Archive for May 2012

Green neighbors

The meadows at our Clark Preserve will soon get a haircut thanks to a generous family of green neighbors, who wish to remain anonymous.  These green neighbors live near the Clark Preserve and have a passion for preserving nature.  When the PRLC’s Elyse Arnow and Tate Bushell made their acquaintance back in June 2012, it wasn’t long before they offered to help.  Since then, they have taken it upon themselves to act as stewards of this community asset, which will remain a beautiful place for wild plants and animals to live.  Also, by mowing the meadows, they help us carry out our organizational mission.  Thank you very much, green neighbors.

Why mow the Clark Preserve meadows?
Meadows are not common in Pound Ridge; our private land that isn’t forested is usually kept as well-manicured lawn.  The wild meadows that do exist provide habitat for a great variety of flowers, insects and birds, which are not usually supported by manicured lawn.  Meadows rely on infrequent mowing to stop woody shrubs like Japanese barberry and multiflora rose from taking over.  Larger meadows can be seen at the Ward-Pound Ridge Reservation, which are mowed by the County.

To see the beautiful Clark Meadows:
Visit the preserve on Autumn Ridge Road.  From the parking lot, pass the information kiosk and take the yellow trail roughly 12 minutes to the meadow.  A meadow trail brings you through a field of milkweed, goldenrod and the acrobatic bluebird.

Internship Opportunities

Internship Opportunities and form test

Volunteer Opportunities

Kids/Students volunteer opps test

The first garden harvest

This weekend marked a very special occasion for the Armstrong garden: the first harvest.  While I was tending the garden I noticed that the radishes were literally climbing out of the soil (see picture).  They weren’t very big but they had a delicious flavor.  I sliced them thin and added them to vegetarian springs rolls that evening.  Mmmmmm.  Next on the menu: my lettuce.  

The first radish to be harvested at the Armstrong House!

The sun fuels my MacBook

My next thread will be dedicated to the Armstrong House and its neat energy efficient technologies.  Today’s post is an introduction to the Armstrong House and its primary source of electricity, a set of south- facing solar panels.  

Inside the house, when I flip a switch, charge my cell phone and print out a map, I do it with energy harnessed directly from the sun.  A photovoltaic solar array sits securely on a rocky outcrop just a stone’s throw from my back door.  In times of sunshine, the solar array produces a DC current which- when routed through an inverter- enters my home as AC and runs my appliances.  Excess energy is stored in a series of batteries to be used during a cloudy day.  For fun, a sample of some cool electricity websites here and here.

Living off the grid.  The Armstrong House Education Center is unique because it gets all of its electric energy from the sun- it is completely ‘off the grid’.  There are no power lines connecting it to the power company, I don’t receive a monthly electricity bill and when the town’s power goes out in a storm I will be happily streaming videos while I charge my computer.  Most houses or buildings that use a solar array are still on the grid, they just simply reduce the amount of power they take from it by capturing the sun’s energy.  This ‘grid tied solar array’ is a cool option, but The Pound Ridge Land Conservancy wanted to go to the next level- we chose to be completely powered by the sun.  Our electricity doesn’t come from burning fossil fuels and its associated environmental effects: acid rain, air pollution, climate change, etc.  My house’s solar array can produce roughly 5 Kilowatts of electricity on a sunny day.  I searched around for equivalencies in coal and found this neat websites:  A 100 Watt bulb running 24 hours a day for a year requires 714 pounds of burned coal.

The current solar array at the Armstrong House Education Center.  

A guiding principle for The Armstrong House is energy efficiency- we want to see how far we can stretch each watt (see future Blog posts for how we do this).  That all begins- of course- with choosing the source of the watt.  We had a choice: tie ourselves to the grid via an overhead (or buried) power line or rely on a solar array to produce our energy.  After crunching the numbers, we determined it would cost more to tie ourselves into the grid than it would to buy our solar array and the first installment of batteries (this is, in part, because we are in a remote location).  We decided to stay off the grid.
There is another huge difference between being on or off the grid.  If the Armstrong House was on the grid, I wouldn’t be forced to monitor my power usage.  I could waste as much as energy as I wanted and never worry about it running out.  The alternative-locally harnessing a finite amount of solar energy each day- dedicates me to ultimate accountability of my energy use.  I have to be mindful of an energy schedule (for instances, doing laundry on sunny days) and always aware of the forecasted weather (‘I better do my vacuuming today because we have 3 days of rain coming’).

I think about it like this: my solar home is like a living organism with a finite amount of inputs and outputs- in order to live happily I have to think about my actions, my environment (the house) and their combined ecology.  In essence, its not just about me anymore.  The house is not without luxuries- the downstairs bathroom has an heirloom claw foot bathtub and most floors are of beautifully finished wood- but a luxury that I don’t have here is the luxury of infinite resources.  I can’t ignore the sun.  I must mind the rain.  On some level, I’m forced to admit that my domestic prosperity is reliant on the weather.

Like I always say, Living Lighter on the Land is about rethinking our place on the planet.  Here at the solar-powered Armstrong House Education Center, we are rethinking the relationship between home and homeowner- the more I live here and understand the energy systems, the more it feels like the house and I are in a partnership.                    

Planting our future forests

Here in Pound Ridge the forests lack a dense understory of native bushes, wildflowers, shrubs and young trees.  Why?  White tail deer.  While we can’t blame the state of our forest solely on one factor (the deer), but there seems to be a strong consensus among scientists, conservationists, and land managers that the deer are playing a large role in shaping the forest’s architecture.

The Armstrong Preserve.  Notice that the understory is very sparse and consists solely of Pennsylvania sedge.  

While it’s true that the white tail deer is native to this area, the current herd density is high enough to strongly affect the rest of the forest.  Here is a good primer to get up to speed on the Deer issue in the southern New England area.  Today’s Blog post is not really about the deer, its about the trees.  Pound Ridge, New York is mostly forested. The trees range in age from roughly 15-200 years old with most trees falling between 50-150 years old.  Take a walk on one of the Pound Ridge Land Conservancy’s preserves and you will notice that there are no young trees – an entire age class (1-15 years old) is missing.  In speaking to some of the veteran land managers in the area it seems that the recently instated deer hunting programs have yet to achieve desired results (more forest regeneration).  Herein lies the problem- every day, our forest looses trees- people prune or cut them down and storms blow them over- and the white tail deer eat the forest’s seedlings (young trees).  If this trend continues our forests will grow more and more sparse over time. See The Nature Conservancy’s report on New York’s forest regeneration here.  If we want to preserve the forest in our backyards we must do something about it.  

This map displays a forest regeneration index for New York State.  Red indicates ‘poor’ regeneration. 

There is hope, and it looks like this:

The first bed in my tree nursery which currently consists of red oak, American elm and shagbark hickory.   In about 3 or 4 years these trees will be planted back in the wild.   

Go walking this week and you sill see thousands of newly emerging trees on the forest floor.  I’ve seen oaks (4 kinds), ash, hickory (2 kinds), maple, birch, tulip and elm growing in the shade of their parents.  I’ve even seen some older saplings (2-3 years) growing in piles of brush which apparently act as natural deer fences.  Most of these baby trees will live all through the summer but when the air starts to cool, herbaceous plants start to wither and the deer’s food supply starts to fade, death will come to our forest’s future.  To circumvent this process I have started a native plant nursery at the Armstrong House Education Center where I currently grow trees to be planted in the forest.  At the nursery I will acquire plants in two ways: 1)  propagate trees and shrubs from seed (see this awesome book) and 2) transplant seedlings from the forest into my nursery.  Once there, the trees will spend 3 or 4 years protected from deer before they are planted at a chosen site.  It is the second method -transplanting wild trees into deer protected areas – that I am urging you to do as well.  As stewards of your own backyard forests, the protection and cultivation of a few trees is an easy way to make a lasting difference.

Planting trees is to create a better future.  Drive around Northeast Westchester County- the big trees are stunning.  They line streets, mark important buildings and grace cemeteries and farms.  We must remember that many of these giants were intentionally planted a long time ago and the only way to ensure big trees for the future is to plant trees today. You can protect and plant baby trees to mark special occasions in your life- the birth of a child, your kid’s high school graduation, your retirement- and let the memory grow with you and your family forever.  A white oak tree planted the week of your child’s birth would be over twenty feet tall by the time they graduated college.  Along with planting beautiful landscaping trees (like dogwoods and which hazels), consider planting native trees in the forest behind your house.  If we don’t replant our forests they will continue to grow thinner and our beautiful historic landscape will be lost.      

Isn’t it bad to take seedlings from the wild?  I have seen many seedlings growing on people’s property where the deer don’t browse, which is good news.  The bad news is that these trees are found growing where people don’t usually want trees to grow (next to your foundation, pool, or garden).  Instead of marching into the forest to find your seedlings, just search around your home.  If you resort to removing seedlings from the forest on your property, make sure to do it properly.  If done with care, transplanting and protecting a seedling increases its chances of survival.  Remember, in the forest the deer eat almost all unguarded seedlings.                

How do I transplant properly?  The #1 rule with transplanting baby trees is avoid desiccation!  Don’t let the plant dry out!  Don’t transplant on a dry day, don’t transplant on a windy day, don’t transplant on a sunny day, don’t transplant to an area of complete sun.  Instead, choose an overcast day with rain in the near future.  If it is not forecast to rain for a couple days then be prepared to apply water manually.  While in the process of transplanting you must keep the soil and roots wet.  When transplanting, don’t forget the roots- dig up a root ball (the size of a small bowling ball) with your seedling.  Here are Tips for transplanting.  As you research more about safely transplanting trees you will read that it is best to transplant trees in the early Spring (before leaves open) or in the Fall (after leaves drop and before the ground freezes). Although this is true, it is not always possible;  we are forced to transplant first year trees which are impossible to see before they leaf out in the Spring.  Transplant as early as possible and do not transplant in the summer.  An alternative to transplanting at the wrong time is protecting your trees while you wait for the right season to transplant.  To protect potential transplants, place a small fence around them.

Working together.  Protecting and planting trees is something that every landowner can do to help ensure a forest for the future.  My goal is to team up with other local conservationists to support a region-wide initiative to replant our forests.  Contact me if you are interested in learning more about forest regeneration and what you can do to protect and plant trees for our future.

Moving Day!

As of this week- the last week of April and first week of May, 2012- I am living full-time at the Armstrong House Education Center.  With the completion of its recent off-the-grid renovation, the Armstrong House will be my permanent residence and the primary location of the Pound Ridge Land Conservancy’s programming. Except when noted, the posts of this Blog will be coming directly from the Armstrong House and reflect my experiences there as I ponder, research and practice ways of Living Lighter on the Land.  I will share the house with my partner Sarah Bush (of Edible Revolution) and our indoor tuxedo cat, Loki.  To stay abreast of our adventures check back every week.  Thanks for reading, I hope to hear from you!  

The Armstrong Family.  Sarah Bush, Tate Bushell and Loki the cat.   Follow us on our adventures at the Armstrong House.