STAYING WARM DURING A WINTER POWER OUTAGE

Blizzards, ice storms, and powerful winds will strike this winter. It’s impossible to predict just where they’ll hit, but anyone might need to endure cold nights without electricity until utility workers restore power.

Don’t be caught in the cold.

People can survive a few cold days in relative comfort by piling on layers of clothes or snuggling under thick quilts at night. But, even the most well insulated house will gradually cool as soon as a power outage shuts down the furnace. Eventually pipes will freeze, causing enormous damage as water squirts on carpet, furniture, books and electronics. In fact everywhere!

Will your heating system work without electricity? Find out before a blizzard leaves your family in the cold.

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If your heating system depends on electricity, now is a good time to install back up heat.

Two ways determine whether the furnace will work. The best is to call your local heating company and ask. Or, turn off the circuit breaker that feeds power to the furnace and give it a try. It probably won’t work. So, get to work protecting your home, furnishings and family.

Winding Pathways encourages homeowners to eliminate the risk of freezing pipes by taking precautions before cold weather arrives. Probably the best strategy is to invest in insulation and to replace old windows that leak cold air. A well-insulated home cools more slowly than a poorly insulated one. But having a backup heat source that doesn’t require electricity is important even in thickly insulated homes.

Electric wires are stretched between poles above ground where they are vulnerable to storms. In contrast natural gas lines are buried in the ground and are immune to storms but vulnerable to earthquakes. The chance of losing electricity is higher than losing gas.

Most modern gas and oil furnaces need electricity to work. It powers blowers that distribute warm air through ducts or circulates hot water to radiators. When a storm knocks out power the furnace shuts down.

Winding Pathways is in frigid Iowa where it can be 25 below zero with high wind for a week or more. A traditional furnace heats our home but won’t work without electricity so we’ve done two things that will keep us, and our pipes, warm.

We hired a professional to install a woodstove downstairs. And all spring and summer we cut, cured and stacked a few cords of wood. We enjoy its cozy heat even when the power works. It reduces our natural gas bill and would keep the house warm without electricity. Woodstoves aren’t for everyone. They require work to cut and stack the wood and maintain the fire. Firewood takes lots of storage space and stoves bring dust and smoke into the house. For those who don’t want to deal with wood heat there’s a better option.

We also hired a company to install two natural gas heaters. One is a fireplace insert. The other is a simple gas heater at the other end of the house. Their blowers won’t work when the power goes off but unlike the furnace they continue to provide heat without the blower. They’ll keep our home relatively warm even without electricity. Similar heaters can be fueled by propane and would be a good choice for homeowners who don’t have a natural gas line nearby. Most heating supply companies sell gas heaters that work without electricity.

When the wind howls, ice pellets rattle against the windows and the thermometer plummets it’s comforting to know that a house has a heat source that will work without electricity.

 

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Summer Wood for Winter Use

Woodstove

We love the cozy heat of wood burning in the woodstove.

Much of our heat at Winding Pathways comes from our two woodstoves. We love the cozy warmth given by our stoves but there’s more to it than just heat.

The wood we burn comes from trees that snatched carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the past 100 years. Photosynthesis transformed carbon and water into wood, so we’re not contributing to global warming as much as if we burned coal, oil, or natural gas. And we get our wood free, thus helping the family budget.

Wood heat isn’t completely without cost. Each year we hire a company to clean and inspect our chimney and stove. So, we lay out some cash but far less than for conventional fuel. Wood heat also requires sweat equity to cut, stack and move firewood. At this point, it’s worth it. An added benefit is the security we feel when gazing at our six cords of stored wood. When storms shut down utilities we’ll stay warm.

Summer is an ideal time to prepare for autumn’s crisp nights.

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Helping an “Orphaned” Baby Animal

“Oh my gosh!    I just found an ‘orphaned’ baby bird sitting on the front porch.  What do I do?”

“There’s an ‘abandoned’ fawn in my hostas!  What do I do?”

“Oh, the poor baby bunnies, they have no mom. What do I do?”

We get these type comments all the time at Winding Pathways. The short answer is: Do Nothing!

Nest of Robins

The babies are ready to “branch out!”

This summer millions of Americans will discover baby birds, fawns, bunnies, and a host of other seemingly helpless newborn animals in their yards and face the dilemma of “What do I do?”. Usually the baby is all alone with no mother in sight. It’s easy to assume the poor baby’s mother suffered a tragic fate and that the baby is doomed to an early death unless people “help” it.

We’ve often found baby bunnies and birds at Winding Pathways and we know the best way to help it is to leave them alone. A cottontail nest we found last spring is a good example.

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Best Birding in the Yard

At Winding Pathways, we venture into our yard nearly every day, even if it’s raining, windy,

House Finch

Some birds homestead at Winding Pathways.

or frigid out. Of all the times, early May is our favorite to linger outdoors. Why? It’s the best birding.

Very late April and the first couple of weeks of May boast normally glorious weather, blooming flowers and birds. Lots of birds, including those we can only enjoy for a fleeting week or two.

Here’s how we group the birds that we enjoy in our yard. Odds are the same or similar species follow this pattern in backyards with good habitat across much of the continent.

THE HOMEBODIES

Some birds don’t migrate. They brave the cold and grace winter feeders. In summer, they often raise broods of babies on the edge of the yard. These include titmice, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, house sparrows, and many woodpeckers.

THE NORTHERNER

Juncos are almost always under our feeders all winter gleaning seeds. To a Junco Iowa is the balmy south with a “warm” winter. Around mid-April they head north to nest in the boreal forests of Canada and Minnesota.  We won’t see them again until around Halloween.

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26 Hours Old: Baby Chicks Arrive

Baby Chicks Find a Home at Winding Pathways

Enjoying the chicks

Enjoying the chicks

 The call from our post office came at 6 a.m. “Could you please come soon and pick up a box of peeping baby chicks,” requested the pleasant postal worker. Soon we were in the car en-route to retrieve the babies. We were excited, but the story really began months earlier.

The Girls are Getting Old

Leghorn

Going on their third lay cycle, the girls are getting old.

Our 13 hens were laying well but we knew they were on the downside of production. Young hens, called pullets, start laying when they are around 20 to 24 weeks old. During the approximately 14 months of their lay cycle we expect about 275 to 300 eggs per hen.  Then they declare a vacation, take a break, shed their worn feathers, fatten up a bit, grow new feathers, increase their calcium, and after six or eight weeks begin their second lay cycle. They’ll produce fewer eggs this time and as they continue to age we can expect ever fewer eggs. So, about every third year we order baby chicks that grow into pullets to replace the old girls. The process takes time and requires planning.

Getting Ready for Baby Chicks

Around Christmas we began planning our new chick order. This year we cooperated with two friends.  Each wanted some chicks but not a full order of 25. So, we placed a joint order with Hoover’s Hatchery in the tiny town of Rudd, Iowa. Leafing through their paper catalog and double checking their website helped us decide to order 50 chicks of diverse breeds. They’d collectively be a rainbow of feather colors and would lay light and dark brown, white, and blue/green eggs. We placed our order in January. Then, preparation really began.

Preparing for the Arrival

Roost

Keep adult chickens separate from chicks.

Our old chickens are in a coop Rich built in the corner of our small barn. We wanted to keep them until the new ones start laying in mid-summer. You don’t put baby chicks in with old ones. It just doesn’t work. Birds, like most creatures, are territorial and the old birds will kill the newcomers. The hens and chicks need to be kept apart. So, Rich made a second coop next to the existing one but separated by a wire and plywood wall. Inside the new coop, he made a large plywood box, complete with a plywood lid and two heat lamps to keep the babies warm until their feathers grew in and the weather warmed.

Hoover’s Hatchery sent a confirmation that the babies would arrive on March 15th. Gulp, the Ides of March. And, as it turned out, one of the colder days of winter.

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Can You Hear What I Hear?

Sometimes change happens as quickly as flipping a light switch. One moment it’s dark. A second later brightness fills the room. Other changes creep up so subtly that it’s hard to notice them at all.

That’s what happened to my hearing acuity. It probably started years ago when massive machine gun noise assaulted my ears during Army training, and running chain saws, lawn mowers, and other machines didn’t help. Gradually and pretty much unnoticed I developed tinnitus and lost the ability to hear many of nature’s delightful sounds.

Finch

Rich could not hear the sweet sound of the finch.

One day my wife, Marion, and I were sitting in the living room when she asked, “What bird is calling outside the window?”  I couldn’t hear a thing! It was time to get my hearing checked and a few days later I was at Heartland Hearing Center in Cedar Rapids. Audiologist Jennifer Reekers positioned me into a small booth and tested my ability to hear sounds of varied intensity and wavelength. The test proved what I already knew. I could not hear many sounds well, especially high pitches.

“Hearing aids will help restore your ability to hear many sounds,” she said. Over the next few weeks, she fitted me with a different trial pairs until I found one that did the trick. It was in spring and I could hear bird calls I hadn’t heard in years. Some sounds were odd, like hearing my own footsteps and my pants legs swooshing together as I walked.

My experience with the aids has been positive and, although they were expensive, it was money well spent. In the Premier section below is an article on the causes of hearing loss and how to improve hearing. It includes tips to protect hearing before loss sets in and what can be done to enable better sound detection and is reprinted from OUTDOORS UNLIMITED Magazine.

Wildlife and Hearing

Humans are fortunate. We have a fair ability to see, hear, taste, and smell. The senses of many wild animals have senses much better than ours, but they usually aren’t as well balanced.

Karla Bloem with Barn Owl

Barn owls can find prey in complete darkness using only their hearing.

For example, according to Karla Bloem, Executive Director of the International Owl Center, a barn owl’s hearing is so keen that it can detect and catch a mouse in complete darkness. Its vision is also outstanding, although probably only in black and white. But, that owl may not have a sense of smell or taste at all.

Like owls, wild turkeys have outstanding vision and hearing but probably no sense of smell or taste.

The sense of smell and hearing possessed by deer is amazingly well developed, but their vision isn’t very good. Humans are fortunate to have all our senses, although none of them may be as keen as those of certain animals. Hearing loss can often be prevented.   Take care around loud noise.

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