Thursday, October 30, 2008

Organically Manage Weeds

So how do you know if that plant you are looking at is really a weed? Pull it up. If it comes out easily, it wasn't a weed!

Although that's not really the true definition, it seems to be the case, more often than not. So just what is a weed anyway? The most widely accepted definition is simply "a plant out of place."

First, the best defense is a good offense. Take lawns for example. Other than manual methods, such as hand-pulling, once weeds are present, organic controls are unavailable to selectively eliminate the weeds. Promoting the health and vigor of the lawn is the best way to starve off, shade out and out-compete the weeds.

When you're ready to manage weeds with organic controls, there are several options. The following is a listing of some of the most popular eco-friendly choices.

Manual Controls

* Hand-pulling. This, to me, has an element of satisfaction that no other weed-control method can offer. It's also one of the few ways for selective control. Hand weeding is easiest after a soaking rain. With tap-rooted weeds, make sure to get the entire root! Otherwise, any remaining piece will provide sufficient energy for it to regenerate a new plant.

* Mulch. A layer of mulch two to four inches thick is a very effective organic means of preventing most weeds from germinating.

If you want to know that the bagged mulch you buy is free of potentially harmful contaminates such as arsenic from treated wood, be sure each bag has the certification seal of the Mulch and Soil Council. (

Sprays and Drenches

These methods affect plants on contact by burning or desiccating the cell structure. As a contact herbicide, they are most effective on young annual weeds.

* Boiling Water. This works well at killing most weeds with one application. Some weeds, especially those with tap roots such as dandelions may need multiple applications. Use caution, keep the water as close to the weed as possible to avoid splashing yourself or other desirable plants.

* Acetic Acid (vinegar). Works, but common household vinegar is not effective for mature weeds. Minimum concentrations above 7 percent are needed to manage tougher weeds, and multiple applications may be necessary with tap-rooted weeds. Use caution when using acetic acid, as it can burn skin and eyes on contact. Approved sources for herbicide use can be found online or at farm-supply stores.

* Plant-based ingredients such as citric oil, clove oil and garlic are non-selective post-emergent herbicides. Use caution, as they will injure or kill all vegetation they touch. Tougher weeds usually require multiple applications for complete control. Ready-to-use products are available through organic gardening-supply sources online and in some garden centers.

Granular Pre-emergent

* Corn Gluten is a granular corn-based product that is used as an organic pre-emergent control in lawns. Although effective, it takes several seasons for results comparable to synthetic options. Corn gluten has the added benefit of containing 10 percent nitrogen by volume for natural fertilization as well. It is becoming more popular but is not yet widely available in retail garden centers. It is readily available online.

* Flame weeders are devices that use the intense heat of a concentrated flame to destroy the cell structure of the plant. Typically powered by a propane canister, they are portable and effective. Simply pass the flame over the weed for several seconds. It is not necessary to visibly burn the weed. A few seconds of intense heat is all that is necessary.

Like the other methods listed above, because the roots are unaffected, the toughest weeds may require multiple applications. Use extreme caution when working with this tool.

Prevention is the best way to reduce the weeds from spreading next year. Although they will still come into your yard through other means, eliminating weeds on your property before they go to seed or have a chance to spread will save you many hours of work next year and beyond.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vehicle Repairs at Your Fingertips!

I don't know if your like me at all but I hate to feel like I'm at the mercy of an auto mechanic. You take your car or truck into the shop and your told "what's your number, we'll call you when we know". I hate that! I know they, in their own way, are like doctors where as one symptom may actually be something out in left field. How are you or they going to know till it's checked out? How do you know your getting the straight line, a fair price, a reputable mechanic, and honest advice? I happened to find a place on the internet where I could get car repair estimates that fit the bill for me. I did an experiment to see how good this system was. I selected my car on the website with year, model, etc and setup a front brake job with rotor replacement and got a price between $273 to $454, depending on what auto repair shops did the repair. It even told me who the better rated shops were, as well as the lower or unrated shops. Whether you have a Honda Civic or a Ford F150, common problems and repair prices are at your fingertips!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Are Your Lawn and Garden Ready for the Chill? part 2

Fall is an ideal time for fertilizing your lawn. Remove fallen leaves by raking and composting them or mulch them with a mulching lawn mower.

Whether you have a pond made of a flexible vinyl or a pre-formed plastic liner, there are steps you should take to winterize a water feature. Cut back hardy and tender aquatic plants. Bring tender plants indoors and store in a shallow container filled with a few inches of water near a sunny window. Because some plants like tropical water lilies can be somewhat difficult to overwinter indoors, it may be best to treat some tender plants as annuals. Remove tender floaters, like water lettuce or water hyacinth, that won't survive the winter indoors or outdoors. If your pond is less than about two feet deep, gather fish into plastic bags filled with pond water and bring to an indoor aquarium. Sink plastic bags containing the fish into the aquarium and allow time for the water to come to a temperature equilibrium before dumping the fish into the aquarium. If fish are kept outside during the winter, stop feeding them as their metabolism slows down. Remove leaf litter or other debris from the water.

Turn off water to irrigation systems and set automatic timers to the "off" mode. You may not want to turn the controller box off completely so you don't lose the watering schedule and have to reprogram it next season. It may be necessary to drain or blow the water out of the pipes. Consult your local irrigation specialist on recommendations. If any pipes, valves or the backflow preventer are above ground and exposed to the elements, wrap them with protective insulation, like insulator tape, to keep them from freezing. But don't insulate or block air vents or the pump motor.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Are Your Lawn and Garden Ready for the Chill? part 1

Is your garden ready for winter? Here are some tips to help you get prepared.

Garden chores
Move terra-cotta and ceramic containers to a protected location like a garden shed or garage. Clean clay pots to remove the excess salt or algae build-up and repair damaged ones.

Bring tender plants, such as tropicals and containerized plants, inside for overwintering. Replant in pots if necessary and place them in a garage, heated garden shed or indoor room. Take cuttings of annuals, such as coleus, and begin propagating new plants for next season.

Dig and store tender summer- and fall-flowering bulbs, such as dahlias. Plant spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips. Plant bulbs with their roots down. If the bulb has a sprout at the top, it can still be planted.

Avoid heavy pruning of trees and shrubs going into the winter months, but do prune away broken branches. Touch up mulch at the base of plants once temperatures are consistently cold.

In the perennial border, touch up mulch around plants for added winter protection. A layer of mulch about two to four inches deep is ideal. Unless you prefer otherwise, it is fine to leave foliage that has died back as it will help provide additional protection at the crown of plants. Leave ornamental grasses intact without cutting them back to discourage new growth during warm spells and encourage birds to visit.

Extend the harvest of cool season veggies like lettuce and spinach by constructing a cold frame around them.

Remove spent plants from the vegetable garden and add them to the compost pile. Discard diseased plants in the trash. Turn over the soil with a garden fork (or till) to expose underground pests to cold temperatures. Caution: don't work soil when it's wet! Planting a cover crop can help reduce soil erosion, capture nutrients, reduce weeds and enrich the soil for spring.

Depending on where you live, there are different methods to winterizing roses. A good rule of thumb is to remove the foliage from on and around the base of rose plants; this keeps foliar diseases from overwintering and coming back next growing season. Prune away branches that show signs of decay or insect infestation; also cut long stems that can whip around in the wind. Throw away diseased foliage and cut branches in the trash, instead of composting it. Spray roses and the soil immediately surrounding them with a fungicide to protect plants through winter and hopefully keep disease from overwintering. A generous layer of mulch, topsoil or compost heaped around the graft union can also help protect it against the cold. More on overwintering potted roses and readying roses for winter in prior post.

Winterize the compost bin by covering it with a tarp; this will help to keep the composting process going through the cold season. Occasionally soak the pile with water to keep it moist. Add an insulation of leaves or straw on the top and the sides of the pile.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Are Your Roses Ready For Winter?

Depending on where you live, there are different methods to winterizing roses. A good rule of thumb is to remove the foliage from on and around the base of rose plants; this keeps foliar diseases from overwintering and coming back next growing season. Prune away branches that show signs of decay or insect infestation; also cut long stems that can whip around in the wind. Throw away diseased foliage and cut branches in the trash, instead of composting it. Spray roses and the soil immediately surrounding them with a fungicide to protect plants through winter and hopefully keep disease from overwintering. A generous layer of mulch, topsoil or compost heaped around the graft union can also help protect it against the cold.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Clean Chimney is a Happy Chimney

I am rerunning this article since we are getting much closer to fireplace season than when I ran the original article. This is not a paid advertisement but more of a public service announcement.

The weather is starting to cool, albeit slowly but more so in the north central states. People are starting to think ahead to turkeys, decorated trees, high holidays and one other thing if they have one. Sitting by a nice warm fire in the fireplace. Sounds nice and cozy doesn't it? It does to me because I have a fireplace. My fireplace is as clean now as when the house was built because I have never had a burned anything in it, mostly because I live in Florida and the fireplace came with the house. If I built the house it would not have had a fireplace. I've heard too many stories from public safety officers in my family about fireplaces and people losing their houses, or worse. For those of you who have one, or a wood burning stove, that you will be using ,the rest of this post is for you.

The number 1 thing you can do to prevent a serious loss of property and/or life is to make sure your chimney is clean. I don't mean dust or dirt, those things aren't the issue. Over the course of time dangerous substances such as creosote build up in the chimney that when in significant concentration can ignite. Anyone who uses oil for their home heating is familiar with the oil man coming to the house in the fall and inspecting the furnace for proper combustion. Well the same needs to be done for your chimney on the fireplace AND wood burning stoves. Not everyone is a seasoned veteran when it comes to using the 'right kind of seasoned wood' in their firebox. In a pinch I have seen people grab fresh pine branches to burn which are full of creosote. Yes, that's right, the same stuff that builds up in the chimney along with ash which begins to cake up in the stack. While at your house, sometimes the technician may encounter birds which nest inside your chimney. These federally protected birds are called chimney swifts. These birds, which look like bats, form nests which can produce dangerous situations that might cause a chimney fire. Flammable elements like soot, creosote, leaves and bird nests can catch fire. The Chimney Safety Institute of America, C.S.I.A. and the National Chimney Sweep Guild, has a wealth of information concerning the importance of fire safety. These sites discuss the venting hazards of carbon monoxide and that leaking smoke above masonry dampers can cause potential fire hazards. This is a great reason for waterproofing your chimney and installing screens or chimney caps*. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of holiday cheer.

Crystal Clear Headlights!

Back in the day we had glass headlights that stayed crystal clear for practically the life of the car. The only drawback to the glass headlights was the breakage that often occurred from a collision, vandalism, improper handling or a rock thrown up from a truck. We all know how dangerous broken glass is, as do the auto manufacturers and insurance companies. The solution to the problem was a lens cover made of plastic with a polycarbonate layer bonded to the front. Polycarbonate is most widely known as the material safety eyeglasses are made of, very high impact resistant material. This is the plus side! The minus side is that over a not too long period of time the effects of dirt, debris, stones, pollution and UV rays build up to the point where the lens cover looks like a frosted piece of glass. This effect severely limits the brightness of your headlights but also makes your car look like junk. There are now do-it-yourself kits available for about $20 that can be found at most auto accessory stores and big box mega stores. I know the W mart stores carry them and at the auto dept they may still offer to do it for you for a small fee, it was an offered service there. In my opinion it's well worth the small fee to have them do it, the job can be messy. The only other alternative is to spend a few hundred dollars and get a new replacement lens assembly. No, that would be wasteful, we like to save money here! Happy Motoring!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Beware of Lawn Care Extras!

I recently got an interesting phone call from my lawn care provider. I will call them TG, to protect the innocent and all that. Well, I received the call just before dinner and TG stated he wanted to do the annual aeration and pot ash treatment to ensure my lawn looked good and was healthy. He also said the St. Augustine floratam grass I have needed this treatment yearly. I told him that I neither wanted or could afford the $155 price for said treatment. TG told me that if he went to $150 did I want to do it then? I gave him the same answer. I was told my lawn would suffer without this treatment since it has been a few years since it's been done. I have never had this done and he has been my provider for 2 of the last 7 years I've lived here. Hmm, must be a psychic! Two years ago when they called with this pitch the price was $99, I guess pot ash went up in price. He finally said, when I told him I did not have extra money for this, that he would call back next week and see if things have changed. That would be nice but I have more important bills than lawn poking! I have been told every month by the TG company tech that my lawn is very green and healthy. According to the guy one the phone it should be on the verge of a brown death! The bottom line is that you do not really need this treatment and if your lawn care professional tries to pressure you into getting it done just tell them you don't appreciate being pressured after saying no and that you may need to reevaluate your lawn care if this is how a good customer is treated. You will get an apology faster than a dog chasing a stick. They can't afford the loss of a monthly customer just for a once a year treatment. Oh, and watch out for the Red Ant treatment deal as well, that phone call comes in the springtime. I never get that one either and it's about the same price. Put that money towards a real bill or a vacation instead! Enjoy your new savings!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Caring for your Septic System 101

Your septic system, specifically a septic tank, must be cared for if it is to work trouble free. When trouble does arise it does so in a very expensive and ugly way. Mistreatment of your tank can lead to a very costly replacement tank, a torn up yard and destroyed lawn. When a tank goes bad the first signs are subtle, drains move more slowly, toilets don't completely flush and your yard gets soggy where the tank has been overflowing underground. Put these tips to use for a clean and trouble-free septic system.

Don't Overload the Septic Tank and Drain field

* Check faucets and toilets for leaks; make repairs if necessary.
* Use aerators and flow reducer nozzles on showers to lower water consumption.
* Reduce water levels for small loads of laundry.
* Wait until the dishwasher is full to run it.
* Use a displacer to reduce the amount of water needed to flush the toilet.

Keep Trees Away from the Septic System

* Keep trees and roots at least 100 feet away from the septic system.
* Trees with very aggressive roots should be even farther away from the system.

The Toilet Isn't a Garbage Disposal

* Never flush cat litter, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, tampons, paper towels, facial tissues, coffee grounds, or cigarette butts and filters. They'll clog your septic tank in less time than you might imagine.

Use Garbage Disposals Wisely - I don't think they should be paired at all!

Minimize Heavy Duty Cleaners - they can and will kill useful bacteria needed!

Do Not Pour Grease Down the Drain - it will clog your drain field and fail!

Perform Regular Maintenance - have it pumped every 3-5 years depending on the number of people living in the house. The fewer people the longer you can go.

Never attempt to open a septic tank yourself. Gases and bacteria in it are dangerous.