What a wonderful week, with my son visiting, appreciating all the changes in the garden, and the unusual and so appreciated rains!
The apricots are not only there for the first time ever (after its first serious pruning), but they’re big!
Ditto the almonds!
And the grapes are coming on ~
My son took a 360 degree panorama, which is now my website banner. Thanks, Mike.
We know it’s a good health practice to get out and walk, but I’d been neglecting that lately, which caused my heart to give me a wake-up call. So I’ve been walking for an hour every morning for the last four weeks, which almost always rewards me with some treat. Sometimes, it’s dandelions for the chickens from a neighbor’s more abundant sidewalk, and sometimes it’s something phenomenal, like this cactus, overwhelmed by its own flowers.
Finally, last week, Peaches was teaching me how to quit working and just look around and feel the place. So I did, and I lay back on the cottonwood bench and up into the branches of the mesquite tree, which I pruned last year – and think the branches are very beautiful. Everything seems to have appreciated the pruning. A metaphor for life, I think.
(For the panorama, my son had us move from his beginning point to his end point in the circle while he turned in the opposite direction, placing us at two different points in the photo, for fun.)
As passive solar design becomes more widely understood, design will mean more than just bringing in the light and heat… and demand will grow for the most beautiful methods of bringing thermal mass into the interior of a home.
In this article: – What is and why care about thermal mass? (It’s all natural, inexpensive, local, artful – and makes our homes more efficient.)
– A Silver City, NM, opportunity to learn sculptural techniques.
Thermal mass is what holds the heat inside a house, so it doesn’t escape through leaks or when you open the door. It greatly moderates the natural “temperature swings” from day to night, and keeps a sun room from becoming unbearable, as it will, if it has no thermal mass. Indeed, it is a common complaint about sunrooms – that they get too hot to enjoy and must be shaded.
This does not need to be the case! The sunroom doesn’t need shade; it needs thermal mass and probably venting or other airflow assistance to help move the heat to the rest of the house.
I brought 1.5 tons of thermal mass into my home already and have plans to soon bring in at least a 1/2 ton more.
Thermal mass is anything heavy that absorbs and holds heat, such as adobe, stones, tiles, bricks, and containers of water – nothing high tech, nothing expensive, but simple, easy-to-obtain, even ancient materials! These, when exposed to the sun, will absorb and hold the heat, and when the heat source is gone and the day cools, they release their heat slowly, all through the night – and that’s the key.
The most common interior materials in modern American homes are drywall, wood, fabric, foam padding, and insulation, which don’t hold much heat and whatever they do hold, they release readily, saving nothing for the cold nighttime. Besides that, their components often degrade in heat and light, so it behooves us to protect them, in front of windows or in sunrooms, and this can best be done, not by shading that valuable wintertime sun, but by absorbing the heat to use – by bringing thermal mass into our homes.
Every home can benefit – even if you heat with a fireplace, gas or electric – by incorporating thermal mass, for the same reasons as above.
Natural plaster is inexpensive, natural, non-toxic, local, and very beautiful – and of course it can make your home an art piece of your very own creation! You can show off or keep it simple and classic.
Some say the tons of clay continue always cleaning the air. And most everyone agrees: “It vibes beautifully.”
Bill Steen, of the Canelo Project in Canelo, Arizona, taught me natural plaster techniques in 2006, just before I moved to Silver City. The workshop was one-week long, cost over $1,000, and included a myriad of interior and exterior applications, from building entire walls and shelves, to carved and built-up sculptural relief, to paints with pigments, mica, oils, and more. (Check the site for more inspiration.)
In 2009, Asher Gelbart introduced me to natural plaster artist and instructor, Gavio (whose website is down now for redesign) who helped me begin a big project I’d long desired but needed help and inspiration to begin.
Together we built and designed two rooms, one a multi-purpose great room, with many unique and functional features, as I describe below.
Gavio returned to New Mexico this afternoon, in part to help me finish my home’s interior
– and we want to offer the opportunity for others to learn this wonderful craft.
Commercial natural plaster mixes can be purchased for nearly $100 per bag – which may not cover a single wall, even thinly. And printed instructions for applying a simple flat coating are on the bag, but hands-on instruction is invaluable, especially if you want to have some fun.
So, as a truly natural, low-cost, and local-materials alternative, we will teach a few participants how to create, not a bag or batch, but a ton of plaster for around $100.
We’ll work approximately three days each week for the next month, depending on our energies and that of the people who’d like to participate.
We’ll mix plasters, learn how to prepare foundations for flat work and sculptures, create paints (alises), work with earth pigments, create textures, and more.
Participants will be selected according to their letters of interest. We’re looking for people who not only want to learn, but who might have related experience.
The workshop costs $100, and participants will be offered two days of instruction, mostly by hands-on work, with more days of hands-on instruction offered no cost to those who prove their interest and capability.
Folks can pay by cash or check, and if you want to use a credit card, I can even accept credit cards. We will also consider partial scholarships to those who give us compelling reason.
Class size will be limited to four participants per day, so please let us know soon of your interest, by calling 575-534-0123.
For more inspiration, enjoy the photos below, copied in a few “screen shots” from a web search for “natural plaster”:
There’s a lot to love in this yard. Even though it’s only 1/10 acre, mostly granite, and has a corner (300+ sf) we can’t enclose (city regulation), we’ve still made a lot of the space!
With clever “stacking,” we’ve made a lot function here:
* We have numerous places in the sun and shade – to sit comfortably year-round outdoors.
* We have numerous perennial flowers that come up each year and just bloom on their own.
* We have total privacy from the street and neighbors.
* We harvest rainwater in a number of ways (from the roof into a tank, overflowing the tank into a swale along the garden and tree terraces, from the front eave into two gardens and a pond, and from the patio into the swale). (More here.)
* We have a little fountain that runs into a tiny pool I fashioned of stone, which runs into a corner of the chicken coop and out into the apricot tree well. (Read more about it here, at “Fountain with Quadruple uses!”)
* We have a convenient tool storage, which will also one day have a sink with running water.
* We have chickens! Right next to the compost, they are both close and convenient to the kitchen but not in a direct line of sight from the patio. The chickens, though, can fly up and onto the rooftop to visit with us over the fence.
* Throughout the year, as foliage changes, I move around stones, crystals, statuettes, and more – to entertain the mind and eye.
* We have a patio perfect for workshops and parties.
* We have very few straight lines!
* We have a pool – okay, we’ll call it a summer soaking or cool-off tub! Just an old horse trough with a foliage screen
* The chickens not only give us eggs, but manure, and help with the bugs. Yesterday we turned the compost, dumped it in sections into a tray, and let the birds clean out the pill bugs!
* Since vegetable gardening is quite a challenge on a rock lot, we do the “Permaculture thing” and make the most of what’s appropriate here – for us that means appreciating and enhancing a different range of plant life. Here that means herbs and grapes – though we also use a few containers and terraces filled with dirt for veggies and fruit trees.
* We solar cook outside year-round.
I’m very grateful for the natural functions of this space. And I love it when people seek my consultation to help them get the most from their own little square of Earth.
(And I take PayPal now, so folks can use any credit card and pay on time.)
~ Even lazy gardeners with rocky land can create a yard that brings a lot of value – appropriate to those who live there.