Brian McCune

+ Follow
since Jan 27, 2015
Kent County, MI
Apples and Likes
Total received
In last 30 days
Total given
Total received
Received in last 30 days
Total given
Given in last 30 days
Forums and Threads
Scavenger Hunt
expand First Scavenger Hunt

Recent posts by Brian McCune

Sean Banks wrote:3 years? I was thinking 1 year at the most if I did it myself.........mind you this would be something I would be working on everyday. On another note do you know of any books or videos that describe in detail how to build one of these cob house? biggest obstacles I think will be the foundation, doors, windows, and the roof. Just a little insight on the design....a green roof with native plants and outdoor cob oven with benches (might make this a summer kitchen). Water will be coming from a well and the greywater will flow into a constructed wetland. Power will come mainly from solar panels and a small wind turbine...might also include hydro system. A composting outhouse will be onsite to take care of waste and a rocket stove will be built inside the house. Away from the house I want to build a earth sheltered passive solar greenhouse and plant a large garden with a food forest. My plan is to build the house first then take care of the greenhouse and garden later.  

Definitely "The Hand-sculpted house" is my favorite comprehensive book on the subject. Although, I am still looking for more information on round-pole timber supports for the roof. His time line is much shorter for a small cottage.
3 years ago

Matthew Rogers wrote:Hello everyone, I recently dug two Swales on our 4% slope as we are planting three rows of fruit trees in a couple days. They are about five feet wide and 16-20 inches deep.The first swale is about 96 feet and the second is about 72'. We raked them all out and the upper swale is very close to level the first half of the ditch but then the swale drops about 3 inches in 25 feet and then another 3-4 inches the last 15-20 feet. I am wondering if this six inches over that distance will become a problem or if I am being to nit picky. Will this all be fine once I mulch over the bare soil? If so would straw and wood chips be appropriate fill for the Swales. I would also love to hear anyone's favorite plants to stabilize the berm between the fruit trees and their guilds. Thanks so much to all who read this.

I think it not being perfect is just fine, as long as you vegetate the exposed soil with a perennial ground cover suitable to your climate. You will still have a water harvesting feature that will last a very long time. I would just suggest to strive for a more level swale on the next one. Everyone above made good points, depending on the situation you may want to have that 6" fall in 100' (for instance above an area you want to keep slightly drier.

I didn't however see anyone mention the fact that you need to diversify. You mentioned planting fruit trees and not much else, I think that might be a mistake that will cost you more labor in the end. You might consider inter-planting some support species for those trees before they get very big. It will do wonders towards the overall vitality of the land and health/fertility of the soil. Plus its a darn site cheaper that buying all those soil amendments.

Now onto my recommended support plants, most are nitrogen fixers and many are bio-remediators. These are plants that can be planted between your future productive trees in order to have ecology on your side. Keep in mind, you can always cut them down and sheet mulch over them, thus speeding up succession all the same.

(the following are long-term overstory trees)

Willow(weeping/various) Salix alba     D. Tree 4-8
“ “(black)                        Salix Nigra               “ 3-9

*( Use caution with willows, they are greedy and grow quite fast. Although best suited for wind breaks and site remediation, there are better choices for small sites. However i would recommend one or two, as there is an easily extracted rooting agent.)*

Oak (black)                Quercus velutina “ 3-9

Locust(Black)                Robinia pseudoacacia “ 3-8
“ “(Honey)                        Gleditsia triacanthos “ 4-7

*(Many of the Locust trees do have rather large thorns, which may be useful as a security hedge, but not ideal for chop and drop. Although i believe there's a pretty common thorn less variety)*

Alder(speckled)                Alnus rugosa       “ 2-7
Alder(common)                  Alnus glutinosa          "       3-7

*( I highly reccomend the faster growing 'Alnus' genus for chop and drop support trees. They coppice well and have many other functions)*

KY Coffee Tree                Gymnocladus dioicus “ 3-8
Dogwood(Pagoda)        Cornus alternifolia “ 3-7

*(The following should all be experiential, plant a bit and observe to see what works well where.)*

Mimosa                Albizia julibrissin       “ 6-9
Golden-Chain Tree Laburnum anagyroides “ 5-7
False Indigo        Amorpha fruticosa   D. Shrub 3-9
Olive(autumn)        Elaeagnus umbellata     “ 3-9
“ “(Russian)        Elaeagnus angustifolia       “ 2-7
Pea shrub(Siberian) Caragana arborescens “ 2-7
“ “(Russian)        Caragana frutex         “ 2-7
“ “(Pygmy)        Caragana pygmaea       “ 3-7
Seaberry                Hippophae rhamnoides   D.Shrub 3-7
Bladder Senna        Colutea arborescens         “ 5-9
Bush clover        Lespedeza thunbergii   D. shrub 4-8
NJ Tea                Ceanothus americanus      “ 3-8
Bush clover(round) Lespedeza capitata    P. Herb 3-8
Buffalo berry        Shepherdia canadensis      “ 2-6
Lead Plant                Amorpha canescens          “ 3-8
Milk vetch(g. plum) Astragalus crassicarpus “ 3-10
“ “(Painted)   Astragalus ceramicus     “ 3-9
Wild Indigo(Cream) Baptisia bracteata       “ 2-8
“ “(White)     Baptisia alba               “ 3-9
Licorice(Cultivated) Glycyrrhiza glabra        “ 6-9
“ “(Wild)       Glycyrrhiza lepidota     “ 3-8
Sweet Vetch       Hedysarum boreale       “ 3-9
“ “(White)           Lupinus albus             “ 4-9
“ “(Wild)                Lupinus perennis       “ 3-8
Prairie Turnip        Psoralea esculenta             “ 3-7
Clover(White)        Trifolium repens               “ 3-10
Pea(perennial)        Lathyrus latifolius        “ 3-9
Alfalfa                Medicago sativa            Annual 2-9
Black Medic        Medicago lupulina              “ 2-9
“ “(Crimson)        Trifolium incarnatum       “ 2-9
Groundnut           Apios americana      Vine 2-9
“ (Traveler’s Delight) Apios priceana               “ 5-7
“ (Tuberous)       Lathyrus tuberosus       “ 3-8

There a ton more info about these plants and others at

Good luck and nice looking swale!
3 years ago

Travis Johnson wrote:Honestly, that is an excuse any Code Enforcement Officer has heard before and it is not going to work, that is why thy have after-the-fact-permits that cost 3 times as much.

You want to get the permit, then get the mini-excavator and save yourself more grief then the weight of soil you are removing. You might wonder about it now, but you won't when you are using a pick and shovel and hit a wheelbarrow sized rock just under the soil.

Mini-excavators are light and ride on tracks. I have a bulldozer and its weight per square inch is less than a person. In other words a person walking on the ground compacts the soil about twice as much as my bulldozer. The amount of work accomplished even by a small excavator is amazing. You won't regret getting it, nor the piece of mind of sending in for your building permit. There is an age old story; "you can't fight city hall".

Very good points, as you've put it, in any regulated build location it would be more wise to abide by all ordinances (including permits). I have since been working on a new design that I hope to translate into sketch up soon.  I think you also make a valid case on the equipment aspect, compression per sq. in. was something I hadn't considered. However, I do think if unskilled and not careful, an earthmover can do much more damage with a machine then by hand. Thanks for your advice everyone! (sorry it took me a while to respond, i didn't get a notification about the thread being updated..)
3 years ago

Konstantin Kirsch wrote:

I'm on the way to write a book with lot of pictures and detailed plans about that project. I definitly want to produce that book in german, english and russian language. May be I get it done the coming winter.


Hello Konstantin! I'm excited to re-discover this thread as I'm looking for an innovative and effective earth-integrated structure. I was wondering how that book is coming along? Also I beg you to give us an update on this structure and share some new pictures with the forums! Thanks
3 years ago
These are some really awesome photos! Keep it up man
3 years ago

Galen Johnson wrote:Let's face it, a lot of people just don't want to do a I-Love-Lucy grape stomp on their cobb.  There is enough work in house building as it is.  I've seen various hand operated concrete mixers at good prices, and they do cut the work by at least a half, from all reports.  They look like good deals for the cobb housebuilder.  But you can only get them in India or China or South Africa.  They don't make them in the U.S. or at least, they don't sell them here.  Has someone out there adapted a 55-gallon drum, or a salvaged concrete mixer, to operate manually?  Or even better, hooked up a bicycle to one, so that a peddler can turn the thing?  Is there no better way to make cobb but the Israelite-slaveing-for-Pharoah way?

I don't know if you're still wondering as this is an old post. I was thinking it might be pretty simple and easy to hook up a bicycle powered cob mixer. Do the gear work and belt-system that you might find on a peddle powered clothes washer. Hook it up somehow to a drum on stationary rollers? just brainstorming as I'm trying to come up with something similar.
3 years ago

David Livingston wrote:
Check this cob house inside a green house in the arctic circle !

That is so epic
3 years ago

Troy Rhodes wrote:I built a hoop house, and on the money I saved on the labor, I splurged on the materials.  I put a bent steel conduit rib every two feet.  We get very heavy snow loads and zero problems.  This is my 3rd winter.  I have seen many of the inexpensive kit greenhouses and quickie garage substitutes squashed in the snow, or damaged by the wind.  They use the 4' spacing, but evidently, not heavy enough.

Where do you recommend ordering from? I'm looking for a small but very sturdy hoop house to put up myself this year.
3 years ago

Roy Hinkley wrote:

I have a feeling some township stickler might notice

Are you doing something that requires a permit without getting one? Would you rather the same stickler made you demolish the structure later?

Good question, and a fair point. I actually have this structure designed into my master plan as an 'accessory structure'. Mostly because I don't want to adhere to a minimum sq ft requirement for occupational permits, and such. Everything about it is permitable under my local township ordinances and state building laws as a non-occupy-able accessory building, (as the roof will be supported with structural timber framing, the motored stone stemwall, etc. all are allowed). The most they could do at that point is give me a fine for building without a permit, and force me to go send in my application for a temporary use structure, building permit, etc. (which needs to be renewed every 6 months). I do have all of the paperwork necessary, mostly filled out and ready to go. In case someone shows up demanding to see permits, a "whoops, i forgot to send this in" might save the day.

It seems to be a waste of resources that I'd rather avoid altogether if I can. I do have a larger structure planned into the design that would meet all standards imposed for a dwelling that I would use more as an education & resource center. The footprint of which will be my annual garden for as long as it takes me to afford such a building.

Thanks for your input, much appreciated.
3 years ago
I'm building a tinyish (18'x18' exterior wall, with 2' thick walls at the base) cob house this year on a rural 1 acre plot that we're acquiring by land contract. I don't want to attract too much attention from anyone (except my only two neighbors that are both cool).

The foot print is guna be about 28'X28' on account of the "curtain drain" to be dug around the drip edge of the 26'X26' roof. I'm wondering what peoples thoughts/feelings are on excavating by hand or by machine. Ianto Evans swears by hand-dig, as it's more sensitive to the site environment and is less conspicuous. It would definitely take more time, but cost much less money, and I'm all about trading my time for money in most equations.
However, factoring in the drain trenches that need to be dug out; "curtain drain", and "rubble trench foundation", as well as the drain off from the build site out to 'daylight', also the number of swales, and ponds, grading, etc... I'm starting to consider the benefits a mini excavator for a week can bring to a well planned and surveyed dig-site. That being said, I have a feeling some township stickler might notice a plot getting a face lift over the course of a week. < on that note, i do intend to cover all of the soil i unearth (except for subsoil, which will be used for cob & pond walls)

Let me know what you think, thanks!
3 years ago