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July 2017

What to do when your tomatoes aren't producing fruit

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Hurry up and wait.....

That's pretty much all you can do when your tomato plants aren't producing any fruit, hurry up and wait until the weather 'cools'.....

I live in an apartment, so I have a container garden on my patio.  I've got some gorgeous looking tomato plants, they're flowering abundantly, but the flowers shrivel up, which means no fruit.  Why?  Because it's just too darn hot out.

20170727_105316Tomato plants are self-pollinating.  The flowers contain both the male and female parts, with the pollen falling from the male parts and sticking to the female parts to create the tomato.  But when daytime temperatures rise above 85 - 90 degrees - never mind the heat index factor of container plants on a hard surface in my case - and there's extreme humidity in play, the pollen becomes so sticky that it does not fall.   What happens next is the unpollinated flower shrivels up and falls off the plant.  A picture of one of my tomato plants, with the flowers starting to shrivel up is pictured right.

In my neck of the woods there's been three digit temps during the day for a long stretch and just enough rain to keep things brutally sticky humid.   

About the only thing you can do in the pursuit of harvesting ripe red tomatoes from you garden is to wait for cooler weather.  Keep your plants healthy, water and keep them fertilized as needed.  Do that and you'll get some fruit, just later in the season than you had hoped.  For now, it's, "hello grocery store!"

Repurposing that old file cabinet - turn it into a grill

By Mike Thayer

File cabinetSo I had this old file cabinet on hand, just sitting in my garage no longer being used for its intended purpose....

"How can I re-use this?" I asked myself.

I was thinking about storing power tools in it, but came up with a better idea!

A Sunday project, I turned an old four-drawer tall metal file cabinet, into a charcoal grill!

Here's the "How To" laid out like a recipe:


  • An old metal vertical filing cabinet (four drawers, three drawers, doesn't matter)
  • Black auto engine paint (it can take the heat), about three cans
  • About one dozen metal screws
  • Grill grates


  • A drill and drill bits

Remove all drawers and clean all cabinet parts, inside and out with warm soapy water. After it's dry, paint all parts black (or whatever color you wish). I used auto engine paint because it can take the heat. It's a bit more expensive, but you won't have to worry about paint peeling and flaking off later. After all parts are dry, you're now ready for assembly. Set the cabinet on the side with the drawer cavity openings facing the ground. You may want to do this where you're actually going to use the grill. I would recommend having it set on concrete blocks, decorative bricks or a bed of rock. Next, screw the cabinet drawers side-by-side to the 'new top' of the cabinet, with the tall end of the drawers being the 'back' of your grill area, two screws for each drawer to secure them to the cabinet base should do it. You're almost done. If you pre-measured your drawer size and bought some of those universal grill grates like I did, place those grates on your "new" charcoal bins - the drawers. The grates should fit snugly on top of the drawers at the tall end (the grill back), but you'll have to drill a couple holes and strategically place some screws to hold the grates in place at the business side of the grill. Do NOT drill the screws all the way in, you just want to keep the grill grates from sliding left to right and you'll want to be able to easily remove them for cleaning purposes.

File cabinet grillThat's it, you're done! I like the flat-top style layout of the grill. I can fire up one drawer when I grill for one or two, fire up a second drawer for family or small get-togethers or fire up the third and fourth drawers for parties! And the beauty of this design is, you don't have to put a grate over every drawer. For one of the drawer spots I purchased a stainless steel grill pan to use for veggies and fish, it didn't need any strategically placed screws to hold it in place either. You can put a butcher block cutting board over one of the drawers, it's easily placed and removed.

Or, you can set up a permanent cutting station/counter space over one of the drawer spaces using a more permanent material like a couple tiles of marble or granite. My cost for this grill was just $60. I'm real pleased with how this project turned out, it grills nice and should last for many a grilling season! In breaking it in and only using one drawer, I grilled up four pounds of skirt steak, a dozen hot dogs, five burgers and I still had plenty of heat left, I could have grilled more!

File cabinet grill 2

Cleaning the Coffee Pot

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

I'm an everyday coffee drinker, sometimes two cups in the morning, sometimes four - hello bathroom!  I'm pretty much done drinking coffee before I clock in for work in the morning (I'm an early riser), then it's water or a soda for the rest of the day.

So how often are you supposed to clean your coffee pot?  You do clean it right?  I mean, there's more to keeping it clean than just rinsing the pot and the basket out....

20170713_120152I give my coffee pot an 'internal cleanse' about once a month using plain old vinegar.  I brew a full 12 cup pot of water combined with a 1/2 cup of vinegar, I do this three times (dumping the pot of hot vinegar water down a drain each time*), then run 3-4 pots of just plain water through to get rid of the vinegar smell.  Brewing vinegar water does a couple things.  1.  Gets rid of scaling/hard water build up.  2.  Gets rid of coffee residue.  Over time, coffee oils leave a residue and if you didn't know, the longer between 'internal cleanses' the more the residue build up and the more bitter your coffee becomes.

*Tip, if you've got any slow drains in your house, that's where you want to dump your vinegar water.  Hot water + vinegar = a faster drain.   Don't confuse that with unclogging a drain.  The hot water & vinegar is a preventive, not a cure.

I don't recommend washing your pot or basket in the dishwasher.  While a dishwasher may clean them up just fine, dishwashers also prematurely age plastic.  The lid for the pot (probably plastic), the handle for the pot (probably plastic) and the basket (most assuredly has some plastic) will suffer long term from repeated dishwasher washing.  Not only that, but the key piece, the basket, may have some operational parts (like springs, and springs are metal) in it and those will suffer from the humidity a dishwasher creates.

I hand wash my coffee pot when required.   

Giving your coffee pot a monthly 'internal cleanse' will give your coffee pot longer life and the most important thing - avoids bitter tasting coffee!  Think about that the next time you have restaurant coffee.......  If it tastes bitter......

Elevating leftovers into a whole new great meal experience

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

So I've got some leftover grilled potatoes and onion from last night's dinner and some bacon from breakfast......  

What to do......

Make some great leftover eats of course!

When you've got a well stocked pantry and fridge/freezer, you can turn any kind of leftover into a whole new great meal experience.

20170708_210811So the foundation is bacon, potatoes, onion.....  Does that sound like a great start or what?  After all, everything goes better with bacon right?

With almost everything I needed for dinner already pre-cooked, this dish only took minutes to prepare, reheat and serve, thanks to my pantry, fridge and freezer.

Heating up a frying pan over medium heat, I warmed up some olive oil, then added the potato, onions and bacon.  I then pulled some frozen peas from the freezer (gotta have some green veggies right?) and tossed those in, along with some Parmesan cheese and a pinch of Kosher salt.  After a couple minutes of warming things up I seasoned things up with black pepper, red pepper flake and minced garlic.   Stirring things up until everything was heated through (another couple minutes) I plated all that great leftover deliciousness with those new flavors that I had on hand.  I topped everything off with another healthy dose of Parmesan cheese.

What just happened in minutes?  I created an elevated meal using leftovers, my pantry, my freezer and fridge!  It's a whole new great meal experience and another dose of YUM!

Doing the laundry and washing dishes

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

About a month ago, I did a piece on products I use to do household cleaning.  Regular readers know I'm not a name brand product kind of guy, there's no need to spend more money than necessary based on popularity and marketing.  The article got a lot of visits, people were interested in saving money on cleaning products used for washing windows, mopping floors, dusting and cleaning the bathroom.

I've since been asked, "But Mike, what about the everyday stuff, washing clothes and doing the dishes?"

No problem, I've got you covered!

20170602_212929Just as I did a cost comparison for some common household cleaning products used for keeping the house tidy, I've done a similar cost comparison for the everyday kind of thing, dishes and laundry.  It's name brand items purchased at Walmart vs. not name brand Dollar Tree.  I used Walmart in this comparison because I think most folks would agree that Walmart is on the low end cost-wise and popular for that reason when purchasing items like name brand detergents.

Typical products used for washing dishes and clothes were evaluated in this comparison, dish soap, dishwasher soap, laundry soap, fabric softener and dryer sheets.  So what's better, the name brand stuff or the not name brand stuff?  As you probably already guessed, the Dollar Tree products are much less expensive, but are they as good, effective, last as long?


Clearly, the Dollar Tree products are far less expensive, it's a difference of a whopping $19.64, but that savings doesn't mean much if the products don't perform or if it takes two or three times the Dollar Tree product in volume to do the same job as the name brand right?

No worries, the Dollar Tree stuff performs.  Here's an item-by-item breakdown: 

Dish SoapDawn vs. Palmolive - Dawn, Palmolive....  Whatever......  It doesn't matter dish for dish.  But it's 14.6 ounces of Dawn purchased at Walmart for $1.96 vs. 16 ounces of Palmolive purchased at Dollar Tree for $1.00.  Don't believe the Dawn TV commercials saying it can do more dishes.  That's marketing hogwash.   Palmolive purchased at Dollar Tree saves you money to do the same job.  In the picture above is a 12.6 ounce bottle of Palmolive purchased at Walmart for 99 cents.  So even with the same brand, you get more bang for the buck at Dollar Tree, which sells a 16 ounce bottle of Palmolive for $1.

Dishwasher SoapCascade vs. Power X - Hot water and soap, is hot water and soap......  You're literally wasting almost $5 going with the name brand here.   Sure, a bottle of Cascade is going to last longer by sheer volume, but it cost you 8 cents per ounce vs. 3 cents per ounce to do the very same job.  This is the epitome of buying into name brand hype.  Here's the thing,  most folks keep their cleaning products in the closet, so nobody sees what 'name brand' products you use...   Don't be vain in cleaning.... 

Dryer SheetsSnuggle vs. Breezy - The Breezy sheets smell good, do the same job and there's more bang for the buck here, 55 sheets vs. 46 with the name brand.  This one is a no brainer.  You can't tell the difference in these products.

Fabric SoftenerAll vs. Suavitel - This one is kind of like the comparison with the dishwasher soap.  Do you get more volume with the name brand?  Yes.  But ounce for ounce, the Dollar Tree product does the same job.  Suavitel costs half as much per ounce to do the very same job. 

Laundry SoapTide vs. Awesome - Tide is THE household name for laundry detergent.  But you are paying for a name.  The Awesome brand does everything Tide can do, it cleans clothes, can remove stains, there's no residue.  Look at that price difference!

Scrub SpongesScotchbrite vs. Scrub Buddies - The only difference here is one sponge and of course, the price.  The quality is the same.  You can scrub just as many dishes with a Scrub Buddies sponge as you can with a Scotchbrite sponge.

So after taking in the information shared here, I have to ask, "Are you ready to start saving about $19 when it comes to doing laundry and washing dishes?