Building a cob oven

I love the idea of cooking from a wood fired oven and to think you can build something so functional, efficient and beautiful out of dirt, cow poo and straw then use it to cook fresh sourdough loaves, roasted vegetables or delicious pizza in your own backyard, slow simple living doesn’t get much better than that.


Last September Chris and I had the opportunity to help in the building of a wood fired oven at our local community garden. The aim of the project was to build a community facility that could double up as a fund raiser for local community groups. It was not only a wonderful initiative to be involved in but at the same time gave us an opportunity to learn all about cob oven building.

We spent a productive weekend with our instructor Grant Walker and a wonderful group of volunteers and staff from the Eco Garden at Fagan Park. We learnt what type of clay to use and how and when to add cow poo and straw and where to use empty beer bottles to provide an important air space in the base and walls.



We learnt how to mix mud with our hands and feet and how to build up the layers, shaping and adding as we went and applying the final touches of colour.




We’d worked hard over the weekend to complete the project but by the end of day two, before us stood a gorgeous little cob oven that has been used many times since.


To save time, the besser block foundation had already been laid but the question of a free-stainding base became an important discussion point for us, particularly as the owners of a garden with very limited space.


In Permaculture design we look for convenience and human efficiencies in everything we do and even the location of something like a wood fired oven should be carefully considered; after all it’s not going to be something you can move. With this in mind the ideal location would be close to the food preparation and eating areas so for us this puts it right outside the kitchen.

In Permaculture we zone our land according to the types and intensity of use so in theory, the further away from the house you go, the less times you should visit. Following this design principle, Zone 0 is our house and Zone 1 starts right outside our kitchen door. This is the most frequently visited and intensively used area of our yard and its where we grow our herbs and veggies, make all our own compost and soil mixes, have our worm farm, store our wood and grow some of our cooking essential citrus such as kaffir lime and lemon.


Initially the idea of squeezing in a free-standing plinth to support a cob oven just didn’t seem plausible but lucky for us we’ve been able to come up with another option which didn’t involve sacrificing any of our food growing space.

We’ve since built the foundations for our own cob oven only metres from the kitchen and when the oven is finally built, it’ll be nestled in amongst rocks and plants and a small pond and will sit right in the hub of our herb garden.


Our next step is to scour our local area for some good quality clay so we can gather some friends around and share what we’ve learnt to build our very own wood fired oven.

This will be one of our key projects this year as we continue on with our Permaculture journey but first we’ve got a Permabee to organised in preparation for our very first open garden on International Permaculture Day, Sunday May 4.

Stay tuned for further details.

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