Yesterday we built the rocket stove extension to our earth oven. The idea is to keep on pumping in heat after the fire in the oven has burned down to coals and you rake it aside to start cooking, and also to have more control over the temperature.

For the bottom part we just did what the Pragmatic Stoic did. Our only adjustment was an old grate that we had lying around instead of flashing.

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Setup is gloriously fast: not counting our “Home Depot date,” where we had fun putting the chimney puzzle together, it took us fifteen minutes. And it was relatively cheap: cinder blocks go for $1.50 a piece, and all the chimney pieces came to about $30.

The cinder block part of the stove involves an open block, which they didn’t have at the Depot. So DH showed off his karate chop:

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What do you think about that!

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The top of the chimney has an inbuilt flue, which allows us to control the draft, and also to vent the first ashy smoke so it doesn’t go into the earth oven. It only takes a minute or so, though, to start burning really clean.

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Once we’ve played around with it and see that it really does the job, we’ll include it in the third, decorative envelope of the oven. This will make the stove tighter as well as insulate it, giving it more oomph.

Then I lit the fire – I’m the fire starter and keeper in the family. It only takes sticks, burns hot, clean and fast, and unlike the earth oven fire, which uses larger pieces of wood, it needs to be fed constantly.
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We played with the draft, opening and closing the flue, putting the lid on the chimney. While getting the hang of it the heat did some more drying out of the earth oven, which is still pretty wet. For that reason, we also lit a a fire in the oven. The difference between the blast-off rocket stove fire and the ponderous Jabba earth oven is amazing.

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This short fire brought the top inside wall temp up to 800 F. There was a marked difference between the south side, which is much drier, and the north side wall, which is still visibly wet. Anyway, a lot more drying is needed, and tomorrow we’ll make another fire. We have pizza materials on hand.

Amie during all this time had fun with her aunt, who was visiting. They harvested the abundant cherry tomatoes.

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They also lazed in the hammock. Look at those toes!

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Quickly.

Made 25 pints of blueberry jam from Farmers Market berries and another batch from 5 quarts of berries Amie and I picked at a very locally IPM place with friends one thunderstormy afternoon. We came out of the field drenched but happy and surprised we had been picking for three hours. Our tribe will be co-purchasing and canning peaches again.

Blanched and froze 4 lbs of green beans, half of these from our garden, half donated by a friend whose community garden plots are going wild. We’ve been sharing a lot of produce, one garden producing more of this than the other.

Put together two 3-gallon carboys of sweet mead with the winterkill honey, which I pasteurized. They’re bubbling away in the basement and should be done in few weeks – but that won’t stop me from going down there and thieving some for a taste.

We’ve been consistently harvesting onions, green beans, cherry tomatoes (the bigger ones are almost there), kale, chard, squash, zucchini, cucumber and tons of herbs from the garden. That plus our farm share is more than sufficient for our needs, and when I walk into the supermarket nowadays I skip the produce section altogether. I only (and rarely) mushrooms, but then I just spotted an enormous chicken-of-the-woods in the neighborhood, beckoning. Come to think of it, all I buy at the supermarket is the very occasional fish or meat and butter, and predominantly milk.

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With our town’s Green Team had a booth at the Farmers Market yesterday. We displayed all the harvests from the school gardens – all of which went to the Food Pantry this morning – photos of our school composting systems, and talked to people. We also sold some of my Spring honey as a fundraiser, as well as purslane harvested (weeded) from all our gardens. We ended up giving lots of it away and having lots left over too. No worries: I brought it home and made it into potato-purslane soup, most of it for freezing. Yum!

The chickens have been consistent layers and we’re looking forward to the pullets starting to lay (in September or thereabouts)m at which point our bartering power will increase significantly. The two flocks are “together” – well, in the same shared space, namely the chicken yard – during the day, but at night they still retire to their own coops.

Lastly, how lovely, really, to get books delivered that you had forgotten you’d ordered. A big batch for me today: Pioneer Women by Stratton, Pioneer Women by Peavy and Smith, The Klamath Knot by Wallace, The Way to Rainy Mountain and In the Bear’s House, both by Momaday.

We demolished the Earth Oven because the inner earth layer was dropping too much dust and too many chunks into the food – we dubbed that “mushroom and mineral pizza”. There wasn’t enough clay in the mixture: too much sand. We saved and kept separate the two layers, bought 50 lbs moist potter’s clay and on a warm day, experimented with slip (clay and water), “clump” (slip and the earth mix from the inner dome we had saved), and builders sand. The clay/slip really made a difference. All our bricks held up better than the best brick the first time around. Choosing the optimal combination of clay (you don’t want too much of this as it shrinks), earth (which we didn’t have a lot of) and sand, we set to work.

Making the new mix for the inner layer was a tough job, since it involved getting the ingredients to mix really well, and one was very dry, one very wet, the other very gritty. My friends Andrea and R came over to help. A helped DH build the new sand dome, and R and I got our hands and feet dirty, mixing the clump.

Another day, DH and I built the first dome, the thermal mass:

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Because our sand was wet, it added too much moisture and the clay got lazy and fat and started sweating and bulging. We call this the “Jabba Effect,” to wit:

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(I was playing with an image of Princess Leia as well, but it was just too painful. But here’s a picture of DH being eaten by Jabba:

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We weren’t too bummed about the Jabba Effect: it would settle eventually. Today we built the next, insulating layer and chimney. Amie and I had fun doing a mud dance.

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DH added some clay+sand mix to the chimney, as it will be right above the food (an experiment):

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We also left a hole in the back, for where we plan to hook up the rocket stove. Now there’s a part of the project we still need to think about.

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Looks like we’ll soon be back in business. After this has dried out a little, we’ll light our first fire.

OVER FIVE YEARS OF RIOT!

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This is the Riot for Abundance for June-July 2104 for the three of us (two adults, one eight-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,

15.6 gallons pp. per month

38% of the US National Average

Electricity. This is reckoned per household, not per person. We cook on an electric stove. According to our solar meter, we produced 14979 kWh since the system was turned on in August 2011 and 1230 kWh over the last two months (you can follow our solar harvest live here). Since we made enough electricity so as not to have to buy electricity from Nstar, and made credit too – but it’s hard to tell how much – I can say for sure that we’ve used definitely no more than:

615 kWh per month

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.

 0 gallons of oil / month

0% of the US National Average

Water. This is calculated per person. We continue doing well in this category, and I don’t know how, which means it has just become a habit to be water-frugal, I hope.

418 gallons pp. per month

13.9% of the US National Average

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 

We just had an almighty deluge come down like it was going to wash us all off the face of the planet. Aside from some flooding in the basement and porch, a wet husband and some wet chickens, all is well down here. Not so for the bees in the exposed nest up high in the tree. What were they thinking?! They’re a sodden mess, and half the population must have been washed away. Incredibly, the wax comb – six “frames” of it by now – looks intact, but I doubt the contents (brood, honey) did so well…

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My strong hive, H6, swarmed, possibly for a second time, on 7/14. Here’s one of of my friend Doug’s pictures of the swarm:
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They hung out on a tree about 60 feet up, still on our property, for days. Then I thought they were gone, and I stopped checking on them. My neighbor, however, has a much better vantage point from his property. Yesterday evening he alerted me that they’re still there, and making a nest.

No way, I said. Out in the open, in the place they swarmed to? Usually they’ll hang out outside while the scouts find a suitable new place, then they’ll come to a unanimous decision about what is the best place – which is what honeybee swarms do, following what bee-guru Thomas Seeley calls a true democratic process. Then they’ll fly off there and start filling what is usually a cavity in a tree or wall with comb, honey, brood, and live and hopefully prosper.

In this case, I guess, the scouts found nothing suitable, or they couldn’t come to that unanimous decision, and settled with the place they had swarmed to: 60 feet high on a tree, exposed to sun, wind, rain and, in a few months, frost. Their changes of surviving the winter are near to zero. But that’s what they did.

Waiting for the wind to whip some of the intervening branches out of my line of sight, I took these images. As you can see, they’ve already built three honeycombs and it is dripping with honey.

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One of the friends coming to help with the honey extraction yesterday shot some great pictures. Here they are, for your viewing pleasure! Thank you, Doug!!

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He really captured my kitchen in this one:
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And lastly, he is the only photographer who managed to penetrate the leaf cover and take a shot of the swarm way up high:

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It’s been a roller coaster with my two hives. Good thing I expect that now!

They are both first-year packages, installed end of April. One has been so-so, with a queen laying very little in a spotty pattern, then nothing at all. When I couldn’t find her, I put in a frame of eggs from my other hive. Going by the open queen cells, it looked like they may have hatched a queen from those, but I couldn’t fin her or eggs (as yet). It was hot when I went in, and the bees got quite upset, so I had to close up. That hive hasn’t been strong enough to start on a super. A clear sign of that came when I put a super on with just extracted frames dripping with the honey: they cleaned it out and moved the drippings into the brood nest – which is also a nice service, thank you!

The other hive, well! Over a month ago I put a friend’s box with dripping frames on it and they started filling it up. So I pulled that and put on my own super and they filled that up in a week. I should have know and aggressively split them, but by the time we came back from Panama, it was clear they had swarmed. Then, yesterday, they swarmed again! That swarm is hanging out in the notch of a tree about 30 feet up, in the middle of a dense copse too. We’d need a crane to get those. What irony, especially since we’ve been craving swarms for the Haven project. But what excitement watching them swarm, with rooting by Amie and me for them to land on a nice, low branch. No dice. I put a swarm trap on my neighbor’s property, a small chance but the best I can do.

Today I went in to see if there is still a queen or any queen cells left in that hive. Usually, an afterswarm leaves with the new virgin queen or several virgin queens and can leave the origin queenless. I knew which frame had all the queen cells before and pulled just that one. There they were, three of them still intact. There is no more capped brood, so I hope the bees still left will hold out till the new queen ecloses, flies out to mate, returns, lays eggs and those eggs hatch. Hopefully the new queen will have the best of her mom’s genes, and give me more honey come fall.

Yesterday I pulled the full super off that strong hive – easier to rob when there aren’t 70.000 bees protecting it – and honey extracting being a party, friends came over to help me extract over three gallons of bright Spring honey (I didn’t weigh it, but there were eight full frames which I’d estimate made about 38 pounds)

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Then we extracted the frames from the winter-killed hives. These are frames with half capped honey, crystallized honey, and dead bees, so not honey I would eat, give away or sell. So I will make mead with it.

Lastly, a month or so ago Amie did her first hive inspection with my friend Tom.

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This is one of my favorite times of the year: the first harvests are coming in. For greens, we are eating kale, lettuce, chard and good king Henry, New Zealand spinach, mache, minutina, and celery. All the herbs – parsley, rosemary, sage, etc. are ready. The malabar spinach is almost ready and it’s a lovely climber that is colonizing the trelises that the unfortunate peas never climbed (we had only a pound or so, the bunnies ate the rest). The potatoes – from organic potatoes I bought at the supermarket – are growing like weeds. So are the tomato vines. No ripe tomatoes yet, though.

I’ve also started putting up. Yesterday I made a pile of basil from my garden, our CSA and the Farmers Market and made 8 jars of pesto (to freeze). I assembled rhubarb from the garden with some from the Farmers Market and red currants from a friend’s garden and canned 8 jars of rhubarb-red currant preserves. I’m tasting the white currants in my garden every day to get them when they’re just ripe. There are also grapes growing, lots of them, but those will take longer. If all the little nubbin figs on our one remaining tree make it, we’ll have twenty or so figs.

The chickens are laying four eggs a day. And there are four of them. Toothless, who got injured and started limping, then getting pecked on even more ruthlessly, went for a spa at my friend Katharina’s place while we were away. I didn’t want my intrepid chicken sitters to have to deal with a bloody, or worse, chicken. Toothless has her own little coop there to relax and recover.

Tomorrow I plan to go into my hives and take a full super off the strongest one (which swarmed during the week we were away!). I almost fell over when I lifted it off: full of honey! I’ll add a new super to that one and also one to the less strong hive. Both hives are making new queens.

Speaking of honey. I am enjoying the raspberry melomel I made a little over a year ago. It is mellow and tasty and not too alcoholic.

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But where were we all last week? Hanging out with this crazy bunch…

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… in the rain forest of Panama!

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More about that in some other post. I need to go water the garden, because it’s dry here.