Building an Earth Oven
Several years ago James heard about earth ovens from a radio program. His curiosity piqued, he searched and found "Build your own Earth Oven" on Amazon.com. Seizing the opportunity to utilize Phil Dinwiddie's strong back, James planned the initial stages of building the oven during Phil's internship. By the middle of July they had erected a very substantial base (looking somewhat like a primitive stone altar) on the hillside behind the row houses. The next stage was to lay the oven floor with fire brick. On the fire brick they shaped a mound of wet sand which represented the interior of the oven. Then came a critical question: what was the correct ratio of soil (dug from the foundation of the base) to sand. Several of us got involved with making bricks of various ratios of soil to sand, baking them until dry, and then testing for strength.
By this time God sent more laborers for the oven. Martyn Hawkes and Jen Dinwiddie drove from Michigan for a quick, two day visit, and they were more than willing to join in the fun. In fact, Jen had actual experience constructing an earth oven during her time in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer. She was designated as our resident "expert" on the subject. Having decided what was the right proportion, they mixed the mud in a way reminiscent of stomping the grapes and applied a 3 inch layer around the mound of sand. On the following day the first layer of mud was judged a failure, so they removed it and tried again. The second attempt was successful, and the sand was removed to aid in drying. Soon the next layer of mud cob, which will include straw for strength, will be applied 6 inches thick. The final layer will be an ancient formula for plaster: fresh cow manure! We have enjoyed baking bread, pizza, etc. ever since.
Stay tuned for further developments!