Plants added at various densities and heights can protect your property from powerful winds. Photo by Flickr/K-State Research and Extension
Can I plant trees to protect my property from strong storms?
If you follow simple landscaping guidelines, you can provide additional protection to your home landscape and lower the risk of damage to your property. Biodiverse layers create water and air filtration, help control snow drifts, provide food and shelter for wildlife, reduce soil erosion, cool the environment, save energy, and create wind protection.
Many homes are surrounded by individual free-standing trees, minimal hedges, and low-lying ground covers. This leaves property open to damage from sun, water, and winds. A house standing alone with one large shade tree in the yard can’t withstand powerful winds like a house surrounded by a biodiverse, dense windbreak can.
A windbreak can help slow winds before they approach your home, and the plants can capture flying debris. If planted lower than your home, they can also capture water and give the rain a place to drain.
The protective power of a windbreak all depends on the selection of the plant layers you choose, as well as the density. Plant selection is a vital step in determining the strength of your windbreak. Choose flexible plants with deep taproot systems that perform well in your area.
First, determine the type of windbreak you’d like and your purpose for that windbreak. The more you plan, the better your chances of creating an effective protective layer for your home.
Plant your windbreak 40 to 100 feet away from your house so the root systems won’t interfere with your foundation or plumbing.
Next, decide how dense you’d like your windbreak to be. Plant wind-resistant native trees with solid central leaders as your tallest layer, or upper canopy. Then, plant smaller wind-resistant trees in your lower canopy layer. Your next layer is your shrub layer. Choose dense shrubs that don’t require a lot of maintenance or trimming.
Always research the maximum full height and width each plant species is expected to reach, and allow them to grow to that size, making sure to plant them in the right layer. Taller trees in the back, shorter trees next, and then shrubs. If you’re looking for an extra layer of protection, plant ground covers. Your aim is to mimic a natural forest. The layers, or “strata,” form a dense protection.
If possible, choose younger plants and let their roots develop naturally into strong, deep systems. Transplanting larger trees won’t create as strong a windbreak, because the roots won’t have had the chance to develop in place like those of younger transplants.
This doesn’t mean you need to have a wild forest surrounding your home. By following the natural size and growth patterns of the species you’ve chosen, you can create a gorgeous, protective wind barrier.
Your creativity can also come into play. Choose foliage native to your area, and take some time to research leaf shapes and colors, brittleness, growth speed, flowering and fruiting habits, full height, and width. Your local Master Gardeners or extension office can offer guidance.
With a well-designed windbreak, you’ll have additional protection from inclement weather. And during good weather, you can bask in the privacy and beauty Mother Nature will bring to your yard.
— Stephanie Montalvo
Better Rechargeable Batteries for Powering Electronic Devices
A lot of my devices are powered by batteries. Which rechargeable options should I use to reduce waste?
About 3 billion batteries are thrown away every year in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with the majority of them ending up in landfills. Single-use alkaline batteries account for about 86,000 tons of waste every year. I’ve used various nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries with mixed success for years, but I find that they can take a long time to recharge when depleted.
At the Consumer Electronics Show held every January in Las Vegas, my tech-savvy son Liam Kivirist and I have found a number of companies addressing the need for battery power for the electronics we now use and rely upon on a daily basis, but without adding to the growing electronic waste problem. Here are two options we’ve tested and have found to work well.
Pale Blue USB Rechargeable Smart Batteries. Coming in both AA and AAA size, these lithium batteries can be reused about 1,000 times, and they have a recharge time of only 1 to 2 hours, much faster than traditional rechargeable batteries. They have an on-board charging and safety circuit, so we can recharge anywhere with the micro USB cable that’s included. The batteries can be topped off at any time. A built-in LED indicator lets us know when the battery is done charging.
We use them in our security cameras for daily photos and to keep us abreast of our home temperature when we’re away. They last the entire time we’re away without one recharge. When used in an LED flashlight, the light is much brighter. The batteries also hold their charge better when not in use, another benefit of the lithium chemistry and smart circuitry. According to Pale Blue, one of these batteries can replace up to 1,000 alkaline single-use batteries.
GP ReCyko Rechargeable Batteries. These batteries are an NiMH-based option for AA and AAA size batteries, and connect to their charger with a USB-to-micro-USB cable, which you can buy as a set. These batteries can be recharged about 1,000 times. They do, however, take longer to charge, about eight hours.
Recycling batteries. When it comes time to recycle our rechargeable batteries, we’ll be contacting Call2Recycle, North America’s first and largest battery stewardship program for recycling batteries, especially rechargeable batteries. According to Call2Recycle, there is currently no national stewardship solution to allow for free recycling of single-use alkaline batteries, except in Vermont.
So, we’ll continue to avoid single-use alkaline batteries. Reusing rechargeable batteries and eventually recycling them seems to be the wiser solution to meet our power needs.
— John D. Ivanko
Grow Your Own Kombucha SCOBY Recipe
Photo by Adobe Stock/Olga
I often buy pricey kombucha from the store. Can I use one of the store-bought bottles to make my own?
Kombucha has been around a long time, but it’s recently become a household name — and gotten expensive. Luckily, you can make your own from store-bought versions. Here’s how I grow a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), or “mother.”
- 1 cup water
- 1 tea bag
- 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
- Bottle of “raw” (nothing added, such as flavoring) kombucha tea
- Quart glass canning jar
- Cheesecloth or muslin, and rubber band, string, or canning ring to secure
- A traditional kombucha is made of black tea and sugar. Make 1 cup black tea. Dissolve 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar in tea while hot. Cool to room temperature. This mixture will “feed” the culture from your bottled product.
- Add about 1 cup “raw” kombucha to the glass canning jar. Then, add the cool tea.
- Cover the jar with cheesecloth or muslin. Use a rubber band to secure, or just screw on a canning ring.
- Put the tea in a warm spot, 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, to ferment. Some will say to place in a cabinet; I wouldn’t advise this. If the culture doesn’t get enough airflow, you might get a SCOBY that won’t grow as effectively. I put my jar on the kitchen counter, away from sunlight. Don’t place it near ripening fruit or another type of fermentation project. You don’t want cross-contamination.
- You should see the beginning of a small SCOBY in 3 to 7 days. It could take up to 2 weeks to develop a large enough SCOBY to start your own tea. The SCOBY should be about 1/4 inch thick to begin.
- You now have a traditional kombucha SCOBY to brew kombucha tea.
Make Kombucha Tea Recipe
- 3 cups boiling water
- 2 tea bags
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Quart glass canning jar
- 1/2 cup “starter” tea you grew your SCOBY in
- Cheesecloth or muslin, and rubber band, string, or canning ring to secure
- Flavoring, such as juice or fruit, optional
- Combine 3 cups boiling water, tea bags, and sugar. Dissolve sugar, let cool, and strain. (Remember, you’re dealing with bacteria and yeast; hot water will kill your yeast culture.)
- When cool, add tea and 1/2 cup “starter” tea to new glass jar.
- Carefully remove SCOBY from starter jar and place on top of tea in new jar.
- Cover jar with cheesecloth or muslin. Use a rubber band to secure, or just screw on a canning ring.
- Place in a dark, dry place with a temperature around 70 to 85 degrees.
- Let kombucha tea ferment for about 3 to 5 days. Look for carbonation. I start checking the taste at 3 days. Because of fluctuating temperatures, the sugars can break down at varying rates, and you can have “vinegar” before you know it. At this point, it’s all about your preference for flavor and pH. Usually, 3 to 7 days gives me a good batch. I check my tea’s pH with pH paper that I have on hand from cheesemaking. Look for a pH of 3.5 to 4.0; I prefer mine on the sweeter end, closer to 4.0.
- When kombucha tastes the way you want, either bottle it and put it in the refrigerator, or add flavoring and do a second fermentation.
Note: Reserve 1/2 cup unflavored tea to start a new batch of kombucha with your SCOBY. Over time, you’ll notice your SCOBY growing new layers. You can separate the new layers into SCOBYS to use in separate batches or to give to someone to start their own kombucha. They’ll separate easily from the old SCOBY, but make sure each is at least 1/4 inch thick.
You can do a second fermentation to add flavor and fizz to your kombucha.
- Bottle kombucha and add your favorite juice or fruit.
- Close off bottle with lid and let sit for 1 to 3 days.
- Watch closely, because this will cause more carbonation! Usually 2 days is enough.
- Refrigerate and enjoy.
— Susan Tipton-Fox
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