, finishing and design is extraordinary. Most of the work has been done by students workshops and apprentices.
Hugelkultur Raised Beds
The garden is a series of raised hugelkultur beds made of biomass from onsite: old tree duff, leaves, branches, chips and compost. As you dig your hand down into the bed you can feel the temperature rise the deeper you go. The beds will have self-renewing fertility for a long time. Weeding is easier because of the loose organic structure. Ianto has not had to plant potatoes for years, they just keep emerging. Fava beans are a favorite staple and nitrogen fixer. Ianto’s many years of gardening are apparent when you talk to him as he looks out over the garden to easily point at the few native plants. He has thoughts about what each plant’s native origin, niche, stresses and competition are.
I have a rule of thumb, “the second greenhouse you build will cost you ten percent of what the first one did.” Ianto skipped the first design and went right to the most efficient designs. This 20’-hoop house looks ordinary from the outside but inside you realize that two parallel walkways have been dug down 18 inches. This does four things: reduces the cost because no sidewalls are needed to walk inside, cool air sinks off the plants at night, less bending over to harvest and excess water is drained. Simple.
Beautiful Garden Structures
Everything about the garden is beautiful, the tool shed is an organized work of art. Grapes grow over it and also over the front of the strawbale greenhouse to prevent summer overheating.
Life is Art
Every gate is different, below new dining hall and kitchen wall relief; garden wall entry fresco.
Rocket Mass Heaters
There are several forms of wood heaters at The Cob Cottage Company from Rumford fireplaces, masonry stoves, to the most efficient Rocket Mass Heaters (RMH). We have a masonry stove at SOPI but a rocket mass heater makes it look like a waste of money. You can build a RMH yourself in a weekend for less than $100 compared to $10,000 for a masonry stove that took skilled masons weeks. The RMH is two to four times more fuel efficient than a masonry stove. Gasses are also burned much more completely, output is almost just steam. The heated bench, bed or floor are far more comfortable than a standing masonry radiating mass. Radiating heat drops off exponentially by distance while a heated bench warms your bum directly, once you experience it, there is no going back.
Below Ianto teaches the Pyromania! Rocket Mass Heater workshop I attended. We are in the student library-lounge the “Myrtle”. The U-shaped bench 12 people are sitting on is heated by the Rocket Mass Stove in front of Ianto. The floor with the cob bench is one step down so the heat stored in the bench rises to heat the other end of the room. Read Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson’s book Rocket Mass Heaters: Super Efficient Woodstoves You Can Build (and Snuggle Up To) available online at the CCC bookstore.
Students and Ianto admire the heated cob workbench in the Tool Library; Malaya, workshop cook extraordinaire, takes a picture of a student team’s RMH core, Rumford fireplace in the background.
Interior of future heated wall in the new bathhouse; Author with rocket stove heated outdoor shower.
Cob Starter Home for $5,000
Ianto calls cob, “mudpie building.” I guess that is the point, anyone with some training and a little practice should be able to build for their own needs with materials from onsite. Take their Complete Cob workshop, practice, build a trial bench or sauna and then build your own dwelling. If you keep it under 200 “round feet”, cob has no square corners, you may be able to get away without a permit. Cob is beautiful, organic, requires minimal wood, forgiving, artistic, sturdy and high thermal mass.
Cob is art, below cottage kitchen viewed from loft, right a sunny breakfast nook for two.
Linda giving a tour of a starter home $5,000, living room, kitchenette, breakfast nook and sleeping loft no mortgage. In a permanent-culture, anyone should be able to build for themselves. Below right is a cob duck house built by seven to ten year olds at the SOPI Farm to Kids 2011 summer camp with one parent supervising, kids with no training!
Living roofs everywhere, warm and snug, welcome home!
Contact The Cob Cottage Company
PO Box 942
Coquille, OR 97423
The Southern Oregon Permaculture Institute (SOPI) is at Restoration Farm in Ashland, Oregon. We offer extensive hands on learning with our Permaculture Design Certificate, Forest Garden Design and Teachers Training courses. firstname.lastname@example.org 541 201-2688.
Chuck Burr is the author of Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution.