Friday, August 19, 2016

Tips and How-tos for Home Canning

If you’ve ever delved into the world of home canning, you probably know how much information is out there: recipes, tips, how-tos, what to avoid. While it’s not an overly complicated process, it’s important to do it right. So whether you’re a newbie to canning or have done it a few times already, read on for some canning basics and tips to keep in mind.

If you fit into the newbie category, you may be wondering exactly what canning is. Canning is a method of preparing food by applying heat to it in a closed glass jar. This process removes all air from the jar to create a seal which eliminates any bacteria, mold or microorganisms that could cause natural spoilage.

Canning first developed as a method for preserving food during the late 1700s – Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops needed sustenance over the long months at battle, and this process became their go-to method. However, it wasn’t until around the 1950s, when the Mason jar was invented, that canning gained popularity in the U.S. The Mason jar was the first reusable jar with a screw-on lid and made it easy for the masses to give canning a go.

Later on, as full-service grocery stores became the norm, canning dropped off – but these days, it’s making a comeback as people are more interested in what’s actually in the food they’re eating and the safety of it.

Canning 101

And now for some specifics. Simply put, the steps to canning are as follows:

1) Fill a clean jar with the food you’ve prepared.
2) Apply the flat lid and threaded ring to the jar.
3) Submerge the jar in boiling water for the prescribed amount of time (the amount of time depends on what you’re canning – the recipe you use will specify – and the time will start as soon as the water is boiling again).
4) Remove jar from boiling water to cool.
When you remove the jar from the boiling water, the heat escapes, bringing any remaining air inside the jar with it. As the oxygen escapes, an air-tight seal is created. This air-tight seal is critical in keeping your food safe for consumption.

2 Methods of Canning

Within the world of canning, there are two commonly practiced methods, depending on what food you’re working with:

  • Water bath canning – a shorter, lower-temperature canning process best for high-acid foods like fruits, salsas, pickles; these jars can go right to boiling to kill anything that might spoil your food.
  • Pressure canning – a longer, higher-temperature canning process best for low acid foods such as meats, stews, vegetables; this involves the use of a pressure canner rather than a cooker because pressure canners can reach the 240° necessary to kill everything that might spoil your product.

With either method, when done properly, your food will keep for up to about one year.

One word of warning – you may find information out there about the open kettle method. This method is dangerous and should not be followed as it does not call for processing. Now, perhaps the open kettle method worked for your grandmother, but the temperatures don’t get high enough to destroy all food poisoning organisms, so it’s widely recommended to avoid this method entirely.

Home Canning Supplies You’ll Need 

A wide-mouth funnel
A wide range of measuring cups
Jars with flat lids and threaded rings, ideally Standard Mason or Ball jars
A jar lifter like this one or this one
A large, wide pot/canner (such as a Dutch oven or deep stockpot) like this one or this one

And for any other supplies that might come in handy, check out our canning supplies page.

General Tips for Canning

Before we sign off, we want to share a few general canning tips to take with you:

  • Always use fresh ingredients that aren’t overripe as well as a recipe from a reliable source (and follow that recipe as closely as possible rather than adding extra spices, butter or extra quantities of any ingredients).
  • Thoroughly clean your lids and jars before filling them with your product; to do this, the jars can be placed in your pot of water and brought to a boil and your lids can be placed in a saucepan with water that’s brought to a simmer.
  • As you’re filling your jars with product, leave some space between the top of the food and the top of the jar (the recipe should specify how much space).
  • Wipe down the rims of each jar with a clean, damp paper towel or dish rag.
  • Once your jars are in the cooling stage, you should hear pings from the air-tight seals being formed; the lids should also become concave in the center, which means a vacuum seal has formed – if this doesn’t happen, treat those jars as fresh: Pop them in the refrigerator and eat them soon.
  • Avoid reusing the flat lids and also don’t use lids from commercially canned foods – although it’s okay to reuse the screw bands, as long as they’re still in good condition.
  • At altitudes over 1,000 feet, you’ll want to increase water submerging times.

This can all sound complicated, but it’s really not too bad once you give it a try. And the result: your very own self-canned foods for the coming months, for you and perhaps your friends and family, too. Enjoy!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Maintaining a Beautiful Garden While Conserving Water

We know it’s hot out there – and we’re not the only ones feeling a bit dehydrated. Our gardens feel the heat too, and sometimes need some extra TLC to make it through the swelter. It’s still important, though, to minimize water usage, which brings us to a crossroads: Use more water to save your cherished garden or conserve and hope the plants make it ‘til September with less than optimal water? With the garden watering tips below, hopefully you won’t have to choose.

There are a wide range of measures you can take to ensure your garden survives – and thrives – through the summer without using up the water supply. So read on and tackle your garden with a new confidence, even through triple-digit temperatures.

1) Save and reuse water whenever possible for watering outdoor plants! There are a number of ways to do this:
     a.    Install a water tank to collect rainwater.
     b.   Save the water you use to cook instead of pouring it down the sink (bonus – the nutrients from your food will act as fertilizer for your plants); just make sure it’s cooled off before watering.
     c.    Save the old water from your fish tank.

2) Use mulch! This will keep soil moist as well as prevent water-sucking weeds from growing – and will also add nutrients to your garden. You can find a wide range of high-quality mulches here.

3) If you use a hose, invest in a soaker hose like the ones here. Soaker hoses are made of a porous material through which water seeps along the entire length of the hose. Water leaks out from the hose at a rate that the ground can absorb, so there’s no excess runoff, meaning more efficient watering of your plants. What’s more, since water is released so close to the ground, less of it evaporates, and instead, it goes directly to the roots of your plants.

4) While we’re on the subject of hoses, you may also want to check out a drip irrigation hose, another great option for efficient watering. These are similar to soaker hoses but are made of flexible plastic tubing that water slowly drips out of. They’re better for using on sloped surfaces, so if you’ve got an uneven yard, you can check out some of these hoses here and here.

5) If you’re starting out with your garden (or are willing to do some rearranging), consider creating garden zones based on which areas are naturally sunny or shady, or receive more or less water runoff. Grouping plants together by their specific needs means you won’t have to water your entire yard every time but can water by area instead.

6) For those who are looking into purchasing new plants, try to find varieties that require less water. This includes slow-growing plants or plants with small or narrow leaves. Also, plants that are native to your region will be better adapted to the climate, which can often mean lower water requirements.

7) Plant tall plants or garden structures in your yard to provide some shade if you don’t already have it. Plants that live in shaded areas need less water.

8) Invest in a moisture meter! These small, inexpensive devices will provide quick data on how moist or dry your garden’s soil is. Ideally, you want to get to that sweet spot of 40 – 70 percent moisture. You can find several moisture meter options here.

9) Time your watering. For gardens, morning is best. This will give your plants plenty of water to get through hot days and will reduce the amount of water that evaporates since winds are usually lighter in the morning. For potted plants, watering in the afternoons has been found to lead to the healthiest plant growth. Watering in the evening works too, although it’s less likely that the water will evaporate from the leaves of your plants, which could lead to fungal growth.

10) For potted plants, consider the material of the pot. Porous pots (like clay) will draw more moisture from the soil, so you’ll have to do more watering. 

It’s important to keep in mind that, to a certain extent, plants will adapt to the water they receive. Of course, they will need a minimal amount to remain healthy, but watering them more than necessary means plants will get used to living off that amount of water. However, that doesn’t mean that they need it. 

Maintaining a healthy garden is an art, and it’ll require a certain extent of trial and error as you learn about the plants growing there and the specific conditions of your garden. Following these tips will help – but every garden is different. Experiment a little on your own and see what works best for saving water in the garden!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How to Create a DIY Outdoor Sticky Fly Trap

Summer is here, and it’s horse fly, deer fly, moose fly and speckled wing fly season! Big time! If you live in a rural, wooded setting then you know every time you step out the door to take your daily walk or jog you are bombarded by these pesky, vicious, biting flies. For the entire walk you are constantly swatting at biting insects and trying to outrun the barrage. They seem to relish the flavor of most repellents. They can make your precious time outdoors just plain miserable. Want some relief? Try one of these DIY ideas and you’ll be amazed!

Get Relief By Creating A Sticky Situation

Take one of your old every day baseball caps and place two or three strips of wide, blue painter's tape on it, starting at the top of the cap and layering the strips down the back. Why use blue painter's tape? Researchers have discovered that flies are 3 times more attracted to the color blue than yellow. In fact, flies may even be repelled by the color yellow! A lot of fly and insect traps on the market are yellow in color, and this may be actually hindering your ability to attract and catch flies. Next,  use a paint brush to apply a liberal coating of Tanglefoot insect trap coating over the blue painters tape. Tanglefoot is a sticky insect trap coating that can be used in a variety of applications, is OMRI listed, and is long lasting and weather proof. 

Wear the cap on your walk or jog – the flies are attracted to the blue color, and are caught in the Tanglefoot insect trap coating, where they eventually die. Occasionally one will get caught in such a way that it can continue to flap its wings, and the buzzing is a tad irritating, but with a little patience or the light tap of a finger the buzzing soon ceases.

If you own an ATV, UTV, or even a bicycle, one variation on the “cap trap" is to use old coffee cans or plastic plant pots and either spray paint them blue or cover them with the blue painters tape, attach them in some creative way to your ATV, UTV, or bicycle, and then apply Tanglefoot insect trap coating.  Go for a ride down your favorite trail and let the traps collect all the nuisance flies!

 It doesn’t take many trips to significantly reduce the biting fly population in the target area to a point where your outdoor activities are enjoyable once again. You’ll need to go for a ride every few days to stay ahead of the pests, but going for a ride is a fun way to get outside and enjoy the summer while reducing the local fly population at the same time.

What do you think of our DIY Sticky Fly Traps? Let us know in the comments!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Composting Toilets 101: What Every Homeowner Needs to Know

Did you know that approximately 90 percent of what goes into your toilet is water based? You may think little about those bathroom deposits, but the rising popularity of the composting toilet may leave you wanting to know more. These compact toilets are popping up in many tiny houses and cottages, but you can also find larger units approved for heavier residential use. While they may look a little different than the toilet that you use every day, they offer an environmentally friendly alternative.

How Do Composting Toilets Work?

You sit on a composting toilet and work your magic just as you would with a standard toilet. Some models may have a small footstool on the front, which may make your sitting position more comfortable. The unit has a heater and fan that run continuously. The heater evaporates the liquid in your deposit and releases it from a vent in the back of the toilet. The solid matter is collected inside the toilet and allowed to decompose naturally.

The fan is designed to eliminate odor, so you won't have to endure a foul smell in your home when you purchase a quality toilet from a reputable brand. You have to watch the gauge on the toilet to determine when it's time to empty the solid matter. How often you have to complete this task will depend on the frequency of use.

How to Select the Best Composting Toilet

This isn't a product that you can walk into any local store and buy off the shelf on a whim. You need to do some research to compare your options so that your toilet fits your bathroom just as well as your lifestyle. Here are some factors to consider:

Size: Determine how you want to position the toilet in your bathroom and measure the available space. Make sure that you account for leg room when sitting on the toilet. Height: Some compact composting toilets are low-profile units. While this may help conserve wall space in a small bathroom, make sure that you're comfortable squatting down that low. Capacity: The smaller the toilet, the more often you can expect to empty the solid matter. While you may want something compact for a small bathroom, make sure that the size is appropriate for the number of people using the bathroom. Design: There are some advanced design features that you may want, including the ability to hide the back vent from view. The lines and shape of the toilet may concern you from an aesthetic viewpoint as well. Certification: The Sun-Mar Excel was the first composting toilet to receive certification from the National Sanitation Foundation, and it has received more testing than many competing brands on the market today. The reputation of the brand is essential because you want the most functional and efficient composting toilet available.

The good news is that there aren't so many composting toilets available that you will have trouble comparing their sizes and features. If you want the best of the best, go with the Sun-Mar brand. The Excel toilet was tested by the National Sanitation Foundation for six months, and it was proven an odorless and efficient toilet even when used at maximum capacity. It's approved for residential as well as cottage use.

If you need a smaller unit, look at the Compact Sun-Mar Composting Toilet. It's approved for light residential or cottage use and has a low-profile design that fits easily into smaller bathrooms. Just like the Excel, it has an emergency drain that allows you to remove liquid from the toilet if it's used when the power goes out. You can also use this emergency drain if the toilet is overused and needs emptied right away.

What About Installation?

While Sun-Mar composting toilets come with everything that you need for installation and clear instructions, it can take some time to get your toilet ready for use. The most challenging part is running PVC pipe through the roof to create the ventilation system. This is needed to control airflow to and from the toilet, allowing the decomposition process to work efficiently. Each toilet comes with enough pipe to accommodate most single-story structures, but you may need to purchase more if your home has multiple floors

Should You Take the Composting Toilet Plunge?

Composting toilets are a good option if you want the most environmentally friendly option for your home or you have a small bathroom that won't accommodate many other toilets well. This is also a perfect fit for rural homes without septic systems. A composting toilet is far more affordable than paying for a new septic system.

When determining whether to invest in this type of toilet, also consider the expected frequency of use. If you have a large family or expect heavy use of the toilet for other reasons, you may find that a larger composting system is required. You will also have to empty the tray more often, so make sure that you have a plan in place for that task.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Different Types of Bird Feeders and Bird Waterers

So you’ve decided to add a bird feeder or waterer to your home. That’s wonderful! Bird feeders and accessories make beautiful additions to any yard and can help families get in touch with nature. But how do you know which kind to buy? You might be inclined to think that all feeders are the same, but in actuality, they vary greatly when it comes to the types of birds they attract, their functionality and the features they offer.

With that in mind, here’s a list of the most common types of bird feeders and waterers to help you decide which one is right for your yard.

Bird Feeders

Nectar Feeders – For hummingbirds

Nectar feeders are generally used to feed hummingbirds because they are filled with the same sweet nectar that is usually provided from flowers. You can easily recreate the nectar by mixing water with sugar and adding it to the reservoir. The benefits of choosing a nectar feeder are that it is relatively inexpensive and won’t cause pesky intruders. However, make sure you diligently clean the feeder whenever it needs it, as drinking contaminated nectar can potentially hurt the hummingbirds. We recommend purchasing a red nectar feeder like our Dew Drop Hummingbird Feeder because hummingbirds are attracted to the color red!

Suet Feeders – For woodpeckers, chickadees, jays and starlings

Suet feeders are uniquely designed with a metal fencing around the seed, which attracts birds that normally eat by hanging on to trees. Suet cakes are placed inside the fencing, allowing easy access for birds while protecting it from rodents. Although some suet feeders are plain, you can find others that are beautifully decorated, such as the Single Leaf Suet Feeder. With this kind of feeder, you’ll get a lot of attention from woodpeckers, chickadees, jays and starlings.

Hopper Feeders – For finches, jays, cardinals, sparrows and more

Distinguished by their covered roofs, hopper feeders like the cute hopper bird feeder below look the most traditional compared to others and are very pleasant to look at. While this type of birdhouse can rejuvenate any yard, it is also one of the more difficult to maintain, so make sure you’re dedicated to the task before buying one. Most common birds will flock to this type of feeder, but because the food isn’t completely protected, birds have to be careful and keep an eye out for predators. You also have to make sure not to let the feeder get wet, as the seeds can create mold and harm birds if eaten. 

Tube Feeders – For sparrows, chickadees, finches, jays and more

Tube feeders are easily recognizable based on their cylindrical and narrow shape. Easy to clean and dry, this type is a popular choice among homeowners because many of them come with added security features to prevent squirrels from climbing up. For instance, the Yankee Flipper Seed Feeder, has a motorized perch ring that is specially designed to discharge squirrels, based on their weight. Small and large species are both attracted to this design, so you’ll have plenty of attention from your local birds!

Bird Waterers

Bird waterers continuously provide fresh water through shallow pools for birds to drink and bathe in. Unlike bird baths, bird waterers automatically replenish the water once it has been used through a reservoir at the top that you can fill with water every so often. Bird waterers are a great substitute for traditional bird baths because the water will constantly be refilled and therefore these waterers require less maintenance from you. Our Daisy Bird Bath and Waterer contains over 100 ounces of water that is released into four separate drinking pools along with plenty of space for your winged friends to hydrate. And cleanup is simple; all you have to do is rinse it with soapy water and hang it back up!

Now that you’ve learned about the most common types of bird feeders and waterers, you’re hopefully more prepared to decide what kind you want for your own yard. Remember that different feeders are meant for different types of birds and require various degrees of maintenance, so the time you’ll need to commit should be considered. Once you’ve figured out what you want, your neighborhood birds will be delighted – and you’ll have something beautiful to look at every time you step outside!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hardware Replacement Supplies for Sliding Barn Doors

Summer is here and that means that the busy farming season is upon us. If you have a barn, it’s time to make sure everything is up to snuff in getting you through this busy time – the last thing you need is a barn door malfunction slowing you down. As the main point of entry, barn doors have an extremely important function, so it’s important they’re operating properly.
Part of conducting a thorough inspection is checking to see that you have all of the necessary barn hardware replacement supplies. Here, we offer a guide of barn door hardware and accessories covering the parts that tend to most often need replacing – so you can rest assured your barn door will hold up and go back to focusing on what’s important!

Rollers and Tracks

Rollers, which are also known as hangers, are located at the top and exterior of the barn door. Due to their location, usage frequency, and high exposure to climate changes, they tend to wear out easily. If malfunctioning, these may cause the doors to be heavier and more difficult to open, potentially delaying your production schedule. Many professionals will suggest using different types of oil lubrications. However, this solution is not always successful, in which case you could end up having to purchase a whole new set of rollers! If you do end up needing a full new track system, we recommend getting tracks that have a little bit more weight than your door for better support.
You can find an excellent variety of barn door hardware suitable for rollers and track replacements here. For smaller barn door hardware accessories, such as brackets and end caps, we offer a range of high quality supplies here.

Door Guides and Door Stops

Installing durable door guides and door stops are equally as important as having strong track systems. Door guides are a crucial component of barn doors, serving as a guide to slide the doors smoothly and facilitating entry by properly aligning them along the track system. Because they also receive a lot of exposure to damage, door guides tend to be another barn door hardware item that needs to be replaced relatively often.
Depending on your barn door, it might be difficult to find these barn hardware replacement supplies locally. If you’d like a great alternative, visit us here for all types of barn door guides and door stops, from stay rollers to rails.

Handles, Pulls & Latches

And lastly, handles, pulls and latches are also considered to be popular replacement supplies in barn hardware. Can you imagine not having proper handles installed on your barn doors? There is a tremendous risk to not having the right handles installed on your barn door, including the potential to get robbed or find that your livestock is running free on your property – or someone else’s! Handles are typically the first touch point for anyone who is trying to open barn doors and therefore must be replaced pretty frequently. With this in mind, make sure you have durable, high-quality, secure handles, pulls and latches. Also consider the placement of this hardware on your barn door – you don’t want to realize after installation that your latch is slightly too low or too high. Check out our selection of barn door handles and latches here.
However prominent our barn doors are across the face of a barn, it’s all too easy to look past them and focus more on what’s inside rather than the structure itself. What’s inside is usually more fun, anyway, right? But doing an annual check-in on your barn door hardware will save you headache and inconvenience in the future. Do yourself a favor and check up on your doors today. Come visit us here if you do need any replacement supplies, whatever kind of barn door you’ve got – and good luck in this busy season!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Finding the Right Grill for You

Grilling season is upon us (hurray!), and with it, the longtime debate ensues over what kind of grill is best. If you don’t already own a grill of your own, this may just be the year to invest in one – but which to choose? There’s tons of information out there: gas versus charcoal, wood pellet versus electric. Here, we’ll provide you with a simple rundown of the pros and cons of a few so you know which grill is for you!

Grills are used for three different types of cooking:

1) Indirect heat smoke roasting – For a flavorful smoky flavor, close the lid and cook your favorite meats or veggies with the warm convection airflow inside.
2) Indirect heat convection roasting – This also uses warm air circulating around the food with the lid closed, but here, the heat source is off to the side.
3) High heat direct radiation cooking – This involves placing the food directly above the heat source, usually without a lid.

Keep these cooking methods in mind as you read through the following grill rundowns.

Wood pellet grills

Pellets are compressed pieces of wood shavings and sawdust that are used to warm these grills. The pellets fill the grill’s “hopper” and are then fed into a burn pot based on the speed dictated by the grill’s thermostat. The smoke produced by the burning pellets cooks the food on the grill. These grills run on electricity, which is great for competitive grilling (if that’s your thing). The heat in wood pellet grills is indirect, so it’s better for cooking larger cuts or quantities of meat for long cook times at low temperatures.

Once everything is set up on your wood pellet grill, you won’t need to do much adjusting – it’ll maintain the heat and airflow over the cook time, providing predictable outcomes. These grills are also fuel efficient. If a smoky flavor is your thing, you probably won’t love what comes out of a wood pellet grill, as it doesn’t produce a strong smoke flavor, regardless of the pellets you use. While we’re talking about wood pellets for grills, you’ll find either hardwood pellets or fruitwood pellets. Although they’re both great options, hardwood pellets will burn for a longer amount of time and are less expensive.

One of the first companies to sell pellet smokers was Traeger – and you’ll find a great selection of its grills right here.

Gas grills

Gas grills are a convenient, controlled grill option. They start easily, heat up quickly (within just 10 or 15 minutes) and hold temperatures steadily. They’re also easy to clean, with no ashes to dispose of – plus, most drips are vaporized (although there can be carbon or grease buildups underneath the burners that must be scraped clean every so often). Many fine-dining steakhouses use gas for their meats to achieve a dark sear all over, but this does require extremely high temperatures that many grills won’t reach.

Although consistent, the temperature control on gas grills may vary slightly depending on the weather. On a cold, windy day, setting the temperature to 275° may actually be slightly cooler. Gas grills can also be expensive as well as complex to assemble with their many different parts. Also keep in mind that gas is explosive, so gas grills can be dangerous if, for instance, the flame goes out but the gas is still on. Always be cautious when working with a gas grill.

For a variety of the best gas grills on the market today, check out our selection here.

Outdoor electric grills

Outdoor electric grills may be the best option if you’re unsure of the investment you want to make and don’t know how much you’ll actually use your grill. That’s because this less expensive option is easy to use – you literally just plug it in and press the on button. These grills heat up in as little as one minute and are safe with no gas or flames. Since outdoor electric grills run on electricity, you also won’t have to worry about stocking up on wood, propane or any other fuel.

Of course, outdoor electric grills do have some downsides. They’re usually much smaller than other grills, meaning you won’t be able to grill large quantities of food. And there’s no competing with the flavor – you just won’t get that strong grilled taste with one of these. You’ll find our selection of outdoor electric grills here in case you’d like to have a look.

So now that you know your grills, you probably have a pretty good idea of which one might be best for you. In case you’d like to browse through our entire collection of grills plus some smokers and fireplaces too, check out our selection here. Fill that empty space on your deck or patio – invest in a grill of your own and make your garden the place to be this summer!