Browsing Posts tagged puddling clay


Not A Big Lot of work done down our Plots today, and what little was done was in preparation for today’s ‘main event’ which was for the first using and cooking with the pizza oven in its 99.999% finished state.  I say 99.999% because Matt wants to add a taller chimney, and of course when its all cooled down, we need to patch yet more cracks in the outer layer of clay.Aaaargh!  Cracks in the clay!

As I arrived today, Ian (no relation) was busy by the oven, at work building a metal stand for use inside it to sit dishes on.  This would be to lift them off the extremely hot bricks and ash, allowing a ‘cooler’ airflow to cook dishes more slowly.

In theory.

To make this stand, he used a very old plastic and metal chair, some heavy-duty wire meshing we had, a hacksaw and a lump hammer.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of this yet, but I’ll get some next time I’m down.  We were too busy using it today, and I kind of had my hands full with the oven which at it’s ‘peak temperature’ we reckon hit more than 400°C.  You’ll agree, just a little hotter than your average one at home!

As you can see up to the right here, when I arrived, it was ‘Crack City’ across the top and sides, but we weren’t worried in the slightest!

I can vividly remember the first time we ever fired this oven up ‘In Rage’ last year for the open evening in Autumn and we’d just finished that first layer.  If you check back on the photos, you’ll see we just had the single layer and by the time I first lit it, it wasn’t even dry!

Now we have not one, but two layers of clay and clay and straw beneath this top layer, there’s no chance whatsoever it will collapse -as I feared that first evening last year.

As I started to fill up these cracks with some clay we had left over, I was joined by Jordan, Shaun and Matt.  Pretty soon we were all happily patching away as Ian worked nearby,  his stand now finished, working on a tool to easily get to trays and dishes while the oven is hot.

When we’d done most of the serious cracks, I lit it (…more to keep warm than anything else.  It was freezing today!..), and we carried on patching the smaller ones.Quickly up to temperature.

To the left here is less than an hour after we’d lit it.  If you click on the image you’ll see those two great chunks of wood I’d thrown in less than a minute before I took this shot.

Because it was just so stinking hot in the oven, when I put these two pieces in together, I timed it before they caught fire.

On a ‘normal’ fire, when you put pieces on like this, only the parts actually exposed to the flames burn straight away, with the ‘outer’ parts taking much longer to catch.  With these, less than a minute after they’d gone in, they totally ‘lit’ with flame licking all over them.

Yes.  That hot!

While these two great lumps of wood were burning down to hot cinders, Ian was busy making the afternoon’s first ‘dish’.  This would be a ‘starter’ of potatoes cut into largish chunks, parsnips, shallots and cloves of garlic, all roasted in heavy-duty tin foil with oil and herb seasoning.

Using Ian’s newly made baking tray to stand the packets on, these seemed to cook in no time at all.

Of course, they were delicious!

By this time, Sara had prepared the pizzas.  Using dough she’d made up earlier and left to ‘prove’ at home (…Awesome!..) and vegetables that Matt had been to the market for and some tomatillos he still got left from last year (!!!), Sara then invited LEAF volunteers to make their own pizzas for me to cook in the oven -much as we’d done so successfully last year and we plan to do a week on Wednesday for the Environment Weeks Open Evening.The year's first pizza.  Quickly, before it all disappears!

This seemed to work really well.  By allowing people to put their own toppings on, they were guaranteed to like everything that had gone on the pizza!

We made about 9 pizzas in total today, each one decorated and topped by a volunteer or Plot Kid, and everyone agreed, they were much better than the ones you buy from the supermarket.  Obviously.

By now, the oven had ‘simmered down’ a little, and Matt had brought a pie he’d prepared last night.  It was made with the year’s first rhubarb from his plot, a little sugar and he’d made a crumble topping.

The crumble just before it went in the oven.To the left is a shot of the raw crumble just before it went in the oven.

Now, when Matt makes one of these at home, it takes about forty minutes at a medium heat to cook.

I didn’t properly time it, but it certainly took less time than that in our oven.

At first, we put it in without a tin foil covering, and the top started to burn slightly, but I took it out and wrapped it, and kept turning it through 180° every few minutes to make sure both sides were cooking.

In not time at all it seemed, when I turned it round, the side that had been exposed to the full heat of the oven was already happily bubbling away.

It was soon cooked, but before I’d even had chance to get my camera out, it was being dived into by volunteers eager to taste it.

All I ended up with was this:-Whoops!  All gone!

Those two bowls were for Diane and Jon.

Needless to say, just like Sara’s pizza, Matt’s pie was ace!

Unfortunately, there’ll be no ‘Plotting’ tomorrow.  Diane and I have a Big Lot of paperwork to catch up with, and before that I have an important date with the electric bike and the PIC programmer back here at Wardian Towers.

But, the weather is set to improve greatly this next week.  Hooray for that!  We (…and our bees!..) love the sunshine and warmth.

It kind of makes you feel happier inside when the sun’s shining, I think.

Oh, and talking of ‘Happy’, I presented Matt with his new camera today after I’d fitted the new screen to it.

And yes.  He was happy!



Phew! 17/05/12

What a day!

Thursday is a regular ‘LEAF Day’ up at The Plots and if the weather’s good, then we normally get a good number of volunteers.  Today however, despite the rain forecast, The Plots seemed to be heaving with people!

But before most of them arrived, it was ‘Clay Time’, which funnily enough rhymes with ‘Play Time’, and this morning was definitely a morning for Grown Ups Playing With Clay.

PXI Nick was there, and he was very keen to ‘get his feet dirty’, take his shoes and socks off and get stuck in.PXI Nick, before he got stuck in, looking on in trepidation.

Well, he said he was keen, and certainly wasted no time in getting barefoot, but when Diane had laid out one of the batches I had done over the weekend, he didn’t look quite so enthusiastic.

As you can see here to the right!

He soon got into it though, after the initial ‘OUCH that’s cold!’ as he first put his feet into it.

The plan was to re-do the mixes I’d done and if necessary, mix some together in case some batches were ‘wetter’ than others.

Yay!  This is <i>great</i> fun!As you can see here to the left, after the initial shock of the cold of the clay, he very quickly got into it, and was soon happily dancing up and down.

Of course, it helped that there were so many other people around to encourage him on.

Meanwhile, Matt and I made a start on the ‘final’ coat of clay on the oven itself.

This top coat didn’t need the insulating straw in it -this was just a final ‘top coat’ to give it a nice finish, rather than the ugly ‘High Altitude Elephant’s Extreme Surprise’ we left it as the other afternoon.

Matt and I putting on the top coat.As the weather forecasters had said today would be showery, we put gazebos up on both the puddling area and over the oven itself.  It didn’t really matter to the clay that it should get wet, but as we’d rather stay dry, it seemed sensible.

Here we are to the right with our two different techniques.  Matt favoured the small lumps and carefully placed on, making sure it stuck properly.  I was more for the ‘throw it on and pick up off the floor what doesn’t stick’ method.  As Matt said, both valid ways, and both very entertaining to watch.  Ian and Graham (Both no relation.) sat and watched us right the way through, continually making ‘helpful comments’ like: “You missed a bit!” and “Is it meant to look like that?”

All said and done in the best possible way!

We realised that we’d need two more mixes to really finish it off, so we went back up to the top mixing area.  Nick quickly took his shoes and socks off again, and this time Ian decided to give it a try!  The three of us had great fun working on these two mixes, and I really must say it makes a whole world of difference having more than one of us doing this.Ian and I with Nick, busy in the background.

You’re no doubt wondering over all these photos, and how they were taken given that I’d promised to spare my new camera the indignity of sand and clay.  Thankfully, ‘Ace Lens Diane’ was on hand to take these shots.

Here are Ian and myself about halfway through ‘our’ mix, with Nick busy in the background.

After only a few minutes it seemed, these mixes were done and ready to be applied to the dome.

Matt had been busy down at the oven with the plasterer’s float, smoothing off this top layer, so we brought down the final mixes and while I slapped it on (…A scientific term, this…), he expertly went round the whole dome getting it to an almost mirror finish.Matt, proud of his work!

Here he is, happy in the knowledge that he’s done an absolutely perfect job!

With the clay work now finished, we wasted no time in getting it lit and starting to dry.  Shaun helped me get a fire going with some of the wood that Ian had cut a few weeks ago when we got the ultimate Big Boy’s Toy -the axe.

Pretty soon, I was feeding wood in a quite a rate -as you have to do to get a fire going really well.

I did notice though that once it was up to temperature, it didn’t need much more fuel to keep that temperature up, and also that it didn’t rapidly heat and cool as it had tended to do in the past.

Maybe it was my imagination, but I don’t think so.  We’ll see on Saturday when we use it ‘in rage’, properly finished for the first time.

A quick lunch, then Charles our new Head Beekeeper arrived.  Over to the hives, then!

Today, we would be swapping over the lower dark drown brood boxes that came with the bees for more of our new brood boxes.

The top of the hive off, along with the top super and queen-excluder.Because we currently have three hives, Jon, Shaun and I were each ‘chosen’ to go in the hives with Charles keeping an ever-watchful eye on us to make sure we didn’t make any stupid mistakes.

You may think that this is easy, but take it from me, there’s been so much to learn about these little creatures in so short a time, each of us was ‘on edge’ when faced with a hive with more than 30,000 bees in!

This shot to the left shows yours Charles and I after we’d taken the top of the hive off checking the top brood box for signs of the queen laying eggs in it.

Happily, there were plenty of newly laid eggs in abundance.Checking for brood and for the queen.

Here I am to the right here, checking the top brood box, and you can clearly see the frame with new comb on it built in only a few days by the workers.

At this point, I must say that even though this may look an easy thing to do, it’s really not!  Making sure you pick the frames up in the correct manner, disturbing the bees as little as possible is pretty difficult stuff -especially for ‘newbies’!

The queen wasn’t in this top box -she’d wisely gone straight down into the lower box to get away from all the confusion, noise and light from above.

So that meant she was in the bottom box -the one we were going to swap.

Carefully lifting the bottom brood box.This shot is as I lifted the old brood box off the hive floor.  I carefully placed this to one side, always conscious that there was a valuable queen in there.  If I was to accidentally squash her, we’d lose at least a couple of months’ worth of honey production.

With the old brood box safely off, Charles carefully inspected the hive floor for signs of varroa mite and finding only a couple, I replaced it with a brand new brood box.

To the right here you can see Shaun as he is placing the old frame into his new brood box, and you can see how carefully he’s inspecting the frame.Shaun carefully inspecting each frame.  He’d never been inside a hive before -he missed the last bee training course- so he was especially in awe of the bees.

To say he was a complete beginner, he did very well, though -You really wouldn’t have known it was his first time, he handled them that well!

Jon did all the above for the last frame, but for some reason, I have no shots of this.  Take it from me though that he handled himself very well!

All too soon (…it seemed!..), it was time for Charles to leave.  I thought he’d only been around a matter of minutes, but when I checked my watch, I found well over an hour had passed!  Astonishing.

After Charles had gone (…along with most of the afternoon, it seemed!..), we went back to check the clay oven.Finally finished and fired-up!

The roaring flames had died down pretty much, but the heat still coming off it was terrific!

We did notice that by the chimney the clay was starting to crack, but Shaun found some unused clay mix and skilfully patched it, and it now looks as good as new.  We knew this would happen -it’s happened on every layer so far, and we were satisfied that the cracks can only be about 3 inches deep -through one layer.

In total, the walls of this oven are in excess of 9 inches thick.

Yes, that’s quite a lot of clay -but sooooo worthwhile!Ian and I, happy after our puddling efforts today.

Tomorrow, after a hopefully brief visit into town to ‘see a man about a cat’ (…bit like ‘a man about a dog’, but this is a feline household…), I’ll be straight back here to carry on with the electronics and hopefully the programming for the electric bikes.

Of course, this will be after I’ve changed the screen that arrived today in that camera so I can present it to Matt on Saturday, fully fixed and working.  I may even charge the battery for him.

He will be pleased!

So, this last photo here to the right of myself and Ian kind of sums up the feelings of all today’s volunteers after a hard day’s work.

Tired, but happy.

More on Saturday, but this time with added pizza.

Yum to that!



Okay, okay. I give in! 16/05/12

You found me out.

Don’t tell me that when you were a kid you never snuck downstairs in the wee small hours of Christmas day to see if Santa had been, and if he had, then what he’d left you!

I went over to my allotment at lunchtime today to find Ian happily planting the cabbages and peas that I’d promised myself I’d do, but no worries.

After a brief chat, we headed up to LEAF to see what was happening.

At first, Not A Big Lot, but pretty soon people started to arrive, Ian left for the day (…He was knackered -he’d been up since the crack of dawn…), and I went about setting up the gear required to puddle yet more clay.

In the end, what with volunteers, visitors and the ‘Call Of The Kettle’ (…i.e. Tea!..), I only managed one mix of puddling, but I reckon another one tomorrow morning should see the whole thing done and finished.  Well, by that I mean all the clay done; what Matt does with it afterwards we’ll have to see, but he should have enough to work with.  If he wants any more for some outlandish sculpture, then he knows where the clay, sand and straw are…

(Only half joking!)

So, back to Wardian Towers, a quick shower and I’m just working on the sensor system to detect wheel movement.

I did have it as a single magnet mounted on the wheel with a little reed switch mounted on the rear of the frame, but as this is officially pratty, and any bike used on the machine will need this modification, I decided to mount an opto sensor on the shaft of the generator to give individual counts of the generator shaft revolving.

This involves a fair amount of, er, ‘ingenuity’ (…This is where ‘ingenuity’ = ‘bodgery’…), and believe it or not, the lid of a tin of salmon I ate last night.

Don’t worry if you’re confused.  I’ll get some photos when I’m done and it works later on this evening.

Anyway, I’d better get off.  Lots to do.

Yet more clay puddling. 14/05/12

I must confess, I’m starting to get more than a little bored by all this clay work now.

Its starting to lose it’s shine as I trudge to The Plots, secure in the knowledge that bar a lightning strike, a freak whirlwind or it suddenly raining washing machines, there’s going to be Wardo with his shoes and socks off, trudging round the polythene tarpaulin, suffering the stares and jeers from folk and kids on the road above in just a few minutes.

This morning, Wardian Towers was a hive of misplaced activity as I put off the moment of finally going out of the door.

All the dishes were washed, dried and put away; I’d cleaned the bathroom, hells, I’d even thought about washing my bedding.Happy Mitzi!

Luckily, that activity was put off in favour of opening up my old camera to discover that, as I’d suspected, the display had got broken in my fall a couple of months ago on the ice.  So, I’ve ordered a new one from eBay, and Matt has his name on it when its fixed, fettled and fully functional.

So, back to the early afternoon, and I met Matt on his plot, busy in his greenhouse.  A quick ‘Hello!’, then a short walk up the lane.

Back at The Plots, and I quickly got out the stuff I needed.  Once I got started it wouldn’t seem so bad, I was sure of it.

And I was right!  Within just a few minutes, I was bouncing away on the clay which started off very tough, but soon worked into a smooth paste, happy as a happy thing.

Yes.  You’re right.  It doesn’t take much.

Today, I was back to traditional ‘puddling’, so there was no straw involved, just sand, clay and lots of toe-breaking effort.

Once again, no cameras allowed -certainly not mine- so that’s why there’s a shot of Mitzi-Moos looking very happy today after I’d fed her.

I’ve yet to see a bad shot of Mitzi.  Maybe in a previous life she was a model?

Aaaah, you beat me to it!  Yes, a Cat Walk model!

Anyway, today I managed three ‘little mixes’ which probably equals about one and a half of the larger ones we were doing last Saturday, and I figure that we’ll need another two, possibly three before we can let Matt have his way and decorate the oven wildly.

Matt came up as I’d just finished my second mix, and very thoughtfully lit the oven again.The oven, lit again.  He very quickly had it going nicely, and if you click to enlarge the photo on the left, you should hopefully just be able to make out the waft of steam coming off the oven, drifting to the left.

Maybe I’m imagining it, but it seemed to me that not only did Matt get it hotter, quicker today, but that it held it’s heat much better.  Even as we were leaving a couple of hours later it was still very hot, and it didn’t seem to need feeding every couple of minutes like it used to.

Maybe it’s all in my imagination, but you can be sure that when we get the final coat of clay on it, I’ll be checking it very thoroughly to see just what it can do.

I’ll leave you, Dear Reader with a shot I took just before we left for the evening.Close up of the straw layer.

If you click on the photo to enlarge it, then use your imagination a little, you will possibly smirk as you try to imagine the elephant that must have been flying high overhead at just the right time, and suddenly got very, very scared.

Or is that just me having been out in the sun too long?

Back in your cage, Wardo.

Tomorrow, it looks set for rain, and anyway, I have a load of seeds to plant and young plants that need to go outside, so no LEAF fun for me.

Still, there’s always Wednesday!

Getting down and dirty! 12/05/12

After Ian and I dug all that clay out last week, and with the open evening for Sheffield Environment Weeks only a matter of days away, and with the weather being so nice -after all the recent rain- we thought we’d puddle some of that clay.Checking the clay oven.

Before we got started, we removed the blue plastic sheeting that had been over the pizza oven to check how it had fared the winter weather.

As you can see up to the right here, we think it has fared pretty well!  There were no loose stones and the dome had no further cracks in it from frost damage -despite what some of the more cynical plot-holders had (…so vocally!..) thought.

All the books say that for a proper clay oven, you need no less than three layers of clay on the dome.

We’ve successfully used ours with only a single layer, but I’ve noticed in using it that it cools down very quickly if you don’t keep whacking more fuel into it.  Two more layers -the first with added straw should cure this problem.

Diane had bought some cheap polythene ‘tarpaulins’ from nearby ‘Job Lot’, so we spread two of these down up by the compost bins on the top plot.  Of course, this meant that people passing by could readily see us, but we’re not proud!

At first, we gradually mixed in sand with the clay in two separate ‘mixes’ with two of us to a mix when Shaun arrived.Wellies off for lunch!

This morning we were wearing LEAF wellies, but after our lunch break, Shaun and I decided to go barefoot as unlike our previous puddling adventures (…well, Diane’s previous puddling adventures…) there was no broken glass and very few stones to cut our feet on.

And oh, what fun we had!My feet before the afternoon's adventures.

To the right here is my final shot before I got ‘stuck in’.  Literally!

The clay was much easier to work in bare feet, and when your feet had got over the cold of the stuff, it was very enjoyable!

But, there are no more shots of this.

Why?  Well, I thought that brand new cameras and sharp sand and fine clay definitely didn’t mix!

Suffice to say that three quarters of the Plot Kids took their shoes and socks off to join in the fun (…who says ‘adulthood’ is boring!..), and between us we managed four ‘mixes’ of puddled clay.  The proportions were approximately one bucket of clay ‘lumps’ to one bucket of sand.  Also, because of the recent rain, we didn’t need to add any further water -it was quite sticky and wet enough.

Tomorrow, the weather is again set to be fine and dry, so Matt and I will be back to add the straw needed for this second layer -its to insulate the oven, then we’ll hopefully get this actually on the thing, then we’re going to fire it up and get it good and hot to ‘fire’ this layer.

Of course, in firing it up, we’ll have a stinking hot oven on our hands, so of course, we’re going to have to cook something in it.

Well, we’d be stupid not to!

More stories and photos tomorrow about this time.

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