Bees Dun R-U-N-N-O-F-T *

Well, we returned from a day’s outing yesterday to find that the bees had completed their cleaning of the removed combs:

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So this morning, we went out to complete our bee housekeeping by putting the cleaned beeswax combs back into the more properly organised hive. Alas, we found that the bees were gone. Apparently they decided we were a danger to their continued existence.

Next time, we will be sure to set the hive up properly in the first place.

* Quote from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Bee Housekeeping

So, about six weeks ago we relocated our new beehive. At the time, we had proper frames in the lower super, so the bees would build orderly combs. Temporarily, we put an inner lid between the lower and upper supers, and put a sugar water feeder in the upper super so as to entice the bees to stay. We had intended to swap out the inner lid and upper super with a proper frame-filled super, but various events foiled those plans.

This morning we finally got to it.

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Here I am in my make-shift beekeepers outfit: white (so they do not mistake me for a bear) long-sleeved sleep shirt tucked into light-colored dorm pants in turn tucked into long white socks. Topped with a proper veiled bee hat. Stylish, no? On the left is the super/queen excluder/super/inner lid/outer lid combo that I am going to add to the hive. (The queen excluder is to make sure that the topmost super has just honey — no brood — that we can harvest later on.)

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As we expected, because we had not put an inner lid under it, the outer lid needed some leverage to unstick.

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Worst fears realized; The bees had built their combs attached to the underside of lid.

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We set the old lid near the hive opening so the bees could begin robbing the old combs and using the material in new combs. An hour later and they are going gangbusters. Hate to make them waste their time and energy like this, but what’re ya gonna do?

The Once and Future Tomato

What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Well, not as good as otherwise! Last year was a bad one around here for tomato crops. Ours came in late; enough to eat, but we barely had enough left over to can 7 quarts, and none for frozen pizza/pasta sauce.

I am determined to have a good crop this year. Our frost date is late May, but we were getting into the 80’s in early April, so I went ahead and bought two 4-packs of plants at a local hardware/grocery store. I went with two heirloom beefsteak-style varieties: Mr. Stripey (1800’s, mid-Atlantic, low-acid, colorful red/yellow) and Mortgage Lifter (early 20th Century, West Virginia, big-n-meaty, pink/red).

The weather stayed pretty mild so at the end of April I prepped my tomato beds — two of our five 6′ x 6′ terraced beds. First, I dumped the last of the winter woodstove ashes:
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Then I added several tractor bucket loads of goat shed compost on each bed, mixed, and leveled:
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Then, for several weeks, the weather, especially at night, turned chilly. It is my understanding that if tomato plants are repeatedly exposed to temps below 50 their yield will suffer the entire season. So I waited. And waited. I bought some peat pots and re-potted the root-bound plants.

Finally, in late May (admittedly, our historical frost date, but weeks and weeks and weeks after prolonged spring/summer temps), I deemed the forecast suitable for transplanting; in the background you can see the goats enjoying the bolted collards that I cleaned out of the nearby beds. I planted 4 plants per 6’x 6′ bed with landscape fabric mulch:
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A month later the plants are going gangbusters. I have tied a few plants with baling twine to encourage them to grow through the “tepees” I made with short sections of cattle panels:Tomato-2017-06-19

A Good Omen?

We went to go sit on the upper veranda this fine evening and discovered that we were beat to it …
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… by a white dove perching on our hammock! Here’s a close-up:
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View from the Upper Veranda [Video]

This is a bit old, from October 2015; been meaning to post it for awhile but kept getting hung up in the morass that is video file format conversion. There a bonus for my relatives at the very end. Every year at the end of the growing season we let our goats into our garden beds to clean out the spent plants. They enjoy the dietary change of pace, and we enjoy watching the free labor.

Pool Noodles for Head Safety! (However…)

One consequence of our having poured a concrete floor in our old basement is that the old, rusty I-beam (that was added at some point to help stabilize the bounciness of the upstairs floor) is now 5′ 9″ off the floor. I am taller than that. So I had this idea to buy pool noodles, cut a slit lengthwise, and, voilà! Head safety.

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When I first bought the noodles at the local Family Dollar, I only bought enough for the main basement. When I went back to get some for the smaller cellar, they were sold out. Not to worry, I went to the Dollar General a minute away on the edge of town. They had them. And now, a PSA for those of you in the market for dollar store pool noodles: Family Dollar pool noodles are superior to Dollar General pool noodles in every possible way: they are thicker, denser, longer, and made in the USA (DG’s are from Canada). Same price, of course: $1.

On a less lighthearted note, it turns out that head safety was the least of my worries. (In the journalism business they call this burying the lede.) Yesterday, while using my table saw to cut pieces for our addition ramp guardrail, my hand slipped and the tip of my thumb grazed the blade. In over 35 years of woodworking this was my first trip to the ER. I will spare you the gruesome details, suffice it to say that my left thumb is now a wee bit shorter and sans thumbnail. It took two hours and nine stitches. The pharmaceuticals are doing their job so it does not feel too bad at the moment. The official diagnosis, on the other hand, sounds rather dire:
2017 ICD-10-CM Diagnosis Code S68.022A
Mr. Google tells me that this is diagnosis code S68.022A in the current, and quite comprehensive, ICD-10.

Honey Bees

10 days ago we had honey bees swarming in our front yard. Quite the sight!

They coalesced into a bowling-ball sized swarm in a boxwood next to our driveway.2017-May-bee-swarm

This is at least the 4th time this has happened over the years. We used to have them living in our bedroom wall and in 2006 we captured a swarm into a beehive. They did not stay around very long, though. We still have the hive components, so we decided to give it a go again.

The next morning the swarm was still in the boxwood. It was chilly and rainy so we knew they might not survive long — bees cannot fly in the rain and trying to stay warm in the rain would sap all their energy. We snipped the branch with the swarm and dropped it into the beehive we had set up in the driveway. Unfortunately, a clump of bees dropped offduring the transfer. The next morning the uncaptured bees had reswarmed so we repeated the drill and then had most of them in the beehive. We left them there for about a week; once it got warm and sunny they became, well, busy as bees, collecting nectar to centerd out their new home. Yesterday morning was quite cool, so we took advantage of the resulting bee lethargy to move the beehive to a more suitable location.
2017-May-beehive

This location is not ideal, a bit close to the road, but it gets morning sun to wake the bees up but by afternoon the maple tree shades it to help prevent overheating.

We are not too stupid, though, so despite the coolth we did use a smoker when we opened the hive to put in a sugar-water feeder. Upon moving a hive you are supposed to keep the bees confined for several days, but today is forecast to be 90° and we don’t want them overheating, so we opened it up this morning. Hopefully they will not get too confused at their new location.

Addition Solar Heating Update

Well, it’s been 3 weeks since we got our solar water heating system up and running in our new addition. First off, it definitely works — Yay! But it is also definitely a complicated setup.

I have been testing and tweaking the various controller settings. The system manual, as so many are, is very poorly written. Here is a fine example, as no doubt translated from the original Chinese:

If hot water in tank isn’t used for long time, then the capacity that solar system absorbs solar energy reduces, when tank temperature rises to its preset maximal temperature, solar circuit pump is ceased compulsively even the temperature difference is satisfied. then when more solar irradiation shines in, as a result collector temperature will rise continuously, temperature of collector maybe rise up to the evaporated temperature of heat fluid, this phenomenon names collector – overheat, it should be avoided.

And I have, indeed, and as I suspected, had this “phenomenon” happen. With the recent warm and sunny weather, the heat wasn’t going on. The big 211 gallon tank reached it’s max (145°F) by noontime so the pump “ceased compulsively” and the collectors overheated — I saw it at 303°F; that’s why it uses stainless steel pipe, not pex — and the 50/50 glycol/water mix evaporated into the pressure tank as designed. This is OK once in a while, but having it happen on a regular basis causes the fluid to acidify over time. So, yes, “it should be avoided”.

Bumping the tank max up to 160°F helped a little, but not enough. I could go up 175°F, but that would not likely solve the problem and is also a bit too close to the 180°F rating of the pex piping. After sorting through the various system settings and the creative prose in the manual, I have settled on a solution of using the “BYPR Bypass function (high temperature)” to trigger a solenoid valve to dump hot water when the collectors are near overheating until the system cools down a bit. We are fortunately blessed with an over-abundance of well water, and we put in an extra conduit running down to the spring house during construction so we can use that for the cool-down dump. I ordered the parts I need — the last ones are arriving today — this includes the solenoid valve and another mixing valve (since I really do not want to run 160+°F into my floor). Meanwhile, I have been manually dumping hot water, as well as running the heat on whatever cool nights I can. We have some cool and rainy weather coming in a couple of days, that will be a good time for me to drain the big tank and readjust the plumbing with the new parts. I am using SharkBite push-to-fit connectors, which are a breeze to remove and reposition, so it should go pretty smoothly (he says, inviting the wrath of the easily-irked Gods of Plumbing).

Here is the updated system schematic; not really all that complicated, right? Right?

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Click to embiggen [Updated 20 May2017 to reflect final as-built]

Sunshine on my laundry makes me happy

I love the smell of laundry when it comes off the line. I know that this has to do with the disinfectant nature of the Sun’s UV rays, but I couldn’t find a more detailed scientific explanation; perhaps my Google-fu skills are a bit lacking?

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Last Friday was a very nice Spring day!

Easter Eggs: The Aftermath

The food dye we used to dye our eggs seeped into some of the eggs in a most delightful way.

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AfterEaster: hard-boiled eggs aplenty!

Happy Easter 2017

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Solar at Last

After literally years (I bought the major components in May of 2015!), we finally have an operational solar hot water heating system. Let’s start in the basement utility room.

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The collection part of the system

Here is the 800L (211 gallons) solar hot water storage tank. I choose this size on the highly scientific principle that it was the largest one that would fit under the 7½’ ceiling. The grey box on the wall is solar pump/controller. When the rooftop panel temp is higher than the storage tank temp (and the tank is less than 145 160 °F [Updated June 1st 2017 after system fine-tuning]) it starts pumping. The insulated pipe coming out the top of the box goes to the rooftop panels where the heat is collected and comes down though the right-hand pipe, through a heat exchange coil in the tank, then back up to the box. The red thing is an expansion tank. This system is a closed loop that has a 50/50 water/propylene-glycol mix (good down to minus 39 degrees).

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The heat distribution part of the system

On the opposite wall we have the underfloor heating pump and controls. The green box on the right is the control module. When a thermostat calls for heat in any of the 3 zones, it sends a signal to the appropriate thermal actuator (the small white cylinders atop the manifold in the center of the picture. Once the actuators are open (visually you can see a blue ring at the top) the controller starts the circulator pump (on the left — it is a delta-T variable speed pump that reacts to individual zones opening and closing to maintain a constant temperature differential between the inlet and outlet). This part of the system is a open loop — it uses the water directly from the big storage tank (which also provides pre-heated water into our small electric DHW heater.

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The collector frames

Last week I completed the assembly of the three rooftop solar panel frames. Each of the three frames will hold 30 evacuated/vacuum collector tubes. Together the three frames are about 23 feet long. At the top of each frame is a manifold — this is the only part that has water running in it, to capture the heat from the tubes.

Installation begins

Monday, the contractors arrived, two guys with two ladders. The frames are unwieldy but fairly light. After some discussion we decided to take off the relative heavy manifolds and take them up separately. Here is the first frame getting fastened to the roof; rather than put any holes in our shiny new standing roof I choose specialized clamps.[/caption]

Here is the second frame being carried up the two ladders. I am working the safety rope from underneath.

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Day one done

By the close of the first day’s installation, the contractors had completed the plumbing hookup to the frames; meanwhile I got the hookups done in the utility room. I pressurized the system with 30 psi of air and left it overnight to test for leaks. It failed the test. When the contractors got here at 8am on the day two, I put them to installing the column and posts for the ramp railing (see a few pictures down), while I hooked up the submersible pump to flush the solar system and pinpoint leaks. I had two in the utility room — both cheap-ass fittings I got at the Capon Valley Market yesterday since I ended up short. I managed to crank one down enough to stop it, and for then other I had found the proper fitting and got that in. Meanwhile, since water was dripping off of the roof the contractors went up and tightened the leaking compression fittings up there.

Leaks fixed, they started in on putting aluminum tape over the rooftop foam pipe insulation to protect it from the sun, while I drained the flush water from the system and re-pressurized it with a 50% polypropylene glycol mixture. I turned on the pump controller, and we started installing the 90 heat tubes. I was on the upper veranda unpacking the tubes from the shipping boxes, smearing thermal paste on the copper condenser tips, handing each tube up to guy one who was on the ladder, who then handed them to guy two to insert in the frames. Six of the tubes were broken, but the manufacturer was pretty generous by sending 30 spare tubes (but just the tubes, I had to remove the sealed copper tube inserts and aluminum heat-collection fins from the broken tubes).

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The finished product from the front (south side)

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And from the back (north side). To the right you can see the newly-installed posts; the shorter two are original to the house, they were part of a handrail on the front porch. I’ve been saving them for lo these 18 years — glad to have finally found a use for them!

The system seems to be working fine, the 211-gallon solar water storage tank went from 59 degrees 96 by the end of the day. Was still at 93 this morning. (I ultimately want to get the tank to 145 160 °F [Updated June 1st 2017 after system fine-tuning].) This morning I turned on the underfloor heat in the addition, we’ll see how it does getting the room from 65 to 68. Also interested in whether the rooftop unit can glean heat on a cloudy day.

It feels very good to have this project done! (Well, except for some more pipe insulation in the utility room.)

And, as a bonus, I discovered that my Moto phone had made a highlight reel (complete with cheesy music!) of the photos and videos I took yesterday late afternoon. It was a gorgeous day to review the completed project from the vantage point of the pasture and spring run. And our livestock guardian dog Satie enjoyed it as well.

2017 Goat Kids On Rock [Video]

This year’s kidding started three weeks ago, and within five days we had a good crop of seven little ones. We thought we were done, but somewhere along the way another one sneaked in because now we have eight. On Tuesday (so the kids here are 1½ to 2½ weeks old) they were all having a great time playing on a big rock, doing their best to answer the question “How many goat kids can fit on a rock?” The answer: “Not quite all of them!” Part way though you can see two of them run over to mamma for a nosh, but mamma does not agree that now is the time for that.

 

 

(The Last?) Concrete Pour

Apparently we are gluttons for punishment, because this week we called back our concrete contractors. No offence to them, but we sincerely hope this will be the last time we ever see them! This time, it was to pour a floor for the main basement of our old house.

When we moved in to this c.1834 house in 1998, the basement had a dirt floor, which occasionally did double-duty as, um, an ephemeral creek bed. We traced (most of) the water to a poorly-installed-and-therefore-clogged diversion drain that had been installed when the septic system went in the late 1980’s to get the leach field to perk. After we dealt with that, back in the early aughts we had the mud-laid foundation stones mortared in place to direct any remaining water down low to the floor. We then put in a French drain system to drain both cellars out back down the hill.

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This is the only pic I could find of the basement trenching project. It comes from a time when my hair — and beard — still had some color.

The trench drain worked, mostly. In ’05 we hired some guys to dig out 8 inches or so of the dirt (Atkins Silt Loam, to be precise) floor. We then had them put in 5 inches or so of gravel. This has served as our basement floor ever since.

basement-pre-gravel

This is what the basement floor looked like before we had it dug out and graveled. You can barely see the stone hearth under the mud (more on the hearth in a bit). Also, in the interim we have relocated the water heater into the new addition.

Fast forward to last summer, when we decided to go ahead and have a concrete slab poured, to complete the conversion into a fully usable space. We spent some time removing and leveling the gravel down so the 3-4″ of concrete would come up to the pre-existing level of the old dirt floor.

The task of leveling the gravel was made much easier by using the optical level with tripod that I bought when I was designing the new addition. You can see the concrete footers for the jack posts (that apparently were installed in the late 80s) that mark the level of the soon-to-be poured concrete.

As always seems to be the case, it took some months to schedule the contractors, but over last weekend we confirmed a pour for Wednesday. Tuesday saw the final preparations.

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The old wood threshold we removed. The top certainly looked worn, but that was nothing compared to the rotten bottom.

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I cut off the bottom of the door frame sides so the concrete will flow up to the stone wall. The door frames have a lot of rot (I was shocked — Shocked! — to discover this).

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Prep work done.

Wednesday dawned to the sound of contractors banging, yelling (*always* with the yelling, these contractors), and engines delivering and pumping the concrete.

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This equipment is very noisy; the cat stayed under our bed for the duration of the day.

After several days of curing, the finished floor is now walkable. A far cry from where we found it 18 years ago.

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Our new (non-rotted) concrete threshold.

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In this view you can see the full-width stone hearth across the north end of the basement. Once the concrete is fully cured (28 days)we will have the hearth pointed up with mortar.
On the wall you can see the outlines of the original 1800’s cooking fireplace. We presume that this was closed off c.1900 when an addition was added and the flue was re-purposed for a wood stove to heat the addition.
The two posts on the hearth are there to support the stone kitchen hearth that we put in during the summer of 2006.

Goat Kids, 2017 Edition

Kidding was easy this year, five goats produced seven kids over four days.

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Four of the kids, gathered in the southern portico of the goat shed, where they are confined with their mommas for a few days to facilitate bonding. (Some of the more headstrong moms tend to wander off with the herd, leaving their newborns wanting and wandering.)

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Brain (♫ a goat they called Brain! ♪) letting hers nurse.

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The three remaining kids frolicking in the sun.