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Friday, October 5, 2012

Bees and Beekeeping

by James Consellor

The survival of honeybees are at risk. Honeybees, on whom we rely to pollinate our food crops, have been dying in large numbers due to a phenomenon called "colony collapse disorder" or CCD. Rather than a disorder, CCD may be easier to understand as a syndrome. It represents a largely unexplained phenomenon occurring worldwide for which there is no identifiable single cause. CCD has been characterized as a "perfect storm" of factors including the emergence of hive weakening and chemical resistant supermites, the systemic consequences of large scale industrial monocropping, and the use of multiple pesticides that have infiltrated our ecosystems. In the midst of complex and unprecedented ecosystem disruption, honeybees are suffering.

Honeybees are not wild, nor are they native to North America. While there are an estimated 20,000 species of bees worldwide, seven species of honeybee are recognized. Honeybees were introduced to the continent by European settlers and have long been domesticated for the production of honey and other products made from beeswax. Although many people are afraid of bee stings, honeybees are surprisingly gentle and only become aggressive in defense of their hive. If you ever spot a swarm of honeybees, be assured you are in no danger. Although a mass of bees may look and sound intimidating, when searching for a home the honeybee is extremely docile. One unique aspect of honeybee behavior is their ability to communicate through movement and a characteristic "waggling" dance. They are perhaps the only insect and one of the very few non- human animals able to communicate distance and terrain using symbolic gesture.

James and his father
In the spring of 2012, we began an experiment in natural beekeeping in Northern Michigan. Beginning with introductory workshops on basic beekeeping and hive building, we constructed two "top-bar" hives that were placed on our rural woodland property. Top-bar hives are based on a simple design originating in Africa in which the honeybees construct heart-shaped honeycombs that hang down from specially designed bars. This mimics the natural behavior of bees and is thought to develop hives that are healthier and more resistant to mites and disease. It's currently mid-summer and they are doing well! Although there will be no honey collection this year in order to allow the hives to build up their winter food stores, we look forward to plenty of honey in the coming years.

James Counsellor
Hubbard Lake, Michigan

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Summer Squash

What to do with all those zucchini? Here's an idea from Nathan Lyon:
Summer Squash Salad
3 small zucchini & yellow squash
salt to taste
3T extra-virgin olive oil
1t capers, rinsed and drained
Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Cheese, not pre-grated
¼ cup roughly chopped Italian parsley

2t white wine vinegar
2t lemon juice
1 med. shallot finely diced/3T
3T extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Whisk vinaigrette ingredients in a sm. bowl. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler carefully slice zucchini and yellow squash into 1/16" thick slices lengthwise. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk olive oil into the shallot mixture and add capers. Loosely arrange some squash slices into a small, artistically twisted pile & spoon some of the caper vinaigrette over the top. Using a vegetable peeler, top with shavings of cheese and some loose parsley and enjoy!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Midsummer Highlights

Michelle's Earth Foundation
P.O. Box 5140 Preston King Station, Arlington, Virginia 22205

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Never too young to garden!
The abundance of midsummer produce is filling our gardens and farmers' markets. The joy of having fresh corn, apricots, cucumbers, nectarines, spinach, melons, tomatoes and summer squash, to name a few, is the great reward of summer. While many gardens need extra water to mitigate area drought, the result is well worth it. Often produce ripens at the same time, leaving a surplus. Remember Garrison Keillor's humorous tomato stories? When this is the case in your garden, please remember that your local food assistance center would like to receive fresh produce. If you would like to find the center nearest you, go to


Friday, June 22, 2012

Emma Lang is this year's award winner

MEF's Environmental Award Winner
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Emma Lanning
H-B Woodlawn's beekeeper 

Throughout the school year Emma Lanning faithfully fed H-B Woodlawn's rooftop bees sugar water when the pollen supply was low. Every week she checked the hive for mites and other pests. A water supply had to be continuously refreshed near the hive. Her reward, of course, was harvesting the honey! Educating the school community about the importance of bees was Emma's ongoing mission. Thank you Emma for a job well done!

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Home Both Beautiful and Sustainable by Melinda Barnhardt

John Muir said it best. "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread" (The Yosemite, 1912). Too often sustainability trumps aesthetics; yet one Virginia couple was determined to make the home they would design and build both green and beautiful. Remarkably, throughout their project, the two goals proved complementary - and in the built design, a unified vision.

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Collage by Michael Ayers of Ayers, Inc., Lima, OH
(Click the image to view larger)

The husband and wife had distinctly different visions for the wooded property they had purchased. He wanted a house that was energy-efficient and passive solar; she wanted a home that was aesthetically pleasing, and Mediterranean or Persian in character. What were the chances of realizing their desires within a single dwelling - and one that they would build themselves, with their own hands?

Design Concept: The design would capture heat from the sun (via a long, windowed southern exposure) and store it in a thermal mass comprised of masonry floors and an eight-inch thick internal masonry wall. A modularized plan would allow for zoned heating and cooling. Shed roofs opening on the south side would mean additional sun capture. The house's configuration - four modules with a stepped footprint on the south side - would provide east facing windows for morning sunlight. As an added benefit, the "step" between the kitchen and living room modules would allow for a Mediterranean style patio.

Highlights of the Built Design:

Foundation: The house's position on a slope allows for windows in the above-ground portion of the basement, making basement living space viable. Since basement rooms (with supporting walls) were defined during the design phase, the need for unattractive center posts was eliminated. The external walls of all basement rooms (with the exception of the furnace room) are covered with six-inch fiberglass insulation next to the block walls, and then sealed with plastic to minimize air leaks. The insulation allowed for putting up drywall, a nod to future d├ęcor and beauty.

Frame: Six-inch thick stick frame construction allowed for six inches of insulation in the external walls. The insulation is sealed with plastic, as in the basement. (Note: The "tight house" has an air exchange capability.)

Exterior: Synthetic stucco with a one-inch foam base enhances the insulating effect. (There's no problem with synthetic stucco, assuming use of expanding rubber tape to seal the intersection between windows and the stucco.) The buff-colored stucco conveys a Mediterranean look - particularly, when topped off by a terracotta-colored corrugated steel roof with baked enamel finish (and an economical fifty-year guarantee). Likewise suitable for a Virginia barn, the roof blends with its rural surroundings.

Interior: An eight-inch thick concrete block wall forms one side of a gallery hallway opposite the south-facing windows on both the "basement" and main floor levels. The concrete-filled block wall (with mortar finish) provides thermal storage, retaining heat from the sun for use at night. The dark green color of the wall (on the first floor) absorbs heat nearly as well as black, and simultaneously conveys a Persian garden motif: a column of leaf-and-vine design tile running up the living room end of the block wall serves as its interface with the living room's white drywall. Windows high up on the block wall provide natural lighting for the guest bath and guest bedroom interiors.

Floors throughout the entry hall, kitchen, living room, and gallery hallway are heat-absorbing 2 ½-inch tile and mortar. The terracotta pink tile (Mexican volcanic rock) is low-maintenance, and reinforces the Mediterranean/Persian garden motif. Non-vitreous and relatively warm (think bare feet in winter), it also withstands below-freezing temperatures. Thus its use is continued on the south-facing patio and a north-facing courtyard, creating a bond with the outdoors.

In keeping with the Mediterranean aesthetic, windows throughout the house are deep-set, as result of the six-inch framing. Walls in the entry hall and dining room are covered with thick- textured paint, giving the effect of masonry.

A seasonal benefit of the design is that the thermal mass and thick walls moderate temperature changes. The high summer sun is prevented from heating up the internal thermal mass (block wall and masonry floors) by surrounding deciduous trees (approximately 25 feet from the house).

How he got more of what he wanted: Two geothermal heat pumps, one at each end of the house, provide zoned, energy-efficient heating and cooling. When no-cost firewood is available, a damper adjustment allows changing over to a wood-burning furnace in place of the heat pump for the dining room-kitchen and living room modules. When in use, the wood-burning furnace also preheats the supply water for the hot water heater. A "hot water heat pump" mounted on the electrical (resistive heating) water tank extracts heat from the surrounding air to heat the water at half the cost of resistive heating.

How she got more of what she wanted: Seen from the front entry, two Mediterranean style archways provide a framed glimpse of the kitchen. (Note: these have nothing to do with energy efficiency!) An 1100-piece Persian design latticework serves as divider between the entry and the dining room. Across the hall from the lattice, at the entrance to the living room, is a six- foot wide pocket door. Comprised of a less complex lattice mounted on either side of a sheet of translucent white acrylic (picture a shoji screen with a Persian design.), the door is illuminated like a lantern when the living room is lit at night.

Moral of the story: A mindfully designed house can be both green and aesthetically appealing!

The Bottom Line: Cost for the six-acre lot, a two-car garage, and 3229 square feet of living space was $260K plus $32K for the two geothermal heat pumps and wells. Costs include excavation and foundation, HVAC, insulation, and drywall, carried out by others.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Listener

Heather Spence is excited to be working with Jason deCaires Taylor to develop an underwater sculpture into a science lab. Spence, a Marine Biologist, is the founder of GRACIASS (Global Research and Art Center for the Investigation and Advancement of Sustainability Solutions). Her research program in Cancun began in 2007, and in 2010 expanded to include the first Passive Acoustic Monitoring in the Mexican Caribbean. "The Listener" is the result of a long collaboration between Spence and Taylor to find a way to incorporate her underwater sound research into his reef-forming sculpture.

The Listener Sculpture
Jason deCaires Taylor working on The Listener sculpture in his studio
Spence explains, "By combining the art of sculpture and the science of sound, our project helps people to connect to the environment." "The Listener" is covered with models of real human ears and actually listens... to fish. Fitted with NOAA-designed equipment, "The Listener" will provide much-needed data about sea life and coral reef development. Located within a marine protected area off the coast of Cancun, "The Listener" is designed to gradually become a new reef, and provides a fascinating alternative destination for divers.

Collaborators include sponsoring partner the BioMusic Research Group at the University of North Carolina - Greensboro, Oceanwide Science Institute of Hawaii, Michelle's Earth Foundation, and local Cancun partners Universidad del Caribe, Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas and Proyecto Domino.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Partial Solar Eclipse

Partial Annular Solar Eclipse May 20, 2012
Hubbard Lake, MI
45th Parallel