DSC_3410DSC_3393Today I extracted some massive honey combs. My experiment with foundationless frames went a tad awry, the bees drawing out bulging combs wherever there was space because the next frames was empty.

First it made for some puzzling to get those frames out of the two boxes. After using the bee escape for a night, there were a hundred or so bees left. I had to break open some comb and then had to brush off the bees, who were understandably upset. Extracting required the bread knife to cut away the excess comb. The tactile, visual and aromatic pleasure of cutting through soft, oozing comb is unparalleled. Eleven frames made for 45 lbs of honey.

DSC_3403

Of all my harvests over the years, honey has always been the most successful and most popular crop. The seven remaining hens lay pretty well too, about 4-5 eggs a day. Three of them are now four years old, and in Fall we’ll cull those and get four, maybe six chicks.

My home veg garden however is a disappointment. It is getting too shady to produce much except for lettuce. We may want to remove the two trees that are the main culprits, but I may also just pack up the full sun veggies and bring them to the Transition Wayland plot at the Community Gardens. Two big beds may be opening up there, with incredible soil (alluvial soil with worms the size of small snakes) and full sun (no shade at all). I drive to that neighborhood twice a week anyway to check on the bees, housed in an old field next to the Gardens. My only issue with the Community Garden plot is that I’d have to water with tap water, as there are no buildings and thus no rain water collection there. If I could somehow solve that issue, then the home garden could become a lettuce garden and a nectary for the nucs and splits, and all the other pollinators, as well as a mushroom yard, and a soil fertility operation…

Lots to think about in these last days of Summer.

DSC_3397  DSC_3408

 

 

It’s been hard in our neck of the woods. We had 0.69 inches of rain this month. Not even one inch. The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a “Severe Drought Warning” for my county. Thunderstorm after thunderstorm has  evaporated, glanced off or split around our area. The Wundermap shows their tragic course all too well: other places get the rain, here we get a drop or two, some damaging, desiccating wind, but no relief. I’m looking at the map now: a massive system is bringing rain in the west, but it will pass just south of us, again.

Our town has instigated a partial watering ban (irrigate between 7 pm and 7 am, every other day), which I suspect will soon become a full ban.  The farm three miles from us, from which we get our CSA box, is postponing further plantings until their irrigation ponds and brooks have been replenished. That means we may not get fall produce from them.

DSCF8181

My gardens, annual and perennial, are hanging on by their fingernails – it sometimes literally looks like that, with the leaves on trees and bushes standing up, showing their paler undersides, like hands reaching up into the sky, begging for a drop (they’re actually orienting their leaves for minimal evaporation and solar exposure). Even though I water every other day, all are thoroughly stuck in a vegetative state. Haricots verts have been harvested (2 lbs of beans smaller than I usually harvest them, but they failed to grow bigger) and this year there will probably not be a second harvest, which is usually more abundant, because they’re not making new flowers. The tomatoes plants which had grown so many large, plump fruits are not ripening them at all. We’ve been stuck at code green for weeks now and the tomatoes are starting to take on that bloodless, necrotic look. The equally thirsty critters, chipmunks and squirrels mostly, have been eating away at the sour fruits. Few flowers appear and they die off without setting fruit, and it’s not for lack of pollination as I shake them all the time, and the bumblebees have been abundant.

The gardener too suffers. I’ve never been good in the heat, and these 95F-100F (in the shade!) days are brutal. I hand water every other day, in the early morning or later evening and it’s about all I can do. And so my poor (or should I say, lucky?) bees have had to do without my constant interference. They beard or “hang out on the porch,” as we say, by the thousands, even at night to relieve the temperature inside the hive. The nectar flow seems to have slowed down considerably.

The chickens are doing quite well, finding shade and clean water. But for the broody one, who insists on sitting on a pile of straw in the hot nest box all day. Her comb isn’t full and dark like the other ones. During the hottest time of day I open the nest box and pour spoonfuls of cool water into her panting beak.  I hope she stops being broody soon. Egg production is down somewhat.

Rain dance, anyone?

The hens were ecstatic, escaping the confines of their run. I open the run door every day now, but I do chase them back in when we are going out and there will be no one hear to keep an ear out. My friend Kath had quite a misadventure with a hawk, so I’m cautious.

All nine hens are healthy. One day I had nine eggs, which is the best way to tell.

DSCF5023

DSCF5022

DSCF5009

DSCF5003

Don’t try to eat something on the patio when the chickens are around! They’ll want some of what you’re having.

DSCF5030

We set up the temporary fence/gate between the chicken yard and the patio/backyard. Now only Oreo, the most adventurous and acrobatic, can get in. As long as she stays out of the veg garden, I don’t mind one chicken underfoot.

A friend found a dead sparrow and brought it to us for our home school. It resided in our freezer for a couple of weeks until today we remembered it.
DSCF4974
We unwrapped it and studied it for a bit, which wasn’t easy as it was frozen stiff. Then Amie suggested a funeral. We brought it outside to the compost bin. I put it in there, and Amie said some words. She had no connection with this individual bird, so it was a different, exploring kind of speech. She tried “Have fun in heaven” and “You flew so high”. Then she remarked that we all have to die, “like Gilgamesh learned”. (I had told her the story of Gilgamesh yesterday evening.) That was fitting. She poured some “happy sand” (yellow sand) on the little corpse. Then we turned the compost over it so it can feed new life.
DSCF4985
After that we visited the chickens, which were yelling for us. They are such complainers, but they’re very generous: in the nest boxes we found eight eggs.
DSCF4987
Our last stop outside was also with a bird. This was a chicken Amie made in summer out of clay. This is what it looks like after a winter on the porch:
DSCF4989
Amie knew exactly what had happened. It had been wet and then frozen, so it exploded from the inside.

After a month of consistently, sometimes brutally freezing temperatures, we had a thaw today. It reached 40 degrees! I dumped all indoor plans and got suited up – necessary because the snow is still above my knees, and up to my waist in certain places. I slipped into the trusty muck boots and the thick gloves, but skipped the hat after a while, for the sun beat hard and warm, and there was no wind.

IMG_20150222_143605

First up: a trip to the compost bin. We had been collecting our food scraps in buckets on the porch – which is fine as long as they’re frozen, but not so good when they defrost. I plowed my way over there, then dug out the top of the bin. In the image I’m standing on top of the snow. The black rim behind me is my Earth Machine. Looking down into it afforded a new point of view. 2 five gallon buckets of food scraps went in. I didn’t close up the bin just yet.
DSCF4745
Next up, the coop. I took the picture above standing on top of the snow again. Those first layers really pack down. The heat in the deep bedding that worked so well last year could not keep up with the bitter cold, so all the chicken poop sat piled up in stalacmites, frozen. I opened the back of the coop, hacked away at the mess, collected four 5 gallon buckets. These too had to be dragged to the compost pile. Then I had to play some heavy tetris with chairs and tables and bikes and the lawn mower in my shed, all to get to the bag with clean wood shavings. But the hens can be happy with their clean coop. They’re laying about three eggs a day now. Thank you, Ladies! As soon as I can conceivable get to the snowed-in hay, I’ll spread it over the muck and mud in your run!
Here’s some of our fire wood:
DSCF4747
It’ll be for spring.

Andrea asked for a chicken update. The nine ladies are all doing well, looking only somewhat worse for wear. It’s been really cold but that’s not as much a problem as is the state of their run. It’s impossible to shovel the snow out of there. So they have only a small area (under the coop, and the small part of the run that is covered) to scratch around and be in each other’s company.

But with the return of daylight they’ve started laying more egg, about 3 a day now. Oreo, the Amerecauna who stopped laying about six months ago, has returned to her usual self, laying one every day now – we know because she’s the only blue egg layer. She is the chicken who sometimes laid two eggs a day.

DSCF4564

Another foot (or more, yikes) has started to come down but Amie couldn’t wait to go try her home-made chicken harness. She brought Jenny into the porch to “walk her”. I don’t know if Jenny enjoyed that…

DSCF4567

Winter, winter… you’re still here. How can we miss you when you won’t even leave? It snowed some more, a lot more. See Amie and DH in the previous post, posing in the path, barely ankle deep? We got over two feet after that and were happy that blizzard (Juno, they called it?) did not turn into a historic one.

DSCF4212

But the snow was again light and fluffy, so no trees came down and we didn’t lose power, and it wasn’t a big deal to shovel another path down the driveway, at the bottom of which we carved out space for the two cars parked there. A path to the coop and dig out the poor hens, and rake the snow off the porch roof, which isn’t all that strong, and we are all set for the next batch of snow, due Sunday evening.

DSCF4227

Another good thing that came out of the blizzard warning was that we got all our bug-out bags restocked, stashed some more drinking water, and recharged all the batteries and emergency radios in the house.

Today we restock our art/media room. Yesterday at the art museum homeschool program Amie had a blast making a Holy Chicken Holding the Cosmic Egg.

IMG_20150130_114716

May it bring luck and a fortune in eggs to our household!

DSCF4350

Homeschooling is going even better than I had expected. We are sticking to a strict schedule in the mornings, with a steady core curriculum in math and language arts. In the afternoons we do Latin and, after that, we launch into our history/science module. I’d say the last one is our favorite along with logic, Latin and word roots. This is the pile of books accumulating in the subjects we’ve chosen for our science/history module:
DSCF4116
Yes, I know. But Amie and I both agreed we couldn’t start “History” with written history, or with the first humans, or the first life, or even the formation of our planet and so… we began with the Big Bang. And obviously we can’t do history apart from science. So: wonderful stuff!

Our first home school field trip was to the NOFA Mass Winter Conference. During lunch Amie went shopping at the stalls, all by herself. She had $5. After chatting with each farmer and herbalist and activist and whatnot, she got some fancy lip balm. We also bought bumper stickers. This one is her favorite and ended up on her cello case:

DSCF4119

On Friday we had our next field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, which has a great homeschool program. I got to walk the halls for an hour and a half, and located this poster:

IMG_20150116_110323

Soon we’ll have to open those seed catalogs and start planning the garden. At the NOFA conference I picked up a lot of information on trace minerals. We went with a group and divvied up the workshops among us. Next week we meet to discuss the many gardens now in play: our personal gardens (about four, some of them quite large), three large Community Garden Plots, and some School Gardens as well. These come with town-wide compost systems that take in scraps from the schools’ lunchrooms, pounds and pounds of coffee grounds from a local coffee shop, and now, also, kitchen scraps from the local Whole Foods. Lastly, the surplus goes to Food Pantries and shelters in the neighborhood.

I’ve not had time to write much here, but please stay tuned!