Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Bee that lost its Buzz, and A Spring Garden!

Laura saw the bee before I did. "Don't stand on it!" she said. "The poor thing must have been inside since yesterday."

Dragging itself over the floor near my feet was a very dishevelled bundle of misery. The bee was in such a feeble state that its limbs would not bear its weight, so it polled along with the occasional push of one or other back leg, and paused between each push as if to catch its breath. Laura captured the bee with one of my small porcelain glaze test bowls, and I went out into the garden ahead of her and the bee in search of a dandelion or two.

Over the years we have rescued many exhausted bees that have "run out of steam", and have found that they revive quite quickly if placed gently on a dandelion flower. The flower is broad enough to give a wobbly bee plenty of support, and there are numerous little florets for them to put their long tongue into in search of nectar.

This poor bee was so far gone that it could do no more than grip a dandelion flower with its hook-like feet, and insisted on orientating itself the wrong way round with its bottom on the flower and its head hanging over the side! I realised from its pathetic lurches that it was only a matter of time before the bee fell off. I placed the glaze test bowl under the flower for the bee to drop into, then went back to the house in search of some honey.

Standing by the kitchen sink, I put a small glob of honey into a teaspoon and diluted it with water. I took this out to the bee and was attempting to find a way of getting honey to a place near the bee's head, when it lost its hold on the dandelion and fell into the glaze test bowl. The bee landed upside down and seemed unable to right itself. What with spoon, bowl, upside-down bee and honey, everything conspired to get a bit sticky at that moment.

I put the spoon on the ground, arranged a blade of grass over it like a bridge, and managed to slide the bee onto the bridge so it was able to hold both grass and spoon with its various feet, and peer into the bowl of the spoon where the honey was. Quite soon the bee's long tongue extended, and it began to consume honey with great care and dexterity. As the bee grew stronger I was heartened to see its big rounded rump nod rhythmically. This was a good sign, our exhausted bee was coming back to life!

The restoration of the bee took the best part of half an hour. I sat nearby with a cup of tea and watched as honey and warm Spring sunshine worked their magic. At last... there was a sudden haze of wings, and the bee lifted majestically to the low blossom laden branches of the plum tree above us and embarked on a mad dance from flower to flower, scattering white petals in its haste to find more nectar. I headed back indoors to get my camera, and on my return to the garden, I was delighted to be able to reunite with the bee and take its photo before it flew away to a higher and more inaccessible tree.

It is Spring and the garden is waking up with a great rush of energy. Laura is outside most mornings purportedly "filling another bucket of weeds", but really just being there living and experiencing this season of change, and rediscovering her "treasures" as they awaken from their winter sleep.

Potting and painting, yes there is quite a bit going on in our studio and I will start glazing a new kiln load of pots for the wood fired kiln this week.

I think I'll do a separate post about that and other matters as this has got rather long already!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

How the wood fired kiln works!

Back in the mists of time, when I last posted I did promise to upload some photos and information about the kiln and how it works. The kiln is rather unusual, but is showing signs of working very well, and I do hope that some of the design ideas might help someone else to make a kiln.

I think that the ladder type grate shows a lot of promise, and may well make a very welcome alternative to someone who has battled with a more conventional design. The other refreshing thing for me was to find that the single firebox with entry flue at the back left hand corner made it perfectly possible to have an even heat distribution front to back in the kiln, and only a 2 cone variation from top to bottom. Having the shelf over the firebox may help with this, and it is certainly a useful "bonus" place to put an extra pot or two in the kiln.

Chamber with front shelf removed to show flueway to chimney under shelves. Inlet flue is visible at the left rear of the chamber.

Loading kiln. Back shelf stack full, front stack incomplete.

Loading kiln. Front and back stacks of shelves full.

Chamber door bricked up 6 inches thick with 2 layers of insulating fire brick on edge.

Fire box door in place. Small fire lit under ladder grate at beginning of firing.

Chimney damper on left used to control the draught through the kiln. Right side of chimney no longer in use since alterations to the chamber.

Kiln in daylight with metal drum of kindling rather blocking the view!

Kiln firing at night. The first firebox door was an old ceramic fibre lined dust bin lid!

In February of 2017 I demolished the external firebox and stripped out the interior of the kiln. The following are photos that I took of the rebuild.

Kiln stripped out leaving arch and back up insulation bricks.

Floor of chamber was made on a foundation of concrete blocks that are laid on their sides.

The chamber floor consisted of one layer of standard fire bricks over a layer of insulating fire bricks. On the left the firebox is under construction.

The floor of the ashpit is two fire bricks thick to help protect concrete foundation slab from excess heat.

The actual floor of the firebox has an air gap under it. I used some large second hand fire brick slabs to make this floor.

Fire box nearing completion. Large fire bricks make a ladder grate.

Firebox from the front. "Ladder" just visible.

Heavy large fire brick slabs form the top of the firebox.

Relining the chamber side walls and back wall is complete and the permanent left hand front wall is under construction.

The left side of kiln almost complete. Concrete blocks that are under the chamber will be left "open" so that any build up of heat inside them is allowed to escape.

A kiln shelf covers most of the firebox inside the chamber. A gap is left in the rear corner to form an inlet flue. I initially thought I would use a single stack of 18 x 24 inch shelves in the chamber, but decided that 2 stacks of smaller shelves would make stacking the kiln considerably easier, the shelves less likely to bend or break, and offer more versatility.

Hope the photos have been of help to someone. Apologies if they have been rather slow loading due to their quantity, but I thought it useful to have them all in the one place.

I am happy to try to answer any questions regarding this kiln, but do regard what I have made as a starting point! The shape and size of the kiln was dictated to some extent by the kiln shelves and other materials that were available to me. You may well have other materials on hand, so could build quite differently.