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.