Laying the first bale is a pivotal moment in any straw build. After months of planning, site works, building foundations etc, it is an immensely rewarding feeling to finally see the material that gives the building method it’s name go in.
The day started with a delivery from Mid-Sussex Timber before the team began work cutting and screwing lengths of 2×6 onto the old railway sleepers that were layed out yesterday. This structure will form the base on which the clay and straw internal walls will sit.
First delivery of the day: rafters and the posts that will support the roof.
Nino attaching a 2×6 over the geotex membrane into the wooden railway sleeper below
The carefully placed strings are critical to ensure that all internal walls are straight and in the right place
It is exciting to watch the internal room plan taking shape
No sooner were we finished when the sun came out and the scaffolding showed up.
A few sheets of plywood protect the membrane from being torn by the scaffolding
Your pole, my liege!
View from the top
The next task of the day was temporarily covering the hazel spikes protruding from the sole plate with small bales to reduce the risk of accidentally being impaled whilst working on the site. Only three volunteers died before prompt action was taken.
Collecting bales from the sheep barn. Once again the JCB makes life easier
As the weather was so good and there were still a couple of hours left in the day Peter decided to bring down a big bale. It seemed too good to be true. After all this time and preparation the first bale was actually going in! What an historic moment.
Before we could lay the bales we had to tie them with wire. While most conventional straw builds place the bales with their existing strings, being a farmer his whole life Peter was acutely aware of the dangers posed by rats. Time and time again he has gone to move a bale only to discover that rats had chewed through the plastic twine holding it together and the bale would disintegrate. Although once rendered the bales should be quite hard for rats to get into, it is always a danger particularly being on a farm.
We couldn’t just wrap the wire directly around the bale since condensation can form around the metal surface and rot the bales. This is the reason hazel stakes are hammered through the walls to keep the bales fixed together rather than metal pegs. Luckily Stephen in the veggie gardens had some old surplus plastic reticulation pipe laying around which we could re-purpose to insulate the fencing wire.
The JCB is indispensable here. These bales are heavy… 400kg heavy!
Threading the fencing wire through old retic piping to protect the bales from condensation
Many hands make light work
Fencing gripples secure the ends of the wire together
Tensioning the wire
Nino suffers the fencing wire’s cruel bite
Moments later Nino forgets his injuries and insists on playing skip rope much to the chagrin of Damien and Peter who are trying to work
While these big bales are strung with four pieces of twine, two additional wires should be plenty to hold the bale together should a rat chew through a string
Heave ho! Flipping the bale ready for the pallet grabber
Strung and ready to lift into place!
Once this was done it was time to attach the special bale grabber to the JCB. Normally used to shift pallets of bricks, Peter had hired this specifically for the job. It swings freely from a chain allowing the bale to be maneuvered easily in all directions.
The team maneuver the grabber into place above the bale
Nino checking the grabbers alignment
As the pallet grabber’s weight is lowered onto the bale it releases a mechanism holding the jaws apart which then swing shut pinching the bale tight
Ready to transport down to site
Maneuvering the first bale into position
It is critical to get the bale in the correct position before lowering it down as the hazel stakes prevent the bale being adjusted once it is on the ground
Peter checks that the bale is straight and flush with the concrete footings
As it is sitting slightly skew the decision is made to try again
Take two. Lifting the bale off the hazel stakes
A couple of attempts but we have success! We have our very first bale fitted neatly in place.
They might be a bit slow posing for photos but they know how to lay a nice bale
The sun sets on our first bale. There is no more beautiful sight…
This would be a really fitting place to end this post however once we had laid the first bale everyone was feeling elated so the decision was taken to push on and get another bale in…. despite our best intentions, we had bale raising fever! The photos below show the second bale going in. Enjoy and stay tuned for more baling soon!.
Up next: We finish the east wall