Prairie Renaissance Part 8

Springtime on the Prairie

This spring we anxiously await the emergence of prairie flowers in an area that had been traditional lawn. This is a periodic continuing blog about the process of converting the lawn to a prairie. We’ll have a couple more updates this season. Here’s what we did to prepare for this year’s growth:

2020

April and May 2020: Sustainable Landscape Solutions sprayed the lawn twice to kill existing grass plants, which were nearly entirely exotic species.

May 2020: Sustainable Landscape Solutions tilled the now dead turf.

May 2020: Rich and Marion broadcast a diverse array of seeds that included 82 wildflower species and a few lower-growing types of priaire grasses.

August 2020: A derecho felled three trees west of the site and a few to the east.  This increases the sun on the new prairie. That’s good.

By mid-summer, a thick growth of annual crabgrass covered the site with only partridge pea obvious from our seeds.

November 2020: The crabgrass was dead and dry, so we burned it on the same day we burned our existing prairies. The fire was slow and low.

2021

Winter 2020/21: Heavy snow covered the site for much of the winter. When it melted, we discovered mostly bare soil with few surviving exotic grasses present.  This is perfect, as native seeds will respond to warm temperatures.

April 2021: Small prairie forbs are emerging. Among the many spring greens poking up, we can identify Black-Eyed Susans, Mountain Mint, and Partridge Pea. Only a few of the 82 species we cast out. Part of the fun of restoring prairie is learning what the emerging plants are.

We’ll update with a Prairie Renaissance Blog as the natives get going.

How Do You Get a $13.38 Electric Bill?

Many people dread the arrival of their monthly electric bill. Not us.

We recently received a $13.38 monthly bill from Alliant Energy for electricity used in March.  A day later Enphase Energy emailed us our March photovoltaic production. That’s correct. Thirteen dollars and thirty-eight cents.

Our bill is about 1/10th the national average homeowner’s bill and is small thanks to three actions. Here’s what we do:

  • Shut “it” off: We are stingy on both money and wasteful appliances being on. If we’re not using lights, computers, the television, toaster, radon machine (that we turn off when we happen to be gone), or other electricity consumers we turn them off. We never leave outside lights on all night. They are wasteful, advertise where you live, and diminish the night sky. The latter we are learning is more important to humans than realized.
  • Embrace efficiency: Our house is almost entirely lit by LED bulbs with a few fluorescents and no incandescents. LEDs use only a tiny bit of electricity to provide outstanding light, and when we purchase appliances, we choose those most efficient.
  • Installed photovoltaics. We installed a small system four years ago and reaped federal and state tax credits. As soon as the system went active our bills plummeted.
  • Of course, in order to do the above, one has to plan and save money by doing the simple acts of turning off electric sources and long-term spend on only what you truly need.
Solar panels

On sunny days solar powers our energy needs.

Every month Enphase Energy emails us a report of our prior months’ electric production. March 2021 was mostly sunny and clear and our system produced 283 kilowatts. February was a dark winter month and our system was blanketed with snow. The system only made 76 KWH. However, as days lengthen our nine solar panels will produce ever more electricity,  keeping our monthly bill low.

What Is YOUR Pogo Story?

Readers’ Adventures With Pogo Possum

The Pogo Possum adventures really resonated with people.  So, Winding Pathways is sharing some of these.

SA enthusiastically wrote: I love that you named him Pogo. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

JH has a thoughtful perspective: Pogo certainly has some caring humans. I agree with you that they are very interesting critters. I just wish the rest of the world that zips by in four-wheeled contraptions would think likewise instead of hitting them.

MH shared: We found one in our house. I was gone for a week. I like fresh air at night so left an outside door open that had a small hole in the screen my husband called to say there was a pile of poop in the living room. On investigation, he found one hidden behind our TV console. We guessed he came in through the screen.

From Colleges to Communities Pogo Resonates

MM told about Kirkwood Community College’s adventures: While at Kirkwood, when the original greenhouses were attached to my Grounds Department building, we found a female, with babies, living in the north greenhouse. Once Stacey, the students, and my crew understood the benefits of having this tenant, we left her and her babies alone. Occasionally, one of the babies would explore the greenhouse, but with a little coaxing, he or she would return to the nest. I was fortunate to see the mother finally take her young out of the greenhouse, exposing them to their new life outside of the greenhouse environment. I don’t know if it was the same opossum or one of the babies, but one of them must have been paying rent, as each year we welcomed a resident, with babies. I do miss the interaction and YES, I was providing a bit of food, as well as the occasional rat or mouse courtesy of the raptor building behind our greenhouses.

SR What a lovely story about Pogo, your cozy little possum neighbor! Friends not far from you have another small one who scoots on into the garage for cat food whenever the door is open. One day she found it curled up for a daytime nap inside the watering can in her garage. What a handy handle to walk it on back outside. The sleepy little creature just looked up blinking its eyes and smacking its possum smile. Then it ambled right out of the watering can once she put it down on its side. I dare anyone to try this with a raccoon or even a groundhog.

AF Too cute to pass up commenting on. We too have a possum neighbor.

PL succinctly wrote: Love Pogo!!!

Thank you, all for sharing your Pogo adventures!  This looks like a periodic series on an ancient, maligned and interesting resident among us.

Thank you, all for sharing your Pogo adventures!  This looks like a periodic series on an ancient, maligned, and interesting resident among us.

Why Did We Test the Chevy Bolt?

During recent cold months, we’ve been day-tripping to many museums as we research our articles for the Cedar Rapids GAZETTE.

On an early March morning electric car specialist, William Weiland, at Cedar Rapids McGrath Chevyland showed us how to drive a Bolt, a completely electric car. Soon we sped the 70 miles to Dubuque without burning a drop of gas. After a pleasant and productive visit to the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and picnic at Mines of Spain, we drove back to Cedar Rapids and returned the car.

First Experience

It was our first experience driving a totally electric vehicle. We were impressed. As is common with anyone considering going electric, we worried about having enough battery capacity for the 160 miles we drove on a cold, windy day. We didn’t need to worry  The Bolt’s “gas gauge” is an easily viewed display of electricity used and remaining and clearly shows how many more miles we could go until the battery was drained.  We could have done our Dubuque trip and continued another 50, or so, miles before it needed recharging.

How Does the bolt Compare?

We own and like a Chevy Cruze, which is an efficient and comfortable gasoline engine car. It is approximately the same size as the Bolt, so our drive gave us an opportunity to compare similarities and differences between cars. Here’s what we noted about the Bolt:

  • It’s fast and powerful. Step on the acceleration pedal and it smoothly and quickly powers forward. The Bolt is gutsier than our Cruze.
  • It’s quiet.
  • It’s comfortable. Much more legroom for front-seat occupants than the Cruze, although the back seat has less legroom.
  • It’s an engineering marvel. The Bolt goes about 280 miles on a charge and can be recharged in several ways. It lacks nothing in electronic capability. Just about any device can be connected, and the audio was of top quality.

How Does a Bolt Work?

  • It regenerates energy. This took a bit of getting used to.  When going down a hill or slowing for a red light or stop sign the Bolt automatically “brakes.”  Although it really isn’t braking. Taking a foot off the acceleration pedal causes the car to slow and stop by generating electricity that is later used for forward motion.  So, it’s slowing the car without engaging brakes. We found it important to ease our foot pressure off the accelerator pedal to slow down rather than taking the foot off immediately.  This avoids being rear-ended by vehicles behind us. After getting the hang of this we really liked the feature. The Bolt has conventional brakes and a brake pedal that can be used.  But, because of regenerative braking, the conventional brakes are used much less than on a gas car, so they last longer.
  • It’s efficient. We used 50 Kilowatt-hours of electricity from the battery to go 160 miles or just over three miles per KWH. Our electric utility charges us 11 cents a KWH at home, so charging the Bolt would cost about 3.7 cents a mile. Our Cruze gets about 36 miles to the gallon on cold windy days and gas costs about $2.80 a gallon as we write this. That’s about 8 cents a mile or a hair over double the bolt’s fuel cost. Gas prices are rising faster than electricity so the gap will widen.

Maintenance Matters

  • Maintenance needs and costs are lower. Electric cars do not need oil changes, since they have no oil.  Also, no radiator or need to change coolant. No spark plugs to change. Basically, maintenance involves rotating tires.

Overall Impression and Conclusion

Before our test drive, we thought we might buy an electric car in the future. Now we’re certain we will. General Motors will switch to entirely electric vehicles, and many other car companies are also making the transition. It’s transformative. As more electrics hit the road more charging stations will appear and technology will continue to advance.  We are entering an electric future that will be cleaner and quieter than our petroleum present.

* Winding Pathways was not paid to review the Chevy Bolt. Ours is an independent review.

*  For another independent review see www.caranddriver.com/chevrolet/bolt-ev.

What Great Courses Do You Know?

Just before darkness, cold, and snow appeared last December we decided to try a new winter travel adventure. We purchased a “Great Course” called the Ancient Civilizations of North America that took us on a virtual trek across North America over a 10,000 year plus time.

The course contained 24 lectures on a CD with a paper book paralleling each class.

A Good Way to Enjoy Winter Evenings

Dr. Barnhart

Dr. Barnhart is the director of the Maya Exploration Center.

A few evenings a week we’d sit by our fireplace and enjoy a 30-minute lecture. Our professor was Dr. Edwin Barnhart, Director of the Maya Exploration Center. He’s also a Fellow of the Explorers Club and has traveled extensively. His knowledge of ancient cultures is extraordinary and his delivery impressive.  As we watched him on our television it was as if he was speaking directly to us.

 

 

His course started with archeological terms and the first people known to cross the Bering Land Bridge and enter our continent in pursuit of mammoths and other gigantic now-extinct animals.  Later lectures brought us forward in time to Native Americans along the East Coast just before Europeans arrived.

During the class, we “visited” such fascinating places as Chaco Canyon, Cahokia, Meadowcroft Rockshelter, and many others.

A Chat with Dr. Barnhart

Shortly after finishing his course, we had a delightful phone conversation with Dr. Barnhart. He lives in Austin, Texas, and was attempting to replace a water line that froze and bust in the late winter freeze that hit the Lone Star State and other southern states. Curious, we asked him a number of questions about archeology and how the Great Course we took was so effectively presented.  Here were some of our questions and his responses:

  • Do archeologists often have a feeling of awe when at a place where people lived hundreds or thousands of years ago?   “Yes, very often.”
  • We live in Iowa where ancient people often created large earthen mounds, often on high ridges above streams and rivers. Might we have mounds near our home above Indian Creek and how might we spot them? “The name Indian Creek sums it up. Yes. There might be mounds, but many may have been destroyed.  Keep your eyes open. It’s important that these places be protected.
  • When we mentioned that the area had been hit but a derecho’s 140 miles an hour wind that had uprooted many trees he responded, “Often artifacts are found in the root balls of uprooted trees. Look carefully at them and you might find stone tools or pieces of pottery.”

Keeping the Conversation Lively

  • When we asked him about how he made his course delivery so interesting he replied, “We’ll I organized the class and its content but the technical people who did the filming for the Great Course are skilled in helping make and keep presentations interesting.”  Among the aspects of the class and delivery that kept us fascinated were background murals that changed with each lecture, excellent graphics and maps, and Dr. Barnhart looking directly at us (the camera).   He would also rotate about 90 degrees every ten or fifteen minutes and look at a different camera. Then he revealed a secret. Because he knew the material well and had written the script keeping a flow of conversation was easy.  And, he quipped, “My notes were on a teleprompter.”  

We thank Dr. Barnhart for his vast knowledge and ability to communicate it. We will take future Great Courses. They range from lifestyle topics to learning advanced calculus to European history and music. For information go to www.thegreatcourses.com.

Author note:  We purchased and reviewed the Great Course on our own with no special consideration given to us.