Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hive Update, Spring 2013

Just a brief few words on the state of beekeeping at Circle of the Sun.  The hive has multiplied, though not of its own volition.
The most common way beekeepers get extra colonies is to wait till the hive swarms, then capture the swarm and house it.  Because our bees aren't in a well-traveled path, I wasn't sure I'd know they swarmed before they moved on and found a permanent home.  I decided to make a split, using the information I found on a great blog offering beekeeping advice, Basic Beekeeping.
The long and short of it is, you take a thriving colony and remove a few frames of eggs and brood in different stages, leaving at least a few of the same in the donor colony.  You also take a few frames of honey and pollen, and the bees on the frames, and put all of these in a new box.  If the brood frames you took had eggs in them, the new colony can raise its own queen.
I'm pretty impatient, and don't have a lot of experience with beekeeping, so I was ready to make a split in late April, about the time Steve's colonies were fixin' to swarm last spring.  But that was an exceptionally mild and early spring, and this spring was cold and late, so the bees were not in a position to swarm.  So I waited, and waited.  But not really long enough.  I ended up doing the split around May 15, moving two frames of brood and two frames of food into the new colony.  The donor colony was left with about the same.  It was not booming in any sense of the word, and I began second-guessing myself almost immediately.  I was ready a day later to recombine them, but our friend Carol Cox (who is beginning to know something about beekeeping) encouraged me to see the experiment through.  She pointed out that, really, the worst that could happen is that I don't get any honey this year and the split dies in the coming winter.  One year of large, but not devastating, loss for a great experiment and first-hand knowledge.  So I'm watching them now.
I opened both hives up a few days ago to check out the progress. I had assumed that the queen was left in the donor colony, having been pretty sure that I spotted an emergency supercedure cell (a sign that the colony is grooming a queen) in the split a week after making it.  But it is clear that the split is growing too fast, and has brood so recent that it can only be explained by the presence of a queen, while the donor colony also appears now to have some supercedure cells.
Time will tell how this all plays out, and you can count on a fall update to fill you in.

Meanwhile, I got my first glimpse of wax moth damage.  Not in my own hives, thank goodness, but at work.  I was pulling up a couple of short lengths of floorboards in an apartment we're working in, and found this:

You can see the hole the boards were pulled from to the right.  The first things I saw when I removed them were rows of very old, brittle honeycomb. Then I looked at the bottom of the boards and saw the cocoons.  Wax moths are often found in hives, but a healthy hive will evict or manage their population.  If they take hold and lay eggs, though, they can do immense damage, burrowing through comb and destroying the colony.  (The cocoons are the rice krispie-looking things.)  How about that?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A New Car - The Streak!

Work takes me on a 60-mile round-trip commute five days out of every week.  That seems crazy to me, given that we envisioned a much more local lifestyle when we moved here.  But you follow where openings are created, and this was work and a learning opportunity I had been thinking about for a while.
The actual distance is obstacle number one.  Cargo is number two.  And family vehicle use is obstacle number three.
Mom has a 2005 Prius, so I could do my driving in one of the most fuel efficient vehicles out there.  It's actually a pretty good cargo vehicle, too, for its size: I could fit the company's large and small chop-saws plus a table-saw and miscellaneous other, all at once, and good size lengths of wood, too.
If I knew I'd need to haul something big I could drive Mom's Chevrolet Silverado 1500, which has a huge bed.
We'd already decided, between the three drivers among us, that the person driving the furthest would use the most fuel efficient vehicle.  Usually that's me on my 60 mile daily trip.  But sometimes Mom goes up to visit her second grandchild (and his family) up in Michigan, so then I drive the truck and Margo is left with two boys and no realistic way to get anywhere.
We decided to start looking at options for a third vehicle and considered motorcycles first, as fuel efficiency was our first priority.  Unfortunately, the most fuel efficient cycles are the smaller ones, up to around 250 cc.  Over that, say 600 cc, and the efficiency drops to around 50-60 mpg.  Not worth it for the risk, lack of cargo space, etc.
To make a long (though fun) story short, we found what remains the most fuel-efficient fossil-fuel powered car that ever made it into mass production - the Honda Insight, first generation.  The EPA rating of the 2000 model (which we found) is 61 mpg city, 70 mpg highway.  Wow!
Looking around for not all that long, we found that the closest one for sale was up in Kalamazoo, where both Margo's sister and my sister live.  It had one owner and a great record of service, so we went up to test it and decide for sure.  In the end we bought it, and I have been enjoying it ever since.
As far as fuel efficiency, it started out around 52 mpg for the first few weeks, which was driving it in the winter at approximately 70-75 mph to and from work (I'm often starting out late, but I like to arrive on time).  When the weather warmed a little and I decided to try leaving a little earlier so I could drive 65 mph my efficiency shot up at least 10 mpg.  And that's awesome, because it means I only fill up every two weeks or so (every ~600 miles) and only burn a gallon of gas every workday.  If I drove the 15 mpg truck to work, like my coworkers do, I would be burning 4 times as much gas, paying 4 times as much money.  Instead of buying about $31 worth of gas every two weeks I'd be paying $124.  Wow!  And it's better than the Prius, too.
Every car benefits from a good name, and I settled on The Streak, wanting something that vaguely implied "fast" without outright fabrication.  I think of the Ray Stevens song every time I drive it.  Mom gave it an alter-ego, Zippy, which more seriously blurs the line between truth and falsehood.  It really does feel zippy, as a 5-speed two-seater hugging the ground.
In fact its only downside is that it is not a fast car (with its 1.0 liter, 3-cylinder engine), having been designed with efficiency in mind in every feature.  But it is incredible to me that this, the first gas/electric hybrid that came onto the North American market, remains at the top in terms of MPG.  Not only has no other car achieved this fuel efficiency in the past 13 years, but Honda quit producing this one after 2006.  They redesigned it for 2010, with the newer model a four-door instead of two, five-seat instead of two, and rated at 41/44 MPG city/highway.  You got to give the people what they want, I guess.
The top photo is not our car cruising Dayton, though it is a very nice Insight.  The lower photo is The Streak hanging out in the garage.  If you want to see the stats for this wee beastie you can check it out on  The site allows you to log each of your fuel-ups and see graphs and charts and statistics on your use.  The Streak can be found here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

If You Love Children...

It is late, and I am tired.  But I am also inspired.  As I was washing dishes tonight, I finished watching a documentary worth seeing: Consuming Kids

If you love children, work with children, buy gifts for children, or care about the future this documentary is relevant and potent.  If I weren't so tired, I would offer more review and more thoughts of my own--but gosh will I sleep again?  Fortunately, Isaac only wakes 2 or 3 times to nurse, so I'm not as sleep deprived as I might be with a 3-month-old.

Quick notes: Isaac is laughing now, at having his shirt pulled over his head, silly rhymes with hand motions, and being tickled.  What fun!  Alten has a new haircut (the worst one I've done yet says the perfectionist inside me), we had a "Kombucha, Popcorn, Haircutting Party."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The End of an Era: Collapse of the Yurt

"Mama, let's build a new yurt," Alten said while standing within the penciled 20' circle on the barn floor.  We were out wandering on a sunny afternoon this week and happened to be in the barn.  Seeing the yurt footprint on the floor reminded me of the beginning of construction and repair and the excitement with which I viewed the whole process, from seeing the posting on craig's list through the final yurt-raising.  I can claim constant excitement and optimism, recognizing Dan experienced constant hesitancy, frustration, and doubt.

I sat quietly on the futon in the yurt (Alten napped there in the summer a few times) waiting for the women in my spirituality group to arrive one night and was thrilled by the simplicity that having such little living space would invite.  It took me back to our one room cabin in California and I was filled with a sense of joy and anticipation.  However, it is time to say goodbye.

Thursday, December 20th we had a potent storm with lots of wind.  We weren't too worried about it, simply hoping for good travel weather because we were going to Milford for Christmas the following Saturday.  Friday it was cold and snowy, Dan's boss called and cancelled their work day so we mobilized to leave early for Milford.  Dan popped over to the garden to check the temperatures and we were ready to pack the car and leave.  To his surprise, he saw this:

Do you hear the squeal of the air being slowly being let out of a balloon?  So much forward momentum and enthusiasm stopped in one moment.  The joy in leaving early for vacation, more time with family, and most of all finally moving into our own space (albeit temporary) in the spring and being close to the garden and our dreams.  Wow.

Almost down
We moved through it pretty well, stayed home that day for Dan to collapse the rest of the structure and protect the platform from coming rain, and headed to Milford on Saturday as planned.  We started making new plans for temporary housing and are wondering where the time will come from to move forward on creating a livable space in the house that stands on the land now.  We are hoping to be in something this growing season.

The era of the yurt, 2010-2012, brought us several things:
  • knowledge to always research a purchase well before committing your mind and your wallet, 
  • lots of great conversation,
  • a black cloud looming over Dan's head,
  • experience with virtually all that can go wrong with a yurt,
  • a constructive community with yurt forum,
  • a beautiful and functional yurt platform, 
  • deeper appreciation for my Dad (the platform guru),
  • meaningful time with the men from Dayton Mennonite Fellowship, 
  • a circular, sacred space to gather my women's spirituality group that didn't interrupt anyone's bedtime,
  • a place for napping close to the garden,
  • a place for toddler play while working, teaching, and gatherings were going on, and
  • redirection when we clearly needed it.
It is fitting that I am writing this farewell post, as the yurt was a positive for me and a negative for Dan.  Nice to send it off with appreciation.

In other news, Isaac found his toes and is just starting to giggle.  Alten enjoys his machines and words as never before.  Please note the new sidebar: Alten's quote for the week. 

Cute boy pile
Next post to come: Esther and CSHEP

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting Back on the Horse

For all you who have been checking for the next post, it is clear we have been away from the blog for some time.  At this point, two children and a new job are keeping us well occupied.  We have made some huge transitions in the last few years and one more little one is Margo taking over the role of primary blogger.  This is my first post.  I'll bring you up to date, share some photo and video footage, and then name the intentions for future posts.  We'll see how often I can make it happen while I parent two beautiful, engaging boys. 
We have learned a lot in these last two years with internship as our primary focus.  We know the intensity of being prepared each day for managing work in the garden and hands-on learning, as well as theoretical lessons.  Managing people, planning, real time logistics, and being with interns almost every day for 3 months are Margo's gifts and not Dan's.  This valuable lesson informs our choice to wait a few more years before hosting interns again.  Once the boys are older (Alten is two and a half, Isaac is 13 weeks), we can commit again to something that requires Margo's attention. Thanks a bunch to Ecology Action and Peris and Samuel for all their support in making this experience possible for us and for the interns.

Alten's first snowperson, thanks Aunt Ragan and Uncle Chris!
This train of thought leads to the big job transition in our lives, shortly before Isaac was born Dan started a full-time job doing construction work in Yellow Springs, OH.  Pros: regular income, great skill building, Dan gets to follow and not manage, enjoyable co-workers/boss.  Cons: commuting 1.5 hours daily in a peak oil era (not sustainable--even with a Prius!), missing out on the daily fun and development of the boys, missing each other.  Let is be noted that we celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary on January 1 (yay!) and this is the first time in our marriage that we have not worked together.

This isn't how we had envisioned our life and isn't how we hope to be living, but it felt like a good choice for right now.  We wonder what this will mean for our garden this year.  We wonder where our journey for simple housing will take us.  We wonder what the next big transition will be.

In the mean time (a phrase I laugh at every time I hear it come out of Alten's mouth), we have delightful boys in our presence.  Isaac is starting to practice rolling over on his side and made one successful roll onto his tummy.  He is the smiley-est baby I know and prefers eye contact and conversation (he has a lot to say) to any toy.  Alten has a huge vocabulary and is enthralled by poems, playing with words, and construction equipment.  His favorite way to bless our meal is by saying what we are thankful for.  His list often includes but is not limited to: combines, snowplows, and bulldozers.
Making Mudball Cookies, Yum!

Future posts: End of an Era: Collapse of the Yurt; Esther and CSHEP; Peris, Mary and G-BIACK; and Name The New Car.

PS-Yes, Alten did catch the chicken and put it into his dump truck.  The next thing, missed by mamavideographer, he dumped it out.