Creating a cozy hearth for the family
Spring is here and we’ve started seedlings for our garden, placing them in our south facing bedroom window sills. The indoor air temperature of our home is now between 69 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit (20.5 and 24.4 Celsius), even when the temperature drops to 26 degrees F (-3.33 C) at night. Since March 11 we have left a few windows open a crack and during the day when it gets warmer we open some of them further. Our electric bill for February was a whopping $11 -- $8 of which were service fees! The bill was much lower than we expected, especially for February in Wisconsin in our furnace free home. Our home is all electric, so that bill includes the energy consumed for heating our water, turning on lights, cooking, watching Netlfix, listening to the radio and working from home. Our 2,250 Watt PV (Photovoltaic Solar) system is a relatively small system to offset our electrical usage. The solar hot water system is also working better than anticipated. Today for example I did a load of laundry using hot water just because I could. Before moving into this home I mostly washed my clothes in cold water to conserve energy.
Back to planting. It’s so much fun to design the landscape plan, especially having a blank canvas and knowing we’re going to live here for a while. Our goal is to create an edible, artful landscape with an emphasis on regional plants. My sister, Astrid Newenhouse helped me pick the varieties and narrow down my choices to meet my goals. She’s a horticulturist with the University of Wisconsin and on the board of Madison’s Healthy Lawn Team and has been digging in dirt her whole life. She has written extension publications for small market growers just as my grandfather wrote extension books for orchard growers in Holland. Our parents grew and canned most of our food when we were little and at the time I reluctantly helped them weed and water. Now I long to garden. How does that happen? Maybe it’s in my genes or maybe they lead by example. My husband Cecil grew up on a farm in North East Ohio and was more enthusiastic in helping his parents with chores. He’s looking forward to producing food and cooking with fresh ingredients.
The window sills in NewenHouse are perfect to start seeds. They are 17 inches deep and fit the planting trays just right. We turn the trays and water them once a day with an aluminum can that our housemate Bjorn punctured holes in using a leather needle. To water the seedlings, we fill a canning jar with water, then pour that water holding the can in our other hand and quickly moving the can over the trays. This way the seeds are sprinkled. Of course you can buy a watering can that sprinkles rather than pours or a little spray bottle. We’re hoping the eaves of our house don’t block the sun to much in the middle of the day. Thus far almost all of the seedlings have germinated. Bjorn started the seedling project as part of his New Years resolution and I quickly was motivated to join him and started seedlings too. I planted purple basil, red cabbage, hot peppers, cucumbers, tomatos, dill, and parsley. The seeds are organic -- from two sources, Seed Savors Exhange in Iowa and High Mowing Organic Seeds. To protect our upstairs wood window sills we placed the trays on plastic garbage bags over towels. Last fall we prepped the future planting beds and garden with dried horse and alpaca manure and then planted winter rye as a cover crop.
This past week we hosted 15 visitors from the Energy District of Decorah Iowa. We needed to turn on the HRV to full capacity (level 3) and open some windows as the temperature rose in the home. Thanks to Eric Sievers for organizing the tour.
Cathy and Scott Tyink read about the house and decided to visit us. They felt right at home on our swing. Visit them at The Wine Guyz in La Crosse WI, which they own with friends.
We hope you’ll consider joining us for an Earth Day NewenHouse OpenHouse, on Sunday April 22 from noon-4pm. We’ll serve chocolate cake from the Viroqua Food Coop (where Bjorn works), Kickapoo Coffee and have the benefit of listening to our neighbor Caroline Carlson, a high school senior, play cello between tours of the home. Our May NewenHouse Tea and Tours will be Saturday May 26th at 3pm to 5pm. Call me at (608) 220-8029 or email if you’d like to visit another time.