Sunday, January 19, 2014

The garden as a bird feeder

In general, our garden is our bird feeder- we planted native plants and created habitat to suit birds' primary food- insects.  And it has worked well, though it is not your traditional "birder's garden".  I feel like I have written this post before (and probably better), but it is a good reminder this time of the year.  For several years I have had mixed feelings for bird feeders, and I have stopped using bird feeders through summer, spring and fall.  I have stopped using seed feeders altogether, and occasionally and seasonally use different forms of suet feeders (see below), including native plant suet we prepare ourselves (click here).

Our goal is to make our garden our feeder by planting native plants and providing habitat and this sustains a variety of birds, insects and other wildlife. This has been our goal, and even in a small, city lot, you can have success.

Our giant ant hill in our front yard is a Northern flicker's favorite.   Through the winter, flickers dig this up for tasty grubs (and defenseless slow moving adults in the cold).

In winter, we add some feeders for birds, but not the typical ones people are used to seeing, though non-traditional feeders, yet they are more natural. for example, my favorite, carcasses.
These parts and pieces are left overs from butchering our game meat during hunting season.

Although the aesthetic might not be for everyone, carcasses (from winterkill, and predator kills) are the original suet feeder (click here for more information). 

Even a little scapula can be an enticing feeder for chickadees, nuthatches, flickers, and downy woodpeckers.

In addition to providing housing for native solitary nesting bees, mason bee boxes, aka "larvae feeders" provide food for nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and chickadees that pick the overwintering larvae out. Here a chickadee uses its wings for improved leverage to get one out
But perhaps more important in our garden are the natural and original nest boxes- snags.
Birds are a source of food too. With a lot of birds around, come things that eat them.
Here a sharp-shinned hawk eats a cedar waxwing in our garden.
All that it left was the beak
So this winter, consider your feeders, and perhaps shift to some natural or unconventional feeders.  Feeding birds is a lot more than seed feeders, and it is a lot more effective with non-traditional means.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

new heat for my old shop

I've been spending a lot of time in my shop lately on a variety of projects for our home and garden. Including a bunch of re-purposed garden tool chairs and benches (and things for my Etsy store) but that is for another post.  My newest project for the shop is a better heating system- a couple of weeks ago I bought a used pellet stove (a Quadrafire, Mt Vernon).  This concludes a 1.5 year search on Craigslist and Home ReSource.  I am really excited about heating the shop in a more sustainable way. For about 13 years, I had been heating the shop with a small kerosene heater. That heater works really well, and heats the shop up quickly, but the cost of kerosene has more than tripled over that time. When I first stared heating with it, 5 gallons of kerosene was less than $12; now it is around $45. Plus, it is kerosene, and for all the reasons not to burn petroleum products it is bad. 

Pellets are made mostly from  wood waste, and there lots of options on wood source and several companies in western Montana produce the pellets.  I am really glad about having this sort of locally made option, and especially one that uses waste from other industries.  For example, one company is primarily a furniture business, and converts its lumber scraps into pellets.  

Other nice things about pellets are their low emissions, and the abundant, pleasant heat produced- the same kind of heat as from a wood stove.  Plus, it is thermostatically controlled. The downside is the high initial cost, but with the low cost of fuel ($4/ 40 lb bag), I will break even pretty soon.  Even if it took me much longer to break even, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

With a kerosene heater, I would use about 20 gallons a year to heat the shop, so at these prices it would be around $200/ year to heat. If the price doesn't go up any more, I figure I will break even in 2-3 years.
For those in the city of Missoula or the parts of Missoula County that are in the "air stagnation zone," you can install pellet stoves, but they have to meet the EPA emission particulate guidelines (that is, emit less than 1 gram/hour) be on the approved list.

As for as the installation, I got nearly everything used, from Home ReSource; including the majority of the venting, electrical and wall materials.
I decided to tile the surround, but the nice thing with pellet stoves is that they have very low set backs to combustibles. For this stove, and the way I have it oriented, it could be as close as 1.5” to the walls. 
So although I didn't need to surround the stove with a non-flammable material, I thought it would be an opportunity to add a little pizzazz to the shop to break up the monotony of the OSB covered walls. Plus it makes me feel better knowing the stove is surrounded by concrete, ceramic and grout- not OSB and dry wood!

I found this interesting tile at Home ReSource, so I figured I'd give it a try.  It looks like wood, but it is ceramic tile.   I thought it would be the perfect tile for a woodworking shop.
On the same trip, I got all the tile, grout (that I totally over bought), concrete backer board, grout sealer, a GFCI receptacle, outlet box, and thermostat wire, for only, ...wait for it… $36! Thanks Home ReSource!
I am happy with how it came out, but more importantly I am glad to be heating the shop with a renewable, and locally produced resource.