For my birthday I got many great presents, but this one was the most joyful: eggs from a friend and neighbors’ chickens, until mine start laying. In exchange I gave a jar of honey. I love to barter!

And a small miracle occurred. For a few days in a row there was no information booth, no Transition meeting, no solar tour, no compost bin building marathon session, no gardening demonstration or beehive inspection… none of all that on my calendar. Time to catch up on the 35 lbs. of tomatoes I bought at the farm stand around the corner (*). I processed half into (freezer) tomato sauce and half  into tomato chutney, or “tomato jam.”

I used my MIL’s recipe, very simple and easy:

  1. 15 lbs of tomatoes, chopped (so no de-seeding, no peeling!)
  2. 10 cups of sugar
  3. 6 teaspoons of grated ginger (more or less, to taste)
  4. 1 1/2 cups of lime juice (more but not less, to taste), added at the end

Boil until thick enough. It doesn’t have to be as thick as jam, but it still takes a long time (my tomatoes were very juicy, so it took 4 hours). Then pack into clean jars with 1/4″ head space,  hot water bathe for 20 minutes.

(*) now there’s a typical story. I asked the farmer how much I’d pay for 10 lbs. $1.49, she said. I asked and what if I bought 20 lbs. $1 lb. I said Okay, I’ll have 30 lbs, then. The box that was sitting so conveniently on the counter held 35 lbs. So I took that.

This year I’m not weighing the harvest. I used to enjoy it and would still enjoy it today, but I no longer have the time or the need to do so. I hope it’s not too arrogant to say that, in my fourth year, I have a pretty good idea of how the garden is doing. I don’t need lbs. and oz. to tell me that the yield is again not very spectacular (not enough, not the best we can do) or, more importantly, to show me where to make improvements next year.

I froze some green beans but they did not put out a second round of flowers (as yet?). The peas were yummy but not prolific enough. The peppers, eggplants and tomatoes too have so far been disappointing (the tomatoes less so). The plants in the hoop house, due to the lack of consistent irrigation (I missed one crucial watering) dropped an entire crop of flowers. I planted just a few potatoes and they might not make it to maturity. The corn went in too late as well, I think. All the garlic grew, but not very big.

But basil proliferates and we’re all stocked in pesto. What to do with all those hot peppers? Chard and kale are doing well. The zucchini, squash and cucumber that were impossible to grow in previous years are thriving beyond our present consumption and I’m happy to start putting them up. There is a big honey harvest, and we’re looking at fresh eggs in a few months. Also, we are part of a local, organic CSA, which plugs our gaps, and then some. In the Fall I’m looking forward to digging a lot medicinal roots as the elecampane, echinacea and licorice will be ready.

We eat wonderful meals, every day, largely from home-grown or locally grown food. Life is good.





I have three hives, with four honey supers, chock-full of honey. But how to extract it? What I did two years ago, just cutting off the capping with a knife and letting it drip, takes a long time during which the hygroscopic honey will absorb a lot of water, making it more prone to fermentation and thus a bad keeper (unless you want mead). Also, I didn’t  look forward to 40  frames drip-dripping in my porch, and then their other sides…

Plenty of other beeks in my bee group – Transition Wayland’s BEElieve  – were in the same boat. We were caught off guard by all that unexpected honey from first-year hives. By the time we started to look for an extractor to all of us buy together, the more economical models were on back order. Beekeeping has taken off  in a big way, and not just in Wayland! Here are two of my bee buddies discussing a brood pattern:

Anyhow, DH and I, being tinkerers, wanted to make our own extractor. When you go on the net you find all sorts of crazy ideas. The guy strapping a cord around the super box and then swinging it around gave me a laugh. Much of our design depended on what we had on the property: two food grade buckets, which previously held wine grapes, and a BBQ rib rack that we could snip and bend to our purposes. We had to buy the stainless steel rod and all the stainless steel hardware (nuts, bolts, screws). Every part that the honey comes in contact with should be either food-grade plastic and/or stainless steel. Ours has a little bit of hardwood involved as well.

As always, it took a few days and versions to get to something practical. Version 1.0, for instance, involved flashing and required three pairs of hands to operate, but we did manage to extract some honey with it. This is version 2.0, the inner contraption and the buckets it sits in, which in turn fit into my big stainless steel canner.

At the moment I’m robbing Hive 3, one of the first-year packages which outperformed the other new colony (which requeened itself) and the three-year-old hive (which swarmed in May) in strength and honey production. Yes, when beeks go in to harvest honey it’s called robbing. The term fits. I pull the frames from the top super, two or four at a time, brushing the bees off with my soft bee brush. They don’t seem to mind, they just fly off or fall down into the hive and go about their business.

Each medium (or so-called Dadant) super frame, when full and capped, weighs about 4 1/2 pounds. First thing to do is take off the cappings without destroying the cell structure of the comb. You can use a hot knife (like in this video), or a cappings scratcher, which reminds me (mother of a seven-year-old) of a giant lice comb.

Strain the honey out of the cappings and keep both. Cappings are made of the most virgin, i.e., purest wax in the hive: ideal for lip balm, etc.

Then we insert the frames into our two-frame extractor and spin it with the electric drill. Once one side is emptied, we flip the frames and go for another round.

This way the honey gets aerated quite a bit, which makes it lighter in color. Over time the air slowly drifts up through the viscous honey and takes whatever wax was also poured in the jar with it, creating a layer of wax on top of the surface – which seals it off. The contrast between the clearer, yellower honey that slowly dripped from the cappings and the spun honey already in the jar is obvious here:

Honeying is very sticky business, and one needs a lot of help cleaning up!

This way we extracted, from eight medium supers, 19 lbs and 4 ounces. Here’s just some of our new stash:

Only 22 more frames to go!

And now for something completely different…

Here are two interesting thoughts I read today:

Rees quotes Antonio Damasio (here, p.6):

[For humanity to survive the sustainability crisis] we must rely on highly-evolved geneticallybased biological mechanisms, as well as on supra-instinctual survival strategies that have developed in society, are transmitted by culture, and require for their application consciousness,  reasoned deliberation and willpower.

Utah Phillips once said (as quoted here):

Yes, the long memory is the most radical idea in this country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we’re going, but where we want to go.


The “supra-instinctual survival strategies”  that Damasio and Rees are talking about are ways of overcoming our “instinctive tendencies to act on short-term individual (and tribal) self-interest, to discount the future, and to abide by unifying myths,” which got mankind to where it is now but which, now that we have overshot the carrying capacity of our planet,  have become “maladaptive” and “may be selected out by an ecosphere in convulsion.”

We have, in the past, developed and lived by those supra-instinctive strategies. There have been many occasions in the course of human history  had the individual and the collective wherewithal to respond to certain threats and overcome our short-term survival instincts. During WWII, we built victory gardens, rationed voluntarily, sheltered our neighbors. We knew how our food was grown, how to cook, how to entertain ourselves. We valued in(ter)dependence, autonomy, cooperation and ecological literacy.


All these principles are still there for the taking, in the  examples of our elders, recorded stories and history, and in the lessons of the social and the hard sciences (ecology being one of them). Deeper still, they saturate our language, our idioms. Most deeply, they are the heart of the moral principles that we still praise.

But hold it right there. Oftentimes now, it seems to me, we only really pay lip service to those moral principles. When it comes down to actually applying them in our everyday lives, well, only a saint or a fool would do that! (This is why going to the movies to watch The  Lorax was nothing but heartbreak for me.)

And when confronted with such a “fool,” the reaction is that he is just old-fashioned, not with the times, living in the past. Those who dare to promote austerity, simplicity, down-scaling, contraction, transition, whatever you want to name it, are accused of “you want us to go back to the past! ”

And what is the past to us? We are a forward-looking culture. And why is that? Because the future = growth, bigger, better. The past = diminishing, too cramped. Because that’s what we do: we grow! That’s why we’re no longer living in towns or neighborhoods, why we’re citizens of the world!

It seems to me that this belief is held desperately now. People take it as unstoppable, inevitable. Even those who deplore our way continue, because “the is nothing we can do about it” or “that’s what life is now.” Worse, they believe that growth is, if not too big to fail, then what is our destiny, our natural way. And who can fight one’s nature?

In other words, as a global culture we have fallen back into our primitive survival instincts the  maladaptive ones that will be/are being selected out… and told ourselves there is no other way.


We overcame these survival instincts in the past.  We saw another way. Why can’t we now?

According to Rees, to do so requires community (a better word than society, being  less abstract) in which our supra-instinctive strategies can reside, and culture, by which they are transmitted, and consciousness,  reasoned deliberation and willpower, by which they are implemented. All those have been high-jacked, bought, carelessly cast aside in the pursuit of money, comfort, luxury, mind numbing entertainment, growth. We are now so far in our addiction to these things that we can’t even accept that this is all our choice.

Rees left out one crucial, even more fundamental element: memory.  Enter the Phillips quote:

It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we’re going, but where we want to go.

What’s lost, then, is our perspective. Of course we’re not going to look ahead to the future if we are no longer willing or able to look back.  Of course we can’t assess the goodness of growth and bigness if we’ve lost all sight of the small.  Our culture devours, always more for the sake of the present alone. Who rules is the infantile Me, Now, As much as I can, regardless of where it may take us, regardless of whether that’s where we want to go.

Until the present will simply, run out. 

Can we renew our belief in the past, and in the small? Can we regain our perspective? I am confident that we can, but I am also very afraid of time running out. I’m not hopeless. We have time. It is not too late.

But hurry up. Cancel the cable, stop buying junk from China, look into solar PV, join a Transition group. Think and dare.


We are having a friendly competition here on Robin Hill. DH built a solar parabolic cooker and I built a solar box oven (we helped each other, of course). You can’t really compare the two because the oven is, of course, vastly superior in that it has many more functions: it can cook as well bake, and it will serve as a beeswax melter. But, one has to admit, the parabolic cooker is more spectacular.

This is its present state:

The dish can be positioned on the fire wood rack so it lines up with the angle of the sun, and the pot too can be moved.

When we held our best thermometer to that lit up spot on the pot, it started fuming. Time to get an infrared thermometer?  It was also time to take my favorite, expensive pot away. Now we’re looking into a cast iron plate to hang so it will diffuse the heat. Maybe then we can also fry an egg?  We’ll try again when we have the plate in place.

But… back to the oven, where the real action is: 

Had lying around: old kitchen cabinet from the landfill, sheet of Mylar, wooden panel that was easy to warp, storm window, two brackets.  All we had to buy was the glue to stick the Mylar on and the high temp black paint (which was also used to repaint the grill, while we were at it). I made the design as simple as can be.  You can adjust the angle of the top flap (cabinet door) by sliding the window up or down. The bottom flap can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the string. Everything comes apart for easy moving.

I built it on a cloudy day (as can be seen from the picture). In a first test it got water in a pot up to 130F, but then there is that gap up on top through which all the heat leaks out. I need to plug it with some sort of gasket and find a black pot, wait for a full sun day, then do a serious test.

I can’t believe it took us this long to experiment with this!

Here it is, the Riot for the month of July of 2012 for the three of us plus my parents-and sister-in-law. My summary of our first three years is here. Edson fixed the calculator: all go tither to crunch those numbers!

Gasoline.  Calculated per person. DH and SIL have been driving into Boston every day for work (shuttle doesn’t operate during the Summer) and that is inflating our gasoline usage, but since this is calculated by person int he household, it actually lands us in the lower percentages.

13.86 gallons per person

33.7 % 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 5058 kWh since the system was turned on, and  621 kWh this last month (you can follow our solar harvest live here). We owed NStar nothing but how much we consumed is a mystery: the NSTAR billing software apparently cannot handle negatives! But we’ll know soon how much we’ve consumed over the year, from mid-August 2011 till mid-August 2012 (when our one year of solar production is up!).

In the meantime, we’re working on some ways to reduce out consumption more.

Heating Oil and Warm Water. This too is calculated for the entire household, not per person, and since our numbers have doubled, our consumption has obviously gone up, but not by twice as much (last month we used 6.5  gallons of oil, which was 10.5% of US nat av), which is good news.

9  gallons of oil

14.6% 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. Unfortunately this is higher than usual.

572 gallons pp.

19.1 % of the US National Average

Yesterday I spent six hours in the hot kitchen (but I had a good fan) canning about half of my half bushel of peaches and 8 pints of blueberries. The yield was 16 8 oz. of blueberry jam and 15 8 oz. jars of peach butter. Today I canned the rest of the peaches into light syrup (8 pints), which is always the first preserve that gets finished.  

Whenever I can, I write the date next to the recipe in the Ball Blue Book, and I noticed that in the previous years (starting in 2009) the canning season for peaches and blueberries started at the end of  August and ran on into September.

Amie was very happy to label them for me.