Cob Course at Thurso Grows Garden

Its been a busy month for us - the polycrub is up and completed, the compost toilet is functioning (and in the process of getting beautified) and we have been pulling our first harvests from the gardens - they are not spectacular yet (its our first year and we started late in the season) but they are respectable and we feel proud to have got so much grown this year already… but I think out main achievement for this month has definitely been our first weekend long course, a hands-on introduction to Cob Building in which we (and 7 intrepid attendees) spent two days covered in cob and straw and mud and constructed a rather stunning cob oven for the gardens.


With clay sourced locally and a good amount of energy and chocolate cake (thanks Ann and the community cafe crowd!) we spend Saturday and Sunday with Casper Lampkin a tutor from Aberdeenshire constructing the oven.

Cob ovens are a low tech, natural, beautiful way of outdoor cooking where you use local materials to construct an oven which is then used to cook such wonders as stone baked pizza, bread rolls, jacket potatoes and so on…. They require time and energy to make but are beautiful things once complete and will be a long term asset to the space.

The base for the oven was built up on blocks and slabs, with a layer of vermiculite added to aid insulation. We used soil from the gardens to build up the former around which we made the oven, and built the oven up around this in layers.

Cob literally is just a mix of local clay, sand and straw - we had to do a wee test to check the best sand mix to put into our clay and although in describing it it all sounds rather simple, I was surprised by some of the imperial measurements needed to calculate the dimensions for the oven (63% door height to create best convection for the heat movement is just one of the interesting facts that stuck in my mind!)


I love this picture! It probably describes one the best moments/aspects of the course for me - the wee doggie Coulin (one of the attendees fur friend) was feeling fairly tired after a long day and curled up on the bench to keep an eye on us - he was a bit of peace in a very busy time - stamping cob and building layers on the oven occurring in the background. And while two days of jumping up and down in mud might not be everyone’s cup of tea - we had some of the most brilliant conversations and debates during the work - we were a diverse group, but some common themes cropped up time and time again - food politics, life experiences, our current political muppertary and a love of cake were just a few of the threads that bound us! Am I allowed to say it was honestly one of the nicest mixes of people I have ever worked with??


So next steps are to lime the exterior of the oven … and fire it up and get cooking! We have to wait a few weeks but are hoping that the oven will be ready for use for our Samhain event in early November! PIZZA!!

As the winter draws in we are moving to more of a food focus with the project - we will still be running our regular Saturday garden sessions (11am - 1pm each week up at Ormlie), but will also be promoting the food side of the project more.

We have started our Eat Well Club - each week at the community cafe we will be running a cooking (and eating club) which is free to attend and will be focusing on how to cook, reduce waste and meal plan. Ann ran the first of these this week and we had 15 people join! A wonderful start to what we hope will be a regular, popular community event.

We are also starting our Lower Carbon Food Workshops this month, and are excited to be working with groups like the local college, Befrienders and TAG as we promote these.