30 December 2009

Wireless Weather Station

I have other topics I'm working on, but they're not ready, so this post will likely be the last one of 2009.

I bought a new weather station today. Robin gave me one last Xmas and over the past year, it has died a slow and painful death. So I began doing some research on the web. There were so many to choose from that I just decided to go to Wal-Mart. They had a variety of them - most of them were devices called "Weather Boy" or "Weather Girl", made by La Crosse Technology, and endorsed and distributed by The Weather Channel.

I opted for the base model with a wireless sensor that has the time, indoor and outdoor temperatures, and minimum/maximum outdoor temperatures. (The model shown also has the date and relative humidity.) It also has a boy or a girl in various stages of dress, depending on the temperature. It took a couple of tries to get it to work, but it seems fine now. I looks forward to comparing the temperature at our house with what the weather on TV. I think it will be a little colder than what The Weather Channel says. We'll see.

19 December 2009

Rain and Flooding

I’ve always worried a lot about flooding in our yard. If we have a hard enough rain, our garage will flood. Our lot slopes toward the back, away from the house, and there’s a depression, not really a ditch, that runs along the back of the property, where rain is supposed to collect. I think there was also a ditch along our neighbor’s lot that is supposed to take the water from there, but it’s been filled in. I was planning a rain garden in the lowest part of that depression, but after Friday’s rain – at least four inches – I’m rethinking the idea. From what I’ve read, rain gardens need to drain in 24 hours, which this does not – in the worst cases. I need something, like a bioswale, that will hold more water and keep the rest of yard dry.

It rained all day Friday, and when I got home from work, most of the yard was flooded. The vegetable garden area was almost underwater – my decision to use raised beds has proven to be the right one. Since I really couldn’t do anything about it, I decided to wade out into the lowest part of the yard and measure how deep it was. It turns out it was a foot deep!

By Saturday the water had soaked in a good bit. There was still water in the depression and the yard was pretty soggy, but the worst was over. Too bad my rain barrels were already full! The morning paper reported widespread flooding, so much that they closed all roads into downtown Charleston at 6pm.

First Frost

I've been wanting to get a new wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer - the one we have doesn't work anymore. I got it for Xmas last year and I'll probably get a new one this year. I've looked at them online and they have ones with up to three remote sensors. I'd like one of those, but I can't justify spending the extra money. Believe it or not, but different areas of the yard can be different climates.

I've had conversations with serious gardening friends and they've told me about different areas of their yards being different temperatures and plants that thrive in the back yard, but not in the front - and I'm starting to believe the same is true about our yard.

I didn't pay much attention to the temperature when I woke up Thursday morning, but it was probably close to freezing. When I got the paper about 5am, there was frost on the ground. It wasn't until I got home from work that I was able to survey the damage the frost might have done. I've got a few tropicals by the pond that I knew wouldn't look good - hidden ginger, banana plant, etc - so I wasn't concerned about that. The vegetable garden looked fine - even the garlic, which is supposed to die back in the winter. It wasn't until I got to the front yard I notice that our asiatic(?) lilies showed some signs of frost damage - that's really the only thing I saw. I don't have multiple thermometers in the yard yet, but from what I've seen, the front yard is going to be colder than the back. The back has the pond and is a lot more sheltered with the house, garage, trees, etc. The front yard is mostly wide open - including the fact that the canopy of oaks that line our street, ends with our yard - the north side of our yard, where all our plantings are right now, is treeless and and exposed.

I wasn't expecting the frost, so I didn't protect the house plants I still have outside. To my surprise, everything is doing fine, including the night-blooming cereus, which I think might be trying to bloom. We've got near-freezing weather forecast for the weekend and maybe beyond - I just need to remember to bring in a few plants and everything will be fine.

17 December 2009

CFLs have their problems too

In the last year or so, we’ve bought a number of CFLs to replace our incandescent bulbs as they burn out. We had two bulbs – one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom – burn out on the same day. When I tried to replace them with the CFLs that we already had, I found that they were too big for the shade. I had heard they were making smaller bulbs, so I figured out the equivalent wattages I needed and went shopping.

I got the equivalent of 60 and 75 watt bulbs to replace the burned out incandescents. The bulbs I bought were called “mini”, but depending on the wattage, they didn’t always fit where an incandescent would. The shade in the bedroom will hold two 60 watt CFLs, but it will not hold two 75 watt ones. I didn’t try the larger bulbs in the bathroom, but I suspect that I would have the same outcome.

I have two other places I planned to put the new 75 watts bulbs, and I know they will fit, but in the future I’ll have to consider where the bulbs will go before I decide what wattage.

The first photo is a CFL I already had next to an incandescent. The second photo is the 60 watt CFL next to an incandescent. The third photo is the 75 watt CFL next to an incandescent.

12 December 2009

Going Green for the Holidays

We're a frugal family by necessity. I wish I could give my daughter everything she wants, but I can't. I feel the same way about going green. There are so many upgrades we could do on the house, like more insulation, tankless water heater, low-e windows, etc., but those things cost money. We've started small and are working our way up.

We recycle as much as our county picks up.
We use rechargeable batteries, when appropriate.
We are replacing light bulbs with CFLs when they burn out.
We have a couple of rain barrels, but I'd like more.
We are enlarging our vegetable garden.
We try to plant native plants or plants that need a lot of watering.

There are some things we do to be frugal that are also eco-friendly, like line-drying our laundry and shopping at thrift stores. For the past few months I've been reading articles about being greener around the house - about switching to stainless steel or aluminum water bottles - we're definitely doing that for Xmas. Other articles have included:

Using cloth napkins instead of paper towels
Switching to 100% recycled toilet paper
Using sachets of lavender and flax instead of dryer sheets
Making cleaning products with combinations of vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and essential oils

We're working up to those. Ella and I fix our lunches for school and work, probably using four plastic sandwich bags per day. I've found reusable sandwich and snack bags online - I need to do more research, but, I want to begin using those in the near future.

We planned to have an energy audit performed on our house, but with the holidays, we haven't done that yet. Once that's done, we'll start weatherizing our house better ans working up to bigger projects from there.

06 December 2009

Running Bamboo

I was behind the garage today and got a good look at the bamboo that I've been fighting since we bought our house more than three years ago. Once again it made me google "bamboo eradication", but this time I had a different plan of attack. I have read about and tried numerous ways of getting rid of bamboo. Herbicides don't work - I even read about cutting off the stalk and immediately spraying the herbicide on the fresh cut. Digging it might work, but it's back-breaking work. I know it's an environmentally bad idea, but I even thought of "salting the earth"! I just remembered that I had this conversation with a Lowe's employee who said she had a way to get rid of it, but she couldn't tell me while she was at work.

My latest idea struck me as a pretty good one - smothering the bamboo. I read a post about it and found out it's not foolproof. Bamboo rhizomes will eventually grow out from under what you are using to smother it with. I have some pond liner that I've been using to kill grass and make planting beds, but I don't have a large amount of it, and I didn't want to stop using it for that purpose. Posts mentioned inexpensive tarps - one mentioned using old carpet which I thought was a great idea. I made a mental note of it and went about my day. Soon after I had to run an errand and less than a block away were three rolled up carpets someone was throwing out. I brought them home and got to work behind the garage.

I usually don't want to go into the small stand of bamboo in the summer. There is poison ivy and ankle-deep Magnolia leaves with creatures probably living under them. Being as cool as it was today, I figured it was about the best time to venture back there. I started by cutting back the bigger stuff - small trees, etc, and then the bamboo growing along the neighbor's fence before I put the carpet down. While back there, I found spider lilies and a number of small Yaupon hollies. Some of the bamboo I cut, while I decided to lay the carpet on top of others, flattening it by walking on the carpet. I avoided putting the carpet on the areas with the lilies and the hollies until I can transplant those sometime this week. I think I've also decided that I'll go back and cut all the bamboo and put the carpet back down, so there's less of a chance of it rising up.

I still need more carpet and I need to prune a lot of plants and trees back there. That's where I'm planning to keep chickens in the spring. At this rate I don't know if I can pull that off. I'll keep you posted.

05 December 2009


We've had some strange weather in the past week - well, maybe not strange, but certainly a variety of it. We got several inches of rain during a couple of separate days this week. I don't think it's rained this much since July when we were on vacation. Part of our yard flooded like it always does during heavy rains, this time it was a good thing - it gave me a chance to see exactly where to put the rain garden I'm planning for that area in the spring. One of the plants I wanted to put in it was the Crinum I have in the bog. To my surprise, It looks like I have about six new plants from the three I started out the summer with. I'm glad I'll have extra to use in the rain garden. Another positive thing is the raised bed I built in the vegetable garden this year. While the ground around it was soggy, the vegetables were doing well about a foot off the ground.

I have potted plants all over the yard. Besides the houseplants spending the summer outside, I also have plants that I intend to plant in the yard as soon as I figure out where I want them. Most are in the driveway, but a few are behind the garage. I had to do something with all of those plants today, because we're supposed to have near-freezing temperatures tonight. Every time I've seen the weather this week, tonight's forecasted temperature keeps dropping - currently it's at 33 degrees - cold enough to do damage to some of my plants.

Probably the most important plant was the "Black Pearl" ornamental pepper Robin got at the fall plant swap. Originally, I had put it with all of the other plants in the garden area/future greenhouse, but after talking to Robin and doing some research online, I decided it needed to come in the house. Most other plants like canna, walking onions, bed of nails, devil's trumpet, society garlic, shrimp plant, hibiscus, Mexican petunia, spider plant, ajuga and day lilies, I'm protecting whether they need it or not - I don't know the cold hardiness of everything on that list. I am leaving a couple of things out, because either I think they can take the cold - like sago palms and daisies, or they are annuals or houseplants that I don't care about anymore like a half-dead spider plant or geraniums. I did remember a few other plants I better bring in like my night-blooming cereus, mother-in-law's tongue, and a couple of pots of small cactuses that I'm not sure are hardy.

The cold has a plus side too. We've been eating lettuce from the vegetable garden all week, the broccoli is really heading now, and it looks like the onions are doing well - now if I only knew when they will be ready to harvest...