Yard Clean Up

Fall is my favorite time of year to be out and about, though the daylight and sunshine available for playing outside is in shorter supply. I’m all about maximizing fun before winter comes. The last thing on my mind is yard clean up. It always snows before I get to it, therefore all the leaves and vegetative litter, the seed heads, dead stems and brush are left until spring.

It turns out, though, that being a lazy gardener creates great habitat for overwintering wildlife. So I wear my “lazy gardener” title with pride, or rather call myself a “habitat gardener.” If you’d like to wear one of these titles, here are some tips and reasons to work less and play more in the fall.

milkweed

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Preparing your Home for Winter

*This post was initially published way back in 2012.*

How Will You Prepare for Winter?

I drive to work everyday. It’s a drive from Brainerd to Pine River, about 35 miles. It takes me about 45 minutes to get from driveway to parking lot. There are stoplights, stop signs, merging traffic, and other nuisances on the way. But, mostly I get to zing up (and down) Hwy. 371 at about 60 mph. Now, along this drive, I see not one, but four different businesses that are advertising their boat winterization services. Some will offer free storage while others will offer free shrink wrapping. It’s a good time of year to need boat winterization, apparently. Now, other than serving as a reminder that central Minnesota is still (and forever shall be!) the boating and fishing capital of the world, these winterization billboards are serving another important feature.

They’re telling us that Winter is Coming!

Let us take solace in the famous utterance of Eddard Stark that, yes, winter is truly

winterprepare

You tell ’em “Ned”

coming. But, instead of huddling in our homes and turning the furnace temperature to the heat setting we should use this warning as an opportunity to ready, prepare, and indeed, brace ourselves for the oncoming cold. I’ve done a little research and found some things that are easy to do around the house that will make this coming winter that much easier to endure.

First, I contacted Roger G, an engineer and an all-around nice guy. He works for RREAL, a great non-profit organization that outfits low income families with solar panels to help combat heating prices. But, before they just attach the panels, they have to make sure that the house itself is best suited to the benefits of solar energy. In other words, they require that the home be weatherized before the begin installation. This weatherization includes proper weather stripping, sufficient insulation (throughout the home), and storm windows. These are just a small number of things you can do to save money and energy. Roger recommended I look to the local utility companies to see how best to winterize my home.

I looked to several utility co-ops and found some good tips. But, where should you begin? Here are a couple ideas.

Step #1 Schedule an energy audit.

Check out this video put together by the Dept. of Energy. These audits are often subsidized by your utility company. Contact your provider to see if they have programs in place to help you get your audit at least partially paid for.

Step #2 Fill those cracks.

Using the knowledge from your energy audit, you’ll see where you need to apply insulation. However, these are the most likely culprits for allowing heat to escape. Some of the best ways to stifle heat loss in your home are by caulking joints, covering your windows in plastic, and using foam gaskets on your outlets

Step #3: Install a Programmable Thermostat.

Doing this very simple (and inexpensive) option will help you save up to 20% on your utility bill. So, with the one time purchase of $40, you’ll get a return on investment in no time. Check out this video on how to install one. Not too difficult. Again, look to your utility company to see if they offer benefits for installing a programmable thermostat. Some even offer rebates to lower the cost even further.

 

If you want more information on preparing for the cold of winter, I suggest looking at what the Clean Energy Resource Team has put together. Also, Excel Energy has a more detailed pamphlet on making your home tip top for the oncoming winter.

The Art Form of Gardening

Every other week, I get together with the Food and Water Security (F&WS) program side of Happy Dancing Turtle. For the last several months, we’ve been putting together a podcast that covers the struggles (and successes) of working in a garden. We sit inside around the conference table with two microphones positioned to get everyone’s voice just so. We talk about the weekly CSA, if any problems came up during harvest (such as varmints or other critters), and other things that we think people would like to hear.

During one session we discussed how, despite planning, scheduling, and forecasting, the frost hit a bit earlier than expected and pushed up “putting the garden to bed” element of the work, probably by two weeks. I ribbed Jim C, our F&WS manager, that next year he’ll have to use science to best predict when the crops will eventually finish their season. I was surprised by his reply.

“There is a definite science behind the workings underneath the ground and when plants best grow, but working with a garden is also an art.”

garlicrows

Our garlic rows are snuggled in and ready for the winter.

He explained that to work with a garden, and living things such as plants and ecosystems, is to know an art form.

The seasons have rhythms. Things will get warm, things will grow, things will bloom, things will be harvested, and then, eventually, gradually or suddenly, things will be ready to start over.

That’s where we’re at now. In central Minnesota, we get only a limited amount of time before the garden needs to go home; now is the time where it needs to go home and turn off the lights.

However, following Jim’s logic, there are many ways to make sure your garden is ready for next year. There are methods that we can only suggest, simply because gardening is not a science. It’s an art form.

 

First Frost Means Bedtime for Gardens

Now that we’ve had a few frosts, many think they can hang up their garden gloves.  But think again. If you want a successful garden next year, start this fall. Your garden is still alive and the microbial livestock in your soil need to be fed.

First, stop!  Shut off that tiller!  I know you went for that to make your garden look clean and spiffy, but tilling your soil is bad for the bugs. Imagine a pile of bricks.  It would be hard to walk through, right? Now build a house out of those bricks. It’s easy to go from room to room and move around your home. Soil structure, or aggregate, is the house for your soil livestock. Your tiller is a tornado that turns good soil aggregate to a pile of bricks, reducing water infiltration and microbial diversity.   

firstfrostblur

Frost brings beauty and a sense of the change of time.

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