Lemon balm

Another winter survivor: The lemon balm I planted next to the deck last spring had died back, but with the warm temperatures lately, it’s putting out new growth.

Not much else going on in the yard today. I put some birdseed in my feeder today, and I heard birds singing in the neighborhood, but I guess they didn’t find the food, because they didn’t come and eat it. They’ll figure it out eventually, I suppose.

I found some good articles and Web sites about various environmental issues today, though. Today’s Christian Science Monitor has an interesting story about solar-powered LED lamps that are being used to illuminate homes in rural India. According to the article, 100,000 remote villages do not have electricity, so the lamps — which run on free power from the sun — are a good alternative to kerosene lamps, which are a constant expense.

My mom was reading the Southern Illinoisan when she ran across this article about how the local Sierra Club chapter spent New Year’s Day. Every year, they go hiking in Giant City State Park and then cap the outing with a big batch of stone soup. Sounds like a good way to start the year.

While I was piddling around on the Monitor site, I found another story about the Tofte Project, a 50-year-old summer cabin on Lake Superior that was remodeled to be a highly energy-efficient, full-time residence.

I’m not sure I like the Tofte cabin as much as I like the Earthship that Ron and I visited in August 2001, but it’s still a cool project.

I’m pretty excited about our long-term plans for the house we live in now. We purposely bought something small (950 square feet) and energy-efficient so we could adapt it for solar power in the future. We use compact fluorescent lightbulbs in all our fixtures, which saves us a bundle on power bills, and we are going to get some more power strips to help eliminate phantom loads.

We had a boxelder tree removed from our back yard this fall to allow more solar gain on the south side of the house and to let more sun hit the roof, where we intend to put solar collectors (hopefully Sunballs) at some point in the future. This spring, we’re going to add some insulation and a radiant barrier to the attic and install a solar attic fan up there. We upgraded our refrigerator a few months ago, and our old dishwasher decided to retire recently, forcing us to buy a replacement model that is MUCH more efficient. We plan to swap our old electric water heater for a more efficient gas model this year as well, and we’re definitely going to replace a couple of windows that tend to be drafty.

I’m also going to get some plastic and a strip door and use it to enclose our front porch to help keep out the cold air when we open the door. It will look pretty trashy, but hey — this is Red Fork. Besides, this is just an experiment. If it makes a big difference in our power consumption, I will take it down and replace it with big windows and a storm door before next winter. If it doesn’t make a big difference, I won’t have spent a bunch of money and time on a home-improvement project that didn’t perform well enough to be cost-effective.

We’ll plant sunflowers in front of the south-facing windows this summer to reduce heat gain, and I’m hoping to find time to build myself an earthen oven and a solar oven so I can do some cooking outdoors when I don’t want to heat up the kitchen.

We’re not quite where I’d like to be yet in terms of reducing our environmental footprint, but we’re getting closer.