Good bye 2018…

I’ve been mulling over in mind what does 2018 mean?… for me, Tony, our kids, family, friends, our volunteers,… theDoighouse Farm & Learning Centre. It’s definitely been a year of moving the project forward, getting things done, celebrating successes and having fun.

Seriously… busy…


January kicked off with both Tony, and my birthdays… Our solar system for the 5th wheeler was installed and we continued to work building our community garden boxes. Tony was still working, but I spent my days doing what I loved doing… getting my hands dirty!

February was our eldest daughter Jessica’s marriage to Alan, including a trip to Mexico for a week. No… we didn’t do any work on theDoighouse that week, but what a fabulous time we had.

In March, we completed the installation of 9,000L rainwater collection off the four shed roofs. One downside – the water collection was just too far away from the gardens. In December we will be build a larger system and in 2019 we will incorporate 7,000L from this system into a new garden system. The remaining 2,000L (2 IBCs) of water will service our community kitchen needs.

Beautiful Qualicum Bay

The sea lions returned to Lighthouse country. The sea lions were following the herring fishery. There were so many of them we could hear them barking all the way to our property. Course it is only a few minute walk to our place from the bay… but hearing them was a first for us!

My sister Arlene

Arlene (my sister) and I ventured into the world of mushroom growing, taking a class with Jessica Wolfe. It was a fun day, and we took home logs inoculated with oyster and shiitake mushrooms. We decided to gather the sisters together and show them what we had learnt!

One of the things I appreciate the most about having moved back to Vancouver Island, is that we see and do things with most of my six siblings, and with Tony’s family too!


In honour of our friends Pat and Leonard we have a very special garden dedicated to Leonard.

In April, the daffodils bloomed.

Of course, May was also the arrival of David Koblos, our first volunteer of the season. This year we had several ‘regular’ volunteers that stayed and helped for most of the summer. Horizon (USA), David (Mexico), Chris & Iliya (Jamaica), Nigel and Christian. Others came and stayed for a few days, even weeks. In total there were over 35 volunteers at theDoighouse for 2018.


On the family side of things, May was busy with Tony’s retirement and the “sister’s retreat”. Each year we sisters gather to sew the family wedding quilts. This years retreat included quilts for our daughters Jessica and Sarah. It’s not everyday that you get to spend time with your siblings; spending time with Diane, Kath, Karen, Arlene and Mary-Ann is incredibly special for me.


House construction kicked off with the excavation for the foundation of theDoighouse Earthship. The foundation for the main tire wall is 2 courses of used car tires. It was very exciting to see the first row rising from the ground.

Also in June, our daughter Cecilia graduated with a Master’s in Environmental Sciences. This meant a quick trip to Sweden for Susan, and a little holiday to Italy. Very precious time together

Proud Dad!

July brought Sarah (our daughter) and Ziggy’s wedding; a beautiful bride and a very proud dad!

There is just nothing like the moment you see your daughter in her wedding dress for the first time!

Our friend Jo-Anne and her daughter Riley stayed for a week and worked on the building of a cob oven. We followed the instructions… but have yet to put the final coat on the oven and fire it up. Something to be done in 2019!

My niece Alesha arrived to help work in the community kitchen. With 8-10 people for lunch and dinner, Alesha was a big help, getting veggies prepped and things organized. It turns out that Alesha is also a great tire pounder!!!


Anna entering one of the trees at Cathedral Grove

August was tire pounding, earthship building, garden work, volunteers and having fun. It was incredibly hot. We hosted the ‘annual friends and family’ summer party.

We also took several groups of volunteers to visit Pacific Rim National Park, Cathedral Grove, Tofino and Ucluelet – amazing beaches, surfing and of course stopped at Tacofino Cantina! the delicious food truck in Tofino.

Somewhere in the middle of all that we celebrated our anniversary at
the Whiskey Creek Farm with Real & Laurel
Horizon and David doing a tire pounding demo at the Lighthouse community centre second sunday pancake breakfast and swap meet.

September was full of tearful goodbyes, David and Horizon off on a cycling trip to California. Nigel and Christian headed back home. Tony and I continued to work, and were joined by Colin (Australia) to mill boards, paint and install the siding on the little sheds. I learned to make doors – this will be particularly useful when we start building the doors for theDoighouse.

On September 31st 2018, TheDoighouse Earthship building season ended. We have completed the first 6 rows, done the drainage for the north, west and east walls, the first foundation pour for the vestibule/greenhouse. The airtubes are in, and backfilled…. waiting for the water tanks to arrive in the Spring 2019. It’s been a great summer. We can’t thank our team of professionals, earthship builders, volunteers, friends and family enough. It has been wonderful to have your support and your help in making our dream of theDoighouse Farm & Learning Centre one step closer to reality!


theDoighouse Earthship building season is over for 2018.

October kicked off the first of our monthly fireside@theDoighouse – these chats connect professional builders, enthusiasts and individuals curious and/or passionate about natural building.  If that sounds like you, or someone you know, we meet the 3rd Tuesday of each month. 

The fireside@theDoighouse group also met in November to discuss natural building. Our next meeting is January 15th 2019.    

Susan putting the final touches on the re-purposed metal roof

December was spent working with Chris to build a 10,000L rainwater collection shed for the community gardens, doing the layout for a huge sunflower shaped garden, garden cleanup. We met local log home builder Frank and Courtenee and swapped logs for labour. We managed to move all the logs that were inside the community garden to new piles… one stack for the mill, one stack for log home building, one stack for firewood. With the splitting and selling of firewood it was pretty hectic.

The big storm ended our year with 10 trees falling over the entrance blocking driveway access to the property. Another 5 fell a little further up the driveway. Family (Bill and Nicholas) and friends, (Real, Laurel, Mark and Adrian) came to help clear the driveway. The good news is the bird house is repairable, and the cedar trees will become our classroom/garage doors, the cedar branches part of the garden fence and the rest will be chipped and spread into garden paths. Days of clean up to follow in the new year…

I mean… what else could we possibly have to do with our time?

Christmas 2018

I am not sure you know this, but our family Christmas tradition is to share stories rather than gifts purchased. The Christmas stories are collected, and every 5-10 years or so a new ‘Brown Family Chronicles’ is published. We are currently working on the 4th volume.

Hungarian plum dumplings, known as szilvas gomboc, are a delicious dessert, meatless main dish, or side dish. I know this for a fact… 

One afternoon this past summer Diane’s friend called to let me know his plum tree was ready for picking.  Off I go to Parkville. It’s too bad Diane is away visiting her kids so we won’t get a little visit.  On the other hand, if she were home I may not have gotten the plums!

After a nice chat with Don, I climb the tree, which turns out to be two trees actually.  Soon I have two five pound pails and a couple of brown paper bags full of mostly ripen fruit. Back I go to the property to share the haul with our volunteers.  Several have little more than enthusiasm for food storage skills so we have been making jams, apple sauce, pickling cukes and having a lot of fun in the outdoor kitchen.  I have done no preserving of food for several/many years but find myself really enjoying the time in the kitchen. I am getting to know our niece Alesha, Maddy (Cecilia’s Swedish friend) and Iliya (our Jamaican friend living on the property).  Our plan is to perhaps make plum jam and can a few pints of plums. 

David & tony building the “Bear Paw Cafe”, our outdoor community kitchen

David Koblos is a ‘regular’ volunteer.  He has spent 2 summers with us now, learning and teaching us all. This year he started in May, shortly after Tony retired, and stayed until the first week in September.  He has a wonderful sense of humour and a passion for Earthships.  He always has a story to tell and a way of interacting that is truly authentic. 

David was born in Hungary and has lived in many different country and speaks several languages (beautifully).We can’t imagine building our Earthship without him. 

One of the best parts about the Bear Paw Cafe is people sharing their family recipes and even better… making them for sharing. Well… the minute David K. hears of the plums he is eager to share his family tradition of making szilvas gomboc

A typical Hungarian dish; we are assured by David he knows the recipe by heart.  It will only take a few minutes.  We can have them for dinner!  An excellent idea; given it is almost dinner time… David harvests about five (okay maybe six) pounds of potatoes from the hugel closest to the kitchen.  “How delicious these will be with such fresh potatoes”. As the potatoes cook David assembles the rest of the ingredients.  Iliya appears with a rolling pin! We have so many plums; it would be good to make a large batch. The dough is first a little too dry then a little too wet, then a little this and then a little that…Soon there are several people in the kitchen helping.

Several hours later with the plums nicely tucked inside the perfected dough the cooking begins.  Dinner is served… I can’t recall exactly the time, but for sure the solar light in the kitchen came on…The dumplings are delicious and enjoyed (for several meals actually), by our volunteers and Tony and I as the minor modifications and adjustments to the dough have resulted in dozens and dozens of dumplings, not the typical 18 the recipe below suggests.  I couldn’t say this recipe is exactly as David made it, but it seems close!

Hungarian Plum Dumplings (Szilvas Gomboc) Recipe (

  • Prep: 30 mins
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Yield – 18 Hungarian plum dumplings


  • 5 medium potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed and cooled (don’t use leftovers)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 18 damson or Italian prune plums, washed and pitted
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 1/2 cups very fine breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup cinnamon sugar

Steps to Make It

  1. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, eggs, and salt. When well combined, add flour and mix until a soft dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes.
  2. Place a large pot of salted water on to boil.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/3 inch. Cut into 2-inch squares. Place a plum in the center of each square and fold in half, pressing out all air and sealing the edges. Moisten edges before crimping if necessary to seal.
  4. Carefully drop filled dumplings individually into boiling water. Repeat until all plums are in the water. Cook 30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, melt butter in large skillet, add breadcrumbs and brown. Remove from heat and set aside. 
  6. Using a slotted spoon, remove dumplings to a colander to drain. Place skillet back on the heat and add dumplings, coating with buttered crumbs.
  7. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

These dumplings were truly delicious!  They are easily reheated too, by frying the leftover dumplings in a little butter or olive oil the following day.

We have had such a lovely time this year at theDoighouse.  So many guests, volunteers, new friends and old have come to visit and have shared their time, patience, laughter and enthusiasm.  We would not be doing what we are doing without you! 

Thank you!

fireside@theDoighouse #2 ‘Exploring Natural Building’

Our monthly fireside@theDoighouse sessions provide a space and place for people in our community to come together and share thoughts and exchange ideas.

The Permaculture ethics of Care of Earth, Care of People and Sharing of Abundance will inform and guide our discussions.

November 28, 2018
6:30-8:30 pm
Topic: Exploring Natural Building

Welcome: Chief Michael Recalma
Guest speaker: Russ Hannay, Errington Green Homes
Guest speaker: Mark Fleischhaker,
Hosts: Susan & Tony Doig,

Natural Building, recycled materials, using (non)-traditional and recycled building materials are all ways to reduce the energy footprint in our homes.  From site placement, solar gain, rainwater collection are some of the considerations when building a natural structure.

Earthships are recycling on steroids!  Recycled patio windows, car tires, pop and beer cans, glass bottles.


Glass Bottle Wall detail

Firesides@theDoighouse include speakers evenings, films nights, presentations and discussion panels.

Other topics will include:

  • What is permaculture?
  • Protecting our aquifer
  • Recycling building materials
  • Natural building  (cobb, rammed earth, strawbale, hempcrete)
  • Energy Conservation
  • Solar Passive Design
  • Solar collection systems
  • Food Security

Please email with any suggestions of topics and speakers you would like to hear.  The 2019 series is currently being developed and we’d love to include your suggestions.


fireside@theDoighouse ‘Sustainability in the RDN’

Please join us…

Our new firesides are set to start on October 17, 2018 starting at 3:00pm and ending ‘around’ 6:00pm.  These monthly sessions provide a space and place for people in our community to come together and share thoughts and exchange ideas.  The permaculture ethics of Care of Earth, Care of People and Sharing of Abundance will inform and guide our discussions.

October 17, 2018
Topic: Sustainability in the Regional District of Nanaimo
Guest speaker: Bill Veenhof, Director Area H & Chair of the RDN

Climate change is a reality… we see it daily in the increasing intensity of weather events.  What we each do, on a daily basis, makes a difference.  Sometimes it can feel like ‘you’re the only one, or is it really making a difference these small actions I am taking?’.  Getting together and sharing is one way to stay connected and affirm that  it is our own personal actions that will ultimately change the world we live in.

Firesides@theDoighouse will include speakers evenings, films nights, presentations and discussion panels.

Other topics will include:

  • What is permaculture?
  • Protecting our aquifer
  • Recycling building materials (Earthships are recycling on Steroids)
  • Natural building  (cobb, rammed earth, strawbale, hempcrete)
  • Energy Conservation

Please email with any suggestions of topics and speakers you would like to hear.


Getting to tire course 5

We started the summer with passion, some really great volunteers, a cleared building site, a desire to build and no building permit.

A bit of a pickle really.

We decided to move ahead and work to the first building inspection (foundations).  A bit of a gamble as we are using tires as our foundation – but we felt confident in the work by our structural engineer, Mark Fleischhaker and our architect, Keith Tetlow and the unofficial feedback from the Regional District of Nanaimo that we decided to take the risk and just start.

First… getting the plans finalized and submitted to the RDN …and then waiting for approval, answering questions and following up with information.

These are the Earthship plans by Mike Reynolds modified to meet the BC Rainforest climate, the BC building code and the National Energy Code.

The RDN have been great to work with, a reflection of the quality of work and attention to detail by Mark, Keith and Daniel.

So..first things first.. if you want to host volunteers, you need some stuff.

The Bear Paw Cafe.  Just saying it got it’s name from a couple of visitors (the black furry kind)… but that’s a story for another day.

Continue reading Getting to tire course 5

theDoighouse radically sustainable, 'Earthship' inspired, off grid home, food forest and Learning Centre on Vancouver Island, BC