Friday, September 16, 2011

Preserving Summer: Canning Blackberry Jam

Thank you to my friend Celina for sharing her family blackberry patch!

We tried a new blackberry recipe this year: blackberry-port jam. It came from Better Homes & Gardens Canning Cookbook (August 2011).

4 cups blackberries
5 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup vintage port (we used Sandeman)
1/4 teaspoon groiund cloves

Gently crush berries in a cookpot while heating. After crushing slowly add sugar so it dissolves. When all sugar has been added, then add the port and cloves. Bring to a full rolling boil (stiffing constantly) and continue heating until the mixture sheets off a metal spool. Leave 1/4" headspace in canning jars.
Makes 5 half pint jars.

Some beautiful Maine blackberries
Just thick enough to sheet
We use the boiling water bath method
Bert is carefully filling the jars

Jars are filled and boiling

The finished product: blackberry jam to enjoy for the whole year

Our final product! Blackberry jam to enjoy all year.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Great deal on the GeoSpring water heater

I just saw this today.

Lowe's has discounted the GeoSpring water heathers.$600_off_water_heater

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Follow-up on Air-source Water Heater

As a follow-up to my post from last October (, I am providing an update on my experience with the GeoSpring water heater.

The air-source heat pump is working great.  I haven't purchased oil since February 16, and since last May (May 2010) we used only 370.1 gallons of oil. That is a 28% savings (370 gallons vs 517 gallons [average from previous 2 years]). I realize that not all of that is due to the GeoSpring-- we did a lot of air sealing in 2010. But, my boiler has been off since May 15, 2011.

How has this impacted electricity use? That was my biggest question, too.

Here are my results of my electricity consumption for 2011, 2010, and 2009 (in KWH/day):

Month 2011 2010 2009

May 17 18 17
June 19 21 18
July 18 26 20

Do you see a difference? Neither do I!

I think this may be due to replacing the dehumidifier with the GeoSpring (which cools and dehumidifies while it heats the water).Same number of people in my house. Still taking hot showers.

I think this is wonderful. Since I typically used around half a tank of oil each summer (May to October), I am saving around $340/year (100 gallons * 3.40/gallon). The GeoSpring cost me around $2500 (for unit, installation and less state rebate). The ROI is 7 years, assuming oil prices stay level (something I very much doubt). I can live with that. Realize that we had to have a lot of electrical work to accommodate the installation-- your ROI may be lower!

I see this as a very successful energy saving investment. I hope more people consider this as an option.



Sunday, July 3, 2011

Update on Doggie Dumpster

I've gotten a lot of responses to my Doggie Dumpster post. It has been about year and some of findings and expectations are surprises. Here is a summary of my communication and what I've learned:

1. I thought the doggie dumpster would fill up really quickly. It didn't and I haven't had to move it. I attribute this to at least 2 factors. First, my town put a garbage can at the end of the trail (more people are cleaning up after their pets and using the trash can)-- so I am putting in less waste than I expected. I have an addition once a week or less frequently in Spring and Summer and maybe once every few weeks in the winter (we had a lot of snow cover this year so dogs were walked in the street). Also, while the dumpster filled over the winter, it shrank (and continues to shrink) again when the weather warmed up. I put another half pound of worms in the doggie dumpster in early May. I think the material is draining away into my subsoil. I am on sandy soil, so this is my best guess. If I were on clay, I suspect I would have had to move the doggie dumpster by now.

2. You could use the doggie dumpster for cat waste, but I can think  of at least 2 cautions. Cat waste can harbor pathogens that are hazardous to pregnant women. Also, the clay that is commonly used for cat litter can quickly dry out a worm bin. I learned there are other materials, such as corn cob litter. These may be better alternatives if you plan to compost cat waste. 

3. I've had some lively discussions about harvesting compost from the dumpster for use in planting beds, and I agree that you could do it if you were really careful. However, I maintain my general recommendation that the material in the dumpster should remain in the dumpster and that the dumpster be moved when (if?) it fills up. I just don't think it is worth the risk-- better to put your doggie dumpster in your perennial bed or orchard.

4. Other critters. All kinds of insects and bugs are commonly in my doggie dumpster. Last summer a large spider spun a web across the inside of the dumpster lid. I commonly see sow bugs in there also.  I also have some evidence of a larger animal (?) chewing on my cover. I don't know what it was (mouse, chipmunk, squirrel) but some animal chewed on the lid in January. I saw no evidence that they dug in the pile, but who knows. I keep the lid closed and I have not found it open.

5. I've been putting sawdust (winter) and compost  from my outdoor pile (the rest of the year) in to cover the additions of dog waste. My outdoor pile froze and I elected to put sawdust in to cover the winter additions when I could not access my compost. This seemed to be OK, but I didn't make a lot of additions this winter. Sawdust has a high carbon to nitrogen ratio. To have efficient composting you would have to balance that with a nitrogen-rich material (like grass clippings).



Monday, April 25, 2011

Integrated Pest Management

What is IPM?

I feel that I must set the record straight as to what IPM is, since there appears to be a lot of misleading information about IPM.

First, here is what IPM is NOT: it is NOT following a weed and feed regimen! People who tell you weed and feed is IPM are misled or trying to mislead you.

OK, so what is IPM?

1. IPM is working with nature to feed the soil. Healthy soil makes healthy plants that can defend themselves and recover from injury. Without healthy soil, the input of resources is required.

2. IPM is choosing the right plant for the use/area/microclimate/sun/water availability. IPM is working with nature not against it. You must understand a plant's needs and your area to select the plant(s) that will require the least input from you.

3. IPM means accepting some losses. Nothing is perfect and you’re not going to win every battle. Nature abhors a vacuum.

4. IPM means identifying the problem and understanding it. What are the pest’s strengths and weaknesses? Exploit the weaknesses and avoid its strengths. IPM requires monitoring—what is working and why? What is not working and why?

5. IPM is a holistic approach. Seeing your yard (garden, turf and perennial beds) as an entire system that can complement the defenses of one another. IPM is not monoculture! This is the whole companion planting concept, but on a larger scale. For example, providing habitat to attract and maintain pollinators for poorly performing orchards. Also, controlling run-off damage through rain gardens that also provide habitat for birds and beneficial insects to control pests. IPM is also looking at a plant’s needs and seeking other plants to satisfy those needs (clover in turf grass).

6. IPM does include synthetic pesticide control as a last fallback alternative. As described above, the synthetic control should be selected to target the pest's weaknesses when the pest is most susceptible. This is not prevention, it is remedial.

Over time, IPM will mean fewer inputs ($ and labor) on your part. When you have good soil and the right plants in place, you have created a system that works naturally.

I have a great example of IPM going on right now. My neighbor (traditional lawn care enthusiast) has a pretty extensive grub issue. No surprise given the overfeeding by the turf maintenance crew last year. Their lawn abuts mien and some of the damage encroaches a foot or two into my lawn. I have been monitoring it and this past weekend when I was overspreading my compost I checked it out. I've put milky spore down a few times in the past 5 years and have very few grubs in my lawn as a result. Milky spore is not like the Berlin wall. Grubs must eat the bacteria and then they die. I know this means they will eat the grass before they die. I'm OK with that. The grubs I dug up were milky white and so I'm going to keep and eye on it and repair it.



Friday, April 15, 2011

WormMainea Blog is now free of advertisements

You may have noticed that the blog is now free of advertisements.

For the past year, I have had a donations button and note on my website. I am surprised and delighted by the donations I have received to keep free of ads. Your generous donations have enabled me to make my blog ad free also.

I will soon have a redesigned site. Your generous donations have made all this possible.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!



Saturday, February 5, 2011

More on fungus gnats

Fungus gnats can be a problem in worm bins-- especially if you have seedlings growing nearby and the seed soil has fungus gnats.

I picked up this tip on controlling fungus gnats from Susan Littlefield's newsletter courtesy of the National Gardening Association (

"Foil Fungus Gnats
If fungus gnats are troubling you and your houseplants, allow the top couple of inches of potting soil to dry out between waterings. Fungus gnat larvae need moisture to survive; keeping the growing mix drier will decrease survival and make the mix less attractive to egg-laying females. Covering the surface of the growing mix with sand will make it less enticing to females as a place to lay eggs. You can also apply beneficial nematodes (Steinernematids or Neoaplectanids) to control larvae in the soil."

Hope this helps.



Monday, January 31, 2011

Evaluation of the DryerNet

In looking for energy efficiency products, sometimes I come across things that just make sense.
In our home in January we are spending money to head and humidify the air. We are also doing laundry, which involves drying clothes. Typically the dryer dumps warm wet air outdoors. Jim Atkinson ( has produced a product that permits you to keep this warm, humid air in your home. This seems perfect for the winter months here in Maine.

The dryer net is essentially a fabric bag that covers your dryer tube. The cover secures with an elastic band. This catches lint and permits you to vent your dryer indoors (see cautions and caveats below). You do have to keep the trap clean (we clean ours every 2-3 loads).
Dryer net in action in my basement.
Also, you have to disconnect your dryer vent tubing from your outdoor vent. I found it simpler to just buy another dryer vent tube and cover the already installed one to outdoors. The new tube was cut to exit the front of the dryer. Having 2 tubes will simplify things during the season change. As your can see in the photo, I found it better to use a box fan to move this air around (our dryer is located in the corner of the basement and want this warn, humid air up on the main floor).

We find that this heats up the basement and brings some warm air up to the main floor also. Because it is so dry at this time of year, we only get moisture on our basement windows.If we run the fan (which we always do now) that is gone within an hour of completing the dryer cycle.

Some limitations and warnings regarding using the Dryernet:
  Only use the Dryernet on electric dryers.
  Do not use the Dryernet in a confined space.

You can contact Jim at