Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Helpful Household Hints: Springtime

Well, it's warming up a little.

It sure is!  And that means it's time to start thinking about what's planned for the yard.  Stuff's about pop out of the ground, get taller, all the stuff you look forward to after a couple of months of gray cold days and long freezing nights.

Yeah.  Time to fire up the mower, too.

Yup.  So let's ask ourselves - did you get the mower ready for storage, or did you just shut it off and shove it into the shed?

Duh.  Shoved it into the shed.  More time for me: winning!

Yeah, you're not as cool as you hope you are.  Okay, so let's start the year off right.  Change the mower's oil, change its air filter, change its spark plug, and drain out that gacky old fuel.  It's halfway to being varnish by now, just get it out of there.

And do what with it?

I pour the old fuel into my pickup.  Add it to a nearly-full tank, that quart or so of old gas won't affect anything significantly.  No worries, and no hassle trying to find an environmentally responsible way to dispose of it.  Just burn it as fuel, like you had planned to do with it in the mower.

Okay, all the old bits gone?  Good.  How about scraping all the caked-up grass out from underneath?  Yeah, do that too.  Then do this:

Wash the mower really well.  Seriously, get it sparkling clean.  Then wax the underside of the mower deck.

Why the heck would I do that?

You'd do it so grass clippings don't stick so well.  It'll also protect the metal a little bit, make the mower last longer.

Couldn't I just get a new mower at Wal-Mart?  Their cheapest is only a hundred bucks...

Sure you could.  And you'd have to get another new one next year.  Why not read this before continuing with your old, wasteful habits.  I've been using the same mower for ten years now.  It's needed a couple of repairs here and there, and it's not even a high-end mower like a good Snapper.  It's a middle-of-the-range Craftsman electric, it cost about $180 when I bought it, and it's worked like a charm for 11 years.  Do the math: your new Wal-Mart el cheapo for $100 every year, or my good mower for about $17 per year.  Take good care of the cheapos from Wal-Mart and you can make them last a few years, take good care of a good mower and you'll have it for a long, long time.

Okay, okay. The grass isn't quite long enough to cut anyway.  What about the yard?

Well, if you intend to do any seeding, now is the time.  I don't often recommend seeding, though.  If you've done it once already and it didn't take, then maybe you're using the wrong seed.  Certain varieties don't like heavy shade or heavy traffic, sometimes you're asking a grass variety that's just too foreign to your region to become something it just can't be.

Well, what do I do?

Change the game.  If you live in Nevada, forget Kentucky Bluegrass.  It wants too much water.  And if you live in East Tennessee, good luck keeping your cactus from rotting at the base.  Plant what's local.  Don't plant anything that needs special treatment.

But I deserve that green lawn, the commercials keep telling me.

That's crap.  No one deserves a green lawn.  What you deserve is a topic for a whole 'nother discussion, the philosophical ramifications of which may rattle your entire world view.  But if you want to waste a lot of money paying for extra water and chemicals to nourish an exotic species in your yard, that's your wallet you're cracking open.

Ah, we're back to saving money the sneaky way.  Okay, I'm listening.

Like fresh fruit?  Like low-lying ground cover?  Plant strawberries.  Or for a little pizzazz in your mashed potatoes and a compact shrub that looks a lot like a yew, plant rosemary.  How much of your yard can you eat?


Too bad.  But you can fix that.  There are lots of plants that are pretty to look at and taste good too - plant those.  If you have to water once in a while, at least you get some of that investment back with edibles.  

It sounds like gardening.  I'm not any good at gardening.

Neither am I.  But my first example, rosemary, gets along just fine with minimal attention and is hardy for several years.  There's also thyme, bergamot, sweet melissa.  These are all mint relatives and will take over the yard if you let them.  You don't have to have a green thumb, just step back and enjoy the show.  After they get some size on them, you could pick a mess to dry and make a fine herbal tea, or just enjoy the occasional hummingbird at the bergamot.

There's lots of beautiful trees to be had and the shade they throw is very nice.  Why not plant an apple tree?  They provide shade, too.  Or a pear, or a plum.  Read up and be sure you have what you need - some fruit trees need a pollinator specimen close by or else they just grow but don't produce.

In light of everything that's going on all around the world, maybe it's time we start to think about Victory Gardens again.  Not keen on sending your money to foreign countries to pay for fuel?  Well, when you pony up for a cabbage at the grocery store, did you ever think about where that cabbage was grown?  Probably not close by.

You can uproot that difficult, diffident and downright drab flower patch in the front yard, the one that refuses to ever look half as nice as it did in the seed company's brochure, and replace it with something just as colorful and a lot more useful.  Your annual pansies can give up their space to a thick stand of bush beans which will flower just as prettily.  Hmm - maybe you should keep the pansies: they're also edible.

If you're one of those people that likes to lay out in the sun for a tan, why not spend some of your toasting time tending the rows?  There's certainly nothing productive to be done just laying there soaking up rays, why not put an audiobook and save yourself a few bucks?

Mankind used to enjoy many more hours of leisure time per day back when we were much less sophisticated.  As hunter-gatherers, we didn't spend so many hours of labor trying to earn money to keep our houses lit, our cars fueled.  We just wandered along, picking snacks as we went, occasionally catching some animal for meat and augmenting our diets that way.  There's lots of food to be found if you don't mind changing how you view your yard.  You can make your yard part of your pantry.  You might save a little money, you will definitely get some use out of your yard that far outweighs any arbitrary "curb appeal," and what the heck - you might even have some fun.

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