Garden Slug

How to Get Rid of Garden Pests

Growing a successful and productive garden is a lot of work. It can be rather frustrating to tend to your garden, only to watch a variety of bugs, insects, and other pests destroy it before you can harvest.

Before deciding to use chemical pesticides which may be harmful to the overall ecosystem of your garden, homeowners should consider using a natural approach to getting rid of those annoying plant-eaters and garden disturbers. Any number of homemade sprays and methods can be helpful in deterring garden pests from your yard, all while keeping your plants healthy.

To start, it is helpful to identify the particular pests that have invaded your yard or to discover common pests to your area so you know what you’re up against. Then, consider using a few of these tips to keep your plants thriving and bug-free.

1. Slow Down the Slugs

Slugs can be good at eating other bugs, but unfortunately they also tend to target your garden veggies. Fortunately there are a number of ways you can deter these slimy garden pests.

One way to keep the slugs from destroying your plants is by distracting them with copper flashing. The copper will give the slugs a slight electrical shock when they come in contact with it. This means that the copper will act as a barrier to keep the slugs out of the blocked off area or away from a particularly susceptible plant.

Because slugs have soft bodies, you can utilize certain materials as garden borders that the slugs would avoid coming in contact with. Try applying gravel or lava rock in strips around your plants or garden in order to keep the little slugs from crawling across and into your garden. Wood ashes are another good choice for this sort of slug warfare because not only are the ashes good for deterring these pests, but the potassium in the ashes is good for the soil too.




2. Avoiding Aphids

Aphids come in a variety of colors and are excellent at sucking the sap from new growth in a plant. Often, you can get rid of these garden pests simply by hosing them off, but you will need to be vigilant.

If you are looking for a method that is a little more effective and permanent, you could try creating your own aphid-repelling spray. For this method, you will be creating a blend of cooking oil, water, and dish soap. Mix approximately one cup of fresh cooking oil with a tablespoon of dish soap.

Then, dilute the mixture in a spray bottle by taking four teaspoons of the oil/soap mix and blending it with one pint of water. As you spray this on your vegetables, it can help keep aphids away, and also thrips, spider mites, and whiteflies. You should reapply this mixture to your plants once a week for the best results.

3. Utilize Citrus Peels

Citrus peels from lemons or oranges are a great way to add nitrogen to your compost pile, but they can also be used as garden defense. This method will not only deter garden pests, but it will also improve the health of your soil.

If you dry the peels first, you will be able to grind them up and sift the powder directly into the soil. This will make your entire garden more resistant to a bug invasion.

A whole orange peel is also able to help keep aphids and mosquitoes away. For this method, all you need to do is cut a slit in an orange peel and carefully slide it over an aphid-susceptible plant, or else simply rub the peels on the plants to act as a mosquito repellent. Even cats are supposedly deterred by citrus peel. Sprinkle leftover orange peels in spots where your or neighborhood cats tend to prowl.

4. Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is a powder made of fossilized bodies of tiny, aquatic organisms, also known as diatoms. The particles in diatomaceous earth are abrasive and excellent for deterring soft-skinned insects, such as slugs.

All you need to do is sprinkle the diatomaceous earth over plants and around the garden’s perimeter to control flea beetles, twig borer, thrips, cockroaches, ants, earwigs and spider mites. The sharp edges of the dirt dry out and kill these undesirable pests. It also works to destroy these pests if they ingest the diatomaceous earth.




5. Use Garlic on Your Garden Pests

Garlic, a seasoning we all have in our kitchen pantries, is surprisingly useful in the garden as well. If you are dealing with apple maggots, caterpillars, sowbugs, grasshoppers, grubs, leafminers, mealybugs or whiteflies, garlic spray is an effective and natural way to battle the bugs.

To make a natural garlic pesticide, you need to blend 12 cloves of garlic with one and a half cups of water. Strain the pulp and then dilute the strained garlic water with a gallon of water. Shake it well, and then use the mixture in a spray bottle once a week on your plants to keep the bugs away.

6. Use Your Chickens

If you keep a coop of chickens, know that you can use them for more than a food source. While you may want to keep your chickens out of your garden beds, you might consider constructing a chicken moat around your gardening area.

A chicken moat is essentially a strip of dry ground fenced in on both sides which surrounds the plants. This space allows for the chickens to go to town eating weeds and grasshoppers and any other bug or beetle attempting to enter your garden plot. This is an effective method for controlling the pest population while giving your chickens plenty to feast upon.

If you are a homeowner interested in more details on how to construct a good chicken moat, check out this blog post. The double fence has the advantage of keeping deer and rabbits away from your plants, as well.

7. Invite Friendly Birds

Hornworms and other bugs are destructive to your tomato plants and can easily gobble up leaf after leaf if left unchecked. To prevent this, try attracting birds to eat these worms by placing bird feeders or a bird bath around your vegetable garden.

Check your plants once or twice a day for hornworms, and if the birds aren’t getting them all, you can always create another homemade spray. Try mixing garlic, soap and cayenne pepper with water to spray over your plants for added protection. This green pesticide helps to keep the moths that lay hornworm eggs out of your garden.




8. The Five-Finger Trap

One of the most common, cheap, and effective ways a homeowner can get rid of squash bugs, slugs, Japanese Beetles and hornworms is handpicking. It is tedious and not for the squeamish, yes, but very effective because you can see exactly what bugs you are removing and from where.

If you happen to have chickens, you can feed the insects and critters to the chickens or hope that some local robins may come scoop up the handpicked pests. Handpicking, along with some of the other remedies in this series, is a great way to be sure you have a pest-free garden.


As you prepare your garden, find out which pests are common to your area, and then arm yourself with these natural remedies for keeping the bugs out of your vegetable beds. By following these tips, you will find that garden care isn’t so challenging after all.


Robot Vacuum

Robot Vacuums: Are They Really Worth It?

Robot vacuum cleaners have really taken off in the last few years and it’s fairly easy to understand why. With their ease of use and practical, hands-free action, homeowners are discovering the many advantages of purchasing this type of vacuum cleaner. But, are they really worth the higher cost? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits you can expect from using one.

What Are Robot Vacuum Cleaners?

Robot vacuums are an autonomous device that is designed to clean carpet, tiles and hardwood floors of all dirt and debris, much like other types of vacuum cleaners. The main difference of robotic versions is their ability to minimize the amount of work hat homeowners need to do.

Upon their release in the late ’90s, robotic vacuums initially struggled with homeowners. However, after two decades of innovation and the continual rise in Smart Home devices, robot vacuums have never been more popular.

In recent years, there is no denying their spike of interest from homeowners, partly because they’ve become more affordable, but mostly because they’ve become more efficient at accomplishing their intended purpose — cleaning your floors without requiring you to put in much work.

The Benefits of Owning a Robot Vacuum

If you’re currently looking to buy a vacuum cleaner, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not considering a robotic vacuum. To help you determine if this is the right device for you, let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits you can expect to receive from a robot vacuum.

1. Easy To Use

Perhaps the number one benefit of owning a robot vacuum cleaner is that they are extremely easy to use. Once the machine is programmed for a given space and the timer is set for a predetermined start time, the product virtually runs itself. Simply place the device on the floor in an appropriate starting spot and you’re good to go.

In addition, many models have been refined over the years to be self-regulating and nearly foolproof, meaning mishaps are becoming more and more unlikely as the technology evolves. That means you don’t have to worry about your vacuum malfunctioning or becoming stuck on a surface.

2. Incredibly Efficient

Today’s robot vacuum cleaners provide multiple tasks. They not only clean, they remember the layout of your space, are able to dump the dirt they collect, and then find their way back to the charging station.

Some higher-end models have advanced sensors and are also able to transition between bare floors and carpeted areas without manually switching settings. Other allow you to control them through a smartphone app.

The methodical, back-and-forth or circular motion of the machines also ensures that every inch of a floor or space is covered, which translates to a more thorough cleaning overall.

ECOVACS Robotic Vacuum Cleaner

Photo Credit: ECOVACS Robotics

3. Saves You Time

It is a universal experience that everyone’s lives have become increasingly busier in the 21st century. Indeed, multi-tasking has become paramount to, and part of, modern-day existence. One of the most desirable benefits of robot vacuum cleaners is that you don’t have to be present when the vacuum is operating.

Simply turn it on before you leave the house and it will do all the work for you while you’re out of the house. Therefore, time not spent manually vacuuming can be spent working, relaxing, playing with your kids, or doing whatever your heart desires. Indeed, the old adage that time is money certainly applies to this product as well.

4. Works on Different Surfaces

Another benefit of the robot vacuum cleaner is that it works on multiple types of surfaces, from carpets to wood floors to linoleum to concrete.

As mentioned, higher-end models are able to transition between different types of surfaces during the same cleaning cycle. With other models, you simply change the setting, place the product at a designated starting point, and set the programmer and timer as usual.

5. Detects All Levels of Dirt

Along with working on all types of surfaces, autonomous vacuum cleaners are able to tackle all types of dirt as well. From dust that has barely settled to deeply-embedded debris in your carpet, the vast majority of these vacuums are designed with increasingly powerful suction capabilities, despite their compact size.

Using built-in sensors, the machines also can detect the amount of cleaning required in different situations and will repeatedly go over an area until it is clean. This level of detail when it comes to cleaning is unmatched in other similar products.

6. Sets Boundaries

Another advantage of robot vacuum cleaners is their inherent ability to perform in — and only in — a given space that they are programmed for.

For instance, if you have children playing in another room while the product is operating, you can set virtual walls in the programming function to prevent the machine from going across doorways and other openings. Likewise, if you have pets alone at home while the machine is operating, you can easily limit the scope of the machine so it won’t frighten them.




7. Small, Compact & Easy to Store

A robot vacuum is much smaller than an upright or canister vacuum cleaner and, as such, can easily be stored in just about any space — in a closet, under a bed, or wherever you have room. This makes the product ideal for any homeowner that has limited storage space or is trying to downsize their belongings.

These smaller vacuums can also be easily transported from one location to another because of its size. You don’t need to clear out your trunk or borrow somebodies truck to move it from one place to another. As an added benefit, the small, low-slung nature of the product means it can get under furniture and reach areas that a regular vacuum cleaner cannot.

8. Makes Housecleaning Go Faster

Because a robot vacuum cleaner is self-sufficient and self-operating, it is an ideal product to help you maximize the amount of time spent on housecleaning.

Indeed, while your robotic vacuum is doing its thing on your floors, it frees up your time to work on cleaning other areas of the house. Working in tandem, you’ll be able to significantly cut down on the time it takes to clean your house. And, the result of more efficient cleaning is that you’ll be more likely to clean your house more thoroughly more often.

9. Ideal Solution for the Handicapped & Elderly

People with mobility issues, such as the elderly and handicapped, can truly benefit from owning a robot vacuum cleaner.

With its ease of use and hands-free operation, a robot vacuum cleaner can be a liberating product for this demographic, who would otherwise be forced to hire house-cleaners at a much greater expense. In addition, the money saved that would otherwise be spent on doing so makes this a product worth investing in.

10. Economical and Cost-Efficient

Because robotic vacuum cleaners have been on the market for a number of years, both the price and features have improved significantly, and continue to improve as the years roll by.

The good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a decent product that does the job right for your particular needs. Starting at approximately $150, with high-end models running upwards of $1,000 to $1,500, there is something for everyone’s budget when it comes to this type of product.

Takeaways

When considering the reasons why you should buy a robot vacuum cleaner, the previous ten benefits should be at the top of your list. If you can see your life improving with 8, 5, or even 1 of the benefits outlined, then purchasing a robot vacuum cleaner is worth it and then some. For efficient and effective cleaning power, a robot vacuum cleaner is becoming the hands-down choice among many homeowners, businesses, and commercial establishments alike.


Carbon Monoxide Dectector in Home

Carbon Monoxide: What Every Homeowner Should Know

Nicknamed the “Silent Killer,” carbon monoxide is more common in homes than you may think. In fact, it’s likely in your home right now as you read this.

Should you be concerned by its presence? And, what can you do about it?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions homeowners have about carbon monoxide, and why you should have a CO detector in your home.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

A toxic gas that has no visible appearance or noticeable odor, carbon monoxide (CO) can pose serious health risks when it accumulates beyond a certain level.

Because it is completely indiscernible to the human senses, detecting it can pose a bit of a challenge for homeowners. It’s important to note that carbon monoxide is constantly present within your indoor air, but poses little risk until it hits a certain threshold.

Does Carbon Monoxide Smell?

No. You cannot smell carbon monoxide. Nor can you see, taste or otherwise notice its presence unless you have the right equipment.

Carbon Monoxide

It is precisely because of its inconspicuous nature that CO has earned the nickname as being a “Silent Killer” or “Invisible Killer.”

Sadly, unless you have the a carbon monoxide detector installed in your home, you won’t know that levels have reached a toxic level until it is too late.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide in a House?

The short answer is that CO can originate from anything that burns fuel for power. This can include everything from automobiles to gas-powered stove ranges, even water heaters and fireplaces. Carbon monoxide occurs as result of partial oxidation of compounds which contain carbon, forming when insufficient oxygen exists to produce carbon dioxide.

An average home will usually contain up to 5 ppm of CO in the air at any given time, a level that is near to the natural atmospheric concentration and is safe for people and animals to breathe. If you have a gas stove in your home, the level may be slightly higher, but still not high enough to cause significant health concerns.

However, problems with appliances or inadequate ventilation can cause carbon monoxide to collect in parts of a home, eventually elevating to levels where it may be unsafe to remain inside.




How Does a CO Detector Work?

A carbon monoxide detector works much like a typical smoke detector. Equipped with built-in sensors that can identify and measure the concentration of CO in the air.

When unsafe levels of CO are discovered, the device will broadcast an alarm that will alert the occupants inside the home. In theory, this would give anyone within the immediate area an opportunity to respond quickly in order to avoid overexposure to the gas.

Carbon Monoxide Detector

Where Should I Install My CO Detector?

While there are many factors to consider, it is important to pay particularly close attention to what the manufacturer states is best for that specific model. Within the user manual, you will find all the information you need to install it in your home.

Determining the Best Placement:

Aside from the manufacturer’s recommendations, there are a few general guidelines that can help you determine the best placement of a CO detector within your home.

  • Inside Bedrooms — It’s wise to have a carbon monoxide detector in all your bedrooms or any other area of your home where occupants may fall asleep.
  • Central Locations — Spread evenly throughout your home, you should place a CO detector on all levels near any main rooms where residents may be found, including your living room, dining room and near doorways that lead into a garage.
  • Unobstructed Areas — Wherever you install your carbon monoxide detector, make sure that you do not place it anywhere that may be blocked by furniture, drapes or other objects.
Where to Install CO Detector in Home

Just like you would with smoke detectors, it’s wise for homeowners to install these near any potential sources of carbon monoxide output or areas where it may accumulate.


Is Carbon Monoxide Heavier Than Air?

No. Carbon monoxide is lighter than air. Apparently, there is much debate surrounding this question, which has lead to further confusion about where homeowners should install a CO detector.

Hopefully, this 2012 study published in The Journal of Emergency Medicine will settle the debate and give homeowners some reassurance about the location they decide to install their unit. Researchers came to the following conclusions:

CO did not layer on the floor, float at the middle of the chamber, or rise to the top… Mixing would be even faster in the home environment, with drafts due to motion or temperature. It would be reasonable to place a residential CO alarm at any height within the room.


What Are the Symptoms of CO Poisoning?

Any exposure to CO can be potentially dangerous. It is because of this that every homeowner should take any necessary precautions to protect their family and ensure that the air inside their home is safe.

Call for Help!

American Association of Poison Control Centers
1-800-222-1222

For the majority of homeowners, it is unlikely that minimal exposure will cause any issues, however, this is still a toxic gas that has no health benefits associated with it. If you have babies, young children or small pets in your home, you should be especially mindful of how much CO is in your air.

Symptoms may include the following:
  • Respiratory issues.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Headaches, ranging from dull to severe.
  • Dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
  • Impaired judgement and sense of confusion.
  • Faintness and loss of consciousness.
Symptoms, Safe Levels & Duration of Exposure:

While the actual duration and concentration amounts may vary, below is a general guide to help homeowners learn what symptoms they may experience when exposed to different levels of this poisonous gas.

  • Constant exposure to a CO concentration of 35 ppm for 6-8 hours can result in headaches and dizziness.
  • Exposure to 100 ppm can result in headache symptoms in just 2-3 hours.
  • Exposure to 200 ppm may produce headaches and impaired judgment within 2-3 hours.
  • With exposure to 400 ppm, more severe frontal headaches can occur in 1-2 hours.
  • 800 ppm of CO concentration can lead to nausea, dizziness, and convulsions within 45 minutes.
  • 1,600 ppm concentration levels will produce the above symptoms in just 15-20 minutes, and can cause death within 2 hours.
  • Concentration levels greater than 3,200 ppm will cause severe symptoms in 5-10 minutes, and death within a half-hour.
  • As levels increase above 10,000 ppm, unconsciousness will occur after just a few breaths. A full-grown adult will not be able to survive more than a few moments of such exposure before death occurs.

Note: If you believe you or your family is in any sort of danger, get out of the house immediately. Call 911. Call poison control at 1-800-222-1222.





How Can I Protect My Family From CO Poisoning?

No matter how large or small your home may be, there are several ways that a homeowner can prevent and protect their family from this poisonous gas.

Carbon Monoxide in Your Home
  • Install New CO Detector:

    Install a new carbon monoxide detector that meets all current requirements of UL 2034 safety standards. It is suggested that you install at least one detector for each level of a multi-story home, and one unit near each separate sleeping area of a home and/or near locations where gas might collect (such as near a garage).

  • Proper Installation & Maintenance of Fuel-Burning Appliances:

    Ensure that fuel-burning appliances are properly installed and maintained per manufacturer’s instructions, and with respect to local building codes. Professional inspections and servicing of heating systems and chimneys should be performed annually. Never attempt to complete repairs or servicing without qualified knowledge and proper equipment.

  • Never Use Gas-Powered Engines Inside:

    Never operate generators or tools with gas-powered engines indoors, including in garages. Even with doors and windows open, enclosed spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly accumulate to dangerous levels. Never leave cars running in an attached garage, even with the door fully opened.

  • Never Use Gas-Powered Heaters Inside:

    Do not heat your home using gas-powered appliances such as ovens or ranges, and never operate fuel-burning appliances in unvented rooms where people are asleep.

  • Ensure Chimney is Clear & Unobstructed:

    If performing renovations or repairs on your home, be sure that chimneys and appliance vents remain unobstructed. Verify that all such appliances are in good working condition after work has been completed.


The Best Resources For Homeowners

As your install a CO alarm in your home, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the resources listed below. While it is unlikely that you’ll experience an issue, especially now that you have the right equipment to alert you, it is still wise to know what to do if needed.


Bag of Leaves in Yard

13 Tasks Every Homeowner Should Complete Before Winter Rolls In

How to Prepare Your House for Fall & Winter

Fall conjures images of sunset-colored foliage, carved pumpkins and cinnamon in the air. Kids swap boogie boards for backpacks and moms and dads breathe a wistful sigh of relief. But shopping for pencil cases and Halloween candy are not the only important tasks you’ll do this fall.

Below, you’ll find a list of not-so-spooky house care tips that every homeowner should complete during autumn to help keep your home safe and warm all season long.

1. Get Ready for Fall(ing Leaves)

Watching the leaves change from vivid green to amber and gold is one of the highlights of the season. Raking up those leaves once they’ve fallen from the tree is not. Perhaps, composting or mulching all the leaves is your preferred route. But, if you plan on removing them from the yard, you’ll need to have the right tools ready to clear the lawn of debris.

At the very least, you’ll need a good rake to help clear the leaves from your yard. But, if you can get your hands on a leaf blower, you can save a ton of time. And don’t forget to stock up on large bags to help remove the ever-growing pile.

2. Branch Out

Aging trees can pose another threat as the weather gets colder and the winds start to kick up. If the branches of your trees are directly over your home, then you may have a more elevated risk of damage in the event that large branches break off and fall.

If this unfortunate scenario happens to your home, the damage of falling branches could range from minor to quite severe. Common issues may as simple as a few damaged shingles or shattered windows, but when it comes to heavy branches, you may see dented / blocked gutters, or a complete compromise of the integrity of your roof.

This is why it’s important for all homeowners to keep a close eye on the trees surrounding your property. Frequently, inspect them for potential weakness, and strategically trim them as soon as they start to get too close to your home. Use a chainsaw or hire a professional to remove branches that are too close to the house or those that appear to be in danger of falling.

3. Clean Your Gutters

Inspect your roof throughout the season to remove any leaves and branches that have accumulated there. As the leaves fall and pile up in your yard, keep in mind that the same is happening on top of your roof.

If the leaves are not cleared out in a timely manner, the accumulation of leaves or branches may prevent water from draining properly, and sometimes can create a “dam” that prevents water from draining entirely. Dammed up water may damage exterior surfaces and create a leak in your roof, window or walls. As every homeowner knows, a leak in the roof can cause all sort of other damage to items inside your home, possibly even creating an environment that allows mold to grow.

Check your rain-gutters, downspouts and other drainage items frequently to be sure they aren’t blocked by fallen leaves, debris or birds nests.

4. Repair Any Roof Leaks

A minor roof leak can become a major problem as the temperature starts to drop. Frozen water or the weight of snow can exacerbate minor flaws and leave your home vulnerable to major water damage.

This is precisely why every homeowner should make it a habit to climb up on their roof, grab a pair of binoculars or contact a roofing company to do a thorough inspection. Check the shingles and metal flashings for any signs of damage, especially on the ridge and in valleys or around vents and chimneys.

When it comes to roofs, a small amount of preemptive care can save you from an enormous amount of damage down the road.

5. Prepare Your Lawn

When the weather turns colder and the snow is near, some homeowners may breathe a sign of relief knowing that they won’t have to mow their lawn again until spring. For the most part, this is generally true. You will, indeed, have less lawn care responsibilities.

However, before you stash away your lawnmower and turn your grass over to the cold, it’s important to fertilize your lawn one last time. Spread a layer before the ground freezes, and your lawn will wake up in the spring nourished and ready to grow green once again. There’s no better way to start the spring season.

You will also want to winterize your sprinkler system. The last thing you want is to discover that it needs repairs come spring.

6. Walk the Walk. Fill the Crack.

Summer showers and growing roots may have damaged your driveway, or walkway. The wise homeowner will take a few minutes to check if their concrete or pavers have shifted, become loose or are somewhat uneven.

This simple task can prevent a falling hazard throughout all seasons of the year, but are increasingly treacherous in wet or icy weather. No matter how small the crack may seem, if you can spot and fill it before the winter chill, you have a better chance to prevent water from seeping in and freezing when the temperature drops. Once this happens, the cracks may expand and create an even more treacherous hazard as time goes on.

7. Dodge the Draft

Now that you have the windows down and you’re enjoying the cold weather, don’t forget that you need to prepare for the (even) colder temperatures to come.

Cold drafts inside your home can be a real drag. Buy some caulk, and seal cracks and gaps around windows or doors to keep your home energy efficient throughout the year. Check weather stripping for deterioration and replace or repair any sections that look damaged. Window treatments can also reduce energy loss, so consider installing insulating shades, curtains or blinds.

These small improvements are easy DIY projects that can save a ton of money for all homeowners. But this is especially true for those that live in areas that experience extreme temperatures.

8. Get Ready to Heat Things Up

You can also prepare for the cooler, drier winter weather by inspecting and performing routine maintenance on the equipment that heats your home. Perhaps the most important preparation that a homeowner can do to prepare for winter.

If you use a gas heater, hire a professional to inspect it for leaks and ensure it’s ready to warm your home in an efficient and safe manner. A “leaky” heater is not only inefficient but may also fill the air you breathe with dangerous poison. And the wise homeowner knows that they should never compromise their indoor air quality.

9. Change Your Air Filter

The air filter in your home needs to be changed on a frequent basis. While we may sometimes forget or neglect to change the air filter, the dawn of Autumn is a great time to change all the filters in your home.

Not only will this improve your indoor air quality, but it will also increase the overall efficiency of your furnace. If you’ve noticed screeches or whines coming from the belt, or maybe even erratic behavior from your furnace, you may want to have it inspected for blockages or problems with the burners, blower motor or thermostat.

It’s better to do this at the beginning of the Fall season, than to wait until the winter chill sets in.

10. Clear the Chimney (And Fire When Ready)

If you use a wood fireplace in your home, it would be wise to inspect the chimney to ensure there are no blockages or venting problems before you light the first fire of the season. Have your chimney swept, cleaned and cleared before you start any fires inside your home.

For the homeowner looking to save a bit of money, consider adding an energy-efficient fireplace insert or infrared heater to help provide heat to your room while slashing your overall heating bills.

This is also a great time to conduct routine other “home safety” measures, such as replacing the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home.

11. Chill Out. (And Save Money)

After a long, hot summer, the cool weather can be a welcome relief to your body… as well as your budget. You can finally turn down your air conditioner, but may not need heat for a few more months.

Use the colder weather as an opportunity to create a comfortable temperature inside your home. Leave your windows open at night and enjoy the crisp chill of the Fall evening. Strategically tweak your thermostat, enjoy the mild temperatures and think of all the money you’ll save.

12. Add Welcoming Fall Decor

As the Fall season rolls in, there is no better time to change the elements of your interior decor to suit the season and welcome you as you come home.

  • Interior Fall Decor — Whether it’s autumn leaves, orange pumpkins or Fall candles, there are some very easy and cheap improvements that every homeowner can make to add a bit of Fall flair to their home.
  • Exterior Fall Decor — You might add outdoor lanterns along your walkway or fence to welcome visitors as the days become shorter and darkness comes on earlier. Extra light can be great for guiding trick-or-treaters as well. A seasonal doormat, large pumpkins and harvest themed elements create a warm welcome despite the cold.

Embrace the season with these simple upgrades to your decor.

13. Contain Yourself (And Declutter Your Mornings)

While your house may stay cleaner once the kids are back in school, odds are your entryway will not.

Backpacks, jackets and muddy shoes can quickly pile up around your main entrance, creating a mess, as well as a hazard. Now is a good time to add a mudroom bench with hooks to hold all the backpacks and outerwear coming in from the cold day. Extra storage for shoes and other gear will also help cut the clutter and keep your house looking neat. This will all go a long way to getting you ready for the morning rush.


Final Thoughts

Leaves, lawns, furnaces and fires all require attention as the cold weather starts to set in. And while this may be an intimidating task at first glance, getting your home ready for fall doesn’t have to be scary. These simple tips will make fall house care as easy as pumpkin pie.

Cleaning A Humidifier

How to Clean Your Humidifier

One of the most important factors in determining your indoor air quality is the amount of moisture in the air. The relative humidity inside your home becomes particularly important as winter sets in.

This is because as the temperature starts to drop and you start to crank up the heat, the warm air circulating around your home will dry out the air you breathe. When the air in your home is too dry, you may start to experience a whole bunch of issues, all of which may range from minor annoyances to significant health complications, such as the flu.

Now that the seasons are starting to change and the mercury is starting to drop, we created the below guide to help homeowners learn how to clean their humidifier, and have it ready on those long, chilly nights.

How Often Do I Need to Clean My Humidifier?

Every 24-36 hours. If water has been standing inside your humidifier for longer than that time, you should not use it inside your home. While inconvenient, it is strongly recommended that you clean your humidifier prior to every use.




Why Do I Need to Clean My Humidifier?

Cleaning the humidifier will prevent any sort of bacterial growth or mold from developing inside the device. If you have this sort of contamination inside your humidifier, and you do not clean it before you turn it on, then you may inadvertently disperse harmful particulates into the air.

Not only is this detrimental to your indoor air quality, but it can immediately impact the health of anyone inside your home. This is not only detrimental to your indoor air quality, but it also puts everyone in your home at risk for developing respiratory issues. This is especially true for young children, the elderly and anyone that breathes it in for an extended period of time.

Check the Cleaning Instructions In Manual

Before you try using any of the cleaning methods listed below, it is wise to take a look at what the user manual that came with your humidifier says and follow the care instructions from the manufacturer. These guidelines are the best way to keep your humidifier in good working order, and prevent any unexpected damage that voids the warranty or leads to you having to replace it.


3 Ways to Clean Your Humidifier

Without proper care and regular cleaning, your humidifier puts your indoor air quality at risk. Below, we have highlighted three methods that you can follow to clean your humidifier.

1. Use White Vinegar & Tea Tree Oil

Due to their natural disinfectant properties, the easiest and “all-natural” way to clean your humidifier is to use a mixture of vinegar and tea tree oil.

Vinegar & Tea Tree Oil

Supplies You Need:

  • White vinegar
  • Tea tree oil (optional)
  • Bottle brush if required for your humidifier
  • Water

Cleaning Instructions:

Begin by disassembling your humidifier. Pour any standing water from the tank and lay all pieces out as you take it apart.

Next, add a generous amount of white vinegar to the base of your humidifier, as well as a few drops of tea tree oil. Do the same for the water tank, as well as submerge all other external parts into a similar mixture. Allow it to soak for at least 20-30 minutes.

Before you pour out the vinegar, use a brush or washcloth to scrub all parts of the humidifier. Try to remove any deposit buildup that may be visible.

Once you have scrubbed it thoroughly, rinse all parts of your humidifier with warm water. You may need to do this several times to get rid of the vinegar smell before reassembling your humidifier.

2. Disinfect With Bleach or Hydrogen Peroxide

To give your humidifier a deep clean, try following the cleaning instructions listed above but substitute the tea tree oil with bleach or hydrogen peroxide. By using one of these two chemicals, you ensure that all bacteria and mold spores inside your humidifier is killed off.

Bleach & Hydrogen Peroxide

Supplies You Need:

  • Bleach or Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Clean Towels
  • Safety Goggles & Gloves
  • A Soft-Bristle Brush
  • Water
  • Optional: White Vinegar*

Cleaning Instructions:

For the most part, this process will follow the same instructions recommended for the vinegar and tea tree oil option. However, if you decide to use bleach, you should wear gloves and goggles to protect yourself from the chemicals. *And never mix bleach and vinegar together!*

When using bleach, you can choose to do so at the same time you are cleaning the tank or you can disinfect after the tank is clean. Disinfecting a humidifier with bleach will take an additional 30 minutes, so if you are short on time, it is probably beneficial to do both at once.

Step 1: Begin by disassembling your humidifier. Don’t forget to remove the air filter, if there is one. You can clean the filter by using cool water and letting it air dry.

Step 2: Mix about 1 teaspoon of bleach — or use 3 percent hydrogen peroxide — into a gallon of water and fill the tank with it. Ensure the entire inside is coated by stirring the mixture around.

Step 3: Once you’ve completed both steps, rinse the base, tank and all of its small parts. Shake it well to dislodge any trapped moisture. Remember to do this several times to get rid of any vinegar or bleach odors. Set the pieces on clean towels to air dry.

Once everything is dry, you can reassemble your machine.

Optional Step: After the humidifier has been disassembled, fill the base with vinegar and submerge the smaller parts. Allow it to soak for at least 20-30 minutes, use a brush or washcloth to dislodge any deposits or buildup, and thoroughly rinse out the vinegar. Do not mix vinegar and bleach together.

3. Buy & Use a Humidifier Disinfectant (Bacteriostat)

Humidifier Bacteriostat Treatment

If you don’t want to fool around with any of the cleaning options listed above, you can also buy a ready-made disinfectant or cleanser online. Often labeled as a descaler or bacteriostat, there are plenty of these cleanser available online. (View your options on Amazon.)

All you would do is simply follow the instructions that comes with the product. That’s it, your humidifier is clean and ready.

Effective, but Expensive:

While it is easy and convenient, and no doubt effective at disinfecting your humidifier, this option is not recommended for homeowners as it is grossly more expensive than all the others options listed here.

Vinegar, bleach and peroxide are all very effective at cleaning your humidifier, and they are also all incredibly cheap. You can buy all of them at every grocery store or corner store, and you’ll get a larger supply at a fraction of the cost.


Humidifier Maintenance & Care Tips

Now that you know how to clean your humidifier, it’s recommended that you also learn some simple maintenance tips to prolong its life and overall effectiveness.

How to Clean Humidifier

Empty Basin / Limit Standing Water

Besides weekly deep cleaning of your humidifier, you should be sure to rinse the water basin before every use. Doing so helps to keep bacteria from growing, keeps your unit working properly, and ensures your family is breathing the best air possible.

If possible, disinfect the humidifier any time that water has been standing for more than four hours.

Use Distilled Water

When you do fill your humidifier, only use distilled water. Tap water usually has added minerals. These minerals could be released into the air and create a thin layer of white dust on the surfaces in the room. Additionally, added minerals can build up as deposits in the machine and harbor the bacteria and mold you’re trying to prevent.

Drain & Dry Before Storing

Finally, be sure to drain and clean your humidifier and allow it to dry completely before storing it for the season. Storing a damp unit in a dark place, such as a closet or garage, only creates an optimal breeding ground that encourages bacteria and mold to grow. This will lead to a very gross discovery when it comes time to pull the unit out of storage.


The Homeowner Payoff

Knowing how to clean your humidifier ensures the air you and your family breathes is as pure as possible and leaves you comfortable and healthy. Even better, proper cleaning helps your machine to work for as many seasons as possible so you will be able to save money instead of purchasing a new unit each winter.


Kale

How to Make Kale Chips (With Recipes & Flavoring Tips)

We hear about many food crazes and diets all the time. Let’s face it. Every time a new food is introduced to the world, restaurants, food critics, television chefs and celebrities go out of their way to talk about the food as they try to show us the infinite possibilities there are for turning an otherwise boring ingredient into something special.

That’s probably the case with kale.

A few years ago, no one ever talked about this green leafy vegetable. Now you see it everywhere. High-end restaurants are finding ways to elevate it from its former role as a garnish on food trays and salad bars. Grocery stores are selling packaged salads that use kale, bags of washed kale, and bunches of kale. It’s even on the shelves of Walmart Supercenters and other discount stores. It’s also become a critical addition to the growing movement that encourages embracing ingredients that go from the farm to your table.

According to a May 2014 news report from Bloomberg, between 2007 and 2012, the number of farms that grow kale in the United States has more than doubled.

How Did Kale Become So Popular?

It’s long been known that kale is healthy for you. But, the popularity of the cruciferous vegetable has skyrocketed in recent years. The story behind this rise is a curious tale.

Fresh Kale

As the story goes, in the year 2013, a New York PR agent and self-proclaimed “punk-at-heart,” Oberon Sinclair, concocted a scheme to get people to believe that the American Kale Association hired a publicist to help desperate farmers who were growing kale while spreading the word about this dark green cruciferous vegetable throughout New York City.

After all, when you want to turn something into a trend, you go to New York to announce it to the world, right?

It’s hard to know whether people believed this story because let’s face it, no self-respecting foodie would ever admit that they’d been conned into believing that the American Kale Association (AKA) launched a campaign to promote the wonders of kale. Especially considering that the American Kale Association did not exist when Sinclair launched her campaign.

Whether or not the American Kale Association actually existed at that particular time, has become somewhat of a moot point. It exists now, and has carried on with the original “kale-awareness” campaign.

However, it must be noted that prior to the curious PR campaign launched by Sinclair, there was another organization already on this precise mission. Founded one year before the curious PR campaign referenced above, the National Kale Day Organization was created with the same vision: To educate people about the nutritional value of kale and helping people learn about different ways to cook, use and eat it.

Cruciferous vegetables are healthy. They are full of vital nutrients. Variety is also good. So if you’re looking for a way to add variety to your diet, include more healthy leafy greens, and eat more vegetables, you might want to consider trying kale. Raw kale can be bitter. But there are other ways to use it. It’s a delicious addition to soup, and if you’re used to sauteing spinach, Swiss chard, mustard, turnip or collard greens, you can add kale to your gustatory library.


Bunch of Kale

How to Select the Best Kale

Before you start the process of making kale chips, you have to buy the vegetable itself. You have a few options to choose from.

Fresh & Raw

You can find fresh bunches of kale in the produce section, typically stocked alongside other cruciferous vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower. The key is to get a bunch of kale where all the leaves are dark green and crisp looking.

Starting at the end of summer through winter, you’ll notice the selection and overall price of kale become more competitive, as they are in season.

Organic & Locally-Grown:

If possible, try to buy organic kale that is locally-grown. The Environmental Working Group includes kale on its list of produce items that contain pesticide residue.

Bagged Kale:

If you’re short on time, bagged kale is a good option. Already chopped and washed, the bagged option will save you time. However, this added convenience comes with its own set of pros and cons. Not only do the bags tend to be more expensive, you also sacrifice the ability to hand-pick the bunches you believe would be the best.


How to Prepare Your Kale

Now that you have the kale bought and ready to go, it’s time to prep.

Cleaning:

Before you start, it is strongly recommended that you thoroughly wash all of your produce before cooking with or consuming. This is especially true with kale, as the leaves are often covered with dirt and other loose materials.

Kale

Remove Stems:

Use a herb stripper (if you have one) to remove the stems. Don’t skip this step. Kale stems are tough, and they’ll take much longer to cook. You’ll risk burning your kale leaves if you don’t remove the thick stems.

Tear the Leaves:

Tear each leaf into pieces. The size of your pieces should be comparable to that of a potato chip or tortilla chip. Don’t go to a lot of trouble to make sure that each piece you tear is the same size. That’s not necessary.

Remove Excess Water:

Now that your kale leaves have been torn into smaller chip-size pieces, you’ll want to remove the excess water. A salad spinner is a fantastic tool to help you with this. If you don’t have a salad spinner, give each piece a little shake and the water will roll off.




How to Bake Kale in the Oven

You’ll want to lay your kale pieces in a single layer on a flat baking sheet. If you intend to add salt, spices or herbs for flavor, a small amount of oil will catch the seasoning. Fill a half a tablespoon with extra virgin olive oil. Spread it on the baking sheet and rub each torn piece of kale into the oil, making sure to massage the oil into both sides.

Some recipes recommend using coconut oil. For kale chips, since you’ll be baking them in an oven that’s moderately hot, you won’t have to worry about whether the oil is safe for high heat.

If you line your baking sheet with a piece of parchment, clean up will be easier. You also won’t have to worry about whether anything sticks to the pan.

You don’t have to use a dehydrator to make kale chips. The oven is a fantastic alternative because you can turn the baking sheet during the drying and baking process.




– Advertising –

Recipes recommend oven temperatures but expect to adjust the temperature because of variations in different oven brands and heating methods. Turn the baking sheet periodically during the cooking process to make sure that every piece of kale cooks evenly.

Supplies & Ingredients You’ll Need:

  • Parchment Paper
  • An oven thermometer
  • Baking Sheets
  • Herb stripper or sharp knife to remove tough stems
  • Colander and Salad Spinner
  • Large bowl
  • High quality unrefined and unprocessed oil
  • Sea salt

Tips to Baking Kale Chips:

  1. Be sure you get rid of all of the loose dirt on every kale leaf. Consider using a commercial vegetable cleaning spray to help you remove excess chemical residues and grime.
  2. When you tear up your kale leaves into chip size pieces, take time to tear each leaf so that you remove the woody stem that goes through the center of the leaves. Getting rid of every part of the hard stalks will ensure that every piece of kale gets thoroughly cooked.

Be sure you put your oven thermometer in the oven before turning it on to preheat it.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t make a perfect batch of kale chips the first time. There are often huge variations in cooking times and temperatures depending on the type of oven you’re using, your location and other environmental circumstances. Consequently, you may need to make several batches of chips before you figure out what oven temperature and the length of time it takes to get your chips as crisp as you like them.

Another thing to consider is that you may want to bake your kale pieces at a lower temperature if you’re topping your chips with herbs, seasonings or other flavorings. A lower oven temperature will force you to keep the chips in the oven longer to get them to the desired crispiness. It may also be effective at infusing your chips with more of the flavor you’re adding to them, thereby allowing you to create an unusual, creative, and flavor-packed snack treat.


Kale Chips

A Starter Recipe for Kale Chips

As you’ll soon find out, there is no limit to the flavor combinations that you can come up with to make your own healthy and delicious kale chips. Regardless of the flavors you add, there are two essential ingredients you’ll need to use no matter what else you decide to add.

You’ll need to add some salt to the kale because the salt is critical to drawing excess water out of the kale leaves. You’ll also need to use some type of high-quality extra virgin, first cold-pressed oil. Since you aren’t going to be baking the chips in a hot oven, you can use any kind of oil that tolerates low-to-medium heat. The first cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil is probably the most common type of oil used for making homemade vegetable chips. Grapeseed, unrefined sesame or coconut oils are also options.

How to Make Flavored Kale Chips

There are all sorts of flavors and flavor combinations you can use to create different variations on the traditional kale chip.

How to Make Kale Chips

Regardless of the ingredients with which you intend to flavor your chips, don’t forget that you’ll need to use a small amount of oil as a way of ensuring that each piece of kale gets evenly coated with the herb, spice, condiment or flavor.

Unless you want your kale chips to absorb the flavor of the oil you’re using, you will want to use the purest, mildest, and least flavorful oil you can. Also, remember that temperature isn’t a concern since you’ll be cooking your flavored chips at a lower temperature than you use for the plain chips.

Flavor Combinations to Spice Up Your Kale

If you’re used to snacking on corn or potato chips and have a favorite variety, there’s no reason you can’t try to replicate the taste of that chip on kale. The result will be a healthier version of a snack treat you already like.

1. Salt and Vinegar

This may be a tricky taste combination to try to use with kale. Oil is necessary to get the salt to stick to the kale pieces. If you try to use oil and vinegar, you may wind up with something that tastes more like a wilted salad that’s dressed with oil and vinegar dressing.




– Advertising –
How to Add Flavor:

To make this flavor combination work, try soaking your kale leaves in the vinegar for a few minutes. That short “soak” will give your kale the necessary infusion of vinegar for the taste combination that’s so popular with potato chips. You’ll still need to coat each piece of kale with the salt and oil mixture.

Baking Instructions:
  1. Lay the coated pieces of kale on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Don’t let any of the pieces touch or overlap.
  2. Cook the chips at a low temperature of around 250-275 degrees.
  3. Bake the chips for 25 minutes and check them to see if they are drying out and getting crisp.
  4. You may need to rotate your baking sheets every 25 minutes or so to make sure that every chip cooks evenly.

Keep checking on the baking sheets to make sure that nothing is burning. Once you’re sure that the chips are fully cooked, remove them from the oven. You can leave them on the baking sheet to cool. As they cool, you’ll see that they become even crispier.

Dehydrated Onion Flakes:

Dehydrated onion flakes are easy to find in the spice section of your favorite grocery store. If you love the taste of onion, and would like to add that flavor to your kale chips, dehydrated onion flakes are going to be a great option for you. Plus, give your kale chips an extra crunch.

Follow the instructions listed above for removing the thick stems on each leaf. Then tear all of the leaves into chip-size pieces.

How to Add Flavor:

Add a couple of tablespoons of high-quality extra-virgin “First Cold” pressed olive oil to a large bowl. Add enough onion flakes to cover all of the kale pieces evenly. Use your hands to massage the oil and onion flake mixture into the bowl full of torn kale leaves.

Baking Instructions:
  1. Line your baking sheets with pieces of parchment paper.
  2. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.
  3. Carefully lay all of the kale pieces out on the baking sheets, making sure that there is space between each piece.
Plate of Kale

Because you’re baking your kale chips at a lower oven temperature to allow the oil and onion flake flavors penetrate each of the kale pieces, you will need to cook your chips for twice as long as it takes to make kale chips with no added flavoring.

Garlic or Onion-Powder:

If you ever make popcorn at home, you may have learned about the delicious taste of garlic and onion-flavored popcorn. Garlic and onion powder are also excellent flavor enhancers to add to kale chips. This is especially true for anyone looking to introduce finicky family members to a healthier alternative to calorie and salt-laden junk food.

Adding Flavor & Baking Instructions:
  1. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a large bowl.
  2. Add your kale pieces and use your hands to make sure that every kale piece is evenly coated with the olive oil.
  3. Arrange the kale pieces so that every piece lays flat on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  4. Sprinkle your garlic or onion powder, or a little of each over the entire baking sheet, making sure that an even coat of powder covers every piece of kale.
  5. Place your baking sheets into a preheated 250-degree oven.
  6. Set an oven timer for 25 minutes.
  7. Rotate the baking sheets to ensure that all of your chips get as crisp as you like them.

Other Spices, Additives & Flavor-Enhancers

Here are a few more options for adding flavor and spices to your homemade kale chips.

  • Sriracha — If you like to add heat to your food, you might want to brush your kale chips with Sriracha sauce before you bake them.
  • Red Pepper Flakes — These add zesty heat and will stick to kale leaves that are coated with oil.
  • Chili & Taco Seasoning — This will give your kale chips a bit of spicy Mexican flavor.
  • Smokey — For an added smokey taste, consider sprinkling ground chipotle peppers or smoked paprika over your oil-coated kale pieces.
  • BBQ — If you like the taste of barbecue-flavored chips, sprinkle your oil-rubbed kale pieces with a barbecue spice mixture or dry rub.
  • Parmesan Cheese — For a cheesy taste, sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over oil-covered kale pieces.
  • Brewer’s Yeast — This tastes great on popcorn. Capture that distinctive taste by sprinkling an even coating of brewer’s yeast over oil-saturated kale leaves.
  • Chocolate — If you’re the total chocoholic and go to every extreme to get your chocolate fix, consider sprinkling grated chocolate on oil-covered kale leaves. Use a mild or flavorless oil like coconut oil, so the oil doesn’t overpower the additive. You can use bittersweet chocolate to give your kale chips a savory chocolatey taste.

Final Thoughts To Keep In Mind

Here’s a few parting thoughts to keep in mind as you try your hand at homemade kale chips.

  • Be sure you have fresh, crisp kale leaves. If you’re buying kale by the bunch, be certain you remove the thick, hard stems and massage all of the leaves as you wash them. Use your hands to remove embedded sand, dirt and debris. This may seem like a time-consuming process, but your kale chips will be inedible unless you remove all of the ground in dirt.
  • Use a cooking timer to remind you to check on the progress of your chips. An oven thermometer allows you to monitor your oven temperature to ensure that it is consistent. Some electric ovens have less than consistent thermostats.
  • Don’t try to bake all of your chips at once. Use one oven rack. If your rack only holds one or two baking sheets at once, plan to cook your chips in batches.
  • Don’t prepare your kale leaves until you’re going to cook them. Kale is full of water, and it wilts and gets soggy very quickly.

Kale is a fantastically healthy and inexpensive fall and winter vegetable. It’s also fun to create new chip recipes by adding herbs, seasonings, and other flavor enhancers so you can enjoy different versions of your newfound healthy snack treat. Pack a bag full of kale chips to take to work or to add to your children’s school lunches.

Beaucarnea recurvata

How to Grow a Ponytail Palm

As one of the most popular houseplants found in homes all around the world, the Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is one of the easiest to grow and require very little maintenance by their owners. If you’re looking to add a splash of charm into your home, but don’t want to put much time or thought into it, then this tropical houseplant may just be the perfect choice for you.

Originating from the arid landscapes of Mexico, the name Ponytail “palm” is a bit of a misnomer. While the bulbous trunk indeed had some similarities to the trunks of other palm trees, the Beaucarnea recurvata is actually a drought-resistant succulent. And that bulbous trunk is where the plant stores its water.

Ponytail Palm

How to Care for Ponytail Palm

Ponytail palms are one of the easiest houseplants to care for.

They require little water, love lots of light, you don’t have to fertilize often, and they have the ability to adapt to the comfortable temperatures often found in homes. The downside of growing a ponytail palm inside your home is the incredible slow pace in which they grow.

As long as you don’t over-water it, you probably won’t kill it. It’s pretty much that simple.

However, if you want your plant to grow tall, thrive and be healthy, there are some easy guidelines you can follow to help you provide the best care for your ponytail palm.

Botanical Info

Latin Name Beaucarnea recurvata
Plant Family Asparagaceae
Genus Beaucarnea
Common Names Ponytail Palm, Elephant Foot Palm, Bottle Palm, Nolina Palm
Origin Mexico, South America
USDA Zone 10 – 11

Growing Conditions

Water Once every ~10 days.
Light Bright & full exposure to sun.
Soil Cactus potting soil.
Fertilize Once a month. Diluted liquid fertilizer.
Temperature Warm. Keep above 55°F.  
Humidity Adaptable. Not too low.  
Maintenance Easy to care for.  
Grow Inside? Yes
Grow Outside? Yes. Best in USDA Zone 10 – 11
Safe for Pets? Yes. But, care should be taken.
Container Size Depends on how large you want it to grow.  

7 Common Questions About Ponytail Palms

To help ensure that you’re providing to proper care for your ponytail palm, we have listed out the most frequently asked questions down below. If you have a question that you don’t see listed or would like to add additional feedback for others to learn from, please leave it down in the comment section below.

1. How often do you water a ponytail palm?

Not often, but the frequency depends largely on the environment you’re growing it in. Below, we have some general guidelines to watering a ponytail palm, but the best advice is to give it a drink of water when you see the soil start to dry.

  • During Hotter Months — You’ll want to water your ponytail palm plant once every 7-10 days.
  • During Cooler Months — You’ll want to slow down the watering schedule to once every 20-30 days.

If you don’t abide to that precise schedule, don’t fret. This plant is great at surviving long periods without water. But, if you want a healthy plant that grows to its fullest, you should try to follow the watering guidelines listed above.

Remember: The easiest way to kill a ponytail palm is by over-watering. Less is more.




2. How much light does it need?

Ponytail palms love lots of light. Remember, this plant is native to arid deserts, so full exposure to the sun will be appreciated by this plant. However, while full exposure is recommended, ponytail palms are adaptable to little or moderate amounts of light.

The downside of less light exposure is that you’ll see a noticeable slow down in its growth. And for an already slow-growing houseplant, this may just completely stunt it.

So, if you want your ponytail palm to grow tall, give it lots of light.

3. How often should I fertilize a ponytail palm?

Depends on the season and environment you’re growing your ponytail plant in. A general guideline is to fertilize your plant once every 3 or 4 weeks. If you see the tips of the leaves start to turn brown, then you’re using too much fertilizer.

  • Spring & Summer — Add fertilizer once every 2 or 3 weeks.
  • Fall & Winter — Add fertilizer once every 4 to 6 weeks.

Adding fertilizer is essential to the overall health of houseplants, and Beaucarnea recurvata is no different. Liquid fertilizers are recommended for ponytail palms, but granular fertilizers will also suffice. An all-purpose fertilizer will work fine here, but you can also consider using one formulated for cactus and other succulents.

4. What kind of soil should I use?

The best type of soil for this plant is one that drains quickly. Unlike many popular tropical houseplants, the last thing the ponytail palm wants is to sit around in moist soil for an extended period of time.

When you repot or transplant, it is recommended that you use a soil designed for cactus or succulents. If you want to make your own soil mixture, keep it light on the amount of peat you use within.

Remember: Keep the soil dry, and water sparingly.

5. Is repotting possible with a ponytail palm?

Yes, repotting a ponytail palm is possible and easy to do, but precautions should be made before you undertake this effort.

  • Size Matters — First, consider how large the tree is, and where you’re going to be moving it to. Larger plants will likely require more help from others, as well as a few other tools or equipment to assist in the transplant. On the flip side, if you’re repotting a small bonsai ponytail palm, then you likely won’t need any help or special tools.
  • Do In Spring — It is recommended that repot your ponytail palm early in the growing season, as this gives it plenty of time to adjust to the larger pot and form strong roots.
  • Examine the Roots — Once you have it out of the original container, take a close look at the roots of your plant. Look for any signs of bugs, rotted areas, or anything that looks injured or contaminated. Cut these off before you repot in new container.

Keep in mind: Transplanting it to a larger pot will encourage the plant to grow larger. This may be a deal-breaker for anyone growing a bonsai palm.

6. Is this plant safe for pets?

According to the ASPCA, the ponytail palm does not pose any toxicity threats to dogs or cats.

However, every homeowner with pets should know, and possibly take precautions if deemed necessary, that the leaves of the Beaucarnea recurvata contain saponin which may cause discomfort in some animals if ingested. So, while it’s unlikely that any harm will come to your dog or cat, it may be wise to keep an eye on them and ensure that they are not eating or chewing on the leaves.

It’s also worth noting that saponins are found in many popular houseplants, not just the ponytail palm. They also pose no danger to humans. In fact, saponin is found in many dietary supplements and are suggested to have some nutritional benefits.

7. Can you grow a ponytail palm outside?

Yes, but it’s recommended that you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 10 or 11 if you want your plant to thrive. The sandy soil and hotter temperatures create an ideal environment for growing the ponytail palm outside.


Wasp

How to Get Rid of Wasps & Hornets Around Your Home

Wasps. The winged menace that take over patios and gardens all around the world. The evil cousin of the honey bee that fears no human.

Well, that’s their reputation, but an obvious exaggeration.

For the most part, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets generally try to avoid human interactions. Regardless, very few homeowners welcome the spring invasion of nests. It’s always preferable to ensure that these insects are kept away, especially if their nest is near a doorway or other area that increases your chances of crossing paths.

With this in mind, let’s discuss some methods that every homeowner should know to get rid of wasps, create an unwelcome environment, and, most importantly, help you avoid getting stung.

How to Keep Wasps Away From Your House

Like many other insects in your garden, wasps are going to go where they believe food is. So, if you want to limit the amount of wasps living near your home, then you need to attempt to limit their food source. This means ensuring that no food is left out in the open. Especially, sugar sweets and fruit.

During the summer, you may enjoy having a meal in your backyard. All that food can be rather enticing for wasps, yellow jackets and other insects. That is especially true if you have anything sweet in the vicinity such as an open can of soda or juice box. Always cover your drinks if you are outside.

Citronella Plant

Grow Plants That Wasps Don’t Like

A great way to prevent wasps from living around your home is to grow plants that will deter them. This is an ideal solution for homeowners that want to keep wasps at bay, while also adding beauty to their yard.

Generally, wasps do not go near the following plants:

  • Citronella
  • Mint
  • Eucalyptus
  • Wormwood

Incorporating these plants into your landscaping will help create an environment that wasps and hornets do not like. Therefore, they will likely look for another location to build their nest.

Bonus: A few of these plants also repel other pesky insects, such as mosquitoes.

Maintain Your Fruit Trees

Additionally, you want to be mindful if you have any fruit trees in your yard. Throughout the year, a piece of fruit may fall off and smash to the ground. With all the sweet juices now in the open, it can attract certain pests, including wasps.

Try not to make the area more appealing than it needs to be. Regularly inspect underneath your fruit trees and remove any pieces of fruit as soon as they hit the ground.

Create & Hang a Fake Nest

Wasp colonies are incredibly territorial. If wasps believe there is another colony already living in the area, then they are likely going to look elsewhere to make a home.

Hornet Nest

There are a couple of ways to accomplish this. The easiest method would be to buy a fake nest online. Or, you can make a fake nest with a brown paper bag.

How to make a fake wasp nest:

  1. Fill your brown paper bag with crumpled newspaper or debris.
  2. Close off the opening with sting or tape.
  3. Crumple the bag a little bit, to give it the appearance of a hornets nest.
  4. Hang it in the area where you don’t want wasps buzzing around.

This is a great way to deter wasps, as they will not want a confrontation with other colonies already living in the area.

Other Ways to Prevent Wasps From Living Near Your Home

While the food source is going to be the best method, there are a few other ways you can deter wasps and yellow jackets from living around your home.

  • Seal Cracks, Window Frames & Entry Points:

    Before summer comes around, you should thoroughly inspect your house to see if there are any cracks or other entry points in the siding. You should also inspect door and window frames to make sure there are no areas for wasps to get into.

  • Sweet Perfume:

    You also want to avoid wearing any sweet perfume during the summer. The scent you are emitting can attract the pests.

  • Bright Clothes:

    Finally, avoid wearing clothing that contains flower imagery or is generally bright. That can catch wasps’ attention, and they may curiously come to you to see if you are actually a flower.

TL;DR — If you do not give wasps a reason to buzz around your property, then they are probably going to go elsewhere and leave you alone.


General Tips to Removing a Nest

If you decide you want to get rid of a wasp nest on your own, then it would be wise to understand and follow these general tips.

Wasp Nest
  • Wear Protective Equipment:

    Keep yourself safe by wearing long sleeves, protective eyewear, and gloves. If you have a bee hat, that would be ideal. But, most homeowners will not have these.

  • Neutralize at Night:

    To ensure you kill the entire colony, as well as the queen, it is recommended that you exterminate the nest at dusk or night. Not only are wasps and hornets less aggressive at this time, but the entire colony will be back in the nest for the night.

  • Locate & Target the Opening:

    If possible, try to locate the opening of the nest. This will usually be located near the bottom. Spray your soapy water or pesticide in this area first, and then target the rest.

  • Do Not Stand Below the Nest:

    Most wasps and hornets will fall the moment they get sprayed. Because of this, you should not stand directly below the nest, unless you want to be exposed to chemicals or get stung by falling wasps.


4 Methods to Kill & Remove Wasps

In the event that you notice wasps, hornets or yellow jackets buzzing around your home, then your already beyond prevention. You’ll need to find a way to remove them.

The easy way would be to simply spray them with pesticide. But, do you really want to spend money to spray a poisonous substance around your home? Instead, try using a few of these tips to help you get rid of wasps naturally.

1) Spray With Soapy Water

An easy, DIY alternative to spraying pesticide is to create a solution of dish soap and hot water. Spray this onto the nest. This is the recommended first step that every homeowner should try. This will kill the wasps naturally and, most of the time, instantaneously.

How to Make:

  1. Mix solution in a spray bottle.
  2. For every cup of hot water, you’ll want to add 2-3 oz of dish soap.
  3. Shake vigorously.
  4. Spray directly onto nest while the water is still hot.
  5. Run.

Stay mindful of your escape route. Once you apply the soapy water, it is likely that you will agitate the hornet nest and they may try to attack. You could also try mixing in other detergents that are around your home.

Benefits:

  • Safe for all occupants and pets.
  • Cheap and easy to make.
  • Likely, you already have all supplies.
How to Get Rid of Hornets Nest

2) Suck Them Up With A Vacuum

Another easy way to remove wasps are to suck them into your vacuum cleaner. Most homeowners have a vacuum in their home, making this a zero cost way to remove adult insects.

Simply use the attachment hose, get close to the nest and turn it on. This will suck the adult wasps into the vacuum, containing them in an area where they pose no risk to you. Of course, this means you have to be brave enough to get close to the nest.

Benefits:

  • Costs nothing.

Disadvantages:

  • Need to get close to the nest, and are more likely to get stung.
  • You still need to destroy the nest.

3) Set Up Traps

If you don’t want to go near a nest and risk getting stung, you should consider setting up a few traps. There are a variety of different traps that will work.

You will want to hang these traps in areas where you, your family and your guests are not going near.

These traps consist of sweet-smelling solutions so wasps and other pests go to it and end up getting stuck. You can purchase wasp nests or make your own if you want to make it a DIY project.

  • Glue Trap — Widely available online and at many retailers, this type of trap is covered in sticky adhesive that makes it difficult, if not entirely impossible, for wasps to fly away after they’ve landed on it. While an effective method, this type of trap is often criticized due to its ability to trap other insects and the slow nature in which they die.
  • Bait & Lure Trap — Another trap you can use is a bait and lure trap. There are many versions available, including a few you can make yourself, but they all essentially accomplish the same task: Use bait to lure a wasp into the trap, where they are unable to escape.

How to Make Your Own Wasp Trap

  1. Cut the top off of a plastic 2-liter bottle.
  2. Fill the bottom part with sugary water.
  3. Turn the top part upside down, with the bottle top pointing downward.
  4. This configuration makes it difficult for a wasp to fly out.

4) Spray Nest With Insecticide

If the above methods fail or you just prefer to start with a commercial insecticide, here are some general tips you should know before you buy.

  • Active Ingredient:

    It’s important that you get an pyrethrin or pyrethroid insecticide. The EPA has tested and determined that these “do not pose risk concerns for children or adults.”

  • Look Closely at the Label:

    The words on the label are important. If you’re trying to kill wasps or hornets, make sure to buy an insecticide that is specially formulated for these pests. These will typically have “WASP” prominently displayed.

  • Caution vs. Warning:

    Another important factor are the “signal words” on the label. Insecticides labeled with “Caution” are going to pose less of a risk to humans than those labeled with “Warning.” Either way, they’re both toxic. With this in mind, you should always exercise caution and take measures to protect yourself while using any insecticide.


Final Thoughts

Keep in mind: Simply knocking down a nest is not a complete solution. The remaining wasps will build a new one.

These are a few of the tips to get rid of wasps around your home. However, despite your best efforts, the day may come when you get stung. Clean the site immediately when this occurs. You may need to apply some antihistamine if it begins to hurt. In the event you have an allergic reaction to a wasp sting, you need to seek medical attention immediately.

Water Quality

How to Test the Quality of Your Drinking Water

The majority of homeowners in the United States get their drinking water from public water treatment facilities, and we tend to accept without question that the water that flows from our taps is clean and safe to drink.

But is it?

Americans use thousands of different chemicals every day. Unbeknownst to us, many of these substances ends up in our lakes, rivers and aquifers. These may include pesticides, pharmaceuticals, solvents, weed killers, cleaning agents, you name it — all of these contaminants eventually finds its way into our water supply.

How Does Our Water Become Contaminated?

The contaminants that degrade the water quality come from a number of sources. Some of it gets there from people dumping it down their toilets, while other chemicals show up thanks to runoff from farms or mining, leaching from landfills, or improper storage and disposal at manufacturing plants. In addition to the chemicals, many of our waterways are filled with harmful bacteria, such as E. coli.

Some of these contaminants get removed during sewage treatment procedures, but others find their way into the waterways around our homes. It’s up to our water treatment facilities to properly process the water, removing all toxins to make it safe for us to drink before piping it to our homes.

Water Contamination

Is Your Drinking Water Safe?

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates a number of harmful substances, such as uranium, lead, and arsenic. For each of these, the EPA sets a Maximum Contaminant Level indicating at what concentration these chemicals and minerals can exist in our drinking water before it is considered unsafe to drink.

Each summer, the EPA issues a report for most municipal water systems in the country. These Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR) can be searched on the EPA’s website.

In the CCR, at minimum you can expect to find the following information:

  • The source of your drinking water.
  • A discussion of the general risks of contamination.
  • A list of regulated contaminants and their levels in the water at the time of testing.
  • Possible health risks from these contaminants found in excess of EPA standards.
  • What your local water treatment facility is doing to correct any problems.

The Downside of the EPA’s Annual Water Quality Report

While these reports are a great resource that provide a high-level overview of what’s in the pipes in your home, they cannot reliably provide a complete picture of your water quality.

EPA Water

For the reports, water is tested only once or twice a year and contaminant levels are averaged out across 12 months. Contamination can occur outside of testing periods, or there can be occasional spikes in certain contaminants that exceed EPA regulations, and these issues may not be captured in the report. Furthermore, it’s possible for your water to become contaminated after it leaves the treatment facility.

Contaminants Not Measured by the EPA

As another point of concern, just a few of the chemicals that can be found in our drinking water are measured or regulated by the EPA. Independent water testing laboratories confirm a wide variety of contaminants that may be found in our water supplies. In water samples taken from across the country, these labs have discovered measurable quantities of contaminants as varied as antidepressant medications, artificial hormones and gasoline additives.

The EPA doesn’t regulate most of these chemicals in our drinking water. Although most will only occur in trace amounts, there’s no way to know what the chemical cocktail might be doing to our health. Most of these unmeasured contaminants have no taste or color and pass through our water and into our bodies undetected. While many of these substances may be harmless in and of themselves, there are few studies to suggest what these different chemicals might do in combination with others.


When Should You Get Your Water Tested?

The EPA recommends you test your water annually to get a sense for what you may be drinking and if there are changes over time. In addition to yearly water tests, some of the things that should prompt you to test your tap water immediately include:

Water Quality Testing
  • Recurring stomach or digestive issues: This may be a sign of bacterial contamination.
  • Cloudy, frothy, discolored or smelly water: This can be caused by a number of contaminants.
  • Living in an older home: Aging plumbing may leach copper and lead into the drinking water.
  • Red or rust-colored stains on your sink or clothing: This is a sign that your water has high levels of iron or other minerals.
  • Nearby coal, gas or agricultural activities, especially fracking: These industrial areas may lead to pesticides, herbicides or solvents leaching into your water.
  • Living close to landfills, gas stations, industrial plants, dry cleaners: Many substances can leach into the ground and, possibly, contaminate local water supplies.

For a more comprehensive list, the EPA offers this handy chart (PDF) that can help you determine when you might want to test your water, with symptoms that can occur with certain contaminants.


How to Find Out What’s in Your Water

If you’re experiencing any signs that indicate something could be in your water, or if you want to test your water for your own peace of mind, you have a few options to choose from. The cost and accuracy will vary, so it’s important to do some research on your options prior to investing.

Sending Samples to a Testing Lab

There are many professional water testing labs that can provide extensive testing on water samples you provide. They send you a kit and instructions on how to collect water samples, and then you send the samples to the lab for evaluation.

How to Test Water Quality

Generally you can choose which kinds of tests these labs will perform, from testing for common contaminants to specialized tests for radon, uranium or other substances depending on your location and personal concerns.

These labs provide tests for tap water from both water from city treatment plants and well water, so they’re a good option for the majority of homeowners. The least expensive tests run about $50 and the most extensive ones can cost over $400, so it’s a good idea to know what you’re looking for before purchasing a test kit.

Is a DIY Water Testing Kit Worth the Cost?

Those costs may seem exorbitant, and you do have other options. There are inexpensive home testing kits you can purchase from home improvement stores and online merchants. These kits purport to test for bacteria, lead, pesticides, chlorine, nitrates and nitrites, and can also tell you the hardness and pH of your water.

These kits may seem like a great way to check your water quality and identify potential problems, but they cannot test for all contaminants, including fluoride and glyphosate. They are also far less reliable than laboratory tests, so the results should be taken with a grain of salt.

Do These Types of Kits Even Work?

Good Housekeeping performed a review of different do-it-yourself home water testing kits. Their results showed that most of the common tests inaccurately measured levels of certain contaminants, while entirely missing others. Even worse, many of these tests have given false positives that may cause you to take expensive preventative action when no such need exists.

So, what should you do?

If you’re just curious about your water but have no serious concerns, trying out a DIY kit may be a good place to start. However, if you have any concerns about your water quality, or you have anyone with health issues, small children, or elderly family members, you should probably consider a professional testing lab.

Just be careful: There are some labs out there that offer “free” water testing, but those usually are fronts for companies that want to try to sell you expensive filtration solutions you don’t need. You can find some of these “free” options available near many Home Depot locations.

If you have evidence of contaminants in your water, you can report it to the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline, 1-800-426-4791.


How Can You Remove Contaminants?

For some contaminants, it’s easy to remove them with a filter that attaches directly to your faucet or by using a water pitcher filter.

These filters are inexpensive and easy to maintain, using activated charcoal as their primary filtration medium. They are perfect for removing chlorine (commonly added to disinfect municipal water). Depending on the manufacturer and freshness of the filter, they can also remove trace amounts of minerals such as zinc, lead, copper, and asbestos, as well as some bacteria or other biological contaminants.

Removing Lead from Drinking Water

Because of the significant health problems associated with consuming any levels of lead, if you’re concerned about the lead content in your water, be sure to do your homework. Most pitchers and faucet filters are not certified to remove lead from drinking water.

Reverse Osmosis System

Furthermore, a number of other contaminants cannot be removed with inexpensive filtration solutions. For safe removal of lead, pesticides, glyphosate, fluoride, and many other contaminants, a reverse osmosis filter might be the best solution. For many homeowners, the best choice will be a reverse osmosis filtration system that is installed directly under the kitchen sink, but you can also install a “whole-house” unit that works for the water in the entire home.

What is Reverse Osmosis?

Reverse osmosis is the process many bottlers use to produce ‘purified’ water, and this type of filtration will remove the majority of contaminants from your water. The downsides of these units include a high initial setup cost and a higher consumption of water as part of the filtration, which will increase utility bills.

Hopefully now that you’re armed with all of this information about water quality and filtration, you will be able to make an informed decision about when and why to get your water tested, as well as have some solutions if you find out you do have unwanted substances in your drinking water.