Friday, October 14, 2016

7 Ways to Protect Your Plants This Winter

It’s already mid-October, and that means it’s time to start thinking about how to protect your cherished garden during the cold winter months. Whether you relish this time of year or long for spring to arrive, many of your plants will likely need some added protection to survive – so don’t leave them hanging. Taking a couple of simple steps will keep your lovely greenery intact come spring so you can enjoy your garden once again and not take repeated trips to the nursery for a brand new collection.

Here, we provide you with some tried-and-tested tips and tricks for plant survival through Mother Nature’s harshest months. Choose your favorite method of winter plant protection, or try them all!

1) Lay a thick layer of wood chips or straw over flower and perennial beds. This should be about 6 to 8 inches thick, providing some protection so that your beds bloom again in the spring. Remember, raised beds allow more cold air to come through the sides of the box, so this is an important area to protect.

2) Mulch your plants. That’s right: mulch is now a verb and refers to removing the old mulch from around your plants and adding a fresh 3-inch layer. Be sure to leave a ½-inch space around each plant’s stem for air circulation and to prevent rot. No plant wants to rot their way through the cold winter – it’s already tough enough.

3) Water your plants before a freeze, ideally early in the day so your plants have time to absorb it. This sounds counter-intuitive, given that being cold and wet sounds much worse than just being cold, but, in fact, cold air is usually very dry, so it will absorb the moisture faster than the plant can absorb it. Also, plant cells that are full with water will fare better against colder temperatures than otherwise because water can act as an insulator.

4) Also before a freeze, place plant covers for winter using, for instance, a piece of burlap or the like. These can stay on top of the plants – including their entire root zone – for the duration of the freeze but should be removed again during the daytime or once it starts to rain. You can bind or tie the material down, but try to avoid attaching them to or hanging them on the plant, as this can cause damage. Instead, stick stakes in the ground around the plant so you can hang the covering on those. You can also wrap burlap around the trunks of smaller trees for added protection.

5) Place a screen or shield of some sort around your plants on the southwest side to protect them from fierce winds and snow, as this is the direction from which most damage usually comes. 

6) Don’t feel bad if you don’t do anything before a couple fluffy inches of snow fall – that snow will insulate the ground around your plants. As long as it’s not heavy, wet snow, which will weigh down your plants and risk breaking their branches or stems. 

7) For potted plants, the exotic ones from tropical climates should probably be brought inside – say, to your bathroom (as long as there’s light) where they’ll soak up the moisture from your showers. But, for those that are hardy enough to stay outside all winter long, give them some protection. This may be physically wrapping them for an extra layer of warmth with, say, a blanket, towel or piece of foam. Or perhaps moving the plant to a more protected, shielded area, whether a corner or a garage. It’s even possible to plant them directly in the ground or bury them, pot and all. 

So there you have it – an array of solutions to your winter garden worries. Spend some time planning what makes the most sense for your yard, and then put those plans into action before it’s too late. Your spring self will appreciate your efforts, and so will your plants. Feel free to add any additional tips in the comments below!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How to Prepare for Heating Your Home This Winter

Fall has just begun, and winter is coming (Game of Thrones anyone?). You probably don’t have to worry about White Walkers, but winter can still be a harrowing experience if your home isn’t properly heated—no one likes wearing mittens indoors. Paris Farmers Union has endured 97 frigid New England winters thus far, so we understand better than anyone the importance of prepping for the season in advance.

We’ve compiled a few tips to aid you in the preparation process. It’s a hassle to be proactive, but you’ll thank us when a cold front inevitably rolls in. By following along with this abridged heating-your-home handbook, you’ll avoid being mistaken for the friendly neighborhood snowman.

Insulate Drafty Ducts & Windows

Precious heat can easily leak from an uninsulated duct or window and raise your bill as a result. Dealing with a drafty window is a relatively quick fix—seal the frame with caulk and apply an adhesive weather strip. These two improvements should be sufficient, but you can also install a second sash lock to keep any excess air from seeping through the bottom of the pane.

Leaky ducts are a little trickier to tackle—major repairs should be performed by an experienced professional. Ducts are responsible for the even distribution of air throughout your home, so their repair is worth investing in. If you’re determined to patch up a small problem on your own, try taping your duct joints with foil and fiberglass wrap.  

Install a New Thermostat

It’s important that your home stays warm while you’re inside, but it’s just as vital that the temperature adjusts in your absence. Unless you’re hoping to have the highest heating bill on the block, we suggest that you invest in a reliable programmable home thermostat. While already included in many homes, a digital thermostat’s benefits can’t be overstated—it optimizes your home’s heating by adhering to a consistent schedule. To cut costs and increase efficiency, make sure your thermostat is set to 68 degrees while you’re at home during the day. You don’t need a handyman to install a thermostat; simply follow along with this instructional video and tutorial.

Keep Warm by a Crackling Fire

In addition to being an eye-pleasing centerpiece and an entrance for Santa, a gas fireplace can be a lifesaver in the cold winter months. We suggest selecting a vent-free model. These fireplaces burn ventless gas logs and provide greater heat output, use less gas and produce less pollution. Unvented fireplaces are sometimes the only possibility for two-story homes because of installation complications, and they typically come with a much cheaper price tag than comparable vented models. While generally vent-free gas fireplaces are clean burning, in very small homes you may experience light indoor pollution from their use.

If you aren’t drawn by the charm of sitting around open flames during the holidays, you can opt for an electric fireplace. In addition to being a cheaper solution, an electric fireplace produces no fumes, is extremely efficient and is simple to install. Unlike wood-burning fireplaces, maintenance is minimal—you don’t have to worry about logs or cleaning a sooty chimney. 

Invest in a Few Space Heaters

You can quickly heat up a room of almost any size through the installation of a supplemental home heater. These heaters are great for their portability—you can easily move them from one room to another as the need arises. A downside of using space heaters indoors is their flammability, so it’s important that the surrounding area is clear of clutter and that they’re turned off at night. We recommend getting an electric space heater as they’re safer and cleaner-burning than gas solutions.

Patios are a great place to host and entertain guests during the summer months, but they often go unused during the winter. Cold weather shouldn’t keep you from enjoying your backyard during the holidays—consider investing in an outdoor patio heater. These heaters are affordable, portable and safe to use as there’s no open flame.

Preparing for winter can be a daunting task, but we hope these tips will help you defrost in even the fiercest snowstorms. Be sure to check out our heating & cooling page for all the tools you need to keep warm this holiday season!   

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Safety Measures for Home Improvement Projects

You’ve got a home improvement project lined up and you’re ready to tackle it – congrats! You’ve gathered your supplies, read up on the “how to” and now it’s time to get to work. But there’s one more thing to wrap your head around before you get started: safety measures! Safety isn’t the most exciting part of a home DIY, but it’s very necessary and could save you from being one of the thousands of people who end up in the emergency room each year due to an injury while performing home improvement projects.

Naturally, every project will have its own home improvement safety tips to follow, depending on the equipment being used and what exactly the labor entails. Here, however, we provide you with a few general guidelines to keep in mind. Read on for an overview – and be sure to do a little investigating on the specifics of what you’ll be doing, too, so as not to miss any important warnings or reminders.

Forget Fashion; Go Practical

First off, you want to make sure you’re wearing appropriate attire. Don’t dress to the nines – or anywhere close to it, for that matter. Think practical. Make sure your clothing is comfortable and allows you to move around easily (and quickly). Also, don’t wear clothing that is too loose or baggy – you don’t want to get caught on anything. Skip the jewelry and any other dangly accessories, too.

It’s usually a good idea to wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying debris, as well as ear plugs to protect your ears from damage while operating any loud power equipment.

Power Tool Tips

While we’re on the topic of power tools, there are a few things to keep in mind while operating one. Before you begin to operate a power tool, be sure to read through the instructions carefully. Look for the UL safety mark on your tools so you know they’re up to this globally-recognized standard. Don’t walk away from a power tool when it’s active - make sure it’s turned off and unplugged, and be sure it’s out of reach of any little ones who might wander by. Care for your tools by avoiding yanking their cords out of the electrical socket or carrying them by their cords, and keep them away from oil, heat and sharp edges. When they’re not in use, store your tools in a safe, dry place.

What You Need to Know About Ladders

If you’re working in any high spaces, a ladder will probably be involved. Most accidents with ladders are due to incorrect placement, so knowing how to arrange your ladder is really important. If you’ve got a ladder leaned up against a wall or other structure, follow the 4-to-1 rule. This rule states that for every four feet of ladder, you should place the ladder one foot away from whatever it’s leaning against. Also be sure to check out the instructions for the specific ladder you’re looking to use. Certain ladders are best for certain tasks, so try to find what is optimal for whatever it is you’re doing. Regardless, make sure your ladder is long enough and fully welded so it’s able to withstand the weight necessary for your project. 

A First-Aid Kit, Always 

You’ve got the right attire, you’re operating your tools correctly and you know what to do. Unfortunately, despite all your best efforts, accidents do still happen. When they do, be prepared with a fully stocked first aid kit. Know where it is and what’s in it so that when you’re in a rush to get what you need, you can do it as quickly as possible. 

Be Aware of What’s Around You

Whether you’re working in a room on your own or in a busy building full of people coming and going, be aware of your surroundings at all times. Know where other people are – and who may be entering your workspace – and know what’s on the floor or just in your area in terms of power tools, sharp edges or anything else that could potentially cause an accident.

Doing DIY projects can be a lot of fun and can save you some money, too. But it’s far from worth it if an accident occurs. Minimize the risk by following these suggestions – they’re mostly common sense, but a small slip-up can have a heavy price. You can never be too careful, so make sure you err on the side of safety every time. Feel free to leave a comment if you have more DIY safety tips to add – and good luck!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Checklist of Essential Items for Hunting Season This Fall

As summer draws to a close, hunters throughout the Northeast are anticipating the fall hunting season. It’s time to stash away the swimsuits and towels in favor of ammo and camo. Before we know it, Thanksgiving will be right around the corner.

But before you start hoisting your tree stand with mouthwatering visions of venison for dinner, you’ll need to prepare. Here, we’ve put together a list of essentials for turkey, deer and elk hunting this fall. 
Depending on your region, this hunting supplies list may vary. We’ve whittled it down to the essentials that may span across multiple types of hunting (except where specifically noted). As a result, we’ve left off equipment like firearms and focused this list more toward the basic gear hunters may or may not forget while packing up the truck. For more ideas or inspiration, you can check out our selection of hunting supplies!

So without further ado, let’s get to the essentials: 

Cell phone – Embrace this modern age (while avoiding the need for smoke signals); don’t forget your phone in case of emergencies (or victory pics at the end of the weekend!).
Your license – This seems like a no-brainer, but your license is an easy thing to forget, and it will really put a damper on your day if you get caught without it.
Pocket knife or multi-tool – It’s always a good idea to keep one on hand for small jobs or quick fixes. 
First-aid kit – Don’t return home with a tragic story because you forgot a first-aid kit. Trust us.
Water – The hydrated hunter is the focused hunter. 
Toilet Paper – Again, don’t return home with a tragic story because you forgot toilet paper. (All jokes aside, be sure to pack a roll… or two.)
Flashlight, lighter, matches – Let there be light! When the sun sets, you’ll be glad you didn’t leave yourself in the dark; plus, those frosty nights are on their way – a fire might be required. 
Catch-all bag with various necessities – It's always a 
good idea to pack a bag with small utensils or toiletries.
Hunting knife, elbow-length plastic gloves, surveyor's flagging tape – For deer and elk hunters, this is just a quick rundown of the tools you’ll need following the kill.
Various calls for locating, attracting and targeting – For turkey hunters, some examples may include locator and diaphragm calls among others. Variables include distance and stage of the hunt. For deer and elk hunters, this will probably be grunt tubes and rattling antlers.
Compass – Unless you were born in the woods where you’re hunting, we highly recommend a compass. Getting lost as the sun goes down is a feeling not unlike Indiana Jones landing in a pit of snakes (read: panic).
Binoculars and range finder – For deer and elk hunters, and maybe some turkey hunters, these are perfect for looking for game from a great distance while perched above the trees.
Scents and lures – Mostly for deer hunters, scents and lures are a key part of the hunt when attracting game.
Rain gear/warm clothes – Anticipate the elements, especially as the season begins to change from summer to fall to, eventually, winter. This most certainly depends on your region, but Northern hunters take notice.
Folding saw – This is a fantastic tool to bring along for a multitude of tasks while in the wild.
Rope – You need it to hang your game; it’s ideal when preparing to transport game home. Be sure it’s sturdy and there’s plenty of it.
Insect repellent – This might apply more to hunters in warmer climates, but nevertheless, take the proper measures to ward off bites and stings that may interfere when you’ve spotted a target. 
Game bags/dry ice – Use these for preserving and protecting your harvest until it’s home and ready for storage. Be sure to purchase the proper sizes depending on your game.
Large coolers for game (foam coolers are perfect) – The final step in traveling home with your bounty is making sure it’s safely contained and chilled.

And if it’s deer you’ll be hunting out there (specifically whitetails), check out David Libby’s book, “Hunting Whitetails From On High” before heading out. Libby writes specifically about dealing with the whitetail issues in Maine where hunting is competitive and deer numbers are low.

Double- and triple-check your list before heading out this season. You can never be too prepared when spending a day, or weekend, in the wild. We wish you the best on your hunt – and feel free to head over to our Hunting Supplies section for some of the best hunting gear you’ll find anywhere!

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!