Natural Building Workshop at Kinstone

Kinstone Circle near sunset.

Recently I had the privilege of participating in a natural building workshop at Kinstone, a local permaculture site described as a place where the sacred expresses itself through art and ecology. During the workshop, we were learning and helping to build a chapel with a stone stem wall, a timber frame, cord wood wall systems with up-cycled bottle mosaic, and a thatched roof.

The roof and tension ring. The vertical pieces of wood are ‘rafters’ and the horizontal pieces are ‘perlins’

Preparation for the workshop began back in March, when we started harvesting phragmites reeds out of the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. The phragmites are considered an invasive species in the local wetlands, but make a great natural roofing material with a relatively low embodied energy. You can read more and see more pictures here, at Kinstone’s blog.

The first few days focused on prepping the site and working on the stone stem wall.


Check out more photos at The Permaculture Project, LLC.

After completing the composting toilet and solar showers, chopping 4 pallets of cord wood, and laying stone for the stem wall, we were graced with the presence of Dianne Bednar, a thatcher from Michigan.

Dianne taught us how to thatch and the tools of the trade (which were later innovated). I think that thatching a roof is a lot like sewing, except on a larger scale; the needle is made from wood, the thread is made from wire, and the fabrics are the reeds/perlins/sways.

Reeds were placed in 8 inch bundles, and cut to 5 feet in length.

We discovered quite quickly that our reed harvest in the spring would not provide nearly enough roofing material! We will have to harvest a lot more reeds before the project can be completed.

There were two teams – one on the outside, and one on the inside, in order to “thread the needle”.

Photo credit: Kirsten Langworthy

For more photos, click here and here.

For the second part of the workshop, Richard and Becky Flatau came to teach us the art of cordwood construction.

Incomplete cordwood wall.

The logs are stacked on top of each other, with mortar and insulation in between.

In this photo, you can see the guide stick marked “M I M” which stands for “mortar insulation mortar”.

It is important to slow down the drying process because the wood and mortar dry at different rates, which can cause cracks.

Tarps were put up to help shade the walls from the hot sun and also draped over the unfinished walls to hold in moisture.

Periodically, we would spray the mortar with more water to try to slow down the drying process.

The chapel is dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, recognized as the patron saint of ecology. Up-cycled glass bottles are being used to make a mosaic based off of the prayer “The Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon”. Being quite put off by all things ‘supernatural’ I thought I’d share this [naturalist version] of the poem, because it is quite lovely. (The bold parts are the imagery to be incorporated into the mosaic.)

Praise to [the Earth] with all its creatures,

especially Sir Brother Sun

Who is the day through which gives us light.

He is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,

[To the Earth] he bears the likeness.

Praise be to [the Earth] through Sister Moon and the stars.

In the heavens you have made them bright, precious, and fair.

Praised be to [the Earth] through Brothers Wind and Air,

And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,

By which we cherish all [Earth has provided].

Praise be to [the Earth] through Sister Water,

So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praise be to [the Earth] through Brother Fire,

Which lights the night, beautiful, robust, and strong.

Praise be to Mother Earth who sustains and governs us,

Producing varied fruits with colorful flowers and herbs.

Praise to those [who protect Mother Earth] to bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace,

By [the Earth] they will be crowned.

Praise be to [the Earth] through Sister Death,

From whom no [living creature] can escape…

Two bottles are placed together, held by aluminum tape, with the colored bottle to the inside, and the clear bottle to the outside. This portion represents a river, or Sister Water.

Photo Credit: Wayne Weisman

See more photos from the Permaculture Project’s blog here and here and here.

On our last day, we ventured south to Iowa to check out a Greg Brown concert at Seed Savers Exchange. I had never been there before, and I must say that it is quite the farm!

There were about 5 of these little huts built around the Visitor’s Center and gardens. Very quaint little structures!

Cob bench in a garden at Seed Savers Exchange.

One of many unique plants.

Ridiculous timber framing in the gift shop.

Nothing like a little bluegrass to go with that sunset. A perfect conclusion to a great couple of weeks.

Raised Beds at the Bed and Breakfast

Now for an update on the progress of the garden at The Tefft House Bed and Breakfast:


Spring is officially in full swing! With school being out, there has been steady progress at the B&B. Recently, the raised beds were finished! Check it out:

So what you’re looking at here all used to be grass lawn. Last fall, the site was sheet mulched (aka “lasagna mulching” or layering newspaper/cardboard, organic material, compost, and mulch) as a no-till method of conversion. Then, the beds were marked out, stones were placed, and compost was added into the area inside the stones. Raised beds can be made out of any number of different materials, but we chose stone for two main reasons: the first is because we already had a large amount of these stones on site that we could reuse (and thus were free), and the second is that stone possesses a significant amount of thermal mass, the ability to retain heat. This is good because here in Minnesota, those stones release the heat at night and help protect plants from frost. This, along with hoop houses and other strategies, can help extend the short growing season.Tomorrow we will be planting annual polycultures!

View from the second floor of the Tefft House Bed & Breakfast.


More Sustainable Stuff from Minnesota

Alrighty, folks.

My last post gave a handful of people, organizations, and businesses that are making some headway into the sustainability arena. Here’s some more:

Cascade Meadows Wetland and Environmental Science Center

I just found out about this awesome project this week! Anyone living in Southeastern MN who is interested in science or the environment should definitely check this place out. The site, located in Rochester, MN (home of the famous Mayo Clinic and St. Mary’s Hospital) is 100 acres, 90 of which are being restored to native wetlands. The other 10 acres are a showcase of the best management and design practices in the business. For example, the Science Center building is one of the first in MN to receive the highest LEED rating, Platinum. Inside the building is interactive exhibits and places to hold meetings, classes, and workshops. The area surrounding the building demonstrates best management practices for storm water runoff (including swales, permeable pavers, a green roof, and treatment ponds) and landscaping with native plants. By this time next year, there should also be trails winding through the 90 acres of wetlands to showcase this local ecological asset. Here’s a little ditty from their website:

“The core programming at Cascade Meadow will initially be centered around two main issues: water and energy resources. Increasingly, citizens of Southeast Minnesota are being asked to make consumer and political decisions on the issues of water and energy resource management. In order to make informed decisions, SE Minnesotans require a certain level of water and energy “literacy.” All of Cascade Meadow’s initial exhibits, physical features, education programming and the building itself will be aimed at increasing the energy and water literacy of the greater Rochester community.

Specifically, programming will focus on:

  1. The science of energy and water
  2. The ways in which societies use and interact with energy and water resources,
  3. How technology and behavior changes can help move us towards the sustainable use of our water and energy resources.”

Yeah, wow. Can we get a round of applause? Needless to say, I’ve already been in contact with them to volunteer working the front desk.

The Perennial Plate

This is the brain-child of local chef/activist Daniel Klein (hailing from the Twin Cities area). The Perennial Plate is a web series and blog that documents “socially responsible and sustainable eating”. Episodes are anywhere from 2 to 15 minutes long on topics ranging from backyard chickens to wild foraging to invasive species to gardening to hunting. The first season is all in Minnesota, and then (with the help of Kickstarter) the second season is a tour of the entire U.S. I’ve spent many hours watching his stuff. I highly recommend you do the same!

Sustainability in the Local News

Winona has this great website called Winona 360 that is a sort of news outlet, community organization, social network hybrid. Recently there was a great article about how different members of the Winona community have embraced sustainability. Here were some of my favorite tid-bits from the article:

1. I found out (one of) my chemistry professor’s home is completely powered by solar energy. (And she just went up 100,000 points on my radar.)

Xcel Energy claims to have over 100 customers contributing wind energy to their system, most of which lie in the farms of Southern Minnesota.” Woo-who! Go us!

“Our [older] generation has just made a big mess of everything. Now [younger generations] get to clean it up. Good luck.”

Haha…thanks, I think.