Solar Production 2016 and 2018

Solar Production 2016 and 2018

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Growing Up!

We are growing up the sides of our buildings this year, dreaming of harvesting cucumbers
Climbing Zuchinni
from the greenhouse shower, beans from the living room couch. And, perhaps, finding a bit of shade on the hot south side of the house.
Scarlet Runner Beans and tomatoes.

Thornless blackberry jungle

grape arbor

Squash and cucumbers on the greenhouse

pumpkins on the fence

Monday, July 25, 2016

Backpacking Stuff-- What do I really need?

I love my backpack. I’ve had it for twenty five years. It’s been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, around the Three Sisters and Mt. Rainier, from the Skyline to the Sea, and countless trips into the White Mountains and the Cascades. Paired with a hand-made walking stick and some light weight shoes, I am ready to go.

It took me a year to find. Internal packs were just coming onto the market and women’s packs were pretty rare—we were expected to wrestle with things that were too long for our torsos, but hugged our hips. I knew, when I went into a store and the salesman adjusted yet another pack for me, put weight into it, and I almost tipped backwards, again and again, that the pack was not right. Mine is a Madden, one of the first designed for women. It’s small, dark grey, and a simple sack. I found it in a little crowded shop in Boston, across from BU, where I was in grad school at the time. The salesman bent the back bars, put a few sandbags in, and placed it on my back. “Hello!” it said and I knew. It was perfect. The salesman showed me how to shift the weight from my back to my shoulders, depending upon terrain (and sore spots) and I left the store with my pack.

I have learned how to pack for both long and short trips and my pack is much lighter than it once was, even when we are out for five or six days. First, gear is lighter. The water filter I once lugged around weighed about three times as much as the one we have now. It was less prone to breakage, but it was heavy.  Our tents, sleeping bags, and mats are all lighter replacements for gear I bought in grad school.  I have also eliminated redundant systems. Once, I took a candle lantern (finicky, heavy) and a flashlight. This is puzzling because we rarely used either—we were proudly working on adjusting our eyes to the coming darkness and wandering around camp after dark without a light or we were in bed, asleep. Now, I have a tiny flashlight, but prefer to lie in my tent watching the darkness settle on the trees above. I don’t need three t-shirts; I just need one, plus my long underwear shirt. I certainly don’t need TWO reading books; I question the wisdom of bringing even one sometimes, although bringing a book you need to read on a trip with a lot of downtime can be an effective means of getting through it.  I do, however, need my raingear AND my towel, which acts as pillow, shade cloth,  towel, shawl,  and dinner warmer.

I have been working on food for years. I carry the food for the trip, except for the snack bag, so weight is important. There’s a delicate balance between “loose” food, like a bag of fresh green beans or a couple of apples, and the nutrient dense nuts, dried bean mixes, and kippers that will keep us going down the trail.  Food also has to be tough.  Bagels, even white flour ones, fare better than a loaf of bread, which needs to be sliced before we leave. Cucumbers are better than tomatoes. I like a bit of variety as well. After taking a pound of almonds to the Grand Canyon for a week, I did not want to see an almond for several years. I often mix up the snacks so that we have peanuts and raisins one day and apricots and almonds another. We scour the shelves of grocery stores for light weight prepared foods for dinner and I also compound our own, based on bulgur, orzo, cous cous and other quick cooking grains.  As the week goes on, my pack grows lighter, especially when I weigh out each dinner and we eat the heavy one first.

It is important to have a light, tightly packed backpack, especially on a longer trip. I have not abandoned my safety items—the first aid kit, the space blanket and water purification drops, the rain gear and wool hat—but I have seriously reconsidered all of the extras I once hauled up hills.  My trips are better because of this. The pack no longer hurts my shoulders at the beginning of a walk.  I do not have blisters; I have given up heavy boots (and camp shoes) in favor of my Keen sandals. I can walk upright and see the world that I am passing. And I can hear my backpack creaking away, right behind my head, as I head up the trail. “Hello,” it says, “It’s been too long.” And I agree.

The List
Tent/stakes --Mark
Sleeping bag, mat -- both
Flashlight-- Charlyn
Whisperlight stove, c. 1990—Charlyn
Fuel—Mark, outside pouch
Lighter, matches, repair kit—Charlyn
Bowls, mugs, sporks, pots—Charlyn
Napkin, stirring spoon, salt and pepper, oil if needed—Charlyn
Soap and sponge—Charlyn
Snacks-- Mark
Water filter and two filled quart bottles—Mark
Rope and a couple of small bungies—Charlyn
First Aid kit, including tooth brushes, etc.—Charlyn
Space blanket—Charlyn
Tool bag from Daypack (pocket knife, sunscreen, bandana, playing cards, hand lens)—Charlyn
Camera, with new batteries—Charlyn                   
Duct tape on water bottle, safety pins on backpack
Towels, facecloth—both
TP and trowel—Mark
Raingear, wool hat, long undwear, fuzzy jacket—both
Clean socks--both
Walking sticks (Mark has a rake handle, mine is from the White Mountains)—both
Notebook, Walden—Charlyn
Reading book or magazine—both

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Time-- a rationale for not taking a "real job" after college.

“Thirty years from now,” Gailie said, studying the Ceres Bakery Christmas Party photo, “When we look at this, it will be like our kindergarten class. We will remember each person.”  We nodded then—but she was right. That photo captured a singular moment  in our lives, one that was far more profound than we believed at the time. Then, we were just… happy.   I’ve been thinking about this time a great deal later, partly because one of my dear friends from that time came out to visit.

Working at Ceres Bakery was a good job. The pay was good, we had health insurance with excellent maternity care (our boss had her two girls while I was working there), free food, a very flexible schedule that allowed all of us to take months off to travel at least once while I worked there, an old pizza oven to lean on on cold mornings, and people loved and respected our work. We fed the community, every day.   We worked hard, but there was conversation, and laughter,  and support, and warm chocolate chip cookies, cut into pieces to share. We were strong and healthy; I loved to haul out the fifty pound bags of oatmeal (which look like one hundred pound bags of flour) and dump them into the big storage buckets.  

Everyone who worked at Ceres was in some sort of transition. We had mostly graduated from college with liberal arts degrees—Art and English were very common. It was, for the most part, pre-crushing student debt. We were in our twenties. Some of us were married, others had boyfriends, others were working out relationship issues, but the men did not dominate our lives. They were there—at home. Not at work. Some of us were thinking of going back to school; I actually did for my last year of work. For the most part, we did not own houses, but lived in various apartments around town and moved as our relationship status changed.  We gardened in small spaces.  In the summer, we went hiking and swam in the Atlantic Ocean at twilight, when the beach was empty; in winter, we learned to knit, read, sewed, held Craft Nights that lasted until three AM, and shared food. In all seasons, we met at the Bakery before starting out on any adventure and we fled to the Bakery in times of crisis or boredom. The back door was always open. We all spent hours sitting on the back counter or a flour bin, talking, talking, talking.  We had time.

And the time….time is what made those years profound, in retrospect. We had time, and support, to figure out where we were going to go next, what we valued, and where our adult lives were headed.  It is no coincidence that some many of us still cook, grow much larger gardens, paint our houses vibrant colors, sport a vintage design esthetic, and work to create a more beautiful world. We figured that all out on our long hours in that small, hot space, talking.  There was time. We had time.

This is the key, I believe, to a happy adult life—time while you are figuring things out.   One friend from that era, who had her son at 16, said “You get your freedom young—or you get it when you are older. I’m getting mine late.” She was ok with that—but I think we have stronger, healthier, happier lives if we take that time while we are young, before we have serious relationships, and children, and big jobs, and mortgages, and older parents, and all of the things that I have now that I cannot run out on to take time to find out who I am now. Because I had  the time when I was younger, I know. And I remember on long hikes in the woods in summertime, when I have time once again.

So, when you are working behind a counter and someone your own age says “Haven’t you graduated yet?” implying that you should be doing something more important with your life, just smile.  You are living the questions, finding the answers, and, when it is time, will be ready. They, on the other hand,  will be balding, driving a red sports car, and hitting on people half their ages. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Harvesting Honey from a Warre Hive

Bee Escape in use
Harvesting honey from a Warre hive is not as straightforward as harvesting from a Langstrom hive—or from a top bar hive, for that matter.  There are three essential problems: bees on comb, comb attaching itself to the box, and comb breaking off of the bar. With a few extra tools, these problems are, if not solved, much reduced.
Tools Needed:
  • ·         Box full of honey
  • ·         Bee escape
  • ·         Empty box
  • ·         Hive tool—bright yellow is good
  • ·         “Ultimate Hive Tool” from Bee thinking, which cuts the comb from the side of the box
  • ·         A big platter
  • ·         A colander and bucket or bowl

Problem One: Bees on the comb. Photographs of honey harvest always show a beekeeper, calm and pristine, gently brushing a dozen bees off of a honey comb, which is always in one piece, and one beautiful curve, hanging from the bar. In my experience, this is not what happens. My comb, if it holds together, is covered with bees. If I am able to brush some off, many remain and are squashed by the harvest. Bee Death is distressing.  I have wrestled with this problem for years. Early this year, I borrowed a triangular bee escape from a friend, but it was sized for a Langstrom hive and did not work. Still determined, I purchased a circular escape (four dollars, folks! This is a deal!), attached it to a board, and slipped it under my full box of honey, with an empty box—no bars—underneath. Within three days, the bees were gone. Not all of the bees—there were a couple of dozen really fat drones left behind (I don’t think they could fit through the gaps)—but enough so that I could brush them off of the comb. A Bee Escape, sized for your hive, should come with every hive, every “beginner’s kit.”
Tool Rack

Comb Attached to the Box:  This is one that never appears in the bee keeping books, but, along with crossed comb, happens regularly in the hive. Bees build comb out to the edge of the bar and attach it to the side of the box. It makes sense; the comb is much stronger when it is attached on three sides. It can hold more honey. It can reach down and bond with the box below. Attached comb creates a huge honey mess and more Bee Death. I’ve resolved this issue with a clever tool I found at Bee Thinking, the store in Portland where I buy my hives. It’s about a foot long, has a sharp flat blade on one end, which can be run down the side of the box when you turn it over to free the comb, and a turned blade on the other end, which can be fed  down between the combs, turned, and drawn up, releasing the comb. It is a little short and is quickly covered in honey when I use it, but it has transformed the Comb Attachment problem. I use it before I attempt to loosen the bar and  I have been able to lift out whole combs, if not on the bar, at least with my hands.  I can also use it between bars to push aside crossed comb.  It does not replace the hive tool, which I still use to separate boxes and pry out bars, but it fills a lovely niche. Much better than the old bread knife I was using.

                Comb Breaking off of the Bar: This is the dirty secret of Natural Bee Keeping, when you allow your bees to build comb without a foundation. It is never discussed in the books, but Comb Breaks Off. Regularly. If the bar is completely filled with honey, it will break. If it comes right out, then you know that it is not full. It does not matter if you hold the comb straight with the ground. It breaks. Even after I have cut it away from the sides of the box, it breaks. This is where the platter comes in really handy. When the comb breaks, if it is not covered with bees, I can reach in, lift it out, and drop it on the platter, which catches the dripping honey nicely, and move onto the next bar.

Both hives
Once I have harvested all of the comb, I put it into a colander, set it over a big bowl, break it up, and put it in the greenhouse, with all of the windows shut, to drain. It is essential to place the draining honey somewhere where the bees will not find it, as it will be quickly covered in insects if you do not. Inside the house can be a good idea, if the harvest went well and you do not mind a few bees buzzing around inside. They are not interested in you, after all, but the honey.  When it has drained, I pour it into quart sized canning jars for storage. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

One Percenters-- the Chickens

I am afraid I have raised a bunch of entitled chickens.

My chickens have the best possible life for domestic birds. They have organic feed—and not just ANY organic feed, but the feed that requires me to drive out of town to purchase it, rather than hauling a bag home on my bike. They have access to piles of compost full of bugs and worms and other tasty bites. They have chicken treat (also known as table scraps) delivered to their door, rather than dumped in the pile of compost with  everything else. They have some grass to nibble on and they are adept at thrusting their heads through not one but two fences to take large chunks out of the pole bean leaves.

They have a new coop which rests on some excellent leaf mulch and straw to poke in when they are in, which is seldom in the summer because Mark rises at the crack of dawn, literally, to let them out so that they do not fuss and wake people up too early. They have a nest box which they have rejected for eight months now, preferring to lay their eggs under the hazelnut tree. They have access to a quarter of the back yard, which includes all of Mark’s compost piles, a pool of water to stand in on hot days, and two hives of bees. Occasionally they have to share the space with the bunny, who can slip under the fence, or the cat next door, who also likes the shade of the blackberry thicket.

They will live their lives out here, protected from predators, until they die of old age. They will not be thrown in the stew pot when they stop laying. They will be allowed to drowse in the sun and claim the best tidbits as their own, even if they live to be twelve years old (which is some kind of crazy chicken record).  They have dream lives.

And yet—do they appreciate this life? No. They holler. They fuss. They walk the fence. Not to get too political, but they act like the One Percent—which they are, of the chicken world. That is MY NEST SPOT Bertha shouts as Blondie moves under the hazelnut tree. MINE. And they she sits on her sister, literally squashing her down.  Or they all shout at a jay—my yard, my yard, my yard—when she tries to scope out a nesting place or a bit on compost for her own. God forbid another bird land in the pool for a quick dip!  It’s embarrassing. It’s annoying. I wish I could train them out of it, but it is their nature to protect this perfect life for themselves, even when it costs others a good morning’s sleep or worse.

We are not chickens. But we behave like they do fairly often, shouting MINE, MINE at the tops of our lungs, protecting our perfect lives, no matter what the cost to others. Maybe our goal should be to be a little less like backyard, One Percenter Chickens,  and more like human beings, who are not bird-brained and can work out compromises and share the resources equitably.  And then everyone could sleep a little more easily at night.

Frittata—what’s for dinner when there is nothing else
Using a large cast iron skillet that can go into the oven, cook two or three cups of veggies. Potatoes in chunks and greens are nice, but not essential.  Add garlic and herbs.
Chunk some cheese—a good handful. Beat three or four or five eggs in a bowl. Add the cheese
Throw the eggs and cheese into the veg and stir. Cook until there are little bubbles in the egg  mixture on the stove, the finish off under the broiler.
If there are leftovers, do not leave them in the iron pan overnight, but transfer into containers for lunch at work the next day.