I was going through the produce section of a local supermarket the other evening and I was a little surprised and disappointed.
This is what I found:
Most of the sweet potatoes I see in the grocery store would have been “graded out” as “culls” when I was younger. Long days of standing and grading them into such classes as “number ones”, “number twos”, “canners”, “jumbos”, and “culls” give me the authority to say that.
The same is true for most of the other fruits and vegetables in the supermarket today. The processing, packing and shipping over long distances takes a toll on the produce. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the mass availability of fruits and vegetables, especially during the off seasons. The quality may suffer as a result but there is more available for more people than any point in history. There is nothing wrong with supermarket produce, it just suffers from the problems of mass production and long distance transport.
When you are looking for top quality fresh produce, local is better. There is a better way to get fruits and vegetables picked at the peak of perfection and taste, and without the problems of being bounced around for hundreds of miles: If you can’t grow them, buy them from local farmers!
Buy fresh locally grown produce from local farmers
Here are a few ways you can do this:
Most towns and cities have a venue of some type for a “Farmers Market”. If they don’t, there will probably still be a place where a few local farmers hang out on the the corners to sell their crops. Often these impromptu markets become the foundation for permanent farmers markets. If you don’t have a farmers market, check where the farmers sell their produce locally.
Local fruit stands
In lieu of farmers markets, some cities may have a few fruit and vegetable stands. In such cases, local farmers often sell their produce to such outlets, providing a place for you to buy them for your diner table. You still get fresh local produce, and it has traveled through relatively few hands.
Friends and family
You probably know someone who knows someone who farms in your area. Ask around. You might be surprised at the abundance available nearby when you do a little local food networking!
Online farmers markets
This idea is the perfect marriage of local and global, hight tech and basic “hands in the dirt”: Online “Global Local” websites! Organizations like “Pick-A-Pepper” put local farmers in touch with local buyers using the power of the internet. This effectively turns the internet into a local and global fresh food farmers market. This process allows the buyer and the farmer to both benefit from the speed of the internet.
When spring time comes around, many home owners call their local landscaping company to come out and perform a sprinkler start up. It is possible to do it yourself but be sure to calculate your moves because it isn’t as easy as just turning a knob.
First, be sure the big spring thaw has happened in your area. It is not a good idea to introduce water to the irrigation system if another freeze could happen.
Make sure that the drain valve is closed. This manual valve is normally found under the vacuum breaker (back-flow assembly) located on the outside your home. Make sure the knobs on the vacuum breaker are also closed.
Find the main water valve that is normally found in the basement near where the vacuum breaker is located on the other side of the wall. Once you find this valve, slowly turn it open.
Since all valves on the outside of the house are closed, the water should stop running quickly, check for leaks.
Go outside and check for leaks, then slowly open the first knob/valve closest to the wall of the house (feeding into the vacuum breaker). This should fill up the back-flow assembly. Then open up the second valve feeding into the irrigation system. It will take a while to charge this up with water.
Replace the battery in your sprinkler timer if needed. Use the sprinkler timer to manually check each zone. Go through each watering zone and check each sprinkler head and look for leaks.
Make sure each sprinkler head is clear of vegetation that would obstruct the watering of your lawn. When they are off, these sprinkler heads should be level with the lawn so mowers don’t chew them up.
Adjustment to the heads of each sprinkler may be needed to ensure each one is targeting its zone accurately. A screw driver can be used to make tweaks.
If a zone seems to be getting watered improperly, use the sprinkler timer to turn that individual zone off and contact your local sprinkler guy.
Continue to occasionally check your zones for proper water coverage. Usually a dry spot in the yard will appear if the sprinklers are not fine tuned.
By James Burns
There are so many foods we look forward to during the holiday season, and I wanted to offer my take on a Southern classic, Sweet Potato Pie. This is my favorite recipe for sweet potato pie offered to you just in time for the holiday season. I hope you like it. At the bottom of the page you will find a list of more articles on the sweet potato, including information on growing, curing, and baking them.
You will need:
1 pound of sweet potatoes from your local farmers market
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pie crust (unbaked)
Boil the sweet potatoes whole in their skins for about 45 minutes or as long as it takes to soften them up.
Remove skins. Tip: If you dip them in cold water the sweet potato skin will be easier to remove, and it will be easier on your fingers.
Chop or break the sweet potatoes into a bowl.
Add the butter, and mix it in.
Stir in milk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
Continue to mix until smooth.
Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust.*
Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until a knife poked in center is clean when removed.
*For a variation on the standard pie crust, try this:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
Mix the ingredients together and press into a pie plate.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 8 to 10 minutes.
Use in place of the standard pie crust for a special variation.
You have probably noticed that the standard nutmeg and or cinnamon that most folks use in a sweet potato or pumpkin pie are absent. Before you go and dump a bunch of spices in, at least try it. You will probably be surprised at just how delicious the pie is without them! The natural flavor of the sweet potato has subtleties that are missed when spices are added. If you simply must add something, try crushing 1/2 cup of pecans and spreading them over the top.
If you enjoy sweet potatoes, you might be interested in the following articles on this site, including my favorite way to cook them:
By James Burns
It is the time of year when the leaves start to turn a palate of different colors, the days get noticeably shorter, the air takes on a hint of coolness, and our minds begin to turn to the essence of the holiday season: Outdoor holiday decorations!
I am not a designer, I have my preferences, but I refuse to get caught between those who prefer simple, traditional and elegant versus those with slightly more flamboyant tastes. That is entirely up to the homeowner and his neighbors. Having said this, I can now say that your taste and style will largely determine the methods, tools, and hardware you will need to get the job done. In other words, I can’t say much about the process, methods or tools for the job.
A few basic tools
Exterior home decorating safetyBefore you start untangling spaghetti like strands of Christmas lights, before you run to the hardware store for the latest in home holiday decoration technology, before you do anything else at all, think about safety! An accident this season could make your holiday a lot less happy, and a lot more costly so follow some basic safety guidelines.
LaddersCheck your ladder to make sure that it is safe! Are the rungs secure, are the legs even, is it long enough for the task at hand, did you gain an extra 30 pounds during last years holidays that make the ladder unsafe for your new weight? If not, don't move forward until it is properly repaired, or a new one of the right dimensions and weight class purchased. Before you set your ladder up to climb on top of the house to put up your four times life size Santa and sleigh scene, be sure that you know the location of any above ground power lines, and keep the ladder clear of them! Make sure the ladder is properly extended and properly placed. Having to stretch to reach something when you are on top of a ladder could cause a holiday ending injury.
Hand toolsThe same should be done for your hand tools. Make certain that you have the right tools for the job, and that they are in good repair. Don't try to make a screwdriver do the job of a hammer, and don't use a hammer with a loose head.
Electrical safetyIt should go without saying that electricity can kill you, but not just the high energy lines coming into the house! Before you decide to splice a couple of strands of light, or a power cord together, ask yourself some questions: Will this be a potential shock hazard for children or adults? Will this be a potential fire hazard? Would it be smarter, simpler, and safer just to buy a new one? If you decide to do it anyway, make certain that you are not breaking any laws or codes, and that the power is off before slicing into something that might lite you up like a Christmas tree! Make all connections secure and according to code. Really, just follow basic safety rules, and use common sense. You don't want to wind up in the emergency room for the holidays.
Another method of decorating
Guest Author: Luis Alberto Simauchi Jr.
When tending a family garden, proper care of the areas around your plants is required. Normally pulling weeds is sufficient but on occasion, there are those persistent strains of weed that may require more thorough methods of removal to ensure a healthy garden. A very good preventative (and relatively cheap) measure is to place mulch around your plants; this makes it harder for small weeds to grow due to the weight of the mulch above them and the reduction of sunlight exposure provided by said mulch. Even if a couple stubborn weeds did manage to pop their ugly heads above the mulch, you still have the option to pull them out or spray them with a non-selective weed killer.
Weeds are almost always bad for every home garden or flower bed. They use up much needed nutrients and minerals that other plants need and in severe cases, that includes water and possibly sunlight that would feed other plants. Planning the landscape of your garden can also be helpful to deter weeds (as well as insects) from thriving near your home. And on the subject of insects, by keeping weeds out of the garden, one goes a long way towards keeping pest from the garden as well.
Inexperienced weed pulling is often ineffective and in the long term it can take too much time especially if you are maintaining a large property or have weeds that are particularly difficult to remove. In such cases you can use a weed killer. Non selective weed killers are designed to kill any plants they are sprayed on down to the root. When using these kinds of weed killers always exercise caution and follow the directions.
One of the best non selective herbicides to use is a glyphosate based herbicide, these herbicides will kill any plant they are sprayed on, but you should take proper precautions. Even though it is designed to kill plants it could potentially harm your skin, it always a safe assumption that any type of herbicides and pesticides could cause harm to your skin.
Some herbicide safety tips
Own a set of ‘landscaping’ clothes, using light breathable clothing that covers your arms to your wrist, and your legs to your ankle. These clothes will be your gardening clothes, they don’t need to be expensive or fancy, make sure they are comfortable above all else! Normally the precautions only require glove use if it takes longer than thirty minutes, but I always wear gloves regardless of duration.
If you are treating a very large area with a sprayer designed for spraying a large amount of glyphosate herbicide, then you will need some protective equipment for your eyes and your lungs. You can use a respirator mask and goggles. DO NOT go cheap on your safety, spending fifty dollars for a good mask is better than being hospitalized with burning lungs and red eye balls, and even if you recover you will be stuck with a $25,750 hospital bill! Always take whatever measures are needed to protect yourself when doing any kind of do it yourself pest control. As a final note on the matter, you may also need to take note of the weather. On a windy day sprays can fall on not only yourself, but on other plants that you may want to keep!
Luis Alberto Simauchi Jr. is an inbound marketing specialist at Do My Own Pest Control
Home owners should be concerned not only about the aesthetics of their landscapes, but also about the content.
I am going to go ahead and say this in spite of my friends in the landscape industry who think otherwise:
All landscaping should be done using only plants native to the area.
I trust that they will forgive me for swimming against the tide. Many of them are coming to agree, and I suspect that many more will follow as the weight of science and public opinion come to bare.
There are at least 3 very good reasons why:
Native landscapes help the homeowner
Native plants do well in landscapes because they are native. It is really that simple. Because natives have become established over hundreds of years, they have adapted to the conditions in which they grow, and are therefore resistant to native pests, acclimated to local weather patterns, including rainfall, and are comfortable with the fertility levels of their native soils. This means little expense in the areas of irrigation, labor, pest control, and fertilizer.
By contrast, non native plants are generally ill suited to one or more of those climatic factors. They may flounder and require much more of one element or other, requiring more time, effort, and expense than their native counterparts. On the other hand, they may flourish in the new environment to the point of dominating it. Expenses rise in relation to the difficulty of keeping such plants alive, or keeping them from taking over the landscape.
Native landscapes help the environment
Because native plants in the home landscape require little beyond what nature affords them, the elements which are typically thought to be damaging to our environment are needed less often, if at all. The impact of introducing fewer pesticides, less fertilizer, and less wasted water spread out over millions of home lawns throughout the country would be a positive step toward easing the strain on our planet.
Introduced plants may not only add more of a strain to resources that can be ecologically damaging, but they may also escape into the wild and cause problems with the environmental ballance in an area. There are many cases where they have done so. Invasive species have developed near mono-cultures in many areas, removing both native plant life and the animals that depended on them for survival.
Native landscapes do both at the same time
Native landscaping saves money and help the environment simultaneously. There are few examples of such synergy in most fields It is the perfect marriage of good economic and environmental policy for the home owner.
Guest Author: Jesse Burns
Most families especially kids love the idea of keeping animals as pets. When it comes to birds, you may have a lot of factors to consider before you can actually set up and maintain a hygienic environment for your winged friends. The ideal setup these days is no longer your classic metallic and wired bird cage hanging from the ceiling indoors, especially when you have better and bigger options available from sites like SimplySheds. Aside from the aesthetic appearance, a more important consideration is the prevention of bird-related diseases such as psittacosis that can result from the unhygienic practice of keeping birds as pets. If you have the space outdoors, you may be better off setting up your bird sanctuary far from the main house so that exposure to the risk of health hazards is kept to a minimum.
The size and design of your bird dwelling will depend largely on what species you are planning to have, the main reason why you’ve decided to set up this dwelling (for breeding versus safekeeping) and the weather conditions of your location. Modern outdoor aviary sheds, ideal for places that enjoy mild climate, are generally made of the same material as all other stainless-steel sheds, only the openings have been specially enclosed with a wire-mesh to keep air coming in and the birds from flying out. A lot of these sheds have special internal partitions to accommodate various types of species you wish to have, so decide first on how many bird types you want to keep and get the shed type that has at least that same number of partitioned spaces.
One of the most important considerations in choosing the particular design you are going to go for is the ease of cleaning involved. Because cleaning after these birds is one chore you will not want to neglect because you want to keep your surroundings immaculately clean and healthy at all cost, you will want to make sure that the chore is not going to be difficult to perform. All areas should be easy to reach, and there should be no crevices or awkward gaps in the floors, walls, and ceilings where bird droppings and other wastes can settle and accumulate. The modern version that makes use of uncoated galvanized steel has made cleaning after bird droppings easier and more enjoyable to perform. Read up on guidelines provided for by your local government on how to clean your aviaries the right way (the City of Newcastle site).
The strategic placement of your outdoor shed is also a factor to consider when setting up your bird sanctuary. Take the time to assess every square meter of your garden so that you can find that one place that avoids strong winds but will soak in a lot of the sun’s rays.
In designing this dwelling place, you will want it to look as natural as possible despite the galvanized steel sections and wire mesh present all throughout. Adding plants is one way of doing so. Choose plants that are native to your country so that you won’t have to worry about them too much—they are much easier to maintain than exotic plants, for sure. Keep in mind that some plants can be poisonous to your birds, so ask your local nursery expert about this to avoid fatal accidents in your aviary.
Jesse Burns loves music, but he’s also into sheds and shed-building projects for the home. He blogs for a company called http://www.simplysheds.com.au/ – Australia’s leading garden sheds and garage company. Find out about aviary sheds here.
To those of you who own ponds and lakes in drought stricken areas during the last half of 2011, congratulations! You are probably getting some relief now. Chances are, though, that you have not seen a full recovery yet, but you probably see some hope for the first time in several months. Some areas suffered 100 degree plus temperatures for more than 90 days, and if the forecasters are right, you are due a mild summer this year. If you took the opportunnity to follow the advice we offered here during the drought, you should have everything in good condition going forward. We know one marina owner who took the opportunity to rebuild his existing docks and slips, and add several more slips. This will pay off in higher earnings for many years to come.
I wanted to list a few things that you should keep in mind while the water is returning to your beleaguered ponds and lakes:
- Check your pH early and often. Proper pH balance will lead to proper ecosystem balance in your pond or lake, especially if you need to fertilize.
- Turbidity may be a problem for a while until vegetation returns. Be prepared to flock your pond or lake if needed.
- Aerify if needed. Low water volume and less vegetation may lead to low dissolved oxygen levels. You may have to stir the water.
- Vegetation may be needed, both in the lake itself, and especially on the watershed. Make sure that something appropriate is growing both in, and around your pond. For the pond itself, choose non invasive native water loving plants. At least this way, you get to choose.
- Keep a sharp eye out for invasive exotic weeds. The lower water levels were an advantage if you took the opportunity to exterminate them while the drought conditions existed. Don’t lose that advantage now!
- It is going to take a lot of water and time to fill the last few feet. Ponds and lakes resemble funnels, it takes very little liquid to fill the spout, but the volume needed increases as the area increases. A foot of water at the bottom of a pond is a lot less water than the top foot.
- You will lose some of your gains through evaporation and saturation. Some will go back into the water cycle through the clouds, and some through the ground, and remember that the ground around your pond and lake will naturally absorb some water over time. Don’t lose heart as this happens.
- Due to lower water volume, and shallow water, you will probably experience an outbreak of pond scum. If this happens, take the measures to get rid of it, and start a low volume fertilizer program as soon as possible.
- If you think you have enough water to restock, make sure that everything else on this list is done first, and then proceed slowly and cautiously until water levels stabilize and conditions return to something resembling normal.
- As water levels approach normal ranges, be sure to inspect your dam frequently. It would be a shame to lose your water to a leaky dam at this stage.
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10 things to do for your dried up drought stricken small lake or pond
These things happen from time to time. It is nearly inevitable unless you have a high volume spring feeding your pond or lake. The water will return.
We are having a severe drought, accompanied by a severe heat wave in some parts of the U.S. And many small lakes and ponds (and some very large ones too) are drying up. I know it is sad to see your pond or small lake drying out, and drying up, and I know there is probably little that can be done about it except to wait for the rains to return.
That does not mean that you should do nothing!
While there is little that can be done about the rain, that doesn’t mean you have to just take it as a loss. No, to the contrary, this is a great opportunity to perform maintenance, make improvements, and get your pond or small lake into the best condition possible before it refills. Don’t just set around and mope about it, get out there and do something productive. This opportunity won’t last forever! The water will return, and when it does, you can and should be prepared.
- If you have a dock, boathouse, or other structures on and directly adjacent to your lake, it is probably more accessible now than it has been in years. This would be the perfect time to do any needed repairs or upgrades. If you have been thinking of adding any of these features to your lake doing it before it refills will save you money.
- Dam inspection can be done at this time. It may be the only opportunity you have to visually inspect this part of your reservoir from the inside for many years.
- Overflow pipes can be checked and adjusted as required. Do not raise the level without professional advice about the safety of your dam.
- Debris removal can be accomplished on a dry like bed without having to fight the water. This is the time to remove that thing, or those things that have been bothering you for years. Who knows what kind of treasure might be out there?
- Consider making the edges of your pond deeper. Dredging can probably be done with a backhoe or loader at this stage. Making the water deeper at the edges will increase the amount of water your lake contains, and decrease the likelihood of weed and pond scum problems.
- If you suspect that your pond is leaky, this is also the perfect time to apply bentonite. It can be done with a tractor and spreader in much the same way you would apply fertilizer. The headland setting on your spreader will allow you to make unidirectional applications toward the center to cover areas that might still be to wet for the tractor.
- If pH has been a problem, this is the perfect chance to apply lime directly to the bottom where it is needed the most. Lime can be applied by tractor and spreader with a headland setting without having to get into marshy areas if the reservoir is dried completely, or nearly dry.
- If you have unwanted fish species in your pond, it will be easier to eliminate them now than at any other time. If you are like many people in the southern region of the country, it may be possible to physically remove unwanted fish without resorting to other more costly methods. You may need to get some advice from your county agent or from a professional to accomplish fish removal. Once this is done, and the water returns, you can restock with the appropriate species for your pond size and region.
- Killing and or removing invasive lake weeds should be a little more efficient when the lake bed is dry.If you do this with a chemical, you should still use one that is labeled for aquatic use. Use a systemic weed killer that kills the entire plant to help prevent future infestations.
- If you have had problems with excessive fertility , start making plans to plant a vegetative barrier at the inlet and anywhere else that large quantities of water flow in. Agricultural and horticultural nutrients have to go somewhere if they are washed from surrounding farm lands or lawns, and that somewhere is probably into your pond or lake unless something is there to absorb them.