Leave the leaves

Contributed by Priscilla Williams, President, Pumpkin Brook Organic Gardening

Every autumn in New England we get to witness a spectacular show when the leaves turn to bright oranges, reds and yellows. But soon enough the show ends, the leaves begin to fall and what remains is a bounty of nature’s very own mulch. Rather than bagging and hauling away this resource, consider the many benefits of shredding the leaves so that they can be used as leaf mulch, right on site.

Using leaf mulch on your property offers several benefits:

  • Cuts down on need for watering
  • Recycles local leaves
  • Controls soil erosion and retains soil moisture
  • Regulates soil temperatures
  • Reduces weeds
  • Mitigates drought stress
  • Adds nutrients and improves soil structure while adding beneficial fungi and microorganisms

Leaf mulch can be thought of as compost waiting to happen. Have you ever been out in the middle of the woods and observed the soil? It’s a rich brown color with a great earthy smell. It’s teeming with beneficial microorganisms and organic matter. This soil is created year after year by decomposed leaves. Fallen leaves contain 50-80% of the nutrients taken from the soil and air during the growing season. As the leaves decompose, those nutrients are released back into the soil and made available to plants. Shredding leaves speeds up the decomposition process and creates uniform, aesthetically pleasing mulch.

Leaf mulch can also be stored to later be used as necessary carbon-rich “browns” balancing out the compost pile. Brown materials can be hard to come by in summer when so many nitrogen- rich “greens” are abundant from weeding and deadheading. If you’ve planned ahead and stored a few garbage bags of leaves in your garage over the winter, you won’t have any problem making an ideal compost come summer.

This fall, consider leaf mulching as an option during a fall cleanup. For example, our company can use a commercial grade leaf shredder, or you can use your own mower to shred a shallow pile of leaves. Leave the results right on your lawn as a natural fertilizer, or put the shredded leaves right back onto your garden beds and reap the benefits!

Or, even easier, don’t bother with shredding leaves. Simply leave a 3-4” layer of leaves on garden beds to protect perennials, shrubs and trees over winter. “Bald” or bare soil in the beds, with every scrap of mulch blown away and all leaves removed, can lead to plant losses in harsh winters with widely fluctuating temperatures. Clean up more thoroughly in the spring.

Six quick ways to beat procrastination

“Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today” Thomas Jefferson

You may already have great plans to reduce your own energy usage. Many of you committed to take actions at the Fair. Don’t let this critically important stuff slide off your to-do list.  Here is a no-fail action plan to GET IT DONE!

  1. Go over the actions you decided on at the Fair. If you’d like to view your own personal Points Calculator Sheet from the Fair, please reference the email sent you by in early March or click here to be sent a copy .
  2. Call now to get a free assessment of your heat pump, your heat pump hot water heater or your home’s weatherization and overall energy efficiency. Make an appointment with the company that you spoke with at the Fair, or contact us for recommendations of providers who can help.
  3. Write a fresh to-do list at the beginning of each week, keep it visible, highlight your Cooler Concord commitments!
  4. Set regular weekly reminders on your phone…nag yourself into action!
  5. Reward yourself when you get something done (“I’ll make that appointment for a Home Energy Audit, then go for a bike ride.”)
  6. Put your feet up and thank yourself for a job well done.

Interview: Lindsay Kafka on how and why they went solar

Bravo to those of you who have energy saving actions in the works!

The Kafkas’ Solar PV Array

We know there are lots of you out there. One such Concord family is the Kafkas. The Kafkas recently chose to take advantage of the federal and state tax credits and CMLP rebate and install solar panels on their family home.  Installing solar panels makes sense both financially and environmentally. Check out this short interview with Concord resident, Lindsay Kafka, how and why her family chose to take advantage of the excellent financial incentives available and install solar panels on their family home.

Cooler Concord: What are your reasons for switching to solar energy?

Lindsay: We want to reduce our carbon footprint and be part of the transition to renewable energy. We happen to have a perfect “solar south” roof on our house as well, so we just want to capitalize on that.  

Cooler Concord: What do you anticipate will be the benefits/savings to your family?

Lindsay:  I think the benefits will be in a reduced electricity bill, but also indirect benefits such as feeling we are taking a big step in the direction of supporting the transition of our economy to renewable energy.

Cooler Concord: What size is your system (in kW AC)?

Lindsay: 11.1 kW

Cooler Concord: Roughly how much sun does your house receive daily? (in hours)

Lindsay: On a sunny day, the part of our house where the panels will be gets a solid 8 hours (or more in the summer) of sun.

Cooler Concord: Which installer will you use and how long will installation take? 

Lindsay: We are using Direct Energy Solar.  The installation itself will take 2 days, once fully permitted etc.

Cooler Concord: What rebate will you receive from CMLP? How long do you think it will be before the installation cost (to you) is paid off and you are essentially receiving free power?

Lindsay: We expect to receive a $3,125 rebate from CMLP.  We are financing the system, so we will immediately begin receiving about $143 worth of electricity each month for a $109 monthly payment. However, if we pay that off and buy the system outright, it will pay for itself between years 6 and 7.

Video: Installation of solar array in Concord

See the entire installation of a 14.6 KW solar array in Concord in a 90 second video.  Made by Jeremy Richmon for the system installed on their home.  The system uses 305 watt black LG panels with Enphase IQ6 Microinverters.  The Richmons compared 16 installer quotes and ended up with a nice low price of $3.19 per watt installed.

Video: Get Your Home Weatherized

Carl Anderson tells of the energy saved by weatherizing his home, in this video produced for Cooler Concord by CCHS film student Tommy Ng, directed by Will Meehan for Mr. Gooder’s film class.

Video: Heat Pumps in Concord

Gordon Brockway, Fran Cummings and Joe Milando tell of their super-efficient heating systems in this short video, produced by CCHS students Poppy Frost, Quinn Caffrey and Andre Pohl.

Our new heat pump

Last week we had a Carrier Infinity heat pump installed in our home, which replaced the 20 year old central A/C unit.  We got several options quoted to us by several installers, and chose the Carrier since it was the highest efficiency, with an HSPF of 13.  It was installed by Muirfield Mechanical, who did a nice job.  The compressor (shown in the picture) fit where the A/C unit was, though it is taller but pretty quiet when it is running.  The indoor unit also fit in the closet where the old air handler was, so the installation was straightforward.  The controller which replaced the thermostat connects to wi-fi so we can control the system remotely, and it can switch between the heat pump and the natural gas boiler when the temperature gets low.  For testing we set it to “heat pump only” and it heated the house just fine when it got to be as low as 17F the other night, which we were happy to see.  We hope the heat pump will lower our gas use by 60-80% in a typical winter, time will tell.