Tiny House Jamboree: Conclusion

Just like this post, seeing the Tumbleweed was totally worth the wait.

Just like this post, seeing the Tumbleweed was totally worth the wait.

I apologize for the wait. Moving, among other stresses, has pushed blogging a bit too far down the “to do” list.

My favorite speaker from the Tiny House Expo was Jay Schafer, one of the founders of the movement. His tiny home was designed and built in 1999 and was hands-down my favorite at the show. Of course, I have a growing love for little, simple cabins, which is essentially what his was. He is also the one that said the definition of a tiny home is any house in which every square foot is used well. The idea is that there are a whole lot of options between 100 square feet and 3,000 square feet because, in the end, it has to be what’s right for you, personally.


Jay’s talk was about his personal journey, but he shared more than just a narrative and a flair for storytelling. He shared lessons he’d learned and philosophies he’d developed. And his laid-back, open manner made it clear why this is such a welcoming movement. He couldn’t have inspired anything else.

Personally, I'd need a little more kitchen, but it does keep you to the essentials!

Personally, I’d need a little more kitchen, but it does keep you to the essentials!

The step he suggests that you start with is to create a list of what you actually need to live. This could take two or three years, so be patient. He did this, himself, when he spent two years living in an Airstream trailer. While he was scraping ice off the inside walls of the Airstream, he determined that insulation was pretty high on the list of things you actually need to live. However, he also believes that your house does not need to be your whole universe. If you’re living in a tiny house village, there’s no reason you can’t share amenities like washing machines or a library.

You're not going to fit a whole lot of amenities in this living space, so pick the right ones. (Gotta say, the people watching that weekend was pretty fun!)

You’re not going to fit a whole lot of amenities in this living space, so pick the right ones. (Gotta say, the people watching that weekend was pretty fun!)

He hadn’t intended to start a tiny house movement. After all, tiny homes used to be normal. Hippy shacks, settler’s cabins, even caves weren’t the massive homes that have become normal. The word tiny came about because a “small” house was 2,000 square feet in the 1990s. Once he found out that tiny homes were illegal, though, it suddenly became imperative to live in one, himself. So he built a house called The Tumbleweed.

There was no ladder into that loft, and, unlike some of the more limber visitors, I wasn't about to do a chin-up for a peek up there.

There was no ladder into that loft, and, unlike some of the more limber visitors, I wasn’t about to do a chin-up for a peek up there.

Every self-built tiny home is a self-portrait of the builder. As Jay pointed out, so much of life is about home and how we live in the universe. Are you a community type that lives in a village? Are you the unibomber type that lives alone in the woods? I’m more the latter type, myself, but I can see the charm of living surrounded by people that have similar goals in life. The house is also about boiling everything down to the essence. What does home mean? Because it means something slightly different to each person, each home will express it differently. As they should.

When you’re building your house (or even having it built), there’s no reason to build to the lowest common denominator. I think that’s the problem with RVs, really. They aren’t built for beauty unless you’re willing to pay so much you may as well have it custom-built. The design should be not just efficient and useful, but also such that the materials aren’t ugly. Any material, from tin to mahogany, can be attractive or not depending on how it’s used.

I am heartily in favor of "home" including a kettle on the stove!

I am heartily in favor of “home” including a kettle on the stove!

One of the challenges Jay faced was finding room for his art materials. As any artist or crafter can attest, one’s stash of necessary materials has the potential to get out of hand pretty easily. Then he realized that art is simply the practice for real life. Real life is living artfully. Your glasses, windows, chairs, and walls can substitute for art.

Isn't that window an artful detail? I love it!

Isn’t that window an artful detail? I love it!

As of 2015, the minimum room size for the building codes dropped from 120 square feet to 70 square feet, though they still require a separate bathroom. (Don’t forget that building to code can happen without meeting the zoning standards. Legally, you have to meet both.) Codes are supposed to be to protect the health and wellbeing of the people- so where is the proof that these size rooms are really necessary for health and wellbeing? As a people’s movement, it is up to the people to push for more logic in the rules that are restricting us from building the house we need as opposed to the house we’re told to have.

You can fit a lot into this storage area- if you've done the internal work to know what you really need.

You can fit a lot into this storage area- if you’ve done the internal work to know what you really need.

Jay concluded his presentation by warning us that the biggest danger is from within. “Tinier than thou” exclusivity could drive out both newcomers and new ideas from those who have been with the movement since it started. There is also the possibility of corruption from within, like the organic movement. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean that it’s an efficient use of space or a way for the owner to really do the soul-searching necessary to live the life this movement is about. However, if we keep the movement of and by the people, it will continue to flourish.

Jay was my favorite speaker, not just because he was fun to listen to and had some very quotable statements, but because he exuded the self-assurance of someone who has figured out what they need out of life, what they want out of life, and how to go about fulfilling both. That makes him not just someone to listen to, but someone to aspire to. Just as each of our homes end up looking different, the way we express how we fit into the world will be different. But the ability to figure out who we are and what that place in the world is, is something that many people have trouble getting to. In no small part because they’re so caught up in their big house, big mortgage, and big piles of stuff that they just don’t have the energy left over to examine their lives in depth.

I have been thinking for a while, now, that I needed to get a better handle on my “stuff” and probably thin the herd quite a bit. Going to the Jamboree and particularly listening to Jay is giving me a positive reason to make the change. Previously it had been negative- I hate moving all of it when I move, I never have room in my rented room or apartment for all of it, storage units get expensive. But now I have something to work toward instead of away from. I will be working toward a lighter, brighter, more complete life than the one I had while burdened with all that “stuff.” It’s a much better reason.

No room for anything but the essentials for a good life!

No room for anything but the essentials for a good life!

Tiny House Jamboree- Colorado Springs: Part 2

I think kits are half-way between buy and build.

I think kits are half-way between buy and build.

One of the speakers gave a talk that I gathered is a new consideration for the movement. Laura Higgins discussed the choice to buy or to build. The decision is ultimately answered by designing your life around what matters. Is it more important to learn the diverse skills necessary to build a house- and make no mistake, it is a house- or is it more important to get into the house quickly? Is this temporary housing or a permanent move? If you’re building, do you have access to skills (yours or in your community), time (months), space for building, and materials (new or reclaimed). If you are buying, do you have the cash in the bank or financing? Having it built or buying a ready-built one will cost more than building it yourself, but the cost is usually known up front, unlike any building project, ever. In either case, have you walked through enough plans to be sure this will work for you? She even suggested taping out the plan on the floor so you can “live” in it to give it a dry run before building or buying. In the end, though, be open about your journey. People want to help and hearing about your journey may help them in return. Also, be confident in your decision. It is, after all, yours to make.

I'm not sure why there are complaints about these houses. It's adorable!

I’m not sure why there are complaints about these houses. It’s adorable!

Whether you build or buy, you will need to think about how you plan to use it and the codes and zoning that are associated with those uses. Because zoning trumps everything, that’s where you want to start. This is city and/or county down to HOA rules. They may include things like whether or not RVs are legal, minimum square-footage, and shape/aesthetic requirements. Once you’ve figured out those rules, then you can get into the building codes. The original tiny homes were what Darin Zaruba and Andrew Morrison described as “piece of shed on a trailer.” In other words, not to any particular code. The first code they discussed is the RVIA code, or the code for RVs. Tumbleweed and Sprout builders, among others, build theirs so they are registered as RVs. This means they are built to a national standard. Unfortunately, if your zoning doesn’t allow RVs, it won’t allow these tiny homes. The next step up is HUD code, or mobile homes. Unfortunately, it’s the factory that is certified. If you’re building the house yourself, this certification is not an option. The next step up is the IRC, or International Residential Code. They won’t certify a building on wheels, but why is your tiny house on wheels, anyway? Because you genuinely want to be mobile, or because you didn’t know there were other options? It is possible to build a tiny home to their code as long as you meet the minimum size and room number requirements.

Several of the lofts even came with models to show how spacious they are.

Several of the lofts even came with models to show how spacious they are.

There were some additional interesting tidbits from that talk. After 15 years of work, there is now an IRC National Strawbale Code. Change does happen if enough people want it badly enough. Legal egresses are not, in fact, about allowing you to get out if your home is on fire. The minimums are designed so that when you are unconscious from smoke inhalation, an average-sized firefighter can come in the building and save you. Given the size of tiny homes, and the fact that the bedroom is just a loft (IRC does require a separate bedroom) a second egress isn’t technically a requirement, but it might be a good idea to consider how you can skedaddle if anything goes wrong, because the house won’t last long enough for firefighters to get there. Apparently there is such a thing as the fastest tiny house- raced on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Could someone find me that video? I was not able to.

This arrived as a trailer and a kit on Friday. By the middle of Sunday . . .

This arrived as a trailer and a kit on Friday. By the middle of Sunday . . .

If you are interested in building your tiny house on wheels, Damon Deschampes talked to us about what to look for in a trailer. The original tiny homes were frequently built on utility trailers for lack of a better option. They are finding that as the originals age, utility trailers were less than the best choice. They are built for short-term hauling, not permanent, heavy weights. The laws concerning trailers change from state to state and they are currently fluctuating even within states. However, their research indicates that if you keep the height under 13’6″ and the width, including eves, under 102″, it should be road legal without additional permits. It is possible to get permits to move it if you build it taller or wider, but each state requires their own for each trip, so it’s inconvenient to build it bigger if you’re planning on keeping it mobile. You also want to take into account how you attach the house to the foundation because every time you move it, you are subjecting it to earthquake-like movements of 5-6 on the Richter scale and hurricane force winds. One last thought is to check the credentials of the experts you rely on. Make sure they aren’t snake-oil salesmen.

If we're going for productive land use, this one even has a chicken coop!

If we’re going for productive land use, this one even has a chicken coop!

Given all the interest in tiny homes and alternative living options, if you have land, there are people who are looking for places to park. Jan Burton and Sam Austin talked to us about ADUs, accessory dwelling units. They are actually legal in much of Colorado Springs, but check your HOAs and, if you live elsewhere, google ADU and your town. What they’ve found is that it’s great for increasing the population density without increasing the use of cars the way apartment buildings do. It gives rental income, often long-term, and allows homeowners to create living units, not developers. It’s possible to create an ADU either as an internal divide of a current house or as a detached unit. I suspect the internal divide would be easier to get past picky neighbors and HOAs, since the requirements on detached units tend to be stringent.

Once again, I’ve run out of room. My conclusion and favorite speaker will have to wait for Part 3.


Tiny House Jamboree- Colorado Springs: Part 1

The houses were tiny. The crowd was not.

The houses were tiny. The crowd was not.

I was lucky enough to hear about the Tiny House Jamboree just in time to sign up to go. I didn’t get to make it the first day, a Friday, but I did make it for the other two. Me and about 17,000 other people. Apparently the turnout was . . . unexpected. But even with the long lines for food and tiny house tours, the people were cheerful and chatty. Like any group who finally finds others that share their non-mainstream interests. It happened to be in my back yard, but there were people who came from around the country and around the world to join in the festivities.

The houses came in all shapes and sizes.

The houses came in all shapes and sizes.

I listened to most of the speakers, and the one thing that struck me about all of them is that this movement may be going mainstream, but its arms are still open wide for anyone who wants to learn and participate. And it also embraces many, many different ways of expressing “tiny living.” Once upon a time, you had to build, and probably even design, your own house. Now, you can buy one pre-made. You still count as part of the community. One speaker even defined a “tiny house” as any house in which every square foot is used well. If you are fully utilizing every space in a 5,000 square foot house he might question your definition of “utilize,” but he believes that you count, too. It is not about shoe-horning yourself into the tiniest space you can manage, but about defining and using only the space you actually need.

I kind of fell in love with the Gypsy Wagon Stages they brought in.

I kind of fell in love with the Gypsy Wagon Stages they brought in.

In fact, it felt very much as if the tiny houses themselves were really secondary to what the actual movement was about. The movement itself seems to be about redefining each person and their place in the world so that instead of living the way society says they “should” live, they have the option to live as they, themselves, believe they should. Tiny homes tend to have tinier bills attached, and if you’re only living in 200 or even 500 square feet of space, you really have to think about the “stuff” that you spend your money on. If you’re freed up from the heating and cooling bills from a McMansion and you simply don’t have room to put yet another enormous TV, what do you do with your money? All of a sudden, you have options.

They call it a yurt, but, given the space on the inside, it might have been a TARDIS.

They call it a yurt, but, given the space on the inside, it might have been a TARDIS.

One of the speakers was Vina Lustado, an architect who was discussing design with us. She believes that beyond aesthetics, and function, design can redefine your lifestyle, environment, and community. In short, design is a process in which to solve a problem. She was brought to the tiny movement because, as an architect, she found herself constantly working for big projects for big companies with big budgets. It was all about big mortgages and big cars. Big, big, and more big. But all that big comes with big bills that tie you down. That didn’t sit well with her. So she designed herself a home and a life that didn’t require the big mortgages and big bills, which then let her branch off to start helping others with their tiny dreams.

Some people need gardens . . .

Some people need gardens . . .

Going against the grain can be scary, though. Andrew Morrison discussed this fear- and the fear that keeps us from doing a lot of the things that would make us better people and the world a better place. His definition of a tiny house is “human-sized.” The right size is defined by what is appropriate to you, personally. The hard part of this is that you can’t ask someone else what the “right size” is. You have to ask yourself, and be honest, about who you are and what your needs are. What are the things that bring you joy that you don’t do? Why not? Now, one layer deeper, really why not? According to Jack Hanfield, everything you want is on the other side of fear. Andrew pointed out that fear is also a message. What is it really telling you? You’re afraid you won’t be able to pay the mortgage. Then invert it- what you really desire is financial stability. He likes to invert things to give them a positive slant. Eliminating debt is less satisfying than building wealth, because you’re running from, not running toward. What is standing between you and your passions? How do you resolve or remove that block? In the end, it’s not about succeeding, it’s about not giving up.

I have lived in apartments that are not only smaller, but way less inviting, than the SimBLISSity House.

I have lived in apartments that are not only smaller, but way less inviting, than the SimBLISSity House.

Byron Fears had a slightly different take on how to define your space. As a designer and builder, he spends half his time trying to talk clients into bigger spaces. It’s not because he’ll make more money, but because most people don’t take into account exactly how much room they need for the stuff they love. He lives, and builds, up in Boulder. We like our outdoor play in Colorado, and that requires gear. Multiple coats, multiple pairs of boots, skis, backpacks, bikes. In fact, on a lot of his houses, he builds on a bicycle garage for just that reason. But there are also other things that make the house a joy. Do you like to cook? Make sure you have a real kitchen, not a hotplate and a dime-sized sink. Also consider your food shopping habits. Will that tiny fridge really work if you don’t shop daily? Take into account not just who you are now, but also who you want to be. Do you see a spouse, kids, dogs, grandkids in the future? Should you build in stairs, not a ladder, because your knee isn’t going to handle a ladder for too many more years? While the couch makes for an excellent storage space, it, and the loft, should also take into account comfort and being inviting to others. On the other hand, are there silly redundancies like a bathroom sink AND a kitchen sink? Do you really need both- and the plumbing for both? In short- are you using your space for living, or for silly crap?

Having a shed is just useful when you've got hobbies.

Having a shed is just useful when you’ve got hobbies.

I have a lot more thoughts, and pictures, so I believe there will be another post with more speakers.

6 Simple Steps to Build and Maintain Poor Soil

This post was inspired by someone who hired me to weed a side garden for her. Unfortunately, I believe her land-care tactics are more normal than not.

Step 1– Purchase land that used to be forest, and was never truly turned into grassland.

Forests aren’t good at building soil. When you really get down to it, what builds soil is herbivores eating plants and pooping them back out. There just aren’t as many large animals eating and pooping in a forest as there are on a well-managed grassland. By well-managed, I mean one that is exactly as nature intended, predators and all, or one that humans are managing exactly as nature intended. Over-grazing, under-grazing, and turning it into potato and bean fields are all not in the best interest of a soil builder. If you start with the thin soil you often find in forests and then don’t manage it well, it will not improve with any speed, if at all.

Step 2– Manage the grazers that are on the property such that the favorite grasses never have a rest period to regrow between grazings.

Grass grows the fastest when it is between 3 and 6 inches high. Below 3 inches, there simply isn’t enough leaf space for photosynthesis to support rapid growth. Over 6 inches, and you risk it going to seed. Once an annual, like many grasses, goes to seed, it quits growing. Why? Because the mission has been accomplished. If you never remove the grazers, particularly in the winter and spring when the grass is the most fragile, then the favorite types of grass never reach that magic 3″ height. Everything they don’t like to eat, though? That grows just fine, crowding out the favorites for sunlight and water access.

Step 3– Manage the manure such that it is not able to be utilized by the decomposers that should be living in the land.

There are two ways to do this. One is to leave the manure in the pasture to rot where it is. Given how dry this area is and the fact that we’re working with poor soil, not the best idea. For that to work on a small acerage (probably anything less than 20 acres with proper pasture rotation, around here) there would have to be some pretty awesome decomposers already in the soil. Poor soil simply doesn’t have enough, yet. The second option is to create a manure pile of the size and shape that will encourage composting and then spreading that organic material in doses that the decomposers can handle. This means a tight, shapely manure pile, not a manure sprawl, and you’re probably going to want to water and turn it upon occasion to make sure all of it decomposes.

Step 4– Mis-manage the weeds.

I had to grab a bigger bucket because I’d miscalculated the volume of the weeds I was pulling. The homeowner told me to just throw them in the trashcan. What I said was, “Absolutely not! Then it will go and not decompose in a landfill.” What I should have said was, “Why are you interested in removing organic material from soil that you have said is poor?” Unless the weeds are diseased or have gone to seed, weeds belong in the compost pile. The other major mis-management is to allow the weeds to out-compete the grass. If the weeds are not cut back regularly to let the grass have sun and water, then the grass has no chance to out-compete the weeds. Grass likes to be cut/grazed and weeds do not. Knowing that can change pasture from weeds to grass without chemicals. Just good timing.

Step 5– Use poison.

A friend was telling me about this great weed-killer that she’d started using. All organic, so it was totally safe, right? The ingredients were soap, vinegar, and salt. Ok, so it’s less likely to make your dog sick than, say, Roundup, but there are two points to make here. One- poison is poison. You may or may not outright kill the decomposers in the soil around the unwanted plant or the ones that digest it, but there’s a good chance you’ll weaken them. You’re also leaving less-than-healthy soil for the next thing you want to grow there. Two- you salt the ground of your foes because you don’t want them to grow food to be able to fight back. In a place that doesn’t have the kind of rainfall necessary to wash away salts, why would you salt your own ground? That doesn’t make sense.

Step 6– Complain and warn others that the soil is just lousy.

If you want to make something better, assume there is a way. You just have to look for it. There are challenges that are unique to this area when it comes to building a good, strong soil, but there is no reason to assume it can’t be done. Do some research, ask some questions, and think critically about the information that’s out there. Then allow yourself the time it takes to build it right.

There you go- six easy steps to building and maintaining poor soil. How many are you following?

GMOs Will Save the World!

You’ve heard that argument. You may have even used it. It’s very popular, particularly with the folks that think people are starving because we’re not producing enough food on this planet. (A lot of people think that. It just isn’t true.)

I just watched an interesting Ted Talk by a plant geneticist defending GMOs- though she did say that the term GMO is more or less meaningless in the science community. She is very passionate about what she does and is clearly a good-hearted person, at least as much as one can tell from a short talk. However, there were a few points that I’m not totally there on.

The first is not so much a point as a theme. You’ve heard this one before, too. Any plants that have been bred have been genetically modified. One of her comparisons was the nearly inedible predecessor to corn and the yellow monstrosity grown across the Great Plains. She was making it a gradient from breeding to inserting virus DNA into mangos to make them resistant to a disease. Technically, that’s true. There’s also a gradient from cloning cells or even human tissue up to cloning a full human. In both cases, at some point between the two extremes, we really should be stopping and asking ourselves if this is actually a good idea.

The second point was about improving a plant to deal with the more extreme weather events we will have as the climate changes. Her project was to create a rice that could withstand weeks of flooding instead of days. Wonderful idea, great for that part of the world that eats a lot of rice and will be flooding. A lot. However, instead of taking the variety of rice that did so naturally and offering it as an additional option, they just pulled the pertinent gene out and stuck it in the variety everyone was already growing anyway.

As fans of evolution and heritage breeds know, life on this planet survives because of genetic diversity. Different things confer superiority under different circumstances. Right now, we have German Shepherds and Chihuahuas. At this place in history the Chihuahua has an evolutionary advantage because it fits in a purse and is cute. At some point in the near or not so distant future, things will change. German Shepherds will regain the advantage when being pocket-sized means you’re dinner, not adorable. If we have discard all of the German Shepherds because they don’t fit the current circumstances, then when little means dinner, we could potentially lose the domestic dog.

What does this mean for the rice? By picking and choosing what we think is an advantage and adding it to the one genome that works now, we are crowding out all of the other varieties that may save our bacon if things go in an unexpected direction. There’s only so much space to grow rice, and if everyone’s growing exactly the same rice, things can go badly very quickly. Just ask the Irish.

The third point is golden rice. I am not an ogre, I would not wish blindness and death on those children for anything. However, putting Beta Carotene in rice is kind of like eating McDonalds but thinking you’re healthy because you take vitamins. Being a little bit further from the edge of death is not the same as being healthy. My thoughts on this could be a post in and of themselves — maybe I should do that — but for now, let me say that a child who is so malnourished they lose their vision will need more than one nutrient. What if, instead of investing whatever it took the scientists to create golden rice, we took that money and used it to help local farmers grow carrots, sweet potatoes, and kale? How many more nutrients would those children then have to grow strong bodies and minds? Who knows, it might even spark some community businesses that will give them jobs when they grow up.

The final point is her evasion of the question of unintended consequences. She is right that any time we do anything, there is the potential for unintended consequences. What the GMO folks don’t seem to grasp is the potential scale of those consequences. If I breed the German Shepherd to the Chihuahua I might have a really ugly litter of puppies or I might have the next designer breed. Maybe both. If, on the other hand, I choose to clone dinosaurs, I may lose half my staff and the whole island to those dang raptors. Or I make a mint giving tours. Manually manipulating DNA in plants falls somewhere between those two extremes. However, when you take a plant that is wind-pollinated and you plant it where the pollen can blow to any of the many surrounding farms, the potential scale increases. We don’t know enough about DNA to know every possible outcome of our cutting and pasting, but that doesn’t seem to be slowing us down. We’ll just medicate and modify any negative consequences that come along, right?

I am not against GMOs in any kind of wholesale sense. The things they can do, and the things it has taught us, are just too cool for that. However, I think it might behoove us to consider other options before getting out the scissors and glue. Can we breed for the trait we want and maybe gain other good ones while we’re at it? Are there existing varieties that already exhibit it that we could cultivate more of in addition to our favored variety? Are there other fruits or vegetables that could be grown there that would help to round out a healthy nutritional profile?

Perhaps the long and short of this post is that while GMOs can be very useful, they should be the last resort when saving the world, not the first.

The Queen is Dead

I would say “Long live the Queen!” but I haven’t gotten a new one yet.

As a first-time beekeeper, my job was to get my hive through the winter and into the first honey flow intact. When I first started poking at them, I was thrilled to see that there were lots of girls climbing around what had been the brood area. It was slightly off to one side instead of truly centered, but if that’s where the queen wants to lay? That’s where the queen lays. I was so excited that I was telling everyone my hive had survived the winter! Until someone asked if my queen had survived. Good question.

I hadn’t had a chance to really get in there and do some spring cleaning until this weekend. Between work, weather, and the hike to get to the friend that’s baby-sitting them for me, it was a challenge. My friend has been watching them- and was really getting a kick out of watching them bring so much pollen back even very early in the spring. I had every reason to think that 100% of my hives had made it through the winter. How many beekeepers can say that?

The dark comb is from brood frames and the light comb is from the top of brood frames or honey frames- those places don't get walked on as much.

The dark comb is from brood frames and the light comb is from the top of brood frames or honey frames- those places don’t get walked on as much.

One of the early chores on a warm day is to check frame-by-frame for leftover honey, pollen, and brood pattern. I wasn’t the most attentive beekeeper last year, so I was also doing a fair amount of scraping off comb that had been laid down where it shouldn’t have been. There was honey left over, which explained why they weren’t really taking much advantage of the feed I had started giving them. As I got closer and closer to the brood, I started to get concerned. I ran into some drone cells (I really should have had my camera with me so I could show you) but I brushed it off as a rogue worker. But no actual brood ever showed up. Seeing as how there wasn’t even any sealed brood, I’m guessing I lost the queen months ago. Since I lost the queen but kept the workers, does that make it a 50% loss, or is it a 100% loss because they will die eventually and not be replaced?

Now, when you lose a queen, you have two choices. You can requeen them by buying a queen or, if you’re good, replacing her with one you happen to have bred yourself. Or you can just start all over again. (Hoping they will requeen themselves only works if they catch the loss when they have very young brood to work with.) In my case, I havea few concerns. With as old as my workers are, would they be able to properly care for a queen and the brood she would have to lay very quickly to get them up to par? I’m not really willing to bank on that, since it’s the very young workers that are nurse bees, not the ones that have nearly worn themselves out. There are also a couple of irregularities in the hive- not all of the drones had hatched and some were clearly dead in their cells, and there was something that looked a lot like sand all over the hive. Are they just being sloppy, or are they diseased?

Do you know what that yellow sandy-looking stuff is? I don't.

Do you know what that yellow sandy-looking stuff is? I don’t.

I’m reaching out to my apiary society for some help in determining whether either of these is a real problem if I decide to re-use the drawn comb and other hive parts. If I get a box of bees and I can install them in pre-drawn comb, that means they can get down to setting brood and gathering nectar that much faster. I could even potentially add them to the workers that are already there to give the population a little boost. The more bees I have already gathering nectar and pollen to feed them, the more of the younger bees in the box can be left inside to nurture the brood.

So far, the suggestion is to leave it in the care of the girls that are left. They should make/keep it tidy themselves. If I lose them before I get a new set to put in there, clean it out as well as I can and freeze the frames for at least 24 hours. This won’t affect any pollen or honey in the frames, but it should kill any mites or other issues in the wax. I will keep you updated as more information comes in.

On a more entertaining note, this video is awesome!

The Season of Water Has Begun

In many places, winter is the season of water. It’s monsoon season, or snow season. Out West, summer is our season of water. Why? Because that’s when we need it and we may not have it. California is at the top of the list at the moment when it comes to lack of water, but they aren’t the only ones that are concerned. All of the states that have lower rainfall than the East Coast are aware that California’s fate may well be ours in the not-too-distant-future.

Fire season has already started here in Colorado. I have a fire about 90 miles south of me that just decided it didn’t want to be contained anymore. While that one isn’t a direct threat to me, it is absolutely something to keep my eye on. My community garden just opened itself back up to us for spring watering, and I did not mulch my garlic bed well enough so the soil is dry as a bone. That’s perfectly normal for poorly covered or bare ground in Colorado. It’s also really bad for the garlic and all of the critters that needed moisture for over-wintering. Despite the silly Kentucky Blue Grass lawns around here, lack of water is simply a fact of life.

Jon Stewart, as usual, brings his wit and sarcasm to the issue of climate change. As he points out, our two most phallic states have totally opposite, yet equally serious, water issues. This is the challenge of climate change, after all. It’s not just that it will increase heat and melt the ice caps, it’s that everything will become more unpredictable. Wet places will get wetter and dry places will get dryer. The fact that we are doing everything in our power to suck water out of the air and water and send it through the sewers really isn’t helping to balance that back out.

One thing that he didn’t bring up was that apparently frackers in California aren’t being subject to any of the restrictions that the citizens are subject to. It is absurd to think that not drinking water in a restaurant will do a thing when the farmers aren’t being told to restrict their water use. I don’t want to make farming any harder than it is, but when the state is out of water, everyone is affected and has to pitch in. What is more absurd is to not restrict the people that take massive amounts of potable water, turn it into poison, and pump it past the groundwater reservoirs to pull out oil. They swear the arsenic and other fun chemicals can’t possibly leak into the groundwater, but I’m not sure how much I can trust that.

After 450 words of bad news, what do we do about it? I think the biggest thing we can do is to buy local, pasture-raised meat. I know, meat’s evil and all that, but what the simplistic headlines don’t bother to do is differentiate between meat sources. Urine and manure from CAFO feedlots are corralled in lagoons as toxic waste. As they should be. They should not be returned to the land. Then there’s all the water that’s used to grow the grains that keep the animals not-dead and very fat up until slaughter time. Meat raised like that is an affront to nature.

When you raise, say, a cow on pasture, you get the opposite result. Grazing animals produce no more methane than the grass would have when it rotted on the ground. More to the point, in a properly managed pasture, the urine and manure they produce soaks directly into the soil, returning both moisture and nutrients to the soil in amounts that the microorganisms can handle. Proper management also encourages the grass to grow to its best advantage, sending carbon-sequestering roots deep into the soil. Between the roots making spaces and the small amounts of moisture added to the surface, a good pasture will help the rain to soak into the ground and back into our groundwater reserves instead of running off the top and right to the ocean.

That’s right. Meat could save us. Alan Savory has dabbled in this a bit.

One really shouldn’t eat meat without vegetables, though. The next biggest step is to grow your own vegetables. If you don’t have a yard, or a patio with decent sunlight, then buy them from small, local, organic farmers that use all of the sensible water-saving techniques that are difficult to impossible to implement on huge, mono-crop farms. If you ask nicely, the farmer will probably be happy to let you come out to see how their land looks and their crops are grown. Just bear in mind that if the sun’s up, you are taking time out of their work day. The best farming, just like the best beef, should actually help refill the groundwater reserves. But good farming will still slow the use of unnecessary water, and shouldn’t be discouraged.

Don’t get me wrong, things like shorter showers and high-efficiency appliances are good. But if we want to do more than just slow the loss of potable water across the world, we need to be proactive about helping the water to go back where it belongs. In the ground, not in the sewers. Preferably without arsenic.


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