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    by Published on September 8th, 2013 11:25 AM

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    The 2014 Almanack Garden Journal

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    Soil, Sky and Seasons
    by Published on March 29th, 2014 12:00 PM
    The articles below are courtesy of BrandPoint Content and are not written by The Almanack

    Sure-grow guidance for first-time gardeners

    (BPT) - Each year, thousands of first-timers will join the millions of seasoned gardeners who already know the satisfaction of picking a perfect tomato at its peak, serving up salads from greens just grown right outside the back door, or harvesting home-grown peppers and specialty herbs never even seen at the grocery store.

    Most of us want that home-grown, healthy goodness that veggie and herb gardens provide, but sometimes it's hard to figure out just where to start. Diligent effort and smart investment can result in less-than-expected results, but starting your own produce plot and reaping its rewards is not out of your reach. Even a small garden can fill your table with fresh, nutritious food, and help save money, too. In addition to the satisfaction you'll get from growing your own food, gardening delivers a host of other health benefits, from low-impact exercise to boosting vitamin D levels with the hours you'll spend in the sunshine.

    Whether you start with a few containers on your patio, create a raised bed in a side yard or go big and plant a grand victory garden, gardening can be easy if you start with these six simple steps.

    Step 1 - Pick transplants

    While every plant starts from a seed, transplants make establishing your garden easier, and help ensure better success. Transplants, like Bonnie Plants which are grown regionally across the country and available at most garden retailers, nationwide, can trim six to eight weeks off growing time, and allow you to skip over the hard part of the growing process when plants are most vulnerable - so they're more likely to survive and thrive. Bonnie Plants offers a wide variety of veggies and herbs, available in biodegradable pots, making the selection process easy. Plant what you eat and try some easy-to-grow favorites, like these:

    * Easy herbs - The volatile oils that make herbs valuable in cooking also naturally repel many insects and garden pests. Try basils, parsley, rosemary and something new, like grapefruit mint, which tastes as refreshing as it sounds.

    * Bell peppers - You'll find the Bell peppers grown in your own backyard will taste sweeter than those bought from your grocer. Harvest them green or red, when vitamin levels are higher. Bonnie offers the classic "Bonnie Bell," that's a productive proven winner.

    * Eggplant - Eggplant thrives in hot weather. Try easy grow "Black Beauty" or something different like the white-skinned "Cloud Nine."

    * Lettuce - Go for "leaf" lettuces like "Buttercrunch," "Red Sails," or Romaine. They'll tolerate more heat than head lettuces and if you keep picking the leaves you'll get multiple harvests.

    * Summer squash - Squash are easy-grow too, and very productive. Try zucchini "Black Beauty" or new-for-2013 Golden Scallop Patty Pan Squash. Many gardeners call this the flying saucer squash because of its unique shape. The flavor is delicate and mild, similar to zucchini.

    * Tomatoes - These crimson favorites are the most popular backyard vegetable. Choose disease-resistant "Better Boy," "Bonnie Original" or the extra-easy cherry tomato "Sweet 100."

    Step 2 - Location, location, location

    Be sure the spot you choose for your plants gets six to eight hours of sun.You don't need a lot of space to begin a vegetable garden. If you choose to grow in containers, you don't even need a yard - a deck, patio or balcony will provide plenty of space. The amount of space you require will depend on what you're planting and how many plants you intend to cultivate. Sun-deprived plants won't bear as much fruit and are more vulnerable to insects and stress.

    Step 3-- Suitable soil

    Success starts with the soil. Most vegetables do well in moist, well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter like compost or peat moss. Adding organic material loosens stiff soil, helps retain moisture and nourishes important soil organisms.

    Step 4-- Feed your food

    All edible plants remove some nutrients from the soil, and can quickly exhaust soil without the help of a fertilizer. Since one of the reasons for growing your own vegetables is to control exactly what your family consumes, be sure to use all-natural, safe products like Bonnie Plant Food, which is derived from oilseed extract such as soybean seed extract. Research shows plants are healthier and more vigorous using organically based foods, rather than chemical based options.

    Step 5 - Water well

    Most vegetables aren't drought tolerant, so you'll need to water them regularly. The closer your garden is to a water source, the easier it will be to keep plants hydrated. One inch of water weekly is adequate for most vegetables.

    Step 6 - Pest patrol

    Let natural predators fight your battles, hand-pick pests or dislodge them with a jet of water. If you spray, do it late in the day when beneficial insects are less active. You can find plenty of resources to help guide you through the planting process, from websites like www.bonnieplants.com to your local community college's agricultural extension. Read up, watch videos, take a class and get your hands dirty.

    Courtesy of Brandpoint Content

    Protect yourself from summer's backyard pests

    (BPT) - Warm weather is here for the next few months, and that means you'll be spending more time outdoors with family and friends - and more time with summer pests. Mosquitoes, fire ants, bees, wasps and yellow jackets are some of summer's worst bugs. And those pests can be more than a mere nuisance.

    In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 5,300 cases of West Nile Virus throughout the United States. West Nile Virus can be a serious disease for a few people (about one in 150), according to the CDC. Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have milder symptoms, while most people who get the disease (about four out of five) will not show any symptoms at all.

    "The best way to protect yourself from mosquitoes is to take the proper precautions," says Orkin entomologist and technical services director Dr. Ron Harrison. "Use insect repellent when spending time outdoors, empty any standing water from around your home, and either stay inside or wear long sleeves and pants if you must be outside during dusk and dawn, because that is when mosquitoes are most active."

    Fire ants prefer warm, sunny conditions, and are most common throughout the southern United States, but have been found as far west as California and as far north as Maryland. Their mounds can grow up to 2 feet around and stand more than a foot tall. These colonies can contain several hundred thousand ants, including at least one queen. By attaching themselves to their victims and injecting venom through their stingers, they can sting animals and humans repeatedly when threatened or searching for prey. These ants are reddish-black and range in size from 1/16 to almost half an inch long.

    Many bees, wasps and yellow jackets are social insects and live in colonies. Unlike bees, however, wasps and yellow jackets are capable of stinging multiple times. Many can exist where humans live, and can be dangerous if disturbed. All three insects can wreak havoc on outdoor fun, especially since they are attracted to food, garbage cans and sugary soft drinks.

    Bee, wasp and yellow jacket stings can cause significant and life-threatening allergic reactions in about 3 percent of people who are stung, according to the Mayo Clinic. While stings are usually not life-threatening to most people, they can be painful, become infected and aggravate skin disorders or allergies.

    Orkin recommends preventing these backyard pests from being summertime bothers by remembering the following tips:

    * Clean up spilled food and drinks immediately, and keep food stored tightly, especially during outdoor picnics.

    * Rinse out cans before recycling, and empty garbage cans and recycling bins often.

    * Seal cracks around doors and windows.

    * Keep gutters and downspouts clean and keep plants away from your home's foundation.

    Courtesy of BrandPoint Content

    Burger season is back -- don't forget the basics

    (ARA) - Americans love hamburgers ... that's a fact. An estimated 1.5 billion pounds of ground beef become those favored burgers cooked at home each year. Whether it's gas versus charcoal, with cheese or without, every burger fan has a different opinion about what makes the perfect patty.

    But there's one thing most burger enthusiasts agree on. According to a national consumer survey from The Beef Checkoff, 90 percent of people enjoy their burger cooked to medium (160 F) doneness or higher. However, some home chefs and grillmasters are using unsafe methods for checking when a burger is done, like cutting into them with a knife, squishing them with a spatula, or just making an educated guess.

    Dave Zino, executive director of the Beef and Veal Culinary Center at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, suggests a better method for checking your burgers to ensure a juicy, flavorful and safe result.

    "Don't waste time with guesswork and techniques that can affect the quality of your burger," Zino says. "Use an instant-read meat thermometer each and every time to make sure you're cooking ground beef to 160 F. It's the only sure-fire way to achieve the doneness most people prefer while also ensuring a safe meal."

    No matter the hamburger preference, the beef industry is dedicated to providing consumers with healthy and nutritious food. Steps taken at every segment of the beef production chain -- from pasture to plate -- ensure the safest product possible. However, there still are many opportunities for consumers to improve food safety in their own kitchens, and making sure your ground beef is cooked to 160 F is just one of them.

    "Whether I am at work as a professional chef or in my home kitchen, food safety is always a part the recipe," Zino says.

    Try Chef Dave's tips to ensure your burgers are safe and savory this summer:

    * Keep beef refrigerated, even when thawing it. Don't leave beef out at room temperature.

    * Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after making patties or preparing any other foods.

    * Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw and ready-to-eat foods separate. Think ahead when at the grill or stove and have a clean plate ready for cooked meat.

    * Insert an instant-read meat thermometer sideways into the center of the patty. Always cook burgers to an internal temperature of 160 F.

    * Have leftover burgers? Refrigerate cooked foods no later than two hours after cooking.

    For more information, tips and recipes for making your burger the best, visit: Safe and Savory at 160

    Classic Beef Cheeseburgers
    Makes four servings. Preparation and cooking time: 25 to 30 minutes


    1 1/2 pounds ground beef
    2 teaspoons steak seasoning blend
    4 hamburger buns, split
    4 slices cheese (such as Cheddar, American, Swiss, etc.)
    4 lettuce leaves
    4 tomato slices

    Ketchup, mustard, onion slices, pickles


    1. Combine ground beef and steak seasoning in large bowl, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Lightly shape into four 3/4-inch thick patties.

    2. Place patties on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, uncovered, 13 to 15 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, covered, 13 to 14 minutes) until instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center registers 160 F, turning occasionally. About two minutes before burgers are done, place buns, cut sides down, on grid. Grill until lightly toasted. During last minute of grilling, top each burger with cheese slice.

    3. Line bottom of each bun with lettuce leaf; top with tomato slice, burger, and toppings, as desired. Close sandwiches.

    Cook's Tip: To prepare on stovetop, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Place patties in skillet; cook 12 to 15 minutes until instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center registers 160 F, turning occasionally.

    Cook's Tip: Other popular burger toppings include grilled or caramelized onions, blue cheese, bacon, sauteed mushrooms and barbecue sauce.

    Cook's Tip: Cooking times are for fresh or thoroughly thawed ground beef. Color is not a reliable indicator of ground beef doneness.

    This recipe is an excellent source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron, selenium and zinc.

    Courtesy of ARAcontent

    Bird feeding basics: Simple ways to attract birds to your backyard

    (ARA) - It's a myth that continues to persist: Feeding birds in spring and summer will spoil them. But birds are like babies - it's impossible to spoil them. Contrary to the myth, well-fed birds won't get too lazy to search for food; they'll just get healthy and happy. And the better the food is you feed them, the more likely they'll continue to come back bringing their colorful plumage and welcome song to your backyard.

    Myths aside, wooing beautiful backyard birds to your outdoor environment can be as simple as offering them a reliable, high-quality food source. Birds, like most wild animals, are survivalists and they'll take advantage of any food source they find - whether it's in your yard or your neighbor's. To entice them to your yard and garden, set out these preferred foods recommended by the bird-feeding experts at Cole's Wild Bird Products:

    * Suet - Made from the fat of cattle, sheep, or even vegetables, suet may sound icky to us, but for birds it's a gourmet delight that helps them stay healthy and build vital fat reserves. Served in a cage or log, suet has the consistency of soft wax and can be kept for a long time. Chickadees, titmice, catbirds, bluebirds, robins, jays, warblers, thrashers, nuthatches and all species of woodpeckers relish suet and will feed on it all year round, even in warm months.

    If your suet gets too soft in the warm summer months, switch to a no-melt, cornmeal-based suet. Suets offer a variety of enhancements including seeds, pecans and peanut butter. To keep squirrels from stealing your suet, try Cole's Hot Meats suet cakes that contain chili-infused sunflower meats. Birds can't taste the hot spice and squirrels will high-tail it out of your feeder once they try it.

    * Seed - Not all birdseed is created equal. Look for blends without cheap filler seeds that are all natural, that way, the birds get more nutrition and you keep a cleaner feeder; the less filler, the less leftovers birds will kick out and leave behind. All-natural feeds are more appealing to birds, who know that natural just tastes better.

    It's important to remember that all birdseed is perishable. Be sure and store any open product in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent the seed from drying out and little critters from finding it. Cole's seed is offered in nitrogen-purged barrier packaging to ensure seed freshness. They use the same packaging technology employed by potato chip makers and fresh vegetable farmers to keep their products fresher longer.

    If unwelcome squirrels raid your bird feeder, opt for a seed blend like Cole's Blazing Hot Blend, new this spring. By combining a patented habanero chili oil formula with the most preferred seeds of backyard birds you can protect your feeder from squirrels while attracting woodpeckers, grosbeaks, buntings, cardinals, chickadees, bluebirds, goldfinches and more. Squirrels don't like the hot, spicy flavor, but birds won't be able to detect it.

    * Insects and worms - A healthy, lush lawn is one of the best ways to feed birds who prefer insects and worms. A good lawn will attract the species of insects that birds enjoy. You can also supplement their diet by serving Dried Mealworms in a packaged variety that's easier to feed and less messy than live mealworms, and birds love them. These energy-packed morsels are Mother Nature's perfect treat for all your insect-loving songbirds.

    * Garden favorites - Feeding birds doesn't just have to happen at the feeder. Thoughtful planting in your garden can help entice wild birds to forage there. Offer a birdbath for water and berry-producing trees and shrubs. Plant annuals and perennials that birds like, such as sunflowers, marigolds, petunias, Sweet William, nasturtium and blueberries. Climbing vines like morning glories, coral honeysuckle, muscadine and trumpet creeper are also favorites.

    By serving wild birds their favorite foods throughout the summer, you can boost and build their stamina and reserves for the long winter ahead - and all the while you'll enjoy a birds-eye view of a multitude of species bringing bright color and cheerful song to you throughout the warm months.

    Courtesy of ARAcontent

    Grilling tips to keep home fires burning safely

    (ARA) - Grilling season will arrive before you know it. Before firing up the grill for spring festivities or tailgating, however, weekend warriors should observe a few simple precautions to ensure that backyard barbecue bashes don't go up in flames.

    Casual cookouts can turn dangerous - and sometimes deadly - if safety is ignored, according to leading home insurer MetLife Auto & Home. "Every year, we see dozens of fire-related claims reported throughout the year because of simple carelessness," says Mike Convery, vice president and chief claim officer at MetLife Auto & Home. "Keeping safety basics top-of-mind can help prevent losses from occurring and help you avoid needless hassle and property damage - and in some situations, injury to you or your loved ones."

    Follow these easy pointers to make grilling safer:

    * Keep barbecue grills on a level surface away from the house, garage and, most importantly, children and pets. When grilling on your patio, make sure that all furniture and accessories are far from the grill. On balconies, it is always safer to move festivities to available lawn space. Never grill inside the home or garage, even if it is raining.

    * For gas grills, always store gas cylinders outside and away from your house, and be sure the valves are turned off when not in use. Check the tubes regularly for cracking, brittleness, and leaks in the connections. To determine if there is a leak, simply pour soapy water over the line with the gas valve turned open. If gas is escaping, bubbles will appear. Should you detect a leak, immediately turn off the gas and don't use the grill until the leak is repaired.

    * Your grill generates high temperatures, so keep it covered whenever possible. Keep lighted cigarettes, matches and open flames away from the grill, and move gas hoses as far away as possible from hot surfaces and grease. Use a can to catch excess grease.

    * Make certain your grill is kept at least 2 to 3 feet away from wood or vinyl siding. Placing the grill too close to your home, especially one with vinyl siding, can result in melting or burning, or even a fire. Also, keep in mind that while vinyl siding and composite decking have a higher "burn point" than wood, it's also easier for these materials to melt and discolor, which can result in a costly claim for property damage.

    * For charcoal grills, use only starter fluids designed for your grill and never use gasoline. Limit the amount of fluid used. If the fire is too low, use dry kindling and add more charcoal, if necessary. To avoid a flash fire - a fire that spreads rapidly through the vapors of an ignitable liquid - never add more liquid fuel to a lighted grill.

    * When using bamboo or wood skewers, soak them in cool water prior to use so they won't ignite on the grill.

    * Keep a fire extinguisher accessible and never leave a grill unattended once it has been lit. If an extinguisher isn't available, consider keeping a bucket of sand or a garden hose nearby.

    * Never allow burned coals to smolder in any container on a wooden deck and make sure to soak your coals before disposing of them by wrapping them in heavy-duty aluminum foil and putting them in a non-combustible container away from the house.

    "These precautions should be used for all outdoor cooking devices, including propane turkey fryers and outdoor fire pits," Convery says."Above all, remember that whatever you're cooking with outdoors will remain hot for hours and that wooden surfaces, such as decks, can present fire hazards, so never place cooking devices directly upon them. We have received serious home insurance fire damage claims, some involving loss of life, that started because cooks forgot that the party isn't over until the last flame has been extinguished."

    For a comprehensive look at fire safety protection, MetLife Auto & Home offers a free brochure on "Fire Safety," featuring useful information about fire-related subjects, including how to plan an escape route, seasonal safety tips and safety information related to heating your home. A coloring and activity book is also available for children, titled "Learn About Fire Safety with the PEANUTS Gang," that helps children learn critical emergency information, the steps to fire safety and how to develop escape routes to use in the event of a fire. The brochure and coloring book are available free from (800) 608-0190.

    Courtesy of ARAcontent

    Gardening: America's new favorite pastime

    (ARA) - More than 41 million Americans planted vegetable gardens in 2009 - a number expected to increase as food costs climb, according to a recent Gardening Trends Research Report. When you factor in flowers, herbs and fruits, it's difficult to find a home where people are not working the soil on a warm sunny day.

    Aside from the obvious benefits of fresh flowers and produce, gardening provides low-impact, calorie-burning exercise. One hour of gardening burns about 375 calories. While love of gardening has not changed, methods continue to evolve - and one of the top trends is raised-bed gardening. Tending a raised bed requires less bending and stooping, and is ideal for yards with poor soil. Rather than working to improve heavy clay soil or adding body to sandy soil, you're starting with a clean slate. Raised beds are particularly useful for community gardens and urban gardens in areas with compacted or root-bound soil. " Ninety percent of success is the prep work done ahead of planting,'' says Mark Dwyer, director of horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wis." This includes finding a location that gets six to eight hours of direct sun each day.

    Once the site is chosen, determine the size of your garden. A first-timer should start small - don't overwhelm yourself with a massive plot. Start with one or two raised garden beds measuring 4 feet by 8 feet. Select a location that offers room to grow, should you choose to expand your garden in subsequent years.

    No matter what size raised bed you choose, the frame needs to be structurally sound and attractive. Helping to fill this niche is the durable, decorative M Brace raised garden bed bracket from Outdoor Essentials. The patented, corner bracket, sold in sets of four, lets you create an attractive, sturdy raised garden bed in just minutes using common 2-by-6 and 2-by-4 lumber and no tools. The M Brace's sturdy, recycled metal frame keeps boards seated securely at the corners. It's available in eight cut-out designs, and two finishes - steel that will rust gracefully over time, or powder-coated in an antique bronze finish.

    Once the frame is in place, fill the raised box with quality soil. Garden centers offer bulk and bagged soil mixes. Or create your own blend, using equal parts peat moss, coarse-grade vermiculite and blended compost.

    Create pathways to your garden or build an adjacent sitting area with Tiffany-style stepping-stones from Outdoor Essentials (www.OutdoorEssentialProducts.com). Serpentine jade or handcrafted Tiffany-style jade stepping stones lend visual appeal to your garden and protect soil and plants from being trampled.

    To keep deer, rabbits and other critters at bay, consider a decorative enclosure using end caps and lattice. Fence posts 4-by-4 inches or 6-by-6 inches are ideal. Once fence posts are set, enclose the garden with decorative lattice, leaving a narrow opening or a hinged gate for access.

    Make your enclosed garden an eye-catching centerpiece by topping off the end posts with elegant Planter Post Caps. The decorative caps, available in two styles and colors, add dimension and color to the garden. Caps are available in square or round designs, with a black or copper finish. Plant colorful flowers or trailing vines in the post cap planters to create horizontal interest.

    The key to a bountiful harvest - be it fruits, vegetables or flowers - is successful pollination. Brightly colored flowers attract bees and hummingbirds, as will fresh water. Add a luminous green birdbath in serpentine jade to attract birds all summer and to provide an architectural focal point inside your garden.

    "Think outside the box," says Dwyer. Add a few herbs - or anything you want - to make the garden uniquely yours. And don't discount edible landscape ornamentals: "Many fresh herbs and vegetables can contribute their own charm to an informal border or container,'' he adds.

    Whether for a relaxing hobby or for the desire to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables for you and your neighbors, now is the perfect time to start a garden of your own.

    Courtesy of ARAcontent

    Emergency Nurses Offer Water and Boating Safety Tips for Summer

    (ARA) - The summer season is filled with many enjoyable activities, many of which take place in or around water. As people head to beaches and neighborhood swimming pools, or take recreational boating trips, water safety becomes increasingly important. Drowning remains the second leading cause of injury-related death among children ages one to 14, and in 2004, boating accidents caused a reported 3,363 injuries and 676 fatalities.

    The Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) Injury Prevention Institute/EN CARE offers the following tips for parents and children to ensure safe play in water and on boats.

    Water Safety Tips
    * Never leave a child unsupervised around water in or outside the home. It takes only a few seconds and one inch of water for a child to drown.
    * Pools should have a fence that is at least four feet tall with a high gate latch that is not reachable by children.
    * Keep rescue equipment, a telephone and a list of emergency numbers at the poolside.
    * Remove toys from in and around the pool when not in use, as children can be tempted by floating pool toys.
    * Secure, lock or remove ladders to above ground pools when they are not being used.
    * Use only Coast Guard approved life preservers or life jackets. Air-filled flotation devices such as "water wings" or "tubes" actually increase chances of drowning.
    * No one, not even adults, should swim alone. Teach children to swim with a buddy.
    * Take a class in how to perform infant/child CPR.
    * The American Red Cross recommends at least nine feet of depth for safe diving and jumping. Never dive headfirst into unknown waters.

    Boating Safety Tips
    * Know how to operate your boat safely in all weather and water conditions.
    * Ensure that your boat has the safety equipment required by law and that it is in working order.
    * Participate in the Vessel Safety Check program, provided by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron.
    * Boat operators should be familiar with the body of water being navigated.
    * All passengers must always wear a life jacket while boating.
    * Always avoid alcohol while operating a boat.
    * Maintain a safe speed at all times.
    * Water skiers and swimmers should be at least 20 feet from the back of a moving boat in order to avoid carbon monoxide exposure.

    For additional information and safety tips, visit the ENA Injury Prevention Institute/EN CARE Web site at www.ena.org/ipinstitute. Information about the ENA is available at www.ena.org.

    Courtesy of ARAcontent

    'Veggin' out' is so in: Tips for starting your own veggie garden

    (ARA) - Vegetable and herb gardening is in and studies indicate it will continue to grow in popularity. If you're not growing your own yet it's time to start. Why? The reasons are as varied as the people who garden.

    Some do it to save money. Others want to ensure their food is chemical-free, and as safe as possible. Still others grow their own vegetables because fresher is just better. Many do it because gardening is good for you and some because it's still fun to play in the dirt.

    Whatever your reason for opting to join the 7 million Americans who grabbed their gardening gear and grew their own vegetables and herbs last year, your road to success is basically the same as everyone else's - planting at the right time, making sure your soil's in shape, weeding and watering responsibly, and feeding and nurturing your plants. This season, you won't have to buy your fresh herbs and vegetables from a farmer's market; you can grow them on your own, and you don't need a farm-sized backyard - or pocketbook - to do it.

    Avid gardener Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants, the largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in North America, growing locally in 75 locations nationwide, offers some time-saving tips to make the growing easy:

    * Survey your soil - Your first step is to decide where you'll put your vegetable and herb garden. Good soil is key. The best soil is loam, a soft, dark, crumbly dirt. Loamy soil holds water, allows for drainage and is easy to dig. If you encounter clay or sandy soil, add peat moss and bone meal so that these soils can also be productive gardening bases.

    * Size up your space - When plotting out the size of your garden, you'll want to be sure it's big enough to yield a good harvest to make your efforts worthwhile. But if you're limited on yard space - or have none at all - you can grow vegetables and herbs in containers on a deck, terrace, balcony or even on the windowsill.

    * Let the sunshine in - Your plants need plenty of sun - at least six hours a day. A sunny and open location is your best bet for producing a plentiful harvest.

    * Pick your plants for your plot - Grow vegetables that are expensive to buy in the grocery store or at the farmer's market, such as tomatoes and peppers.

    A tried-and-true prolific producer, the Bonnie Original Tomato, was developed exclusively for Bonnie Plants in 1967. They come in environmentally friendly, biodegradable pots that you plant right into the soil. Recent trials, planting five of these tomato plants in 25-gallon containers, averaged 100 tomatoes each at an average of 37 pounds per plant. Another tomato that will tip the scales is Bonnie's Sun Sugar tomato, a yellow cherry type. Trial garden plants averaged 1,228 tomatoes each.

    If peppers are your passion, the Yummy Bell Pepper, ripening from green to apricot orange, is a best bet. Trial garden testing of five plants averaged 248 peppers per plant during the summer growing season.

    * Time-saving transplants - When you're ready to begin planting, opt for transplants - seedlings that have already been started - rather than starting from seed. Transplants will buy you lots of time because plants are six weeks or older when you put them in the ground, and you'll begin harvesting much sooner.

    * Feed your food - Your vegetable plants will need food and water to survive and grow. When feeding plants, try to avoid chemical fertilizers that could potentially seep into groundwater. Bonnie Plant Food is a unique, organically based, soybean oilseed extract formula that has demonstrated superior results in the health and vigor of plants.

    Give your garden a good watering once or twice a week, although some crops may need more water, especially if your climate is very hot. A thorough soaking, allowing the water to penetrate 4 to 6 inches into the soil, is better for plants than frequent shallow watering.

    Gardening is rewarding. It will bring great pleasure as you bring your produce from plot to plate so you can literally enjoy the fruits of your labor. For more information on varieties and gardening advice, visit www.bonnieplants.com.

    Courtesy of ARAcontent

    Backyard Buzz: How to Attract Hummingbirds

    (ARA) - If the birding world had a rock star, it would be the hummingbird. Swift, tiny, secretive and simply amazing to watch, "hummers" are so hard to spot that catching a glimpse of one can be a summer experience you'll long remember. But you don't have to be an avid birder to be thrilled by the sight of a hummingbird.

    Hummingbirds can be found across the country, with ruby-throated hummingbirds common east of the Rocky Mountains and a dozen or more species common in western regions. To maximize your chances of seeing a hummingbird this summer, take a few simple steps to attract them to your backyard, where you can enjoy them at your leisure.

    In spring, hummingbirds return from their tropical winter retreats in Central and South America, and this is the best time to attract them to your backyard. Like all wild birds, hummers have three basic requirements to make a place their home - access to food, water and a good nesting spot. Offering nectar-rich flowers and feeders is a good start. But you also need suitable habitat that provides sheltered perches and good nesting places, encouraging females to raise their young.

    Research shows that these tiny birds have a remarkable memory and frequently return to the same hospitable sites on the same day of each year. If you feed consistently, you may have return visitors, especially during spring and fall migrations. If you can get them to nest nearby, too, you'll have fledglings who also may remember your address in years to come.

    Female hummers typically settle in deciduous trees over a clearing or stream. They fashion their nests from sticky spider webbing, using lichen to camouflage the exterior and soft plant fibers to cushion the interior. It's probably not practical for the average hummingbird fan to stock spider webs and lichens in their yard. But there is a man-made alternative.

    Hummer Helper is the first commercially available product that has proven appealing to hummingbirds. Introduced by Songbird Essentials, the all-natural material (specially processed with oil left in) is contained in a wire frame painted red to attract a hummingbird's eye.

    The product is endorsed by the Hummingbird Society (hummingbirdsociety.org), an Arizona-based advocacy group. In the March 2009 edition of the society's journal, Executive Director Ross Hawkins reported watching females at work gathering the material. "We recommend 'Hummer Helper,'" he wrote. "It has the potential to help bring in more hummers, close by where you can observe them, and to increase the odds that they will nest near you."

    To start attracting hummers, hang a small feeder. Nectar mixes are available, but it's easy to make your own. Use four parts tap water to one part ordinary table sugar, heated until dissolved. Red coloring isn't necessary. Increase the visibility of new feeders by hanging red ribbons nearby. The hummingbird's high metabolism drives it to feed about every 10 minutes, and it examines every square yard in its range for food, experts say.

    Keeping the feeder clean and the nectar refreshed is critical. Spoiled solutions can turn to alcohol and support mold, both harmful to the tiny birds. In cool weather, fluid can be left for five to seven days, but during hot spells it should be replaced every two days. For easy cleaning, pick up a specialized brush like Songbird's "Best Hummer Brush." Don't use soap or detergents, which can be hard to rinse thoroughly. A solution of ordinary white vinegar is a good non-toxic cleaner.

    Two other handy accessories are a water-filled nectar protector ant moat, hung above feeders to keep ants at bay, and an overhead protector like Songbird's Hummer Helmet to keep rain water from diluting nectar solutions. While its shade helps keep nectar fresh longer, the red color acts as a big red "Food Here" sign. Songbird products are sold through outlets catering to birders. The Web site www.songbirdessentials.com includes a "Retail Finder" directing customers to nearby locations.

    To learn more about hummingbird research, visit the Hummer Bird Study Group at hummingbirdsplus.org.

    Courtesy of ARAcontent

    “Is It Done Yet?”
    Only Your Food Thermometer Knows for Sure

    (ARA) - Kids popping into the kitchen or dashing by a barbecue grill ask impatiently, “Is it done yet?” The answer to this hungry question is the basis of a national campaign to encourage the use of food thermometers when preparing meat, poultry and egg dishes, to prevent foodborne illness. The campaign, which is being led by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is themed, “Is It Done Yet? You Can’t Tell By Looking. Use a Food Thermometer to be Sure!”

    Studies have shown that using a food thermometer is the only way to tell if harmful bacteria have been destroyed. FSIS reports that even if hamburgers look fully cooked, one in four hamburgers may not be safely cooked. Yet only 6 percent of home cooks use a food thermometer for hamburgers and only 10 percent use a food thermometer for chicken breasts, according to the latest data from the Food Safety Survey, which was conducted by FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration.

    USDA food safety experts encourage people to get and use a food thermometer -- dial or digital -- and become a role model in their neighborhoods. By using a food thermometer to check if meat, poultry or egg dishes are done, you also prevent overcooking and guesswork. Food cooked to a safe internal temperature is juicy and flavorful. If you use a food thermometer, then you’ll know the answer to “Is it done yet?”

    You can buy a food thermometer in many grocery, hardware or kitchen stores. Here are some tips for using it:

    * Insert the food thermometer into the thickest part of the food, making sure it doesn’t touch bone, fat or gristle.

    * Cook food until the thermometer shows an internal temperature of 160 F for hamburger, pork and egg dishes; 145 F for steaks and roasts; 170 F for chicken breasts and 180 F for whole poultry.

    * Clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water before and after each use.

    FSIS has created a Web site to provide consumers with recommended internal temperatures and instructions on how to use a food thermometer:


    FSIS is partnering with various organizations, agencies and local groups to help spread this important food safety message.

    For food safety information in English and Spanish, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) MPHotline (674-6854) or TTY: (800) 256-7072. The year-round toll-free hotline can be called Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST. An extensive selection of timely food safety messages also is available at the same number 24 hours a day.

    For a free copy of the “Is It Done Yet?” brochure, order online at http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/food/isitdoneyet/isitdoneyet.htm or send your name and address to Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC), Dept. 11, Pueblo, CO 81009.

    Consumers may also pose food safety questions by logging on to FSIS’ online automated response system called “Ask Karen,” which is available on the FSIS Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov. E-mail inquiries can be directed to MPHotline.fsis@usda.gov.

    Courtesy of ARA Content

    Six Steps to a Stress-Free Back Yard

    (ARA) - If your thoughts are turning to the time and energy you'll spend in the back yard this season, you're not alone. A new survey says that the majority of homeowners have concerns about the condition of their lawns and mowers as they think about getting into their yards this spring.

    The survey, conducted on behalf of Lawn-Boy with 665 people responsible for taking care of their families' lawns, found that Americans count cleaning up sticks and leaves as their biggest source of yard-care dread. Fear that their lawn may need major repair work ranks second, and concern that their mower might not run well - or at all - is the third biggest backyard worry.

    According to the experts at Lawn-Boy, homeowners can rest easy. Spending just a little time preparing for spring will help ensure a stress-free mowing season. "Turning your attention to your mower and lawn in early spring makes all the difference," says Joe Hager, a senior engineer at Lawn-Boy. "A little work now will really pay off throughout the spring and summer."

    Hager offers these six tips for a stress-free mowing season:

    1. Get your equipment into shape. Getting your mower ready for spring doesn't need to be a stress-inducing affair. After sitting unused for several months, your mower will probably need a little TLC, and spring is the perfect time to schedule a trip to the dealer for a tune-up. Or, tackle the task yourself, making sure to check and change the oil, air filter, and spark plug, and assess whether the blade needs sharpening or replacing.

    2. Use the right mower. If your mower didn't perform up to your expectations last year, it may be time to invest in some new equipment. Today, higher-end models combine professional-level effectiveness with lots of user-friendly features, including easier starting. When designing its new line of mowers, for example, Lawn-Boy interviewed hundreds of homeowners and used their feedback to come up with innovative features like an easily adjustable handle height, a bag you can remove with just one hand, and a self-propel system that automatically senses and adjusts to your walking speed up to 5 miles per hour.

    3. Clean up debris. When the lawn begins to wake up, schedule an afternoon of backyard spring cleaning to clear leaves and twigs left over from the fall. Picking up debris all at once at the beginning of the season will make it much easier to mow when the grass starts to grow. Spending some time in the yard early in the year will also help you determine if there's any winter damage that needs to be repaired, and find early signs of disease or pest infestation.

    4. Cut at the right height. Most of the year, keep your mowing height set high - around 3 to 3 1/2 inches for most types of grass - so you don't lop off too much of the critical food-producing parts of the grass blade. Keeping grass tall increases its tolerance to heat and stress, and also crowds out weeds. During the first mowing of the season, cut down to about 2 to 2 1/2 inches to remove dead, brown grass and fungus that may have taken hold over the winter, leaving only the healthy part of the plant behind.

    5. Feed your lawn. Water is one of the most vital elements for a healthy lawn. But try not to water at night, when moisture sits on the lawn and can breed disease, or during the middle of the day, when the direct heat evaporates the moisture. Instead, water early in the morning, when temperatures are lower and the grass can benefit from its a.m. drink throughout the day. Fertilizer is an important element, too. But before you fertilize, invest in a soil test to determine exactly what kind of nutrients your soil needs. Once you've chosen a fertilizer with the right blend of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for your yard, make sure you stick to the suggested application instructions so you don't under- or overfeed your lawn.

    6. Aerate. Mature lawns can often become compacted, reducing the ability of critical nutrients to reach grass roots. Aerating - removing plugs of sod - helps loosen the soil, letting water, air and fertilizer make it down to the grass plant's roots. Manual tools work well for small yards or trouble spots. If you've got a large yard, consider renting a power aerator with a group of your neighbors.

    The bottom line, Hager says, is to spend a little bit of time and energy at the beginning of the season to lay the groundwork for a healthy, happy lawn. "Mother Nature will do most of the work," he says. "But there are plenty of things you can do to help her along."

    By choosing the right equipment and making sure your lawn gets the proper amount of food, water, and attention, you'll be well on your way to cultivating a lush, vibrant - and stress-free - back yard.

    For more information about premium mowers designed to meet your needs, visit www.lawn-boy.com.

    Courtesy of ARA Content

    The Rewards of Gardening with Your Children

    (ARA) - William Wordsworth once said, "Let nature be your teacher." He was just one of the many scholars who believed that nature was therapeutic for the soul and provided an abundance of lessons - especially for children. One of the best (and most fun) ways for children to experience the outdoors is through gardening.

    Gardening has been prevalent in our culture for thousands of years. However, it is only recently that people started to realize the benefits of gardening for children.

    "Gardening offers children multiple advantages," says Dr. Susan H. Turben, a nationally recognized child development specialist. "Aside from the obvious health benefits of being outside and active in the fresh air, gardening adds a sense of calm and tranquility to their lives, which can sometimes be hard to find in today's world."

    From family time to learning time, the benefits of gardening for children are numerous. Consider everything gardening has to offer:

    Nature Appreciation

    Through the eyes of a child, the world is a place full of magic and opportunities. As we grow older, some people lose or take for granted the beauty of their outdoor surroundings. Getting your child involved in a hobby like gardening at a young age sets the stage for a lifetime of respect and appreciation for nature and the environment. Think of it also as a science lesson taken outdoors. Through gardening, children will learn about how a seed transforms itself into a flower or how water makes a garden grow. The science lessons that can be found in the garden are endless.

    Family Fun

    In an age where video games, the Internet and cable TV bombard children daily, gardening is an activity that brings families together. A quiet and peaceful hobby, gardening is free of the distractions often found inside the home. It provides the opportunity for parent and child to be alone, talk and listen to one another - an occasion that just can't happen often enough. Gardening is also a means for grandparents to bond with their grandchildren as they share a lifetime's worth of knowledge, not just about gardening, but about life in general.


    Gardens are like anything else in the world in that they need nutrients and water to grow. Through gardening, children will learn one of life's most important lessons - responsibility. They will see first hand that if they are not there to nourish and water their garden, it won't grow.

    "It's important that children be taught responsibility at an early age, whether it's being assigned a household chore or being responsible for a living thing," says Dr. Turben. "This provides the foundation for becoming a responsible adult."

    Sense of Accomplishment

    Parents can help ensure a positive gardening experience for their children by making available the proper tools. Children like to mimic the actions of adults, so give them tools that are durable enough for actual digging and planting. A new line of children's tools from Troy-Bilt, marketed under the name of The Budding Gardeners, are sized for small hands, but feature real wood handles and steel implements so they won't break, even in the toughest soil. The complete gardening kit includes a wheelbarrow, watering can, three hand tools, gloves, easy-growing seeds and an instruction manual - everything young gardeners need to get off to the right start. There are also a variety of long-handle tools and even an apron to make kids feel right at home in the garden.


    It's important to learn that good things come to those who wait. Gardening does not produce instantaneous results. Therefore, your children must learn to be patient and tolerant if they wish to see the results of their work. Once they do, however, they will feel great satisfaction as they watch their garden grow and change. They will learn that the steps involved in creating a garden - planning the garden, preparing the soil, and planting and nourishing the plants, are worth the effort.

    For more ideas on how to make gardening an important part of your child's life, visit www.thebuddinggardeners.com. There you'll also find a variety of games, contests and other activities that can help make gardening a year-round hobby.

    Courtesy of ARA Content

    The articles on this page are courtesy of BrandPoint Content and are not written by The Almanack

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