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Energy saving upgrades

It’s been an especially cold winter, but heating costs can be minimized a number of ways, including caulking leaky spots around windows and doors, adding or updating insulation, replacing single pane windows with sealed double- or triple-pane windows, insulating heating ducts and your hot water tank, and upgrading to a programmable thermostat.

EarthTalkTM

—From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: This winter is shaping up to be one of the coldest in recent memory where I live. What can I do to reduce my home heating bill now and in the future? —Eric Lenz, Seattle, WA

Whether global warming is somehow to blame or not, much of the United States is getting walloped this winter. The Seattle area has suffered its most significant and lingering snowfall—and lower than average winter temperatures—in decades. Even Los Angeles is getting a nasty taste of winter, with several days topping out at the freezing mark on the thermometer. And other parts of the country more used to challenging winter weather have been getting an extra dose of wind, snow, and ice this year as well.

Besides the cold, another challenge this wintry weather presents, especially during such trying economic times, is higher heating bills. Heating typically accounts for about twenty-eight percent of the average American home’s energy use, but this year staying warm might occupy a larger slice of the household expenditure pie. Homeowners who take a few simple steps to make their homes more weather-tight, though, just might be amazed to see their heating bills go down while they languish inside their toasty and warm homes.

If you’re a handy person and your draft issues are minor, you might want to go around and assess just where cold air seems to be coming in—and then caulk, putty, or insulate to your heart’s content. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s green-living oriented SimpleSteps.org website, small gaps around windows, light fixtures, and plumbing are easy to cover with caulk. Large drafty areas that are protected from moisture and sunlight can be covered with expanding foam sealant, while a little weather-stripping around door jambs goes a long way toward keeping the cold out.

Beyond these easier fixes, adding or updating insulation can pay dividends on your utility bills. NRDC says that if you do it yourself, be careful not to cover or close up attic vents, as proper air flow is key to keeping indoor air quality good. Replacing single pane windows with sealed double- or triple-pane windows will also improve your home’s energy efficiency significantly. Other tips include insulating heating ducts and your hot water tank, and upgrading to a programmable thermostat which allows you to heat your home when you’re there and lower the temperature when you’re sleeping or at work. Switching ceiling fans to rotate in a clockwise direction will help circulate warm air throughout your home.

Older, inefficient furnaces can also lead to large heating bills. New models which qualify for the federal government’s Energy Star program will use far less gas or oil and reduce your utility bill handily. The non-profit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) rates different furnaces and boiler options and reports on their findings for free via the consumer guide section of its website.

For those of us less qualified or less interested in doing our own home repair, bringing in a professional energy auditor might be just the ticket. Many local and regional utilities offer free basic energy audits. Meanwhile, the trade group Residential Energy Services Network, as well as the federal government’s Home Performance with Energy Star program, offer free searchable online databases of trustworthy local contractors with experience keeping homes in your area nice and warm.

 


 

Thinking green in the midst of winter

—Ari LeVaux, Writers on the Range

Gardening season starts when you open your first seed catalog in the dead of winter, and it doesn’t end until you’ve dug up the last carrot, plucked the final Brussels sprout or eaten your last pickled pepper of the season.

The rewards of gardening begin the minute you open that catalog—long before you get to eat anything. To plan a garden, you have to deeply consider many things, including where and who you are.

As you pore over seed catalogs, perhaps you’ll feel nostalgic for the long-forgotten childhood treats of summer. But as you plan your garden, remember that it has to fit into your overall food-getting game plan. And that plan depends primarily on the answers to two questions: What do you want to eat fresh from your garden? And what do you hope to eat the rest of the year?

For me, the tomato falls into both categories. I want to be able to go into my garden on a whim and grab some slicing, salad, cooking, or juicing tomatoes. But I also need to make gallons of salsa, tomato sauce, and oven ratatouille for storage and year-round consumption. So while my little tomato patch gets me through the summer, I rely on bulk-purchased tomatoes to get me through the winter.

No matter the size of my garden, it always does three important things: First, it’s a lab where I can experiment with techniques, like letting my parsley re-seed itself, and try varieties I’ve never tried, like Moon and Stars watermelon. Second, my garden is a last resort for things I like but nobody else seems to grow, like Rose Apple fingerling potatoes and Arledge chile peppers. Then there are the things I use in quantity, like garlic and shallots, that can be expensive to buy, and that I’m a snob about: They simply have to be grown my way.

But whatever your needs and aspirations, now is the time to start scheming and planning, calculating all of your food needs and sources. Curl up with a cup of tea and a good seed catalog. It’s like reading a good magazine, only better.

As you flip through the pages, you may see intriguing plants you’ve never heard of, but might want to experiment with. My Jung catalog, for example, from Randolph, Wisconsin, contains a native American heirloom called Mango Melon (aka Vine Peach), whose “vigorous, spreading, very productive vines” make “white-fleshed fruits with the flavor and texture of a mango.” Uh, OK. I’ll try that. And while I’m at it, I’ll order some of those chocolate cherry tomato seeds.

But beware of plants that need be started from seed in pots and then transplanted—like those chocolate cherries. Seedlings take extra skill and consistent attention, and the attempt to transplant them can often end in failure. I buy most of my plant starts from the experts at the farmers’ market. The only plants I start from seed are the experimental plants, those unavailable elsewhere, and shallots.

Shallots taste like onion but pack more flavor per pound. Since they’re too expensive to buy in bulk, I grow my shallots and buy my onions. Most people grow shallots from “sets,” little mini-shallots that grow into bigger shallots, but you get a much better yield growing shallots from seed. Like onions, shallot seeds need to be started indoors by early March, which means you need to order them in February.

There are many seed catalogs out there, each with its own personality, specialty, wisdom, and selection. Most seed companies post online catalogs, but I recommend you request a hard copy—the better to jot notes and spill coffee on and leave around the house for when you have a moment to daydream of summer.  

Some of my favorite seed catalogs:  

Fedco—The beautifully-illustrated and whimsical catalog of this cooperative seed and garden supply organization is slightly reminiscent of the Whole Earth Catalog, offering, in addition to seeds, networking information, news, opinion, and notable quotes. www.fedcoseeds.com.

Johnny’s Seeds—Johnny’s is the go-to supplier for commercial growers and gardeners alike. Their catalog offers glossy photos and speedy delivery. www.johnnyseeds.com.

Jung—A new discovery to me with an interesting selection, including the intriguing “Biggie Chile.” www.jungseed.com.

High Mowing—An up-and-coming Vermont-based company with high ethical standards and great seeds. Like Fedco, High Mowing is driven as much by mission as by profit. www.highmowingseeds.com.

Seed Savers Exchange—A nonprofit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, with a mind-boggling heirloom tomato section, and many other seeds too. www.seedsavers.org.

The list goes on to include Territorial Seeds, Seeds of Change, Peaceful Valley

Summer might seem light-years away from us right now, but the days are already getting longer. This is the time to dig in mentally to plan your upcoming year in food. The payoffs bloom immediately.

Ari LeVaux is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He grows a lot of his own in Missoula, Montana.

 


Intel's solar installation

Intel’s solar electric installation was unveiled last month. The photovoltaic (PV) array, located in Rio Rancho, will generate  10kW of solar electricity and will be used as a demonstration project  highlighting PV use and benefits for powering data centers.

Intel New Mexico unveils its first solar photovoltaic array project

Intel’s first solar electric installation in New Mexico was unveiled last month. The photovoltaic (PV) array, located in Rio Rancho, will generate 10kW of solar electricity and will be used as a demonstration project highlighting PV use and benefits for powering data centers.

Intel’s New Mexico system will be in the top ten percent of solar electric facilities in the state. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this system, over twenty-five years, will offset an estimated 907,000 pounds of CO2, the leading greenhouse gas. This is equivalent to CO2 produced by 919,005 miles driven in an average car, or 36,760 miles per year.

The PV array is composed of sixty-four Sharp solar panels of 175W each. Contractors supporting the project included Skanska, CH2M Hill, Direct Power and Water, and Klinger.

“We’re very excited about this project,” said Marty Sedler, Intel’s Director for Global Utilities and Infrastructure. “The New Mexico solar installation will be a big step for Intel and potentially lead the way for a more aggressive solar program within Intel.”

Already, for example, Intel recently completed a solar project at its Jones Farm site in Oregon. This will augment Intel’s first solar thermal hot water application in India installed in early 2008.

“Intel is committed to conserving energy through designing energy-efficient products, conserving energy in our operations, investing in renewable energy, and advancing renewable energy policies,” said Tim Hendry, Intel’s Vice President, Technology Manufacturing Group, and Rio Rancho’s Fab 11X Manager. “This PV array, while providing only a fraction of the energy used by our site, is the beginning of our solar program.”

Intel’s New Mexico site manufactures some of the leading-edge energy-efficient products on the market.

 


 

Forester’s log: tools of the trade

—Mary Stuever

I must have landed a desk job, because for the first time in my forestry career, I’m scrounging for a cruiser vest. I’ve been borrowing from other foresters when I go to the field, and frankly, it’s a bit unsettling to be without the tools of my trade.

Although a brightly colored canvas vest is the core of our dress attire, the equipment that populates its many pockets holds the secret to allowing a forester to see the forest for the trees. With hundreds of thousands of trees in the woods, foresters must rely on a small sample to estimate how many trees of various sizes are in any particular forest. The activity of measuring trees is called ‘inventory.’ The tools are both unique and common.

A forester’s vest has multiple breast pockets. The usual spots for pens are occupied by a black Sharpie marker and pencils kept sharp with a pocket knife. Tucked behind and secured with a hefty metal snap is a pocket full of silver-dollar-size glass prisms of varying angles used to select sample trees. A middle pocket holds a compass with a mirror. Secured with red string to a grommet in the vest, the compass can dangle within easy grasp should a forester need quick reassurance that she’s following the right direction.

On the opposite side, another string anchors a metal case that houses a clinometer. This device measures the height of trees and the steepness of slopes. Another pocket contains a diameter tape that has the units adjusted so a measurement around the tree translates to the diameter across the tree. This tool is rarely used if the logger’s tape, which measures up to 75’, has the same diameter scale on the back side. Although this spring-loaded metal tape is usually stored in one of the larger bottom vest pockets, in the woods, it is worn on the forester’s belt.

There are five large pockets on the vest, with the largest pocket on the back holding lunch, paint cans, clipboards, and maps from projects visited months earlier but forgotten in the vest. Inside front pockets hold personal items, like toilet paper, which if forgotten can lead to clever uses of natural objects like mullein leaves. Usually these pockets have gum, or just gum wrappers, Power Bars, and candy, and unfortunately, sandwiches which really should have been trashed weeks earlier. The outer pockets store gloves and useful tools, including a GPS unit, map gauges, and perhaps a cheap calculator.

Finally, again carried in the woods in a leather holster on the belt, but stored in the larger pocket, is the most interesting of the forester’s tools: the increment borer. Forged from hardened steel in exotic places like Finland or Sweden, the increment borer extracts a pencil-size core from the tree which allows the forester to examine the rings and learn the tree’s age and how it has been growing.

I’ve dug around desk drawers, storage cabinets, and boxes of clutter and found the foundations of my tool set. By ordering a few items, including the vest, from specialty forestry stores, I’ll be ready for beautiful spring days when foresters head to the woods to inventory and demonstrate that they truly can see the forest for the trees.

Mary Stuever is a forester in the American Southwest. She can be reached at sse@nmia.com.  

 


 

Online class: cougar identification

—New Mexico Department of Game and Fish

The Department of Game and Fish is offering an online Cougar Education and Identification Course and an accompanying quiz to encourage hunters, guides, and houndsmen to help ensure that cougar hunting is an activity they can continue to enjoy.

The online course focuses on how to distinguish male, female, and sub-adult cougars, and also includes information about cougar habitat, behavior, hunting rules, human-cougar issues, and state management objectives. The course and accompanying online exam was developed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, which requires all cougar hunters to have passed the exam before legally hunting cougars in the state.

The Department is asking hunters, guides, outfitters, and houndsmen to:

Contact the Department toll-free at (877) 950-5466 or visit www.wildlife.state.nm.us to learn about management goals, the number of cougars allowed to be harvested, and the female subharvest limit before hunting in any Game Management Unit or Zone.

Take plenty of time to determine a cougar’s gender and make an informed choice before harvesting the animal.

The online course, interactive quiz and more information about cougar hunting in New Mexico can be found on the Department website, www.wildlife.state.nm.us. Information also is available by calling (800) 862-9310. 


Rocky Mountain Beeplant

Mountain wildflowers of the Southern Rockies and Central NM  

Rocky Mountain Beeplant Cleome serrulata Pursh

Caper FamilyCapparaceae

—Carolyn Dodson and William W. Dunmire 

Tall bushy plants bearing round three-inch clusters of delicate lavender flowers grow along roadsides and in other disturbed places. Long green-tipped stamens that protrude from each tiny four-petaled flower give the clusters a feather-ball appearance. Slender long-stalked seedpods dangle from the flowers. With three bluish green leaflets, beeplant leaves emit an unpleasant odor when crushed. Blooming throughout the summer, Rocky Mountain beeplant is limited to the pinon-juniper and ponderosa pine vegetation zones.

Perfectly Named

Beeplants are chiefly pollinated by bees attracted by the copious nectar. In fact, beekeepers often cultivate beeplants to maintain their honeybee hives. Capparaceae comes from the Latin word for “billy goat,” alluding to the unpleasant goatlike odor of many family members. Serrulata refers to the finely serrate or sawlike leaf margins.

Caper Family

Principally composed of tropical trees, the Caper Family is represented in our area by only a few herbaceous species. It resembles the mustards, a closely related family with four petals and six unequal stamens; however, Caper Family leaves are compound with three to seven leaflets, and the flowers bear four to many long stamens. Capers, enjoyed in a salad or as fish seasoning, are the pickled flower buds of a shrub native to the Mediterranean region. The ornamental spider flower, a close relative of beeplant, has a leggy, spidery look to its long stamens and stalked petals.

A Plant of Many Uses

Beeplant seed and pollen found in coprolites (desiccated human feces) at archaeological sites indicate that beeplants provided a major source of food for prehistoric Native Americans. Calling it “Indian spinach,” Pueblo Indians in New Mexico still boil up the young, iron-laden plants, removing the bitter flavor and bad smell in the process.

   The most distinctive use—both prehistoric and modern—of Rocky Mountain beeplant is the manufacture of black pigment for painting pottery. A concentrate of boiled leaves is dried and formed into little cakes that are reconstituted to yield a black pigment that the designer paints upon an unfired pot. Today if you buy “traditional” ware with black designs from a Puebloan potter, you are getting a pot that has been handcrafted and patterned with beeplant paint.

 


 

Poachers leave eagles and elk to rot 

Information about two cow elk and two golden eagles that were shot and left to rot around December 26 could be worth $750 if it leads to an arrest or charges against those responsible.

The dead elk and eagles were found next to Cibola County Road 25 near Homestake Mine. An investigation revealed that poachers shot the elk and eagles and left them to rot. The eagles were found at the base of power line poles. The elk were on the north side of the road, approximately eighty yards off the road and about ten yards apart.

Anyone who has information about this case is encouraged to call the Operation Game Thief Hotline at (800) 432-4263. A reward of up to $750 could be awarded if information leads to an arrest or charges being filed.

 

     

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