Monday, November 29, 2010

Field Notes From The Farm -- November, 2010

Here's the latest in my Dad's "Field Notes from the Farm" series:

November 2010

Field Notes From The Farm

The cold of winter has settled in. The golden, bittersweet of autumn has come and gone. We look back on the year that was . . . and make plans for the year to be.

I have survived my run in with cancer. The body is still weak, but the spirit is stronger and filled with gratitude for family and friends. Their prayers and generous actions have sustained me through this very trying year. My deepest gratitude is saved though for Valorie, my wife of more than 50 years, whose love and devotion was a constant reminder of what is important in life. Her vigorous advocacy on my behalf enabled me to face my cancer without fear. Such are the blessings of life.

The farm suffered as a result of this cancer-caused interlude. We are starting to dig out. Compare the two photos below.  On the left you can barely see the peach trees covered by morning glory vines and hidden from view by sunflowers that towered 10 to 12 feet. We have now harvested the sunflower stalks – they are destined for the compost pile – and the peach tree is clearly visible in the right photo. The blackberries survived without any care and are peeking out from the cover crop of clover (see photo after the jump). The greenhouse is in production with our winter crop. Life is moving forward again.

Blackberry bushes with clover cover crop.

Winter brings the time to do planning for the next year. The farm plan becomes the basis for our renewal application for organic certification. The focus for 2011 will be on greenhouse production and bringing along the development of the table grapes, blackberries and peaches.

The big plans are to start construction. The first project will be to install the utilities for the travel trailers, followed next by building a secure storage building and washroom. The washroom is to provide a dedicated facility to prepare our produce for market.

These are important and necessary steps, but what we are really excited about is building a home for ourselves. The site on the farm has been chosen, and we are working at present to extend the entry road to the house site. We are hoping we can get the road finished before the ground freezes up. As you can see from the photos below, a section of the road is elevated and is designed to capture the storm water runoff and hold it in a retention pond. We estimate there is about 30 acres of storm runoff that we can channel to the retention pond.

Truck on elevated roadway.  Crazy Mom in truck.

Padre run amok with tractor Grading.

More grading.

Our house (and the storage building) will be built of rammed earth adobe blocks [also known as compressed earth blocks or CEBs]. We are very fortunate here in New Mexico to have a section of the building code that is specifically devoted to adobe construction. [Known as the New Mexico Earthen Building Materials Code, it includes a section specifically dedicated to compressed earth blocks. Here are the links: html version or pdf version.] No ambiguities; here is how you do it. The adobe blocks do have to pass certain tests to be approved by the building department. Our soils on the farm are heavy clays with high levels of calcium. We are testing various mixes and ratios now, but what looks promising is the clay soil stabilized with lime.

Compressed earth blocks.

Close-up of a CEB; Uno's ear.

Mom with stylish hat and CEB.

CEB machine.

I will post a more technical description about the stabilized adobe blocks later. In the meantime, if any of you are interested and would like to gain some hands-on experience, please send me an e-mail and include your phone number. There will be two distinct parts: the actual making of the rammed earth adobe blocks, and then the laying up of the blocks into the walls of the building.

One of our goals for living in a toxic, industrialized world is to build our own house of green, non-toxic materials. It is a lot harder than you may think. But starting with dirt, wood, glass and concrete gives us a leg up on a nourishing, non-toxic environment for the home. The plans for the house call for radon mitigation, walls of rammed earth adobe block, an attached greenhouse that will be the source of heat of an active solar heating system, and a dirt roof with no canales. More details as the plans take final form.

Moving into the New Year with definitely ambitious plans in place, I will be constrained by the time it takes to regain my physical strength. I am optimistic and impatient to get going. An old saying comes to mind: “Patience is a virtue; posses it if you can. It’s seldom found in women, and never in a man.” I guess I have some lessons in patience to learn. Thanks for being a reader. Have a wonderful New Year.

David and Valorie Hutt
Earth Echo Farm
Tecolotito, New Mexico

If we heal the land,
The land will heal us.


  1. So that is the mighty CEB machine. I thought it looked more like Andy's backside. How much pressure does that thing exert? How many blocks does it extrude?

    But seriously Dad we are so glad that you're getting back into the swing of things. In think you're on to something re patience. Pace yourself and listen to your body! Xox, Peter

  2. OMG...what an incredible undertaking you two are involved in. Amazing. So glad that you are feeling better David. Your strength will return but getting patience....well thats a whole another story all together my friend.

    Valorie, looking good and I love your stylish hat. You are both and insperation to me!! Love ya both, Andrea

  3. Peter,
    In réponse to your questions about the adobe block machine:
    We have the pressure switch set between 2100 and 2200 psi.
    I timed one production run and the machine kicked out 53 blocks
    in 18 minutes.