Mud and My Aching Back

Earthbag wall in front of my strawbale studio today

I procrastinated. I admit it. I just didn’t want to slop mud on my earthbag wall this year.

It desperately needed it. This past spring, a heavy rain in a short period thoroughly soaked the mud plaster on the bench and the tops of the walls. The plaster got heavy and sloughed off in places.

Not good.

I built the wall nearly eight years back, when I was interested in building with natural materials. I hadn’t tried earth bags. I hired a couple of guys to fill and stack the polypropylene bags and plaster them.

They laid them on a packed gravel foundation and tamped each one into place. Then chinked and covered them with mud. The final plaster layer was a lime plaster.

They didn’t do all the work. I had to stack some bags, and I did a lot of the chinking, and applied the smooth plaster on the bench and painted the whole thing with lime wash. They refused to plaster around the designs of glass pieces I stuck on the bench wall, even though I was recovering from eye surgery and shouldn’t have been out plastering. I won’t forget that. Otherwise, before surgery and after my eye healed, I was in good shape for the project and feeling energetic. That was then.

For the first few months, the wall looked great. I painted designs on the bench and made it all pretty. After the first winter it went to hell. The outer lime plaster expanded and contracted differently from the underlying mud layer, causing it to crack and break off, especially on wall caps and horizontal surfaces.

Now to keep the wall alive, I must repair mud plaster that erodes away every year.

Depending on how thorough I want to be, it can be a two day project or a five day project. This year was a two day project. After bending over and mixing clay, sand, straw, and lime putty, then scooping it on the wall and troweling and smoothing, my back ached and my wrist hurt and I’d had enough. I patched most of the rough places in hopes of getting the wall through another winter without a major hunk of the remaining lime plaster falling off.

The job is done for now.

I plan to cover the wall tops with curved metal at some point. That should eliminate the need to repair the wall caps. But the bench and vertical surfaces will continue to need new mud.

Oh, my aching back.

4 thoughts on “Mud and My Aching Back

  1. It was a good plan. Perhaps some execution issues. A good plan, beautiful product, although results were ephemeral. Perhaps there is a saviour Samaritan out there just waiting to step in!


  2. The stacked bags are here for eternity. Whether they’ll remain plastered is the question. Guess I’ll have to rely on kind-hearted folks to play in the mud with me in the future! It’s loads of fun for about twenty minutes, then it’s just a load of mud. Thanks for the comment!


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