What is an Earthship Home and What Are the Advantages

What is an Earthship Home and What Are the Advantages

If your looking for housing that falls outside of the traditional options, and lets you live off the grid, an Earthship house might be appealing. These sustainable designs use renewable resources, recycled materials, and alternative energy approaches, including technologies to address your electricity and potable water needs. If you are wondering what an Earthship home is and what advantages it provides, here’s what you need to know.

What is an Earthship Home?

An Earthship house is a sustainable dwelling design. But, it’s important to understand that Earthship is actually a brand name (the company name is Earthship Biotecture), not a building approach.

Earthship creates houses using a combination of recycled and natural materials, many of which are meant to support off the grid living. However, other manufacturers use similar approaches. As a result, competitor designs may mistakenly be referred to as Earthship houses, even though they aren’t part of the brand.

earthship home

What Materials Are Used to Build an Earthship House?

Usually, recycled automobile tires make up the bulk of an Earthship house’s structure. The holes in the center of the tires are filled with earth, which is then compressed to fill the void. For the foundation, tires are stacked in a brick pattern and then covered in adobe.

However, other recycled materials also go into building many Earthship houses. This includes cardboard, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles.

What Are the Advantages of an Earthship Home?

Earthship houses provide a range of advantages. First, since they are largely made from tires, they are incredibly durable. Many of the designs would qualify as earthquake-resistant thanks to the high degree of stability.

Second, Earthship homes are incredibly energy efficient. The designs essentially heat and cool themselves, making other heat sources – like electric heat or wood-burning stoves – unnecessary or, at least, less necessary.

As sunlight comes in through the glass, the walls and floors heat up. Then, when the temperature falls at night, the walls and floors radiate heat into the interior. For hot days, cooling tubes and vent boxes lower the inside temperature. Now, that doesn’t mean the inside is always at your ideal temperature, just that the design plays a role in temperature regulation.

Third, the designs reduce the need for utilities. When power is required, an Earthship home creates its own. Solar panels and storage batteries provide a reliable source of electricity. Similarly, the house makes water accessible by collecting rain and snowmelt in cisterns attached to a pump and filter system.

Ultimately, the advantage of an Earthship home is that it reduces or eliminates your dependence on outside utilities. They can even be entirely self-sustaining, depending on your water and power needs.

sustainable construction

Where Can You Build an Earthship House?

If you want to build an Earthship home, you’ll need to choose an area that allows that kind of structure. Not all municipalities offer permits for these kinds of houses. If you can’t meet local building codes with an Earthship house, then you can’t build one in that region. As a result, it’s best to check with your preferred municipality before even buying the land.

Otherwise, you can build an Earthship home in any area that will give you permits. However, they are more commonly found in desert climates, and many are found across New Mexico and Colorado.

With an Earthship house, humidity is the enemy. The walls might collect moisture, increasing the odds of mold and mildew. But arid climates might not have a lot of rainfall. As a result, you might not be able to collect enough rainwater to adequately handle your needs without hooking up to a water utility or bringing in water from another source.

How Much is an Earthship House?

If you want a home built by Earthship Biotecture and are open to living in their New Mexico community, it could run you between about $200,000 and $1.5 million, depending on the model.

However, you can also attend the company’s academy in person or online and learn how to build one yourself. A one-month program can run $2,500.

It’s important to note that Earthship houses aren’t necessarily cheaper to build than a traditional home. Usually, the savings is in the reduced utility costs or the ability to build on land that might not have easy access to existing utilities (or any at all).

Getting a mortgage for an Earthship home is already difficult. It’s hard for a lender to accurately estimate the property’s value since there are so few comparable properties. With a construction loan, you might run into similar difficulties since the materials aren’t always on approved materials lists.

earthship house

Should You Buy or Build an Earthship House?

Whether an Earthship home is right for you is a personal decision. Additionally, you need to consider whether your location is appropriate for one or will allow it. For those interested in sustainable designs and a reduced need for utilities, it might be worth exploring what Earthship has to offer. Just make sure you understand the pros and cons and review your local building codes before you start the process.

Gardening 101: Selling Your Seeds

Gardening 101: Selling Your Seeds

Most plants produce seeds once they reach maturity. But many gardeners don’t realize how easy it is to transform these little machines into extra income. Selling your seeds makes sense for many gardeners, and you can turn your garden into a profitable, long-term business.

Selling Your Seeds 

Gardeners sell seeds two main ways: directly to customers or through a seed company. Seed companies often contract out specific plant varieties to growers and buy the seeds for a set price after the harvest.

You can ask them if they will take your seeds or any others you want to grow, but it is hard to know what they might want without an ongoing relationship or a lot of research. To avoid stress, start by growing what works for you. Don’t get your hopes up that you will make a lot of money; once you find a stable market, you can increase your seed production.

Many growers choose to sell their seeds directly to buyers and they do this many ways. Popular methods include using farmer’s markets, creating an online shop, going to trade shows, or peddling seeds through a yard sale or swap meet.

selling seeds

Grow the Right Seeds 

Even though there are many ways to sell, you won’t get reliable results if you don’t market the seeds consumers want to buy. Discovering what the seed market is like for your target customer isn’t always clear, but there are a few steps you can take to figure out the varieties on which to focus.

First, ask around and see what gardeners are seeking. Are they mostly interested in growing exotic hybrids or are they looking for fruits that could become the next fad? Next, try looking online. Knowing what other gardeners are selling could tip you off to untapped markets or plants you could also grow that fit a similar need. Remember, seeds are just like any other product or service; vendors aren’t selling varieties that no one wants to buy.

selling your seeds

Growing and Harvesting 

Seed sellers should remember that not all plant varieties are the same. Some are hard to predict because they cross-pollinate easily and don’t have a strong rootstock on their own. Avoid these unless you want to experiment or don’t mind grafting on a hardier plant.

Once your seeds are mature, you will need to prepare them for sale. Seeds come in two varieties: dry and wet. Wet seeds are easier to process than dry types, though some require fermentation.

You need to separate dry seeds from their shell or husk before selling them, and this can take a lot of work. For best results, always let your plant material dry before separating out the seeds. It is also a good idea to research the diseases your plants are weak to, and whether they need treatment by fermentation or hot water soaks.

All of this information will help you decide what varieties you want to plant and sell. Make sure also to calculate prep time and shipping costs to check if selling any seed variety is worth the investment.

Find a Market to Sell Seeds

Like any product, the seed market depends on supply and demand. You don’t want to waste your time growing seeds that nobody wants! Before you start your seed garden, figure out what niche your seeds will fill. Is it a unique variety of a favorite plant, part of a new fad, or an unusual plant for breeders?

Don’t forget to ask why your potential customers will like your seeds. You can talk to them directly, or role play if you understand their needs well. Try to create or buy plant varieties that meet a few specific criteria. As you spend more time learning about your customers and plant varieties it will be easier to find desirable seeds to grow.

selling garden seeds

Why Selling Your Seeds is a Smart Idea 

If you already have seeds, why not sell them? Buyers usually purchase seeds by the ounce, and even a small amount of seeds can help increase your income and recoup your gardening costs, which is especially true if you have many contacts in the gardening and farming industries.

Like selling any product, you can turn your seeds into a profit if you can predict the market. Though it is risky, you might find yourself enjoying research and speculating, especially if it leads to more cash in your pocket! Look for fads. Try to get in early on new flavors, fashions, and diet trends.

It is easy to turn your seeds into cash if you know how. What’s stopping you from starting your own seed business today?

10 Books on Garden Pollinators

10 Books on Garden Pollinators

The majority of flowering plants require an outside agent, usually an animal – insect, bird, or even small mammals – to pollinate them in order to reproduce. In fact, the prevailing theory is that flowers evolved to attract pollinators.

Approximately three-quarters of major food crops require pollination for reproduction. Insects – bees, moths, butterflies, and some beetles – make up the majority of insect pollinators, so farmers and gardeners try to make sure that a healthy population of them is available to perform this vital task. For many decades, farmers have come to depend upon the domestic western honey bee (Apis mellifera) as the primary pollinator. Every spring, professional apiarists make the rounds, heading to commercial farms and moving colonies of their bees to pollinate the crops.  

However, in recent years, a phenomenon known as “bee colony collapse disorder” – when all of the members of a colony except for the queen, immature bees and some nurse bees, disappear or die off – became a significant concern in North America and parts of Europe. While there are a number of theories about the cause or causes of this anomaly, such as a fungal infection or stress caused by the constant relocation of bee hives for commercial pollination, a definitive program to halt the disorder has not been established.

Fortunately for agriculturalists and gardeners (not to mention the world’s food supply), western domestic honey bees are not the only pollinators available. In fact, there are literally thousands of species of insects that perform that crucial task. This book list offers ten titles which describe these insects and offer information on how to attract them to gardens and fields, as well as farming and gardening practices to keep their populations healthy and thriving.

butterfly pollinator

1. Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and Other Pollinators by Rhonda Fleming Hayes

Pollinator Friendly Gardening covers everything from plant selection, habitat-building, and growing practices to attract and maintain a population of wide range of beneficial insects.

2. Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide, Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies by The Xerces Society

The Xerces Society, named after a now-extinct species of butterfly, is dedicated to the conservation of invertebrate species. Attracting Native Pollinators describes how to create insect-friendly structures and maintain proper habitat to help pollinators thrive.

3. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants by Heather N. Holm

Pollinators of Native Plants provides a comprehensive look at the relationship between the native plants and native insects of the Midwest, Great Lakes region, the Northeast and southern Canada. Along with highly descriptive text there are numerous photographs that help illustrate various points and help readers identify pollinators. The book is organized by plant communities, providing guidance on the best practices and habitat designs to help conserve pollinator populations for both hobby and professional growers.

4. The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant Flower-Filled Yard That Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity by Kate Frey, Gretchen Lebuhn and Leslie Lindell

Written by both biologists and award-winning garden designers, The Bee-Friendly Garden describes how to plan flower gardens that will attract pollinators. Aside from the inherent good in promoting healthy pollinator populations, the guide also describes how their presence is beneficial to vegetable gardens and other flowering plants in the vicinity.

5. Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North American Bees by Joseph S. Wilson and Oliva J. Messinger Carril

More than just an identification guide to the more than 4,000 species of bees in North America, Bees in Your Backyard also includes pointers on how to attract bees by providing appropriate plants.

bee pollinator

6. The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson Rich

The Bee: A Natural History provides an overview of the more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide, covering everything from bee evolution to ecology to human-bee relations.

The Bee: A Natural History
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7. Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide by Paul H. Williams, Robbin W. Thorp, Leif L. Richardson and Sheila R. Colla

Bumble Bees of North America is a guide to the 46 species of bumble bees north of Mexico. The book includes descriptions of their ecology and habits as well as identification keys and population distribution maps.

8. A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees by Dave Goulson

A Sting in the Tale is a delightful first-person account of exploring the natural history and behavior of bumblebees by the founder of The Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

9. Butterfly Gardens: Luring Nature’s Loveliest Pollinators to Your Yard by Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Filled with detailed and practical information on species of North American butterflies, Butterfly Gardens also outlines which plants can attract these helpful and beautiful pollinators.

10. Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects by the Xerces Society

Gardening for Butterflies was written by experts at the Xerces Society, providing information on the importance of butterflies to plant ecology. The book also describes the threats to butterfly species, offers suggestions on plant selection, and covers gardening practices that will encourage diverse and strong butterfly populations. The photographs not only aid in identification but also provide beautiful motivation for encouraging butterflies to make yards and gardens their homes.

Bonus Tip:

Gardeners and agriculturalists who are interested in attracting and maintaining populations of wild native pollinators may also want to contact their local agricultural extension agent for additional information. Each county in the United States has a resident agent, who can be found through the “Government Agencies” pages of the telephone book or online through the Internet.

Best Books About Straw Bale Houses

Best Books About Straw Bale Houses

There are tons of great books around, but there are also some not-so-great resources. If you are interested in learning more about straw bale houses, picking the right books can mean the difference between gaining helpful information or ending up with something that doesn’t answer your questions.

If you want to make sure you are buying a valuable resource, here are the best books about straw bale houses available today.

The Straw Bale House

The Straw Bale House is a great introduction to straw bale building. This book highlights various benefits and critical points, allowing you to decide if this construction alternative is right for you.

Essential Prefab Straw Bale Construction: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide

If you prefer a step-by-step approach, Essential Prefab Straw Bale Construction: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide is a great option. It focuses on prefabricated wall panels as a means of cutting costs, though it can also accelerate your project timeline.

Serious Straw Bale: A Home Construction Guide for All Climates

If you live in a more extreme or variable climate, Serious Straw Bale: A Home Construction Guide for All Climates covers critical points you won’t find in other books. For builders who may have to deal with temperature swings, humidity, or precipitation, this one is a must-read.

Small Strawbale: Natural Homes, Projects & Designs

A practical guide filled with color photographs or various project options, Small Strawbale: Natural Homes, Projects & Designs is a great source of inspiration as well as helpful advice. This book is ideal for people who are considering moving forward with a straw bale home but don’t feel they have enough information to make a decision, ensuring you can discover all you need to know before you begin.

Building a Straw Bale House: The Red Feather Construction Handbook

A construction manual and inspiring story all wrapped into one, Building a Straw Bale House: The Red Feather Construction Handbook is an important resource for anyone looking to build a straw bale house. It uses a step-by-step approach, ensuring every critical part is outlined and that the manual remains easy to follow.

Building with Straw Bales: A Practical Manual for Self-Builders and Architects

If you want to learn various construction techniques, Building with Straw Bales: A Practical Manual for Self-Builders and Architects is incredibly straightforward. It makes the concepts easy to understand, using common-sense language to increase accessibility and ensuring this book will be a great resource during your project.

The Beauty of Straw Bale Homes

The Beauty of Straw Bale Homes is a celebration of this form of construction. It is filled with color photographs of various dwellings, serving as a great source of inspiration for your own design. Additionally, the author provides insights into the construction process and shares key lessons that were learned over the years.

The Beauty of Straw Bale Homes
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Straw Bale Building: How to Plan, Design and Build with Straw

A guide to the entire construction process, Straw Bale Building: How to plan, design and build with straw is a comprehensive resource written by professional builders. Along with actual plans, you’ll also be able to view photos and illustrations to help you nail the concepts, making the content both accessible and informative.

Strawbale Home Plans

Featuring over 30 unique plans, Strawbale Home Plans is a must-read for anyone who wants to nail down their design or simply be inspired by the creativity of others.

Strawbale Home Plans
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Straw Bale Building Details: An Illustrated Guide for Design and Construction

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In Straw Bale Building Details: An Illustrated Guide for Design and Construction, you’ll learn about the planning and building process, the science behind straw bale walls, how to avoid costly mistakes, and get access to numerous drawings that show critical parts of the construction of straw bale homes.

DIY: How to Design Your Own Energy Efficient Green Home: Construction Alternatives and Sample Passive Solar Straw Bale House

In DIY: How to Design Your Own Energy Efficient Green Home: Construction Alternatives and Sample Passive Solar Straw Bale House, defines many key terms, discusses green building basics, reviews various building codes, how to plan your home, and more. Plus, it gives the reader access to additional information through the companion e-book, which is included with the purchase of the book.

An Absolute Must Read Before You Start to Build Your Eco Friendly Home: The Journey To Eco Straw House

An Absolute Must Read Before You Start To Build Your Eco Friendly Home: The Journey To Eco Straw House follows the author as she works to construct her own eco-friendly home. Along with successes, you’ll also learn about various trials and tribulations, showcasing how important perseverance is to the process.

Journey to a Straw Bale House

A book that is part personal story and part guide, Journey to a Straw Bale House explores more than sustainable living, but also a neighborhood’s local culture. A few color photographs help bring life to the content, ensuring you stay engaged while you learn.

Journey to a Straw Bale House
List Price:$20.95
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Sustainable Compromises: A Yurt, a Straw Bale House, and Ecological Living

Part how-to, part personal story from the author, Sustainable Compromises: A Yurt, a Straw Bale House, and Ecological Living provides readers with hard-earned insights and valuable guidance in a digestible and entertaining way.

Building Green: A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods

Building Green: A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods is a must-have reference for sustainable construction professionals and fans. Along with a ton of helpful content, it also connects you to online resources, making sure you can find out everything you need to have a successful project.

Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log and Strawbale Construction, 6th Edition

Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log and Strawbale Construction shows that you can have the home of your dreams without breaking the bank. While the book isn’t focused on straw bale homes alone, it does have great tips for budget-conscious builders, particularly when it comes to mastering the planning phase.

Design of Straw Bale Buildings: The State of the Art

If you want to learn how to design intelligent straw bale buildings, Design of Straw Bale Buildings: The State of the Art, is an excellent choice. It’s a manual created with practicing professionals in mind and relies on the collective experience of some of the most respected figures in the industry.

Pros and Cons of Straw Bale Houses

Pros and Cons of Straw Bale Houses

For those who prefer using natural materials, building a straw bale house may seem like a great option. The material is eco-friendly, fairly affordable, and reasonably easy to work with, making it an appealing approach to building a home.

However, there are also pitfalls to using straw bales for construction. If you are wondering whether a straw bale house may be right for you, here are some pros and cons to consider.

Advantages of Straw Bale Houses

Straw bale houses do have some advantages. They are not overly expensive to build and tend to be energy-efficient. Plus, they are one of the eco-friendly options that are widely accessible. Here is a closer look at the advantages of straw bale homes.


Straw bale houses are incredibly eco-friendly. Straw bales are typically an agricultural by-product, one which would go to waste if not used for projects like house building.

Plus, straw is highly renewable. It can be regrown each year instead of the decades it can take to grow trees for producing lumber. Harvesting the straw also requires very little energy and the bales cost less to transport than wood, concrete, or steel thanks to their lighter weight.


Typically, straw bales contain fewer toxins than many other conventional building materials. This can make them healthier alternatives to use in construction.


If you want to build an efficient home, straw bales are a great choice. The high insulation factor means it costs less to heat or cool a house made of straw than certain alternatives. The material has a natural trombe effect, allowing it to store heat or coolness and release it to keep your home’s temperature comfortable.


Straw bale walls are very accommodating. Not only can the be stacked and configured to give you an ideal room size, but the walls can be cut and shaped using a knife or chainsaw, giving you additional options.


When you build with straw bales, the cost is comparable to a stick built home. This can make it one of the more economical alternative construction approaches.

Low Fire Hazard

Since straw bales are tightly packed, they do not burn as easily as certain other materials. The tight packing reduces airflow, something that is critical to sustain a fire.

While there is some fire risk during the construction phase (as is the case with many building materials), once the home is finished, it’s flame retardant nature decreases the risk, usually resulting in a home that better resists burning than a traditional stick built house.

Easily Sourced

Within the continental US (lower 48 states), local straw bales are almost always available locally.


Building a straw bale house isn’t as complex as using traditional building methods. Usually, as long as one member of the construction team is highly knowledgeable, they can guide everyone else along. This is particularly convenient if you have limited access to skilled or experienced construction labor, as nearly anyone with the physical capability necessary can participate in construction.

Attractive Aesthetic

Straw bale houses have a variety of amazing aesthetic elements. The deep windows and niches are a common favorite, often providing enough depth to function as a seat or large shelf. Plus, the slightly uneven nature of straw bales gives the walls a finished yet rustic feel, which some people appreciate.

Low-Embodied Energy

It doesn’t take much energy to grow and process straw. Aside from sunlight during the growth phase, the only other energy that is required occurs during the bailing process and when the bales are transported.


While a straw bale house can last for more than 100 years when constructed and maintained properly, the core material can be returned to the earth if rebuilding becomes necessary. With a bit of plowing, the straw can be added to soil and will decompose quickly without harming the environment. In comparison, fiberglass – a common traditional home insulator – can be hard to dispose of properly and isn’t biodegradable.

Disadvantages of Straw Bale Houses

While there are plenty of great reasons to consider a straw bale house, there are some risks to using this construction approach. Here is a closer look at the disadvantages of straw bale houses.


While some may appreciate the unconventional nature of a straw bale house, it can also create some challenges. Structural engineers may not be familiar with the building approach, making it hard to get solid plans. Inspectors in your area may also not be well educated about straw bale house construction, making it difficult to get passed during the inspection phase.

Permitting Issues

Similar to the point above, getting building permits for a straw bale house might be challenging as well. City officials may be uncomfortable with the concept, especially if you are not in an area where it is a widely accepted building method.

Pest Concerns

With straw bale homes, pests can be an issue. Insects and rodents may try to take up residence in the bales, especially when they are exposed during the building phase or are not properly finished and maintained over time.

Space Considerations

The thickness of a straw bale wall means you are sacrificing some interior space. They are typically 18 inches thick, which is substantially thicker than a stick built wall covered in sheetrock, which is usually closer to six inches thick. As a result, if a straw bale home and stick built house have the same footprint, the straw bale structure actually has less functional interior square footage.


If not properly built, it is possible to end up with gaps between the bales. This can create thermal breakpoints, harming the energy efficiency, and could allow pests into the material or your home.


Straw bale houses are usually covered in plaster once the structure is constructed. Without proper maintenance, plaster can quickly degrade. This may allow water to penetrate the bales or to enter the house, increasing the odds of water damage and mold or mildew.

No Studs

When you build with straw bales, you don’t use wood to support the structure. As a result, the walls do not have studs, so hanging anything from pictures to shelves to cabinets is more complex. This means you may need to look into alternative hanging methods or use furniture pieces that rest on the floor for storage.

Skin Irritant

Working with straw can lead to irritated skin. During the building process, the material can be a bit abrasive, and some people may be allergic to the material.

Breathing Problems

Straw can also be a lung irritant. The straw dust can be bothersome, particularly if you are jostling the bails or cutting them with a chainsaw.

Usually, the best thing to do is protect your lungs, mouth, and nose by wearing a breathing filter. Wearing protective eyewear can also keep the dust out of your eyes. However, if you have an allergy, this may be insufficient.

Learning Curve

While learning to build with straw bales isn’t inherently difficult, it is different from using traditional building techniques. There is a learning curve to contend with, so the build may take longer than you expect depending on how quickly you become comfortable with the material and approach to construction.


Straw bales need to be kept dry. Moisture can lead the bales to decay, mold, and even collapse, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

If you live in a wet climate, protecting your straw bale home from the elements is particularly daunting. While a high stem wall, long overhanging eaves, and plaster can help, these precautions can fail. And, once a straw bale is wet, it may never fully dry.

High humidity environments aren’t ideal for straw bale houses either. Since there is a higher moisture content to the air, the bales are more likely to absorb some of the water. Plus, getting the bales dried out again may be impossible in a naturally humid region.

Labor Intensive

Straw bales are usually both heavy and large. Moving them can be laborious, and stacking the bales may be outside the physical capability of some people.

Securing an able-bodied work crew can be expensive too. While labor costs are a concern for any project, you may be surprised at home much the labor aspect factors in when constructing a straw bale house.

Structural Movement

Since straw bale homes are built using a stacking technique, they can be susceptible to structural movement. This can lead to cracks in the plaster and even the collapse of a load-bearing wall, especially if the house wasn’t built well in the first place. Anything from foundation issues to high winds to seismic activity on a small scale can promote movement, as there isn’t a frame to support the house.

Micro Farming for Profit

Micro Farming for Profit

It’s happening all around us. In city centers, suburban backyards and on quiet country lanes, the beginning of a revolution is taking shape. The agricultural revolution, for many, is growing into a profitable and life-changing experience. Micro farming for profit focuses on agribusiness using bio-intensive, ecologically sound growing methods, often paired with technology.

These 21st-century market gardeners are harnessing bio-intensive sustainable agriculture and strong ties to their community to produce high-quality products and substantially higher profit per acre. Instead of the popular view of struggling small farms on the edge of ruin, micro farmers can realistically enjoy incomes well into six figures.

In the process of working hard to profit from their micro farms, micro farmers often find themselves enjoying richer, healthier lives. A 21st-century version of market gardening is steadily putting high quality produce, eggs and more in the nation’s fresh markets and on the table in popular restaurants. These micro farms are also putting profits in their owner’s pockets with more diverse markets for their goods. Here is a closer look at some of these enterprising farmers, what they are doing, and why it matters to them and you.

Les Jardins de la Grelinette

Is it possible to produce a six-figure income from a 2.5-acre plot? Is micro farming for profit a realistic business model?

If you are Canadian farmers Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches, the answer is yes! And they’ve got the numbers to prove it. For over a decade, Les Jardins de la Grelinette micro farm consistently produced returns of over $100,000 per year per acre while actively teaching others to do the same.  They, like many modern small farm owners, are passionate about sharing ecological human-scale food systems as a profitable alternative to destructive, large-scale industrial agriculture.

Les Jardins de la Grelinette

Sitting on a 10-acre lot in St-Armand, Quebec, Les Jardins de la Gelinette produces 40 varieties of herbs, fruits, and vegetables while only using a quarter of the available space. Their revenue comes from four main sources: farmer’s markets, subscriptions to weekly produce baskets during the summer, selling mixed salad greens (mesclun), and the sale of greenhouse plants. Recently, M. Fortier has begun offering The Market Gardener’s Masterclass, an online course for beginning and professional farmers who want to improve their efficiency and grow on a larger scale. This course was built out of the success of his book, The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-scale Organic Farming.

Devon Point Farm

Eliminating the middleman is one way micro farmers get such hefty returns for their crops. Along with direct sales to the consumer at local farmers markets, micro farmers often market directly to local restaurants and families through Community Supported Agriculture shares.

Through a Community Supported Agriculture (C.S.A.) shares program, share holders (members) buy a specific share of the micro farm’s harvest, eggs, and sustainably reared meat products. The purchase happens at the beginning of the growing season and sometimes, even earlier. Members share the risks and rewards: if it is a good season, members share the reward of reasonably priced, more nutritious food; if the weather is bad, or there are animal health problems the members receive less.

Subscription boxes are popular in summer and winter
Subscription boxes are popular in summer and winter.

In most cases, both the grower and the community benefit with better prices for quality food and better profits for the farmer. Members get the high-quality food they want most and the farmer is rewarded with a guaranteed market.

To see Community Supported Agriculture in action, take a trip to Woodstock, Connecticut. That’s where you’ll discover the Taylor family and Devon Point Farm. While not your typical micro farm, Devon Point Farm epitomizes values and techniques required for small farm success.

The Taylors produce diversified crops marketed directly to the consumer via C.S.A. shares and on their website. Grass-fed beef, pork and chicken are available for pickup on the farm. Their diversified approach helps the them offer quality products at reasonable prices without the extra cost incurred selling products in the traditional manner.

Growth Opportunity: Vertical Farming

Puns aside, just because farming has been practiced the same way for thousands of years doesn’t mean it lacks innovation. Recent technology and research provides new ways to grow more food in less space than ever before and in climates that don’t typically support gardening.

The Chinese recently announced they have grown plants on the dark side of the moon. How did they do that? Using the latest science and technology: LED grow lights and hydroponics. Grow lights have been used for decades, but the latest LED grow lights provide farmers the ability to fine tune the light spectrum and control the growth of their plants. Combined with nutrients provided by modern hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics systems, plants can now be grown indoors and in smaller spaces year round.

Vertical farms use technology to make efficient use of space and plants
Vertical farms use technology to make efficient use of space and plants

We The Roots, Aerofarms, TruLeaf, and others have been developing a vertical farming method which stacks plants on shelves beneath strips of LED grow lights. Nutrients are then fed to the plants either through water or by spraying them with a mist. Vertical farming using LED grow lights allows farmers to increase the density of plants per square foot providing opportunities for even the smallest of micro farms.

LED and hydroponics technologies are also an opportunity for locations where gardening is impossible, for example northern communities in Canada. Typically, fresh produce in the north must be flown or shipped into remote communities at a hefty cost. With LED grow lights and aquaponics, it is now possible to build a viable garden indoors perhaps even in a shipping container. Fresh vegetables could then be harvested year-round at a reduced cost. The video below highlights how one company, Growcer, is doing just that. This is a tremendous opportunity for entrepreneur farmers in remote communities.

Producing large quantities of quality produce on tiny plots of land is not a new idea. Market gardening has a long history going back to medieval times and earlier. Now, a creative approach, technology, and dedication to sustainable agriculture are once again making producing good food an integral part of the community.

Using Hay Bales for Gardening

Using Hay Bales for Gardening

Header photo by Ruth Temple

Introduction to hay bale gardening

To plant a traditional garden you need space, good soil, and effort – weeding, fertilising, watering, and other back-breaking tasks. However, hay bale gardening provides a more straightforward way of cultivating and managing a garden even if you’re short on space or in the event of a drought.

As the name suggests, a hay bale garden uses bales of straw or hay as opposed to soil for cultivation. Using hay bales for gardening is an especially effective alternative to traditional gardens if you lack adequate space, or you have difficult ground to cultivate. This guide details the benefits and the step-by-step process of setting up a hay bale garden.

Benefits of straw bale gardens

Straw bale garden

1. No Soil Needed

Hay bale gardens are perfect for gardeners with no space or poor soil for cultivation. Hay forms an ideal alternative to soil. Since the straw bale makes a natural pot for your plants, you can plant anywhere you have room for your bale.

2. No Fertilizer Required

Gardeners don’t need to add fertilizer to their hay bale gardens since the dried grass is rich in nutrients which promote a good yield. Remember, hay comprises of dry grass. This means your bales can trigger the conversion of soil minerals and sunlight into dense nutrition for plant growth.

RocAnamor House - Strawbale planting in back

3. Longer cultivation period

As the straw bale decomposes, it gives off warmth which gives gardeners a head start as spring sets in and a slightly longer cultivation period into fall. Therefore, using hay bales for gardening provides an extra month for cultivation.

4. Little maintenance required

Hay retains more water than soil due to the small size and compactness of grass. Since hay is sponge-like, you only need to water the hay garden once every day.

5. Raised cultivation beds

Straw bale garden wide angle B Chudnow's garden

Raised beds are perfect for gardeners with back problems who cannot stoop for long. Straw bales are an excellent natural raised container for cultivation. Unlike traditional raised soil beds, hay bales are ready made and don’t require carpentry skills to assemble.

6. Appropriate for small spaces

Do you have inadequate space for your garden? If so, a hay bale garden is perfect for you. Even with a flat roof area or a balcony, a bale or two can support enough vegetables for a small family.

7. No soil-borne infections and less weeding required

Since hay bales are less likely to carry weed seeds compared to ordinary garden soil, hay bale gardeners don’t need to worry about excessive weeding. Any weed that does manage to sprout can be easily pulled out since hay is relatively loose. There also is a reduced soil-borne disease risk.

How to Build a Hay Bale Garden Step-by-Step

Step 1: Condition your hay bales

Use nitrogen and water to condition your hay bales. Fertilizer rich in ammonium nitrate and water should be introduced within ten days to encourage insects, bacteria, and fungi to break down your bale into fresh compost. During this time, the bale temperature rises to 140F; therefore, water serves to minimize any risk for fire.

On the first, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth days add half a cup of nitrogen to the bales. Spray the bale with water so the nitrogen will soak into the bales.

On the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth day, soak the bales only with water.

On the tenth day, add potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen in the ratio 1:13:13, and water to the hay. If you don’t want to do the calculations yourself, look for  Greenleaf, Jobe, or Spectrum fertilizers which are already mixed using this ratio.

Step 2: Plant your seedlings

Squash Seedling

Your bales are ready for planting. You can plant on the sides or top or both. The spacing guidelines are similar to those used while planting in soil. For example, a single bale can hold two tomato plants, three cauliflower plants, two pumpkin plants, or three broccoli plants. Taller plants must have staking systems.

You can plant your bale from seeds or seedlings. However, planting from seeds requires three inches of topsoil or potting soil on the bale.  You can get a jump on the growing season by starting your seeds indoors under LED grow lights (you can find a guide to the best grow lights for indoor planting here). Once your seedlings are large enough to transplant drive a trowel into your hay to open the bale slightly and plant your seedlings in the spaces created.

Step 3: Water the bales

Girl Scout's straw bale vegetable garden

Do not overdo this. Watering your hay bale garden once every day is enough. Especially, remember to water the bales each day during conditioning since bales might dry out faster than soil.

Step 4: Harvest

A row of straw bale tomatoes in my garden. Five different kinds of tomatoes.

Harvesting from your hay bale garden is similar to soil gardening. If you planted potatoes, pull back your hay gently, and harvest your new potatoes. Close the open spaces and let your potatoes continue growing.

Step 5: Repeat the above steps

When you are done, compost your hay bales and start your hay gardening cycle once more. During the second planting round, you can plant on top of the hay bales to allow the decomposing hay bales to provide beneficial nutrients to your seeds.

Best Hay Bay Gardening Books

If you want more detailed instructions about using hay bales for gardening, we’ve found the following books to be the best resources:

Straw Bale Gardens Complete
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9 Straw Bale House Frequently Asked Questions

9 Straw Bale House Frequently Asked Questions

Photo above By Øyvind HolmstadOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

With the ever growing interest in sustainable home construction, we get plenty of questions about building straw bale houses. Today, we will cover the most frequently asked straw bale house questions. We hope our answers to these common questions will enhance your understanding of straw bale building.

1. What is a straw bale house made of?

In the simplest terms, a straw bale house is a house that uses bales of straw as a main construction material. We go further in-depth about the basics of straw bale houses in this article.

2. How much does a straw bale house cost?

The cost of a straw bale house will vary depending on where you live. However, the average cost is $2,700 per square meter. The minimum cost for a similar size of a custom designed house is $2,800. Remember that these prices are just estimates. Therefore, we recommend that you get a quote from your contractor for the set price.

3. Why should I build and live in a straw bale house?

There are numerous benefits of straw bale houses. These houses are natural and have no impact on your health or the environment. Their construction materials are locally and readily available. A straw bale house is physically appealing and attractive. Such a house will have a high energy rating. Owing to their high quality, straw bale houses last longer. If maintained well, these houses can last up to 100 years. We cover more straw bale house pros and cons in this article.

Straw Bale House.jpg
By Colin Rose – originally posted to Flickr as Straw Bale House, CC BY 2.0, Link

4. Is it possible to design and build a multi-storey straw house?

Yes. The ability to build a viable multi-story building is dependent on several factors, such as its design and the area of construction. For instance, if you wish to build in a seismic-free area, you should not worry about the height of your house even though bale construction is considerably heavy. Therefore, if you are building in earthquake-free zones, you can have a story straw bale building.

Straw bale wall.JPG
By Trociny-atakujoOwn work, CC0, Link

5. How thick is a straw bale wall?

The standard thickness of a completed straw bale house wall is at least 18 inches thick.

6. How long does it take to build a straw bale house?

The time needed to build a straw bale house is highly subjective and ranges anywhere from 4 to 10 months. If you have a custom made house, the contractor might spend even longer. It can often take between 1 and 1.5 years to get ready for the construction process. This time is needed to complete the plan and design drawings as well as submit all the necessary information to the council for approval. The contractor will also require a few months’ notice to plan for the construction.

7. What is the main difference between straw bale and cob construction?

Straw bale construction ensures better insulation as straw bales are effective in holding in heat and keeping the interior of your house cool or warm depending on the time of the year.

On the other hand, cob construction acts as a thermal mass as cobs absorb radiant cooling or heat and then releases it slowly while cooling off. Further, cob construction requires considerably more time to complete as opposed to straw bale building. This article provides a good overview of the considerations.

8. Is it possible to fix electrics, gas, and plumbing into the walls?

Yes. Contractors can run conduits in straw bale walls. However, it is advisable to use internal stud walls to make it easier for installation or repair.

9. Do straw bale houses rot?

If your straw bale home is constructed properly, it won’t rot. The bales are porous enough to breath out the humidity in the air. If you live in an especially humid area, lime-based plasters work best to keep moisture at bay.

Have you learned something new? We hope that you found this article helpful. Do not hesitate to post your feedback in the comments section below.

Top 5 Straw Bale House Plans

Top 5 Straw Bale House Plans

While there are a number of building planners who specialise in straw bale construction these days, one of the appealing features of this type of construction is the DIY nature of straw bale construction. Even so, it’s always a good idea to have a tested building plan. Luckily there are plenty of straw bale house plans available online. In this article, we provide the top five straw bale house plans you can find on the internet today. (Note: It’s always wise to have a certified professional approve any plans before you begin your straw bale construction.)

1. Compound 480 square feet straw bale house plan

The basic idea behind the design of this floor plan is to construct numerous, small, free standing units to form a larger compound. These units should be raised one at a time as per the building code requirements. To displace 79 and 142 square feet on the inside and outside respectively, the units must measure, 7.5 by 10.5 inches and 10.5 by 13.5 inches. The necessity of a building permit for the construction of these units is dependent upon the relevant enforcement code.

This compound plan is preferred since it allows you to build a single unit at a time thereby limiting your exposure to stress, money, and time while gaining a wealth of experience necessary for progressive unit construction. With this plan, you complete one unit, re-evaluate the construction, and start the next with enhanced skills and confidence. Later on, you can roof the central patio, and even expand your home to 975 square feet. This plan should be enclosed by low walls. These measures result in a parking space and three semi-private gardens.

2. Round 612 square feet straw bale house plan

This plan is similar to the octagon plan found further down the linked page. It displaces 612 square feet on the inside and has a radius of 14 inches. However, this plan allows for a radius of between 15 and 20 inches. A tentative per-square-foot-cost is set at $30. Therefore, the complete 612 square feet version could cost an average of $18,000.

This plan allows for easy expansion through the construction of another round unit either to the west or east. Entry doors should be to the east or west, bedrooms and baths to the north, and public spaces to the south.

This plan is relatively easy to construct and affordable.

3. Green 660 square feet straw house floor plan

This floor plan yields a single bath and two bedrooms. It is based on a 4-foot bale module. It is easy to build owing to its rectangular shape. This plan can be load-bearing, and its gable or shed roof rests on the short western or eastern walls. The structure has sufficient load-bearing strength since it has a single west wall door with no east wall doors or windows. The south or north walls are an additional support source.

With an estimated $20 per-square-foot-cost, this house could cost a total of $12,000 inclusive of utility, land, and labor expenses. Logically, expansion of this design can occur to the west door; thereby opening into an office, work room, studio, or garage. An expansion to the north door will allow you a larger master bedroom with ample access to the existing bath.

4. Eye 670 square feet floor plan

This uniquely shaped floor plan is suitable for a single bath and two to three bedrooms. The concept of this plan was triggered by the fact that round houses achieve higher efficiency with the addition of west-east corners to realize the shape of the eye. This plan has four straight walls which have two square corners and two southern and northern curved walls.

This plan shape has a vital south-facing solar exposure and northern angles to the back for winter shade area elimination which is commonly achievable with long west/east rectangular footprints.

5. Courtyard 705 square feet straw bale house plan

This design evolves from the circle and eye designs. Typically, the diamond design is a break from the standard rectangle and lacks the eye’s round walls. In addition to its novelty, this plan is preferred for its reduced winter shade zone. With this plan, your bedrooms will be at each corner as opposed to the usual design in which bedrooms are grouped. You must go through public areas before accessing these bedrooms. Its bath is triangular and has adequate room for a shower although a tub cannot be fitted.

This plan is recommended if you do not mind its complexity, but you prefer its design and novelty.

Whichever straw house plan you choose, you have the assurance you’ll be living in a one-of-a-kind, eco-friendly, low-impact home that is unique to you.

Further Reading

Looking to learn more about building a straw bale house? Consider these resources an important step in your journey:

Strawbale Home Plans
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Introduction to Straw Bale Houses

Introduction to Straw Bale Houses

It may seem counter-intuitive to live in a house made of straw, but straw bale house construction has many advantages over standard building methods. Not the least of which is straw bale houses are an eco-friendly way to build and live.

View from the North West - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia

What is a straw bale house?

As the name suggests, a straw bale house is built using bales of straw as the primary building material. These bales can either be load-bearing or be used in filling timber frames. Although these houses were a temporary invention among the 19th-century farmers who relied on wheat crop waste as the only construction material, straw bale houses have been tested and confirmed to be comfortable, warm, and durable. For this reason, these homes are seeing a resurgence in popularity.

If you’re still not convinced a straw bale house is for you, read on to learn the top advantages of straw house living. We’ll also outline a few disadvantages to keep in mind if you choose to build with straw.

Why should you build and live in a straw bale house?

1. Affordable

The cost of building a straw bale house is roughly the same as that of putting up a traditional timber-frame house. Find your local straw bale house constructor to calculate and compare the costs associated with building either house type.

2. Well insulated

Straw bale houses are known for their excellent insulation. The quality of insulation is dependent on several factors such as building design, type and quality of plaster used, the mesh manner between the roof insulation and the bales, and how you stack your bales. If a straw bale house is built correctly, it provides a 40 to 60 R-value. Choose thicker bales for higher R-values.

Straw Bale House Construction

3. More fire retardant compared to conventional timber-frame houses

Wondering how straw can be fire retardant? Numerous studies have been conducted to test the flammability of straw bale houses.  Fire resistance is achieved because the bales are tightly packed. Oxygen barely enters between the straws thereby limiting any chance of triggering combustion. While straw bales can burn in certain circumstances such as during construction, it is undeniable that their flame retardant nature is a desirable feature.

4. Straw bales are readily available

Straw bales come from agricultural waste products. Once the rice, barley, rye, oats, or wheat has been harvested, the stalks can be baled giving the straw a new life. The bales are renewable each year, and their harvest requires little effort. The process of harvesting and construction further presents little harm to the environment. Since they are easy and light to transport, you are likely to save on associated fuel and transportation costs.

5. Fast and Easy stacking of bales

You will be amazed how fast your house can be constructed using straw bales. Straw bale house construction easy to learn, even for novice builders. With the supervision of a single knowledgeable trainer, the building process becomes easy and fast. This feature not only makes straw bales a popular building material but also implies that you can save on the construction costs as family members and volunteer crews can help in raising the walls.

6. Straw bales make beautiful walls

Because straw bales do not need to conform to right angles, they lend themselves to unique and organic architectural designs. The added thickness of the wall will give you deep windows, bookcases, and niches and your home will feel more at one with nature.

Lehmverputztes Strohballenhaus.jpg
By EwigLernender – my own digital foto, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

7. Straw bales are biodegradable

Unlike traditional building materials, straw bales are 100% biodegradable. Additionally, your straw bale house can last up to a century if you maintain it properly. Every structure undergoes eventual replacement at some point. When such a time comes, you can plough the straw bales back into the earth. Therefore, disposal is convenient as opposed to other construction materials such as fibreglass.

The disadvantages of constructing straw bale houses

Despite their benefits, straw bale houses do come with some challenges. Among the top disadvantages of either building or living in a straw bale house include:

  • Since straw bales are not conventional construction materials, you or the contractor needs to learn new building techniques. These are not necessarily difficult but are very different from standard practices.
  • If your local building codes do not include provisions for straw bale construction, there can be challenges associated with planning approval. You might need local engineers and architects who have worked with natural materials to help in gaining this approval.
  • You must keep your walls dry to avoid the detrimental effects of moisture on straw. Preventing moisture from your roof from entering the bales is essential.
  • Straw bale houses are not recommended for areas experiencing extreme rain and humidity.
  • Since straw bale walls require between 18 and 20 inches, most of your square footage will be taken up by the wall thickness.
  • If straw bales are not locally available, you may have additional shipping costs and the added challenge of making sure they aren’t damaged during transport.

These challenges aside, straw bale houses are a affordable, environmentally-friendly, and unique alternative to standard building practices. It is a home you can build for yourself that will stand the test of time without harming the environment around it.