Archive for August, 2011

Plumbing Tips for your home….

These plumbing tips will help you keep your pipes and home plumbing faucets and fixtures in good working order.

Turn Valves On and Off
Turn main water supply and fixture valves on and off periodically to make sure they don’t get stuck. You want to be sure you’re never in the position of not being able to turn your water supply off during an emergency or home plumbing repair.

Repair Leaking Faucets
Leaking faucets are not only a nuisance, they can also cause gallons of water to be wasted over time. Leaking faucets with washer fittings can be fixed by replacing the washer. Faucets without washers may require that you consult an installation manual or a specialist at a home plumbing store.

Inspect Your Septic Tank Periodically
This plumbing tip requires that you check your septic tank every three to five years to determine the level of scum and solids on the surface of the tank. The tank should be cleaned if the level of scum exceeds one half of the depth of the water in the tank.

Inspect Pipes Annually
You should examine your distribution and drainage pipes for signs of leaks each year. You may find clues that your pipes are leaking along the length of the pipe or around fittings or fixtures. Signs of leaks may include rust, corrosion, and mineral deposits.

You’ll also want to check the insulation of your hot water pipes periodically and replace any open or damaged areas of insulation. Another plumbing tip includes replacing aerators on faucets several times each year.

These plumbing tips will put you on your way to maintaining your home’s plumbing for years to come.

Late Summer Projects

We all know the philosophy, whether via the Bible or the Byrds: To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose.

It’s just common sense — and good dollars and cents — that this is not the season to accomplish certain things around the house. When the temperature is tickling 100, it’s not the time to plant trees and shrubs, unless you’re really into pulling up dead flora and spending money to replace it.

But there are quite a few projects — do-it-yourself or do-it-by-hire — that can be accomplished in air-conditioned indoor comfort or outside in the early morning or early evening, when the sun is less than blazing hot. Consider this your summertime punch list.

Always shop carefully until you find the product and price that make you happy, and pay attention to product warranties and service guarantees.

 

Mulch the garden. Mulching helps stabilize soil temperatures and prevents weeds from taking over. It also holds in moisture.

Two-cubic-foot bags of mulch range from $4 to $9 at most home-and-garden centers, depending on what you buy — cedar bark, orchid moss, hardwood or non-organic rubber.

 

Install a lawn sprinkler. Because fall is the best time to plant new or restore grass, and a sprinkler system will make sure it survives.

 

Do some hardscaping. That is, lay down bricks or concrete pavers to build a patio or accent a garden.

Doing it yourself will save labor costs, of course. If you want to hire a professional, though, a per-square-foot range of $8 to $12 for basic stamped concrete, $10 to $20 for concrete pavers, about $7.50 for brick, and $15 to $30 for stone.

      

 

Paint the place, part one. You can do exterior house painting on warm and humid days, working around the peak of the heat, following the shade and doing a lot of prep work.

At this time of year, “the biggest problem is the paint drying too fast and not forming a continuous solid film, which can impact the overall performance — or lifespan — of the paint job

In addition, if the surface or substrate is too hot, it can cause “wrinkling” of the paint film — paint on the top dries quicker than the bottom of the film —- or paint blisters form, which may later lead to peeling.

 

Paint the place, part two. Better to head inside to paint a room or two.

Interior painting, especially if your house is air-conditioned, is less challenging in this kind of weather. The air-conditioning not only helps avoid heat-related issues by removing humidity from the air; it also disperses fumes from the paint.

Using paint with low or no volatile organic compounds will prevent fumes, too.

       

 

Replace a door. A new front door drives home values up, new fiberglass doors are attractive and energy-efficient – four times more than wood.

  

 

Install a programmable thermostat. Buying an Energy Star-rated model costs as little as $25, and it can cut energy expenses 10 percent.

 

 

Clean house. It doesn’t cost a lot of money, and will enhance the look of your abode, if not the value of it.

 

Tips for Harvesting

Allow plenty of time. You’ll need time to pick as well as to put food in the fridge or prepare it for dinner.

Be strategic. Pick either the ingredients for tonight’s meal or a large single harvest for preserving. Then you won’t be faced with two jobs after you’ve brought the produce inside. Helpful tools include durable scissors, a small serrated knife and a basket with a handle.

Keep it cool. Produce wilts quickly after it is picked, so harvest during the cool part of the day – early morning or late evening. Set up a processing bench outside to sort and clean vegetables. Keep produce fresh by propping cut stems in water.

Get ready. What will you do with produce after it lands in your kitchen? Harvest smaller amounts, more frequently, so everything fits in the fridge and can be eaten at the peak of freshness. Have a supply of plastic bags for storing leafy greens, cucumbers, beans, peas, and anything that wilts quickly after picking.

Stagger your plantings. If you are inundated by too much lettuce or summer squash, it may be an indication that you’ve planted more than your family can consume. Plant just a few seeds every three or four weeks in succession so that the greens never stop coming and you can keep up!

Extend the harvest. City farmers preserve bumper crops by dehydrating, freezing, pickling, and canning. Not all methods work well for all produce so match the preservation technique to the food. Learn about various food preservation techniques by taking a class.

Give it away. Many people in our community have little or no access to fresh produce. They would love extras from your garden. Area food banks will gladly accept donations of fresh, high quality produce. Check with your local food bank about particulars.

Harvesting your garden

Use these guidelines to tell when to harvest your garden vegetables.  Common garden vegetables (and a couple of fruits) are listed alphabetically.
 

Asparagus Begin harvesting the third year after planting. Harvest when the spears are 6 to 10 inches above the ground but before the heads open. Cut or snap spears off at the soil line. Stop harvesting if spears show a marked decrease in size. Maximum harvest period is 6 to 8 weeks
Bean, Snap Bean Harvest before pods are full sized and when seeds are tender and about one-fourth developed. Harvesting usually begins 2 to 3 weeks after first bloom. Don’t allow beans to mature on plants or bean production will decrease.
Bean, lima, broad Harvest when pods are fully developed and seeds are green and tender.
Beet Harvest when roots are 1 1/4 to 2 inches in diameter. Some cultivars may maintain quality in larger sizes.
Broccoli Harvest when flower head is fully developed, but before the flowers begin to open. Cut 6 to 7 inches below the flower head. Side heads will develop after the main head is cut.
Brussels sprouts  Harvest the lower sprouts (small heads) when they are about 1 to 1-½ inches in diameter by twisting them off. Lower leaves along the stem may be removed to hasten maturity.
Cabbage Harvest when heads are solid, but before they split. On early cabbage, cut just beneath the solid head. Small lateral heads will develop from buds in the axils of the older leaves.
Carrot Harvest when ¾ to 1 inch in diameter or smaller when thinning. For storage, leave carrots in soil until a light frost occurs. Use care when harvesting, since bruising favors the development of soft rot during storage.
Cauliflower Cover curds when they are 2 to 3 inches in diameter by tying the outer leaves loosely about the head, or using leaves from other plants in the garden. Check for developing curds every 2 to 3 days, and retie if further development is necessary. Harvest when the heads are full sized but still white and smooth.
Celery Harvest when plants are 10 to 12 inches tall.
Cucumber Proper harvesting size is determined by product use. Pickles: Sweets are 1 1/2 to 2 inches long; dills are 3 to 4 inches long. Fresh slicing are 7 to 9 inches long and a bright dark green. Leave a short piece of stem on each fruit. Harvest daily and don’t allow fruit to mature.
Eggplant Harvest when fruit is firm and bright purple to black in color.
Jerusalem Artichoke Harvest tubers after a hard frost. Tubers can be stored in the ground over winter and harvested early in spring or, with mulch protection, during most of the winter.
Kohlrabi Harvest when the thickened stem is 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
Lettuce Harvest the older, outer leaves from leaf lettuce when they are 4 to 6 inches long. Harvest heading types when the heads are moderately firm and before seed stalks form.
Muskmelon Harvest when a crack appears completely around the base of the fruit stem. The fruit will readily separate from the stem.
Okra Harvest when 3 to 5 inches long and tender.
Onion Correct harvesting stage is determined by the type and product use. Harvest onions grown from sets when they are 6 to 9 inches tall for immediate table use. Onions grown from seed for fresh use should be harvested when the bulbs are 1/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Harvest seed grown onions for boiling when the bulbs are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Harvest for storage (seed or set grown) when the tops have weakened and fallen over and the bulbs are 2 or more inches in diameter. Harvest before hard frost.
Parsnip Harvest after a hard frost or in early spring before new growth starts. To harvest in spring, place a 3- to 5-inch soil mulch over the parsnips. Parsnips are not poisonous if harvested in early spring.
Pea Harvest when the pods are fully developed and still tender, and before seeds develop fully.
Edible Pod Pea Harvest when the pods are fully developed, but before seeds are more than one-half full size.
Peanut Harvest when plants turn yellow at season’s end or before the first early frost.
Pepper, green Harvest when fruits are full sized and firm.
Pepper, red Allow peppers to remain on the plant until they become completely red. This usually requires an additional 2 to 3 weeks.
Potato For storage, harvest when full sized with firm skins. Tubers continue to grow until the vine dies. For new potatoes, harvest at any early stage of development. This is usually when tubers are 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
Pumpkin Harvest pumpkins when they are fully colored and the skins have hardened enough to resist the fingernail test. Harvest before a killing frost.
Radishes Harvest when the roots are ½ to 1 ½ inches in diameter (Chinese radishes grow much larger). The shoulders of radish roots often appear through the soil surface when they are mature. If left in the ground too long, they will become tough and woody.
Rhubarb Do not harvest the first year after planting; harvest only a few stalks the second year. Established plantings can be harvested for approximately 8 weeks. The quality of the stalks decreases toward the end of the harvest period. Harvest only the largest and best stalks by grasping each stalk near the base and pulling slightly to one direction. Note: there is no evidence to show that stalks harvested from frost damaged plants are poisonous, so they should be considered safe to eat.
Rutabaga Harvest when the roots are full sized but before a heavy frost.
Soybean for fresh use, shell out just before pods begin to dry. For dried use, harvest when pods turn brown but before shattering occurs
Spinach Harvest by cutting all the leaves off at the base of the plant when they are 4 to 6 inches long. New leaves will grow, providing additional harvests.
Squash, summer type Harvest when fruit is young and tender. Your fingernail should easily penetrate the rind. Long-fruited cultivars, such as zucchini, are harvested when 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 4 to 8 inches long; scallops are taken when 3 to 4 inches long.
Squash, winter type Harvest when mature. The rind should be firm and glossy and not easily punctured by your thumbnail. The portion that contacts the soil is cream to orange when mature. Leave a portion of the vine (2 to 3 inches) attached to the fruit to help prevent storage rot. Harvest squash before a heavy frost.
Sweet corn Harvest when kernels are completely filled and in the milk stage. Use your thumbnail to determine this. The silks are dry and brown at this stage.
Sweet potato Harvest in late fall before the first early frost.
Tomato
 
For peak quality, harvest 5 to 8 days after fruits are fully colored. Tomatoes lose their firmness quickly if they are overripe.
Turnip Harvest when roots are 1 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter.
Watermelon Harvest when full sized. The portion in contact with the soil is cream to yellow when mature.

Growing lettuce

Lettuce is one of the most popular vegetables in culinary arts and is used in salads and several other dishes. Hence, wouldn’t it be great if you could simply harvest one from your own garden? This will ensure the freshness of the lettuce while also saving you cost from having to buy them from the grocer.

Varieties of Lettuce

There are four basic varieties of lettuce and it is important to recognize each one of them since it requires different growing conditions. Each one are listed and described briefly below:

   

*Butter head: This variety of lettuce possesses a creamy center to it. It also has a milder flavor as compared to other varieties but takes a lot more time to mature. This is the type of lettuce often used in making salads.

     

*Romaine: This variety comes with crunchy leaves and is characterized by its upright cluster of leaves. It takes between 70 to 85 days in order for this variety of lettuce to fully mature. Like the butter head, this is also popular ingredient for salads.

   

*Crisp head: This is another familiar variety and requires cool weather for growing. Of all varieties of lettuce, this one takes the most time to grow and requires specific conditions. You know when it’s ready if the outer leaves possess a yellowish green color.

    

*Leaf Lettuce: This one requires less restriction in order to grow fully well. Unlike the romaine lettuce, this one comes with loose bunches of leaves. It is most suitable in warm weather.

Soil Requirements

Summer is the best time to grow lettuce because of the rich, humus-laden soil quality. The ideal soil condition is at pH 6.5, so you can test the soil before growing the lettuce to produce a better quality lettuce. It is often grown alongside other slow growing plants, such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Since lettuce thrives in moist conditions, make sure to regularly water the lettuce to moisten up the soil.

There are also different varieties of lettuce according to the season in which it is grown:

*Summer varieties – This refer to lettuce plants that are grown under hot conditions. However, make sure you choose an area for growing lettuce that is well shaded.

*Spring lettuce – This is more challenging to grow than the summer varieties. If you are living in a mild area, make sure to sow the lettuce seeds in an area that gets adequate amount of sunlight. Make sure to have proper drainage to the soil surrounding your lettuce plants.

Process of Sowing Seeds

An important thing to take note when sowing lettuce seeds is to sow at the position where you intend to grow them. Avoid moving lettuce plants, when possible. You can plant these seeds at seedbeds or boxes, ideally 2.5cm above the ground.

Observe proper distance between plants, roughly around 8-16 inches apart. This will provide enough room for each plant to grow without any disruption.

Time Periods

Take note of the following information to avoid harvesting lettuce immaturely:

*Expected germination time for lettuce: For hot weather conditions, it can happen around 6 to 12 days.

*Time between sowing and harvesting: It depends on the variety of lettuce you are trying to grow. For butter or crisp head lettuce, they take the longest amount of time from 8 to 14 weeks. For loose-leaf varieties, it takes about 6 to 8 weeks in order to be ready for harvest.

Other Growing Tips for Lettuce

Additional information when caring for your lettuce plants to ensure they grow healthy:

  • Moist soil is important in allowing the lettuce plant to grow fast and healthy. Therefore, make sure to water regularly. The best time for watering your lettuce plants is during the morning or midday. Watering at night can increase the risk of your plant developing diseases.
  • In order for the lettuce seeds to germinate, temperature must not exceed 80 degrees. If you are sowing during summer, make sure to employ proper shading devices on your plant bed. Or better yet, find a cool spot indoors to grow your lettuce.

Home grown potatoes

          Potatoes are relatively easy to grow,

and taste great when grown in your garden. While potatoes are a root crop, they still require full sun to produce the best potatoes. Potatoes will grow best in a slightly acidic soil that ranges between 5.9 and 6.5. Since potatoes grow underground a soft loamy soil will produce the best results. Potatoes can be planted in the early spring once the soil can be worked and reaches a temperature of about 45 degrees. Make sure that the soil is not too wet when you plants your seeds, or you face the risk that your seeds will rot before they sprout. While you might be tempted to try to use potatoes you bought in the supermarket as seeds, do not use them. First you don’t know if they are disease free, and second they may not give the best yields. About one week before you are ready to plant your potato seeds place them in an area that is at least 60F and receives plenty of light. This will help get the seeds started sprouting. The day before you are ready to plant use a knife to cut the large potato seed into smaller seeds. Make sure that each seed contains at least one eye. Potatoes will grow best if they are planted in rows. They should be spaced about one foot apart between plants, and the rows should be about 3 feet apart. The seeds should be placed under about three inches of soil. In approximately two weeks the seeds will sprout, and you should cove them with about four inches of soil. After another two weeks the stems will be about eight inches high, at this time you should add another four inches of soil. After this you will need to add one to two inches of soil per week. You must make sure that the potatoes are covered and aren’t exposed to light. If the potatoes do get exposed to light they turn green, and this green part has the potential to be toxic. Alternatively rows you could use large mounds that are about three feet in diameter and this will allow for about 8 plants. The same method of covering the growing potatoes with soil should be followed with this technique as well. Be sure not to use too much organic material in the soil where you are growing your potatoes, as this will increase the likelihood of potato scab. Therefore it is best to put any organic materials deep into the soil so the roots of the potato can grow into the rich nutrients. Potatoes should be watered frequently especially when they are flowering. When the plants begin to create a new tuber that is when watering is very important. It is best to water potatoes early in the morning so they are not wet overnight, and thus less susceptible to potato diseases. Potatoes are ready to harvest about two to three weeks after they are done flowering. You can harvest some potatoes now and leave others to keep growing and getting larger. If you want to store your potatoes they should be kept in a dark, well-ventilated location at about 40F. They can be stored for up to six months. It is important to rotate your potato crop from year to year as many diseases and insects will over winter, and cause trouble the following season if you don’t move your crop.

   

Mulching to control weeds

     

Everyone loves the benefits of a garden, but one of the worst enemies of a gardener is the weeds that grow in the garden. Garden weed control is important, as weeds are selected by nature and maintained as the survival of the fittest. Vegetables you may plant in your garden are selected for their taste; therefore they may be varieties that aren’t as tolerant as the weeds that will creep into your garden. Weeds can germinate faster, and often grow faster then the neighboring vegetables that they will be competing for nutrients with. Therefore you must always have a head start on the weeds in your garden, and keep them at bay. Some people may believe that by roto-tilling a garden they are getting rid of weeds as they are turned under the ground. However you may actually be making your weed problem worse, as turning over the dirt may bring weed seeds underground to the surface. The best solution is to cover your garden with mulch each fall to prevent seeds from getting into your garden. Weaker plants such as cabbage should be started indoors, and only transplanted to the garden when they are large enough to compete with the stronger weeds that will sprout in the garden. Unfortunately you will have to make time to pull the unwanted weeds from your garden. However it is easier to pull the weeds out when they are small and the roots haven’t taken a strong hold in the soil. Don’t let weeds get out of control, as you will be overwhelmed with the amount of work required, to keep your garden weed free. There are several garden tools that you may use, to help keep the weeds under control. These include swan and collinear hoes, as cape cod and farmers weeders. You can use the Swan hoe to sweep away the weeds, very similar to how you sweep a floor. Make sure you keep your weeding tools sharp. A sharp hoe will cut the weeds, and sever the plants from their roots. Additionally you can use a pair of scissors to cut weeds away from vegetables in tight areas that don’t allow the use of a garden hoe. There are several types of mulches that you can use in your garden to suppress garden weeds. The first type is known as organic mulches, and these include all types of dead plant matter. Straw, grass clippings, leaves, and hay are all examples of organic mulches. These must be spread thick enough to block the light and prevent weeds. Plastic mulches will produce similar results to organic mulches. However some plastic mulches don’t allow adequate water to pass through, and others heat the soil too much, and this may be detrimental to certain garden crops. Finally the last classes of mulches are known as living mulches. Here you plant so close together that nothing else can grow in the area. Some vegetables that can be used as living mulches include lettuce, spinach, and kale. Lettuce can be planted among other crops, as it is slow growing and won’t shade other plants as it matures. Additionally lettuce doesn’t use too many nutrients from the soil; therefore it won’t be competing with its neighboring vegetables.

Helpful Garden Tips

  • Harvest lettuce in the morning so that it is crisp and not yet wilted from the heat
  • Keep picking green beans or the plants will stop producing (they think that they’re done!)
  • Laying straw in the garden helps to control weeds, but keeps soil cool so it’s not as good for tomatoes
  • For a bushy basil plant, always cut above the second set of leaves, wait for additional growth and then cut again at the next level

You too can Grow an Italian Herb Garden

     

Italy is said to have some of the best cuisine in the world and, at the heart of that cuisine are their famous herbs. Growing your own organic Italian herb garden is sure to be rewarding and delicious. Whether indoors or outdoors, as additions to your vegetable garden or in a garden of  their own, Italian herbs are a delight to both grow and eat.

You may already be familiar with a number of Italian herbs. There is a good chance that you have some Italian herbs growing in your garden and an even better chance that there are some in your kitchen. Basil, fennel, rosemary, oregano, and parsley are all household names in Italy and around the world.

     

How to Plant and Grow Fresh Basil
Basil may be the most well known Italian herb. Basil is an annual warm-season herb that is sensitive to cold weather. While you may be familiar with dried basil, enthusiasts will tell you that nothing compares to a few fresh basil leaves. Basil is relatively easy to grow and makes a great addition to your vegetable garden. Grow basil next to your peppers or tomatoes, basil is said to improve the flavor of its neighboring plants. Basil is also said to repel flies and mosquitoes!

When planting basil, pick a site with full sun. Basil prefers warm to hot weather and a pH of 5.5-7.0. Basil can be planted in pots as well as directly in the ground; requires low watering and should be propagated by seed. Basil’s most common enemies are the Japanese beetle, slugs and snails. Start seeds inside and transplant when a few inches tall.

To avoid an infestation of slugs and snails, line your garden with copper strips or wire mesh. The charge that builds up on the copper surface, repels both pests away from your garden as they are unable to move across it.

Basil must be pinched back as it begins to flower as once it flowers it loses flavour. Pruning back the flowers will also encourage it to grow bushier. Leaves should be cut in the morning after the dew has dried. Do not wash basil leaves, as they will lose their flavor.

    

Tips for Growing Fennel
Fennel has a wide range of uses. You may be most familiar with fennel seeds, used in Italian sausage or chewed with candy after an Indian meal. Fennel stalks are also edible, though not commonly eaten in the United States. Fennel has long been believed to have numerous medicinal benefits, namely digestive, and is often made into herbal teas and tinctures.

Fennel is a perennial, but should be divided and re-planted every few years as the plants tend to lose flavor as they mature. They are propagated from seed and enjoy full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Fennel plants require light but even watering and have an enemy in the Carrot Rust Fly, which can be avoided by planting in a windy location.

   

A Dash of Parsley is Always a Good Idea!
Parsley is relatively difficult to grow and known for its long germination time. Before planting parsley, soak the seeds for two days, changing the water after one day, refrigerate them and pour boiling water over the soil plug. Why all of this work? Parsley seeds contain a chemical, which prevents germination, and this process works to get rid of it.

Though parsley is technically a perennial, it usually goes to seed in its second year and so is grown as an annual. Because parsley is difficult to transplant, it should be sown directly into the ground or into large, well-drained pots.

Parsley should be planted in full sun or partial shade. If growing in a vegetable garden, plant near asparagus, corn, peppers and tomatoes. Make sure that the soil is nematode free, as these are common pests where parsley is grown. If you do have a nematode problem, try introducing ladybugs and predatory nematodes into your garden.

Now Let’s Add a Dash of Oregano
If you are planning on growing oregano, talk to some local farmers. It is easy to start an oregano plant from a cutting of an existing one. Choose an existing plant with strong flavor to guarantee the quality of your own crop. Oregano is decorative as well as delicious, sprouting lovely little purple flowers at maturity.

Oregano should not be harvested until it has flowered, as this is when its flavor is the strongest. Oregano prefers full sun and matures best in hot weather. Oregano is a perennial and can spread very far; you may want to take this into consideration when determining whether to plant in pots or in the garden.

Everyone’s Favorite: Rosemary
Rosemary is a tough evergreen perennial, which can grow into a large shrub. Though it is sturdy and does well in many climates, rosemary is very sensitive to frost. Rosemary does well in the ground or in pots and grows pretty little blue flowers, which, can be used in salads or as a garnish. Rosemary makes an excellent hedge and is great for attracting bees.

Italian herbs make excellent compliments to your existing vegetable or flower garden. The fragrance of these potent herbs will make you feel like you are taking a trip to the Mediterranean every time you stroll through your own garden. Growing these herbs locally and organically is one of the best decisions you have made all year.

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