Saturday, January 14, 2017

Cumin Confusion: Black Seed, Black Cumin, Kalijiri and Kala Jeera

The confusion among cumin, black cumin, black seed, kala jeera and kalijiri is a great example of why we should use botanical names, not common names, even in recipes.  By the time the spices reached the English, the culinary names were totally screwed up. And if you buy Kalijiri instead of Kala Jeera, your curry will be disgusting.

Let's start with the edible spices:
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Monday, January 9, 2017

On-Line Business Owners: Are You Really Ready for Success?

Ewwwww ... My Blog EXPLODED!!! 

EXPLODE!!!!, in boldface with multiple exclamation points, is a word commonly used by those on the shady side of the business of promoting things. Their spam emails tell you they can "Make your on-line business EXPLODE!!!" Or they promise to EXPLODE!!! your website traffic, sales, profits, or maybe even that undersized part of your male anatomy.

What they don't tell you is that it is not always a good idea to EXPLODE!!! traffic or business.
It sounds strange, but businesses can fail because they succeeded, but didn't plan how to handle the success.

Reconstruction of the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot
If it had exploded as planned.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

How To Salvage Floor and Wall Tile

If you are remodeling, you might have wall, floor or fireplace tiles worth salvaging for resale or to re-use in the new version of the house.  Or you may need to remove intact tiles from "over here" to replace damaged tiles "over there". Removing tiles intact is not a difficult project. It requires a little hand strength, and a few common tools that can be used on other projects. It takes time more than anything else.

I will explain some tile removal techniques, using a 1980s shower stall as the victim example.

This is a typical wall installation - the wallboard or backer board, some mortar (called "mud) to build the thickness up to match the edge tiles, a layer of wire mesh embedded in the mud, and then the thinset mortar that holds the tile to the mud.   Floor tiles do not usually have the wire mesh, and may be laid right over concrete. 

The typical layers: wall or backer board, "mud", wire mesh, thinset mortar, tile

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No-Tool Frost Cover Supports for Tender Landscape Plants

We joke that the the classiest house in the Phoenix area looks like a low-class Victorian washerwoman's house when a freeze is coming, because Phoenicians grab anything at hand to cover plants (Check the images. The Superman sheets are fab!) when one of the rare freezes is coming.  King size sheets and muslin curtains are popular, propped up with anything from saw horses to dining chairs to keep the covers off the plants.  Plastic drop cloths are popular, but you can cook your plants under the plastic if you forget to take it off.

If you have a bit more time to prepare, or live where frost protection is needed several times a winter, try this inexpensive solution that won't leave you sitting on the floor with no sheets on the bed. It looks like an old-fashioned circus tent.
Frost Cloth and Rebar Tent
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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Four Cheap, Effective Fertilizers

For Occasional Use by a Lazy Gardener

I seldom use fertilizers, but if I have to, I use the simplest ones that will do the job.  I am reluctant to use combination fertilizer and weed killer or pest killer. If landscaping has weeds or pests, I'll buy the right single-purpose product. I am also reluctant to apply "time-release" products because in my experience, they are timed for the typical Eastern lawn and garden with more rainfall.
1914 Fertilizer Brochure Cover
If a landscape that I'm responsible for needs fertilizer, one of these four fertilizers will be applied: ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, ammonium phosphate, or soil sulfur. In keeping with my gardening philosophy, they are the simplest, cheapest fertilizers you can buy.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Controlling Caterpillar Pests with Packing Tape

I was coming in from the laundry room before sunrise one June morning and in what little light there was, I saw something moving down a mesquite tree that shades the patio. It was a squirming army of caterpillars of some sort, moving down the trunk as fast as they could wiggle and vanishing into the pebbles around the tree.

The caterpillar infestation explained the tree's failure to thrive that spring - the bean crop was vanishing, and unlike the other mesquites, it had not put out many new shoots. It wasn't dying, just not thriving, and had never recovered from the usual ratty winter mesquite look.

A co-worker and I discussed the easiest way to get the pests under control and came up with a brilliant idea.

The brilliant plan:

  • Let the worms get up in the tree from their daytime hiding place in the pebble mulch.
  • Band the trunk with an adhesive material late that night.
  • Worms would get stuck on the adhesive on their way down at dawn.
  • Mockingbirds would arrive at daylight and eat the worms for breakfast.
  • The tree would be saved.
Caterpillars on and above the packing tape

What actually happened with the brilliant plan:

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Weed Control Methods: Flame Throwers and Weed Burners

Flame Throwers and Weed Burners

Weed burners or flamers are blowtorches adapted to deliver flames to ground level.  They do not have to burn the plants to ash as long as the heat cooks the leaves.  Flamers work best on small weeds with a high moisture content because the plant doesn't have the resources to regrow after the leaves are dead.

Too big for most of us, but a very striking photo from 
Flaming the weeds on a large field before planting the crop.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Manual Weed Control Methods: Hand Pulling and V-Weeders

There is something deeply satisfying about grabbing a fistful of weeds and yanking them out, roots and all. However, you have to make sure you aren't just pulling the leaves off because the weeds will regrow.  The soil should be damp, either from a heavy rain or recent watering.  If it's too wet you will yank out huge clumps of dirt with the weeds, and if it's too dry the roots are locked into the dry dirt.

Best Technique:  Grasp the entire plant at the base, holding all the leaves in your hand and rotate it as you pull up.  If things go right, you should pull out an intact tap root.  If you are just breaking the tops off, water the area and try again in a couple of days, or use a V-weeder.

NOTE: Most annual plants have a growth point at the base of the leaves that can regenerate leaves. Slice below this point or the weed has a chance of growing again. 
Growth point: be sure to get this and the top inch of the roots.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Weed Control: Know the Enemy

It's not the weeds you see that are the problem, it's the ones hiding in the dirt, waiting to grow.

Weeds in Rye
By Agronom (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

DIY No-Tool Shade Screens

Keeping sunshine out of the house during the summer keeps the utility bills lower, as does letting sunshine into the house during the winter.  The obvious answer is removable shade screens.

The problem: How to mount shade screens on windows that have no place to attach the screens because the windows are inset into old adobe and fragile stucco instead of wood or concrete.

The solution: Use tension rods to hold the shadecloth top and bottom as if it were a French door curtain.  No power tools required, 

Despite the non-standard construction materials and methods, the screens have just finished their fourth summer and survived several severe thunderstorms each summer.

Tension rods holding shadecloth

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