Home & Garden Feed

Reviewing Seed Catalogs

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

With some very chilly weather hitting the area and winter finally settling in, now is a good time to check out plant/seed catalogs and online websites.  Here are some choices that may be of interest to you.

Jung Seeds & Plants:  I've had a pretty good experience with Jung's over the years, their shipping is timely (some outfits will ship starter plants/stock way too early for northern states) and their product is sound.  You can't go wrong with their veggie lineup.

Burpee:  Another standby, and their seed packets can be seen in many stores come late winter/early spring.  Menards, Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, True Value and major grocery stores come to mind.  The Burpee website has a product review section which is kind of nice in making purchasing decisions.

Park Seed Co.:  This is another company with quite a bit of history, 143 years in fact.  Reasonably priced, their catalog has good content and their sale items are attractive, as opposed to lower quality offerings on other, less popular sites. 

Burgess:  Another popular company, also a brand you'll find in the stores come spring.  Some of their bulb collection is hit or miss.  In my experience the rate of a bad bulb is higher than other companies.

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Mike's Indoor Garden Update:  I'll be harvesting green beans soon!

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Keeping your grill clean

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

The following tip is from my grilling blog, grillinggoodeats.com.  Click the link to get some great grilling ideas, tips and recipes!

Grilling Good EatsGrilling Tip #13: Don’t wait until the next time you grill to clean the grate. No, putting a lid on things thinking you’ll burn the food off just isn’t enough and if you’re a gas griller, all you’re really doing is wasting fuel. Clean your grilling grate when the grill is still warm. If you’re a gas griller, that would be after you shut the grill off and before you sit down to eat (clean the grate while the meat you prepared is resting). If you’re a charcoal griller, clean the grate after you’ve enjoyed that delicious meal. It’s easier to wire brush the grate clean when it’s warm, vs. trying to brush it clean when it’s cold, when the flame is high or when you just fired the grill up that next time…. And who wants smoke in their eyes right? Besides, a clean grill grate extends the life of it. Leaving the charred remains of burgers, steaks, fish, whatever, on the grate prematurely ages it, leading to rust. Yes, rust, even if you cover your grill or store it in the garage when not in use.

via www.grillinggoodeats.com


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!"


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......


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?

Detergents

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?


Don't pay too much for household cleaning products

By Mike Thayer

Some people like to clean because it's therapeutic.  Others like to clean just to keep their hands busy (and then there's that obsessive/compulsive thing, but I won't go into that).  Many folks hate to clean, but understand the need for it and like the sense of accomplishment once done.  I fall into the latter category.  Then there are the folks that just don't clean, but I won't go into that either because this article is about cleaning, NOT about not doing it.   But I digress......   Thursday is cleaning day at my place, the full gamut of sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, laundry, mopping and scrubbing.

So I have to ask, "Are you a name brand cleaning product kind of person?"

If you are, check this out, I've done a cost comparison for some common household cleaning products - 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 cleaning supplies.

20170601_111938Typical products used for household cleaning were evaluated in this comparison, general cleaners, bleach, window cleaner, furniture polish, bathroom cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner.....  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?  I'll give you a hint, everything pictured right is from Dollar Tree.

Cleaner Comparison

Clearly, the Dollar Tree products are far less expensive, it's a difference of $18.60, 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: 

Bathroom CleanerMr. Bubbles vs. Home Store - Mr. Bubbles is 'foamier' but does it really CLEAN better?  And yes, it's 24 oz. vs. 12 oz. here so the Mr. Bubbles will last a bit longer, but the Home Store stuff does just fine when it comes to scrubbing the shower down and making your faucets sparkle.  Spray for spray, I'm sticking with the Dollar Tree brand.

BleachClorox vs. Home Store - Bleach is bleach.  You're literally wasting almost $2 going with the name brand here.  And most folks keep their cleaning products in the closet, so nobody sees what 'name brand' products you use...   Don't be vain in cleaning.... 

Fabric RefresherFebreeze vs. Awesome - The Awesome stuff smells good and lasts just as long.  When I clean, I used to do a weekly spray with Febreeze, now I do it with 'Awesome' and I can't tell the difference.

Furniture PolishPledge vs. Home Store - Home Store is lemon scented just like Pledge is and does the same job for far fewer pennies....

General Cleaner409 vs. Spic & Span - Spic & Span used to be considered a name brand so I'm not sure what happened with that, but it's available at Dollar Tree for $1 and does a fine job.  The elbow grease needed with 409 vs. Spic & Span is the same.

General CleanerPine Sol vs. Home Store - The Home Store brand is not as strong as Pine Sol, but you WON'T go through three bottles of the knock off in comparison to one bottle of the real deal.  A bottle-and-a-half maybe two bottles of the knock off are about the same as one bottle of Pine Sol, so your actual savings is still about $1 to $1.47 with Dollar Tree.

Toilet Bowl CleanerLysol vs. The Works - This is the only name brand product in this comparison that I'll give the nod to.  Lysol does a more efficient job of cleaning the toilet, as 'The Works' is a watered down product.  You will go through two bottles of 'The Works' compared to one bottle of Lysol, but the cost works out the same.  So since I'm a Dollar Tree shopper, I'll stick with not making the trip to Walmart just for that.

Window CleanerWindex vs. Freshine - They both have 'with ammonia,' they both clean windows spray for spray.

So after taking in the information shared here, I have to ask again, "Are you a name brand cleaning product kind of person?"


Container Gardening

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

If you're into gardening, live in an apartment and like saving money growing your own veggies, keep reading.

That's exactly what my situation is.  I love to garden, but live in an apartment.  I don't let that stop me from gardening though because I value the ability to just walk out my door and harvest a few veggies for a salad or pick something for a fantastic side dish.  Food just doesn't get any fresher than that!  The bonus?  Saving a few bucks from what you would buy in a grocery store.

My apartment has a small patio, ground level, fenced in, it's asphalt.  Can you say "Container Garden?"  Yes, yes you can.  Container gardens can work in just about any small space that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, whether it's a ground level place like mine, a 3rd floor balcony or an entryway stoop.

20170414_133623In my case, the fortune of having a fence means I can "Grow Up."  I've taken advantage of the fence and put up a trellis.  A trellis easily accommodates vine type veggies like tomatoes, pole beans and cucumbers in tight spaces, ergo, 'grow up' the trellis.  It maximizes what little 'garden area' you have to work with.

I call my patio the "Asphalt Garden."

Last year, the first year in my apartment, I put up my trellis, but simply placed my containers directly on the asphalt.  It was fine and growing great in the spring and early summer months, but once the three-digit temps of hot summer hit in July, my container garden started to suffer.  Extra watering helped, but it still wasn't enough to compensate for hot container bottoms sitting directly on the asphalt.  When temperatures go over the 100 degree mark, asphalt can get up to 140 degrees!  This makes for unhappy plant roots.

Enter, pallets.

20170414_111934Pallets are an easy and inexpensive way to elevate the containers on your hard surface.  Pallets are readily available just about anywhere a truck delivers something.  Go to a grocery store, lumber yard, flower shop, a mall.  Just about any of those kind of places would have no problem letting you have a pallet or two, or three, free for the taking!  All you need is a little time and a saw to break the pallets down and it sure beats going to a place like Lowe's or Home Depot and shelling out money for bricks or concrete blocks!

Pallets are even better than bricks you might buy at a place like Lowe's because bricks, being solid, don't dissipate heat coming from the asphalt nearly as efficiently as wood pallets do!  Pallets allow for air movement between boards, bricks don't....  The result is a far lower temp at the container bottom with pallets, which means less watering and happier plant roots.

20170414_111952You can break down pallets fairly simply with a saw, splitting them down the middle creating 'half pallets'.  No re-nailing necessary, 'half pallets' allow you to elevate your containers off the hard surface without taking up additional patio/balcony space.  The result is happier plants.

Having fresh veggies growing just outside your door is a simple pleasure.  Harvesting some greens for a salad or picking some green beans to go with that chicken dish, not only puts a smile of productive satisfaction on my face, but it saves me a trip and a few bucks to the grocery store to boot!

If you container garden, get some pallets!

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Buy your cleaning supplies at Dollar Tree

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

If you're not a fan of Dollar Tree, then I must ask, "Why not?"

Have you shopped there?  Have you given it a shot?

Dollar Tree 001Full Disclosure:  I had never stepped foot inside one of their stores until after my divorce, a few years back.  I only did so, upon recommendation from some work friends and the need to supply my apartment in 'starting out' again from scratch.

Today, I was in need of re-supplying my cleaning supplies and a few personal hygiene items.  Check out the list, look how cheap it is!   You would pay perhaps four times the amount for the name brand stuff at THE local big-name grocery store.

I got all the basics for cleaning and then some, for only $16.13!  Try doing that at Dillon's, HyVee, or even Walmart!   You just flat out, can't. 

"But Mike," you say, "Are those products as good as the name brand stuff?"

For the most part, yes, yes it all is.  To be fair, some of the products aren't as strong or seem to be watered down compared to some of the name brand counter-parts, but for the price, it's still well worth it.  The Dollar Tree offerings of laundry soap for example are every bit as good as something like Tide.  The hand soap, I can't tell a difference from name brands.  Mouthwash, same thing.  The Pine Sol copycat is watered down, but it works, and no, it doesn't take four times the amount to clean in comparison to how much you would pay for the real deal.   The foil, a bit thin, but I can double up in wrapping if need be and still will not be paying out what I would for the name brand.  Palmolive dish soap, that's a name brand you can get for $1 at Dollar Tree, how much did you pay for it at THE 'Name Brand' grocery store?  Too much!  And why pay too much for something as basic as a scrub sponge?  Get two sponges for the price of one at Dollar Tree.

Just remember that when it comes to the name brand stuff, in most cases you are being marketed, don't buy into their hype.  And don't take my word for it, do your own homework.  Test some products out that you purchased from Dollar Tree.  I think you'll be pleased with what you buy there.

Related Story:  Good Sense Trash Bags at Dollar Tree

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