In the middle of October we had a warm spell, hovering around 70F for a week. Still, firewood was on my mind. Our friends Kath and Paul joined us in renting a log splitter and doing the work. First we worked at our place, splitting all those old rounds that had been cut last year and were cluttering the side of the driveway. Then we hooked the splitter to my car and drove over to their house, about six miles away, where fresh cut rounds awaited the brute force of the hydraulic monster.

It’s noisy and stinky (gas powered) but oh the gratification when the wedge explodes those knotted ones that no maul work can budge! I had told my mom that we were going to do this and she expressed her envy. My parents helped us two years ago and she remembers the joy of that hard and so all the more satisfying work.

DSCF3473

Over here we added about a cord of firewood to our stash.
DSCF3470
It’ll dry for over a year while we use up the dry wood that we still have left from that earlier cutting: some of the middle stack and all of the right stack in this picture of warmer times:

All this wood is from our own property, mostly from that massive tree work we had done in 2011. We still have ten or so of those downed logs in the front garden, but now, after a lot of whittling, they’re like mikado (pick-up) sticks and not easy to buck anymore. Maybe, with one good weekend, we’ll get those done too. That wood is getting old and is in the way of other plans.

Last week I split some of that dry wood into smaller pieces and started the stacks in the porch, so they can dry extra before the time for a fire begins We had a couple of cold nights, when the fire in the stove was welcomed for another season.

The yard smells of split wood, the house of apples. Of my 120 lbs of apples only one box (20 lbs) was left and I turned it into more applesauce. The rest has been eaten, sauced, juiced, dehydrated, and some bartered away for hive-over-wintering supplies. And I’m paying my friend, who picked up the tab at the orchard, with eggs, by the way. Gotta love that!

OVER FIVE YEARS OF RIOT!

riot4abundance

This is the Riot for Abundance for the months of August, September and October, 2104 for the three of us (two adults, one nine-year-old). Edson fixed the calculator: all go tither to crunch those numbers! And here’s another fun website for the mathematically inclined: Do the Math.

Gasoline.  Calculated per person. Our weakest point in the Riot,

15 gallons pp. per month

36.5% of the US National Average

Electricity. This is reckoned per household, not per person. We cook on an electric stove and occasionally now we turn on the electrical heater in the bathroom. According to our solar meter, we produced 16443 kWh since the system was turned on in August 2011 and 1464 kWh over the last three months (you can follow our solar harvest live here). In the last month, which was pretty cloudy, we underproduced, so had to buy from Nstar, 86 kWh. So we consumed 1464 + 86 = 1550 kWh.

516 kWh per month

28.5% of the US National Average

Heating Oil and Warm Water. This too is calculated for the entire household. Our solar hot water system (installed in February last year) took care of all our hot water.

 4.55 gallons of oil / month

7.4% of the US National Average

Water. I don’t have any numbers here. Due to work in our basement the meter is at this point inaccessible.

Trash. After recycling and composting this usually comes down to mainly food wrappers.

6 lbs. pp per month

4.4 % of the US National Average 

I went into my apiary a couple of days ago to replace the rotted through pallet that served as the stand for one of the hives. (One day in summer I happened to look out Amie’s bedroom window and saw that hive visibly starting to tilt, tilt, tilt toward the other hive. Throwing on just gloves, I ran out and saw that the pallet had just given way. I shored it up with a couple of bricks and a cinder block. Imagine I hadn’t looked out: that hive, three boxes high, would probably also have taken the other hive with it.) I was dreading it, because those deeps can be really heavy, and moving two of them, plus hive stand, while the bees were in full swing getting the last nectar in, was a little enervating.

Imagine my surprise to find those deep to be very light. Too light. No honey in them! They might have been robbed, or ate it all, somehow, since I last looked and found plenty of honey stores. I checked the other one and it was a heavier, but still not up to par.

So, time to feed these bees. Winter feeding is done with hard candy board; the bees can’t afford to waste energy evaporating the water from syrups, and if they don’t and eat it, they get dysentery. Another advantage is that candy board can be situated right above the cluster, where the honey should be, so the bees can more easily get at it.

Not having the supplies to make two 2″ high frames, I opted for two shallows I had lying around. I followed these instructions.

First up, fun with hardware cloth! O how I love hardware cloth. Wear gloves! I stapled the cloth to the inside of the super.

DSCF3424

DSCF3420

Not keen on cooking the candy, I followed these instructions, but I added some Honeynbee Healthy.

DSCF3421

I spread a sheet of blank newsprint over the cloth. This is to keep the sugar mixture in the box while it hardens. The bees will chew through it. The blue box is to keep that opening for the bees and for ventilation.

DSCF3425

Then I put a large pollen patty in and spread the candy all around it. It gets heavy (this was 10 lbs of candy, 2 and a quarter cup of water, 1 tbs of vinegar and 1 tbs of HoneyBee Healthy), and the hardware cloth sags under the weight, so I put an old fridge rack underneath in case I had to move it before it got dry and hard – which took over 24 hours, with a fan right on top of it.

DSCF3423

While I was at it, I decided to add an insulating function to this contraption, but just sticking an insulation board above the candy (as in the video) seems to be inviting a humidity problem: the bees will keep the hive warm, condensation will rise, some will get absorbed by the candy, some will hit the inner cover, make an icicle and that will drip down on them – not a good situation. I did some research and liked the way Warre Hives have a loosely packed “quilt of wood shavings” that serves as insulation and ventilation.

So, I cut another strip of hardware cloth, folding the legs so it makes a “stand” about 2 inches off the candy board:
DSCF3452

Then the Solarize lawn signs, of which I still have hundreds, came in handy (again). I had fun with the box cutter, cutting the sign to the size of the inside of the super, then cutting out a “grate”. I then cut a piece of burlap to that size and stapled two sides of it to the “grate”.

DSCF3447
Flip it over and place it on top of the hardware cloth “stand” in the super. Sturdy enough.
DSCF3448

As an afterthought I added a loop so I can easily pull it up and out if I want to go in and check on the candy.

DSCF3451

Then cover with about 2 inches of wood shavings.

DSCF3450

I plan to put the inner cover on top of this, then the telescoping outer cover. It won’t even have to be warm to go in and check on the shavings (too wet: replace) and the sugar candy in winter without chilling the bees.

DSCF3418_500

Here it is, finally done, the new patio!

You may recall the old one, which was too small to be of use but, more importantly, installed so that with each flash rain that overflowed the gutter the rain was funneled into the basement. As a result, when the thing was demolished, we found a rotten sill. It turned out well, however. The rot didn’t extend to the rafters, didn’t even affect the entire sill, and there was no sign of termites. In fact, we got to meet a local, well-thought-of contractor who operates on his own: just the right man for several other jobs.

One of those being replacing the front door, the siding, and the big picture window, possibly with french doors.

But over the winter now (hard to think of winter since it’s 70 F outside) the main job is to design the front garden. I have a good idea of the desired effect (cf. this blog post). We also let the guys divert the roof runoff into an underground pipe, which exits at the spot where we’d like a wetland/pond, so we’re set up for that as well. And I’d like to better incorporate the apiary (all the way in the back left) and the veg garden (right of that). Then there is the trellis which will be built into the patio in spring.

I’m looking forward to having this extra “positive” space a a place of beauty, peace and gathering.

For weeks Ive been looking out for more tiny pullet eggs. Not a one. I thought the older hens had stopped laying and the pullets had immediately skipped to the big egg scale. Then today Amie was trying to round up all the escaped hens and ended up missing one. Where was Lucy? We looked and looked with the ominous sound of either a jay or a hawk above us. Then Amie laughed out loud and yelled “Mama, Mama, come see what Lucy is sitting on!”

I came running and there they were, in a hollow in a little side yard, not even within the confines of the chicken yard fence: TWENTY-ONE pullet eggs:

DSCF3391

They’re definitely pullet eggs. Compare to the big egg:

DSCF3397

So, we have a nest box situation. I’ve two boxes for nine hens, which the books says is sufficient, but not for my flock. Also, these pullets seem to like a leafy, grassy nest, while the older hens always make it a point to clear out the boxes to the bare wood. I’ll need to make a special box for the pullets, preferably somewhere inside the coop…

I’ll have to chuck all these eggs. Who knows how old the oldest one is, and it’s been pretty hot (75F) these last couple of days. Amazing, though, they are all intact, even though they were just out there, unprotected.

In Transition and Permaculture circles we’re constantly talking about putting systems in place for when, that is, before, they’re needed. When I headed up the Solarize program in Wayland in 2012, this was my main motivation: lots of individual solar arrays on roofs so we have at least a basis for clean and decentralized electricity in times of emergency, if (when) the big grid goes down. It’s also part of my motivation for much of what we do here at the homestead: chickens, bees, garden, solar PV, solar hot water, rainwater harvest, etc. It’s not just a matter of physically building and installing and test -driving and improving these systems, but also of training oneself to build them getting the experience to get a yield from them, and then to be able to teach the skills to others.

The problem though is this: most of these systems are not yet needed. With any luck, they won’t for a long time, maybe not even in our own life time. Once an “element” is built – a favorite phase involving family and friends and fun problem solving – it needs to be maintained even though there are still much more convenient ways of getting the yield.

For instance, I could much more easily get eggs and veggies from the farmers market than having to deal with lame hens that need nursing and garden beds that need weeding. The water still comes out of the tap, so why am I scrubbing the algae from the water totes and struggling with low water pressure? There is still oil in our tanks or money to buy it, so why am I cold with the thermostat at 59F and why should I get up in the middle of the night to feed the wood stove? Why can’t I go on a long holiday without having to arrange hen and garden sitting? Why am I canning so much apple sauce! Often, the systems I like the most are those that don’t need maintenance, like the solar machines. Yes, I admit it, the living systems are often a drag.

It’s yet another skill, of course, and perhaps the one that most needs learning and practicing: to persevere in a difficult thing and to not give in to comfort and convenience just because we can buy it, or just because society still supplies it. It’s a skill to not turn a blind eye to the real costs of that comfort and convenience and to live a principled life, now and here.

The front of the house has been on our list for quite a while (cf. this blog post), and now we’re finally doing something about it. The little balcony up front
1) was too small, a mere 2 1/2 feet deep,
2) was darn ugly with cemented red brick and a cement rim,
3) had a flagstone floor that was wicked slippery when wet,
4) and most importantly, badly installed: its floor sloped toward the house. Whenever it flash rained and the gutter above it overflowed, the water went into the basement.

We hired a local contractor (he lives around the corner from us) and his crew came to demolish the old thing. This revealed this:

DSCF3367

After decades of water seeping through, the sill was bound to be rotten. Another contractor is coming to take care of this.

This is what the place looks like now, without the balcony:

DSCF3362_500

You can see the outline of the planned new patio. The idea was to have the new patio (15′ x 15′) at the same height as the living room floor, so that when you stand in front of the picture window looking out, the eye finds continuity and it would open up the living room. However, the slope up front is steeper and starts closer to the house than the picture may show, and it would take a lot more work, material and money to lift the patio to that height. Also, now we are warned against placing a stone structure against a wooden house,

So we opted for lowering the height of the patio to beneath the sill, so it rests against the cement foundation, which is sound. (The whole thing will of course also be graded away from said house).

The patio itself will consist of two steps of brownstone risers (13″ deep, 9″ high) all around, and the same material in front of the door, where there will be a third step. The inside surface will be yellow/light brown peastone. Like so:

patio5

Lastly, at the front of the patio there will be a large trellis for grapes and other climbers. Eventually they will shade the living room in Summer. It will be offset enough so that the masses of snow sliding off the PV panels on the roof won’t crush it and the plants on it.

We’re hoping the whole thing – patio installation and woodwork on sill – will be done before cold weather and snow come along. I’m looking forward to a Winter of designing the new plantings and the patio furniture we want to build.

Aside from eating the lunch and dinner I prepared, I was busy in the kitchen for eleven hours (11 am to 10 pm) and it was wonderful. I had a lot of accumulated CSA produce to use up, and I’d bought a lot at the last Farmers Market in town. And then there were eggs. The result of a day of peeling, slicing, chopping, frying, boiling, steaming, stirring, sterilizing and canning with Arvo Part’s Fratres (*) on repeat:

huge stack of crepes, had with homemade peach butter and yogurt.

DSCF3370

20 trays of apples in dehydrator

DSCF3375

most time consuming of all: 24 8oz jars of applesauce (my friend A and I bought 120 libs of apples, each, at a local orchard)

DSCF3376

vat of sauerkraut (white cabbage from CSA)

DSCF3383

large quart of colorful kimchi (all kinds of radishes and beets from CSA)

DSCF3387

for dinner: big omelet with eggs (our hens), kale (CSA) and garlic (friend’s), huge salad of steamed beets (CSA), slightly boiled sweet corn (Farmers’ Market), fried garlic and kale and yellow beans (CSA), with a glass of wine (not local).

DSCF3388

(*) Maybe Part’s haunting music was the reason why everyone stayed away?