Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Thursday, July 10, 2014

the house story and movement

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

the house story

will expand on the bullet point narrative on our house building trials and errors.

the design is an L shaped structure, 26 feet X 21 feet as the length of the 2 legs. each leg was 11 feet thick. one could imagine a 21 X 11 feet rectangle and 15 X 11 feet rectangle placed to make this L.

1. Location
adjoining the well, there was this massive mound of excavated earth. we partially levelled it in 2013 as a drying platform. we got a 6 feet high 1500 sq ft location.
practically, this location made the best sense.
a. there was a nice corner with around 5-6 neem trees, that's why the L shape
b. it was already 'raised', so we could dispense with raising the house floor.
c. we would not be taking up potentially 'agri' space for a 'non-agri' purpose.
d. the elevated nature of this mound, meant we had a good view of the overall farm as well and had the best wind systems in operation.
the fallouts were:
i) we could not build a stone foundation (we had plenty of stones) as the mound is classified as unstable due to presence of assorted sized boulders buried in while excavation.
ii) hence we would have to go for a steel reinforced plinth foundation.

2. Foundation
as we were optimising item 1 above, we could not repeat same for item 2 - namely foundation. we had to resort to a cement+steel design. we thus ended up with an one foot wide, 9 inches deep and 110 running feet plinth base.  it was completed in two days with just the marking/re-marking of the foundation outlines taking up one day.
note: if we had wanted to build a classic stone foundation + stem wall it would have taken much more time and more money, but much less environmental cost.

3. Walls
we went for a brick and mortar system. the reasons being:
a. easy to implement in terms of time and handling workmen.
b. termite resistance, at least in comparison to mud walls
c. using the rat trap brick laying system to reduce usage and improve thermal insulation. initial attempts to convince the masons to use this system failed. finally we managed to implement it in two walls which did not have windows. even these walls were possible after we put our foot down as the masons are very averse to trying out anything different. after the trial, two of the 3 masons were actually enthu to build with this system and were convinced that the strength was not compromised.

we bought the doors and windows second hand and have used terracotta jaalis for a few windows. we have 15 window/jaalis & 2 doors which take up 15% of the walls space.

 we dung plastered the outer walls and just limewashed the inside walls.

4. Flooring
we laid the floor with terracotta tiles, the same as in the cottage at pR. we got some discard-level ceramic tiles for flooring and actually discarded ceramic wall tiles and used them for the kitchen floor and wall decoration.

5. Roofing
we repeated the system we used for the cottage at pR minus the tar sheet interlay.
and we did elegant bamboo+thatch extension awnings.

6. Costs
we spent around Rs. 550/sq feet i.e 2.2 lacs for a 400sqft built up excluding the awning space. 25% was labour cost. total of 25 working days spread over 50 calendar days.

we are indebted to dv. the confidence to go ahead with this 'on our own' was solely due to the apprenticeship experiences at pR.
also gratitude to major roy, mason rajendran and his building team, periasamy and his thatching team.

reference : we came across the book  the barefoot architect which recommends building thin walls with a lot of ventilation and a sloping roof for hot humid tropics and it is certainly working. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014


in early 2012, karpagam's brother was engaged in land search around the area we are located. it was his idea that it could be his spot in the future. k and I had decided that if something 'interesting' should come up, we could jointly buy.

by some fortune, an interesting parcel of land became available within a couple of kms from pR. interesting because it was the opposite of pR - conventionally farmed, terraced plots, almost flat, open well irrigated, free irrigation power from the govt...
in the sense that we now had a place where we could attempt to grow food in sufficient quantities for us, family and a few friends.

the person who introduced us to this land was a trusted friend and he was of the opinion that it would be highly apt for our requirement.
we went ahead and with little more than the standard due diligence, we jointly purchased this land (christened thiyagu farm - TF for short).

from the very outset, we always assumed that we could 'remotely' manage TF from pR itself.
reality check - remote management in agriculture is very draining and we were only 2 kms 'remote'! this is inspite of several factors working in our favour - an excellent water source, a reasonably reliable set of locals providing labour and general oversight, a soil that was not badly damaged.
but without direct presence and direct action, forget about effective implementation of one's plans and ideas.
looking back at our earlier experiences in the corporate sector, it is quite the established fact that even 'paid professionals' fail more often than not to do justice to their work without an appropriate set of people to constantly cheer, steer and motivate them.

over 2 years, in an effort to make good the idea of growing food at TF, we landed into the obvious 'conflict of interest' spot.
our efforts and attention had to be divided between 2 locations and as one would expect, it was not making sense for pR, TF and we were much disoriented and exhausted.

the only option was for all owners to take direct control of their properties, their ideas and desires. however difficult this was going to be, it was the bitter pill that needed to be swallowed and we did just that.

based on these decisions, we have built a small house at TF and relocated around 10 days ago.
  • the house is 340 sq ft. 
  • the roof is same as the cottage at pR without the tar interlay
  • the foundation is reinforced concrete 
  • the wall are brick and mortar. we have used the rat trap masonry system for 2 walls
  • no cement plastering the walls, outside  plastering with cowdung+clay and  whitewashed interiors
  • flooring is terracotta tiles
  • we have around 90 sq feet of windows and doors for ventilation.
  • costed us Rs 550/sq feet
  • the house is sheltered by around 4 young neems.
there are many important reasons (too many to elaborate in this post) why we made some of the above decisions. specific questions could be emailed to sriramskd at gmail dot com.

at TF, we have grown (and will continue) paddy (6 varieties), groundnut, black gram (urad), green gram (moong), sesame (til), finger millet (ragi), pearl millet (bajra) and some assorted veggies.
by Nature's grace, even from our first crop, we have been able to generate marginal profits.

all this hopefully adds up to the idea of 'simple homesteading' - which has been the lifestyle idea right from when we made the key initial transition in 2010.

wishing readers the best and announcing that frequency of blog posts for the coming time will continue as per the 2013-14 rate.