Mudbricks and Building

Why has earth-wall construction been so little used in past years? The answer is that as there is nothing to sell there are few to extol its merits. G.F. Middleton, Earth Wall Construction 1952.

Timbuktu Mosque made from mudbricks
Timbuktu Mosque made from mudbricks

For centuries, earth and water have been used for construction in Africa, Asia and the Americas. It is estimated that around 20% of all the buildings on the planet are build from earth. Earth is very little used in Australia. It is strong, durable and well suited to the Australian climate. It does have problems meeting the energy ratings as required for new buildings, but after having lived in mud brick homes and 5-star energy rated homes in cold climates, I know which one I prefer, as do many other people.

Earth walls are fireproof, cheap (requiring labour and minimal mechanical inputs), dry and hygienic. It exists at every building site, and many times is carted away. The walls are cool in summer and warm in winter, and white ants and insects (other than mud wasps, which collect pest insects anyway) don’t tunnel in the walls.

Muscle power and water are essential ingredients, along with the sun to dry them. The first buildings in Australia in Sydney were wattle (thin sticks) and daub (mud) mixed with straw. Many of the villages in Africa and South America are still built using this ancient method.

Today, most earth walls are built from rammed earth (pise) or unfired mudbricks (which I have used). Pise is made by putting damp soil into a movable framework and ramming it. It was introduced into Normandy by the Romans, and spread from there. It is still widely used in China and other Asian countries.

Mudbricks have been used for well over 8000 years to build shelters in hot, dry, arid

mudbrick making
Mudbrick mold showing some bricks just made

countries in the Middle East, Africa, China, Mexico and South America. Mud is placed into a bottomless mould to make blocks, which are then allowed to dry, and then stacked near where they are to be used.

When I started building, I had lots of time, not much muscle power, no mechanical power, some water and lots of dirt. I had helped my daughter made some mudbricks as well as putting them into walls. It is a bit hard on the back, and hands. We used an old bathtub for mixing. We would make a batch in the morning, mix and let soak all day, then make the bricks in the afternoon, and then make another mix, so that it would ready for putting out the following morning. This method gave

mudbricks drying, waitiug to be stacked
Mudbricks drying, waiting to be stacked

us 60 bricks or so per day. Doesn’t seem like many, but after 10 days, we had over 600, which was enough for the small cottage. I have used the same method here, sometimes doing 3 mixes in a day giving close to 100 bricks per day without much effort.

Slowly but surely the house walls are coming along. I put up 4 courses, then some building strapping for ensuring the wall is solid and fastened to the log poles holding the roof down, then another 4 courses. This is enough for the day, otherwise the mud mortar gets squeezed out by the weight of the bricks. I get to work in the shade most of the time, which suits my skin.

mudbricks stacked near wall ready to use
mudbricks stacked near wall ready to use

The house is not yet finished – a work in progress, but at current rate, will be airtight and warm for next winter, with about 1000 bricks still to make. Once the house is finished, we are planning on making a couple of 2 bedroom units and another 4 bedroom cottage for people to stay in. The idea is that they work 4-6 hours per day in order to pay for accommodation and their food from the aquaponics system.

mudbrick wall waiting for shaping of half-bricks
Mudbrick wall waiting for shaping of half-bricks

There are many people who for circumstances beyond their control, are unable to find somewhere to live that is affordable. Towns and cities are not good places for lots of people, and this is provide some alternative for a few people while they get their lives back together with the assistance of counselling, art therapy, and meditation.

mudbrick wall at eight courses high
Mudbrick wall at eight courses high

 

Geraldton Wax

Geraldton Wax is a flowering shrub with white or pink flowers that comes from Western Australia. It is very similar to Tea Tree and the flowers last a long time, making it very popular in the cut flower trade.

This plant is supposed to be frost tender – the temperatures go down to -6C here. Without any care over the last 3 years, it has survived and this is the 2012 flowering – absolutely magnificent (well, in my opinion). There aren’t many local shrubs that can match it. It loves sandy soil in moderate to full sun, and will withstand dry periods, making it perfect for growing in my local climate. It is short-lived in high humidity areas, like along the east coast of Australia.

Geraldton Wax Flowering 2012
Geraldton Wax Flowering 2012
native bee coming in for nectar on Geraldton Wax flower
Native bee coming in for nectar

Many of my neighbours have tried growing these without success. Their properties are lower down, and receive heavier, longer frosts that I do.

Next year, I intend to plant many more these to provide extra food for the insects and birds. Since moving to this place, our plantings of calistemons  and grevilleas has increased the bird population as well as our local native stingless bees, as they now have food when the local natives are not flowering. We are surrounded by native forest, so all we are doing is supplementing their diets.

Extra Nutrients for Aquaponics

I started off my aquaponics with Seasol fertilizer. I currently don’t have any fish in the system, as I have not been able to source any (the hatcheries are all sold out). I’ve been running on a pure source of ammonia, checking levels daily.

Some of the newly emerging leaves have yellow edges. Normally the waste from the fish provides the ammonia and other nutrients required. Sometimes potassium and iron can be lacking, which can result in leaf yellowing.

Some web sites suggest adding a few rusty nails along with seaweed extract. I have added the seaweed extract, as well as some iron chelate mixture. This has solved the problem.