Four year summary coming soon

This is the Riot for the month of October 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!

We did well in October. The somewhat lower numbers are because I recorded the last Riot on October 2, so we’re looking at two days less than I usually count. Still, it looks good. I wish I could say what we’re doing to make it look that good, over and beyond our average numbers.

Gasoline.  Calculated per person.

9.8 gallons per person

23.8% 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 6477 kWh since the system was turned on, and 302  kWh this last month (the return is going down quickly now – comparre to 502 in September and  615 kW in August –  You can follow our solar harvest live here). We owed NStar nothing because we still have credit from our over production, but we do know that with that credit we bought 10kWh from them. So we used 302 + 10 kWh = 312 kWh, which I think is pretty neat!

312 kwH

17.3% of the US National Average

Heating Oil and Warm Water. This too is calculated for the entire household, not per person. This is all for heating water for dishes and showers, since we’ve not had to turn on the heat, yet. We did really well last month and kept it up this month. We’re still looking into an electric on-demand heater with perhaps a solar thermal unit.

7.8 gallons of oil

12.7 % 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. We did even better than last month!

431.4 gallons pp.

14 % of the US National Average

Amie reads Calvin and Hobbes during Hurricane Sandy (13h) power outage, 29 October 2012

So we weathered yet another storm. Or rather, we didn’t. Sandy went around us. We got some of her peripheral gusts of wind and some rain, but none of it very severe.  Half of my town was out of power.  School was closed Monday and again today due to power outages and blocked roads.

So we got lucky. Or did we?

Our power went out at the very beginning, before Sandy had even made landfall 300 miles south of us. So just the smallest of what Sandy could throw at us instantly toppled our infrastructure. Why? Because  all she had to do was continue what Irene and previous storms had already wrought: trees and branches weakened by those storms had to come down.

The lesson here is that we don’t go from crisis to crisis, resetting each time. Instead we now accumulate risks and dangers. The next storm, however small, might be a major tipping point. The next big one might be utter disaster. Lacking the money or will to repair our infrastructure to pristine condition or to replace it with more resilient systems – systems that can take a hit – we “maintain” it in good enough condition for “normal” conditions.  The downed wires will be restrung, but we won’t be putting them underground.

We’re merely treading water.


Reading during (40-h) power outage Nor-Easter of October 30, 2011

Here’s another example of our lack of resilience. When the grid went down, our grid-tied solar array went down with it. Batteries are still too expensive, environmentally problematic and short-lived, so my household was without power too. With Solarize Massachusetts we managed to get about 130 solar small residential and business arrays up here in Wayland and in our neighboring towns of Lincoln and Sudbury. We pat ourselves on the back for our success, yet in times of crisis it turns out that it means nothing.

The majority is not bothered, of course. “Those couple of days in the year when you’re without power don’t matter,” they scoff. To them it’s all about the 362  (give or take) good days of energy efficiency and environmental impacts. These are all good and necessary qualities, of course, but we should also be looking at resilience. Climate change and other predicaments will impact  us more and more, faster and faster. “Normal” will shrink and “Frankenstorms” will become the norm. All our efficiency won’t matter if there’s no resilience underlying it.

If you’re thinking that that’s rushing to ring the alarm bell, may I point out that only a few years ago people laughed at the possibility that whole swaths of the country might be without power for more than a couple of hours. “This is not a developing country!” Nowadays we easily skip worrying about the power, taking it for granted that it will be lost, and move on to worrying about the water supply. In a few years time, even loss of water supply will be expected. What’s next?

And so we go happily down the rabbit hole, adjusting our expectations with each step so that we don’t have to do something about it that may – sweet Gee!  – demand sacrifices to our wallets or our idea of ourselves as on top of the world!


For me this isn’t just a social – local or international – issue. I’m pointing the finger at myself too.

Yes, we’re prepared. We have bug-out bags at the ready and food, water, flashlights, batteries and sleeping bags (*) in a hurricane room in the basement. But let’s not kid myself! Yesterday, as DH was charging our brand-new NOAA  emergency radio, the hand crank broke off. I was furious: what if we had really needed it? Though I am still  fuming, I am grateful for the wake up call. There could have been no more powerful sign of how fragile we are, and only fractionally less fragile even with all our preparations.

That I believed that my radio would work also betrayed that I had not really given up a key assumption: that we are rebuilding this ship in dry dock rather than plugging her leaks in the middle of a choppy ocean. I thought I had:  it’s my favorite image of our world in peril, along with “we’re treading water,” which complements it. But obviously I had assumed that this radio was built in dry dock, that is, under the very best of circumstances and conditions. I know now that it was not, that it was made cheaply, its parts sourced and assembled by the cheapest bidder, its testing foregone because the buyer would buy it anyway and because, perhaps, most buyers wouldn’t need it, anyway.

Well, may we all shed our assumptions, and soon. Treading water is hazardous enough without live wires coming down!


(*) Some accuse us of being hoarders, but we bought our emergency supplies in times of plenty, when our purchases didn’t  impact supplies – which is not something you can say of those who raid the supermarket shelves the day before the storm.


In order:

  1. comb that the bees drew out, filled with honey, and capped with a thin cap of wax,
  2. comb after uncapping, oozing with honey (here’s a video of uncapping),
  3. comb after extraction (see video). Extraction is never total: there is always lots of honey left, more or less depending on the viscosity of the honey and the determination of the robbers (us),
  4. so you give the extracted frames back to the colony for “cleaning.” Is that clean or what!? The bees are excellent cleaners!




My friend Janine, fellow Transition worker and fellow blogger, has written a gripping poem. It haunts till the end. This is the beginning:

                                          I dreamt a sword fight broke out in the cornfield
                                          I was dodging poison arrows in the brassica
                                          tripping over minefields in the brussel sprouts which
                                          when stripped of their leaves
                                          look like tiny holiday trees lined up
                                          like an enchanted forest
                                          but then what enchantment doesn’t conceal
                                          the poison apple
                                          or the rings of power?


Visit her post to read the rest. You will not be sorry!

I really wanted y’all to see this. This is a crazily drawn-out (filled with honey and capped) frame.  Two things: the color and the shape.

Some of the comb is darker because the bees first used it for brood, and only after that did it became honey storage. The more comb is used, and especially when it is used for brood, the darker it gets as more junk is left behind on it. All the lighter colored comb around it was only used for honey storage.

Sometimes the honey is darker making the wax look darker too. Other dark spots may be cells filled with pollen.

This comb ripples and bulges because I probably didn’t push the frame tightly enough against the next frame. This violated the “bee space,” which is on average  around 5/16 or 3/8 of an inch. The bees will build excess comb in a space larger than that. If it’s not too much, they’ll make their comb a little deeper, making it uneven, like on parts of this frame. If there’s too much extra space,  they’ll build a whole “new” wall of comb, like the strip in the middle, which is actually mostly detached from the (plastic) foundation so it has cells on the back of it and the bees can crawl behind it: in effect, a “frame” on its own.


(I’m thinking of this third post today as a Transitiony kind of post…)

When I show people around the place, I finally (after five years) feel like it’s all coming together, and that’s because I have started thinking in terms of elements.

Breaking the enormous task of creating a “sustainable place”  up into elements allows me to do several things:

  1. to accept that it will only happen one element at a time,
  2. thus to take a more realistic  longer-term view,
  3. and while digging the compost I can now enjoy digging the compost, while not also, at the same time, in my head,  digging the pond, pulling the weeds, cleaning out the coop, identify the mushrooms, building the earth oven…
  4. and I can take pride in the accomplishments, in what has already been done,
  5. thus also feeling confidence that we will succeed in making it even better.

Yes, this is all about feeling good! I’ve realized that, for me, only good feelings will (1) allow me and (2) even get me to act.  I am finally taking seriously the title of my blog: Wendell Berry’s

 Be joyful though you have considered all the facts

I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep track of the big picture, the reasons behind our actions, etc. I’m saying that too much talk (or thought), too much worry makes for a very frustrated activist.

Case in point: DH and friends were sitting around the patio table discussing ngo’s and having to make a living and what the world really, truly needs. They had snacks and drinks, and the umbrella was shading them from the Summer sun. Meanwhile, some 30 feet away, I was building a chicken run entirely out of materials scavenged from the property. My run took as long to build as their conversation took to resolve into agreeing-to-disagree. As all of us wrapped up, one of them quipped

“While we were discussing saving the world, you were saving the world”

However much it was a joke, it was revealing. Saving the world? I should never think if that as my job. Or yours, or any one’s. Putting systems, elements in place that may just contribute to a better world? Yes. That I can do, joyfully, efficiently, proudly.

Two posts in a day!

The mead’s doing well! I made two batches: one with honey from the first nectar flow (lighter colored), another, smaller batch with later honey (darker color).

They’re about the same proportion water and honey – though, to be honest, I’m going the Sandor Katz-way, that is, I’m eyeballing it, adding a bit here and there as I see fit. The first batch is doing better: the yeasts are developing a nice foamy head on the must, and it smells yeastier too.

That picture was taken before the daily shake. When I opened it after its shake the other day, it fizzed so much it spilled over the rim.

I tried to capture this on video today  but the effect was less spectacular. Still, you can hear the fizz when I open the cap. Smells great, quite yeasty.

You may remember I tried to grow King Stropheria in a bed of sawdust and leaves. Unfortunately it dried out and I never got any shrooms from it. But my mushroom adventures just began anew. I learned a while ago that a neighbor is a hobby mycologist and I expressed interest. Today she came by with a chunk of hen-of-the-woods that she got from another neighbor’s yard.

Hen-of-the-woods is a porous, not a gilled mushroom

I showed her the mushroom I found a week or so ago, growing next to the coop and the wood pile. After seeing the one she gave me, my hopes that it was hen-of-the-woods were already dashed, and she confirmed this. However, she said, this is chicken-of-the-woods and also delicious! This one may be a little old (fibrous and wormy) to eat, but I am going to give it a try at dinner time. How fitting that this fungal chicken grows right next door to my avian chickens!

Lastly we admired the hundreds of Turkey Tail fruits on the logs that have yet to be cut up. These too are porous and edible, but too tough to eat. It’s even difficult to tear them off the log. Still, they’re edible and that’s good to know.

pores on the underside

In exchange for the hen-of-the-woods I gave my neighbor a jar of honey and six fresh eggs.  Thank you, Pam!


I wanted to treat my bees with formic acid against varroa and tracheal mite, but it kept being postponed. Just getting a hold of the treatment (MiteAway) was difficult. Then I had to wait for the free time and relatively warm, rainless day to do it.  Then, last week, it suddenly got colder and we even had our first frost. Not as hard as predicted, but enough to kill the basil. And enough for me to think it was too late. The treatment takes about 7 days and during those days daytime temperatures have to be between 50 and 90F.

But today it’s a balmy 74F (23C) and the next seven says it promises to stay warm enough. So I went for it.

I opened each hive and took out all the frames that had no more honey in them, either because they were never filled, or even drawn out, or because they had been filled, extracted by us and then returned to the bees for cleaning. That made for 20 frames.

While the supers were off the hives, I put one strip of MiteAway (not two as the instructions say: my bee mentor puts just one because he thinks that’s sufficient and more kills too much brood) in between the two nest boxes. That was some heavy lifting, even without supers on there. I think that for all three hives there is enough honey int he top nest box for Winter.

Then I put one empty super on top of the nest boxes (as described in an earlier post), then a super each with the frames that still had honey in them, as well as the eight last frames we had extracted but that were still dripping/oozing with honey (I gave those to the two weaker hives for cleaning out).

The twenty empty frames I took away. I knocked off most of the bees but there were still plenty of them hanging on, so I opted not to bring them into the porch but to leave them out so the bees can take the last they they can from them, and return to their hives by nightfall, at which point I’ll collect them.  Here’s a video of them buzzing around.


We’ve not had a frost yet, but we will, this evening, and a hard one too: 28 F.  I have my thermometer out in the coop so we’ll know cold it will really get. I’ve harvested all there is to harvest, brought in all my potted plants, drained my rain barrels.  But, being a brand new chicken keeper, I am most concerned with the chickens, since their coop doesn’t have double walls or insulation (there is just particle board with siding).

In between drizzles I cleaned out the coop for the last time before Spring. I put down a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth to kill creepy crawlies like mites and fleas that may bother the birds. Then I shoveled in a thick layer of pine shavings, and on top of that I put straw, all adding up to about 5 inches.  This is the beginning of the deep litter method. I will simply add more shavings and straw as needed over the course of the Winter. The lower layers will decompose and give off heat, warming the coop. I also made sure that, apart from the ventilation which comes from the eaves, the little coop is draft free. I put extra bedding in the nest boxes – though I’m sure they’ll clean that out.  Our breeds – Rhode Island Red and Black Sex Link – are cold hardy, so they should be fine now.

We’ve been getting three eggs a day, and three days out of the week, four. So they’re good, consistent layers. The little pullet eggs have also been growing bigger, and yesterday we had a huge one.

Today I found a weird egg: the shell is all soft and crumpled and not entirely fused in places. The shape is squished. I hope this is a one-time problem!

To help with egg shell/calcium problems we’ve been giving them crushed oyster shell (in a separate feeder). In the meantime I was saving up the egg shells and yesterday I had enough to crush. I washed them, then made them brittle and cooked whatever egg was left in the microwave, then ran them through a coffee grinder we don’t use anymore. What a great way to close the loop!