Monday, October 27, 2014

Open House November 9 from 2 - 4 pm

Please come see (and feel) the beauty of cob while we are under construction here at Bliss Haven!        Visit Clay Sand Straw on Facebook and LIKE to get the address, or message me here at the blog. (hint: we are at the end of Cattleman)

NOTE: Wear good shoes - Bliss Haven is under development and is still rough and rugged hill country property.

Open House with natural builders 

Kindra Welch & John Curry / Clay Sand Straw

  • Cob construction of a Hill Country custom home with a contemporary design 
  • Tour the 1700+ sq ft cob 3 BR / 2 BA home during its build phase – cob walls with framing 
  • Designed with passive heating and cooling features, clean (non-toxic), natural materials obtained locally, and will be partly finished with earthen floors
  • Designed for rain water harvesting and water conservation and solar power with the potential for off-grid living
  • Situated on 40 acres out of the Autumn Woods property, privately owned property under water conservation easement managed by the Hill Country Conservancy


Quick links


Clay Sand Straw - 


Hill Country Conservancy -

Kindra's autocad drawing
Foundation, cob, & framing with the roof going on

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Growth and Beauty

Autumnal Equinox - snapshots of progress

Even during the summer heat, the garden grows. We installed soaker hoses and tents of shade cloth to keep plants alive. A few eggplant, lots of herbs, some cantaloupe and tomatoes keep us encouraged to keep trying, even though the yield is scant.

 We enjoy sitting under the canopy with a cup of coffee, listening to the birds and watching the plants grow, very peaceful and soothing. Much planning goes on in that quiet time, envisioning the next season's garden and other outdoor projects.




Resident Beauty

We have birds, bugs, bees (many fascinating sizes and shapes, too), deer, fox, rabbits, owls, raccoons, reptiles, and who-knows-what else around here. There is always something to marvel over. 

This little feller is feisty, they are not shy at all! We saw many in the early summer, they even tried to get into the house.

Mid month a little cool front blew through. The next morning something dazzlingly beautiful caught my eye when I strolled past the lime tree. I feel privileged to have been so close to this creature, and fortunate for having the camera phone handy so that I could later see detail far too tiny for my unaided eyes to see.








I'm Just a Little Cantaloupe, yes?

One amusing past time is watching the Texas whiptail lizards chasing each other around the garden edges, battling out territory. This little fellow is shorter and wider than they and he tends to keep a low profile; I think it's a spiny lizard.









 The Guest House is going up, up, up! 

Tu took this picture of our builder and her family in December 2012 when they first came out to look at our "project." From my aspiration and vision, through her mind and hands, and the work of her crew, our dream house is being realized.

Earthen foundation and framing for the concrete footing

Stone stem walls for the cob sit on the concrete. The interior floors are infilled with sand bag packed rock base.

Cob walls almost done, and some cedar headers installed.

Who builds a custom house out of mud with bare hands? They do!

The roof sits on top of a concrete bond beam that was poured on top of the cob. The cob walls are precisely vertical to 1/4" tolerance from the footing to the top!

The cedar above is harvested from naturally perished trees that aged in situ at the builder's family place in Bastrop and were milled there, to be finished here on site. Nothing goes to waste - every piece of lumbar store bought or locally produced is honored and used to the end.

Extra large planks from the foundation framing are repurposed for the master bedroom ceiling joists.

And see the channels carved into the cob for the electric outlets? How many potted plants can I put on those extra extra deep window sills?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

First Day of Spring 2014!

It's been a harsh cold winter, even this far south. But spring has definitely sprung and I'm happy to have this day off to relax and enjoy it in full glory.

What were weeds in the yard elsewhere are an abundance of lovely wildflowers at Bliss Haven, like the Western Primrose below. There are pinks and purples and yellows and whites, just now starting to bloom and too many for me to try to identify. I will try to get a little catalog of images built if I can. The agarita (Berberis trifoliolata) blossoms are a narcotic sweet honey scent on the air. They didn't fruit last year, but if the blooms are an indication they should be loaded soon.

Some areas on the property that were disturbed in late 2012 and early 2013 were covered with early succession forbs like dove weed in 2013, but I wanted to reclaim them this year to be the wild flower meadows that they were in the spring of 2012. We purchased some native seed from Native American Seed company and scattered them in the barest areas, though I can't tell yet if the "deer resistant" and "butterfly retreat mix" and "midland (grass) mix" are going to pay out.

Western Primrose and Monster Moth in the front yard
Today I got a close up of this critter on the right lower flower, first spotted by Joshua Monday evening. It flies like a bird, not a moth as I suspect it is. Also heard our first hummer at the front door this morning. Have been listening closely but have not heard any GCW -- yet. But there is a young red tail hawk being taught how to soar, at least one owl in the east and one in the west, and a grey fox that abide near the house, no doubt because there are field mice in the log piles and bunnies under the shed. Our cat Koa has been a fearless and productive mouser this winter, but if he isn't careful he might become a meal for fox or owl himself.

It doesn't look like much in the picture, but here is a wild plum. I know for a fact it's a plum because in November I found one of them with the fruit still on the branches. Because of the thorns, I conclude it's a chickasaw plum, and we tagged a total of seven just before they lost their white blossoms and would be impossible to find again.
Prunus angustifolia - plums are in the rose family!

January Seed Starting

Purchased a grow light and seed starting warmer kits to get the jump on planting. It was so cold that the greenhouse didn't suffice, so it all went into the master bathroom. There are lots of seeds to choose from online, but I tried to stick to heirloom varieties. Sustainable Seed Company has been my go-to seed resource. Here's their special link for Texas gardeners.


February Garden Planning

This is one of the two keyhole raised beds, each with 82 square feet (10' x 10' minus the keyhole). It is the best raised bed size and shape we've ever done. The only way it could be better is if they were made of permanent and sustainable framing materials. 

The long square dividers are laid out in string and the horizontal dividers are red onion sets. There are shallots in the center over the keyhole. The little square of 9 beets did not survive the freezing rain we had in early March.

The second keyhole raised bed is now planted with peas, leeks, white and yellow onion sets, butterhead lettuce, red deer tongue lettuce, and a few other things that have yet to prove viable. So far I have more success with scatter sowing over an area, than with starting individual plants.


March Guest House Progress

Here is the foundation with the plumbing rough in. Today the rebar is being laid in the trenches, where the concrete footing will be poured.The sand bags are holding the flooring spaces between the cob walls' footings. On this side of the house, the two bedrooms and living room will be finished with earthen floors. The other side will be wood floors in the kitchen/dining and master bedroom. Concrete subflooring, for tile or stained 'crete, will be in all the wet areas.  

How disappointing it was when we hit some obstacles with the construction! But ClaySandStraw has the project moving smoothly now. Tomorrow Kindra and I will go over some elevations for the kitchen. 

My personal aspiration is that we will be able to have a family gathering in the house this year for Thanksgiving! 

Schroeders visit for Spring Break

Nicholas will be 2 years old in May. He helped Grandma Jean water in the garden, climbed the rock pile (his momma Rachel was on top of the pile hunting for geodes and found a few pretty ones), played in the sand pile, and took walks with his dad. 

His uncles became very attached to him and we all miss them dearly. The first few days after they left were heartbreaking quiet - no little voice chattering in the early morning hours, and no little bedtime kisses to give and receive.We are preparing Bliss Haven for our retirement and for his and his cousins to inherit one day!

Odds and Ends

In addition to some basic veggies, herbs and some flowers, we started a 4 x 9 foot bed for corn. Knowing it's a heavy feeder, I used string to mark the long edges of the squares and fava beans for the horizontal edges. Beans are now 6" tall and look sturdy and healthy. We are putting in another bed for okra and tomatoes.

Today I had an epiphany in the form of a question that arose when I looked around trying to decide where to put the seedlings: how do I know how many plants we should have, and what varieties?  Gardening in the back yard was always a matter of grabbing a few plants at the garden center and setting them in, buy a packet of beans or peas and sow a row or two, and hopefully get a few volunteer tomatoes, peppers, and herbs to boot.

At Bliss Haven I have a lot of real estate available with the potential to feed us and the guys much of the year. That's why I'm trying corn and okra for the first time. But what will I do with 50+ tomato plants (20 -25 seeds per packet, three varieties), and the same for ALL of the seeds I purchased? I'm planning to share seedlings with ClaySandStraw for the gypsy kitchen's garden, and then what?

The research I did today gave me a totally new way of thinking about gardening. It's a more serious approach, not like the dabbling of a hobby but more like the lifestyle of self-sufficiency that fueled my original utopian dream, of emulating my grandparents' lifestyle.

Here is a chart of the most realistic planting guidelines I found today

   There was a HUGE range of estimates online! I chose the ones that seemed to make most sense and showed up most often.