Color Wheels to the Rescue in the Garden and Patio

garden_color_wheelWhether you’re planning your outdoor living area from scratch or renovating a well-worn space, there are two color wheels that can help you bring dynamic color to your garden and patio design. The basic color wheel can help you learn which colors traditionally “go together,” and the paint chip color wheel can help you fine-tune your selections.

Unlike the fashion industry, which dreams up a new “neutral color” for each fall collection in an attempt to get you to replace your entire wardrobe (Since when is fire engine red or chartreuse or amethyst a neutral color?), the neutral colors of nature remain constant. Nature’s greens, tans and blues (think sky and ocean), dominate the landscape season after season. They provide us with a canvass upon which to create our outdoor fantasies using flowers and furnishings as accent colors. But it’s easy to keep our outdoor living areas trapped in these neutral colors, using only a few containers and flowers to brighten the patio or balcony. Not only can we incorporate much more color into our outdoor rooms, but we have the option to change our minds with splashes of accent colors that we can easily swap on a whim.

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Gardening for Wildlife Part I-How to Grow Your Own Birdseed

bird_sunflowerAs the old saying goes, you get more bees with honey than vinegar. While this saying refers to being nice to people, it can also be said about wildlife.  If you want to attract birds, you need to provide good, quality feed.   This type of feed can be expensive and a little confusing because certain birds like only certain foods.  A good general rule to follow if you want to attract songbirds is to provide sunflower seeds.

While songbirds will consume any sunflower seed, the black oilseed variety is the best.  This variety has a thin hull and a small kernel, which makes it easy to crack and carry away.

Before deciding to grow your own birdseed, one must consider the growing requirements of the sunflower.  This plant likes to be in direct sunlight and takes up quite of bit of room.  Sunflowers can create the backdrop to any flowerbed but will require staking.  They can also be planted in a block formation to create a maze or even a shady fort for kids.

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The Global Grille: Uruguay

chimichurri_sauceGrilling is the oldest, and one of the most universal forms of cooking, if not the most universal.  People love to grille, and even more, love to consume grilled foods.  What we grille, exactly how we go about it, and what we call a grille can vary dramatically from culture to culture, even from region to region with a given country.  In this series, we will examine the grilling practices in various parts of the world.  Let’s start out with a region far away from us, and possible less familiar to us than others, Uruguay.  This South American country has a rich tradition of grilling.  In fact, in its capitol city, Montevideo, there is a large market, the Mercado del Puerto, which houses more than a dozen restaurants which specialize in grilled meats.  The aroma absolutely assaults you (in a pleasant way) as soon as you step inside.

While fish and seafood are found and consumed in Uruguay, when it comes to grilling, meat is king.  Beef, lamb, lamb intestines, pork and chicken are all to be found all over this country, with beef being the most popular.  This use of beef is common throughout South American nations.  It is common for people here to consume a mixed grille, consisting of three or more of the above-mentioned meats, and/or some form of sausage.  Large, sweet red peppers are also often found on the grille alongside the meats.  Commonly found here are longanizas, a spiced pork sauce, and morcillas, or blood sausage.   One particularly popular beef dish is a grilled filet mignon with mushroom sauce.  Uruguayans do not go in much for rubs and sauces applied to their beef, sticking mostly to the use of salt and pepper, but chimichurri, a kind of relish made up of garlic, parsley and vinegar, is commonly served on the side.  Uruguayans call their grilles parillas, and there are a few different forms which are popular.

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Take a Bite Out of Your Budget-Raise Brambles

growing_bramble_berriesA bramble loosely defined is any plant that belongs to the Rubus genus.  This includes prickly shrubs of the rose family that in turn include raspberries and blackberries.  The fruits from any bramble are highly perishable, very expensive, and may be hard to find in certain areas of the country.  A solution to this dilemma for the raspberry and/or blackberry lover is not to buy frozen fruit, but instead to grow your own.

The first part of this process entails picking a site.  Raspberries and blackberries do much better on the northern slope of a site.  This environment provides afternoon shade, which keeps the soil cool and moist.  Planting in this type of environment will eliminate the need for additional irrigation.

Brambles should not be grown where other brambles have been or where tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, tobacco and/or strawberries have been present for the past three years.  The soil should be well drained with a pH slightly acidic (5.6-6.5).  It should contain a large amount of organic matter.  The level of organic matter can easily be increased by tilling in well-rotted sawdust that is not from pressure treated wood or peat moss.

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Cleaning and Maintaining Your Outdoor Grille

grill_cleaningMany of us have long maintained the practice of grilling ‘round the calendar, but whether you are a four-season addict or merely a fair-weather practitioner, cleaning and maintenance of your outdoor grille is something that needs to be done on a regular basis, for reasons of health, appearance and efficiency.  Whether you buy a ready-made grille or griddle cleaning kit or improvise with your own tools, here are some tips to keep your grille happy, healthy and clean.  And while the specifics of how to go about the process may vary from unit to unit; these guidelines apply to all popular grilles, such as Twin Eagles, Lynx and Fire Magic.

First off, while some parts of the cleaning process may be done periodically, but regularly, you will want to clean the grate after every usage.  It is important to remove the residue from your food before bacteria growth becomes rampant.  I know we all like to remember a outstanding meal, but if you’ve just enjoyed a wonderful grilled steak dinner, and want to preserve the memory, take a picture, rather than leaving behind bits of “memorabilia.”  There are numerous grille cleaning sprays, etc. out there which do a good job, many of them environmentally friendly.  You may scrub the grates with a grille brush, or use a trick that many are now using.  Place an onion at the end of a barbecue prong and scrub the surface with this.  Or, if you don’t like the smell of an onion (shame on you); a good alternative is to use an apple.  Cleaning the grate not only protects your health, but the grate will be clean to produce those wonderful score marks that enhance the appearance of your food.  And, it will help prevent your grate from rusting.  If your outdoor grille has grille grates that have porcelain, you will want to preheat your grille to high, and brush the grate with a stiff wire brush.  The next time you use your grille, apply oil to the grate.   In the process of spreading the oil with a stiff material, you will also give that grate a second wipe-down.

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How To Make Basic Worty Wine

herbal wineBefore the concept of wine being made from grapes was in existence, our ancestors were creating an alcoholic beverage from what was in the environment.  Evidence for this can be found in several archaeological sites throughout the world and even our language shows the evolution of winemaking through the word worty.  The word worty had its humble beginnings in Old English where it was spelled wyrt.  This word then evolved to worty, which translates into liquor created from mashed and fermented leaves.

The first step to this process to make worty is to harvest your plant material.  This can be any plant material that is safe for human consumption.  When harvesting this material only choose plant material that is organically grown.  For this process, you will need 3 to 4 quarts of fresh plant material.

Once the plant material has been picked, thoroughly wash the plant material and let it drain.  While it is draining, wash and/or sterilize all the materials that will be involved in the process.  These materials include 1 large container that is glass, ceramic, enameled metal, or stainless steel, 1 plate or lid, 1 sieve or cheese cloth, 1 large stainless steel or enameled pot, 1 drinking glass, 1 crock made from food-grade plastic or ceramic, several bottles with screw-on caps or new corks or jars with screw-on lids, and a siphon.  Once these materials have been gathered prepare to sterilize the equipment.  This can be done by soaking the items in 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water, rinsing and letting air dry.  Another approach that can only be used for non-plastic items is to boil the items for 10 minutes and let air-dry.

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Make a Great Bonsai in a Few Easy Steps

bonsaiFor many, the term bonsai is equated with the concept of dwarf trees. In reality though, dwarf trees are those who have been grafted so that their short nature remains. This is very different from a bonsai that is pruned and remains in the same container for its entire life.

The birth of the bonsai can be found in Japan as early as the 14th century where only the rich could afford the “tree in the pot.” When Japan opened up in the mid-19th century, tourists from around the world had their first glance at the miniature trees growing in pots. For those who could not afford the trip to Japan, the 1900 Paris World Exhibition introduced the rest of the world to bonsais.

Today, creating a bonsai is relatively easy to do and once you get started this hobby will continue to grow. The following steps will help beginner create a successful bonsai on the first try.

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Add a Sparkle to Any Special Occasion by Making Your Own Sparkling Wine

sparklingwineSparkling wine is easy to make but is better left for those who have winemaking experience.  This type of wine requires two stages.  The first stage allows the liquid to ferment while keeping an eye on the alcohol content.  Sparkling wine in the first stage needs to have an alcohol level of 8 percent to 10 percent by volume.  If the alcohol level is higher, the bottles run a risk of exploding.

The second stage occurs in the champagne bottles themselves.  When the champagne yeast is added and the liquid is bottled, bubbles of carbon dioxide are produced and create the wine’s sparkle.

Before jumping into the process, clean and sterilize all equipment.  This includes one food-grade pail with lid, plastic tubing _ inch in diameter, 2 one-gallon glass jugs, fermentation lock and bung, potato masher, and champagne bottles.

The process for sparkling wine begins with making a white wine must.  Place the white grapes in a nylon straining bag, add a campden tablet, and mash in a food grade pail with a potato masher. Cover the pail with cheesecloth and let sit for 24 hours.

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Growing Your Garden the Organic Way-Part II Organic Fertilizer

Fish emulsion is one method of making organic fertilizer.

As many university studies have shown, we as a society have over done it on synthetic fertilizer.  After World War II synthetic fertilizers were developed to aid the farmer in food production.  Some individuals viewed fertilizer application as a game of relationships.  They viewed that if a little did a great job then a lot would be even better.  But it was soon discovered; that what was not used by the plants was wasted and washed into our streams and rivers.  Also, the over application of synthetic fertilizer built in the soil and made many macro- and micronutrients unavailable to plant life. This type of fertilizer program allowed farmers to exist on a seesaw path where land was and is still consumed for urban sprawl while the demand for food increases.  And this demand on our food supply has not decreased.  The World Population Clock, as of June 6, 2011, estimates a world population of 6,921,198,245.

But today, many individuals are exploring other ways of fertilizing their crops and starting off with a fertilizer system taught to the pilgrims by the Native Americans.  As the story goes, the pilgrims did not know how to farm on this new land and due to their lack of experience were starving to death.  The Native Americans taught the pilgrims the basic principle of fish emulsion.   This process consisted of planting one fish in the ground along with the corn seed.  This provided calcium and carbon to the crop.  Today, we can make our own fish fertilizer by either watering with used aquarium water or grinding up dead fish in a blender and mixing with water.  The latter approach is a very smelly alternative and may be morally repulsive to some but it is great fertilizer.  If you do not want to make your own, fish emulsion can be found at some home improvement centers or order through garden catalogues.

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Growing Your Garden the Organic Way-Part I Organic Pest Control

Michele Obama uses the Three Sistesr method to plant crops in the white house garden with Native American children.
Michele Obama uses the Three Sisters method to plant crops in the White House garden with Native American children.

Organic gardening can loosely be defined as gardening by nature’s design.  This approach requires the gardener to only use products made from natural ingredients.  While this approach does work, there does exist another approach.  This approach utilizes Mother Nature’s plant relationships to the maximum and is referred to as companion planting.

Companion planting is described as the establishment of two or more plant species that are planted in close proximity to each other.  This closeness provides pest control, and higher yields while increasing the biodiversity of the garden space.

How this approach works is simple.  Plants that make good neighbors are planted together.  This good neighbor relationship has been tested since the beginning of time and is demonstrated through a Native American planting called the Three Sisters.

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