Brian Builds a Cob Oven

Here I am building a ring of re-purposed paver stones on top of the concrete foundation I poured.  The ring will hold a bunch of rubble (old bits of concrete from pulling old fence posts, broken cinder blocks, rocks etc) that will make a solid base for the oven.

Here I am building a ring of re-purposed paver stones on top of the concrete foundation I poured. The ring will hold a bunch of rubble (old bits of concrete from pulling old fence posts, broken cinder blocks, rocks etc) that will make a solid base for the oven.

Here I'm up to 4 courses of bricks for the ring, and trying to keep everything level

I’m up to 4 courses of bricks for the ring, and trying to keep everything level

I've got 8 courses of bricks at this point, which is as high as i'm going with the pavers (about 26" high).  I've also been filling in more rubble for the base and tamping it down.

I’ve got 8 courses of bricks at this point, which is as high as i’m going with the pavers (about 26″ high). I’ve also been filling in more rubble for the base and tamping it down.

I added on last ring of bricks to raise the height of the oven base a little.  In this case I used standard red clay bricks and set them on edge.  This will let me have a little more insulation between the oven and the base.

I added on last ring of bricks to raise the height of the oven base a little. In this case I used standard red clay bricks and set them on edge. This will let me have a little more insulation between the oven and the base.

Adding more rubble, odds and ends from the brick wall project and a bag of concrete mix that got wet last year.

Adding more rubble, odds and ends from the brick wall project and a bag of concrete mix that got wet last year.

The kids and I mixing up our first batch of 'insulation' for the oven.  We are using a thick clay slip made from fire clay and mixing in pine shavings (livestock bedding).  The idea is when it dries and then gets really hot the wood will undergo pyrolysis (decompose to gaseous products without actual combustion) and leave a sort of clay sponge that should make a good insulator.

The kids and I mixing up our first batch of ‘insulation’ for the oven. We are using a thick clay slip made from fire clay and mixing in pine shavings (livestock bedding). The idea is when it dries and then gets really hot the wood will undergo pyrolysis (decompose to gaseous products without actual combustion) and leave a sort of clay sponge that should make a good insulator.

Here we are putting in the base insulation.  Beer bottles separated by small gaps filled with the wood shaving/clay slip mix.  The idea is to provide a solid base with good insulative properties.

Here we are putting in the base insulation. Beer bottles separated by small gaps filled with the wood shaving/clay slip mix. The idea is to provide a solid base with good insulative properties.

Packing 'insulation between the beer bottles.  May have had a few beers (you know, for the good of the oven) at this point judging by my expression and the headband....

Packing ‘insulation between the beer bottles. May have had a few beers (you know, for the good of the oven) at this point judging by my expression and the headband….

A second layer of bottles goes in the floor, and if you look you can see a ring of horizontal bottles between the verticle course of bottles and the outer brick.

A second layer of bottles goes in the floor, and if you look you can see a ring of horizontal bottles between the vertical course of bottles and the outer brick.

The base insulation layer is done.  There is now about six inches of insulation between the outer ring and base, and where the thermal mass of the hearth will be.

The base insulation layer is done. There is now about six inches of insulation between the outer ring and base, and where the thermal mass of the hearth will be.

It's working now.  This is first layer (about 1 1/2" thick) of thermal mud being put inside the insulation layer.  The thermal mud will be directly under the fire bricks we are using as a hearth.

This is first layer (about 1 1/2″ thick) of thermal mud being put inside the insulation layer. The thermal mud will be directly under the fire bricks we are using as a hearth.

 

We filled in the base with a 4 inch thick layer of 'thermal' mix.  4 parts sand to 1 part fire clay.  This will hold the heat of the oven, gradulally releasing it after the fire is out so that we can bake for hours after removing the fire from the oven.  A new edition to our flock is checking it out.... :)

We filled in the base with a 4 inch thick layer of ‘thermal’ mix. 4 parts sand to 1 part fire clay. This will hold the heat of the oven, gradually releasing it after the fire is out so that we can bake for hours after removing the fire from the oven. A new edition to our flock is checking it out…. :)

Now that we have the insulation and thermal resevoir in the base it is time to lay out the hearth.  The kids consider geometry....

Now that we have the insulation and thermal reservoir in the base it is time to lay out the hearth. The kids consider geometry….

A rough first pass at the hearth layout shown from the back side of the oven.  Note the circle drawn on the bricks.  That represents the internal void of the oven.

A rough first pass at the hearth layout shown from the back side of the oven. Note the circle drawn on the bricks. That represents the internal void of the oven.

Here we are making a sand castle that will become the void space of our oven.  Instead of going witht the round oven hearth suggested in the book I extended it a wee bit into an eleptical base for a bit more cooking area.  the damp sand was densly packed by whacking with a 2x4.

Here we are making a sand castle that will become the void space of our oven. Instead of going with the round oven hearth suggested in the book I extended it a wee bit into an elliptical base for a bit more cooking area. the damp sand was densely packed by whacking it with a 2×4.

we cover the sand form with wet newspaper so that we can see the transition between sand and clay when digging out the oven.

We cover the sand form with wet newspaper so that we can see the transition between sand and clay when digging out the oven.

Begining to lay the thermal mix around the oven form.  We are shooting for about 3-4 inches of thermal mix.  Too much and it takes a lot of wood to heat the oven, too little and you run out of heat too quickly.  The thickness of this thermal mass layer needs to be taylored to what you will use your oven for.  Since I don't play on many marathon 16 hour baking days, 3 inches should be fine :)

Beginning to lay the thermal mix around the oven form. We are shooting for about 3-4 inches of thermal mix. Too much and it takes a lot of wood to heat the oven, too little and you run out of heat too quickly. The thickness of this thermal mass layer needs to be tailored to what you will use your oven for.  Since I don’t plan on many marathon 16 hour baking days, 3 inches should be fine :)

Continuing to add to the dome.  At this point there is about 350 lbs of clay and and in the thermal layer.

Continuing to add to the dome. At this point there is about 350 lbs of clay and sand in the thermal layer.

The dome is finished (actually this is the second time we built the dome.  The first time the kids were really trying to help and we were running out of daylight, so let us just say that quality control was lacking that day).

The dome is finished (actually this is the second time we built the dome. The first time the kids were really trying to help and we were running out of daylight, so let us just say that quality control was lacking that day).

I am impatient, so I start scraping sand out of the dome after only 2 days.  My plan is to speed the drying by using some Sterno inside the dome while leaving some of the sand for support.  It seemed to work.  The dome did not collapse and after 3 cans of Sterno I got most of the sand out.

I am impatient, so I start scraping sand out of the dome after only 2 days. My plan is to speed the drying by using some Sterno inside the dome while leaving some of the sand for support. It seemed to work. The dome did not collapse and after 3 cans of Sterno I got most of the sand out.

The sand is out!!!  You can see the newspaper layer that we put down is intact, so I managed to remove the sand without messing up the inner surface (for the most part).  Now I'll peel the paper off and work on polishing the inside of the dome...

The sand is out!!! You can see the newspaper layer that we put down is intact, so I managed to remove the sand without messing up the inner surface (for the most part). Now I’ll peel the paper off and work on polishing the inside of the dome…

The sand and newspaper has been removed from the oven cavity.  The inside of the dome isn't dry yet, so I was a little concerned it might slump.

The sand and newspaper has been removed from the oven cavity. The inside of the dome isn’t dry yet, so I was a little concerned it might slump.

As the inside dries (the outside was significantly drier by now) some cracks form.  I don't want sand and clay to spill off of the dome into our food, so I set about filling in the cracks with some wet thermal mix and massaging it in with the back of a serving spoon.

As the inside dries (the outside was significantly drier by now) some cracks form. I don’t want sand and clay to spall off of the dome into our food, so I set about filling in the cracks with some wet thermal mix and massaging it in with the back of a serving spoon.

First pass with the spoon is done, and the dome is looking pretty smooth, though still pretty wet.

First pass with the spoon is done, and the dome is looking pretty smooth, though still pretty wet.

In an effort to speed things up on the inside I fire up two cans of sterno.

In an effort to speed things up on the inside I fire up two cans of sterno.

After a little more drying and cracking (and 2 more rounds of patching/smoothing) the dome is looking good and feeling dry.

After a little more drying and cracking (and 2 more rounds of patching/smoothing) the dome is looking good and feeling dry.

Now we attempt to really get things moving with a small 'drying fire' just inside the dome.

Now we attempt to really get things moving with a small ‘drying fire’ just inside the dome.

Since the drying fire went well I decide a little more fire might speed things up...

Since the drying fire went well I decide a little more fire might speed things up…

As the fire is burning, drying out the dome, we add the first layer of insulation mix.  More of the clay slip and wood shavings.  Since the dome is dry it probably won't stick well, but this is OK since the layers will be acting independently, both structurally and functionally.

As the fire is burning, drying out the dome, we add the first layer of insulation mix. More of the clay slip and wood shavings. Since the dome is dry it probably won’t stick well, but this is OK since the layers will be acting independently, both structurally and functionally.

Chloe putting the finishing touches on the first insulation layer.  Notice the divots in the insulation.  This is so that the next layer will bond to it.

Chloe puts the finishing touches on the first insulation layer. Notice the divots in the insulation. This is so that the next layer will bond to it.

 

 

October 13...Tulip tree is still holding on, but more colored leaves can be seen.

October 13…Tulip tree is still holding on, but more colored leaves can be seen.  The sun is lower on the horizon as can be seen by the shadow on the left side.

The blue sky is disappearing tomorrow for a while.  It's been so good to get sunshine this late in the season, but that's coming to an end soon.

The blue sky is disappearing tomorrow for a while. It’s been so good to get sunshine this late in the season, but that’s coming to an end soon.

These leaves are starting to lose their chlorophyll enabling the other colors to be visible.

These leaves are starting to lose their chlorophyll enabling the other colors to be visible.

Why do leaves change color in the autumn?

According to Garden at School, “Basically, leaves are made up of several components that affect their color.  Chlorophyll is the part of the leaf that gives it its green color, and its presence is so strong that it can cover up the color of the other components of the leaf. In the fall, trees sense that the days are becoming shorter and the weather is cooler.  As a result, it stops sending up water and energy to the leaves and so the chlorophyll dies.  Once the chlorophyll is gone, the other colors can shine through.”

A few leaves have dropped.  Not enough to rake up yet, but it won't be too long.  I'm actually looking forward to getting this valuable treasure for my garden.

A few leaves have dropped. Not enough to rake up yet, but it won’t be too long. I’m actually looking forward to getting this valuable treasure for my garden.

I've been 'following' this seed pod trying to be there when it opens.  I'm beginning to doubt that it will open.  If it does, I'd like to plant the seeds just for fun.

I’ve been ‘following’ this seed pod trying to be there when it opens. I’m beginning to doubt that it will open.  But if it does, I’d like to plant the seeds just for fun.

New leaves are still forming, so this tree is not ready to call it quits just yet.

New leaves are still forming, so this tree is not ready to call it quits just yet.

 

This hive started out as an emergency backup nuc hive on April 18, 2013.  It was with the fourth or fifth swarm to come out of my log hive.  I fitted it with bars that would fit my Warre hive.

This hive started out as an emergency backup hive on April 18, 2013. It was the fourth or fifth swarm to come out of my log hive. I fitted it with bars that would fit my Warre hive just in case.

I added a quilt box on top complete with screened air holes and myrtlewood sawdust from my Bee-atrice log hive which was under construction at the time.  When I realized I wouldn’t need that backup hive, my wife and I decided to leave it in the tree during winter as a sort of trial to see if bees could come through our mild winter without any intervention.  I’m happy to say it came through the many wind and rain storms without me treating or feeding it.  It threw three swarms (two at once) that we know about and is still going strong as you can see by the video.

 

 

 

A Long Long Brood Break

January 15, 2014  I mentioned the mites this hive and what I was going to do about it..."NOTHING!" (...hoping the bees would know what to do)

January 15, 2014…I noticed a bunch of varroa mites on the bottom board.  What was I going to do about it?  “NOTHING!” (I was hoping the bees would know what to do)

A pile of dead bees that had been dumped out of the hive sometime earlier. This picture was taken from a video I shot in April. The dead bees had been there for a while, but I just couldn't bring myself to photograph them. Too depressing.  It's possible these are all drones with deformed wing virus. I wish I had looked closer and examined them.   I guess I should be happy that the other bees cleaned them out.

A pile of dead bees that had been dumped out of the hive sometime earlier. This picture was taken from a video I shot in April. The dead bees had been there for a while, but I just couldn’t bring myself to photograph them. Too depressing. It’s possible these are all drones with deformed wing virus. I wish I had looked closer and examined them. I guess I should be happy that the other bees cleaned them out of the hive.  It shows there are healthy bees that are cleaning up.

April 18, 2014...Box #3 is almost full, I'd better add a 4th box, which is what I did.

April 18, 2014…Box #3 is almost full, I’d better add a 4th box, which is what I did, but that was before the hive started to swarm.  Compare the numbers to May 20th below.

 May 10, 2014...The second swarm that came out of Warre2 in less than two weeks.  I was able to transfer this swarm into a third Warre hive which is doing fine as of this date.

May 10, 2014…The second swarm that came out of Warre2 in less than two weeks. I was able to transfer this swarm into a third Warre hive which is doing fine as of this date. (I just noticed some evidence of DWV bees being evicted in October ’14.)

May 20...Elvis has left the building.  10 days after the second swarm, there's only a few bees left in this the third box.

May 20…Ten days after the second swarm, there’s only a few bees left in this the third box.

June 11...There's been a small group of bees milling around the entrance for weeks.

June 11…There’s been a small group of bees milling around the entrance for weeks.   They don’t seem to have any ambition.  Are they sick?  Maybe.

July 14...Even fewer bees in July.  That means (to me) only one thing.  This hive is going nowhere.  It's all over except for the robbing.

July 14…Even fewer bees in July. That means (to me) only one thing. This hive is going nowhere. It’s all over except for the robbing.

July 14...this is a shot at the middle box showing very few bees.  I'm just waiting for the robbing to start, but after tilting the hive, I realize there's really no honey to rob.

July 14…this is a shot at the middle box showing very few bees. I’m just waiting for the robbing to start, but after tilting the hive, I realize there’s really no honey to rob.

I’ve seen a hive get robbed.  It isn’t pretty.  Once it starts there’s no stopping it.  If it did get robbed, I was planning to take the new comb, freeze it (in case of wax moths), and save for future bait hives.

July and August came and went.  No robbing took place.  A swarm from my log hive presented itself on August 6.  I contemplated combining it with this weak hive, but in the end, that swarm went into Bee Beard log hive of it’s own accord.

September 20...It's possible there are a few more bees showing.

September 20…It’s possible there are a few more bees showing in this top box.

September 20...There are definitely more bees here.

September 20…There are definitely more bees here in the middle box than in the July 14 view.  The hive is building back up.

September 28...the activity around the hive has picked up dramatically.  No more milling about.  Bees are bringing in pollen.

September 28…the activity around the hive has picked up dramatically. No more milling about. Bees are bringing in pollen.

Could this mean the hive has come back?  Could it be that by taking this long brood break, the hive has reduced the varroa mite population naturally and now has started building up it’s numbers again?

 

A look through the observation windows in the back of the hive shows the top box full of empty comb, the middle box being full of bees and comb, and the bottom box with bees and old comb.  The question is…why aren’t the bees working the empty comb in the top box?

A short video showing how fast the honeycomb built up.  Luckily we are having an Indian summer into October.  I’m athinking I won’t have to feed this hive this year as our winters are fairly mild and they have honey stores now.

We planted fennel this year to attract bees and butterflies.  We never saw the butterflies, but we spotted the caterpillars and later on the bees.

August 22, 2014...we started seeing caterpillars on the fennel.

August 22, 2014…we started seeing caterpillars on the fennel.

Caterpillars are voracious eaters.  Michael Marlow has an up close video of one eating a stem.  It doesn't waste any time.  I started noticing my fennel branches were getting bare, then I saw the caterpillars.

Caterpillars are voracious eaters. Michael Marlow has an up close video of one eating a stem. It doesn’t waste any time. I started noticing my fennel branches were getting bare, then I saw the caterpillars.

This is could be one of the earlier stages of growth.  More information about the many stages

This is could be one of the earlier stages of growth. The life cycle of the Black Swallowtail Butterflies can be found here.

Fennel can grow quite tall.  This one is at least 7 ft. tall.

Fennel can grow quite tall. This one is at least 7 ft. tall.  I wonder if the chrysalis will be hidden in the undergrowth.

The honeybees have been visiting the fennel since early September.

The honeybees have been visiting the fennel since early September.  I don’t know what the insect at the top is, but it’s very colorful.  My wife thinks its a Great Golden Digger Wasp.

This shows the color of gathered pollen.

I’m happy the bees like fennel too.

The parsley muncher

October 8...more caterpillars seen last week and today.  I hope to see many Swallowtail butterflies next spring.

October 8…more caterpillars seen last week and today. I hope to see many Swallowtail butterflies next spring.

 

Following a Tree—September

September 10, 2014...Tulip tree is starting to turn color.

September 10, 2014…Tulip tree is starting to turn color.

Yep, they are definitely changing color.

Yep, the leaves are definitely changing color. According to Portland (OR) Parks and Recreation, fall foliage color is gold-yellow.  Featured is  a tulip tree that was planted in the 1890s.

Looking up into the umbrella, even those leaves are yellowing.

Looking up into the umbrella, even these leaves are yellowing.    A member of the Magnoliaceae family, these trees are native in the US, east of the Mississippi.  The record height is 200 feet (61 meters), but many grow to over 100 feet.

The seed pod is just starting to show a little browning on the tips.  I never noticed the seed pods before because they are hidden in the foliage,  but because of this "tree following" project, I'm pushing leaves out of the way to find them.  Luckily, the pods are within reach.

The seed pod is just starting to show a little browning on the tips. I never noticed the seed pods before because they are hidden in the foliage, but because of this “tree following” project, I’m pushing leaves out of the way to find them. Luckily, the pods are within reach.

 

According to Wikipedia… “The soft, fine-grained wood of tulip trees is known as “poplar” (short for “yellow poplar”) in the U.S., but marketed abroad as “American tulipwood” or by other names. It is very widely used where a cheap, easy-to-work and stable wood is needed. The sapwood is usually a creamy off-white color. While the heartwood is usually a pale green, it can take on streaks of red, purple, or even black; depending on the extractives content (i.e. the soil conditions where the tree was grown, etc.). It is clearly the wood of choice for use in organs, due to its ability to take a fine, smooth, precisely cut finish and so to effectively seal against pipes and valves. It is also commonly used for siding clapboards. Its wood may be compared in texture, strength, and softness to white pine.

Used for interior finish of houses, for siding, for panels of carriages, for coffin boxes, pattern timber, and wooden ware. During scarcity of the better qualities of white pine, tulip wood has taken its place to some extent, particularly when very wide boards are required.[3]

It also has a reputation for being resistant to termites, and in the Upland South (and perhaps elsewhere) house and barn sills were often made of tulip poplar beams.”

Bee Math for Bee-atrice

September 8, 2014...Post swarm day 33.  There's a shadow across her face.  I hope that's not a bad sign, but the bee math doesn't look good for her.

September 8, 2014…Post swarm day 33. There’s a shadow across her face. I hope that’s not a bad sign, but the bee math doesn’t look good for her.

I’ve looked at various charts explaining Bee Math, but I like the way Michael Bush puts it best…”If a hive just swarmed today, how long before the new queen is laying? Assuming this was the primary swarm, it usually leaves the day the first queen cell gets capped. So that means a new queen will emerge in 8 days. That queen may leave with another swarm or the workers may allow her to kill all the others and stay. Assuming she kills all the others (which are staggered in age, so they will emerge at different times if they do afterswarm) then she should be laying most likely two weeks later. So that’s about three weeks give or take a week. (two to four weeks).”

Bee-atrice swarmed a month and two days ago.  That makes it 33 days…(well past four weeks) She had built up fast having gotten occupied by a wild swarm only two months prior on June 6, 2014.

July 27, 2014...The most advanced stage of comb building before the swarm on August 7.  (I had planned to post a two month update on her strong progress, but she up and swarmed on me)

July 27, 2014…The most advanced stage of comb building before the swarm on August 7. (I had planned to post a two month update on her strong progress, but she up and swarmed on me)

 

August 8, 2014...Bee-atrice through the observation window exactly one month ago.  This shows how much comb was built in the two months the wild swarm occupied her.  This is the day after she had swarmed.

August 8, 2014…Bee-atrice through the observation window exactly one month ago. This shows how much comb was built in the two months the wild swarm occupied her. This is the day after she had swarmed.

August 8, 2014...Temperature holding steady at 93F.

August 8, 2014…Temperature holding steady at 93F…good for brood rearing.

September 8, 2014...And this is today.  Doesn't look like any more comb has been built, The number of bees hasn't increased.

September 8, 2014…And this is today. Doesn’t look like any more comb has been built, The number of bees hasn’t increased, and…

...and this is the awful final sign that things are not going well.  62F (16C) means there is no brood being laid.

…and this is the awful final sign that things are not going well. 62F (16C) means there are no eggs being laid.

Maybe I’m wrong, but math is math, and the numbers don’t look good for Bee-atrice.

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