I’ll just come right out and say it: of all the garden work, I love turning and sifting compost most!

Yesterday was Amie’s first extended day at Kindergarten and the weather was glorious to boot. That left me with five (5) whole hours in the garden. I filled milk bottles with rain water as biomass for the hoop house and, while placing them, noticed that the plants were looking a bit glum. Time for the last compost dressing of the season, and then a good soak.

I eyed the 3 compost bins in the back of the garden, where I dump garden waste and coffee grounds from Starbucks. They’re 3 x 3 x 3 each, 2 of them were 3/4 full, 1 was still empty. Opening up the front of the first bin (we built the composter that way), this spilled out:

… a lot of good, finished compost from the center of the pile.

I shoveled most of this soft, small stuff through my mesh, over into the third, empty bin, shoving the leftover bulky stuff into the middle bin.

When bin 1 was empty,  I moved most of the bulky stuff now in bin 2 into bin 1, and sifted the rest of bin 2 into bin 3. The bulky stuff ended up in bin 1. It was an elaborate and no doubt illogical process but I ended up with bin 3 full of finished compost, bin 1 half full of unfinished stuff. As you can see in the first picture, all but the centers of the heaps had become too dry, so I made sure to saturate the new unfinished bin with rain water. After this good turning and soaking I hope it will finish in a week or two, at which point I’ll sift it again.

Bin 3 now held 2 wheel barrow loads of fragrant, fluffy compost. 1 load has already been distributed among the tomato, pepper and eggplants, the herbs, carrots and peas. I put 2 handfuls around the base of each plant, then water it in (with rainwater, of course).

I covered bin 3, so yesterday night’s rain won’t leach the compost too much. One Straw, by the way, has an interesting post on soaking up the leached nutrients with biochar. Following his advice on my own much smaller scale, I put whatever leftovers of charcoal at the bottom of the bin.

Today (weather and soil humidity permitting) I’ll work the other load into the empty beds so they’ll be ready for the Fall and Winter seedlings. Time to get out the hoops, the row cover and the plastic. And the gardening books.

It may still, officially, be Summer, but the day I put on my woolen socks is, to me, the first day of Fall. That was yesterday.

Last night the temperature dropped to 47 F and my mind races to what we need to get done before the frosts come. Give our hoop house a “spine” (a cross beam) as well as doors. Turn the compost and a week later distribute the finished soil on the beds that will be in action over the Winter. Then transplant the Fall and Winter seedlings into those beds and cover with small hoops and, when the tomato and pepper plants are spent, move the hoop house over the 4 chosen winter beds.

Stock the bird feeders {DONE}. Buy new straw and burlap for wrapping up the bushes.

Fall also means, each year, a cold or flu. Amie was the first to get it and to recover (she literally burned it out with a 102 F fever). But she seems to have picked up something new. She is pretty sad about it, because today is the second day of Kindergarten and she so intensely enjoyed the first day.

Most aptly, my side of the big bed – Amie wants me near and anyway it’s Sunday – is covered with books on herbal medicine. I subscribed to HerbMentor.com and it has got me going. So far I’ve studied, on paper, Dandelion, Licorice, Elder. I’m making a first pass through these herbs that we might need most often in the next few months, the cold, flu and immunity herbs. Then I’ll purchase them from a herbal supply store, because I’m not growing them yet, and don’t yet have the local and herbal knowledge to wildcraft them.

The plants in their wisdom also know that Fall is coming. They are redirecting their energies and nutrients to their roots and seeds, the parts of them that have the most chance of surviving the Winter. I am waiting for a nice day to harvest the flower heads of what I do have growing – chamomile, feverfew, calendula. Then I’ll use my new Excalibur dehydrator, which arrived a week ago, to dry them. And at the Farmer’s Market this Wednesday I will buy lots of local apples, to dry as well. We still have apple sauce that I canned last year: it’s just not that popular in our house.

Tricolor pepper harvest

Fat buds and flowers on my two Sochi tea plants.

Mushrooms in my schroom bed, but are they the anticipated King Stropheria?


I did a quick inspection of the hive today and found an amply supply of honey, nectar, and brood in all stages of development. There were lots of newly hatched worker bees – pale, small, their wings still stuck together. A couple of hours  later I witnessed a flurry of orientation flights in front of the hive.

My only concern is that the broodnest is divided between the two boxes. Over Winter, bees eat their way up, (preferably) starting out in the bottom box and ending, by early Spring, in the top one.  I asked for advise on the forum of my beekeeper’s club and will do some research. I think the bees (should) know what they’re doing, and am averse to interfering.

While gathering kindling in the woods behind the house my mind turns to the future. There is enough wood that is down and dead to heat a household or two, perhaps, but not more. It could sustain many more households in kindling, but again we’re not talking of  the feudal forests that could trip up Hansel and Gretel, or the massive forests of a bygone America. This is a narrow woodlot – belonging to the State – in a suburb of Massachusetts.

Once in a while we meet neighbors jogging, or walking their dogs, and we make light of our “cargo”. They  move on – invariably they’re faster than we are – and I wonder if our exchange will stay as friendly, as lighthearted, as the times change. Will we encounter more people gathering “free” wood? Will there be axes? Or worse? Will we discuss our rights to gather? Or will we just take?

I want to gather kindling every day as the weather allows. It’s good physical exercise and it stimulates Amie’s imagination – not always verbalized for me to partake of. It kindles my thoughts as well, summoning a dark picture that is fuzzed, though, at the edges, by the knowledge of how easily these smooth, dead sticks will catch fire in our wood stove, come the cold days.

Again I used the sticky board to count the mites in my hive. The last time I did this was in June, and back then, after the requisite 3 days of waiting I counted 30 mites.

This time I found 68. The threshold – the point at which you need to consider treatment – is a “mite fall” (the amount of mites that fall onto the sticky board as the bees grooms themselves) of 40-50 a day. So we’re still good. I don’t think I’ll do a treatment for varroa destructor. Their populations dwindle in the Fall and throughout Winter anyway. First of all, the queen stops laying eggs and that’s where the mites prefer to hang out, in the capped cells of brood where they can suck to their delight. Secondly, mites can’t stand the cold.

The brood population and the thermoregulation of the nest are related. The queen stops laying eggs in the Fall, and during the broodless period a colony will maintain a surface temperature of around 10 degrees C, just a few degrees above the honeybee’s chill-coma threshold, and 18 degrees C at the core. They only start warming up around the winter solstice, to around 34 C, when the queen starts laying eggs again. (*)

But then there’s the tracheal mite to consider. This sucker usually thrives throughout winter. I’ll have to do some research.

(*) I am reading Honeybee Ecology, by Thomas Seeley, a wonderful book that I most heartily recommend. It’s an academic (but) highly readable book. It’s not about practical beekeeping  but the information it provides makes the practice of beekeeping much more transparent.

Amie is getting very excited about entering Kindergarten – she has an orientation on the 7th and school starts (only!) on the 10th. But she is also getting a little apprehensive. She remembers how she was comforted by a little seal doll during her first days at her preschool, and requested a new doll that  is small enough to take to school in her gigantic backpack. Thhaam obliged.

Some conversation during the project.

A: What’s that?

T: The navel.

A: The nipple?

T: No, not nipple. Navel. Belly-button.

A: And what is this?

T: Those are the buttocks.

A (smiling crazily): Yuck! Buttocks!

Oops: the hair was put on backwards!

T: Thank goodness you have two grandmothers who like stitching.

A: Oma likes stitching too?

T: Yes, she’s very good at stitching.

A: So if you die, then I’ll still have Oma… But what if you die at the same time, what will I do then?

Me: By then you’ll be able to stitch it yourself – for lack of a better answer.

Amie’s model for the face

T: She has a bit of a bald spot. Is that okay?

A: Yes, that’s what makes her so beautiful!

Meet Anya, the school doll.

A: Thhaam, this is the most beautifullest doll ever made!

Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

This month our household was even more in flux than in July (see this entry for all the coming and goings). In August we averaged 6 people. Last year’s averages (calculated here) are mentioned as a baseline. I use this calculator. Don’t ask me how it works, all I know is it keeps me honest.

Gasoline. The biggest expenditure here is that we drove from Boston to Cape Cod with two  cars, packed to the brim with people and dogs.  DH had to drive into work because the shuttle doesn’t go in Summer. And with so many people around it was tough to consolidate drives, like I usually do, and our sundry crises also necessitated more driving than we usually do. So though I am dividing by 6, our mileage was still quite high.

12.625 gallons per person (pp) in 2 carsi

31 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 24.8%)

Electricity. Even though we had more people in the house, we used less electricity than last month (489 KWh).  The calculator reckons per household, not per person.

417 KWH (all wind).

12 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s early average: 18.2%)

Heating Oil and Warm Water. It’s just our warm water. As there were more of us – more showers – it is up a bit, because this is calculated for the entire household, not per person.

11.05 gallons of oil.

18 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 77%)

Trash. After recycling and composting this usually comes down to mainly food wrappers.We had a huge potluck but used compostable plates and bowls (let’s see if they really do decompose in my hot pile!).

10 lbs. per person

7% of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 7.3%)

Water. It was pretty dry all month and we had to resort to the tap for a couple of waterings.  At the end of the month we had four days of incessant rain, so the garden and barrels were topped off.

647 gallons of water pp.

22 % of the US National Average

(Last year’s yearly average: 16.5%)