Although we often enjoy our nicest weather in October, winter is just around the corner, and if we’re lucky, we’ll see some rain before the end of the month. Our climate is generally mild year-round, but when the mercury tips one way or the other, we find ourselves unprepared, so now is the time to prepare your home and garden for winter.
IN THE GARDEN
When heavy rains falls, they compact bare soil and wash away nutrients, leaching them farther into the ground than most plant roots grow. Try these simple gardening practices to protect soil during the rainy winter season. Your work now will benefit both soil and plants for seasons to come.
Mulch: Mulch all bare ground with about three inches of organic mulch, either straw or wood chips. Organic matter protects soil from pounding winter rains, suppresses seed growth, and adds organic matter and nutrients to your soil as it decomposes.
Soil amendment: Add compost to the soil around your perennial plants. Pull back mulch and sprinkle an inch or so of compost around the perennial (not against the stem), concentrating on the drip line. Gently work compost into the top few inches of soil, and then mulch over the top. Nutrients in the compost will fortify your plants, making them ready for vigorous and healthy spring growth.
Food crops: In San Francisco, we are fortunate to be able to grow food crops all year long. If you choose to grow some produce this winter, good choices are carrots, beets, lettuce, cabbage, bunching onions, broccoli, spinach, chard, kale, collards, and radishes. To protect the soil, mulch the bare ground around crops (do not work into the soil).
AROUND THE HOUSE
Along with colder temperatures, home heating costs have soared in recent years. You can minimize your heating bill by following these suggestions.
Enjoy your fireplace: Nothing is cozier than curling up next to a warm, sparkling fire in a fireplace on a chilly Bay Area evening. Besides adding ambience, a fireplace can heat your home, allowing you to forego turning on the furnace or plugging in the space heaters.
Maintain your fireplace: Proper care and maintenance will allow you to enjoy the benefits of using your fireplace, not only safely, but also economically, so it is important to sweep your chimney before regular use of your fireplace this season. Every time you build a fire, tar and creosote (unburned wood particles and condensed flue gases) are formed. These highly flammable substances build up on the inside of the chimney and must be removed to prevent a chimney fire. Buy a chimney-sweeping log, which contains a mixture of minerals dispersed during burning that coat and adhere to the creosote and cause it to become brittle and break away. This is one the fastest, easiest, and most cost-efficient ways to clean your chimney. If your chimney hasn’t been used for a long time, hire a professional to inspect it and do the cleaning.
Insulate your windows: Window insulation kits allow you to easily install a clear film to seal out air drafts and create a dead air space between the film and the window surface. Just use a hair dryer to heat the film to shrink to fit your window.
Weather strip and caulk doors and windows: These are probably the least expensive, simplest, most effective ways to cut down on energy waste in the winter. Improperly sealed homes can waste 10 to 15 percent of your heat.
• Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weather stripping and caulk any holes you see that allow heat to escape. Make sure that doors seal properly.
• If your windows leak badly, consider replacing them with newer, more efficient ones. Replacing them can be expensive, however, so it could take time to recover the cost from energy savings alone. New windows also provide other benefits, though, like improved appearance and comfort.
• Every duct, wire, or pipe that penetrates a wall or ceiling or floor has the potential to waste energy.
• Plumbing vents can be especially bad because they begin below the floor and go all the way through the roof. Seal them all with weather stripping or caulking.
• Electric wall plugs and switches can allow cold air in. Install precut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plates and effectively prevent leaks.
Inspect your heating system: Get a routine maintenance and inspection of your heating system each autumn to make sure it is in good working order. Replace your heater’s air filter monthly.
Keep warm this winter!