the NewBeez of 2015 are here

Since it looked like I was going to reach my funding goal for the Cozy Bee Project, I took a chance and pre-ordered 10 packages of bees to replenish the ones lost to the bear last year. Yesterday, two days before the end of fundraising, they arrived! I put them in the hives, and there was a lot of buzzing and chaos. The weather was perfect: it almost got up to 80 and was sunny. By the end of the day, the beez were pretty calm and inside their houses resting, so it all looks pretty good. For now, I’m keeping the buzzers in the yard until I get the new apiary set up at Nehalem River Ranch (other farmer friends of ours). These bees are going there some time next week (Emily will NOT be pleased if they are still in her garden when she returns from her trip!) .

2015 NewBees_SM

The old bees at Foley Creek, the original and strongest apiary, are going to move to somewhere else on Farmer Ned’s property at some point too, but I am not yet sure when, as we’re moving them out of the orchard to make both beekeeping and orcharding easier. My friend Ryan saw a bear track last fall near those hives, so that one is going to get an electric fence before the end of summer, but not the full-on deal that Gravel Creek is getting, since THAT bear knows about hives and will be harder to discourage.

At Gravel Creek (our new farm), I need to build the new bear exclosure, but that’s the lowest priority, after the other two apiaries are set up and running smoothly. I have 16 colonies right now, 8 per apiary, and that was the base setup for the experiment. Since I got extra funding (thanks to all who participated!) I will have to build some more hives, and it looks like some of my colonies from last year are big enough to split this month, so I may yet be able to fill the new hives when that happens.

But today it has turned to rainy and windy and cold, so I am hiding inside next to the cozy fire. I can check on my bees, though, from here. A computer programmer/ electrical engineer from the other side of the mountain heard about my project, and sent me some of his gear to test. He invented a gizmo that has sensors in every hive, and sends temperature and humidity data wirelessly to a central Raspberry Pi computer that can be accessed by WiFi. It’s pretty awesome, and actually costs the same as the “hard way” I was planning on doing it with individual USB data loggers. It’s excellent. The best part is that he’s beta testing all this, so not only is he giving me a good deal, but he’s modifying the operating system and adding functionalities as I suggest them. It’s all the fun of R&D without any (most?) of the work.  Who knows, maybe I will set it up some day so YOU can see how my bees are doing, on this website?

There will be more updates on this as the spring moves on I try to get it all working properly to start the Experiment.

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River bank stabilization

riverbank_smA few days ago, the workers from the Tillamook Estuary Partnership came out again, this time to plant riverbank stabilizing seedlings along our creek. These are a low-growing variety of willow, and they planted a thousand of them in one day. I was incredulous when they told me the number, so they showed me their technique: the willows are brought in as whips cut from their nursery stock, clipped into 24″ wands, and then simply jammed into the ground. So long as they are live and have at least two vegetative nodes above the groundline, they will root and grow. Supposedly by the end of the summer, they will have leaves and be solidly rooted, but by NEXT summer, they will have really flourished and it should look like a robust native planting.  We’re pretty excited to have this kind of work going on at our property.

gooseegg_SMIn other news, Emily got a GIANT egg as a present from our friends at Nehalem River Ranch. I keep some bees at their property, and they handed this egg to me after I was done checking up on my fuzzy buzzy bees. It’s a goose egg. She ate it and it lasted her almost until dinner before she was hungry again. Oh, and it had two yolks!

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Cozy Bee Project

Several months back, I was thinking as I was reading an article in the state beekeeper newsletter about the Vivaldi board. It’s a special ventilated roof that is supposed to keep bees healthier by reducing moisture during the winter months. Hive moisture is a killer for honey bees, much like if your house were damp and soggy all winter long. But I was surprised to see that the article didn’t really make any quantitative statements; it just said “this is better” and provided no proof. For some reason that bugged me, so I called up my buddy Dr. Dewey Caron, a world-renowned bee scientist I met by accident a few years back, and asked him if there were any journal articles or university studies on the subject. He knew of one that was barely relevant, from way back in the 70s, and suggested I do a study myself.

That got me excited, and after additional discussions with another apicultural scientist at Oregon State, Dr. Ramesh Sigili, we designed a 1-year research project where they will be technical advisors and I’ll be putting temperature and humidity data loggers into 16 hives and tracking hourly measurements, then comparing that to disease and mite infestation levels, for hives of  four different roof types, to look for health connections.

CozyBeeBanner1024bottomWith the miracles of modern technology, the equipment isn’t very expensive, but I need a lot of it. So I’m starting a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter right now. The way Kickstarter works is that if you don’t reach your funding goal, you get $0 and your backers get refunds. It’s an all-or-nothing model… a little scary, but a great way to be sure that a half-funded project doesn’t flop. Click here to visit the site, where you can find a lot more information about the project, and if you feel inspired, you can even donate to my project (and get some sweet rewards, too). I’ll be fundraising through March, so in early April, I’ll let you know how it went.

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Oh dear, now it’s been even longer since I posted. Hopefully I can get back on track now! This month has been hectic, trying to finish up the house, and we’ve been living with a friend across the street in the meanwhile. He’s been very accommodating, but living as  a renter in someone else’s spare room while remodeling is both time consuming and distracting. But he has a pretty view out his kitchen window (see above).

VikingPorchSMRyan came over a few days ago to help me build the stairs to the house. This is one of those things we’ve been struggling without for over a year, staggering up a precarious stack of concrete blocks every time we weant to enter or leave. It’s long overdue.  Like many things in life, it was “important” but not “urgent” and got pushed to the back of the list as a result. Now that we are verging on getting a final inspection, that’s one of those things that needs to get done… along with the guardrail on the balcony, the handrails on the stairs, cover on outlets, a vent fan for the range… there is still quite a list.

We’ve also been thinking about the farming for the coming year… planting season is just around the corner. We’ve decided to scale back this summer and give ourselves a break, and focus on getting the farm stuff transferred over from the other property, opening new fields, getting settled into the new permanent house. In practical terms, that also means not vending at the farmers’ market. That was a hard decision to make, but the right one. A consolation is that we may still show up sporadically to sell excess vegetables; we are organizing a collective farmer stand that we’ll be sponsoring this season, in conjunction with a few other local small farmers in the area that we’re friends with. More on that in a later post.

But in the meantime… there is much to be done! This January we started a north county work party. There are six local farms participating, and we get together once a month for an entire day at one of the farms, and work like crazy, Amish-barn-raising-style, on any projects that farmer needs done. It’s a great way to tackle manpower-intensive projects, make good use of specialized tools your neighbors has access to (tractors, chainsaws, etc), and hang out with a bunch of people you really like. February was our turn, and man did we get a lot done! We cleared mountains of brush, removed the rest of the construction debris, opened up the garden space, and in the process also got several cords of firewood. The host also prepares a nice meal, a chance to show some hospitality while saying thank you. Emily made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and I made pasties for lunch. They were both a big hit.

20150220 WorkPartySM

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Underground stream

steelwork_SMSorry it’s been so long since a post; we’re sortof in limbo waiting on a few house items that are beyond our control. I do still go out to the house regularly, though, and work on subprojects that aren’t on the critical path. Things like installing the stormwater drainage from the gutter downspouts, or fabricating the steel support brackets for the rail of the loft. That’s what you’re seeing here… these steel brackets will bolt to the edge of the loft, and there will be stainless wire strung through them to keep folks from falling from the bedroom down to the living room if they are incautious. To save money, I bought angle iron from the local welding shop, and am cutting and drilling it myself. I don’t have a welding setup right now, so I’ve decided to bolt the clip angles onto the vertical supports. Once it’s all painted and installed, I’m sure it will look quite nice… and bolted connections are sexy, as they show off the way things work.  I’ll post pictures of the final installation.

In other news, the work crew from TEP showed up today and started clearing brush and invasives as part of the riparian improvement project we’re doing with them. It’s an exciting day! They have chainsaws and giant two-handed weedwhackers with triangular steel blades, and know exactly how to use them. We walked the property with Tom, the project coordinator, and looked at the work that will be done. It’s an impressive undertaking, and they are going at it with gusto. We’re so grateful. They are even going to clear some of the densest, gnarliest windfall areas that we have been too intimidated to even explore, on the southwest bank area.

underground_stream_SMBesides today’s tour, I walked around the creek some yesterday, just to take a break and enjoy the quietude on a sunny midwinter afternoon. This time of year the underbrush has died back, and its possible to walk and see things not normally available, like the white-trunked alder forest and the grassy hillocks at the brook’s confluence. I heard a deep, hollow gurgling from the wetland below, and upon following it was surprised to find an underground stream emerging from the hillside! It isn’t a big one. I wonder if any goblins or toad kings live in there?

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Happy solstice

tree growth eventSMand two year anniversary of us being land owners! Now if only we could get moved in…

Speaking of Gravel Creek Property history, I was walking by one of the trees that Sandy cut down a few months back and took this picture. The growth rings are clearly visible, and give some dendrochronological verification of the history of the property we’ve been told. Counting rings, this tree sprouted from a seed in 1962. It grew at a moderate pace for its first five or six years, probably due to youthful vigor or because a tree had fallen down above it, leaving a sunlight hole. Then the hole above it closed and the forest darkened, times got tougher, and it grew much more slowly, as you can see from the really tightly spaced rings. But when it was 20 years old, something happened and it took off on a wild growth spurt lasting a few decades. That would have been 1982- the year before the property’s previous owner bought it… the year it was clearcut! That means this tree was left behind, not cut because it was only 3 or 4 inches in diameter at the time, and suddenly had access to all the water and sunlight it could ever want.

It’s a little sad to me that this guy survived that major event to finally succumb to the chainsaw in 2014, so we can have adequate sunlight on our house. But I can rest easier knowing that we are going to take much better care of the land than the clearcutting timber company, and all of its brothers and sisters will live good lives and get to be very big trees indeed (if we have anything to say about it).

Below is a picture the seller sent us that he took in 1983 when he bought the property. You can’t even see this view now, because of the way the trees have grown up. It’s from atop the hills to the east of the property, looking out over the Gravel Creek valley towards the highway (which you can’t see, it’s behind the farthest trees). Gravel Creek itself can be just barely seen on the left, and the low green area of the valley is where the vegetables are going to be planted once we get done with the house. The evergreen in the center is still on the property, it’s now a huge tree down by the bridge. About an inch in from the right is “four hemlock stump” before it had four hemlocks growing out if it; it’s still there at the edge of the upper garden today. And if you look just to the left of that, you’ll see an evergreen about 20 feet high: the same tree that’s in the first photo, three decades later.


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It’s all right, It’s all right, it’s all right… propane.

propaneSMYou have to imagine that title to the tune of that old Clapton song to really get the spirit of it. Here we see Jeff, the propane guy. He’s super friendly, brought the tools, and has the talent. And now WE have propane. Here we see him installing a 250 gallon tank. That much propane will get us through more than a year, if I worked it out right, which is nice because we can time our propane purchase to July, when it’s the cheapest.

flooring_abovSMBesides the propane, we also got the floor in! I thought it would take all weekend, but a few friends showed up, put their shoulders to the wheel, and we got it all in in ONE DAY. Hot stuff! Here we see Emily, Alyson, and Sam-I-Am working away. We had quite a system- they measured, I cut, they installed. By 7pm, we were really tired but done. As tradition demands, we then went into town to treat for pizza. But who knew that the all the pizza place in town would be closed for the winter? Aah, small towns. But the pub was open, and the burgers there are mighty fine.

Now… we gotta get those counter tops in, don’t we?


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Sun Break


Oregon is awesome. In December, when a midwesterner would normally expect blizzards and ice storms, we get rainbows. And despite the fact that we get a LOT of rain, we get some sunny days too. This has made energy management in the house interesting… since we’re not living there yet, many of the electrical loads (such as refrigerator) are not yet online. But some, like the well pump and lighting, are. I’ve been pleased to see that we’ve not yet gone below 95% on the battery charge for the solar system, though I know that will change soon.   What’s more interesting is that I’m now more in tune with the sun. When it’s out, the batteries get full pretty quickly, and we have excess power. What to do? I’ve started turning on the electric heated floors in the bathroom and mudroom when it’s sunny. It’s free energy at that point. Conventional wisdom is that electric resistance heating is not compatible with solar power, as it’s very watt-intensive, but I’ve discovered this is a weird exception to the rule, a way to use bonus energy and even save some firewood in the process.

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
rubytilecuttingWe had a nice turkey dinner potluck with several friends in the area, and are feeling quite satisfied. But beforehand, I set the last tile in the mudroom. As of now, all the floor tile is installed, and the wall tile in the bathroom is only about a workday away form being done as well. Here you see Emily running the tile saw earlier in the week, working in the sideways rain. It started hailing a few minutes after this was taken, but that didn’t deter her from the appointed task. In fact, she kept right on at it until the saw broke down, ending our work for the day so we could go to town and get a part. She was pretty frustrated that we were rolling along so well, then something like a mechanical failure would throw a monkey wrench in to the whole thing. But you know, that’s how projects seem to be.  And people who don’t do a lot of maintenance or creative projects don’t realize that when things go smoothly, it’s becuase someone did a lot of thought and preparation beforehand into having spares available, the right tools, extra materials, and so forth. That’s what “making it look easy” is all about.

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A pretty place to farm

I never cease to be amazed at how pretty this place is. Here we see Emily planting garlic on what is probably the last possible day. Several people I’ve talked to in town mentioned that they were looking at the weather report, feeling guilty that their garlic wasn’t in yet, fretting at the coming weeks of rain, and clearing their calendars. It’s funny to think of people all over north county all planting garlic simultaneously on Saturday, as though under some subliminal mind control waves.

cheery_JøtulSMIn the days since that photo was taken, the rain and cold have moved in, requiring us to light the wood stove in the house while we work. We’ve finally removed the old stove that came with the house, and saved it to use elsewhere (yet to be determined).  It’s a nice enough stove, but two years ago Emily scored a really sweet Jøtul Model 8 wood stove on craig’s list for about a thousand dollars less than new. This is our dream stove; we’ve loved it ever since we used one in a friend’s vacation home in Door County, almost a decade ago. They are the finest of Scandanavian woodburning technology, both beautiful and extremely efficient. This one needs a little cleaning and a few parts replaced, but I can handle that.

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