November might be a strong contender for the dreariest month of the year, but it also can be one of the busiest, especially for us procrastinators who put off fall chores until the last minute.
For many of us it’s a race against time to get everything ready before all the leaves fall or the first hard freeze arrives. My wife Diane finished getting all the plants inside last week, just in time for the cold spell. This included bringing in an overgrown corn plant that we keep on our back porch. This plant grew so tall that we had to cut off the top this year.
We took turns carrying another heavy plant up our back stairs. I took one step at a time on my turn, while Diane showed off and ran up several steps on her turn. Next spring, we will be struggling to carry it down the stairs again. If it keeps growing, however, sooner or later something will have to give.
It’s like the ancient Greek story of the famous Olympic wrestler Milo of Croton. Although historians are skeptical, Milo was said to have developed his great strength by lifting and carrying a newborn calf and repeating the feat daily, until it grew into a large bull. I suspect that carrying a heavy plant up the stairs each year, as it grows larger, won’t make me stronger, but it might very well give me a herniated disk.
One of my fall jobs is to call the furnace company to arrange for them to service the heating system. I was surprised when they said that since they were here in the spring, they didn’t need to come back until next spring. When we had an oil furnace, the service man always came in the fall. Without fail, he cleaned the unit, installed a new nozzle, and scolded me about not changing the filter regularly. Once he told me that if the furnace stopped running, I could press the red reset button once, and only once, to try to restart it. He said pressing the button more than that would risk igniting an explosion. I gave a serious look and nodded. I did not tell him that the furnace had already stopped and that I had smacked that red button dozens of times, sort of like I was playing Whac-A-Mole. I didn’t say anything because I was afraid he might stop coming, figuring that I couldn’t be trusted. Evidently it was just dumb luck that I hadn’t blown up the whole family.
Along with heating vents, ducts, and filters, this is also a good time of the year to have chimneys and fireplaces inspected and cleaned. One of our neighbors had a chimney fire one autumn that did extensive damage. We had birds nest in our chimney, so it’s important to get it checked out occasionally.
Ensuring that all safety equipment is operating properly before winter comes, is another important autumn chore. Portland Do-It-Yourself blogger Rachel Jacks says that the fall is a great time to routinely check “smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers.”
Many folks spend a lot of time caring for their lawns and gardens this time of year. We tried working on some bare spots on our lawn last fall, with some success. The hot dry weather this summer, however, set us back. Among other tasks, people usually divide and plant spring bulbs like tulips, crocus and daffodils at this time of year and often prune trees and shrubs.
Fall seasonal chores often involve protecting things that the cold weather might damage, like hoses, patio furniture, umbrellas and cushions. We store porch furniture in the garage and keep cushions in large plastic garbage bags over the winter. I got some Velcro straps last year to help organize hoses after they’re drained and taken inside until spring. My father was a fireman and was expert at coiling a hose. I, however, never quite got the hang of it and my wound-up hoses look like Medusa, full of kinks and tangles. The Velcro helps a little.
This also is the time of the year that my father always took down the screens and put up storm windows. This job requires a lot of strength to set the heavy storm windows in place. Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart says that installing storm windows has “a lot of benefits, they provide added insulation and more protection to the existing windows and doors. They also offer more security for the home.”
I find it rather odd that my father and Martha Stewart agree on something. Of course, Martha had her own approach to this job. She said, “ My housekeeping and outdoor grounds crews try to get a good head start with this project every year because there are so many to change...”
My father’s housekeeping and grounds crew consisted of my older brother and me.
This is also the time to install weather stripping and insulate water heaters and pipes that are exposed to cold temperatures. Whether it’s a cabin, boat, trailer, or swimming pool, winterizing usually involves trying to make sure that any water is drained out or antifreeze is added, to prevent burst pipes or water expansion damage from the freezing weather.
After the leaves have all fallen and the trees are finally barren, home improvement experts say that is the best time to clean gutters. If downspouts get clogged, melting water from ice and snow can’t drain properly and may expand when it refreezes, bursting gutters open. Also heavy ice can build up and that weight can pull the gutters off the roof. This can be a dangerous job and may require professional help, depending on your house.
Finally, if you notice this fall that you never got around to taking down some Christmas lights from last year, just consider yourself ahead of the game.