I can’t believe it’s been three months since I calculated our Riot. But here it is, the Riot for the months of March, April and May of 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. Like I reported in February, the search for transport alternatives ended in a search for people-powered motion. First, find lady’s bike at the town’s transfer station (aka, The Dump). Check. Next, have friend come over and fix it: new tubing, new brakes, new to me steering wheel, some readjustments. Check. Now I’d love a cargo trolley and an electric assist.  I’d charge my assist with the solar panels anyway, making it in effect a solar bike…

In the last three months we used on average

11.34 gallons per person

27.6% of the US National Average

Electricity. This is reckoned per household, not per person. According to our solar meter, we produced 3856 kWh since the system was turned on, and 536 kWh on average over these last three months (you can follow our solar harvest live here). But we’ve been real electricity hogs over here! I’ve had the growing lights on in the basement (sometimes all 9 double TL lights plus the heat mat)  all these months, and over the last two months we had a heat lamp (100 Watts) for our chicks. On top of that, Amie has developed a case of fear of the dark, which necessitates her having her reading light on most of the night (her nightlight is not bright enough). So we have had to pay NStar for the extra we consumed.

536 kwH (solar) + 68 KwH (Nstar) = a whopping 604 KwH on average!

31.5% of the US National Average

Heating Oil and Warm Water. This too is calculated for the entire household, not per person.

13.86  gallons of oil

22.5% 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

Water. This is calculated per person.

536 gallons pp.

17.9% of the US National Average

Left to right: Hive 1 (3 years old), Hive 2  and Hive 3 (from packages, this April)

Last week  I had the pleasure of watching our county’s bee inspector, Tom Stefanini, at work inspecting my hives.

In the big (swarmed) hive, which has about 50.000 bees now, he pulled out the thirteenth frame in a row and spotted her within a second: a beautiful new queen, which he said looked mated. No eggs yet, but I’ll check again later this week.  The strong new package is doing well, the second deep already drawn out enough so that I can super it.

Then, as for my weak hive, Tom concurred with my suspicion that the queen that came with the package was no good: bad brood pattern, much less wax building than the other new package hive, which is doing wonderfully.  He found the old queen and noticed how the bees weren’t attending to her: another bad sign. Then he said:

“Is that another queen?”

Sure enough, on the same frame, another queen, almost identical. This one was being attended to. The bees must have concurred with our assessment of the old queen and must have superseded her. But they kept her, and there she was, working side by side with her (mated?) daughter, laying eggs! Tom said this is something you rarely see. I wish we had taken a picture. I checked again yesterday and could no longer find the old queen, but there was lots of brood in all stages, in a good pattern.

So, in short, all three hives are doing well. The two that were in (perceived) trouble – the old swarmed one and the new weak one – took care of themselves without me having to shuffle frames around or kill off queens.

Tom is a fountain of knowledge and he shares it readily as he works. He works without gloves and with nimble fingers steals pollen from the bees carrying it in. They don’t even seem to notice it. He plucks it off them and eats it on the spot, and for some can even tell you which plant it came from.

One of the projects I am working on is an ecological food garden for the new Hannah Williams Playground in my town.

The playground and park were revamped last year and early this year, and the Department Of Public Works set aside a sunny patch of roughly 45′ x 20′  bordered by a more shaded strip of 60′ x 10′  for an educational food garden. I volunteered last year to design it and also to round up the troops to plant the thing.  When word came (last week) that Wayland Beautification generously donated funds for plants, our window opened and it was a short one: planting should happen no later than the end beginning of June.

So though I had researched and planned in my head, I had to rush to the drawing board, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. So far I’ve designed the strip, which will be shade-tolerant bushes like currants (Ribes, golden and red) and elders (Sambucus), with an herbaceous under story of nutrient mining (dynamic accumulator) strawberries and nitrogen-fixing clover.  There will be two fruit trees, one semi-dwarf apricot and one semi-dwarf peach, in guilds with comfrey, licrorice, bulbs, chicory, etc. (more details to follow). I still need to fill in most of the guilds and the sunny spots in between.


Everything in this garden will be edible and perennial. Every niche will be filled, making it a stable system. Every element will fulfill two or more functions and every function will be fulfilled by at least two elements, making it a resilient and low-maintenance system. Besides being a delight for the senses (taste and smell), this garden will open people’s eyes and, hopefully, minds, to what food is, what it means to grow it, and how it can fit in an ecological context.

The possibilities for education are enormous, and I hope there will be some funding for informational plaques, name tags, and garden tours. I have to stop myself from writing treatises on permaculture, ecology, botany, entomology, etc. You see where this is going! First let’s get the garden in, then let’s explain it and praise it in song!

What did you do on Mother’s Day?

I split firewood. A cord and a half it it.

Had some help from DH, of course. And we rented a log splitter. The maul you see there in the picture is just for show. Had we done this the old-fashioned way I’d be writing this from the hospital. It was hard enough as it was, and we went an hour less than we had planned, DH coming down with a cold Amie had brought home.

I do love hard physical work. I was thinking of a friend who is experiencing problems with her heart. I was thinking, what if that was me? I wouldn’t be able to do this.  But then I would of course  simply do other things, like write that book  of reflections I’ve always wanted to write. And learn to play the cello.

It’s just that, at this point in my life and physical state, I can do the log splitting, the garden beds, the lugging around of five-gallon buckets of water, and all that equally good stuff.

The bees (Hive 1), in case you’re wondering, still haven’t swarmed. It’s like waiting past your due date!

After checking on a new beekeeper’s new hive, I rushed home to inspect my own hives.

I found Hive 3 doing well: lots of eggs, and brood in all stages, also lots of caps, and two frames entirely drawn out and capped, two more getting close. The Queen had lots of attendants around her, grooming her. I had been worried about this queen, as I had to release her from her cage myself.

Hive 2 was a different story. My first impression was that the busiest frames were too light. Also, no caps anywhere. A closer look revealed no eggs and no larvae either. Strange, I am sure I saw some of those when I last checked, on April 26, but they seem to have disappeared. The queen wandered seemingly aimlessly, without attendants. I even saw one worker react nastily to her – bad sign. And… no supersedure cells, possibly because none of the available eggs were viable.

Then I opened Hive 1, the three-year-old, strong one. Just the medium super revealed a wealth of mysteries. Weird comb, and queen cells, either supersedure ones or swarm cells. The latter would not surprise me. I’ve been expecting it to swarm for a while now.

So: two plans!

1. Pull a deep frame, with bees, brood, honey, swarm cells and all, from Hive 1 and move it into Hive 2. My bee teacher said the Hive 2 workers should accept this. That way I can save Hive 2, but Hive 1 will still swarm.

2. Find the old queen in Hive 1 (gulp!), move her with the frame she’s on and several more frames of brood and bees into Hive 2. This is called a split. That way I save Hive 2 AND it could just be there Hive 1 is fooled into thinking they’ve already swarmed, thereby forestalling a swarm.

In both cases I kill the failing queen in Hive 2. I read I should keep her body in a jar of alcohol. Apparently, if you soak several queens in alcohol to effectually make a “Queen tincture,” it can serve as a powerful lure for swarm traps.

I like experiment 2 best and am waiting for the first good weather moment to deal with it. It will depend on my finding the old queen, of course. Who knows if  she’s still the one I got three years ago, with the blue dot.

But in case there is still a swarm, I will still set out a deep box with a couple of frames in an open, elevated spot and to bait it with lemon grass oil. Ideally I’d catch the swarm while it’s still balled up in a tree somewhere, waiting for its scouts to find a new nest. But if I can’t, then maybe they’ll choose my box.

I’ve written to my neighbors to keep them apprised and to forestall any alarm at finding a ball of 40.000 bees in their bushes! I’ve received “cools” and “excitings!” back. I have the BEST neighbors! (Beekeepers: keep your neighbors in the loop!)

There were Segway rides

After our “sermons”  on Sunday morning, April 29, we ran across the street to the Town Building (I just loved that, that we could just cross the street and be there). Behind the building lies the grassy “courtyard”, intersected by paths. It was already bustling with people, exhibitors setting up their tables, food stalls setting up shop. There was an organ, the Diamond Jubilee, pumping out great music, and past that, the Red Cross Donation Bus, already busy taking donations of blood. Teenagers were running around looking for the face paint, grownups were untangling power cords for the PA system. The MC was oiling his voice and guitar.

It was the quiet before the storm, before the official opening of Earth Day is Our Day, organized by the Wayland Schools Green Team and Transition Wayland. It was a great success, beyond our wildest dreams, really. There were over 50 exhibitors, and an estimated 400 visitors!

Not that I ever got a good idea of all that, since during the next four hours I was run off my feet keeping everyone happy and organized and the tents from flying off. Next year, someone remind me to schedule a relaxing holiday right after! But I had fun in a different way, seeing all those happy faces, kids’ and adults’  alike, and just seeing so many people there because we had made it happen.

The tables for Transition Wayland and the BEElieve Beekeepers group were well-manned and especially the latter – all decked out with bee equipment and bee products – was very popular. Our State Rep, Tom Conroy, who lives in Wayland, signed up! It was very sunny and I had forgotten my cap, so grabbed one of the props. After that I was a magnet for bee questions.

(Photo by Peg Mallett)

Check this page to see many more pictures of the events, and check back there often because we’ll soon be adding press coverage.  Happy Earth Day, everyone. And now I need a nap!

Sunday April 29 was a big day for me!

In the morning, I and my Transition Wayland colleagues Andrea Case and Wen Stephenson spoke before the First Parish congregation. First Parish, as my fellow speaker Wen Stephenson said, is like the nerve center of Wayland. I call it home because I have been going to services there and teaching Sunday school for almost a year now. The congregation has a Green Sanctuary committee that takes care of one Service a year. This year, it was Transition-themed.  How cool is that! You can read my remarks, as well as those of my colleagues, here. I’ve copied mine below. Enjoy.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
That is my hero, Wendell Berry, who never hesitates to say what is difficult. And to say it so beautifully.
I was asked to explain what Transition is. Now how shall I do that?
I could talk about climate change and its implications, like a 4 meter sea-level rise, a 6 degree centigrade temperature rise, increased droughts and floods and corn that won’t grow. I could also stress that the need for mitigation of climate change is now equaled by the need for adaptation to what is already locked in. Or I could propose solutions, like improving efficiency, sustainability and resilience by relocalizing, as much as we can, our food and energy production and the skills that we’ve outsourced. Let me add, also, that the only way to make that happen is by building community, embracing interdependence and working together, face-to-face.
But I don’t just want to explain what Transition does. I want to do Transition. And if what I am doing here, right now, is Transition, then I need to call you to action. Transition, you see, is not just a group of people, or eventually an entire town. It is not just a tool box, not just an idea or even, a dream. Transition, you see, is not a noun. It is a verb, and an imperative at that.
Consider the word change. As a noun it is coming, whether you want it or not. As a verb, it is either something that happens to you – when something changes you – or something that you do yourself: you do the changing. Transition is all about the latter. It is you and me making the change.
The question then becomes: how do you do that?
In a moment, Andrea will talk about small-scale changes in the household. And Wen will take us to the global level where we need to act upon our government. Those are the actions that most people think of when they think change. You have probably changed your light bulbs, some of you have even hung a clothesline. You have probably written to your Senator or signed a petition, even walked in a rally.
Those are all necessary. The problems are enormous and we must put into action all the solutions we can think of. But sometimes it might feel like individual changes are not enough. And sometimes it might feel like your voice doesn’t reach the upper echelons. Then hopelessness and cynicism tend to take root.
Then may I suggest Transition? Transition does what my hero Berry recommends. He writes: “Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence.” He writes that the question, then, is not how to care for the planet or humanity, but how to care for each of our millions of human and natural neighborhoods.
The neighborhood, the town, is the middle ground between the shorter shower and national politics. It is the place where what you do gets multiplied a hundred- then a thousandfold, and where you can continue to see the effects of your actions.
Transition invites you to return often to the scale of your competence, even if only to find in it the battleground where you can come into your power and slay your cynicism. To find in it, also, the fair ground where you can share your dreams and celebrate.
A call to action, then. If something is wrong, then you have the right to be upset about it, and the responsibility of hope that you can do something about it, and the duty to do it. You all have ideas about what should be done but isn’t being done. Well, be like those Transcendentalists, whom we hold so dear here, of whom someone once wrote that in this brave new world a thinker was “called on to justify himself on the spot by building an engine, and setting something in motion.”
That’s what Transition is: it is that engine!
It is no small thing that I — no, that the times — ask of you. To become an activist, to move yourself, to be the one you have been waiting for. It is no small thing but you don’t have go first anymore, and you don’t have to go it alone. The engine is already running, chugging along on the scale of our competence in the middle ground, which is already bustling with people. I hope that you will come to be among all those people, at noon at the Town Building, that you will come to work on the engine at later Transition events.
Because Transition is only that: it is what you do when you find your power.