Sunday, July 21, 2013

It's Lurking in the Backyard

This plant is not as innocent as it looks.
Doesn't that look like a harmless little sedge? Just when you think you know your environment, you find an unsavory surprise. This invasive plant the park ranger shows you, which covers an entire forest floor, looks familiar. Wait-- is it?

Investigating on home turf, we find that yes, it is the invader, the little sneak. Oh, yeah. Oh, no!

Patches of Japanese Stilt Grass are in our yard and in others. We found it on the roadside and in the buffer of a creek. It is threatening to take over our nearby forest.

Now I'm familiar with the stealth of Japanese Stilt Grass, I am compelled to warn my neighbors. I mean, this little plant appears so tame, just a little bunch that barely spreads at all, staying in place without moving much for several years.

Unlike the monster-like kudzu announcing its presence by climbing over everything, the Japanese Stilt Grass has a "don't mind little ol' me" approach to world domination. While it seems quite harmless, it is actually establishing a seed bed in its first few years, from which will spring a million plants that overtake all other low-growing plants in an area.

It is invasive, very much so. The grass overtakes all the other plants, and removes the biodiversity. Animals won't eat it; not even goats would try it when offered. No consumers, and stealth plant domination? That adds up to bad news.

The good news: this plant has little short roots, making it very easy to pull up. So easy, in fact, your nearby five-year-old kid could probably make quite a dent in it. If the grass is not yet established over several acres, it is fairly easy to pull it, and trash it.

The problem is evident when you see its success: way, way, too much to search out and pull by hand.

This ground, and much more beyond, is covered almost entirely with Japanese Stilt Grass.

If we can pull the small patches, we can interrupt its dedicated progression through our area. Another help is that it seeds in mid-August, so weed-whacking it to the ground during the beginning of that month can help if a patch has already taken over a large space.

Don't leave the pulled plants on the ground, or in compost, just to be sure you are not spreading it. You can get more information and help identifying it at the National Invasive Information Species Center. Luckily, it is easy to recognize, once you know what it is. Here is another great field guide that can help you distinguish it from native plants. It has a link to report infestations.

We are working on grass-eradication parties, sending hordes of small people to attack it (low to the ground is an advantage), and rewarding them with prizes and treats such as certain small people adore.

Join our kid army, in your neighborhood and green spaces! Ninja plant, we are coming after you!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Low-Cost Winterizing, Improved: Converting a Porch to Passive Solar for the Season

The screened porch with frames attached for passive solar advantage.
The screened porch on this dear old 1890's home keeps bugs away in the summer. In the winter, we wrapped it in polyethylene sheeting to collect the warm rays of sun, in passive solar collection.

It made a wonderful green house and kept in some needed moisture. The south-facing porch warmed so well, we were able to open the house door and heat the house during the daytime.

This is the porch thermometer reading 72 degrees, while the air outside was 45 degrees on a cloudy day. Works great!

Enclosing the space creates an air pocket of insulation. The plastic sheeting holds in the heat from the house and blocks the chilling wind. This also collects the sun's rays; brings warmth inside, and keeps it. We used Blue Hawk 10 ft. x 25 ft. Consumer Sheeting, 250 square feet, 6 mil clear plastic for this project.

We had simply stapled the roll plastic whole to the exterior of the porch. One March, a big windstorm pulled the sheeting down too early. After one part had blown loose, the rest ripped free quickly.

It was too late in the spring to re-do the wrap, but the weather was still cold, exposing us to the chill. Then we really missed the porch wrap! So we made an alteration for the next winter that was far easier, much more successful, and more sustainable.

Our new, improved winterizing strategy was to build separate frames to hold the plastic sheeting. We used a drill, wood screws, staple gun, and staples. This project was accomplished in a day with three boys, who have varying degrees of helpfulness.

First, we built simple frames of 1 x 2 " wood and fastened by screws. The wood is soft, so it is easy to install the screws to connect the joints. A simple butt joint worked fine for this project. We did pre-drill the holes for the screws to prevent splitting the wood.

We stapled the plastic sheeting to
the frames with an electric staple gun.
The frames were easy to assemble with screws and a drill.

Because the house is old, and not truly square, measuring once to fit all the panels to the porch would not work well. We got a perfect fit by setting the boards in place and drawing a pencil line to mark the cut. Then we could mark and cut quickly without stopping to measure.

The picnic table in the yard made a great work surface, and we laid the frames on it to staple the roll plastic to each. Although building the frames made it take a bit longer to start the covering of the porch, it was actually much better to install, and easier to use again later.

A finished panel, with the plastic stapled to it.

Each panel was made to fit one space of the porch. That worked better than trying to find a middle fit that would work across all of the the spaces. It also gave a snug fit to the porch, which gave it a tighter seal, and better heat efficiency.

We cut the plastic to the size of each panel. It was easier attaching in segments instead of using the roll plastic whole.

The plastic is attached to the side of the frame closest to the house, holding the plastic with more securely than just with staples. The frames are sturdy enough to simply attach with a couple of screws. We don't have to keep stapling to the porch exterior each year.

Connecting a frame panel quickly with a portable drill--
the plastic is neatly secured under the frame.
Also, we can simply reverse and extract the screws, and reuse it all for the next winter. This method is much more durable too; since we stored the plastic frames in the barn loft, they are still in as good condition as when we built them.

It is easy to see through the plastic to get a view of the outside, but surprisingly snug inside. We started tomato plants from seed in November, that grew through the winter, and were the first to go into the garden in the spring.

View outside from interior, through
screen and plastic, on an overcast day
Short side of porch panelled

Since each panel was custom fit to each space, we marked them in order before removing them in the spring. It is simple to install the ready-made frames back into position.

This fall, we pulled the frames from the barn, where we had them tied together in a bundle; they are light weight. We brought them to the porch, and then I started a timer, to see how quickly we could put the frames back up. It only took 32 minutes, from untying the bundle of frames to installing the last screw.

Inside solar porch, when it is cold and sunny out

Outside completed solar porch on a cold and sunny day--
toasty and nice inside for the rest of the winter!

The payback is tremendous for the little effort and supplies we used. The initial cost of this was about $45, but because it was made to last longer, we are able to re-use the plastic instead of re-buy it, and it cost us nothing the following winters. The house is warmer all winter with no extra effort. No cold wind blasts us as we open the back door of the house. 

Reducing heat loss from the house and passively collecting the solar heat means we have lower heating costs, whether we are using gas or electric heat. Plus, we are lowering our carbon footprint with no maintenance; our favorite way.

Plants grow here and provide food, fresh oxygen and moisture in the air, and it's a welcoming space, even on cold days. Great spot for morning coffee! If you have a porch you love, and miss it in the winter, consider our game plan and see if it may work for your home. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Locavores in the office

Tega Hills Lettuce!
Fresh From the Farms collects goods from local farms and delivers them to homes in Tega Cay and Fort Mill, SC.  These fresh-picked fruits and vegetables are produced and harvested within a thirty-mile radius of Fort Mill, SC.

Locavores—people enjoying locally grown food—can get this produce with free delivery at their homes. Some lucky ones have a local weekly market in Charlotte offices as well.

Once a week during the summer, Fresh From the Farms also brings their local picks to office buildings in the North Carolina/South Carolina border area.

The fresh-picked crops are absolutely wonderful. We had sweet Silver Queen corn for dinner after the group brought their farm market to our building's lobby. I could not resist the green beans and the Tega Hills lettuces. They had huge, beautiful blackberries and blueberries, too.

Pastor Glenn Rogers came to the lobby market looking for local honey, and found one jar left. "I want twenty of these!" he joked.

Fresh From the Farms also offers soft goat cheese and locally made fresh pasta at times. To get a delivery or arrange a market at your business place, contact Wendy and Beth at their website.

It is great to support local people practicing sustainable farming. Also, fresh-picked foods really do taste better than those shipped long distances. The best part is eating them in your delicious dinner.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Passive Heating and Cooling

Passive energy houses are attractive to those of us who enjoy things that work automatically. We have been reading an issue of E- The Environmental Magazine about passive energy homes.

The issue discusses passive homes that make heating and cooling almost unnecessary. Is that possible? I love the idea that homes and buildings can be designed so that they utilize heat recovery systems to deliver fresh air. A passive house is simply so airtight that it takes little more than the inhabitants' body heat to warm them up in cold climates. In warm climates, the design functions to keep the outside air from coming in.

They offer, "A passive house offers a different approach. Instead of reducing emissions by generating alternative power, these buildings simply don't require as much energy."

The article links to more information at Passive House US, and Prospect Architecture. We want to explore more about this.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Our Earth Hour Is Tonight!

In spring, our thoughts turn to our planet. We can't help it! with the new green, the flowering trees, the birds going crazy. So celebrate tonight and honor Earth Hour.

Show your appreciation and turn off your lights for an hour starting at 8:30 p.m. your time. Thanks!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Build a Kit to Recycle Fishing Line

Our clean up days inspired us to build and install a monofilament fishing line recycling station. We found so much tangled line around the lake!

So where do you recycle fishing line? It's tough and strong, and won't disintegrate. Instead, it will tangle us and any wildlife that might get near it. It can cause injuries and starvation to animals; it's a nuisance to boaters, and a danger to swimmers.

Blaik Pulley of South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources provided the answer. The South Carolina DNR has a program to recycle it through Berkley Conservation Institute, part of the fishing line manufacturer's commitment to our environment. They will send a prepaid box to fill, then ship to them at this address:
Berkley Recycling
1900 18th Street
Spirit Lake, Iowa 51360
She also sent us a couple of kits for for ongoing monofilament recycling to get us started. Here are the main pieces of a collection station.

A recycling kit includes four pieces and identifying stickers

It's very easy to assemble, as it only requires gluing the pieces together with PVC glue.

Applying the PVC glue to the pieces
The kit is the same as one shown on the NC BigSweep. Below is the bottom closure, although it is shown upside down.

Attaching the base, which
opens to collect the fishing line

Now we know how to make it, we can reproduce it to collect more line in other fishing spots. A local Girl Scout troop is helping us to install and maintain the recycling stations. We plan to record the data and send it to the SCDNR recycling program in Charleston.

We will post the locations and photos of our installed recycling stations soon. If you'd like to participate in the the program, check their website or call (843)953-6686 for more information.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thanks, Y'all

We cleaned up in the NC Big Sweep! Tons of trash were collected and properly disposed. The Lake Wylie Covekeepers said there was a bit less than last year, and there were more volunteers. They hope that is because less refuse is being dumped in our wonderful waterways.

A cove in Lake Wylie on our cleaning day
Looking over the totals of stuff collected, I'm prompted to say thank you to Carolina folks for your efforts. It's awesome.

We want to give an extra-special thanks to those who collected in places where they did not have a team of helpers. Some of the places listed from the 2009 cleanup are staffed by lone volunteers.

How about in Bladen County, in the Cape Fear River basin, where one volunteer picked up 5 bags of trash and one tire, totaling 100 pounds.  Or in Burke County in the Catawba river basin, where a single volunteer picked up one bag of trash, weighing twenty pounds. Here are more places where one volunteer, or a handful of volunteers worked to clean up the joint: Halifax County; Yadkin County; Caswell and Camden Counties. It's difficult to do it all by yourself, and takes a certain fortitude to do alone.

To all of you who worked, with and without recognition, we raise a toast. Hurray! We do appreciate what you've done. Thanks, Y'all!!