Grow More With Vertical Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few years ago I was faced with an issue of needing to keep some seedlings warm, combined with not a lot of money to spend and limited resources. This meant being creative with what WAS available and the result is functional, cheap and reuses things that mostly would have been thrown away.

I already had an existing 4’x4′ compost bin created by putting together pallets. To this basic pallet compost bin I nailed a “ladder” framework. I then cut the bottoms off of 2 liter soda bottles, putting a hole in the cap before screwing it back on which insured water dripped out rather than pooling in the container. The bottom piece cut off – a small ‘bowl’ – I’ve used for starting seeds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce the framework was done and the bottles prepared the bottles were turned upside down and a small screw attached it to the frame. A larger screw was driven through the neck for solid support – I used 1-7/8″ screws but 2″ would have given a little more security. The bottles were arranged 10 across the 4′ span, with the base arranged so it funnels into the bottle below it. The bottom row drips into containers. In this way watering the top layer goes through to drip into the 2nd layer. If, in the case of rain, it is too much it continues to trickle down and finally out the containers if excessive.

Once the bottles were arranged, it’s a matter of filling them – I used a handful of broken up leaves in the bottom followed by a soil mixture. The mix is compost, soil, manure and bagged top soil. On one side there are 20 pepper plants are in these, one to a container, with ten zucchini on the top layer. The zucchini will be ‘trained’ over the top providing shade over the compost bin as well as making use of space.

The other thought to this was keeping seedlings warm in case of an unexpected cold snap. A sheet of plastic from a farm store – less than $20 – was employed to go over the entire frame. The natural heat from the compost bin provides enough to, in the south, raise the temperature just that few degrees to keep them from getting nipped by frost.

Fancier materials from new purchase can be used with the same idea but for what was needed these have worked very well. It allows up to 170 plants in a 4×4′ space. For those with limited space, such as a patio or balcony, it would be easy to adapt to allow herbs and vegetables too be grown even if you don’t have a yard or garden area.

As it was used, in direct sun the soil will get too warm and ‘cook’ the roots, so plan the location well. Yes it will fall apart in a few years – but $30 for five years is not a bad value.

Enjoy Candles Without Getting Burned

Candles are a popular item in many homes not only during the Christmas season but year round. Candles can set soft light for a romantic dinner or non-electric light for watching television. They can warm potpourri and offer a variety of scents. However the risk of open flame means using candles wisely and taking precautions to insure safety.

Position your candles on a solid surface out of reach of children or pets. Using candles wisely means not setting it near an edge where the cat can knock it off the shelf or the dog or child reaching for a treasure tips it into the curtain behind it. Use the right kind of candle in the right place.

Tea lights and small candles provide a smaller more controlled use but still generate heat. The large pillar candles can burn for hours but far too many people simply set them on a wobbly plate or on the shelf. Tapered candles are attractive but must be secured solidly on a holder that doesn’t tip with the weight.

Here’s a few possible safety features for using candles in the home. For small candles reuse a clean glass jar, with some clean sand (maybe even a few decorative small shells!) in the bottom. Place the candle in the sand obviously you will need a larger jar for the large pillar candles than the smaller votive ones. This provides the light from the candles while reducing the chances that being tipped over results in a fire. First the sand extinguishes flame and also the glass increases the chance it’ll be confined in the jar not on something flammable. This is why *glass* not plastic jars are preferred. Also the candle is easily “confined” when extinguished for the night with the lid simply put on the jar. Using candles wisely this increases the chances that in the case of accidental tipping of the candle it would not catch anything on fire.

Another less visible possibility is taking a clean metal can, filling with water and freezing. When solidly frozen, using a hammer and hails put a “connect the dot” pattern in the side of the can. When the ice melts out you are left with a can with holes in it a little sand in the bottom and you have a metal candle holder that instead of showing an open flame shows an original pattern of artwork. This is an easy winter craft for older children to do.

Never leave a candle burning unattended, even with this precaution. Fire spreads far too easily to give it any kind of a head start! Keep the candles away from flammables. This seems obvious but often we don’t see things until it is too late. Using candles wisely means looking for these hidden hazards’ and eliminating them.

Keep the candles out of drafts or air currents to allow for more even burning and less dripping of hot wax. Resist moving a lit candle to prevent spilling hot wax and dropping the candle. Using candles wisely is not difficult but it does take a few points of attention to details and preventing any intentional or accidental ignition of items around the candle.

Some fire statistics shows that where candles are involved 38% of them began in the bedroom. Of those the ignition point was mattresses or bedding (11%) and curtains or draperies (10%). This is a great many fires prevented just using the above precautions a headboard is not a stable surface and if one falls asleep it’s far too easy to knock over a lit candle. Keeping candles away from draperies is essential also. According to the US Fire Administration falling asleep is a factor in 12% of the fires and a quarter of the deaths from those fires. Half of the fires from candles occur between midnight and 6 a.m. with, tragically, Christmas being the peak time.

This is not a reason to avoid candles or stop using them! Instead it is a call to use candles wisely have precautions in place and follow safety measures every time. Candles add much to our homes and many of us enjoy using them, but practice using candles wisely and safely every time you light one up.

Beautiful and Energy Efficient Christmas Display Tips

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADecorating for Christmas doesn’t have to result in breaking the bank for electrical costs. For many people heating costs add to the power bills already in December and although the lights aren’t the same as electric heat, they do add to the meter spinning. Decorating for Christmas can be beautiful and conservative. Here are some Christmas decorating tips.

If you are in an open area one easy way to make the most of the sunny days is using lights that are solar powered. These have a small charger that automatically charges as the sun comes out so long as the power cell area is cleared off. There is also a sensor that turns the lights on automatically at dark. This adds nothing to your power bill! Although the lights often aren’t as blazing bright the glow of Christmas doesn’t need to be neon!

Another option is using conventional lights but having them on a timer to come on at, for example, 6 p.m. and turn off at midnight. This allows your lighted display to be enjoyed in the evening hours but not run all night when there are few to see it. From midnight to 6 a.m. is 42 hours per week that the lights are not on – which can add up!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChoose energy efficient lights and make use of timers on the Christmas tree as well as outdoor lights. This insures no one forgets to unplug the tree before bed and also gives a consistent turning on of lights that can appear someone is plugging them in.

Still another option is to have an unlighted display with solar lights illuminating it. These lights can be standard ones that often sell in a package for about $20. A soft glow on a manger scene, for example, can save money and capture the spirit of the season.

Look to non-powered displays such as candles set up in luminary fashion. Be sure to secure the bag or can solidly so it doesn’t blow or tip over and so the candle doesn’t start a fire in dry leaves or other debris.

Decorate posts on yard lights with safe tinsel or plastic wreath garland. These are very inexpensive and the evergreen looking garland can be offset with weatherproof ribbon for the maximum in energy efficient Christmas decorations – those that use no electricity.

Using evergreens in the yard is a natural way to decorate. You can even add a natural touch with securing suet feeders nearby to encourage live birds to add to a display. Brightly colored cardinals, wrens and other songbirds appreciate a treat and are resourceful if you aren’t able to feed the whole winter. You can even add sunflower seeds, dry unsugared cereal, ‘buggy’ oatmeal and castoffs from popcorn as extra goodies in a flat feeder where it won’t get wet.

For those with more than the average commitment a live nativity can be a touch of Christmas present. A doll can represent the baby, with a few sheep and a donkey and cow tethered as well as the people. Creative types might combine tradition with technology for a modern Christmas scene.

These are just a few ways that can spread the Christmas decorating while not resulting in high fees on your power bill. Energy efficient Christmas decorations need not be expensive or dull!

Safe Extension Cord Use to Prevent Fires

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHoliday fire safety starts with proper use of extension cords. Remember that these cords were meant to extend the range of a power outlet, not increase it. Here’s some tips for safe use of electrical cords this holiday season.

Keep the plug in part out of the tree. Even on a new cord it is not unheard of for there to be problems in the plug that result in flames. Quickly unplugging the cord solves that but if it’s ignited the tree there’s a much bigger problem to deal with.

Don’t run cords underneath rugs. Many people do this for safety reasons to keep the cord from tripping people, but it’s surprising how much some of these cords can heat up. Always thoroughly check the cord before plugging it in for nicks and places where the insulation is cut through a bare wire can increase the chances of fire. Holiday fire safety begins with safe equipment.

Because of small things likely to escalate around the tree this time of year have a properly charged ABC fire extinguisher near the tree in case there is a problem. Hopefully this won’t be needed but if it is this can save steps and precious time. A good holiday fire safety plan includes the “what if” and takes steps to insure a safe season for all.

Use caution running cords through doorways where they can be crimped better yet don’t do it! Not only can this create a problem but a cord can short and anyone stepping on it and the wet ground or snow can be in for an unpleasant jolt. While many think of holiday fire safety it’s easy to forget there are other safety issues also. For this reason keep cords from sitting in puddles, snow and ice.

Many use electrical cords for lights and lights on the tree but there are many who use outdoor cords also. Make sure that you use a cord heavy enough for the job. A light household cord that is overloaded in an outdoor situation can heat up. Holiday fire safety is always something to take seriously.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs you add strings of outdoor lights many people also use timers and other gadgets to increase the efficiency and operation of the display. Keep these things protected as well as your cords and use only those products rated to be used outdoors. If you use more than one cord you might consider whether it’s better to install an outdoor outlet next year which not only makes things easier but increases your holiday fire safety plan.

Use caution running extension cords near or over baseboard or other heaters. These cords are not meant to withstand the heat these appliances give out. Uncoil cords to help prevent heat from building up in one area. Never take short cuts using a grounded plug in a two prong adapter. The ground wire is there for a good reason!

While we hear about recalls of vehicles and other items we often don’t hear about recalls involving electrical cords and power strips. Recalls can be issued for over a million cords but if you don’t hear about it and aren’t aware of it you can be using it. Holiday fire safety isn’t often thought of as searching for recalls of anything but toys and child restraint seats it seems, but that defective cord could be a means of incredible loss.

Watch for wear around the “plug in” part of the cord that can be weakened with repeated pulling it from the socket. If it is broken or worn through replace it. Even a $10 cord is much cheaper than replacing your home or losing a family member due to a fire especially at the holiday season.

Tragedy doesn’t take holidays and neither should holiday fire safety. Be alert, be safety minded and use electricity and electrical cords safely. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Prepare for Cold Weather Travel

Winter_Coats_On_The_BoardwalkProper preparation for the cold can greatly make for more comfort when you travel to cold places. Whether you are traveling for a winter vacation, business or any other reason clothes for cold weather can make a big difference. Here are some packing tips to get you started.

Think layers. You’ll want a layer that wicks moisture away from your body – this need not be a thick layer to be effective but should be able to move moisture from your skin. This is important because moisture leads to dampness leads to being cold and wet! It’s also important that these shirts be not too baggy but not too tight. A little bit of air helps you stay warmer.

On top of this is another insulated layer. If you are going in extreme cold long underwear and undershirt should also be part of the packing process. Natural fibers – cotton and wool – are a bonus. Remember with the bottom layer (or two) the wool won’t be against your skin, but still effectively protects from the cold.

Be prepared. The thing about layers is you can take a layer or two off if you end up inside for a while, such as an airport or stopping at a restaurant for a meal. As it gets colder put those layers back on.

Top layer for outdoor is a good quality coat. This need not be a fancy name brand but get something warm and water resistant. If your layers get wet then your planning and packing is for nothing.

Socks that are thick enough to protect your feet and keep them warm are also important. In colder weather also have a hat and scarf. An incredible amount of heat escapes via our head and neck – if we keep those covered we conserve heat.

Long pants are important. This means denim, or if you can’t wear that pick corduroy. Forget dresses, skirts and think slick lightweight pants. Along with it if there is likely to be ice or snow. Forget heels and shoes with slick bottoms – this is not just for fashion but for comfort and safety! Use good quality footwear – even hiking boots are better than dress shoes.

How many layers you’ll need depends on how cold it gets and what your comfort level is but be sure to choose clothing that is comfortable and layer it well. This need not be expensive clothing if chosen well.

Cabela’s has complete layering sets available with wool, fleece and Merino wool that allows you to look good and be warm. Although much of their line is designed for hunters (and therefore camouflage is prominent) there are many colors and styles available once you understand the principles of layering, and many of the selections you may have in your wardrobe now.

Cold weather clothing is also easily found online among stores that cater to people who need it – hunters, farmers, military, emergency workers and others. Your own comfort zone will help dictate choices.

Be comfortable and remember layers to maximize warmth. You don’t need a parka that makes you look like a snowman unless you are going in cold weather for a considerable amount of time. however, another thing to keep in mind in cold weather areas is being prepared. This can keep you alive if the unexpected happens.

Layers of comfortable clothing give you maximum warmth. Use that as your guide along with your own comfort (do you get cold easily?) and the temperature where you’re going or going through. Stay warm, stay comfortable, stay safe!

 

Did you know – A well known wildlife photographer once made the point that cold weather and poor preparation kills more people in Alaska than grizzly bears.

Tips to Cut Your Fresh Christmas Tree

treeslandMany people seem intimidated by if not puzzled by how to cut a Christmas tree. A fresh cut Christmas tree that is properly cared for is much safer than one that may dry out soon after you get it. Here are some tips to keep your tree safe and beautiful.

There are many farms where you can select a tree but when visiting them remember that their business – their annual income! – is on this season. As one who raised trees for the Christmas season there are many mistakes someone can make that cost you money and can also cost the farm money.

The biggest waste was from people who would cut a tree then see a “better one” and leave the first one to cut a second one. In effect this takes two trees while paying for one. Another one is in ‘topping’ trees – the 10 foot tree that someone liked the top 5 feet so they cut the tree half way up, leaving a bottom half that could not be sold or used as a tree, and reducing the big trees available for businesses or churches that wanted those big trees. Be considerate of your tree farmers!

One of the biggest errors is not measuring! That big beautiful 8 foot tree just is not going to fit in your six foot living room! Additionally a six foot tree won’t fit with room for the star or angel tree topper! Be realistic about the size tree you need.

Keep in mind also to allow 4-6 inches you’re going to take off before putting in water. Opinions vary about treating the water, using 7-Up, using just plain water – but not in that the tree needs plenty of it! When you get the tree home make another fresh cut at the base of the tree.

A fresh cut insures the water is soaked up and the pores aren’t clogged shut with sap. Use a solidly secured bucket or tree stand and remember that your tree can use a gallon of water per day. Keeping your tree watered is the #1 way you can reduce drying it out, which reduces the fire issues.

Ideally you’ll have two people to cut and, for most trees of the size you’ll be searching for a hand saw or bow saw will do the job fine. Have the helper hold the tree upright which reduces the chances of the tree falling and “tearing” the cut. Try to arrange a time that you can cut, get the tree home, do your “butt cut” and get the tree in water. The faster this can happen the better for the tree.

The Christmas tree cutting can be a family tradition and a fresh cut Christmas tree starts the season off well. Have a great Christmas and enjoy your cut Christmas tree.

How to Stain a Deck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALearning how to stain a deck is not difficult with a little research and a willingness to perhaps get a little dirty. If your deck is looking a little dingy it might be time for a facelift and a good deck stain can make a world of difference.

Look at your deck after a rain or with a little water on it – are there “puddles” or does it sink into the deck? If there’s drops on top your deck won’t need sealed, even if you stain it. If it seeps in, however, a good deck sealer is needed in order to maintain the structure of the deck as well as the appearance.

A good clear water repellant preserves the wood from fading, helps with sun and water protection. There also is a semi-transparent and the dark deck stains, which offer the most protection. If you don’t have a new deck, you’ll need to prepare the deck itself. Sand rough spots down, repair boards that are showing excessive wear. You’ll need at least two days between 50-90 degrees to properly get the deck stain applied. Do not apply in hot sun – if the deck stain dries too quickly it doesn’t soak in, and it needs to soak in to give the maximum protection.

Once the deck is prepared gently stir the stain to mix thoroughly – don’t shake it and keep the bubbles to a minimum for the best look when staining a deck. Have all dust, debris, sawdust and so forth swept off the deck and it should be completely dry. Working 2-3 boards at a time apply the stain, covering thoroughly but without allowing it to puddle. Working quickly to cover the deck it may help to have someone with a roller going behind you to insure it is spread thoroughly and evenly. Use a brush to get into the corners and joints, railings and steps to cover the deck evenly.

With a variety of deck stains available to consumers you can treat your deck with a light stain to let the wood grain show through or the darker, longer lasting stain that protects with a longer wear life. A good exterior stain greatly extends the life of your deck and allows you to enjoy it rather than replacing it.

There are others who don’t like stains at all and prefer to coordinate the deck with the house with the use of deck paint. These are often white, grey or other light colors but based on individual tastes.

Whether you paint or use deck stain, cover thoroughly and evenly and allow the deck to dry completely for at least 24 hours before stepping onto it or using it. Your reward is a beautiful deck that takes little other maintenance.