Mother Earth Living

The First Straw: Building the First Straw Bale Home in Virginia

Hanuman Bertschy trod where no Virginian had gone before when she built a straw bale home on an ashram just outside of Charlottesville.

Designed so that the southern sun beams all the way across the main room at Winter Solstice, Hanuman’s house is a natural passive solar collector. Locally made bricks absorb the radiant heat by day and release it back into the room at night. The interior walls are plastered with a mixture of clay from Hanuman’s yard (the Charlottesville area is said to have the best clay for adobe in the country), lime, and sand; the adobe gives
Photo By Philip Beaurline
Based largely on permaculture principles, Hanuman’s garden is both bountiful and beautiful. “The concept of giving back at least as much as you take is totally in synch with how I try to live,” she says. “I wanted something that gave a lot, and I ­didn’t want a lawn to mow.” In her freeform garden, Hanuman groups many different species together, avoiding the monoculture type of planting that tends to attract pests. She builds up her soil with compost and organic matter for rich, healthy dirt. “I have gobs of big, fat worms,” she says. The result is a fertile bed for the herbs, flowers, and fruits that Hanuman grows. A fan of vining flowers, Hanuman planted a moonflower over her front door that produces five to six blossoms per night.
Photo By Philip Beaurline
To meet building codes, Hanuman needed a vent for the four solar panels she uses as back-up power. Because the cement stucco that covers the home’s exterior lends itself to fanciful sculpting, a friend crafted this elephant eye vent. In Hindu belief, the elephant represents Lord Ganesh, the symbol of the Supreme Self. Hindus invoke Lord Ganesh, said to bestow worldly as well as spiritual success, before they begin any rite or undertake any project.
Photo By Philip Beaurline
Hanuman and her husband, Ray, spend many peaceful moments in the garden surrounding the house. Hanuman had fond memories of her grandmother’s porch swing but lacked a porch on which to replicate it. So she hung the swing, a table, and plants on a pipe that her father hoisted between two trees.
Photo By Philip Beaurline

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