Solar Production 2016 and 2018

Solar Production 2016 and 2018

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bee Mysteries

Bees are mysterious creatures.  I never quite know what they are about in my back yard, but as long as the hive hums like a well-tuned VW vanagon, I don’t worry too much.

We had a swarm move into a hive this spring. The old home, a huge willow tree, developed cracks then came crashing down in several pieces, so the colony was looking for a new home. My bee box was set up with some old, crossed comb in it, waiting to be cleaned out. I’d harvested the honey back in early February, when I knew the old colony had died, but left the wax for another day, which had just not arrived yet.  The scouts found the already furnished apartment and moved in. A few days later, the whole family arrived, cleared out the worst of the mess, and settled down. Pollen was carted in quickly, but I did not realize, until I opened the hive a week or so later, that they had also relocated all of their honey. The top box was two thirds full, by weight, and the bottom box at least half full, of dark, overwintered honey. There was no way they brought in and processed that much nectar in a week and a half.   I was a little distressed—I wanted to clean out some of the worst crossed comb—but thrilled to see the size and health of the swarm.  Who knew that colonies moved all of their food stores?

The swarm colony likes to camp out. For the first week, there was always a bearded clump hanging off of the entrance board in the evening. I was worried that they were thinking of swarming the first morning I saw this, but there was no other sign of movement, so I shrugged it off. After seeing how full the two boxes were, I added a third, which helped reduce the size of the camp-out, but it never went completely away. Over the next week, more and more bees moved inside at night, probably because it has been raining in the evenings.

Yesterday, we went into both hives. The “new” hive, of purchased bees, had not shown any queen sign for the first two checks, so I recruited a friend with sharp eyes and we cracked the hive. This time, there was considerable honey, pollen, and larvae in the hive, so we cleaned up a bit of weird comb and reassembled the hive. We both turned to the swarm hive, which had the new, empty box on top. “Do you want to drop that one down?” my bee partner asked. “Do you feel brave?” I replied. He shrugged, “It’s going ok so far.” Together, we lifted off the roof, quilt box, and burlap ad peered inside.

The swarm hive was packed with bees. They were building comb, nice and tidy, in the top box, which we lifted off. Bees flew everywhere, but not in a threatening manner. I cracked the second box and lifted it. Bits of honey comb stuck to the tops of the bottom bars. We scraped it all off and placed it to one side, then lifted the last box, also heavy with bees and honey. “What a mess,” my partner observed, looking at the crossed comb in the bottom box. “Yeah,” I agreed. We quickly placed the empty box on the bottom, the lowest in the middle, and the bottom one, which was the messiest, on top. “Harvest that one first,” my partner observed. “That’ll clear it out.” Lid on, no stings, bees everywhere.

Later last night, I went out to settle the chickens and rabbit in and checked on the hives. The New Hive was quiet, everyone tucked in for the night. Once again, the Swarm Hive had a camp out going—one small clump, perfectly circular, in the front of the hive and the other, much larger, on the small pile of honey and comb that we had scraped out. Bees, some laden with pollen, piled up and hummed softly to themselves. This afternoon, the clumps were reduced, but not gone. I think there is a contingent that just likes sleeping outside. Bee mysteries.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Earth Day Rant

I am a bad role model. I yelled out during the Earth Day presentation at school Tuesday. I am the teacher. It is my job to make sure students do not interrupt the speaker. I should not model bad behavior. Even from the floor…   Because the audience was already titillated by the concept of “showering with a friend,” fortunately most of them did not hear me.

                I am deeply frustrated by our responses to Climate Change, both locally and internationally. We have denied the existence of the changing climate for so long that simple solutions will no longer suffice,  but we refuse to take the problem seriously.  We are all deeply concerned—many of my students are highly anxious, and I am sure that it is related to the belief that their world is doomed, because they all know—but we do not talk seriously about the issue. Instead, we have presentations like the one I sat through yesterday, which left me shaking.

                There were three groups presenting to half of the CHS population—ninth and tenth graders. The student organizers were earnest and serious, suggesting small changes everyone could make, like riding a bike to school, and ending with a slam poetry video on how we need to work together to save the planet. They set up the adults well—but the adults bombed. One, in a t shirt, jeans, and bare feet (seriously, does he ride his bike around our glass strewn streets barefoot!), asked lame questions about Facebook and lectured them on ways to get involved. He was boring and quickly lost his audience. I slid to the floor and thought about my grading pile.  He was followed up by one of our local leaders for sustainability, who talked about her trip to Germany to see their solar power—but quickly lost the audience by mentioning beer. High school and beer—bad combo. The audience, already restless and warm, squirmed.  Then she moved into the “what you can do” portion of the lecture. Well, we can eat one less meat meal a week. We can change a light bulb. We can shower with a friend—seriously, if there is one thing more distracting to the audience than beer, it’s that. The boys in front of me, all friends, began hugging each other and laughing nervously.  Or, we can talk with our parents about solar panels. That’s when I lost it. “Insulate the damn house first,” I yelled from the floor.

Seriously people, there is a HUGE GAP between the totally lame “change a light bulb and you have saved the planet”—because even changing every light bulb on the planet would not stop climate change at this point—and installing solar panels. And this is where my frustration peaks. It is a three part frustration.

First, we suggest actions that are so tiny as to be meaningless in the face of this crisis and the kids know it. Light bulbs. Showerheads. Carpool once a week. Recycle.  Bring a bag to the grocery store. Turn down the heat two degrees. (From what? 80? 68? 62, where we are?) These changes are often couched in vague numbers; this is the equivalent of taking five hundred cars off of the road. What does that mean? What car? How many miles? With a head or tail wind? If it was 1976, when Jimmy Carter put on a sweater and installed solar panels on the White House roof, these steps would have been the beginning of meaningful change—and maybe they still are today. If everyone did this, it would be one wedge against the changing climate. But if we stop here, we are kidding ourselves—and my students, who will face the crisis head on in their lifetimes—that we have averted the worst of the changes.

Second, especially in my town, we believe in technology and engineering. Corvallis is highly educated—and many guys riding funky bikes and going to sustainability meetings are retired engineers.  They think in terms of technology. What do we do in the face of climate change, besides ban plastic bags? Solar panels. Prius purchase and many variations. Plug-in stations that are rarely used.  Georgetown Energy Prize. We go big and we go tech. We suggest changing the building codes to require solar panels on all new construction. We request loans for the City to install panels on people’s houses.   We try for big prizes and give out light bulbs everywhere. What do we not do? We overlook the human element involved and the low-tech basics. Fifty five percent of our housing stock is rental, and much of that is before code changes on insulation. This means that renters, mostly students and poor folks, are living in poorly insulated houses, where heat and air conditioning leaks out the windows, walls, and roofs. Renters cannot insulate their spaces, but we could have a program that requires and supports insulating all of our housing stock. This would not only reduce city-wide energy costs, but would benefit the rental community, who are struggling in our town to pay their bills. New technology alone cannot save us, old technology will certainly help.

                Finally, we deny the fact that there are no easy solutions. The problem has grown too big and terrifying. We, as a society, need to cut back—probably way back—on our carbon usage. This will mean—no flying across the country for a weekend. No more 3000 square foot houses, filled with stuff. A lot less meat, new clothing, long drives in the country in a huge pick-up truck. At one point, I thought we might be able to work our way out of this without sacrificing most of our creature comforts and travel, but I no longer believe that this is possible. We are in too deep. There will be radical changes in lifestyle—some more than others, yes—if we want the planet to survive and support future generations. These radical changes will be embraced by some, fought by others. We need to have the political will to vote for candidates how will say the words “climate change is real” and policies, like carbon taxes, that will direct practical solutions to the problem.  Terrifyingly, this has to happen in the next five years.

                And so, when the “What you can do” list includes shower with a friend, eat one meatless meal a week, and replace one bulb with the one we are handing out at the door as you leave, I grow frustrated. And when the presenter (whom I like, personally)—who owns a solar installation company—suggests these tiny responses or solar panels with nothing in between, I yell. 

 On Friday afternoon, Earth Day, about 55 people are coming to my house to view the solar panels on the greenhouse. And we will talk about how much we love them, watching the dial, watching sun and shadows play over the surface and change the reading. But before that, they will head into the basement, where the real change begins, with an efficient furnace and an insulated house, because, really, on a homestead scale, solar panels are the last step to take.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bee News

A swarm moved into our empty hive! After years of sending bee swarms off into the world—I even chased one six blocks to see where it was headed—we had one move in this week. So exciting!

We had a fairly empty hive box sitting on the Bee Bench. The hive died over the winter. I cleared out and strained the honey, but left the empty comb in the box. The plan was to go in again in the next few weeks, clear out the comb, and melt it down. Then I was ill for two weeks, it rained hard every day, and it was still sitting in the back yard when I noticed a few bees moving in and out.  Just looking for honey scraps, I thought.  The next day, there were a few more—a couple of dozen bees, poking around. A bit of old comb fell to the bottom of the box and was shoved out. Scouts?

On Wednesday, a warm and sunny day, I came home around five. When I walked through the back gate, something was different….there were hundreds of bees swarming around the hive box, feeling a little turfy. “Welcome,” I said and dropped down onto the hive viewing stump. What was up? Bees crowded around the entrance, butts in the air, madly fanning. Others crawled down the front. Some pushed dirty wax comb off the edge.  Mark came home and saw a Bee Dance. I wanted to look inside, but they were clearly not welcoming. We wandered back to watch the hive all evening.
After dark, I goggled “bees with butts in the air”   and learned that it was the way marker bees sent their scent into the world for the forager bees to find their way home. Home. They were setting up housekeeping. A pile of wax bits formed under the hive.  I was not positive until Friday, when I spotted cream colored pollen moving in on bee haunches. By Saturday, the hive had settled down to deliberate  hive actions. The flight paths were straight, not mazey. Pollen was coming in on most bees. The fanning was over.  We had a hive.  When I laid a piece of burlap over the bars on Saturday, they were all over the comb inside.

Saturday was also the day we picked up our new bees, because I had placed the order a month earlier, not know a swarm was on the way. After cobbling together a hive bottom from some old wood and a  roof from an old langstrom hive we had around for decoration, we were able to use two of our stored  boxes to create a second hive body.  The bee installation went smoothly and all of the bees were inside a hive within two hours (I suspect some moved in next door) rather than the usual lingering clump for 48 hours.  Within a day, both hives were operating separately, with clear flight paths up and out.  I have not checked on either hive for egg laying; the queen was out of the purchased hive this afternoon and they were building comb.

I don’t know where this gift hive came from. As I have had and observed at least five swarms pass through my yard,  I do know that there are wild hives in the neighborhood. One lived in the ancient and rotting willow next door, which lost a huge branch a few weeks ago. Although I  had not seen any action there this spring, a small hive might have been disturbed and looking for a more stable home. I don’t know. I do know that the universe sent us a gift hive this spring, and  I will do my best to keep it around.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Here comes the sun....

The sun came out this weekend—solar production doubled, for 4KW to 8KW per day! We leaped on the sunny days to catch up on outside chores. So, since Wednesday afternoon, we have:
v  Washed  and sundried six loads of laundry, mostly sheets and towels.
v  Mowed and trimmed the entire yard—front one day, back the next.
v  Planted all of the potatoes.
v  Moved two yards of soil into the reconstructed garden beds.
v  Moved bricks around to create a pathway to the solar display.
v  Admired the tulips.
v  Chipped all of the prunings from the year.
v  Planted root crops in the ground—parsnips, carrots, and beets.
v  Cleaned up the herb garden.
v  Weeded everywhere.
v  Washed the outside chairs.
v  Opened up the greenhouse so that the tomatoes were buffeted by fresh air.
v  Read in the sun.
v  Walked around the Arboretum to look at  spring flowers.

We were not the only ones working on projects—when I picked up a friend for a walk, her partner had just reinforced his greenhouse and was working on patching holes. He, too, had a list in mind and a gleam in his eye.