This has been some bee season already. Last year I was still mourning the imminent death of my colony (though it didn’t happen). This season we are, according to a local hive inspector, already in the month of May.

Yesterday, finding it suddenly quite warm and seeing all the bees hanging out “on the porch” (the landing board – a good indication that it’s a comfortable temperature for them for a hive opening), I decided to have a quick peek at how they’re doing with the second slab of sugar fondant. I found that the bees had drawn out comb all over in the empty space created by the spacer rim (for the sugar slab) and that they were filling it with honey! Already!

So I decided to add on a honey super. Why not? Maybe they’ll finally draw them out and fill them this year.
This entailed clearing away all that extra comb, of course, honey included (yum!) and the bees pretty much let me, which tells me they’re not stressed at all. After robbing the wax, I put the super on top, then the spacer rim with the sugar, shook all the bees still on the stolen comb off into the hive, and closed up.
When I was taking the comb out of the container I found one lone bee. She was so delicate,  so strange. Look at that sleekness, that stinger. I also I took a video of her.
Then I sent this to my entomologist friend and bee-sleep specialist, Barrett Klein. He almost immediately put me straight: “That not a honey bee, that’s a leafcutter bee!”
A closer look at the comb revealed eggs.

Some cells (not pictured here)  have two, even three eggs in them, which might be an indication of a laying worker or a failing queen – good queens lay eggs methodically, one per cell. But last year in the beginning I also observed this, and then I found the queen anyway and all turned out to be fine, so I’m not worried. What did worry me was the fact that the eggs were in comb up in the spacer rim on top of the two nest boxes, so the colony is expanding its nest upwards.  I don’t want grubs in my honey supers, so I’ll have to go in again and reverse the next boxes. Possibly there is no nest in the bottom box.
Also, FYI:

This for the bees. I’m going to make my own hive bodies (boxes, bottom board, inner and outer covers). I’ll buy the frames and foundation.

This for the water catchment, on Craiglist, for $100. Just need to borrow someone’s truck to pick up two of them.

But the majority of fun is being had with this – with Google Sketchup. The footprint is 8’x6′ for four chickens. The plank comes off the floor because I plan to do Deep Litter Bedding and honestly I couldn’t make it come down in the program.



The last couple of days I’ve been in the garden. Mostly I’ve been cleaning up. I do most of my Fall cleanup in Spring, so that the fallen leaves can replenish and blanket the soil during Winter.  Soon I’ll put the leaf shredder to the humongous leaf piles.  That shredded stuff is great for the compost bins.

Speaking of which, I also dug out an entire bin (4x4x4′) of wonderful compost, which I spread around the garden. I also dug out a compost pile more or less the same size, which unfortunately has many weed seeds in it (going by how “green” it was last year!). That stuff I put on the more depleted beds, adding a thick layer of rotted cardboard on top and then a layer of straw as mulch. I’ll transplant into these beds straight through the straw and cardboard. I moved the slimy, anaerobic  Winter “compost” out of the Earth machines into the open bins – no unwanted critter will touch that stuff – turning it and mixing it with shredded leaves. The compost situation is looking good, though not optimal. I need more, and I’ve a couple of plans on the drawing board to make that happen…

All the plants that are in the ground – garlic, perennials, herbs, berry bushes, cherry, fig and paw paw trees received a good dose of compost: I pull away the straw, spread the goodies, then tuck the straw back around. Leaving the compost uncovered would be a waste, because the sun destroys the nutrients, and the worms won’t come up into it because they’ll dry out if it’s sunny or windy, or get pelted if it’s rainy.

Mainly, as I potter around the garden, I plan. If you recall, my garden can be divided in parts: 1. veg garden (all veg), 2. front (on top of hill, mostly herbs at the moment), 3. slope (strawberries), 4. the “pit” (this was and is still the plan), 5. the backyard, 6. the “utilitarian area” (“the area” for short). The idea over the Winter was to weed the pit and re-terrace the slope, remediate the soil with lots of compost and sheet mulch, then plant perennials  into it.  We also planned to re-terrace the front and to add two huge vegetable/herb/perennial beds and dwarf fruit trees. I’ve slowly backed away from that plan, and it has to do with the weather and animals.

“Heat Dome” on 8 a.m. March 22 (c) Wright Weather-top, University of Washington

We’re going through a “heat wave” here, not just some seriously messed up weather, but seriously messed up climate.

Everyone’s happy, of course.  So happy. They love this heat wave. My neighbors comment that I too must be happy as a clam, because they know I love gardening and see me out there, getting lots done.

In reality I am thoroughly shaken and freaked out, thinking what if we have this heat wave in Summer? 

So I decided we should consolidate what we have first:

  1. improve the compost situation, seriously improve on our soil building.
  2. optimize the hoop house.
  3. enrich the vegetable beds and get the food production up to snuff.
  4. strengthen the perennials, the medicinals and berries especially.
  5. put irrigation in, because I don’t want to kill myself lugging water buckets in the heat.
  6. and, IMPORTANT, adding two 275 gallon toters to our rain water catchment system, bringing our rain water capacity up to 900 gallons.

Also, strengthen the animal side of our operation:

  1. I ordered two more packages (colonies) of bees (pickup on April 16).
  2. I’m all set to order chicks (pickup on April 17).
  3. I’m also going to start breeding worms for real in the paths in my vegetable  garden.
Stay tuned!




The other night Amie didn’t want me to turn off the light in her room. She usually has no problem falling asleep without it, so I asked why.

– Because I don’t feel secure.

She used that word, “secure.” I asked what makes her feel insecure.

– The evil spirits.

– Evil spirits?

– Yes, the evil spirits that God sends when he is angry with someone.

Okay, it took me a few seconds to get my bearings.

– Why would God be angry with you?

– No one knows, Mama! No one knows the reasons God has!

I asked where she got this idea and she said an equally six-year-old friend of hers had assured her of this.  I said that I think that if there is a God, then that God has good reasons for everything he does, and that part of a reason being a good reason is that it is clear why it’s the reason. And even if she feels that she has done something very horrible that a God would feel needs punishing, then, anyway, I doubt that God sends evil spirits at all.

She assured me she hadn’t done anything really horrible. Still, she wanted the light on.

We are Universalist Unitarians. Or at least I am, and Amie goes to our Sunday School, but she is six so she’s not anything yet, and DH is an agnost. I understand she has some concept of God because we’ve talked about him/her/it before, she hears about God in Sunday School and from friends. That’s just fine. But this business of seemingly arbitrary or unfathomable punishment upset me a lot, or was it that she thought it was plausible? When DH and I make or enforce a rule, we always discuss with her the reasons for the rule. We’re big on rationality and reasonableness. I understand that we’re not the only influences in her life but this one, let me tell you, threw me for a loop alright!

Insight of the day:

In this work you have to stay positive. Nothing is to be gained from becoming downhearted and negative. Nothing, not even your own personal satisfaction. And notice that I said “positive”. Not “hopeful”: that’s another thing.

More on this later!

The Transition Wayland BEElieve group met yesterday in my apiary, aka the “bee yard”, that is, in the close vicinity of my one hive (soon to be three!), for the first hive opening of the year. This is a cross post with the one I posted on the Transition Wayland blog, called “Wayland Voices“.


“See how sweet they are?”

The balmy weather on Wednesday, March 8, allowed me to open my hive for six of the folks in the BEElieve group who are thinking of getting started with bees themselves. A close up sneak peek of a colony is always a good way to get the feel for what you’re looking at. (All photos by Margie Lee)

This was the first time I opened the hive since November last year, and usually the bees are a bit defensive at this point, because they’re also old bees.  In Summer a worker’s lifespan is between 15 and 38 days. Because there is no brood-rearing in Winter (bees don’t hibernate, but they do cluster, which takes all their energy and makes them immobile), so because there is no quick turn-around of generations, the workers that go into Winter with their queen live to be around 140 days. Isn’t that amazing! These bees are stressed, to say the least, due to their age, the difficult time during which they’ve kept alive, because they may be low on honey stores, and because the life of the colony depends on them. Brood rearing has started (if all went well) around the Winter Solstice, and it will be up to these veterans to bring that first new generation into the world.

But this Winter was not of course, your average Winter, and when I opened the box I found a large population (10.000 – 15.000 bees?), all healthy-looking, and they were all quite docile. Also, no sign of deformed wings or mites – a very different scenario from last year!
I was itching to break out some more frames, even to break off the top box to see how many bees were really in there, where the nest is located and especially to check whether the queen is laying well. My queen is now going into her third year and it might be time to replace her. But no… I kept it short and simple because the temperature was just around their comfort level (57 F). Best not to chill these bees! (Or freak out the beginning beekeepers!)
everyone came dressed in white. It was only the beekeeper who didn’t follow the rule book!
I opened the hive, pulled out one frame on the side to show everyone the comb, and gave the bees the sugar fondant with Honey-Bee-Healthy in it to tidy them over in case they need it.
I think everyone got some sense of the bees, and I thank the bees for being so tolerant of us. We meet again this evening to discuss the bees, equipment, costs and suppliers for Getting Started.


I did it: I fired up up the seedling bank, lights, heat mat, timer, fan, mouse traps, and all! And everything still works.

I discovered this nifty When To Start What “calculator” from Johnny’s Seeds. I’m behind, of course: should have started three weeks ago. It doesn’t matter for lettuce and kale and the like, because those I sow in succession anyway, so I just missed the first batch. It does matter for leeks and onions, which need  the entire season to mature (ca. 110 days). Also late, but to a lesser extent, with the celery and parsley.

  1. Onions: Crystal Wax Mini, Red Marble, NY Early , Rossa di Milano
  2. Leek: Lincoln, King Sieg, King Richard
  3. Celery: Safir, Tango
That filled up the heat mat real quick! Unheated are:
  1. Chard: Fordhook Giant, Bright Lights
  2. Lettuce: Black-Seeded Simpson, Tango, Rouge d’Hiver
  3. Mache: Verte de Cambrai, Erba Stella
  4. Claytonia
  5. Kale: Winterbor
  6. Spinach: Space

I used only coir (coconut fiber). Let’s see how that goes.

One of my most favorite projects with Transition Wayland is the BEElieve group. We sent out calls for beekeepers and bee enthusiasts in Wayland at the beginning of the year on our website and in the local media. Within two months, we had twenty people on the email list. We held our first meeting last month and twelve people showed up. The event made the front page of the Wayland Town Crier and of the Wayland Patch – I do love local media: they know what really constitutes front page news(*)!

In our next meeting, next week, we’ll cover Getting Started with Bees. Just in time too, because packages of bees are in ever higher demand and the local suppliers (who get them from Georgia, usually) run out earlier and earlier each year, so orders need to be placed very soon or you miss the boat.

I’ll bet that this Spring, Wayland will host at least ten more hives!

One of the way we beekeepers will support the beginners, especially those who are intimidated or have not made their minds up yet, is by inviting them to a hive opening. In anticipation of warm weather, I made some sugar fondant with some Honey Bee Healthy, and I’ll be opening the hive to assess and feed the colony either on Wednesday, when it’s supposed to go up to 55F, or on Thursday, when 60F is forecast.

Let’s hope the bees are not too defensive – not everyone has their bee suit yet!

I also like this insect hotel (thanks Root Simple!) and want to build one myself in Spring:

This was the winner of the Beyond the Hive competition in 2010 in London: Arup Associates’ Insect Hotel

click on the link for more ideas.

(The bee and flower on the logo was drawn by Amie. She got that proboscis just right!)

(*) And I say that without sarcasm!

Forty months of Riot! I love it, it puts real meat on the numbers. This is the Riot for the month of February 2012 for the three of us. My summary of our first three years is here. Edson fixed the calculator: all go tither to crunch those numbers!

Gasoline.  Calculated per person. Our investigation of transport alternatives for at least one of our cars has bumped up against budget. Prius or Volt are out of the question. We like the GEMS, but they’re around $10,000 for a 4-seater, so we’re out of luck again. Then there are some neat solar car kits, like this one ($6,500, batteries not included), but they are at most 3-season cars. Both the GEMS and the solar cars are low speed vehicles, only for roads under 35 mph., and their batteries don’t do well in cold weather. So, if we’re going to use them 3-season anyway, how about a “bakfiets” with an electric assist? I’d charge my assist with the solar panels anyway, making it in effect a solar bike…  They’re kind of pricey too… Still researching!

But, in the meantime, last month we used

8.9 gallons per person

21.7% of the US National Average

Electricity. This is reckoned per household, not per person. Our solar harvest hit the point again where it covered all our electricity consumption. According to our solar meter, we produced 2246 kWh since the system was turned on, and 430 kWh in February (compared to 176 kWh in grey December and 237kWh in January).  (You can follow our solar harvest live here, but something is going on with the wiring, which makes the reporting spotty). It doesn’t look like we consumed all of it, but again the NSTAR bill is not clear on how much we overproduced. So in February we consumed at most:

430 kwH

23.8% of the US National Average

Heating Oil and Warm Water. This too is calculated for the entire household, not per person. We did badly again this month. We’ve been ill so haven’t restocked the firewood on the porch, and we also upped the thermostat (from 59 to 63F) to feel more comfortable. It was all too darn convenient!

40.4  gallons of oil

65.4% of the US National Average

Ouch, again!

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

Water. This is calculated per person. We used up more water this month. We had guests for five days which meant more showers and toilet flushing. I also think last month’s low number here might have been a recording mistake, but it all evens out.

763 gallons pp.

25.4% of the US National Average