Above: Richard Dutton's round adobe brick studio with mud roof, and the QuadLams that power it.

reetings from sunny Southern f f^j California. But many of us in San Diego County say we actually live south of Southern California. Not When the Surf's Up Renewable Farm-School (NOWSURFS) is located at the southern foot of Mt. Palomar, home of the famous astronomical observatory and about an hour from the beach.

"Not When..." is a market garden, selling at five farmer's markets a week which we service via a propane powered '66 Ford pick-up. Almost all our seed, that we don't save ourselves, comes from non-profit Native Seeds SEARCH in Tucson, Arizona. Our energy for irrigation (from 1 to 3 acres depending on the season) and household/office needs comes from five Arco quad-lams feeding eight Trojan 105s and a Trace 612 inverter, and an AIR 303 wind machine. We have a Honda 6500 back-up generator, a Todd 75a charger and a Lincoln welder back-up generator. Our main loads are an Amiga A2000, 060/50 with a 1 gig hard disk computer which we are converting to DC power and a Maytag ringer washer using a Bosch 12 Volt Volkswagen generator as a motor (see HP #40 pg 40).

As part of the National Tour of Solar Homes this year, we have attracted interest in Latin America among farmers who would like us to help them with closed loop energy/agriculture. If you are inputting exotic energy, then your "organic" farm is not sustainable.

We have accumulated a lot of experience in solar water pumping for a small agriculture, very dry environment (14 inches yearly average rainfall). We use two "slow" type pumps, one 24 V and the other a 120 VDC pump (using 12 Volts converted to 95 Volts via a Vicor custom DC/DC converter, see HP #40 pg 70) and a PV powered (24 Volt) "stock" Jensen Jack pump. We pump all our irrigation water direct to field (the most efficient way) with a Doughboy 7500 gal. pool as a back-up, gravity-feed tank for emergency watering, household use, and fire safety. The tank is filled periodically by our generator-driven back-up pump, a Grundflos 12 GPM ac centrifugal.

The goals of NOWSURF are to move toward no irrigation input, primarily indigenous crops, to achieve and demonstrate subsistence, to teach closed loop ag/energy, to provide a venue for workshops in alternative architectures, and to promote respect for our Native American neighbors. We live in a 24 foot Pacific Yurt and two adobes; one 400 sq ft octagonal (the kitchen) and one round (the studio). We have assorted trailers for guests and visitors.

Adobe Adored

We lived in a 30 ft., 50's vintage aluminum trailer for 3 years while we studied literature on adobe construction. Adobe appealed to us for several reasons:

1 It's been traditional in Southern California for 400 years.

Below: From the earth, by our hands, function is beauty.

Below: From the earth, by our hands, function is beauty.

Above: Richard, Amelia, Pash, and Beemer.

2 It's an indigenous material on site requiring no fossil fuels to transport.

3 It has great thermal mass: cool in summer and warm in winter, acting as a thermal battery. Heat stored in the walls during the day is paid back slowly at night. This is an advantage over straw bale and other methods which are primarily insulating.

4 The necessarily thick walls provide soundproofing.

5 Each winter we have the mother of all Santa Ana winds, 100 plus mph this year. It's nice to be ensconced in these thick walls during high winds.

6 Bricks can be all made at once and stored for later use, an advantage over cob construction.

7 Large forms made of wood or metal are not required, an advantage over rammed earth.

6 Adobe bricks are clean, neat, and very attractive.

Now that we are becoming a non-profit and providing a location for workshops, we plan on giving these other interesting methods a shot, but that's not what this story is about!


As our research progressed, I was working part time in the darkroom of our local two-bit weekly. When they wanted to do a story on the new library going up on the Pauma Indian Reservation nearby, I offered to do the photography. There we met Pat Friend, the librarian. She and Richard provided the know-how behind their own large-scale brick production. Our interest in these techniques really took off. This was the first time we had seen a standard size brick 18 by 14 by 4 inches, the largest size a man can reasonably be expected to lift up a ladder, and the molds used in their manufacture. Pat and Richard lent us two forms to try out; one full size


Above: Standard brick, 18 x 14 x 4 inches.

and the other yielding two half-size bricks. Later we met a member of the Pala band of mission Indians who had designed his own device for mass producing a smaller size brick. But things were to take a different turn for us due to the results of our own efforts at brick production.

Slave Labor

It has been said that almost any site in the world will yield some type of material suitable for adobe brick-making. One third of earth's population lives in structures made of mud. Publications from VITA and other third world development agencies in the US and Canada describe how to do the old "shake it in a jar of water" test, and what the "ideal ratio" is.

In our case we knew adobe would work because our neighbors on the reservation had been using the technology ever since the Spanish padres introduced it in their slave labor camps. The elders had been born in these structures and we had their structures as examples, as well as their good advice. As they have been doing for 400 years, the Indians are still helping us.

The Cure

The standard lore gives a time of six months to one year curing time, depending on temperature, humidity, soil factors, brick thickness, etc. for bricks made with the approved ratio of sand silt and clay. A wet mix is used, and time must be allowed for the moisture to migrate out from the center of the brick. If your material doesn't come out of the ground in the proper ratio you add the missing constituent(s) from your other location(s). All material is carefully sifted to eliminate untoward rocks, and re-blended, usually in a mixer.

Above: The octagonal adobe kitchen, greenhouse, solar hot water panels, and solar hot air food dryer.

Above: Hinged form and pounding mallet.

Water is added along with a stabilizer such as asphalt emulsion to yield a consistency like (have you guessed?) mud pies. This material is poured into a mold often looking like a ladder to make multiple bricks. Human hands pitter-pat and fist the mix into all the corners. Handles at each end allow the easy removal of the form if bricks are first allowed to dry just enough. However, this isn't what we did.

Dry Method

First, make a test brick. You must test before making a bunch of bricks (don't worry, this is the fun part). Maybe you can be next to rock the adobe world! Our material is pretty high in clay. We tried making a brick with a dryer mix and the rest, as they say, is history. We found that a much dryer mix could make a brick that finished curing in days instead of months. How dry? For us, it worked to form it with our hands at the consistency that it just barely wouldn't crumble. The labor intensiveness of our process increased since each brick must be pounded with a custom designed mallet into a form. The form can then be opened up away from the finished brick. Increased pressure, as in many geological processes, can make up for diminished time. Immediately the form is re-secured, and on to the next brick. After one to three days the finished bricks must


Above: Home-made concrete lintels save wood.

be stacked on-end into windrows to finish curing another two days. If you pour your footings before you make bricks the footing (if larger by at least 5 inches than the bricks) can make an ideal "endless highway" on which to make them. By the time the last ones are ready to stack, you can start again at the beginning.

No Mixing

We eliminated the step of mixing our adobe by mining it. It may happen that you encounter a strata of material that is just right for your bricks, while material above and below it or even to one side or the other is not. A five foot high road-cut location is ideal for this. In this case you can "mine" the material by pre-wetting it over night (with a length of drip-tape) removing the overburden, usually good topsoil, and then removing the adobe clay stratum by scraping it off the "face" with a hand trowel or Pulaski blade onto the ground where you toss a little straw on top. With practice you can "follow the right moisture" as you go and save another step of continually adding water.

Mud Roofs Rule!

You can make your roof out of mud in a low rainfall environment. You should probably add a stabilizer. Use stucco paper (with chicken wire) for your last layer of roofing paper. You can put the mud on in a layer 3 inches or thicker, using the consistency of concrete. Since you'll be troweling this on it needs to be wetter than your brick mix. You will need to go back over it in a week to fill subsequent cracks. We also brushed on a final coat of very wet emulsion-mud mix.

You May Have the Floor

An adobe floor is a wonder. An oiled adobe floor will eventually turn to "rock." Make, as dry as you can, one huge adobe brick from wall to wall. Use a five foot long 4 by 6 as a huge mallet. Earth compactors won't work as they push out to the sides too, and you're constantly working against yourself. Drill a hole through the six inch width near one end. Stand on the other end and pick up and slam down the end with a rope passed through the hole and held in your hands. You may wish to use ear-plugs, or work to loud music. Make a "fan-shaped" pattern on the floor as you go. Then work back

Two Being Team

A two person team is ideal: one to dig out new, pre-wetted material, sometimes re-wetting as she goes and occasionally tossing in a handful of straw; and one to make bricks. Every so often the helper does double duty helping to load the form with a shovel. We found that one person working hard can make between 50 and 70 bricks in a long summer day if sufficient material was pre-wetted overnight. This process, if the material is sound, makes a very hard, dense brick with a minimum of moisture, hence the very rapid curing.

Below: Wall building in progress and bricks stacked for drying

Below: Wall building in progress and bricks stacked for drying

Left: Ready for the roof: The kitchen under construction.

Left: Ready for the roof: The kitchen under construction.

Below: The recording studio inside the round adobe stucture. Eighteen inch earthen walls are perfect sound proofing.

from another center point towards the one you just did, etc. This is the only way we know to get the floor really flat. The length of the 4 by 6 makes this method self leveling if done properly. Once in a while add more material to low spots. After a week go back and hand trowel into the cracks, if any, as dry as you can. The aforementioned technique (not the pounding part) works well for walls, as well. Last, treat your floor after a month or so with boiled linseed oil mixed 50/50 with turpentine or thinner. Depending on your soil you may go all the way up to pure linseed oil. (In Mexico they use used motor oil - not recommended.)

I'm writing this in a partially earth sheltered adobe yurt. Walls below grade (3 1/2 feet on the upgrade side) to 6 inches above are of mortared native stone painted on the outside with asphalt emulsion and sheathed in plastic. The bricks are laid end-wise making the walls 18 inches thick. This structure has been standing more than a year and there is no sign of appreciable cracking. Remember, adobe is heavy, so to prevent settling you must have a substantial footing. Atop our walls goes an eight inch concrete bond beam with four courses of 1/2 inch re-bar. In addition, some codes require vertical ties between footing and bond beam every four feet. The floor and roof finish of this studio are also of mud. Only the roof has stabilizer added to forestall rain damage. Although some codes require their use, we find the use of stabilizer an unnecessary expense and morally reprehensible. If the roof is in such poor repair that eaves allow the walls to melt, no one should be living here. The structure will simply melt back into the earth from whence it came. Over on the "Rez" the old-folks' home-places are doing just that. Maybe someday someone will decide it's a good spot for a house. I hope when they do its an adobe.

Pray for Surf

Fifteen years ago I thought it would be nice to have a solar powered recording studio, so be careful what you want because you may get it even if you've forgotten what it was!

As someone surrounded by Indians, one last thing: if presented with the attractive idea, "one world," please ask yourself, "According to whose pattern? Whose permission? Who profits?"


Not When The Surf's Up Renewable Farm/School, Box 1148 • Valley Center, CA 92082 • 619-749-7376 Web:

Seeds: Native Seeds Search

Understanding Adobe (and other useful "third world" info.) VITA, 1815 N Lynn St. Suite 200 • Arlington, VA 22209

DC-DC Converters: Vicor, 23 Frontage Rd. Andover, MA 01810 i||

It is with regret that we announce the recent death of Richard D.Dutton.Richard was dedicated to pioneering and advocacy of low impact, climate specific, organic farming. His building techniques, too, were based on appropriate, site available materials. His electricity came from the sun. Richard's ideals, and respect for the earth and its peoples, were shown through his actions. He will be missed by his wife Stephanie, daughters Amelia and Pash, friends, relatives, and the renewable energy community.

We're your resource for reliable power from the sun, wind and water!

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