Living with Cheap Power

When conserving power seems silly.

I live in what’s referred to as North Central Washington State, an area on the east side of the Cascade Mountains with a high desert like climate. If you’re familiar with Prescott or Flagstaff, Arizona, you know exactly what the weather here is like: four seasons with very little rain, some snow, and relatively mild summers and winters. Sure, summer temperatures can get over 100°F, but not often or for long. Likewise, winter temperatures can dip into single digits (F), but not often or long. It’s actually a lot like where I grew up in the New York Metro area, but with a lot less rain and a lot more sun.

Washington Map
Here’s a satellite view of the State of Washington with an X where I live. The closest city is Wenatchee (98801) about 5 air miles away.

(When I looked at that map, I realized that I live pretty darn close to the center of the state. So I Googled “What is the geographic center of Washington State?” and discovered I’m just eight or so miles away. So I really don’t know why they call this area North Central Washington when we’re really just Central Washington.)

Washington State power companies have huge investments in hydroelectric and wind generation projects. I live just 2 air miles from the Columbia River and there are two dams (Rock Island and Rocky Reach) with hydroelectric plants within 10 miles of me. Reach out another 20 or so miles and there are two more dams (Lake Chelan and Wanapum) with power plants and a huge wind/solar facility (Wild Horse).

It should come as no surprise that my area has one of the cheapest electricity rates in the country. (I’ve been told that Chelan County is actually the second cheapest in the country with Douglas County, across the river, being the cheapest (currently 2.33¢), but I haven’t confirmed that.) Our rates? 2.7¢ per kilowatt hour.

My Electricity Cost
My electric bills for the past 13 months, charted. Not sure what was going on last winter. (Note to self: talk to house sitter.) Even with those two peak months, the average for the period is only $45/month.

I see this on my monthly electric bill. While it’s true that we had a mild summer this year, my air conditioning did run. I heard it. I even cranked it up a few times. But you wouldn’t know it looking at my electric bill; it never topped $32 for any one month. Indeed, it was higher in the spring — and I still can’t figure out why. And it did get over $100 in February for January’s usage.

What’s your local electricity rate? You can look at your bill or even Google it. Or if you want a statewide average, here’s a handy table. The rate where I last lived, in Wickenburg, AZ, is currently 11.96¢/kilowatt hour — about 3.4 times what I’m paying now. And where I lived before that, in Harrington Park, NJ, the rate is currently 15.40¢/kilowatt hour — 4.7 times what I’m paying now. The national average is 12.73¢/kilowatt hour. These are all residential rates, of course. Often the rates are different for commercial and industrial users.

This is great for me — obviously. It’s wonderful to have such a low monthly electric bill. More money in my pocket, right?

The trouble is, it takes away most of my motivation to conserve power. After all, if letting the air conditioning or heat run 24/7 isn’t going to cost much more than making sure it’s turned off when I’m not around, why should I bother?

People might argue that it’s better for the environment to conserve power. Normally, I’d agree. But with most — if not all — of my power coming from renewable energy sources like hydro, wind, and solar, why conserve? These renewable energy sources are producing more than enough power for my area. And with loss in transmission, even sending the power I could save into the grid wouldn’t make a difference.

And yes, that’s the reason I didn’t cover the huge roof on my home with solar panels. There isn’t any point. I’d never save enough money to cover the cost of such an investment and there’s no need for the extra power generation in this area.

It’s also why if I bought a new car while I was living here, I’d definitely buy an electric car.

Now don’t get the idea that I waste energy. I’m the person who turns out the lights in rooms I’m not in, uses a programmable thermostat, and runs full loads in the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer. All my appliances are “Energy Star Compliant” — as if you can get them any other way. I live in a small space and although all my appliances are electric, there’s just one person using them. But still! 2.7¢/kilowatt hour? It would be difficult to get the $200+ electric bills I saw every winter and summer in Arizona.

All this might make you wonder why the country isn’t investing in more renewable energy projects. Sure, not every river can support hydro projects. And yes, wind generators can be unsightly. And all large-scale energy projects impact the environment in one way or the other — ask me about the raptor surveys I did for wind projects in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.

But renewable energy resources can reduce or eliminate our dependence on dirty fuel, non-renewable energy like oil, natural gas, and coal. It can reduce the cost of energy, which would have a positive economic impact on people who struggle to pay utility bills. It would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, further reducing our use of fossil fuels and helping to clean our air.

This is a no-brainer, folks. Don’t let politicians pandering to the coal and oil industries tell you otherwise.

Now just don’t talk to me about my water bill. That’s a whole different story.

The Bighorn Sheep in My Yard

Wild Kingdom* out my window.

There are bighorn sheep in the cliffs across the road from my home. I often hear them clattering around in the rocks, creating mini landslides. I’ve also seen them quite often.

Last year, they’d show up pretty regularly across the street in my neighbor’s yard. By regularly, I mean around midday every day. For weeks. I even had the misfortune of seeing my neighbor outside, buck naked, taking photos of them when I was watching them through binoculars and movement caught my eye.

They were gone for quite a while. Sure, I’d hear them up in the cliffs and the sound would often get Penny all worked up. Despite numerous helicopter rides with me, her hearing remains excellent and she often hears them before I do.

A few weeks ago, they started showing up again. A pretty big herd of mostly females. One time, they even put on quite a show for some weekend guests who’d come with their RV. We sat up on the deck having a late breakfast while they grazed on weeds in my neighbor’s yard.

Bighorn Sheep
It wasn’t easy to take photos of the sheep at the road; the sun was right behind them.

The other day, they were on my side of the road. I watched them, fearing that they might start grazing on the willow trees I’d planted alongside the road last year. But they seemed more interested in the weeds than the trees. Good.

Penny and Sheep
A cropped cell phone picture of Penny facing off with one of the sheep.

On Thursday, I was working on some shelves in my garage when Penny started barking at something. Turned out that she was near the end of the driveway, facing off with one of the bighorn sheep. I managed to get a photo with my phone before the sheep bounded off. I mean that quite literally — it ran off with a hopping motion that was actually quite funny to see. But what really surprised both Penny and me was that the sheep wasn’t alone — are they ever? There were at least a dozen more in my front yard, hidden from view by the tall weeds and my shed. They took off after their friend, running across the road.

I took a break and went upstairs for some lunch. I ate out on the deck. The sheep had moved into the road about halfway down my property line. Some of them were actually lying down in the road. I live on a dead end road and there are only three occupied homes beyond mine, so there isn’t much traffic.

Cathedral Rock Traffic Jam
Seriously? Lying down in the road?

Eventually, however, one of my neighbors went out. Even though they obviously saw the sheep — how could you possibly miss a herd right in the road? — and they drove slowly, the sheep moved.

Into my yard.

As I watched, they came closer and closer to my home. I know they saw me up on the deck watching, but they didn’t seem too interested. They came to the north side of my place, the side that faces the Columbia River and Wenatchee Valley. They were nibbling on the tops of the native grass and weeds that grow wild there. (I have 10 acres and the vast majority of it has “nature’s landscaping.”) They came closer and closer. At one point, one of them was right at the edge of the gravel drive, not 100 feet from where I watched from the deck.

Herd of Bighorn Sheep
My Nikon was handy and I’d popped the 70-300mm lens on it when they first came into the yard. They were so close that I had to zoom all the way out to capture this group of the herd. This is 70mm from my deck, uncropped. A handful of others didn’t fit in the frame.

They were beautiful. And healthy. Adult females mostly, with a few youngsters.

momandkid.jpg
Another shot from my deck. This was shot at 300mm and is not cropped. They were close!

This is the video I Periscoped. It’s a shame it saves a downsampled version of the video.

I took pictures, of course. Lots of pictures. And video. I did a live broadcast on Periscope and another on Facebook. I wanted to share my experience with my friends. (I guess that’s what this blog post is about.)

I’d left the door open and when I saw them looking down at something, I followed their glance. Penny was out there, sizing them up. I didn’t want her scaring them off so I called her, softly. She seemed to debate whether she should come. But then she trotted back into the house and up the stairs. She joined me on the deck to watch them and stayed quiet.

And then they just left. After about 20 minutes grazing in my side yard, one of them headed off purposefully and the others followed. I watched them go. They crossed my driveway and then the road and headed back up toward the cliffs.

Did they come back yesterday when I was out hiking and hunting for mushrooms with a friend? I don’t know, but I bet they did. And I bet they came back today when I was out doing helicopter rides in Quincy. Tomorrow, I plan to get some work done at home. Maybe I’ll see them again.

I hope so.


* Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was a television show about animals that originally aired from 1963 until 1988. I grew up watching this show. A new version began airing on Animal Planet in 2002. Learn more here and here.

Construction: The Garage Shelves

It was a mess. Now it’s not.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I need to start by reminding readers that I have a very large garage. The 60 x 48 footprint is split into a four car garage (24 x 48), a double-wide RV garage (24 x 48), and a shop/general storage area (12 x 48). If you’re doing math, that’s 2880 square feet.

Of garage.

Woody Says
My friend Woody wrote this on my big white board during my moving party back in 2014. He wasn’t kidding.

The great thing about a big garage is that there’s plenty of space to store stuff. The bad thing about a big garage is that there’s plenty of space to store stuff.

I’m doing what I can to keep the garage organized, but even though most things have their place, that place isn’t exactly neat and orderly.

It Started with the Bungee Cords

The other day, I decided to clean up and sort out my bungee cords and ratchet tie downs — you wouldn’t believe how many I have because even I’m having trouble believing it.

I’d been racking my brains on a solution that would enable me to hang them neatly in order of size in a place that was out of the way. That’s when I remembered the curtain rods. When I lived in my Arizona house, I’d bought a few really nice ones. I wasn’t about to leave them behind — not even with shrimp stuffed in them (look it up) — so I packed them. Of course, I don’t have curtains on my windows here so I don’t need curtain rods. They remained wrapped up in bubble wrap in a corner of the garage.

Bungees
Some of my bungees and tie downs and ropes after putting up the curtain rod. I found a bunch more here, there, and everywhere the next day. The horizontal wooden beams are called girts, by the way. I live in a post & beam building. Beyond the vapor barrier is the metal exterior of my building. The car garage is not insulated.

I unwrapped the living room rod and grabbed a bungee cord. Sure enough, its hook fit neatly over the narrow black rod. A half hour later, the rod was hung on one of the girts in my Jeep garage — each garage bay is assigned a vehicle; the Jeep is in the first bay — and I was taking great joy in arranging my bungee cords and ratchet tie-downs. And ropes and straps.

The Shelves Came Next

I started thinking about how stupid it was to have all that dead space right below the bungee cords. How about a couple of shelves?

Big Shelves
This was the first set of shelves I built for the garage. (Tiny dog for scale.) They’re free-standing and very heavy duty. And just plain heavy. I made two more shorter sets and a workbench with two shelves based on the same design. The RV garage/shop is insulated.

I should mention here that I’ve created shelves elsewhere in my garage. The biggest project was a set 8 feet long and 8 feet tall made of 5/8 plywood and 2 x4 lumber. It was quite a chore to build them, which I did with them lying down on the floor. When I tried to stand them up, I couldn’t. I had to wait for a friend to come by and lure him down into the garage — which was about as difficult as it sounds. (Men love my garage.)

I had limited space in the car garages, though. After all, I had to fit the cars in. Each garage bay is about 12 feet wide. There aren’t any walls between them — it’s one big open space. I knew I could fit shelves that were about 12 inches deep. (The big ones are 24 inches deep.) And I realized that I could build them in place, right against the wall, using the tops of the girts as supports for the shelves. That would save another inch and a half because each shelf could go right up against the exterior metal walls.

So I went to Home Depot and bought a sheet of about 1/2 inch plywood. While I was there, I saw a really nice piece of sanded 1/2 inch plywood that was in the cull pile because of a nasty scratch in one corner. But 70% off? A $35 sheet of wood for $10? No brainer! I brought both pieces over to the big wood cutter and got a Home Depot guy to cut each of them into 8 foot x 1 foot strips. Then I picked up a few 2x4s, along with some very nice 2×3 cull pieces and a long 2×4 cull piece. I don’t see anything wrong with using cull lumber to build shelves in a garage.

Did I mention that I also returned a bunch of lumber I’d bought about a year before but never used? The return completely covered the cost of the new lumber, as well as some additional screws and other supplies I needed in my shop. I threw everything into the back of the pickup, hung a red flag on the long 2×4, ran a few errands, and went home to make dinner with a friend.

The next morning, I really should have tended to my bees, but my truck was blocking my quad and I figured it would be best for me to offload the lumber and move the truck. Or maybe just offload the lumber and build the shelves to get the lumber completely out of the way.

So I did.

Let me explain a little bit about how a post and beam building — or pole building — is constructed. They start by digging holes in the ground and planting vertical posts. My building is made with a combination of 6×6 and 6×8 pressure treated posts. Then they nail the girts in horizontally, 24 inches on center. Next, they put the roof trusses atop the posts. They add rafters to finish framing out the roof. They cover that with insulation or a vapor barrier or both and then screw on the metal skin. They pour the concrete slab last — if the building has one (mine does). If you’re interested in seeing my building built in a time-lapse movie, be sure to check out this blog post.

The posts are usually 12 feet apart. In the bungee cord area, however, the distance between the door to my stairwell and the first post was only 7 feet. The reason: the front door and entrance vestibule is also on that wall. So the shelves needed to be just 7 feet long.

I dragged the saw horses my friend Bob had made me — they’re taller than standard sawhorses and much nicer to use — to the driveway outside the garage door, which I opened. I used my circular saw to make the cuts; later, I used my miter saw and table saw to get cleaner cuts when needed. And bit by bit I assembled the pieces I needed to build a short set of shelves with just a top and bottom shelf. The bottom shelf needed two cut outs — one for an electrical outlet (long story) and the other for the pipe for the outside hose bib. I got to use my new 1-1/2-inch hole saw, which I’d actually bought for a beehive project.

Bungee wall with shelves
Here’s my bungee cord wall with the new shelves. I arranged all the tools I used for the project on the shelves.

I had to make a few blocks out of scrap wood to support various components of the shelves as I assembled them and screwed them together. I drilled pilot holes — I always do a neater job when there’s a hole predrilled for a screw. I used two 2×2 lengths that had been sitting around forever for the front horizontal shelf supports. These were small shelves so they didn’t need to be very heavy duty.

When I was done, I realized that I also needed a center vertical support. So I used a piece of scrap wood leftover from my windowsill project. Done.

And Then More Shelves

The truck wasn’t empty yet. I still had plenty of wood. I also had a really messy wall at the front of that garage bay. And time.

Old ShelvesHere’s the old shelves with a bunch of car stuff on them. This whole area looks like crap here — and this was after I’d moved some trim wood stored there.

A long time ago, I’d bought a very heavy duty bookshelf for my books. I have a lot of books. I don’t remember if this shelf was from my New Jersey home or if I got it for the office I had at my condo in Wickenburg for a while. In any case, it eventually made its way to my Wickenburg hangar where I stored a lot of stuff on it. When I moved from Wickenburg to an East Wenatchee hangar and eventually to my new home in Malaga, the shelves came with me. I’d put them in the front of that garage bay and was using it to store miscellaneous auto-related stuff.

But it looked like crap.

I texted a friend of mine who has rental properties. Want an old bookshelf in decent condition? I sent a picture. Sure, she answered. Send a man with a truck, I told her. (She’d also taken my old Sony Trinitron off my hands.)

I took all the things off the shelves and used a hand truck to move the shelves over to a spot between Bay 2 (Honda S2000) and Bay 3 (Ford truck). Hopefully, the man with the truck will come within a few days. I swept. And then I got to work.

Four shelves, no shelf cutting needed because 8 feet was fine. I ripped two 2x4s on my table saw and used them for horizontal supports for the front of the shelves. Then I cut 2 2x4s to 79 inches and started piecing all of it together.

Penny and Sheep
I had to crop the heck out of this cell phone photo. My truck mirror is on the right.

And that’s when Penny started barking like a little nut. I went out to investigate. She was halfway down the driveway at a standoff with a bighorn sheep. After some more barking, she spooked it and it bounded off. And then a dozen of its friends shot out of my side yard after it. There had been a whole herd of them less than 100 yards from where I was working and I didn’t even know it.

I took a break for lunch. I saw the sheep again later. They got very close. I got photos. But I’ll save that for another blog post.

I eventually got back to work. Again, I had to cut supports as I mounted each shelf. But once I got the hang of it, it went very quickly. I was done within an hour.

I put away my tools and set about organizing car and motorcycle-related stuff on the new shelves. I found a garage door opener for my old house. I found the stock mats that had come with my old Ford F350. (It had custom rubber mats so these were brand new; I photographed them and put them on Craig’s List.) I walked around my whole garage, looking for anything remotely car or motorcycle related and moved it to the shelves. I still had lots of space to fill.

I had some extra wall space between the shelves and the garage door. I measured a crate I had in my shop and moved it into position. I cut a piece of wood to give it a sold top. Then I moved my gas cans and spare propane bottle onto it. It made sense to keep stuff like that near the door where it could be quickly removed.

I found a few more bungee cords and put them away.

I spent some time admiring my handiwork. I might be the Queen of Clutter, but it isn’t by choice. If everything has a place, everything can be put away. The trick is finding a place for everything. Now I have a place for my car stuff.

Finished Garage Shelves
These shelves look a lot nicer than the mess I had there before.

Up Next

Before I called it quits for the day and went upstairs to get cleaned up, I took a look at the wall in Bay 4. That’s where my little boat and motorcycle live. It’s a big mess and could really use some shelves. I’m thinking it might be a good place to organize all of my extra beekeeping equipment.

Looks like I’ll be hitting Home Depot for more lumber again.

Footnote

After writing this and posting it and then re-reading it online, I started thinking about all the work I’d done to build these shelves — and to do all the other things I’ve done as part of the construction of my home. A lot of it is difficult, challenging work that requires me to use my brains as well as my physical strength to get a project done. A lot of people would shy away from work like this and either hire someone else to do it or not do it at all. I know this from experience; so many projects at my Arizona house just didn’t get done. Or got done the way a contractor did them — which might not be the way it should have been done to meet needs.

Doing things like this myself is a task and a challenge I really look forward to. I don’t have a regular job that requires me to show up at an office or sit at a desk and make calls all day. My time is infinitely flexible. I could spend it sleeping all day or watching television or just goofing off. Yet many days, I choose to spend my time working hard on projects like this. The way I see it, there are four benefits:

  • I get the thing done and get the benefits of that. In this case, I’ve got a bunch of neat, new storage spaces where I used to have a wall with a lot of stuff piled up on it.
  • I save money on what it would have cost to hire someone to do the job. It’s a lot cheaper for me to spend a few hours on a project like this than to pay a carpenter to do it. It’s not like I don’t have the time.
  • I learn new techniques, often through trial and error. The things I learn can be applied to other projects. The way I see it, if I can’t learn something every day, why bother getting out of bed?
  • I get an amazing feeling of satisfaction every time I look at something I created with my own hands. My home is full of things like this. Read my construction posts to see what I’ve done; I’m proud of every single project I finished.

The people who think I’m doing these things because I’m cheap or bored are completely missing the point. They likely haven’t taken on projects like these, projects that can meet a specific need and give them so much satisfaction for every minute of effort put into them. It’s not difficult if you think it through and have the right materials and tools. Dare I say it? It’s fun.

Try it sometime and see for yourself.

The “Million Dollar View”

A friend reminds me about what I now take for granted.

Not sure if anyone is noticing, but I’m doing my best to blog every morning these days. That means keeping them short when I have other stuff to do. And believe me, I have a lot of other stuff to do.

Inbox
I’m ready to declare email bankruptcy and just clear all of this out.

After spending about an hour with my coffee and nightmarish email inbox, I looked up and realized that the sun had come up. I looked out my side windows — the ones facing the Wenatchee Valley and Columbia River — and was instantly rewarded with the amazing view I’ve come to take for granted.

My Amazing Morning View
Here’s what I see most mornings, right from my windows. Not too shabby, eh? Click the photo to view a much larger version where you can see the detail — including my “Lookout Point” bench in the bottom right.

I had a friend over for dinner last night. As the sun was setting, she remarked that I had a “million dollar view.” I looked out and agreed that it was beautiful. (I didn’t mention that it so often looked better.) I told her that it looked best in the morning in the golden hour light, when the low-lying sun cast deep shadows that bought out the texture of the mountains and hillsides. Like in the photo above. Same in the afternoon, when the cliffs across the river were illuminated just right. (Note to self: add photo of that.)

I’m a view person, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog. Looking out and seeing the world around me energizes me and puts me at peace — at the same time. Yes, I like tall pine trees and forests and canyons, but being surrounded by those things in tight quarters would stifle me, making me feel closed in and possibly smothered. Being able to look out and see for miles and miles makes me feel good about myself and my world.

The seasons are changing now; autumn is coming. The view changes with the seasons. Right now, the cherry orchard on the right has irrigation turned off and is being allowed to die; I suspect that when apple harvest is done, they’ll tear out those trees. Will they get new ones in before winter? Probably not; it’ll be a project I can watch in the spring. There’s still a tiny bit of snow up in the Enchantments, which are hidden in this photo by the low clouds on the left. The river bends as it makes its way into Wenatchee; in the evening, it reflects the changing color of the sky.

So much to see, right from my windows. Like an ever-changing series of paintings, a triptych with more than just three panels, separated by a few inches of wall between each view.

I cannot express how glad I am that my life took the turn it did back in 2012 when I became free to make all of my life decisions. That freedom made it possible to buy 10 acres of undeveloped land high on a cliffside shelf overlooking an amazingly beautiful valley. It made it possible for me to plan and build the home I wanted, a home that would meet my needs and bring this view into every room.

A “million dollar view”? That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s priceless to me.

2016 Honey Harvest — So Far

Twelve frames of honey — so far.

I spent about two hours this morning in one of my beehives. I’ve got nine of them these days and need to open each one before September month-end to harvest excess honey and begin pre-winter care. In all honesty, the sooner I get the honey out, the better off I’ll be; I know how hard it is to extract honey once temperatures drop.

This Morning’s Bee Encounter

The hive I did this morning has two supers: one deep and one medium. It’s extremely crowded; the bees don’t seem to fit inside — many of them are clustered on the front of the hive at night and during the day. I thought it might be because they were preparing to swarm, but when I opened the hive, I didn’t see any queen cells. What I did see, however, was that the medium super on top was filled with ten fully-capped honey frames. Wow!

Capped Honey Frame
Capped honey frame. This is what honey looks like when it’s ready for harvest. It’s capped with wax that needs to be scraped away before extraction.

I took six of them. I was only going to take three, but as I worked with the bees, they got really pissed off and, in turn, got me really pissed off. I had to go back to the house to put on boots after getting stung on the ankle through my thick socks. While I was there, I fetched three more empty medium frames and swapped them for full ones.

Part of the reason they got so angry is my fault — I’m a hands off kind of beekeeper so there’s lots of burr comb to scrape off when I finally get into a hive. And in preparation for winter, I’m dusting them with sugar. That means taking every single frame out and sprinkling home-made powdered sugar on each side. Dusting the bees with powdered sugar is a chemical-free way to help reduce varroa mites; as the bees clean the sugar off, they also dislodge mites which fall through the screened bottom board and can’t get back up into the hive. I can’t use off the shelf powdered sugar because of additives; instead, I grind regular sugar to a powder in a blender.

I debated adding another super to the hive, but with six new empty frames, it didn’t seem to make sense. Besides, the only equipment I have left is a deep super with frames and I hate to put deep supers on top of mediums, especially this late in the season.

This Year’s Harvest So Far

Extractor
A view looking down into my extractor with two medium frames in place. The frames spin to extract honey by centrifugal force. The extracted honey runs down the inside of the extractor and accumulates at the bottom. A valve allows the honey to be poured out.

The six medium frames I pulled out today are only part of my harvest so far. I also pulled two medium frames and four deep frames from hives back in July. Together, that could come out to 5-6 gallons of honey.

Because it was warm and because I have a new extractor I was dying to try, I decided to start extracting honey today, too. The extractor is a budget model with a hand crank that holds two frames at a time. But, as you might imagine, I wasted no time automating it. I bought an adapter for my drill and use it instead of the crank handle to spin the frames. When the frames are well balanced, it works very well and I can get some good speed going. But when they’re not, there’s a good amount of wobble at high speeds. This is something I’ve learned to deal with over the years.

When the level of honey in the extractor reaches the bottom of the frames, it needs to be poured out before I can extract any more. I managed to get the six frames I pulled today extracted and start on two more.

Capped Cells Uncapped Cells
A closeup look at full/capped (left) and uncapped/extracted (right) cells on a honey frame.

Straining Honey
From the extractor, the honey goes into a series of two stainers that strain away the wax cappings, which is what you see here.

Because I use an uncapping fork instead of a hot knife, there’s lots of wax in my extracted honey. Right now, I’m waiting for it to get through the two layers of strainers and into my storage bucket. I hope to extract the rest tomorrow. I’m hiking in the morning, but should be able to do it in the afternoon.

And yes, I’ve seen Hive Flow. But no, I don’t think it’s a good idea for serious beekeepers. Too complex, too costly, and too likely to fail. I would definitely love to chat with someone who has been using one for at least a year, though.

More Bee Stuff to Come

This is just the start of harvest for me.

Although I have two trips scheduled over the next week or so — when cherry season ends, I don’t spend much time home — I hope to get into the other eight hives early in the mornings when I get back. I really hate sweating my brains out in a bee suit on a hot summer day, so I go in when it’s cool, even though that’s when most bees are “home.” My comfort trumps their rest. They should be glad I don’t open them weekly or biweekly like so many backyard beekeepers do.

The last time I open the hives for the winter will be in October. That’s when I’ll check food stores, add more honey frames if necessary, and give the bees some medication for varroa and nosema. I don’t insulate my hives, but I do make sure they have good ventilation for the winter months. Last year four out of six hives survived the winter and one of the ones that didn’t make it entered winter pretty weak anyway so the loss was no surprise. If 50% of my hives survive each winter, I’ll be in good shape each spring.

Buy My Honey!

I sell my honey in jars suitable for gift giving. Buying my honey is a great way to support this site and my beekeeping activities. You can learn more at Maria’s Malaga Honey.

I’d like to expand my beekeeping activities — especially after this very good year. But I’ve learned that I can only support 3 to 5 hives on my property, due to dry summers with little forage. This summer was unusual because it rained a lot though July and there were more wildflowers for a longer period than usual. I think my garden helped, too — the sunflowers were seriously out of control here. So I have five hives at home and four on a trailer up Squilchuck Canyon, not far from a cherry orchard where there’s lots of water and wildflowers/flowering weeds. If I expand much more, I’ll need another trailer and another place to put my bees for the summer.

Something to think about.

Golden Hour at the Aerie

Two shots showcasing my home.

Even amateur photographers — or at least serious amateur photographers like me — know that the best time for landscape photography is during the so-called “Golden Hour.” This is the time of day roughly one hour after sunrise and roughly one hour before sunset when the sun’s light is soft and often golden in color. Long shadows provide depth which adds texture and highlights contours in land forms. Colors are skewed reddish, which can make everything look just better.

Construction on my home has been mostly done — I still have a few things to do inside like finishing trim and building a set of stairs to the loft — for a few months now. I got my official certificate of occupancy about two months ago. I recently did some outside work to clean up “the yard” and make it look presentable. I have ten acres but I really only maintain about an acre of it — the rest is natural vegetation: bunch grass, sagebrush, and wildflowers. It gets really green here in spring but starts to brown up by late May. This year, we’ve had just enough rainfall to really turn on the wildflowers and keep the grass green and gold. Really pretty.

Perfect for capturing some shots of my home to share with friends and family.

I got the first shot the other day. I happened to be down at my Lookout Point bench late in the afternoon when I looked back up at my home. The light was just right to illuminate the multitude of wildflowers that had grown between the bench and my building. Unfortunately, I’d left my Jeep and truck in front of their garage doors and that made the place look less than perfect. By the time I moved them and came back, the light would be gone. I decided to do it another day.

Afternoon Home
I like this shot the best, mostly because you can also see the nearly full moon in the sky above the cliffs.

That day came a few days later. I was inside, resting up from some minor surgery I’d had earlier in the day when I realized that the light was perfect. I grabbed my phone and ran down the stairs with Penny at my heels. We hurried down the path to Lookout Point and I turned around. Perfect!

I shot about 10 photos from different angles. This is the one I like the best.

I very seldom share this view of my home. The reason: it only photographs well in the afternoon in late spring, summer or early autumn. Other times, the cliffs to the south are in shadows.

This shot really shows off the beauty of the cliffs behind my home. They rise about 1,000 feet above my road and consist of basalt columns of rock laid down during Washington’s prehistoric volcanic past and carved away by ice age floods. My home sits on a shelf of tightly packed silt; the land drops away again toward the river to the north.

The vegetation up there, by the way, is ponderosa pine with the occasional aspen grove. I’ll be planting some of those on my property in the years to come. The irrigation lines to get them started are already laid.

This morning, the light and clouds were perfect again for a golden hour shot of the front of my home, which faces east. I didn’t mind the truck being parked on the concrete apron by the big RV garage door — although the truck does manage to make the 14 feet tall by 20 feet wide door look small. I grabbed my phone again and hiked up my driveway and partially up the road behind my home. I took just three shots from different angles. This was the middle one and I like it best.

Morning at Home
This shot, taken this morning, shows off the front and north side of my home, as well as the view beyond. The view, privacy, and quiet is what sold me on this building site when I first saw it back in 2012.

Every time I look at my home, I realize that none of it would have been possible if I’d stayed married to the sad sack old man who was living in a rut in Arizona. I’m sad for him — he would have really liked it here, maybe as much as I do — but I’m thrilled to have had the freedom to build the home I wanted and to live the lifestyle I’ve come to cherish.

Life is what you make it. If you want something badly enough, you need to make it happen. There’s nothing that says that more to me than my home here at the Aerie.

Two Years Ago Today

A photo reminds me of a personal milestone.

Two years ago today, on May 19, 2014, the builders broke ground on the construction of the home I’d designed for myself on 10 acres of view property in Malaga, WA. I’d bought the land the summer before, the day after my divorce decree was [finally] handed down from the judge. The building would utilize post and beam construction, commonly known as a pole building, to give me a 2,880 square foot garage/shop area and 1,200 square feet of living space with a 600 square foot deck. The goal: all my possessions under one roof with a comfortable, modern home that would showcase the amazing view.

After doing some prep work — bringing in temporary power, putting in a septic system, finalizing plans with the builder, and getting the building site prepped for construction — the four-man team that did 90% of the building construction work arrived with equipment and started digging. They dug 44 post holes that first day and had the posts set in concrete by the end of the next day.

This photo, which I stumbled upon this past weekend while digging up photos for another blog post, shows the workers digging that first hole. The auger did most of the work, but they did hit rocks that had to be removed by hand. Miraculously, this was the only hole with large rocks in it.

First Hole
X marks the spots where the holes needed to be dug. They only hit rocks on the first hole. The trusses for the RV garage roof are leaned up against the hill in this shot.

I was living onsite at the time, in my RV parked near the building site. I had a GoPro camera set up on top of it and made daily time-lapse videos of the work, which I shared on my blog starting on May 20, 2013. It was an exciting time — I was watching something I’d designed be built right before my eyes. I kept out of the way but took lots of photos. In the evening, after the crew left, I’d wander around the site and play with the equipment, sometimes using it to move dirt or easily climb to the second floor once it had been built.

Now, two years later, I’m living in that home with a Certificate of Occupancy as the County’s approval for not only my design and Western Ranch’s construction, but the hours of labor it took to turn a metal building shell into a home.

When I look at these old pictures of the place before my building existed, I find it hard to believe that I’ve come so far in such a short period of time. It’s amazing how much I can get done when there’s nothing holding me back.

This photo — and the blog posts and videos and other photos that document the work done — marks a milestone in my life, proof that I can move forward and make things happen — better than ever on my own.

It’s hard to believe that this photo was shot only two years ago.