It's time once again for Dad's monthly Environmental Stewardship column:
Now that spring has officially arrived (and it has even felt like spring a couple of days) it is time to do those things that didn’t get done last fall.
Like starting a compost pile somewhere in a corner of the yard. All that organic material that is raked or swept up in the yard and the plant-based materials from the kitchen can be composted to obtain rich, black soil for the garden and lawn. Nature does most of the work — it is called rotting — with just a little bit of help in turning the pile occasionally.
The only animal-based material that I throw into my compost pile are egg shells, trying to counteract the acid from the oak leaves, so there is never an odor problem. Coffee grounds, tea bags, banana and orange peels, moldy bread and discarded outer cabbage and lettuce leaves all make excellent compost.
If you had water condensing on your windows last winter, or even some frost on the inside on some chilly mornings, you should consider replacing those windows with double- or triple-glazed windows. The savings in your burning of fossil fuels and increased comfort will pay for the upgrade quite quickly.
Another environmental stewardship and energy saving change is to increase the thickness of insulation in your attic to an R-value of 38 for a gas or oil fueled home and 50 for those heating with electricity. These two changes are good illustrations of the close relationship between economy and ecology.
Soon, many home owners will be fertilizing their lawns. Shouldn’t this year be the time that you have your soil tested (by someone other than the company trying to sell you fertilizer) to see if you really need all that nitrogen and potassium?
By state law, the phosphorus has generally been removed from lawn fertilizers in order to protect our rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands. Excess nitrogen fertilizer can wash off into the gutters and streams adding to the algae blooms. Recent studies in California have shown that excess nitrogen fertilizer can add to the nitrogen oxides (NOX) that add to the smog and non-conforming air quality. The California study showed that NOX from fertilizing exceeded that from automobiles in some areas. These were in heavily agricultural areas, but here in Wisconsin it has been shown that residential fertilizing is generally at a higher rate per acre than agricultural.
Also, if you didn’t build a rain garden or at least buy a rain barrel or two last fall, this spring may well be the time to do so. We used to think that we should get rain water off the yard as fast as possible; then turn on the sprinkler to keep the lawn green. We now know that it is best, not only for our lawns but for our streams, to have that rain water soak in as much as possible. Rain gardens do just that, directing the water from the downspouts to a depression in the yard maybe lined with stones and filled with deep rooted, native wetland species. Several organizations in the area, such as Root-Pike WIN, will assess your yard for its rain garden potential and give instructions on how to proceed.
In addition to obtaining native species for the rain garden, one should consider native species of shrubs, forbs and trees for some or all spring planting. Our native birds, insects and other life will appreciate it, and so will you when you realize how much less work they are to maintain once established. The DNR has long lists of native species for our area and groups such as “Wild Ones” have such plants for sale.
I am sure that if you are like me, there were other jobs, activities or purchases that didn’t get done last fall. We can all be better environmental stewards this spring.