Millipedes are ancient creatures
Many people discovered one of the oldest types of animals in their yards and homes this year. Millipedes. Usually common they have been especially visible in this humid rainy summer and fall.
Millipedes have been around for millions of years doing the world a service. Biologists call them detritivores, which simply means they eat bits of decaying leaves, grass, feces, and other organic matter found nearly everywhere. Scientists call dead material of many origins detritus. To millipedes it’s dinner.
About 12,000 species of millipedes live around the world on all continents except Antarctica. They range from about a quarter-inch to several inches long and most are brown or black. All have two pairs of legs on each body segment. Since they have many segments millipedes have enormous numbers of legs stretching down each side of their body. That doesn’t make them speedsters. Millipedes creep along.
Few animals are as harmless as millipedes. They can’t bite or sting. When threatened millipedes roll up in a ball and play possum, but normally they avoid predators by hiding in detritus or under rocks and logs. Snakes, amphibians, and birds enjoy snacking on them.
Millipedes are sometimes confused with centipedes, but they are distinctly different. Millipedes are sluggish consumers of dead plants while centipedes are swift predators. Both enter homes through cracks and holes in the walls or gaps in doors and windows. Caulking is an effective way to keep them outside.
Millipedes may seem creepy to some people but they have survived for millions of years recycling dead plant material into humus. They deserve our respect.
Can you count the millipede legs?
Answer: Millipedes take so long to lace up their shoes that the race is over by the time they finish.
Note: The below references to companies are Winding Pathways’ own experiences with quality products.
What Are Common Causes of Power Outages?
Usually, people lose electric power because of a tornado, hurricane, blizzard, or a windstorm that blows down trees. We were surprised that Pacific Gas and Electric planned a deliberate outage to prevent sparks from igniting a forest fire like the terrible one that destroyed the town of Paradise. CA, last year.
Interviews with impacted residents on the national news made us realize how unprepared many people are for the loss of electricity. Californians flocked to gas stations and grocery stores to stock up on fuel and food.
Preparation is Best
This powerful lantern runs several hours on the battery.
Humans are addicted to the flow of electrons we call electricity. Winding Pathways encourages everyone to prepare for times when power is not there. Several previous blogs detail how families can prepare to ride out an outage in relative comfort
Preparation is neither hard nor expensive. Check our past blogs for detail but here’s the short list of simple items to keep on hand in case the power goes off for a few days:
Basic Items to Consider
Food: A few days’ worth of non-perishable food beats not eating. Dehydrated meals keep nearly forever and canned goods also have a high storage life. When a blizzard approaches people flock to grocery stores to buy milk and bread. Neither is needed. And, milk will spoil if not kept cold. Keep powdered milk and crackers on hand just in case.
Light: Flashlights help people find their way around on dark nights, but they’re not too useful when lots of light is needed for reading or preparing a meal. Modern LED lanterns are ideal for general lighting. Our Milwaukee lamp was made for construction workers but throws out plenty of light and runs all night on one rechargeable battery. We keep a few batteries always charged. Many brands of lanterns are on the market. We recommend that people keep one in the closet to help on dark nights.
Fuel and backup heat: Rather than waiting in line at a gas station when power might go out, simply keep some gas in storage in the garage. Be sure to add a gas stabilizer to it. We rotate our gas in spring and fall by simply pouring the old gas into the car’s tank and then filling the can with fresh gas. We keep ten gallons in storage. Anyone living in a cold climate needs to have a backup plan in case the power goes off. Keeping pipes from freezing is important. See our earlier blogs for tips.
Water: Usually municipal water still flows even if the power goes off but it’s always a good idea to keep several gallons of clean water in storage just in case.
Readers can also go to the American Red Cross and ready.gov for excellent information on preparedness kits.
Modern people rely heavily on electricity but sometimes we have to make do without it.
Solar chargers help keep people connected when the power goes out.
Simple preparation makes waiting out an outage comfortable and easy.
Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish girl, overcame challenges posed by autism to sail across the ocean and encourage people everywhere to work to reduce damage to the atmosphere and resulting climate change. She is inspiring, but is she wrong?
Greta’s commitment reminds us of the youthful energy of the late 1960s that led to great progress in environmental protection and civil rights. It is our hope that she’s energizing both young and older people to make our planet’s future safer and fairer.
After Greta spoke at the United Nations critics attacked her for advocating governmental action worldwide to reduce emissions yet didn’t say much about individual action.
Is she wrong? Absolutely not. This young woman crossed the ocean in a sailboat to avoid burning fossil fuel. She advocates government action while demonstrating personal actions to keep carbon out of the air.
Winding Pathways encourages homeowners to heed Greta and enhance the health of the atmosphere, water, and land by living lighter on resources. Here are a few steps we all can do to follow the inspiring actions she advocates:
- Replace the lawn, or part of it, with native plants that don’t require mowing.
- Use a battery-powered, cordless lawnmower to mow the lawn less frequently and to grow higher. This allows, roots to penetrate deeper into the soil and absorb rain.
- Insulate and caulk the house. Few actions are as inexpensive as insulating walls and attics, and caulking holes and cracks that let cold air in. These simple steps cut fuel use.
- Many towns have built safe, pleasant bike trails. Try commuting and shopping by bike instead of by car.
- Fleece is made from recycled plastic bottles and is toasty warm. Wearing a comfy fleece outfit enables turning the thermostat down a few degrees.
Keep Water on the Property
- Replace the lawn, or part of it, with native plants that don’t need irrigation or chemicals.
- Mow less frequently, allowing grass roots to penetrate deeper into the soil.
- Install rain barrels. They harvest rainwater handy to use to irrigate garden plants, fill chicken waterers, or wash hands outdoors.
- Install a rain garden to channel downspout water into the ground instead of to a storm sewer.
- Avoid lawn and garden chemicals. Most lawns and gardens do just fine without them.
- Compost kitchen waste. Vegetable peels, corn cobs, coffee grounds, and even many paper plates and cups readily compost into humus that lawns and gardens love.
Greta’s right. Governments should take action to reduce emissions. So should you and I in our everyday lives.
Note: Winding Pathways received no discount or special consideration for selecting DeNeve Construction and writing this blog about class 4 rubber shingles. This reflects our personal experience and research.
Most of our Winding Pathways blogs are about managing a yard for beauty, health, and to attract fascinating wildlife. Sometimes we share house tips, especially about energy savings and photovoltaics.
We just learned something new. Our roof’s shingles had been put in about 20 years ago. They were supposed to last longer but were stiff, beginning to curl, and some nails were poking out above the shingles. It was time for a new roof.
The crew were fast, efficient and friendly.
We received three bids from local roofers and hired DeNeve Construction to do the work. Owner Rick DeNeve met us and said, “I suggest you use Class 4 shingles. They are a little more expensive but resist hail and wind and last longer than normal ones. Give your insurance company a call, and you may get a discount if you use Class 4s.”
We did and learned that we’d receive a whopping 26% reduction in home insurance premium cost by using Class 4 instead of less expensive and durable shingles. That’s a savings of about $260 a year in insurance cost.
“Most shingles have a fiberglass base layer. Every spot hit by a large hailstone suffers damage, and this greatly shortens the life of the roof. Class 4 shingles have a rubber base, and hailstones bounce off without damage,” continued DeNeve.
Life Cycle Cost
Men putting on shingles
Whenever we buy anything for the house, we consider life cycle cost. Simply put, that is the cost of the item based on its average annual cost determined by its expected life. Some examples are the roof, paint, refrigerator, and just about everything else people buy.
In this case, cheap shingles would have saved us about $2,000 on our rather large roof but we could expect to change them within 20 years. Class 4 shingles are likely to last at least 30 years. The upfront cost is a little higher but the long-term cost is lower.
That seems to be a common situation. Anything that’s durable is likely to cost more to buy than a cheap counterpart, but in the long run, it is less expensive and saves money, time and inconvenience of replacing the less expensive product. In addition, durable high-quality items often look and function better than cheapies.
We’re probably not going to be around to ever need to reroof our house, but in coming years we’ll enjoy our insurance discount and a beautiful roof that will resist Iowa’s notorious sleet, hail, and heavy rain.
The sheathing has no rot.
Lawn magnet to pick up nails.
The roof blends well with our landscape.
Delicious, Erratic Acorns
Our back deck at Winding Pathways is an outstanding vantage point for watching butterflies, birds, and even our evening aerialist bats. The deck is perched over a deep, cool ravine with a stately black oak hovering above. That can be a problem.
In most autumns our black oak cascades acorns down to the ground and our deck. Removing them takes aggressive sweeping. Despite the hassle we love acorns.
Acorns are, of course, the seeds of oak trees. Hundreds of oak species live across much of the northern hemisphere. They can be a little tricky to identify since oaks sometimes hybridize and look like a blend of two or more species. Many people use leaf shape to identify trees, but oaks may throw a curve. Often leaves, called sun leaves, up on the top of an individual tree are smaller and may have a somewhat different shape than those down lower on the same tree. It can be confusing.
There are two general oak types, the white and red oak groups. White oak type trees include species commonly called white, swamp white bur (sometimes spelled burr), chinkapin also spelled chinquapin, and chestnut oaks. Their leaves have rounded lobes and they produce large acorns with low acid content. Red oak type trees include species commonly called red, black, and pin oaks. Their leaves have pointed lobes and their acorns are usually small and laden with bitter acid.
Acorns from the black Oak are small and bitter.
Oaks have different shaped leaves
Century Oak Tree
Oak leaves turn russet in autumn.
Acorns are nature’s gift to many wildlife species and people. Few seeds are as abundant, large, and nutritious as acorns. Squirrels, chipmunks, muskrats, woodchucks, deer, bears, blue jays, wild turkeys, and a host of other animals gorge on them. The calorie-rich nuts help wildlife put on fat that helps them survive the coming winter.
But, there’s a problem. Oaks are erratic acorn producers. As a general rule, the white oak types only create a heavy crop every few years. Red oak type trees are more reliable but still sometimes skip a year of seed production. Sometimes few oaks in a vast area will produce acorns while an individual tree here and there will be loaded. Find a heavy acorn bearer in a scare year and you’ll have the company of many animals feeding on the nutritious nuts. Part of the reason for erratic crops stems from pollination. Oaks are wind-pollinated and a long spell of rain when they bloom in the spring can dampen pollination and eliminate a crop that autumn.
Acorns set up in the spring
The white meat of an acorn.
Two kids check out the acorns on a branch
Iowa has many types of oaks
Acorns are a delicious human food that was relished by native people across the globe. To learn more about acorns and how to process them into food check out the Winding Pathways blog of August 2014 called Delicious Acorns.
We were delighted when our Lavender Orpington hen started acting strangely. She fluffed up her feathers, spent most of her time in a nest box, and gave us a stern warning call if we came too close. She was broody.
A broody hen simply wants to be a mother. Her ambition is to keep a clutch of eggs warm for 21 days and then raise a bunch of bouncy babies to chicken adolescence. We don’t have a rooster so all of our hen’s eggs are infertile and won’t hatch. Broody doesn’t know this, but we found a way to have her happily raise a brood of chicks.
After about two weeks of incubation, we bought a dozen chicks from a local farm store and slipped them under her after dark. Motherhood commenced.
Watching a mother hen is interesting but listening is truly fascinating. While on eggs she sat almost trancelike, but the peeping awakened her. She began clucking in a tone that must have both comforted the downy chicks and instructed them to get into the warmth and security of her feathers.
The next morning she used a different clucking tone to introduce the babes to the big world. They followed her out of the nest and scampered around the coop. We don’t speak “chicken” but she clucked again and it must have meant, “come over here and eat.” She put her beak in a feeder filled with chick starter. The bravest babies picked a few crumbs of feed off her beak and soon all were eating and dipping their beaks into a nearby waterer for a cool drink.
Mother hens are attentive and have a vocabulary of many “words” or at least different sounding clucks. When the babes got too far from her she’d cluck in a certain way bringing them scampering back to safety near or under Mom. If she scratched up a delicious tidbit she’d utter a different sounding cluck and the babies would rush over and enjoy a food new to them. She taught them safety and the fine art of foraging.
Lavender Orpington wants to be a mother!
A mama hen will sit contently on golf balls until new chicks arrive.
Babies gather round Mama Hen at night.
See these YouTube videos and photos of our most recent broody and foraging for treats.
Tucking in for the Night
Under Mama’s Watchful Eye
Babies Eating Corn
At the Gate Waiting for Treats
Feasting on Corn