Enjoying Cold Brew Coffee Makers

Soulhand Cold Brew Coffee Maker
Soulhand Cold Brew Coffee Maker
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“Cold brew coffee” is a trendy item nowadays but the term itself is different from what it was back in the day. My mother used to drink it, but back then it was percolator-brewed coffee that had gone cool and then had ice added.

It’s something quite different today. It’s trendy and gourmet, in other words, pricey. Since it has been going mainstream in local grocery stores in the refrigerated section, and was so expensive, I had to try it. I mean, I’m a coffee fiend, right? Just see my post on making the perfect cup of coffee.

How Cold Brew Coffee Differs from Hot Brew

The first observable difference is that cold brew takes so much longer to make. It’s slow but if you are going to enjoy it on the drive to work, or sitting around in the home office, just start it before you go to bed the night before.

The next thing to note is that it can be strong and caffeine-heavy without the bitterness of a hot brew. This is because the grounds haven’t been hot-water “burned” which results in a cuppa where you can really get the true taste of the beans. It’s slow but the drip is just about one per second so the ice water really does have time to extract all the goodness.

How Much Does Cold Brew Coffee Cost?

The short answer is: whatever you want it to. What I mean to say is that if you have a quality burr-grinder and use whole beans anyway, your day-to-day expense is going to be the same. You should always grind whole beans as you need them because the essential oils that yield the flavor begin to degrade as soon as the grinding is done. This is why commercial ground coffee is vacuum-sealed. But, how long ago? How long has it sat on the grocery store shelf?

As far as the cold brew coffee maker is concerned, the cost is all over the place. The functional parts are negligent price-wise but it goes up from there. I suppose some people like to showcase their brewer as a work of kitchen art (and I can appreciate that as a woodworker) but I just want a good cup of Joe. So as a reference, the one I use (pictured above) is thirty-some-odd dollars, but the fancy tall wooden-frame ones with artistic looking flasks get into the hundreds of dollars.

What Coffee Blend to Use?

That’s up to individual taste and I would suggest experimenting. For myself, I use dark or espresso beans and set the coffee grinder to fine. I have experimented with pre-flavored beans. I have also added ground cinnamon and/or chocolate extract. I commonly add some fresh mint from my herb garden which is the perennial part of my raised bed garden.

Keep in mind that additives don’t always have to be just for flavor. Many also offer health benefits. The cinnamon and mint are good examples but I am planning to try some fresh-grated ginger in the near future.

The bottom line is that if you enjoy your coffee, a cold brew coffee maker could be just the thing during the hot summer months. For my experience, buying it off the shelf at the grocers is just wrong, financially. And doing it myself I can customize it as I like.


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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 and 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.


Companion Planting Guide for Your Veggie Garden

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Swiss Chard Garden
Swiss Chard Garden

Many people put in their vegetable gardens every year and do their best to do the proper fertilization, watering, and weeding. Yet, no bounty for the table. It might be that the neighboring plants are the wrong types.

Some vegetable plants will benefit their neighbors; others will hinder their growth and yield. The answer is to plant correctly paired species. Sometimes even certain flowers will provide great benefits. This applies to both traditional and raised bed gardens.

First, Plan Your Garden

To take advantage of companion agriculture in order to get more bang for your buck, you first need to choose which vegetables and then mate them up with something else you want to bring to the table.

Personally, I choose the things that I love to eat but are either hard to find or expensive. For example, so far this year I’ve put in tomatoes, basil, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, rosemary, and chocolate mint (goes great in my espresso grounds).

As a side note, it never hurts to have fruit trees. When they are blossoming, that means more bees which will also pollinate your vegetables. My “mini-orchard” contains two fig trees, a plum tree, a Republic of Texas orange, a mandarin orange, a Sam Houston peach, a mulberry tree, and an improved Meyer lemon. All organic.

Recommended Companion Plants

There are a lot of popular plants that have plant friends. Let’s look at some of the most popular.

Asparagus. Good with basil, tomatoes, and parsley. Asparagus in the home garden is a good investment, it is low-maintenance, less expensive than at the store, and a bed will produce for years.

Basil. Good for most garden crops except rue. It improves the growth and flavor of many vegetables, especially tomatoes and lettuce.

Beets. Plant with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage bush beans, onions, cauliflower, chard, and kohlrabi.

Bush Beans. They like cauliflower, cucumbers, corn, beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, strawberries, catnip, marigolds, and savory. Why catnip if you don’t own a cat? It repels flea beetles.

Brussels Sprouts and Broccoli. Good friends of thyme, mint, chamomile, dill, hyssop, beets, buckwheat, onions, rosemary, sage, wormwood, marigolds, nasturtiums, calendula, carrots. But not strawberries.

Cantaloupe. Likes sunflowers and corn, but not potatoes.

Carrots. Plant near cabbage, chives, early potatoes, leeks, salsify, wormwood, peas, radishes, rosemary, lettuce, onions, and sage.

Corn. Compatible with early potatoes, melons, beans, cucumbers, soybeans, squash, peas, and pumpkins .

Cucumbers. Plant near cabbage, corn, radishes, sunflowers, early potatoes, and beans. Not compatible with late potatoes.

Eggplant. Pair up with beans and marigold. Avoid potatoes as companions.

Onions. They like the companionship of beets, carrots, strawberries, tomatoes, summer savory, and cabbage. Avoid beans and English peas.

Parsley. Great with asparagus and tomatoes.

Soybeans. The ideal plant. They work with and help anything.

Squash. Good with corn, radishes, marigolds, and nasturtium. Not friendly with Irish potatoes.

Tomatoes. Works well with onions, marigold, asparagus, cucumbers, basil, carrots, and parsley.

Use marigold flowers for pest control
Use marigold flowers for pest control and beneficial companionship

More gardening tips

There are many other things to tip a generous harvest in your favor. This spring I took up rainwater harvesting for garden and tree watering. There are two main reasons that this is a good idea in my humble opinion. First, rainwater is free. Secondly, plants prefer the Ph in rainwater as compared to tap water.

Another good tip is to apply beneficial nematodes to your lawn and garden during the spring. On your lawn they will eliminate fleas without using pesticides. In your garden they will organically control sod webworms, cutworms, maggots, various types of ants, and many more. Pesticides are a bad idea; they kill beneficial ladybugs. They will also kill the earthworms that keep your garden soil aerated. Also, pesticides are taken up by the plant roots and kill the microscopic microbes that keep the roots healthy. Eventually, those toxins will make their way to your dining room table.

Did this post on companion planting for your garden help you? If so, feel free to share the link with your friends and your social media contacts.


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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 and 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.


How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

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Raised Garden Bed
Raised Garden Bed

A raised garden bed (or raised bed garden if you prefer) is a great way to grow your own organic produce. It’s a simple weekend DIY project. The picture above shows the one I just built. It still needs a bit of tightening up but the basics are there.

Types of Raised Bed Gardens

The one I built was made using cinder blocks. The benefits are low cost of materials and the ability to expand easily. Kits are also available but they cost a bit more and not all are expandable. They can also be built using wood (cedar is a good choice) and stakes.

Height is also a consideration. The cinder block height works well for me but people with back problems do better with elevated garden kits. It’s all a matter of convenience and personal preference.

Preparing the Garden

A garden laid directly on the ground, like mine, will benefit from a layer of newspaper laid on the grass surface. This will inhibit grass and weeds from making their way up through the dirt.

On top of this goes your dirt with compost added in. It’s easy to mix using a hoe. What type of dirt? I have heard some gardeners swear by rose soil but in my experience regular garden soil works fine. If you already know what you are going to plant this is a good time to test the soil pH and adjust it using the appropriate soil amendments.

Planting Time!

You’ve got two choices–start your plants from seed or buy bedding plants. Seeds are less expensive but using plants will mean you can harvest sooner. I prefer plants. Just plant them at the recommended depth and water them in well.

Next add a couple of inches of mulch to the surface. There many varieties available. I prefer hardwood mulch because of the way it decomposes over time and feeds the soil. Whatever you do, do not use dyed mulch. That dye is chemical and you certainly don’t want roots to be taking it up!

Now toss out some organic fertilizer and some agricultural dried molasses. The molasses stimulates all the beneficial microbes and earthworms, both of which are important for the health of your soil. Microbes share a symbiotic relationship with plants. Worms will keep your soil aerated which helps in water distribution and root growth. Another consideration is spraying out some beneficial nematodes to control fleas and many other pests.

I hope you found this article on building a raised garden bed helpful. If so, please pass it along to your friends. Comments or ideas? Add them in the comment section below. Thanks for visiting and happy gardening!

About the Author:

Kelly R. Smith
Kelly R. Smith

Kelly 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 Bachelors Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and 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.


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Choosing the Right Trees

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U.S. Hardiness Zone Map
U.S. Hardiness Zone Map

Trees in our yards serve many purposes. Some are ornamental, some bear fruit, some are for privacy, and some provide shade which reduces energy bills. With that in mind, when choosing the right trees you must ask yourself what purpose they will serve.

How to Choose Fruit Trees

Many people want their own fruit trees and why not? Free food is great. Also, for some of us it’s a nice, fuzzy feeling that comes with the assurance that the fruit is truly organic. I myself fall into that category; I once made the commitment to plant one fruit tree per year. Now, I’ve about run out of real estate.

The mistake many people make is neglecting to research the required chill hours the trees need. I see it all the time; people buying trees at the local big box store. They plant them and wait. No fruit cometh forth. The map at the top of this page will show you the zone you live in and the corresponding temperature range. You might pay more for trees at a nursery but you will know what you are getting.

Republic of Texas Orange Tree
My Republic of Texas Orange Tree

Choosing Shade Trees

Shade trees are very beneficial. They help to maximize your energy efficiency. When they shade your house from the sun, you save money.  Basically, the southern side of your home will receive up to three times more sunlight than the western and eastern facing sides in the wintertime, and just one third as much during the hot summertime. Deciduous trees are a better choice than evergreens because they lose their leaves in the wintertime when you benefit from the warming sun.

Planting trees with this in mind is called a passive solar concept. One note of caution–do not plant them too close to the house or you risk root damage to your foundation. Large trees should be no closer than thirty feet away and small ones no closer than eight feet away.

Choosing Privacy Trees

Privacy trees keep those pesky peeping neighbors at bay and deter crooks from seeing what property you have on your property. Some good candidates are Thuja Green Giant, Leyland Cypress, Emerald Green Arborvitae, and Italian Cypress. Since they are relatively fast growing, the benefits arrive quickly.

A Row of Privacy Trees
A Row of Privacy Trees

Trees are not only helpful; they also add a lot of equity to your home. Select and plant them properly and they’ll take care of you. Remember to care for them with pruning and a fertilization schedule and your investment will be protected for years to come.


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Beneficial Nematodes for Organic Flea Control


Beneficial nematodes for pest control; photo by Kelly Smith
Beneficial nematodes for pest control; photo by Kelly Smith

Do you have pets? Do you have a yard? Do you try to stay organic? If you answered yes, you need to know about beneficial nematodes because they’ve got your back. They will solve your flea and tick problem without having to resort to toxic pesticides.

Toxic pesticides kill all the beneficial critters like ladybugs and earthworms. Products like Roundup and Weed & Feed do more damage than good. If you lose your earthworms you lose your soil aeration. Lose your ladybugs and praying mantis and you’ll have to buy more toxic chemicals to control pests.

What are Beneficial Nematodes and How do They Work?

In a nutshell, they are non-segmented, microscopic roundworms. You might not have heard of them but they occur naturally all over the world. Well, perhaps not Antarctica.

They are predators of tick and flea larvae in the soil. These may be your primary concerns but they also control sod webworms, cutworms, maggots, various types of ants and many more. They work by first finding a suitable host.

Highly-magnified nematodes
Highly-magnified nematodes

Next they enter through an appropriate body opening or through the body wall. Once they have taken up residence they produce a bacteria and inject it int the host’s blood, which kills the host. Finally the search for the next host begins.

How are they Applied to Your Lawn?

Since the nematodes arrive at your home in a seemingly powder form, they can easily be applied in a variety of ways. Small areas can be applied with a watering can.  Large lawns are candidates for hose-end sprayers like the one I used this morning. It’s a good deal since it comes with  loaded with fertilizer.

You won’t likely find nematodes at your local store but they are easy to find on-line. Every spring I order mine from Arbico Organics. High-quality products and quick delivery. For my front and back yard I order the 10 million size (rated for 3,200 square feet). A bit of overkill perhaps, but after the flood from Hurricane Harvey who knows what’s lurking below the soil?

If you have friends that might be interested in organic pest control using beneficial nematodes, share this article with them. Leave a comment below!

 


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