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:

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:


(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:


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.


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


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.



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



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…



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:

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.



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!!





He really captured my kitchen in this one:

And lastly, he is the only photographer who managed to penetrate the leaf cover and take a shot of the swarm way up high:



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)


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.


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.


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


… in the rain forest of Panama!


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

Three posts in a day! I couldn’t resist posting also these pictures. Chickens are so good to have! They provide no end of entertainment. Unfortunately we have one mature hen who is injured somehow. She will not stand on one leg. I ruled out bumble foot and (thank goodness) Marek’s. None of the bones are broken, as far as I can tell. She may just have strained a muscle. In any case, she was already at the bottom of the pecking order and the moment she started hopping around on one foot, the other hens went after her. Luckily Amie and I were in the chicken yard. We saw two hens hold her down, grinding her head into the dust with a claw, scratching and pecking out her feathers. I think they would have killed her. I ran in and rescued her and we’ve been keeping her separate so she may hopefully recuperate.

But here are some happier chicken times. Amie hypnotizing Lucy, the 9 week old chick (pullet now?):


Here’s a little video, with commentary:

Sweet, rubbery feet:



When we let the chicks leave their mini coop to scratch and play in the chicken yard, we lock the adult hens in their run. They’re quite outraged about it:

"Can you believe it! They're letting those chicks eat our mint!"
“Can you believe it! They’re letting those chicks eat our mint!”


But hey, the hens get enough time free ranging in the yard. When we’re home, we let them out every day, all day, since we don’t need to stay with them – the chicks would get scooped up by the hawk in no time. They love to dust bathe, reducing themselves to discombobulated piles of feathers in the dust:


Can you even recognize them as chickens?


So, for those more chicken inclined, here’s a video:

On the Summer Solstice we didn’t just demolish our Earth Oven, we did a lot more work.

I plugged the last holes (I hope) in the rabbit proof fence around the veg garden. We swept and tidied the backyard and patio.


Amie and I planted the flowers we got from the garden center. A couple of pots of flowers is my only concession, each year, to annuals that are (gasp) not edible.


DH also gave the kiwi a haircut. I like it wild, but he likes it more manicured. It doesn’t matter: in a week it will look all wild again. Oh, and those kiwi fruits I hoped were developing? They all fell off, possibly jettisoned by the vine because they were not pollinated.