Living Lighter on the Land

Winter Wildlife Tracking

IMG_20150128_084007826We have had a very good year for snow, and that means a good year for seeing the signs of winter wildlife.  Have you noticed the delicate tracks of bird feet around bushes and shrubs?  Have you wondered if the neighbor’s cat is visiting, or if that’s a bobcat?  The internet is a wonderful resource for learning to identify tracks, with endless pictures for comparison.  I will make a few recommendations here of books and websites that I find useful, but really, the best way to learn tracking is to practice tracking.   I will share some of my experiences with you and hope to inspire you to spend time in nature this long weekend.

Fox trackOn the long walk up to the Armstrong House from my daughter’s bus-stop, we made first tracks in a lightly falling powder.  Luckily, it was not enough snow for the plow.  In the morning, a fox’s track paralleled our own!  We followed it down to where it met a squirrel, right at the place where we often cross a stone wall to make a short-cut.  The squirrel got away, that was clear, and the track resumed down the driveway.  Later, on the walk back up, I saw that a young deer had entered the mix, and was probably just up ahead of me, leaving fresh track over mine and over the foxes.  Who else was out and about in this forest?  Animals are so very secretive…but they do leave evidence behind!

Another day, it had snowed steadily for 36 hours.  The snow was now so deep that mice, voles, and other small animals could move freely in tunnels under a warm blanket of snow.  Snow tunnels will measure a balmy 32 degrees F when outside, the wind is howling and the trees are cracking.  Snow cover is very beneficial to animals.  The forest feels pristine after such an event, with little sign of life other than the occasional, mixed flock of winter songbirds.  I found a deep track coming out of a cliff face on the Armstrong Preserve, from a “cave” where I had once seen a large canine scat, full of wild grape seeds.  I thought at first that I had found its winter den, but instead, the track led me on a long chase up and across a steep and rocky cliff face, from viewpoint to viewpoint on the preserve.  Oh, to be a fox for one day!

MIMG_20150211_135432422y final story is this:  I skied from Armstrong to Richards Preserve.  (Where we have a Guided hike on June 20).  Near the kiosk, I came upon markings in the snow that were completely isolated by a trackless surface around them.  A squirrel’s track started from the base of a tree and extended out only a few steps to a an area of disturbed snow.  Beyond that, five stripes cut into the surface on one side, five more on another.  A mouse’s track came to investigate.  Whooo was here?  Whooo was eaten?

To share stories of your tracking experiences and to learn more, please join me in further investigations of winter wildlife at our upcoming guided hike, at the Halle Ravine Preserve:  Saturday, February 28, at 10am.  Directions and a trail map are available on our website at  Updates and cancellations will be posted to our Facebook page.Guided Hike Flyer winter wildlife.


The American Woodcock

americanwoodcock AudubonAn odd little bird flushed up from the ground in late November at the Armstrong Preserve, startling me with its distinctive shape and erratic flight pattern.  It landed again on the ground and disappeared, camouflaged against the brown leaves of Autumn.  It was an American woodcock, rarely seen in southern New York except during migration.range map

The Breeding Bird Atlas of New York has documented a decline in this sandpiper species over the last thirty years, especially on Long Island and in the lower Hudson Valley.  Habitat loss and the prevalence of predators in suburban areas are a threat to ground-dwelling birds like the woodcock.  They are still hunted as game however, with open season in New York from October 1 to November 14.

The woodcock’s preferred habitat is old field in transition to forest.  This increasingly uncommon ecotype is also home to the now-rare New England cottontail rabbit.  In Pound Ridge, woodcock have been known to breed in the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation and are likely to at PRLC’s Clark Preserve.

woodcockimageA recommended resource for identifying and learning more about winged wildlife is All About Birds, by the famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

A list of the Birds of Westchester County, compiled by Hudson River Audubon, is a good place to fact-check when confirming the identity of a questionable bird.  They list the Woodcock as being common in spring (probably migrating birds) and uncommon in summer and fall.  Winter sightings have been made, meriting an “occasional.” Their year-round range should expand north with a warming climate.

NYS Breeding Bird Atlas

Author’s note on field guides: I am forever grateful to Roger Tory Peterson for his system of identifying field marks and also to David Sibley for his comprehensive descriptions.  I still prefer them to apps in the field.






Forest Stewardship in Westchester County

How much do you love your land?  Judging by real estate prices in our area, the residents of Pound Ridge and northern Westchester County value their lands highly.  They love it for its scenery, for the tranquil feelings it inspires, for the privacy it offers, and for opportunities to feel connected to the larger web of life.  Many of our residents feel a responsibility to steward their property in a way that preserves these cherished values for future generations.  They may also feel obligated to protect irreplaceable ecosystem services that our lands together provide, such as water filtration, flood control, wildlife habitat, and air quality control.  As a private and not-for-profit land trust, PRLC is committed to stewardship of the land we own (now totalling 360 acres) and to helping other area landowners live lighter on the land.  We offer a series of eduational workshops and guided hikes in addition to the information contained in our website and in this blog.


Recent work on our preserves has been largely focused upon building resilience to change in our forests.  Functioning natural communities are always in flux but are also generally quite stable when they are large and interconnected across a landscape.  In the fragmented northeast, change is occurring at an acclerating rate, even faster than our climate.  It may be time to take the gloves off, or put them on and get to work on addressing some of the most potent threats to our local ecosystem.  These include an influx of invasive, non-native species and an overabundance of deer, along with cascading effects that limit forest regeneration, wildflower abundance, and overall plant, bird, and insect diversity.

PRLC’s land management strategy is to prioritize the values of a particular property and to outline both short- and long-term plans for protection.  For properties within the Croton Reservoir watershed, we partner with the Watershed Agricultural Council Management Assistance Program for advice and technical support on promoting forest health.  Several of our preserves now have management plans to guide stewardship over the next five to fifteen years.  At the 70 acre Clark Preserve for instance, we have worked steadily to control Japanese barberry (an invasive shrub) within an area of potentially healthy forest.  As a followup, volunteers fenced and planted a test strip with native shrubs and small trees that better support wildlife.  Species planted include Purple-flowering raspberry, American hazelnut, Spicebush, Winterberry, Northern bayberry, Witchhazel, Black currant, and Northern bush honeysuckle.  All of these are native to Pound Ridge and will grow in part-shade under a forest canopy.  Indeed, many of them can still be found where deer can not reach them.


Similar work to establish and protect native forest understory was conducted at the Carolin’s Grove and Armstrong Preserves this year.  At Carolin’s Grove, we enclosed three 100 foot perimeter circles with deer fencing to promote the growth of young, naturally occurring trees within a blowdown (an area of forest damaged by Superstorm Sandy).  These small exclosures will foster the growth of “daughter” trees from the mothers that still stand, and will hopefully carry us into future generations.  In the meantime, we have work to do on controlling the deer population outside of fenced areas.

At the Armstrong Preserve, we recieved a grant to support the installation of a 500 foot perimeter deer fence in an area of older-aged oak forest.  Young oaks are a delicacy to deer and are rarely seen these days, while older oaks are top providers for a whole chain of forest creatures.  The Armstrong deer exclosure is featured as an outdoor learning environment at the Armstrong Education Center and is sure to be a big draw for visitors desiring a rich forest experience.  You are invited to tour this and other outdoor learning environments at Armstrong, including restoration areas in a woodland meadow and vernal pool, any day between dawn and dusk.  For more information, please contact the PRLC Land Steward & Educator Krista Munger.


“Anyone who has a garden, park or orchard tree has an opportunity to ensure that it offers protection, brings beauty and bears fruit for future generations. In short, every one of us should aspire to be a forester.”
― Gabriel HemeryThe New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century




Cool Weather Gardening

DSC_1554 (2)

We greatly expanded our growing area this spring and summer at the Armstrong Education Center and have been reaping the fruits of our labor, both in the organic vegetable garden and in our native plant gardens.  These gardens are used to demonstrate sustainable land use concepts such as local food production for humans, honeybees, and other wildlife.  


The plants have enjoyed our lovely fall weather and produced a late abundance of fruit and blossoms.  This summer was persistently cool and cloudy, which allowed for an extended planting season but also delayed or stunted blooming.  It also encouraged plant predation by insects.  Our vegetable gardens sustained heavy damage early on from Colorado potato beetles and the Squash vine borer (see my earlier blog post about how to keep squash producing into fall).  Later, we had difficultly controlling the Mexican bean beetle and caterpillars on the cole crops.  Not even our resident bull frog, pictured here, could keep them in check.  Because we strive to strike a balance with insect populations as part of the web of life, we use only organic methods in our gardens and attempt to deter them mainly through crop rotation and mulching.

IMG_20140901_192513898_HDRWhen things get out of hand, my tried-and-true method for organic pest control in the garden is to make "bug juice," also known as "sick juice."  I collect as many of the offenders as I can in a small jar with a lid.  I puree these in a little water in an old blender that I have reserved for this use.  Then I strain this liquid through a fine sieve and pour it into a spray bottle.  I use the rinse water from the blender jar (after it has been sieved) to dilute the liquid further.  Then I spray this on plants that are affected by that particular insect.  This is basically biological warfare: the premise being that one of the bugs in the mixture will carry a disease that then quickly spreads through the entire population.  This works on insects that have become overabundant on any kind of plant, including this native milkweed that has been infested with aphids.

milkweed with aphids

See our website calendar for a list of events you can attend for hands-on education on how to manage your own property with a Living Lighter on the Land mindset.  Learn how your activities can support the Pound Ridge's efforts to become a certified Community Wildlife Habitat, and please join our mailing list or like our facebook page for news and updates related to local conservation initiatives.

Chores still to be done at this time:

  • Plant winter rye as a cover crop, or mulch beds with shredded leaves covered by straw.
  • Plant trees and shrubs, and consider adding support until roots are set next year.
  • Create a leaf pile for a steady source of Fall mulch and Spring seed-sowing medium.
  • Harvest fall crops such as spinach, lettuce, and kale, and keep those beds covered at night.


Garden Planning continued: Watering, Thinning and Harvesting

 by intern Kadijah Spence and Krista Munger.  Pound Ridge Land Conservancy land stewardess, Krista Munger and interns are working in the garden to water, thin, and harvest.

Previous article about gardening

Now that you have planted crops according to the time line presented in the previous article it is time to water, thin and harvest. If you haven’t already transplanted plants started indoors, please do so as soon as possible. In the Armstrong vegetable garden, we have tomatoes, squash, peppers, and basil which were all transplanted the end of May/beginning of June along with carrots, beets, beans, lettuce and other greens.  The seeds we use were purchased from or donated by Hudson Valley Seed Library. This link gives more information about sowing seeds directly into the ground


Our strawberries are harvested on a daily basis and other greens are harvested weekly. Strawberries are best picked when the bottom is fully ripened and red. They hold the most nutrients when eaten picked and eaten fresh. Leafy greens can be picked until their juice shows milky white. We recently planted beets and corn. The beets only need one seed per hole and are spaced 3 inches apart. Where you have spilled too many, wait for them to grow a few inches and then thin them by selecting the smallest ones of the group. Corn resembles grass when young, so be careful when weeding. If you are unsure of a plant's identity, then leave it until it flowers and use a guide to identify it.

There are many ways to use the vegetables and fruits from your garden. One can add chopped up strawberries to make a special treat for the kids in the morning. A fresh salad made from hand-picked garden greens is a perfect way to start the afternoon. To get a bit creative, one can garnish meat with herbs from the garden. 


For more photos of the garden, check out these links: Life in the Garden and Life in the Garden 2

Beginning the Fall Garden 

To grow a fall garden in southern New York, buy seed now before it becomes unavailable.  You will need to start seeds in midsummer to be ready for transplanting in early autumn.  If you start them inside, seedlings should be hardened off just as they are in spring; gradually let them adjust to the stronger sunlight of the outdoors.  We plan to start ours outdoors under an adjustable shade canopy.

Semi-hardy vegetables for our climate include beets, carrot, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, endive, Irish potatoes, lettuce and salad greens, radicchio, rutabaga, salsify, and Swiss chard.  These will die back with the first hard frosts, so their fall growing season is short.  The hardiest vegetables for fall gardens are bok choi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, English peas, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard greens, parsley, radish, spinach and turnip. Using a cold frame, these vegetables can be grown right through the winter. 

New Summer Interns, New Summer Projects

by intern Kadijah Spence and Krista Munger.  Pound Ridge Land Conservancy is proud to welcome six new interns this summer. 

Nick Chris Ryland planting pawpaw

Nick and Chris are students from Fox Lane High School's Aspire Program.  They are here for their final school semester and are working to gain experience in the environmental field before heading off to college.  

Ryland just graduated from John Jay High School and is very experienced in working outdoors. He is in charge of native plant restoration projects at the Armstrong Preserve and Education Center, and is sponsored here by a grant from the Rusticus Garden Club.  

Shawn is enrolled in the Stamford AgriScience Program.  Shawn works in the "Working Backyard" at Armstrong, taking care of the organic vegetable garden, native plant gardens, the compost and chickens.  

Our college interns are Kadijah from Yonkers, attending Manhattanville College and Olivia from Waccabuc, who attends Marist College. Both are majoring in Environmental Studies/Science and plan to work in the conservation field.  The intern team is joined by a number of volunteers who are dedicated to serving the environment, including returning intern Nick A., Sawyer, Nate, and our board member Al.

All of the interns and volunteers are increasing their knowledge of the outdoors and how to take care of the land.  Nick and Chris worked as a team to build a raised garden bed, put up protective deer-fencing, re-route a trail, install stairs down a steep hillside. Ryland planted the newly fenced areas with seedlings grown in our native plant nursery, which is tended by all of the interns in rotation.  He has also detected and removed a quantity of mile-a-minute vine, an invasive species which threatens native vegetation by smothering and outcompeting it.  Shawn is learning the complex intricacies of our integrated garden and composting system in our "working backyard."  

Kadijah at Pride day 2014Olivia, as PRLC's Conservation Intern, is helping to execute a number of planned projects including invasive species removal at two of our preserves and trail enhancements at two others.  Olivia will also help us to compile data measuring the success of our field work so that we can adaptively manage our priority landscape projects.  An example is our longterm project to control the spread of Phragmites in fens at the Isaacson Preserve.  A team of four went out recently to count the numbers of plants growing in established plots.  They will return on July 12, from 10am to noon, for a Volunteer Work Session.  You are invited to join them.  It is a beautiful preserve.

You may have seen Kadijah at one of PRLC's movie nights, guided hikes, or volunteer work sessions.  She works as an all-around assistant to Krista, PRLC's Land Steward & Educator and is learning how to prepare for and organize events and teams of volunteers.  She also plants, weeds, waters and gathers the growing fruits and vegetables in the garden.  

On June 18, 2014 Kadijah, Olivia, Nick and Chris joined a team of AmeriCorps volunteers organized by TIP-PR, The Invasives Project of Pound Ridge. They worked to control invasive species at a town-owned preserve behind the Town House called the Slade Preserve.  

Bruce in fenBelow are the albums of the Issacson and Slade Preserves workdays.  Please like our Facebook page for our frequent short updates on what we are doing and what we see!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

EABApril is Invasive Pest and Disease Awareness Month, and a task force of the United States Department of Agriculture seeks to raise awareness of the threat of invasive species to ecosystems, the economy, and to our own well-being.  Their website has excellent photographs of two main villains in our area: the Asian long-horned beetle (ALB) and the Emerald ash borer.  It says, The ALB has the potential to cause more damage than Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight and gypsy moths combined, destroying millions of acres of America’s treasured hardwoods, including national forests and backyard trees.”  

Citizen help is needed to stem the spread of known populations and to prevent new ones.  Hikers and landowners have reported several new occurrences, and if caught early enough, some cases can be eradicated.  In New York, the state has imposed a quarantine on moving firewood and certain other wood products from one location to another, and with good reason.  The map on the right shows the known distribution of the Emerald ash borer in New York.

EAB map

We have been hearing about invasive species quite a lot in our local news in Pound Ridge.  Earthworms from Europe aredepleting our soils and forest health, Mute swans (also from Europe) alter water quality and displace native wildlife, and our sources of food for birds and insects are in decline due to competition from non-native species.  We seem to have an ecosystem in peril, with the good, the bad, and the ugly in conflict.  What can we do?  One thing we cannot do is expect Mother Nature to fix the problem.  Adaptation and ecosystem balancing occur on such a long time scale that to wait is to risk massive extinctions and the loss of ecosystem services like clean water.

We can, however, draw upon the power or nature to right itself.  A healthy ecosystem naturally resists biotic invasion from pests, whether they be animal or plant, because all of the niches in the system are filled.  It is difficult for an invader to gain a foothold among the fierce competition of a thriving, co-adapted community.  The plants and animals that do become invasive were often brought here intentionally and sold for their pest-resistant properties (because our wildlife cannot eat them).

Recommendations:  We must all do our part to support diversity in native ecosystems by protecting certain areas as wildlife preserves and ensuring that those areas are connected by corridors.  This is a major concern of the PRLC.  We can also greatly expand the boundaries of protected land by choosing to landscape public and private properties with native plants to whatever extent possible, and in place of lawn.  

To learn more about the relationship between native plants and wildlife species, attend one or more of the events sponsored by PRLC and other community organizations in our four-part series, beginning April 22, Birds & Bees: Wildlife Needs.  Please also see what our neighbors are up to as we work together to certify the town as a National Wildlife Community Habitat.  


Birds and Bees


Jumpstart on Spring


IMG_20140310_113712_585 (2)With lengthening days, we are living lighter on the land this month by harnessing the power of the sun.  In our cold frame, thickly insulated with hay and oriented to receive maximum light, the plants are growing so quickly that I have begun to harvest extra greens for our chickens.  The girls have rewarded us in turn with up to four eggs a day (from 4 laying hens), and are churning through our compost in search of what bugs are active in March. Next month, I will introduce to you our new and improved solar array, powering the Armstrong Education Center at 100%!

In the Armstrong kitchen, we ate salad from the cold frame all winter long with the exception of a few weeks in January (see Early 2014 North American Cold Wave).  I went out often to brush off snow but didn't dare open the door, as I could see though the frozen condensation that the plants were wilting at their tips.  The greens pictured here were planted as seed in October: Cavolo kale, Spring broccoli raab, Mizuna, Rossimo lettuce, Red giant mustard, Speckled lettuce, and Renegade spinach.  A few Red chard transplanted in have not fared well.  The Mizuna and lettuces recently began flowering and so were cleared out to make room for kale and spinach that had somewhat languished beneath.  We should have greens for months yet.

Cold frame March

Cold frame March2

The cold frame is serving double duty as our germinator and seedling incubator too. So far, I have started Utah tall celery, Curley parsley, Common chives, Clear dawn onions, Broccoli, and Long Island Improved brussels sprouts, in addition to native species Bladdernut and Groundnut.  For most plants (especially New York natives), temperature is not the limiting factor so much as light, and only the sunniest of window sills are adequate.  I find it easier, and a lot cleaner, to set up my grow space outside or in a basement/workshop area under lights.  LED lights are most efficient, but must be in the correct spectrum for plants to use the light.

See how we grow vegetables, flowers, and native trees and shrubs in the Armstrong Working Backyard our May 3 Plant Swap and Volunteer Work Session.   To get started sooner, click here for instructions on making a cold frame and starting seeds.  See also our lineup of events in our partnership series Birds & Bees: Wildlife Needs, aimed at educating our community about the role of native plants to native wildlife, including what you can do to foster their habitats on your own property!



Garden Planning

If you haven't started planning for this year's garden, now is the time to begin!  Nurseries and serious gardeners have already started sowing under lights, and by the end of this month, we can often plant spinach, radish, and sugar snap peas here in New York.  Taking some time now to plan what, where, and when you will plant can save you work in the long run and increase the useful yield of your garden.  By timing crops to mature in batches, for example, you can produce abundant harvests from May to November, and even beyond with help from a cold-frame or other frost protection.  

DSCN7135We recently hosted a Garden Planning Workshop at the Armstrong Education Center, the center of our public programming for education on Living Lighter on the Land.  In case you missed it, I will present here some of the material we covered and will also direct you to a webpage I created which serves as something like a resource library for topics covered at PRLC workshops: Land Stewardship in Action Wiki.  Feel free to copy the Wiki and add to it for your own purposes.  

We covered the basics outlined below and then expanded our conversation based on the specific cases presented, such as fertilization for raised beds that are filled with coir and perlite rather than soil and compost (probably best to take a soil test first).  Events like this are a great place to have your specific questions addressed by a group of knowledgeable people.  Please see the events calendar on our website for information about our May 3 Plant Swap and Volunteer Work Session, and stay tuned for a planned series in April and May that will teach you how to provide quality habitat for local wildlife using native plants, trees, and shrubs on your property (and get Certified for your efforts by the National Wildlife Federation).bd103863_0708_seeds_l

Garden Planning Basics:

  • Prepare the soil.  It is important to meet the needs of whatever plants you wish to grow, but drastically amending soil can be costly and time-consuming. (link for soil testing services)
  • Decide what you want to grow.  My advice is to dream big and then whittle your list down according to how much space and time you have.  Put everything else on a vision board for later inspiration.  
  • Map your planting areas.  Note the soil and light conditions, and choose plants with similar requirements.  Consider planting "companion plants" that grow well together. Some gardeners plan for height variation or for "seasonal interest." I make multiple maps for early season, mid-season, and late season.
  • Schedule planting and other tasks such as feeding, mulching, and harvesting.  Remember that as some plants reach their harvest point, others can be sown beneath for repeat harvests all season long.


Garden map drawn

A List of Gardening Tasks for Early Spring:

Cedar and Grapevine Teepee Trellis

  • Gather materials: Seeds, trays, leaf mold or other sowing medium
  • Turn the compost pile so that it is ready when you need it
  • Turn the leaf pile to speed up its composting
  • Build a trellis for peas

The week starting Feb. 28, under protection, plant onions, leeks, scallions, chives, celery, celeriac, artichoke.

The week starting March 7, under protection, plant all of the above plus arugula, spring raab, and parsley

The week starting March 14, under protection, plant all of the above plus lettuce, early cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli.  Direct sow spinach, peas, arugula, and spring/summer onions.

The week starting March 21, under protection, plant the above plus peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, chard, bok choy. Continue to sow plants listed through April.

The week starting March 28, direct sow spring raab, radishes, spinach, peas, arugula, and spring/summer onions

The week starting April 14, direct sow lettuce, carrots, parsnips, spring raab, radishes, spinach, peas, arugula, and spring/summer onions.  Transplant lettuce, parsley, scallions, and chives.

The week starting April 28, direct sow chard, beets, lettuce, carrots, parsnips, spring raab, radishes, spinach, peas, arugula, onions. Transplant early cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, tatsoi, bok choy, arugula, lettuce, spring raab, parsley, chives

To be continued…

Home Heating

In the northeast, home heating is the largest residential energy expense and accounts for up to half of all housing-related carbon emissions.  How can you, the conscientious citizen, stay warm in winter without leaving your environmental concerns out in the cold?  Answering this question is a top priority at the Pound Ridge Land Conservancy’s Armstrong Education Center, where I live and work out of the Armstrong House, an older home retrofitted with cutting-edge technologies to be a model for low-impact 21st century living.  Former Living Lighter on the Land blog posts have covered green energy topics including the costs/benefits of wood heat (March 4, 2013) and radiant heat (Dec. 19, 2012).  In this edition of the blog, I will explore some of the options for efficient home heating with recommendations from my own experience at Armstrong.

spray foam

No matter what energy source you use, the first and most important thing you can do to limit consumption and pollution is to insulate and air seal your home.  Caulking and weatherstripping are simple and cost-effective ways to get started. According to the Alliance for Green Heat, heating results in an average of 345 million metric tons of carbon each year, whereas air conditioning, the second largest sources of emissions, accounts for about 147 million, both of which are reduced by investments in home insulation.  It pays for itself too – insulating your home can lower energy bills by up to 50%.  Renovations at the Armstrong House included the spraying of soy based foam insulation in the walls and ceilings and extensive sealing of cracks and energy leakage points like power outlets.  We also installed a low emissive reflective insulation and housewrap.  The goal is to create a continuous thermal barrier envelope that reduces air exchange and conductive heat loss.  Remember that better quality insulation has higher R value (or thermal resistance), regardless of thickness. Options include spraying insulation from the inside, through holes in the walls, but better coverage is achieved by removing the siding on the outside.  In the photo below, notice the dark areas on the roof where snow has melted.  These are indicative of heat loss due to a discontinous thermal barrier.

heat loss

One simple piece of technology to consider for your green home is a heat exchanger.  We have a ventilation-specific heat exchanger on our air filtration system at Armstrong that is 70% efficient.  This means:  In winter, cold air from the intake pipe is first heated by outgoing air before it circulates through the house.  In summer, the heat from warm outdoor air is removed by the outgoing exhaust stream.  The two air streams remain separate throughout.

No matter what source of energy you use, the above suggestions can help to lower your costs and emissions, which is often more feasible for the homeowner than converting to another heat source.  However, adding a wood or pellet stove to your existing system can be a sound investment.  I am going to put my neck right out there and say that I am a fan of heating by wood. Not only does it lend a wonderfully cozy feeling to one’s home, it gives one the excuse to get outside and take a breath of fresh air while loading up an arm’s worth for the day.  Controversy over wood burning’s contribution to air pollution seems to be dampened by arguments for its overall benefit to local economies and a reduction in the amount of oil and gas being transported from a distance.  Plus, there has been a lot of progress in stove efficiency, prompted in part by a contest and partly by pending legislation from the Environmental Protection Agencywhich proposes new standards for efficiency for stoves sold after 2015.


The Wittus Twinfire is an award-winner made by the same local company that generously donated our stove at Armstrong: it has an efficiency rating of 93% and can reduce wood use by 40%.  The secret is called two-stage gasification: it heats wood in one compartment in the relative absence of oxygen, releasing combustible gases into a separate compartment where they meet air and efficiently release their energy with very little emissions.

We have burned about a cord and a half of wood in our stove this winter, and we harvested it from storm-blown trees on the property with the help of volunteers.  Conservatively speaking, the heat produced by burning that amount of prime oak in our stove is equivalent to burning about 200 gallons of propane (our current fuel for the radiant heat system, until our solar thermal panels are installed).  In other words, we have saved $600 by using wood this season and can expect to double that by the time winter is over.  Use this handy fuel comparison chart to figure out how much you might save.  Keep in mind that prices vary regionally, and that seasoned wood yields more energy (and less pollution) than freshly split, “greeen” wood.  Cornell Cooperative Extension can help you to make the transition to wood burning and advise you on safety and maintenance of your wood stove, pellet stove, or boiler.  They can also help to advise you on how to manage your woodlot for sustainable fuel harvests.

Please stay tuned to our blog and events calendar for more opportunities to learn about forest management techniques and sustainable energy systems, or email us your questions, and stay warm!


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