December utility bill, snow, snow, snow, and animal husbandry in a frozen tundra

December electricity and gas usage

December electricity and gas usage

Our December utility bill (covering mid November to mid December) shows our best energy reduction results so far. Our daily average K HW usage for electricity was down 17%.  Our daily average THRM usage for natural gas was down 34%.  There are two primary reasons for the latter in particular: 1.  The average daily temperature was 5 degrees warmer compared to last year, meaning the furnace didn’t have to work as hard, and 2. We’ve been really good at keeping our thermostat set to 68 degrees.

Our next energy bill will likely not be so positive.  About a week ago, our mild fall weather abruptly turned to cold winter weather, a level and duration of cold not seen in the Puget Sound area for many years.  In fact, prior to this weather system, we hadn’t even had a simple frost at my house this fall. Now, not only is it cold, we have more snow than I can ever remember having in the area. Right now, we have a good 12 inches on the ground. And it is snowing again.  I’ve been following the Cliff Mass weather blog to try to keep up with what will happen.
Greenhouse lettuce in December

Greenhouse lettuce in December

Out in the greenhouse, temperatures have dropped significantly.  While it typically stays 10 – 15 degrees warmer inside than outside (sometimes requiring a small propane heater), that’s not saying a lot when the low temperate of the day is 8 degrees.  A few days ago we moved our lime tree inside the house because it isn’t exactly a plant that can handle sub-20 degree temperatures.  Today I did the same for the lemon tree.  Pretty much everything in the greenhouse that was growing (pepper plant, pea pods, broccoli and cabbage plants) is now kaput, except for the lettuce.  A few weeks ago, I put a floating row cover over the lettuce bed. When I pulled it back today to see how the lettuce has weathered the cold, definitely sub-freezing temperatures, I was pleasantly surprised that it looks fine. 

The other interesting challenge of such cold weather is taking care of the chickens and goats. And the biggest challenge by far is how quickly their water freezes over.  Giving the goats access to water requires boiling water and a hammer.  We bang through the layer of ice and then pour in boiling water.  Of course, this needs to be repeated later in the day.  We’ve also started taking the chicken water into the garage at night so that it doesn’t completely freeze. We take it back out in the morning when we let them out of their coop.  Later in the day, we have to go back out with boiling water and thaw it out again.  Luckily, the weather doesn’t seem to be bothering the chickens too much.  When I researched chicken breeds, I specifically looked for cold-hardy birds that would lay well in the winter.  They appear to be doing both.  We are consistently getting 2 – 3 eggs from them even on cold days.

Stay warm!


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4 Responses to December utility bill, snow, snow, snow, and animal husbandry in a frozen tundra

  1. DoubleD says:

    The lettuce looks great Sandy! It’s amazing what the double insulation of a floating row cover inside of an unheated greenhouse can do. I am going to plant out my chinese cabbage and kale seedlings in about a week (weather is supposed to be NOT so bitter cold by then) in the unheated greenhouse and I am going to toss a floating row cover on as well just to give them some extra protection as they get settled into the new containers.

    Excellent work on your energy reduction – truly an inspiration.

  2. sinfonian2 says:

    Ditto on what DoubleD said. I am afraid to unburry my hoop covers to take a look inside at the produce. I hope it thaws to be edible.

    Great work on your conservation, I haven’t been paying attention, but with all the money and work we spent to make our home more efficient, I would hope it’s helped. Of course we’re keeping our home at 70 for the kids and stay-at-home mom…

  3. Dan says:

    Do you ever follow the tiny farm blog? They have chickens and have had all kinds of photos up of the chicken partaking in all the snow we have received over the last few weeks.

    Your lettuce looks great and the row cover is a really good idea. I have been reading Four Seasons Harvest and he talks about cold frames within cold frames which is basically the same thing you are doing.

  4. You know what happens to bell peppers when they hit 18 degrees? The cells inside the skin all pop due to ice crystals and you end up with something akin to a mostly-deflated water balloon. Luckily, they still taste OK, but you have to eat them quickly as they are technically dead at that point. Fine in curry – not so great as crudites (don’t know how to put the accent over the ‘e’ – sorry).

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