Bamboo cabana

The building chronology of the PermaTree bamboo cabana in the amazonas region of Ecuador in South America. Harvesting, Transporting, Planning, Building …

permatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonaspermatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonas

permatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonaspermatree bamboo HQ ecuador amazonas

All photos in chronological order:

  1. Harvesting bamboo during good moon – means during the 6th and 8th day after full moon, between 12pm and 6am = lowest starch content!
  2. Transporting – After the cutting of the giant bamboo during night it was time to transport them from the river to the nearest road which was about only 400 meters by foot but took as good 2 days of work to get all of the 30 bamboos there.
  3. We had to pre-cut some of them which where longer than 30 meters for the better transport with the small truck and to have the right size for the cabana. The first transport went well until we arrived on the new build road of the finca and there after a few bumps all of the bamboos just fell down and we had to push them into the truck again to get them to the nearest location to the cabana. The truck looked funny from the side because the bamboo was 3 times longer the the actual size of the truck 🙂
  4. Cabana planning sessions with the white board – old school – yes. But indeed practical.
  5. Cabana structure is build with chontaduro palm which grow all over the finca and are heavily used in this region for building pillars because they are such a hard material and dont have any issues with the high humidity.
  6. On top of the chontadura palm come the giant bamboo trunks and some wood trunks to be able to nail the floor on it. (update: this was an error.)
  7. In the mean time the property road access is almost done. There have been setback because of the heavy rain during the last weeks but nerveless half of the road is good with rocks and the rest still a raw dirt road which cannot by access by car unless we have more than 3 days of sun.
  8. During the last weeks we also installed a water catchment system from higher in the river property and got the electric cables connected to the cabana from the grid. We did dig the solar option but with the current politics here in Ecuador everything which is imported costs min. 45% more than the normal price so the batteries which are needed for a solar installation cost more than the solar panels themselves… so sadly here solar makes currently absolutely no sense. Lets hope that this will change and the the solar technology will improve even further in near future.



13237859_1026317444120946_215819123459758440_n   13406992_1033524176733606_274150920114941587_n

Screenshot 2016-06-22 at 4.12.02 AM

Screenshot 2016-06-22 at 4.06.09 AM 13417660_1038594946226529_5115370625512936943_n 13423823_1038595032893187_7330888874034451116_n  13442253_1038595006226523_3298117462460580374_n 13445231_1034322696653754_7557257200503459139_n 13466020_1038594956226528_8044988040281496733_n



DIY Soap Making Natural From Scratch, Part 2

How to Make Lye out of Ashes



Before discussing how to make lye, it is important to note that lye is very dangerous and extreme caution should be used when making or handling lye – whether commercial or homemade. Lye should never come in contact with aluminum, as it will react with the metal. Lye can cause chemical burns if it comes into contact with skin, and blindness if it gets in your eyes.

There are numerous ways to make lye from wood ash. Some instructions suggest that you mix ash with hot water and let it set before filtering out the ash. Others will tell you to drill holes in the bottom of a barrel, cover with straw, and then fill with ash. Water is poured over the ash and lye is leached as the water filters through the barrel and is collected by a pan underneath the barrel. This works, but your lye is likely to be discolored by the straw. When lye reacts with lignin in the straw, the bonds are broken down and the fibers are left behind. After enough leaching, the remaining straw fibers work as an effective filter, but will no longer discolor the lye.

Regardless of the method used, the more times you run the lye solution through a bed of ashes, the stronger the lye will become. Instead of successive leaching, you can also boil the lye to strengthen it. The water will evaporate but the lye will not, so the solution will contain a higher percentage of lye.

One of the difficulties when making lye is determining proper strength. One traditional method of determining strength is to see if a chicken feather will start to dissolve when placed in the lye water. A more accurate measure is to float an egg (still in the shell) in the lye solution. If the lye is of proper strength, the egg will float but only a quarter sized circle of the egg will be raised out of the water. If it floats too high, the lye is too strong. If it doesn’t float high enough, then the lye is too weak. Discard the egg after testing; it is not safe to eat. Source

You need:

  • Ashes from wood (3/4 of your bucket)
  • Rain- or distilled water (fill your bucket up to the “top”)


  1. Make wood ashes. Your wood should be burned in a very hot fire to make very white ashes so the wood has to burned hot and complete. You can burn dried palm branches, dried out banana peels, cocoa pods, kapok tree wood, oak wood and other wood trees – no pine. Hardwood trees will result in better quality lye than if you use ash from soft woods or conifers.
  2. When the fire is out and cold, gather only the finest of ash. Avoid any wood chips.
  3. Place 3/4 of ashes in a bucket or barrel. Do not use metal. Use wood, glass, or plastic containers.
  4. Slowly, fill up the rest of your bucket with (boiled) rain water or a ”soft water” (distilled), because it does not have metallic or acidic chemicals in it which will interfere with the soap making chemistry. Do not add the water too fast, don’t allow the ashes swim/float around.
  5. Let this sit over night or even longer.
  6. Continue with separating the ash from the brown lye water, by using mesh to strain it very finely.
  7. Do the egg (fresh) test, if it sinks you have a weak lye water which means you need more ash to raise its strength. Do this by continuing the steps above by using more ash. Add the lye water to the new mix and again let it set over night. If the egg or a potato floats, then your lye water is ready. Be sure the egg doesn’t rise too high (less than half submerged) as this is an indication that the lye is to strong. Add soft water until the egg doesn’t float that high.

Source 1, Source 2

Alternate Instructions for Making Lye from “Rogueturtle”

  1. Fill your lye-making barrel or drum with ashes to within 10cm of the top.
  2. Boil 1/2 bucket of soft water (5 liters) and pour over the ashes.
  3. Slowly add more cold soft water until liquid drips out of the barrel.
  4. Close the tap or block the drain hole.
  5. Add more ashes to the barrel, adding water as needed to fill it up. Don’t let the ashes “swim” in the water.

A nice shown video about making lye. With the difference that ash and water are heated up together.

Preparing fats from animals
Cut away the fat without any of the meat still attached. 100% pure fat! This cleaning of fats is called rendering. Fat obtained from cattle is called tallow while fat obtained from pigs is called lard. Then, place the fat in a cast iron frying pan or a big pot.

Cook it on really low heat! Don’t burn the fat and also don’t overcook it so it becomes rancid. Let it fully render until it turns to liquid. Stir it from time to time. This may take about to 3-4 hours. When it’s done, there are these hard pieces left which are called crackles. They are quite hard so you can tell all the soft parts have now become liquid. Strain the liquid through a cheese cloth for purifying it and it is best to do so directly in to a glass container. If the fat cools down, it will get hard again but it can be melted up if needed. You can store the fat in glass containers for quite a few years in a dark and fresh room. You can also use the fat as a candle, with a wick in the middle. Source 1, Source 2

For more details of rendering and melting fat, watch this video.

Making Soap – Final

Too much lye will cause the soap to burn the skin! The lye mixture is added to heated fat. You can also use a lye calculator if you use different fats and Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) or Potassium Hydroxide (KOH). Source

How to video from “Mike Reed Outdoors”
4 gallons (15L) wood ashes (in a 5 gallon (19L) bucket)
2 gallons (7.6L) of hot water
1 pound (500g) of lard
3.04 oz (90ml) lye
6.67 oz (200ml) water

Saponification Calculator

To find the right measurement, depending on which fats or oils you use, the value of Potassium or Sodium has to be valued. SAP for Saponification and the value in milligrams of Potassium or Sodium means X ml Potassium or Sodium required to saponify 1g of fat. Source

For example with Coconut Oil
1g Coconut Oil needs 6 mg Sodium hydroxide (NaOH)
1g Coconut Oil needs 8 mg Potassium hydroxide (KOH)
You can find a whole list (US measurement) here
Or use an online calculator

Please let me know if you have experience with making soap out of lye and which measurements worked for your soap!

DIY Soap Making Natural From Scratch, Part 1

Control of Your Ingredients



If you make your own soap, you have direct control of what kind of ingredients you like to have in it! In today’s commercial soap, there are many chemicals used, which causes skin irritation or even cancer! Industries find their way through, to make even more profit out of a cheap, chemical product which ends up in our drinking water, while we’re using it – running down the sink. As we know, water is essential for life, therefore – stop buying industrial soap!

So, to break it down, I was looking for a recipe on how to make soap from scratch. Even if I know that I could buy the ingredients right away, I was wondering what a recipe from our ancestors would look like. I found pretty interesting material and got excited about it! And now I would like to share it.

Two Main Ingredients for a Soap Base



First, I want to tell you how to get a soap base. For that, we need two main ingredients which make soap out of a chemical reaction. You need these two main ingredients, otherwise you can’t make soap! One is fat (animal fats or vegetable oils) and two is an alkaline (Lye created from wood ash is potassium hydroxide (KOH) whereas commercial lye is composed of sodium hydroxide (NaOH)). Once these two are combined, you have a chemical reaction called saponification, which makes your soap base. Once those two are together, there is no more lye in it. But, you can’t make soap without lye! When you get a bar of soap there is no lye in it because the saponification has already taken place. It’s important to know that, because in the beginning I thought, there must be a way of making soap without lye, but actually – no! You can buy the finished soap base and melt it down for your own soap production. But for me, I’d like to do it all from scratch. Source

Soap in World War One



I found an article about soap from World War One (Germany), when they replaced the fats with 90% clay and 10% white sand. “An alternative for soap“, they called it, to save raw resources back then. But as I mentioned above, without fats and lye there is no soap! And people realized, that this soap of clay must be a joke! 7 million kilos of clay were washed down to the water system, per month and the clay soap did not have any properties like normal soap. Source

A Brief History of Soap

The history of soap making goes back to the Sumerians (modern-day southern Iraq). They burned date palms or pine cones and out of the ashes, made lye and mixed it with oils to have soap. They also used this soap base as a remedy for injuries. Greeks and Egyptians adopted that recipe and refined it. For example, Egyptians added bicarbonate and also used it for skin problems. Back then, lack of hygiene was the main cause of skin irritation. In the first stage, Romans used soap only as a beauty product, for example only for their hair. Soap as we know it today, exists since the seventh century (period from 601 to 700).

Soap Spreads Through Europe

In 1791, Nicolas Leblanc, a French chemist, found out how to produce the chemical lye, which had previously been extracted laboriously from ashes. This milestone allowed people to produce soap more easily and in higher quantity. Sicily (Italy) was one of the first European places to do so and still today, you can find traditional small soap making factories, with soap made out of 90% extra virgin olive oil. After Genoa (Italy), followed by Marseille (France), they made potash with the dried plant species Salsola soda, in combination with olive oil. “Marseille soap”, with its characteristic cube shape was popular back then! They used it mostly for washing their clothes and for cleaning. In the process of the “Marseille soap”, they cooked the base ingredients for ten days. To remove backlog from the fat, they washed it out with the addition of salt. The basic substance was olive oil.The “Marseille soap” has been used for skin problems too and was even recommended to sleep with a sopa block if you are struggling from leg cramps at night. The use of salt in soap making gives the soap a hard shape in the end and you can even keep the soap stored longer. For the special “Savon noir” soap, they used glycerin, from the decocted soap base, and potash with olive oil, which is an old recipe from North Africa. Source


If we mix lye and fat together, the substance of glycerin will stay in the soap and this glycerin has a skin caring effect – therefore good for our skin. A basic recipe for making clear glycerin soap base here

Careful, Lye is Acid! Can Burn Skin

Be carful when handling lye! It’s a very dangerous chemical that can burn skin on contact and is fatal if ingested. Cover work surface with newspaper. Always use gloves and safety goggles when handling lye, and wear long sleeves and pants to protect yourself. Handle lye without disruption or children and animals around you! Have vinegar on hand in case lye spills or splashes occur.

The Soapwort



Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), was mostly used for washing delicate fabrics. It can be used as a very gentle soap, usually in a diluted solution. It has historically been used to clean delicate or unique textiles; it has been hypothesized that the plant was used to treat the Shroud of Turin. The plant has a toxic substance in the roots and contains levels of up to 20 percent when the plant is flowering. An overdose can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. In excess, it destroys red blood cells and causes paralysis of the vasomotor center. It produces a lather when in contact with water. The plant grows in cool places at low or moderate elevations under hedgerows and along the shoulders of roadways.

The lathery liquid has the ability to dissolve fats or grease. It can be procured by boiling the leaves or roots in water. Take a large handful of leaves, bruise and chop them and boil for 30 minutes in 600ml of water; strain off the liquid and use this as you would washing-up liquid. In the Romanian village of Sieu-Odorhei, natives call the plant “Sǎpunele”. It is traditionally used by the villagers as a soap replacement for dry skin.

Despite its toxic potential, Saponaria officinalis finds culinary use as an emulsifier in the commercial preparation of tahini halva, and in brewing to create beer with a good “head”. In India, the rhizome is used as a galactagogue. In the Middle East, the root is often used as an additive in the process of making the popular sweet, halvah. The plant is called ‘irq al-ḥalāwah in Arabic, çöven in Turkish, and is utilized to stabilize the oils in the mixture or to create a distinctive texture of halvah.

Instruction for soapwort solution from “the herbgardener making”

  1. Add 2 cups soapwort leaves and stems (1 cup dried) to 1/4 (distilled or rain water) boiling water and cover the pan. For Shampoo just use 3 Tablespoons soapwort to 1 Cup of water.
  2. Continue simmering for 15 to 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and cool.
  4. Strain through cheesecloth.
  5. Include any additives, like lavender for washing fine handkerchiefs, lemon juice to lighten stains on fabric.
  6. You can keep the liquid up to a week in the refrigerator.

This can cause eye irritations. Better not to use it for shampooing your dog, just to exclude any lapping of the toxicity.
Source 1, Source 2

The hot process

The lye must be added to the water, not the other way around. Otherwise it can inadvertently cause a minor explosion. Next, the lye mixture is added to heated fat. The mixture is stirred for a while before adding any desired extras. The mixture is then stirred a bit more so everything is evenly distributed before being poured into molds.

The cold process

The cold process is very similar. The fat is heated, but the lye, water, and fat mixture is not heated. Some people claim that the cold process produces a soap that is softer on skin.

Both the cold and the hot process rely on lye. Many people have tried to find a way to make soap without using lye, but this is impossible. Even the soap in the melt and pour soap kits was processed with lye, although people using these kits do not have to handle the lye themselves. Children, beginners, and people who have a healthy fear of caustic chemicals are probably better off using the melt and pour method.

PermaTree photo impressions

PermaTree landscape panorama Zamora Chinchipe Ecuador

The amazing landscape view from PermaTree temporal HQ-cabana where we can see the Zamora river which later enters the great Amazonas river.

PermaTree WaterFall jungle nature water ecuador

One of the many waterfalls which we discovered within the PermaTree property more than 1 hour walk 🙂


PermaTree chontaduro Palm jungle Ecuador

The Chontaduro Palm tree (Bactris gasipaes) is endemic to the region of Zamora Chinchipe in Ecuador. It is a long-lived perennial plant which is productive during 50 to 75 years on average. It has a rapid juvenile growth (1.5 – 2 m per year)!  The fruits are edible and very nutritious but need to be cooked for 3–5 hours. It contains as much protein as eggs, liposoluble vitamins, zinc, cooper, calcium, iron, beta-carotene and helps lowering cholesterol levels, due to its high contents of omega 3 and 6. Perhaps that’s the reason why people who eat it frequently point Chontaduro as a natural energy booster.

PermaTree jugle tree canopy Ecuador

Another magical spot where the tree canopy is well visible. Lucky us this place was not clear cut for corn or for some other kind of monoculture crop like other places within the farm which will need a few years heeling time.

PermaTree Yellow Bamboo Banana Cacao Creek River

Yellow bamboo bordering the fresh water creek and babana orito palm with cacao / cocoa trees.


Volunteer opportunity in Ecuador!

Take the chance and visit us! A Volunteer abroad opportunity at Finca PermaTree located in the South Ecuador between the Amazon basin and Andes mountain range. We’re just starting to build the house and the farm with Permaculture principles. Be involved within the very first steps, like building the main bamboo house and starting with planting many fruit trees, bamboo and timber trees.

You can be part of the development processes. Participate as a volunteer or learn from people who share their knowledge. On the other hand, we are always looking for mentors to teach the respective topics which match the specific sub-project. Or visit the farm to get a taste of permaculture in the green. However, there are also other ways how you can collaborate.

Our little permaculture farm in Ecuador – it’s 76 Hectares in size. It takes about 3 hours to walk around the property. It starts at 800 meters above the sea level and ends at about 1300! There is one bigger creek and about 4 water streams (ojos de agua) which start within the property like the bigger creek. So there should be no water quality issues. There is at least one waterfall of a few meters – we need to explore this a bit better.

Our Main Focus with PermaTree:

  • Researching and implementing sustainable lifestyles
  • Food forest – A permaculture forest garden mimics the architecture and beneficial relationships of a natural plant/animal community that occurs in that climate. Food forests are designed and managed ecosystems that are very rich in biodiversity and productivity
  • Seed bank – seed exchange
  • Collaborative Community – Language and sustainable living exchange
  • Conservation – All the current left over forest areas will be from now on nature reserve
  • Analog Reforestation – re-vegetating depleted soil with flora that mimic the role of original native species to bring back natural vs. anthropogenic harmony
  • Transparency  – Open information / Open source – share information


Some landscape, plant, food, nature impressions from the life at Finca PermaTree in Ecuador:

PermaTree Bamboo Guadua PermaTree Landscape Ecuador PermaTree Yellow Bamboo Banana Cacao Creek River PermaTree_landscape_roadvolunteer at Permatree jungle creek Permatree_jungle_Waterfall_creek Permatree_jungle1 Permatree_jungle2 PermaTree_Chonta_Palm PermaTree_WaterFall1_jungle healthyfood permatree encocado tropical fruit juice healthy