Valentine’s Day Outdoor Space Ideas

Romantic Gestures That Keep on Giving (Unlike Cut Flowers)

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
Lilies blooming in the flower bed
Lilies blooming in the flower bed
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Valentine’s Day is a perfect example of a holiday that inspires us to redesign spaces inside and outside our homes. Designing an outdoor space for a Valentine’s Day gift or parties and celebrations can be a lasting surprise for someone that you care about pleasing. Many gardeners remind us that Valentine’s Day is the time to trim our rose bushes so that choice makes perfect sense.

Any climate-appropriate plants are a great way to improve the look of your yard, flower bed, garden, or outdoor living space. Here are a few plant, seating, and lighting ideas that can help you design the space of your dreams at this time of year when nature is just busting out. Just think of it as the opportunity to tackle that list of new year’s DIY projects!

Choosing the Perfect Flower

Almost every woman that I’ve ever met loves to get flowers on Valentine’s Day, and some would far rather receive something living that will bloom on more than just that one day. After all, why limit yourself to a wilting bouquet when you can have cut flowers on a regular basis?



Many of us don’t mind caring for the flower or floral arrangement minimally, either, especially during the mild spring and fall months. Annuals, such as the coriopsis below, are very hardy and come back year after year once established. Our bird friends help to distribute the thistle seeds so keep those bird feeders full.

Coriopsis flowers in full bloom
Coriopsis flowers in full bloom

It goes without saying that the perfect flower species should be designed to suit your climate, sunlight requirements, and of course, soil conditions. If you are unsure of this type of information, talk to someone in a garden center, nursery, or plant retailer for more details. If your community is lucky enough to have a Master Gardener group, they are very knowledgeable about local plants and are generally very free with their information. Most even conduct indigenous plant and tree sales in the spring.

One useful tip is to find out her favorite color, and keep in mind how much time and energy will need to be devoted to caring for the plant. Design your outdoor Valentine’s Day surprise with this basic information in mind, so that you can be sure that your significant other will appreciate what you have created.

Find accents and accessories for the space in the favorite color if you cannot find in-season plants that are blooming for this special occasion, such as lighting, flags, decorations, water features (ponds, fountains), and similar items designed for outdoor use. These all are animal-friendly and count towards your nature-conservation efforts.

Choosing Outdoor Seating Arrangements

If the space is large enough, why not consider adding seating to your outdoor space to create the romantic environment this day is known for inspiring.

A great garden bench is a wonderful idea, so that two can sit comfortably, but be sure that any seating arrangement you choose is intended for use outdoors, including fabric choices. Marketing claims are not always what they seem. If you have a homeowners association, check to ensure that your project falls under their (often unreasonable) guidelines. A garden bench with storage such as the one shown below, doubles as a spot to keep your gardening tools.

High-quality and functional furniture will ensure that your gift lasts much longer, and the durable and beautiful addition will add monetary and aesthetic value to your home. We can’t say enough about home equity, can we?

Your seating needs to strike a balance; make it comfortable without presenting health risks. Select fabrics that are specifically designed and treated for outdoor use, so that the fabric does not mildew or mold after the first hint of condensation or dew.



Choosing Exterior Lighting

You may or may not be spending a significant amount of time in your space outdoors after the sun sets, but adding exterior lighting changes that parameter and gives you that opportunity should you desire to sit, entertain, and relax after the sun has gone down. A simple lantern, LED spotlight, or a couple of Tiki torches for the space is ideal for most arrangements.

The right combination and choice of illumination will add that perfect touch of light for a romantic rendezvous, this Valentine’s Day and into the foreseeable future. Certain lighting resembles candlelight, which is the most popular lighting for romance, so you can’t go wrong with a hint of light that doesn’t cost you an abundance of time, energy, or money to purchase or install.

Finally, if you really want to go big when you consider Valentine’s Day outdoor space ideas, think about a relaxing backyard deck. Springtime and income tax returns are coming; hint, hint.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

8 Benefits of Hibiscus Tea

And How to Grow Hibiscus for Tea at Home

by Kelly R. Smith

Dried hibiscus flowers for healthy tea
Dried hibiscus flowers for healthy tea
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Hibiscus tea (sometimes called “sour tea”) might not be so well known in the USA but it certainly is in other parts of the world. I’ve been drinking it for a few years now, both for the taste and the health benefits; it’s another item in my toolbox to keep my blood pressure in a reasonable range.. I add it to the grounds of my cold brew coffee maker, sometimes with fresh mint from my garden. Yeah, I know; wild, living on the edge. There are several hundred species of hibiscus plants that vary by the location and climate they are grown in, but Hibiscus sabdariffa or roselles is most commonly used to make hibiscus tea. As a bonus, they are stunning in tropical landscape plantings. But we are here to talk about the health benefits of hibiscus tea.

Health Benefits of Hibiscus Tea

  • It lowers blood pressure. This is a big one for me. All blood pressure medications have side effects. For me, I take lisinopril, an ACE inhibitor. It causes coughing and the feeling of being lethargic. Rebekah Edwards says, “A 2013 review by the University of Arizona discovered that hibiscus tea is used in 10 or more countries as a normal hypertension treatment without any reported adverse events or side effects — except in extremely high doses.”1
  • It’s packed with antioxidants. What are antioxidants? They are molecules that help fight compounds we call free radicals, which inflict damage to your cells. The National Library of medicine noting their study says, “Hibiscus anthocyanin extract has reducing power that is approximately 2-fold that of the synthetic antioxidant, butylated hydroanisole.”2 Other than hibiscus, many other foods contain them; tart cherries are a good example.


  • It supports healthy cholesterol and triglycerides. Dyslipidemia is a type of disorder that is characterized by noticeable changes in plasma lipids or lipoproteins, including two you are probably familiar with: cholesterol and triglycerides. As with blood pressure, hibiscus tea’s ability to reduce high “blood lipids” also extends to those with diabetes. A 2009 study had diabetes patients drink hibiscus tea two times a day for a full month and they found a significant increase in HDL (good) cholesterol and a marked decrease in total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • It may help to lower blood fat levels. The National Library of medicine citing a study of sour tea (ST) and black tea (BT) says, “The results of the present study showed that ST has a significant effect on blood lipid profile in patients with diabetes.”3 Many studies have shown that hibiscus tea reduces blood cholesterol and triglycerides in people suffering from diabetes and metabolic syndrome. That said, other studies have shown conflicting results. Obviously, more research is needed in the general population.
  • It prevents oxidative stress. Like most healthy teas on the market, hibiscus is chock full of antioxidants that combat free radical damage caused by substandard nutrient diets and frequent exposure to dangerous chemicals. These antioxidants are found primarily in the anthocyanins of the plant, the natural pigments that give this flower its brilliant red color.
  • It may boost liver health. Your liver is essential to your overall health. Some of its jobs include producing proteins, secreting bile, and breaking down fat. One small human research study found that supplementing with hibiscus tea raised the antioxidant load in the bloodstream as well as reducing compounds that contribute to oxidative stress that damages cells.
  • It shows promise in fighting certain cancers. Although this idea is only starting to gain traction, there is already some evidence to support hibiscus tea’s anticancer power. It has been shown that hibiscus extracts cause apoptosis, or cell death, in leukemia cells. Although the exact mechanisms behind this aren’t clear as of yet, this could be a promising step in the ever-going fight against leukemia, which affects about a quarter of the children and adolescents currently struggling with cancer.
  • It reduces obesity and related risks. How? Human and animal studies have found a link between hibiscus tea and an elevated metabolism. Hibiscus extract may even inhibit you from absorbing as much starch and sucrose as you might from a typical meal. One study in particular gave 36 overweight participants either hibiscus extract or a placebo. After 12 weeks, hibiscus extract reduced body weight, body fat, body mass index and hip-to-waist ratio


Growing and Preparing Hibiscus for Tea at Home

Test your soil pH in a well-draining area that receives full sun at least six months before planting if possible, and, if needed, amend it using elemental sulfur or dolomitic lime to adjust the pH to between 6.1 and 7.8. The do best in humus-rich soil and full sunlight.

Harvest your flowers after they have bloomed. You want the calyxes (the main body of the flower). They should snap right off. Once you have your harvest, complete the steps to prepare and dry them. This video explains it in detail.

How to process hibiscus flowers for tea

Can you benefit from hibiscus tea? Of course! There’s something for everybody and if you grow your own supply you will save money and be certain it is organic.

Others are Reading

Reference

  1. .Rachael Link, Dr. Axe, Hibiscus Tea: The Antioxidant ‘Therapeutic Agent’ You Should Be Drinking, https://draxe.com/nutrition/hibiscus-tea/
  2. Taofeek O Ajiboye, et al, National Library of medicine, Antioxidant and drug detoxification potentials of Hibiscus sabdariffa anthocyanin extract, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21314460/
  3. Hassan Mozaffari-Khosravi, et al., National Library of medicine, Effects of sour tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa) on lipid profile and lipoproteins in patients with type II diabetes, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19678781/


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Easy Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipe

Comfort Food Your Kids Will Eat

by Kelly R. Smith

Homemade mac and cheese comfort food
Homemade mac and cheese comfort food
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This Homemade mac and cheese is one of the favorite comfort foods in our humble abode, right up there with my ranch dressing cheeseburger. Even picky kids love it so you can slip in some vegetables if you like (hint, hint). It takes a little longer to make than that boxed stuff, but you have to ask, what is that yellow powder anyway? Soylent yellow? As with all recipes, I use as much organic ingredients as possible, and out of my own garden when possible.

Mac and Cheese Ingredients

  • 1 lb. rigatoni or the pasta shape of your choice. I like whole wheat but hey, you’ve got to get the kids to eat it, right?
  • Organic butter for your baking dish
  • 2 cups Half-and-Half
  • 1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2” squares or shredded
  • Kosher or pink salt to taste
  • Freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cups of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if you can find it + a hand-full; I sometimes substitute shredded Swiss for the Reggiano
  • 7 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 35 organic basil leaves, cut into strips, more or less according to your taste. This is just one more reason to keep an organic spice garden. If you don’t have, or can’t find, fresh basil, use basil paste.
Fresh organic basil leaves
Fresh organic basil leaves


Preparation

  1. Cook your pasta to al dente texture.
  2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Drain your pasta and rub organic butter liberally in a 9” X 13” Pyrex® baking dish and add the pasta.
  4. In a saucepan, combine the mozzarella, 2 cups of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Half-and-Half.
  5. Simmer, stirring often, until it’s a nice gooey mess!
  6. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Salt with caution if you have high blood pressure.
  7. Turn off the heat; stir in the tomatoes and basil.
  8. Pour the mixture all over the pasta and mix it in.
  9. Top with the hand-full of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  10. Bake for 18 minutes, spoon it out, and enjoy!.


One of the things I like about this recipe is the fact that there a multitude of different ways to modify your ingredients, depending on the whims of you and your family. For example, how about changing up your cheese? Adding blue cheese will give the dish a funky edge that goes well with a red wine. The shape of the pasta? Adding in your favorite spices? It’s your call with this easy homemade mac and cheese recipe.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Grow Your Own Orange Tree, Harvest Citrus Fruit

When Life Gives You Oranges, Make Orange Juice!

by Kelly R. Smith

Making fresh orange juice
Making fresh orange juice
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This article was updated on 12/31/20.

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When my daughter Shannon was very young, she had an appetite for oranges that the local grocery store markets as “cuties.” In reality, they are a type of Mandarin orange. Just easy to peel. This caused me to embark on a journey to plant one fruit tree each year. Year one was that Mandarin orange tree, planted in the back yard.

The next year it was a Republic of Texas orange tree (pictured below). In the photo above, you might notice that the rinds darkened a bit from a slight freeze, but the insides remain fine. This tree bears fruit in the summer and by early December it’s ready for picking. No rush though; the fruit will hang there in suspended animation for months.



Choosing Your Fruit Trees

Many people make the mistake of seeing a tree at Walmart, Home Depot, or some other big box store, buying it, planting it, and then wondering why they never get any fruit. Well, it’s because these trees are sold irrespective of customer location. What works in upstate New York does not work here in south Texas. It is all about the growing zone — how freeze-tolerant the tree is. For example, consider the avocado tree. It is a southern tree but some species do well in moderate freezes.

Republic of Texas orange tree
Republic of Texas orange tree

The best bet is to go to a local nursery, after you do your initial research. They have a vested interest in the community and will likely want to keep a customer base. There are other resources to consider. Here, we have Randy Lemon, graduate of Texas A&M, who does a local radio show. I’ve listened to his weekend show for years and I have to admit, I wasn’t totally onboard initially because he poo-pooed organic, but now that his advertisers have began offering organic products, it’s all good. Imagine.

The bottom line here (I know you’ve been waiting for it) is that it is always a good time to put in your own fruit trees. You might be a prepper or not. You might trust organic produce at the grocery store or not. You might just want to save money. Regardless, there is a lot to be said for self-sufficiency. And, if you’ve got the real estate, why not?

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

10 Signs of Nutrient Deficiency

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Foods that fight nutrient deficiency
Foods that fight nutrient deficiency

Many of us eat fast food or whatever is at hand because of the fast-paced lives we live. You might say to yourself, “I take a multivitamin; I’m good.” That is not always true. Supplements, at least high-quality ones, are not bad in themselves despite what some say. Some manufacturers are indeed mountebanks but not all. Additionally, not getting enough fiber can mean a short-circuiting on nutrient absorption. Living in the Coronavirus lock-down surely doesn’t help. If you have any of these signs of nutrient deficiency, it’s prudent to turn things around. Here are some signs.

Signals From Your Body Regarding Nutrient Uptake

  • You are developing a pale, sallow complexion. The problem may be iron deficiency. This makes for smaller red blood cells. Not only does it mean you produce fewer of them but they are filled with less hemoglobin. Hence, your skin looks less red. The American Society of Hematology says, “Iron is very important in maintaining many body functions, including the production of hemoglobin, the molecule in your blood that carries oxygen. Iron is also necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.” The solution? Boost your intake of dark leafy greens, grass-fed beef, lentils, and fortified cereals and breads.
  • You have stubborn acne. In the past this has been blamed on certain foods like chocolate and one of our favorites, commercial or homemade pizza. We now understand it a bit better. The lack of enough omega-3 fatty acids may be the culprit; they have strong anti-inflammatory properties. So if you are lacking, it can present as acne. The solution? Pick up some fish oil capsules and eat more salmon.
  • You Have Brittle Nails. If your fingernails have been breaking easily and often, it might be due to a lack of biotin, also known as vitamin B7, which nourishes your nail’s growth plates. The solution? Supplements are a good way to go. I take what is called on the bottle Super B-Complex, which contains 1,000 mcg which is equal to 3,333% of daily value. This is not an issue because it’s a water-soluble vitamin. Also, eat more eat more eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, fish, organ meats, and vegetables such as cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
  • Your skin is parched and dry. You can blame this one on an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. In this case, they help nourish your skin’s lipid barrier. This is the layer of oils that act as a gatekeeper to keep harmful germs and toxins out and essential moisture in. This deficiency can also manifest in more wrinkles and visible aging due to skin dehydration, ladies.
  • Lips that are sore and cracked. This can be the result of an iron deficiency and/or a riboflavin (vitamin B2) deficiency. The National Institutes of Health says, “The signs and symptoms of riboflavin deficiency (also known as ariboflavinosis) include skin disorders, hyperemia (excess blood) and edema of the mouth and throat, angular stomatitis (lesions at the corners of the mouth), cheilosis (swollen, cracked lips), hair loss, reproductive problems, sore throat, itchy and red eyes, and degeneration of the liver and nervous system.” Suffice to say I don’t want this one. The solution? Once again, a B-Complex vitamin should do the trick.
  • You have a wound that resists healing. If you are reading this, you know as an individual how long it takes your body to deal with cuts and scrapes. If it seems to be taking too long, you might have an iron deficiency. As a rule, shoot for 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal and 10 to 15 grams of protein with each snack. Mind you, this is harder to do if you are a vegan but it’s not impossible. Peanut butter and other legumes are good. Carnivores are less likely to have this issue. Protein drinks are also readily available. I’m partial to favorites like this beef Stroganoff recipe that I make from time to time.
  • Are you experiencing bleeding gums? Usually this signifies that one is a bit derelict in flossing and brushing. But if this is not you, a vitamin K deficiency might be at the root (so to speak; pardon the pun) of your problem. It has a big role in role in helping blood clot, or coagulate. The solution? Look for vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) mainly in leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Vitamin K2 (menaquinone) is actually bacteria produced your gut. It is also available in fermented foods, cheese, natto, meat, dairy, and eggs, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Your hair is thinning. Your hair can be a mirror of what you eat. Protein and vitamin C deficiencies have been known to cause thinning or brittle hair as well as hair that falls out easily. Vitamin C assists you in making collagen, one of the building blocks of healthy hair and healthy hair follicles. Protein supplies amino acids destined for collagen (and other protein) synthesis.
  • Your nails are misshapen or discolored. If your iron levels are low, this can result in whitened or ridged nails. A vitamin B12 deficiency can make your nails turn brownish. A lack of biotin increases your risk of fungal infections that, in turn, can manifest as ridging and discoloration.
  • Premature graying of the hair. Going gray early can be caused by many things — genetics, some say worry, and the jury is still out on getting a fright. But we are concerned here with nutrition. The mineral copper helps you create melanin which is one pigment, among others, that imparts color to your hair. If you have low copper levels, or an underlying medical issue which stops you from metabolizing copper you ingest properly, this can turn your hair gray. Which I must say, I find downright fetching on most women although they likely disagree.

The bottom line here is that each sign of nutrient deficiency is linked to primary vitamins and minerals, but in reality, they’re all a “soup” in which all have a role. The best course of action is a well-rounded diet accompanied by high-quality nutritional supplements. As a caveat, if you can’t clear something up in short order, consult with your primary care physician.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Black Rifle Coffee: A Product Review

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Black Rifle Coffee and destruction on auto. Yeah.
Black Rifle Coffee and destruction on auto. Yeah.

We have all gone through a lot after the COVID-19 lockdown. Not a lot of us are hitting up Starbucks on the way to the daily grind. Hey, we’re working at home in our PJ’s. But we still need out caffeine fix. Starbucks for me? No. I have Black Rifle Coffee Beans delivered twice a month.

Once a month used to do me right but since the Corona virus lockdown, my wife is working from home and coffee consumption has doubled. So… I went from once a month delivery to two. Is it expensive? Hmm. Not cheap but when you commit to being in the delivery “club” shipping is free.

How Good is Black Rifle Coffee?

I would say, “exceptional” but you want more details, yes? OK, they start with the best beans. Then, they don’t roast until they are getting your stuff together. That stuff on the shelf at the grocery store? How long was it sitting? How long before it was roasted and ground? Belay that; this discerning coffee-fiend only uses whole beans. I am not adverse to adding some mint from my garden.

Now that you have the beans you have to use your coffee bean grinder. Most people buy already-ground coffee but I do not for two reasons:

  1. As soon as coffee beans are roasted they start releasing carbon dioxide and begin to slowly decay. The chemicals begin to transform and the cell structure of the bean starts to fall apart, and the best flavors of the beans start to become bitter and dull, rather like life during the pandemic. Grinding the beans accelerates the process.
  2. There are ground-up bugs in that can of pre-ground coffee you bought the other day. The FDA only gets concerned if more than 10 percent or more of green coffee beans are affected. Regarding “Insect filth and insects” the FDA Handbook says, “Average 10% or more by count are insect-infested or insect-damaged.” When I pour those whole beans into the grinder I can verify non-buginess.

Types of Coffee

They offer whole-bean, ground, instant, rounds (pods), canned, and bags (Just Black Cold Brew Packs). Something for everybody. The coffee brews are:

  • Light roast: Silencer Smooth, Gunship
  • Medium roast: Just Black Cold Brew Packs, Liberty Roast, Caf Coffee Roast, BRCC Instant, Thin Blue Line, AK-47 Espresso Blend, Five Alarm, Just Black
  • Dark Roast: Freedom Fuel, Blackbeard’s Delight, Beyond Black
  • Extra dark: Murdered Out (this is the one I brew up for myself and She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed every morning and afternoon). It’s a good habit.

You might notice a theme in both the name of the company and the names of the products. That’s because this is a veteran-owned and operated company. I have to give Black Rifle Coffee high marks — 10 out of 10. Their brew is as good as I’ve ever swilled and their delivery is always on time. The beans are always roasted in small batches unlike the big industrial operations. The video below explains how they are handling the CoronaVirus situation.

References



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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Indoor Gardening: Basic Hydroponic Tools and Equipment

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Indoor hydroponic gardening
Indoor hydroponic gardening

It is no secret that commercial growers have been using hydroponic tools and equipment for indoor gardening for years. Like other businesses, these farmers need to generate revenue and provide a product to customers year-round. What if you want to become more self-sufficient during the COVID-19 lock-down? What about the average person that wants to do it on a smaller scale? The good news is that you can. Let’s look at what you need to get started.

Light for Photosynthesis

Dictionary.com defines photosynthesis thus, “the complex process by which carbon dioxide, water, and certain inorganic salts are converted into carbohydrates by green plants, algae, and certain bacteria, using energy from the sun and chlorophyll.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah; what you really need to know is that your plants need light to grow. Of course, sunlight is optimal; it provides the full spectrum of visible and non-visible light. It’s offered to us for free and is the best way to provide light for hydroponics. Many vegetable plants and herbs like mint and basil do best on at least six hours of direct light each day. Southern-facing windows and greenhouses have the potential to provide this amount of sunlight.

But what if that’s not in the cards? You’ll be best investing in grow lights. Look for ones from 4,000 to 6,000 kelvin to insure that they deliver both cool (blue) and warm (red) light.

Substitute Substrate for Soil

This is where the hydro part comes in. The water and nutrients circulate through the substrate which is a material such as pea gravel, sand, coconut fiber, peat moss, expanded clay pellets, etc.

Water

Clean water is critical. The water of choice is treated by reverse osmosis (RO). This purification process results in water that is 98% to 99% pure and your plants will thank you for it. You will also have to keep an eye on the water pH (a measure of alkalinity or acidity. For example, if you are growing tomatoes, they prefer a pH of 6.0 to 6.8 on a scale where 7.0 is considered neutral. Mint plants prefer 6.5 to 7.5. Growing beets? Shoot for 6.0 to 6.8. Knowing these numbers is important as you consider companion plants for your garden.

As far as fertilizer goes, you’ll want to buy a hydroponic premix because it will contain all the nutrients needed. I suppose you could cobble together your own but the expense/work ratio doesn’t make sense to me. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to add foliar feeding every couple of weeks.

Types of Hydroponic Systems

As you might suspect, there is a range of systems to choose from.

  • Water culture. Uses a non-submersible air pump, air hose, floating platform, rope wicks, and grow tray.
  • Nutrient film. Uses non-submersible air pump, air hose, submersible pump, air stone, overflow tube, and grow tray.
  • Wick system. Uses non-submersible pump, air stone, air hose, rope wicks, and grow tray.
  • Ebb and flow. Submersible air pump, air hose, timer, overflow tube, and grow tray.
  • Aeroponic. Subersible pump, mist nozzles, air hose, and short-cycle timer.
  • Drip system. Non-submersible air pump, submersible pump, air hose, timer, drip lines, overflow tube, drip manifold, grow tray.

There are your basic hydroponic tools and equipment for indoor gardening. Whether you approach it as a hobby, as a serious farmer who is going off the grid, there are numerous benefits. The produce will be fresh, as organic as you make it, and available year-round.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Foliar Feeding with Medina Hasta Gro Plant Food

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Medina Hasta Gro Plant Food Plus and a pump-up sprayer.
Medina Hasta Gro Plant Food Plus and a pump-up sprayer

If you have any kind of garden — vegetables with their recommended companion plants, ornamental, or fruit trees, you know that fertilizing is key to healthy plants and a good yield. But did you know that in addition to ground fertilizer (not those little stakes), foliar feeding is important. Dictionary.com defines foliar as, “of, relating to, or having the nature of a leaf or leaves.” I do my foliar feeding with Medina Hasta Gro Liquid Plant Food.

Make-Up of Medina Hasta Gro

Fertilizers may use any number of ingredients but what you want to look for is the N-P-K ratio. For this product I use 6-12-6.

  • N = nitrogen. This is responsible for leaf growth and development. Its role relates to the plant’s coloring and chlorophyll. Nitrogen depletion may present as leaf yellowing in typically green plants often indicates a lack of nitrogen. In the case of Medina it is is derived from clean urea sources and has humic acid added into the mix.
  • P = phosphorus. This component targets root growth and flower and fruit development.
  • K = potassium. Potassium also plays a part in root growth as well as in stem development.

Foliar Fertilizer Application

This fertilizer is remarkably inexpensive. The jug in the photo at the top of the page contains one gallon of concentrate. It’s mixed at the ratio of 1/2 liquid ounce (about one tablespoon) per gallon of water. That is enough to do my small vegetable garden, my herbs (mint, rosemary, parsley, basil, etc.), two fig trees, one orange tree, and a sapling Don Juan Avocado tree.

To apply, just mix the concentrate and water in the sprayer, pump it up, and spray the leaves. Try to apply it on both the tops and bottoms of the leaves. How much? Enough so that you can see it dripping off. The best time of day for application is early morning or evening when it’s not too hot. Don’t wash the spray off the foliage. If you have any left over in your sprayer, don’t hesitate to spray your lawn or mulch. Waste not; want not.

I’ve had great results with Foliar Feeding with Medina Hasta Gro Plant Food on my garden this year. Applying it every couple of weeks works very well. I’ve seen better results at a better price than when I’ve used compost tea. Give it a try and happy gardening!



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Checklist of Must-Have Tools for Living Off the Grid

by Kelly R. Smith

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An urban homestead with vegetable garden.
An urban homestead with vegetable garden

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This article was updated on 10/06/20.

Homesteading has become a buzzword du juor and an increasingly-popular lifestyle. But what is it exactly? Dictionary.com gives this somewhat legal definition, “a dwelling with its land and buildings, occupied by the owner as a home and exempted by a homestead law from seizure or sale for debt.”

More popular usage means living in a self-sufficient manner as much as possible. This means growing your own food, keeping livestock and fowl, and living off-the-grid in as many ways as you can. This includes generating your own electricity with wind turbines or solar panels, etc. This also means acquiring some must-have tools and supplies for living off the grid. Here are some essentials.

General Repair Tools

  • Duct tape. You already know — a million different uses. My Grandpappy swore by Scotch tape but I prefer to go industrial-grade.
  • Heavy-duty scissor car jack. Not just for changing flats anymore. This all-around tool will be a willing helper that won’t talk back or complain.
  • Belt sander. When building or repairing/refinishing furniture this is an invaluable tool.
  • An assortment of rope and tie-down straps. These will find a use on a day-to-day basis on your homestead.
  • Cordless drill, sawzall, circular saw, etc. Cordless is the way to go because you won’t always be working where an outlet is available. Just be sure to buy all your cordless tools from the same family (manufacturer) of tools so the batteries are interchangeable and you only have to keep up with one charger. I use and recommend Ryobi but Milwaukee and Makita are good as well. I literally use my Ryobi cordless drill at least 3 times a week.
  • Chainsaw. Useful for clearing brush, cutting up firewood, and heck, your artistic endeavors, if you are into that kind of thing.

Gardening/Farming Tools

  • A set of gardening tools. This comprehensive set should ideally be kept in a container that can be transported to to the garden/field as one unit so you won’t be making multiple trips. It should contain at least a kneeling mat if you use one, a shovel, gloves, limb trimmer, a basket to carry your daily harvest, and pruning shears.
  • Rotary tiller. If you have a good sized plot of land to work, this tool is essential for good root growth. You can rent one but it will be more cost-effective to buy your own in the long run.
  • A bucket or two. This is a multiple use tool, as simple as it is. I usually use one for mixing soil and amendments when planting.
  • Rain barrels. While a rain harvesting system might not technically thought of as a “tool,” it is essential for irrigating your crops close to the house. In general, plants prefer the pH (a figure expressing the acidity or alkalinity) of rainwater to tap water. And what would happen if your public water supply is cut off or contaminated? Get a rain harvesting barrel, or better still, two. The can daisy chain.

Health-Related Tools and Supplies

  • Tweezers. Handy for close work and removing splinters. Keep one in your medicine cabinet and another in the glove box of your truck.
  • Antiseptics. You will need to apply this lickety-split, quick, and in a hurry when you get any cut or abrasion.
  • Bandaids. Keep an assortment of sizes and shapes on hand.
  • Moleskin. Take care of those inevitable blisters on your feet.
  • Safety glasses. This is one that many people ignore but do yourself a favor. The good Lord only gave you two eyes; replacements not currently available.
  • Soap. Yes, we’ve all got some but do we use it often enough? It should be a habit with the onset of COVID-19 pandemic or the Coronavirus as it is also called, but you can also pick up undesirable things in your soil and mulch in your vegetable garden.
  • Hearing protection. Save your hearing! The ones I use are headphones with a built-in AM/FM radio.
  • Fire extinguishers. Keep one in the kitchen, one in your pantry, one in your wood shop (next to your wood shop dust collector is a good spot), and one in your truck. They are cheap; there’s no excuse.

Self-defense and protecting your homestead, family, and possessions is a critical issue. I won’t go into the thorny issue of supporting the 2nd amendment or not; that is a topic for another article. But grasp reality, my friend. When things go sideways and you are well-prepared and others are not, you WILL be targeted. Be armed. I recommend at least a shotgun and at least one handgun. I have the Glock .40 caliber because of the stopping power. A shotgun is also great for small game. A 410 is great.

This is not an exhaustive list of must-have tools for living off the grid in the homesteading mode but it’s a good start. When the SHTF you will be glad that you prepared in advance. And you don’t have to live out in the country; we have a modest 1,200 square foot home but over the years I’ve surrounded us with fruit trees and my vegetable garden and my herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes. My latest addition is a Don Juan Avocado tree.

References:

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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Growing Mint: An Herb Garden Staple

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Chocolate mint in the garden next to tomato plant
Chocolate mint in the garden next to tomato plant

Mint is a perennial herb with very fragrant, toothed leaves and tiny purple, pink, or white flowers. It has a fruity, aromatic taste and offers many health benefits. There are many varieties so you have a wide range to select from. One thing is certain — mint, grown organically, is an herb garden and kitchen staple, much as basil is.

The Many Varieties of Mint

The number of mint flavors can be a bit overwhelming; I like to keep at least two of them growing. An odd thing is the way you can identify it other than the smell. If you look close, the stem is actually square. The oddities of nature, yes? Anyway, pick your favorites from this list:

  • Chocolate. Yes, it really does look and taste like the real thing. My favorite additive to go into my dark-roast coffee grounds in the morning. None of those artificial chemical flavors for me.
  • Apple/Pineapple.
  • Spearmint. Was this your favorite chewing gum flavor as a kid?
  • Pennyroyal.
  • Citrus Mint. Just the thing for iced tea on a summer afternoon.
  • Corsican. This is one of the strongest tasting of mints and it is also the smallest; growing tight-knit it makes a good ground cover in semi-shady areas. Unlike most mints it can be difficult to grow. It likes to be well-watered. It makes a good companion plant for things like chives and tomatoes.
  • Peppermint. For adding a bit of candy flavor without all the sugar.
  • Banana.
  • Orange. Also good in tea and cold brew coffee.

Planting and Care of Mint

  • First, consider that mint spreads rapidly. This means growing it in a container or enclosed within some kind of root barricade to rein in the horizontal runners and underground rhizomes.
  • Mint likes light soil with good drainage; its native habitat is along stream banks.
  • Most varieties prefer some shade; check the exact requirements of your favorite variety/s.
  • It likes a thin layer of compost or organic fertilizer every few months.
  • Keep the area covered with a layer of hardwood mulch to retain moisture. Do NOT use any colored mulch. Those color chemicals and dyes are not your friends, especially if you intend to consume the leaves.
  • Other than watering, a light top-dressing with compost, some mulch, and occasional organic fertilizer, these are easy plants to grow.
  • Prune them back regularly. the smaller, younger leaves are the most flavorful… but, where you let them flower, the butterflies will thank you!

Nutritional Benefits

  • Aids in digestion.
  • Eases dizziness and nausea.
  • Helps with nasal congestion.
  • Boosts dental health.
  • Improves blood circulation.
  • Boosts immunity. That’s not a bad thing during the CORVID-19 pandemic.

By now you can see why growing mint in your garden or containers is a good idea. It’s healthy, tasty, nutritious, and importantly to many of us, easy to grow.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.