Winternship 2016: Week 1

Sunday, January 3rd

  • Kathryn, Doug, and Jacob were early arrivals and got settled into the house. An evening of mending and story sharing was thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday, January 4th – Introductions & Orientation

  • Winternship Orientation! Deanne showed us the ropes and started our tour of the grounds and buildings. Organizing four weeks with 7 people can be a challenge, but Deanne challenges us to all “FIOT”: Figure It Out Together.
  • Kathryn, Veneta, Petar and Doug joined Deanne to the bi-weekly Non-violent Communication meet up where we enjoyed cookies and learned the basics of the NVC framework for empathetic listening and expressing feelings, needs, and requests.
  • Special guest visit: Gene stopped by with the BEAUTIFUL door that he built for the Kids’ Cottage. Check out his work!

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Tuesday, January 5th

  • Deanne started the lessons with some foundations on foundations.
  • We all gathered around near the Red Shed to do a wood chopping skill share.
  • Kelly, Kathryn, and Veneta took apart the worm composting tower and separated out the compost from the straggler worms hanging at the bottom.

Wednesday, January 6th

  • We continued the tour of the greenhouse, compost piles, Kids’ Cottage, spiral compost toilet hut, Deanne’s sleeper cabin, thatched wood hut, the cob oven, and Strawbale Studio. While looking at the structures, we observed and learned about the variety of foundations in each.
  • At the Strawbale Studio we took the temperature of the compost pile constructed to heat the building. The interior of the pile produced heat of 140 +/- degrees Fahrenheit for a year, from November 2015 through November 2016 !
  • Daily events in the household include nature in many forms.
  • Reed Harvest instructions! We drove out to the reed field and learned techniques for cutting and bundling.

Thursday, January 7th – Lashing & A-frames!

  • More orientation tour, this time including the humanure compost pile, Red Shed and it’s many tools and rocket stove, and Intern Getaway cabin.
  • Today’s Lesson: Lashing. We learned the Japanese square knot for tying a post and beam together. Learned some good words like “Frapping” and it isn’t how to order your Starbucks coffee.
  • We were given a demo on how to light up a rocket stove.
  • Planning meeting for the upcoming weekend Thatching workshop. Lots to do in preparation! We salvaged a collapsed A-frame from a previous year and restored it to be a hands-on project for the workshop.

Friday, January 8th – Day Off!

  • Most of the Winterns are half-work-trade, meaning we are working 10 hours a week to offset the cost of the internship. There is always plenty of cleaning, wood chopping, and cooking to be done.
  • Some of us attended and thoroughly enjoyed a Yin Yoga class in Lake Orion.

Saturday, January 9th

Checkout this blog post on the Thatching Workshop Weekend!

Categories: Uncategorized, Winternship

Empower Youth to Create Change

Cob Wall on the Hobbit Sauna ~ Waldorf students help !The Strawbale Studio program wants to make building & natural skills available to youth and young adults.
What your donation will do.  Consider a one-time contribution, or a micro-donation monthly.

Categories: Uncategorized

2015 Strawbale Studio Year-End REPORT

Many wonderful events happened in 2015 ! This list has links to more description and pictures for each event.  Below are also lists of Intern, New Projects, Media, Supporters, College Credits, Improvements, Guest Instructors and more.
Continue reading

Categories: Uncategorized

Gibbs Center – Sustainable Projects


Students from the Gibbs Center ~ who live together and do fabulous sustainability projects ~ came to the Strawbale Studio for a program to learn additional skills to take back to their program.  On December 19 & 20, 2015 these students from Derek Kanwischers’ Western Michigan University “Sustainable Projects Program” arrived, stayed overnight and did a variety of hands-on projects utilizing natural materials.

FRIDAY: The students arrived at the Strawbale Studio at 3pm and began with a tour of the natural buildings and grounds,  followed by making dipped beeswax candles and gifts from natural materials, cooking chili on the outdoor Rocket Cooker, then enjoying the rest of the evening carving wooden spoons !  Students camped out in the main house for the night.

SATURDAY: An awesome burrito breakfast was created, complete with local eggs & greens and some sourdough bread made by Christine’s’ mom. Next, we fired up the Rocket Mass Heater in the Red Shed, and the Earth Oven, learning the theory and strategies for both ! Derek Kanwischer, who leads the Sustainable Projects program gave a powerpoint presentation of their Permaculture projects at the Gibbs Center, including their Composting Furnace which heats the 3 growing beds in their Green House (see picture above).  Awesome.

The rest of the morning we explored social permaculture and its relationship to Non-Violent Communication. Observations, needs, quality of connection, ethics !  Included in the conversation was a discussion of the “Continuum” of natural materials and building processes that help us think about the qualities and values embedded in the materials we choose. Natural to synthetic, local to distant, low to high embodied energy, and more. For lunch we baked pizzas in the Earth Oven ~ made with dough made by Christina’s mom, each of us spreading the dough ball and vegies from the Gibbs Hoop House.

After lunch the students super-enjoyed sitting on the warm bench of the Rocket Mass Heater which made the Red Shed a very cozy place to be.  Deanne made a brief presentation on Round Pole framing as we observed and and discussed the types of notches used in trusses, post and beams and bracing. Included was a lashing demonstration. Next was a thatching demonstration and a wee bit of hands-on, using the frame in the Red Shed. Lots of questions on this. Our last demonstration was finished earth plasters, the mixing of 1/8″ sifted clay sand subsoil, with a little bit of starch paste we made earlier, applied to a cob brick, and burnished when leather hard with a plastic disc, a sponge & a trowel…Either technique could be used when then finish their Earth Oven at the Gibbs Center.

We all really enjoyed the learning and sharing of our time together.  These young folks who are in the program have a variety of majors which create a mosaic of hope.  They are doing really inspiring things, such as using heat from biological wastes sawdust, wood chips, manure) to create heat in a Compost Furnace, which heats the growing beds in their greenhouse to 60 degrees !

Categories: Uncategorized

Green Club Tour !


Rocket Stove Cooker

Chatsfield School in Lapeer has an ecology club that lead by Peter McCreedy and assistant, Jenny.  This enthusiastic Green Club group rolled into the Strawbale Studio for a tour of the grounds and buildings. The focus was Rocket Stoves, a big hit on a gray damp day.






Rumford Fireplace



The cozy Rumford Fireplace  in a little cabin, creates a cozy place to curl up with a good book.  And the awesome Rocket Stove Heated bench really does warm up !











Their club does projects such as Earth Ovens, small buildings & Maple Syruping…LUCKILY, because they gifted Strawbale Studio with a jug of it, which I poured on pancakes made from the sourdough batter fermenting here in the kitchen.  YUM.

Peter McCreedy (the most fabulous teacher I have ever met) leads the way in exploring all sorts of natural projects     at The Willows Ecological  Education Center (a 4500 sq. ft. strawbale building, with solar energy, a greenhouse and studio space for wilderness crafts) and surrounding grounds.  During the tour he checked out the thatching process to apply to a Cahokia hut (right) that is being built at The Willows.


Categories: Uncategorized

Candle & Gift-Making Class

Three wonderful Candle Classes were held this December filling the air with the scent of bees wax.  We made our own wicks, dipped them into local bees wax ~  making lovely “tapers”.  Folks also made earthen candle holders shaped from a modeling mix made entirely of subsoil harvested on this land.  The candle holders and match boxes were creatively decorated with bits of nature foraged from outdoors ~ birch bark, rose hips, seed pods….each person inventing their own unique project.

We ranged in age from 4 years to 69 years (was I the oldest !?) and our happiness was very apparent.  What a natural thing to do.  Both practical and artistic, and made from local materials.  What a joy !

You could schedule a candle class for your group if you wish.

Categories: Uncategorized

Natural Building Colloquium 2015

This year was a 20th REUNION of the first Natural Building Colloquium, held at Black Range Lodge in Kingston, NM, bringing together natural builders in a  week of building, presentations and the exchange of ideas !

nbc20 group

The Natural Building Colloquium gathering 2015 NM

Many of the original folks who have been evolving the movement were there :  Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley, Michael Smith with whom I originally studied natural building, and also illustrated their book The Hand-Sculpted House.  Cedar Rose Guelberth, from Colorado, who did a 5 day Plaster Workshop at Strawbale Studio, and whose publication The Natural Plaster Book I also got to illustrate.  Even Flemming Abrahamsson, our thatcher we brought over from Denmark to teach us how to thatch on the Strawbale Studio in 1998 !  And more.  What a “blast from the past”.  A favorite: Max Edelson & Flemming Abrahamson designed and built on site a Rocket Stove Barrel Oven & Griddle !  And Sun Ray Kelly’s Treehouse, built during the Colloquium.

Here is an AWESOME BLOG on the Colloquium by Ziggy, who I got to visit at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage a few years ago.  There are GREAT PICTURES on this blog, so check it out !

Deanne and Flemming

Deanne is “kvelling” with Flemming, Master Thatcher from Denmark, who came to  Strawbale Studio to teach us the skill.

Thatching Presentaiton 2015 NBC NM

Thatching Presentation at Natural Building Colloquium NM 2015

MORE Pictures. 


Categories: Uncategorized

Forest Stewardship Class with Rick McAvinchey

 Forester and Wildlife Biologist Rick McAvinhey led us into the woods to have a deeper connection with the plant communities  on the Strawbale Studio land, and adjoining land co-owned by Carolyn Koch and Deanne Bednar.

 With topographical maps in hand, we explored and recorded the trees and plants in different parts of the land, noting size, number, type.

  Learning to use simple devices, we measured the height and diameter of trees in a stand, and took a core sample.  In the following weeks, Rick will write up a plan for achieving our short and long range goals for the land, based on the information we gathered.

Categories: Agro Forest, Forest, Uncategorized, Workshops

Youth Classes


Waldorf 9-29-2015 more polesThe Oakland Steiner School 3rd Graders visited the Strawbale Studio. They are studying  natural building in their curriculum, making it a perfect fit to come and do some foraging and natural building here.  September 29th, 2015 they visited the land, harvested trees, made an A Frame with lashing the poles they cut, and mixed “Cob” (local subsoil of clay and sand) to take back to their school and make a model ecovillage.

Waldorf 9-29-2015 Group Photo 2The Students loved harvesting trees, then they lashed them together in the Red Shed, heated by the Totem Rocket Stove Heated Bench.  They were like peas in a pod, enjoying the warmth of this efficient wood stove mass heater.

Their “Thanks-you Letters” are so expressive and wonderful:

DSCF5253October 20 & 21, 2014 80 first graders from an Academy in Detroit came to the Strawbale Studio to learn about Soil for their science studies !  So they explored earth plaster, natural materials being used for the Composting Furnace experiment and how the forest makes soil.

DSCF5256Even the Earth Oven is made from soil – sub soil, that is.


Cob Wall on the Hobbit Sauna ~ Waldorf students help !Each year several youth classes visit and take part in learning & experiencing natural building on site.  Here is a class that helped with the Hobbit Sauna earth plastering 2014, from the Detroit Waldorf School..  They dug the soil, mixed it on a tarp and applied it to the walls !  How amazing and fun !


These Students from a Montessori Middle School in Ann Arbor are constructing a lashed frame from poles they harvested on the land.  This structure shows how close we are to creating liveable structures.

Winternship 2015 Crew

Winternship 2015 Crew

Young People also include the many folks from 18 through their 20’s who come each year to learn through Internships and Worktrading.  Many are collecting skills in Sustainable Living so that they can create a lifestyle that fits their values and contributes to Life.  The are an inspiration and hope.

emily and kerry - draw knifeThey have an opportunity to practice living together in community, while doing hands-on project with natural local materials.  These skills form the basis of a sustainable lifestyle that they can take out into whatever situation they encounter as they move into the adventure of their life, and the creation of a life-affirming, restorative future.




Categories: Uncategorized, Youth, Youth Tours & Activities

Bio Char Demo with Karl & Gaylin Kaufman

165September 2015 Karl & Gayln Kaufman came to Strawbale Studio – to do a  low-tech biochar production demonstration. Biochar is charcoal from biomass, which effectively sequesters carbon for hundreds to thousands of years. We will utilize the Hawaiian pit pyrolysis technique popularized by Josiah Hunt. Local wood and biomass will be converted to char, and participants will take a bag of Biochar home to experiment with. Techniques to “charge” the biochar with nutrients, and the value of carbon sequestration for addressing climate change will also be discussed. Handouts describing the process and associated information will be provided.

Below, Mark Angelini does a smaller Bio Char demo during the S.E. Permaculture Mixer at the Strawbale Studio in 2015 DSCF7406

Categories: Uncategorized

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