(This story first appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.)
A few months ago, my wife called me to her computer to view our electric bill. Although the weather had been mild the previous month we were still proud to see a $13.18 bill, or about 45 cents a day.
That’s a low bill for us but even when we figure in higher use during hot and cold seasons our monthly average bill is $38, or about 32% of the average $114 residential bill. Our medium size home has typical appliances and lights yet we annually pay Alliant Energy about $936 less than other families.
We’ve done nothing magical, and nearly any home following our strategy is certain to reduce their costs without sacrificing comfort or convenience. Here are gradual steps we took to save money and electricity.
First, we exercise the power of the human index finger. If it’s not in use, we turn it off. The sun provides free light and heat yet never sends a bill. In winter, we open south facing blinds to welcome the sun’s light and warmth and close them at sunset.
This week Winding Pathways will feature two blogs that cover the “ins and outs” of harvesting deer, landowner responsibilities and a sample agreement between landowners and deer hunters. This blog includes The Law, Equipment, and Ways to Process a Deer. The next blog on this topic will cover how landowners can manage hunters on their land and a sample agreement form.
Frustrated homeowners often discover their landscape plants, flowers, and vegetables devoured by hungry urban and suburban deer.
Although we can find them annoying, deer are amazing. Deer are resourceful and adaptable. In many rural areas, their former habitat has been transformed into seas of corn, soybeans, or other crops. The hedgerows, woodlots, and brushy patches that once offered deer shelter have disappeared. So, they moved into town.
Many suburban and even urban areas offer a perfect place for deer to live. Parks and protected natural areas have secure places to live, and vegetable gardens, flower beds, and fruit trees are outstanding deer food. It’s no wonder so many towns are home to robust deer herds.
Although most people love seeing wildlife and enjoy having a few deer around when the garden is raided attitudes change quickly. In response, Winding Pathways and many garden books and blogs offer tips on how to protect trees and plants from hungry deer. Some hardly work, while others, especially secure fencing around gardens, keep deer out. Unfortunately keeping the hungry animals at bay is a never-ending and sometimes expensive task.
Many gardeners are proud to produce local organic vegetables. They might consider the deer that raid their garden a local, organic, free-ranging source of delicious meat. When done according to state and local laws, converting a deer to family food in no way threatens deer herds. They rapidly reproduce, making deer a perpetual and sustainable food source.
Killing, dressing, and preparing deer meat is an unknown and somewhat mysterious process for suburbanites who have no experience with bows or firearms or converting a live animal to a meal. This blog will give them a basic idea how to do it.
To us shooting a deer is food gathering, much like picking spring nettles or mulberries. We view deer as an opportunity to harvest local, organic, free-range meat.
Rhubarb thrives in almost any soil.
About seven years ago we moved from a small house near downtown to Winding Pathways. We looked forward to our new home but didn’t want to leave some plants we’d cared for in the former yard. One was rhubarb. Fortunately, our move happened in early spring, so we were able to dig up dormant roots and plant them in our new yard. Now, they are thriving.
Rhubarb grows wild in parts of China but was domesticated centuries ago. It has been a valued garden and yard plant in temperate climates ever since. It is vigorous, attractive, and makes delicious food. Because it’s a perennial, it never needs replanting and pops out of the ground like magic each spring.
The plant thrives in rich soil and full sun but isn’t fussy. As long as it gets some daily sunshine and moisture, rhubarb grows well nearly everywhere. Few pests bother it, although deer eat the leaves in late summer or fall. Deer somehow resist toxins in rhubarb leaves that can sicken people. Fortunately, the stalks are delicious and nonpoisonous to humans.
Rhubarb is useful in landscaping and delicious in recipes.
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We like opossums and are always happy to see one shuffling off when we startle it after dark. This amazing animal gets too little respect and appreciation by people who consider them dirty, stupid, and ugly. They are just the opposite!
Opossums are doing something right. They’re survivors who have been on the planet far longer that humans. Often called ‘possums, they were once common only in southern states. Their fur is sparse and doesn’t cover tails or ears, so winter is rough on them. Warming temperatures are helping this animal move north, and they’re now common in Maine, Minnesota and other more northern states where they once were absent.
‘Possums are our only native marsupial. Like kangaroos, female opossums have a pouch to nourish their young. Born after only a 13-day pregnancy tiny babies make their way into her pouch where they remain for about 100 days feeding on mom’s milk. Once they leave the pouch they follow her around learning how to fend for themselves.
Mostly nocturnal, possums aren’t choosy eaters. They love over ripe fruit, especially persimmons but they’ll also snack on insects, worms, dead animals, and nearly any other animal they can catch or find. Think of them as a gardener’s assistant because they gravitate to decaying material.
New research reveals an important diet item. They enjoy eating ticks! ‘Possums groom often and any tick that climbs aboard one and attempts to bite is in for a surprise. The grooming animal is likely to find the tick and quickly devour it. Fewer than 4% of ticks that climb on a O’possum successfully enjoy a blood meal. The rest become a meal themselves.
We’re lucky to have opossums in our yard. We enjoy sharing space with these ancient, clean, and useful animals. We hope you also have a neighborhood ‘possum. Be sure to share a photo of your ‘possum with us. For information on the opossum/tick relationship go to Cary Institute.
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.
Every once in a while, when we’re out in our summery yard enjoying birds and flowers, we encounter a snake. We’ve been around snakes for decades and know there are no venomous species in our area but we’re still startled when one slithers away.
Managing a yard to attract a diversity of wildlife sometimes encourages snakes to move in along with birds and butterflies. Usually the snakes that visit yards are non-venomous species merely looking for a place to live and something for dinner. Most common are garter snakes that mostly eat insects. We’ve written about garter snakes on Winding Pathways before. Sometimes we spot tiny brown snakes no bigger than a nightcrawler. They also eat worms and bugs. Once in a while we see a beautifully colored and patterned fox snake. They probably seek tasty white footed mice or maybe a chipmunk. And lots of folks combat the undermining work of chipmunks.