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- Today’s Homeowners Rediscover the Benefits of a Root Cellar
Today’s Homeowners Rediscover the Benefits of a Root Cellar
Store fruits and vegetables appropriately—in a cool, dark, well-ventilated storage area—and the fall harvest can last you most or all the way through the winter.
Until fruits and vegetables were available year-round at the grocery store, the root cellar played a vital role in daily life. Today, backyard gardeners (and those who buy in bulk at peak season) are rediscovering the advantages of the root cellar—in essence, a pantry for long-term storage of produce like apples and potatoes. Though classic root cellars were dug into hillsides, there are plenty of more casual ways to achieve the same result. No matter your approach to making one, keep these considerations in mind as you work to ensure that your grown or purchased produce lasts as long as possible into the winter season.
When you set out to build a root cellar, temperature outweighs all other factors in importance. The reason why root cellars are so often underground is that below grade, temperatures are not only stable but cool. Anywhere between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Keep a close eye on the temperature, at least when you start. For help here, it’s certainly worthwhile to invest in a quality thermometer; choose one that tracks minimum and maximum readings over a set period of time.
Indoors, store produce low to the ground and close to the walls. Here, produce will remain a few degrees cooler than it would on a high shelf near the middle of the space. If your basement doesn’t get down to 32 or 40 degrees, follow in the footsteps of others who have dug below the basement slab in order to access cooler temperatures. The easiest method—though it has drawbacks—is to simply bury a produce-filled plastic or metal trash can in the yard, covering it closed with straw.
For a successful root cellar, the ventilation system must be designed so that it exchanges air without simultaneously raising the temperature. That can be accomplished by leveraging simple science: Warm air rises and cool air falls, so locate the intake on the low side of the cellar, while positioning the outlet near the ceiling of the storage area. A fan can force air through the intake, and if you are building the root cellar in your basement, a window can serve as the outlet. If possible, store produce in elevated crates for better circulation.
Maintain a humidity level that’s high—about 90 to 95 percent relative humidity—but not so high that the root cellar becomes a dripping jungle. A dirt or gravel-covered floor may be moistened periodically with the addition of water. If humidity levels still fall short, try packing the produce in damp sawdust, sand, or moss. Along the way, track your progress with a hygrometer, a simple device that measures relative humidity.
Because light can cause some fruits and vegetables to spoil more rapidly, keep the root cellar as dark as possible. If the storage area is going to inhabit your basement, plan to fully cover over any windows.
A root cellar doesn’t need to be large. A five-by-eight space can hold up to 30 bushels—more than enough for most families. To maximize storage and to keep things organized, install slatted shelves along the walls.
Different types of produce have different storage requirements. If you’re serious about building a root cellar, research the recommendations for the specific fruits and vegetables you plan to keep there. With the general advice above, however, you should be well on your way to winter’s worth of healthy, fresh eating. Yum!
- Contests & Give-Aways >
- Bob Vila’s $5,000 Fall Flooring Give Away Official Rules
Bob Vila’s $5,000 Fall Flooring Give Away Official Rules
- Other Rooms >
- How To: Make Your Own Laundry Detergent
How To: Make Your Own Laundry Detergent
When you use homemade laundry detergent, you have complete control over the ingredients and save money with every single load.
Two primary advantages recommend homemade laundry detergent. First, mixing your own costs very little in comparison to purchasing a container at the pharmacy or grocery store. Second, homemade laundry detergent gives you complete control over the ingredients doing the dirty work. For some, particularly those with allergies or sensitive skin, the chemicals in commercial products make them a non-starter. But no matter why you want to create your own, the process is actually easier than you might have expected. In fact, only three ingredients are necessary (four, if you wish to make a scented batch). Read on to learn how it’s done.
What you’ll need:
- Pure borax
- Washing soda (otherwise known as sodium carbonate or soda ash)
- Unscented bar soap
- Essential oils like lavender or tea tree oil (optional)
How you combine these ingredients determines what form the detergent takes—powdered or liquid.
First, grate the unscented bar soap into flakes. (If you have sensitive skin, test the soap on your wrist first to see if it causes any irritation.) Next, mix one part grated soap with two parts sodium carbonate and two parts pure borax, the latter of which kills mold and mildew. For a fresh scent, add a few drops of essential oil to the powder. Any oil should be fine; choose the one whose scent you like the best. Finally, put the detergent into an airtight container, keeping it there until you need it next. When it comes time to do laundry, use about 1/8 cup of detergent (or 1/4 cup, if the clothes are very dirty) for each load.
Grate a full bar of unscented soap, then dump the shavings into a large saucepan along with two quarts of water. Heat on low and stir until the soap has dissolved into a smooth, thick liquid (do not bring to a boil). Meanwhile, add a box of borax and a box of washing soda into a bucket filled with four and a half gallons of warm water. Once the soap has dissolved in the saucepan, pour the solution into the bucket. Mix well. If you want, put in several drops of your favorite essential oil, then leave the detergent to settle overnight. When it’s time to do laundry, shake up the detergent before adding 1/2 or one cup to the washing machine.
Congratulations, you’ve done it! Now to extend the shelf life of the generous batch you’ve just made, remember to store the homemade laundry detergent in an airtight container. Keep it safely out of reach of children and pets, because although the ingredients are natural, they still may be harmful if swallowed.
- Lawn & Garden >
- Don’t Forget to Fertilize Your Lawn This Fall!
Don’t Forget to Fertilize Your Lawn This Fall!
Spring may be the season of growth and renewal, but if you're serious about cultivating healthy and beautiful grass, it's what you do in fall that makes or breaks next year's lawn.
Autumn is generally seen as the season of winding down before winter dormancy. But when it comes to lawn care, fall is a busy time. What you do now goes a long way toward safeguarding the health your grass, not only for the immediate future, but also for the next growing season. While on the surface your fall lawn may look a bit bedraggled, the roots below ground are still hard at work, storing up the reserves they’ll need to survive the winter and to thrive come springtime.
Though at other times of year there are reasons to choose a fast-acting liquid fertilizer, in autumn—about a week after you mow the lawn for the last time—it’s best to apply a slow-release granular fertilizer. While the liquid stuff delivers a sudden jolt of nutrients, the granular variety feeds grass slowly over time. In most parts of the country, that’s exactly what you want. In very cold regions, pick a fertilizer specially formulated for winter protection, one that’s high in nitrogen. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm, you already know that fertilizing is a year-round affair. For you, fall isn’t so critical. (Boy, you’ve got it made!)
Theoretically, you could spread granular fertilizer over the lawn by hand. The reality is, however, that doing the job manually leaves too much room for error. While underfertilizing isn’t a catastrophe, overfertilizing is a real concern, and it’s easy to apply fertilizer too abundantly if you’re totally winging it.
Indeed, there’s a reason why professional landscapers use walk-behind spreaders. These outdoor tools include a flow-rate lever, which enables the user to set the precise amount of fertilizer to be dispersed per square foot of lawn area. If you’re serious about lawn care, a spreader is a tool worth buying.
You’ll notice that on your purchased package of fertilizer, the manufacturer lists the ideal number of granules to be applied per square foot. You can set the spreader to output precisely that amount, but here’s a superior method: Set the spreader to disperse half of the recommended volume, run the spreader over the lawn in one direction, then take it in the reverse direction, hitting the areas you initially missed. Because the effects of fertilizer are confined to the area immediately surrounding the spot where the granule hits the ground, the key to success is even dispersion. But when in doubt, underfertilize.
Once you’ve completed the work, clean the spreader before storing it away. Otherwise, the metal components might rust over the course of the off-season. If you’re left with a partially full bag of fertilizer, seal it airtight and keep it in a dry place. Exposed to the air, fertilizer hardens up and becomes unusable.
• Fill the spreader in the driveway, not the lawn, to avoid spilling and overfertilizing one particular area.
• For the spreader to operate correctly, both the tool and the fertilizer granules must be dry.
• Wearing gloves is a sensible precaution to take when you’re handling fertilizer granules.
- Flooring & Stairs >
- How To: Remove Vinyl Flooring
How To: Remove Vinyl Flooring
Have you had it with that dated, dirty, and dilapidated vinyl floor? Here's how to remove it, so you never have to look at it again.
Let’s be clear: It’s no fun to remove vinyl flooring. Peeling up the material itself is no picnic, but the real trial is to get rid of the glue that had been securing the vinyl to the subfloor. The only silver lining here is that while tedious and time-consuming, it’s certainly not complicated to remove vinyl flooring. No special tools or advanced skills are required. It’s really only a matter of elbow grease. Follow the steps below to get the job done with a minimum of frustration.
Next, locate a section of the floor with no glue underneath. Start here, using a utility knife to cut the vinyl flooring into 12-inch strips. Pull up each one gently. Where you encounter resistance from the glue, use a scraper tool (or even a kitchen spatula) to get the strip loose. In places where the glue is especially tenacious, you can use a hammer-and-chisel combination to chip at the hardened adhesive.
If you’re stuck with an area where the vinyl has been removed but the glue remains lodged on the subfloor, try this: Combine warm water and soap in a bucket, then apply it liberally to the glue, allowing time for the mixture to soak in. When you return, the glue will have softened and become easier to remove.
No dice? OK, it’s time to bring some heat into the equation. Buy or rent a heat gun—or in a pinch, use your hair dryer—and hold it directly over the stubborn adhesive long enough to soften the glue (but not long enough to cause any damage to the subfloor). Then go at the glue with your trusty scraper.
Finish with some cleanup: Use a broom or shop vac to pick up all the debris that now litters the room.
If the above seems like way too much work, there’s always the option of renting a power scraper from your local home center. There’s a cost attached to bringing in such a tool, but it will certainly make much quicker work of things. If you opt for the power scraper, be sure to test it first in an inconspicuous area; you will need to adjust its angle so that it removes only the vinyl-and-glue layer, not the underlying subfloor. Score the vinyl into 10-inch sections with the utility knife, then turn on the scraper and get busy.
Until the mid-1980s, asbestos often served as an ingredient in vinyl flooring products. If you know that the installation you’re dealing with has been around that long—or if you’re not certain how long the vinyl floor has been there—it’s only common sense to have the material tested before proceeding. I believe in hiring pros when it’s appropriate, and in the case of asbestos-laced vinyl flooring, it’s eminently appropriate to pay people who know what they are doing.
- Tools & Workshop >
- HGTV Opens the Door to a Beloved 90s Star
HGTV Opens the Door to a Beloved 90s Star
We're always eager to peek inside a celebrity's home, but to watch a beloved star sweat the design details and chip in on the work site—that's a real treat. Jennie Garth's new show on HGTV has us hooked.
Color us impressed: Best known for her role in the long-running series 90210, Jennie Garth has opened her large-scale home renovation to HGTV viewers in a new show, The Jennie Garth Project. In its debut episode last week, we were introduced us to the ’70s ranch in the Hollywood Hills that Garth plans to re-do in her own style. As it turns out, she has done serious work on several houses in the past. But this is the first time that she’s overseeing the design decisions—and the numbers.
The premiere focuses on the living room. Here, on the wall facing the garden, Garth is working with Harrison-Anderson General Contractors to replace windows with glass pocket doors. Also on the agenda: installing new hardwoods, repairing the crumbling fireplace, and refinishing the wood ceiling. Since Garth and her children are going to live in the house upon the work’s completion, the stakes are high. Choices matter, not for resale, but for the home’s livability. And mistakes made will be ones she has to live with.
Garth tackles some tough calls along the way, with budget constraints and limitations of space forcing compromise. At one point, she finds out that seven inches must be sacrificed either from the kitchen or the master bedroom closet. It’s the sort of lose-lose moment of impossible frustration that we can all relate to.
There are many more reasons to watch. Our favorite part? The simple tips we’re snagging from a beautiful blonde many idolized (or pined after) as teenagers. When evaluating how much a new fireplace would block the view to her yard, Garth snappily built a cardboard replica to help her visualize its effect. Smart.
Tune in for more tips from Garth and to watch her exciting project unfold; the next episode airs tomorrow at 9PM. For more viewing times and renovation photos, visit HGTV.
- How To's & Quick Tips >
- Weekend Projects: 5 Creative Ways to DIY Your Next Calendar
Weekend Projects: 5 Creative Ways to DIY Your Next Calendar
It's a busy time of year, and while there's much to recommend digital schedule-keeping, many of us prefer something we can actually touch. Here are five creative twists on the the traditional calendar.
It used to be that people relied on the seasons to measure the passage of time, but once the calendar came into common use—well, it stuck around. In recent years, though, many have chosen to go digital, transferring schedule-keeping to the online realm. But perhaps an equal number of us have chosen to stick with our traditional, tangible calendars. You can always buy a new one at the bookshop or stationery store, but since the appeal of a real calendar is that you can actually hold it in your hands, there’s poetic justice to the idea of making your own. Scroll down to see five DIY calendar projects to mimic or to inspire your very own design.
1. STICK IT
DIY decorators have made a darling out of washi tape, which is Japanese adhesive paper that not only goes on and peels off easily, but also comes in an endless array of designs. Use the tape to create a border for your DIY calendar, then fill the grid with colored post-it notes, one for each day, as Modish and Main cleverly did here.
2. PAINT IT
Plenty of non-energy-efficient vintage windows are homeless and looking for a second life. House by Hoff figure out that for a weekly calendar, a paned window lends itself extraordinary well to use in a DIY calendar. Simply chalkboard-paint the glazed portions of the window and use vinyl letters to define the different days.
3. SNAP IT
From Photojojo, here’s a DIY calendar perfect for any amateur photographers in the crowd. To get started, head outside and start snapping pictures of letters and numbers in your neighborhood. You’ll need 49 total: the numbers 1 through 31, a set of letters or words to represent the different days of the week, and 11 fillers.
4. CLIP IT
Paint a regular clipboard and hang it from a nail in your entry hall or home office. Swap in patterned paper and simple print-out calendar templates for each passing month. It’s a quick way to see your month at a glance. For details on the (readily available) materials needed to make your own, head on over to Jenna Rose Journal.
5. BOX IT
Some people use calendars to organize and plan; others use calendars to remember dates and reflect. Designed for the latter, a DIY calendar journal provides space to record your daily activities so that you can revisit them fondly year after year. Wit and WhistleWit and Whistle shows how to create one using only index cards and a recipe box.
, all you need to get started are a stack of index cards (365 of them) and an embellished recipe box for storage.
- Interior Design >
- Beds, Baths and Fortune-Telling at IKEA
Beds, Baths and Fortune-Telling at IKEA
In IKEA's latest adventure in hypnosis-powered time travel, the brand puts a spotlight on the unsung importance of the role everyday spaces play in our past, present, and future lives.
Meet Jeff and Beth, the latest participants in the “time travel experiment” IKEA has been running to promote its fall catalog. We previously covered the teaser trailer that first introduced the campaign’s provocative concept: renowned hypnotist Justin Tranz guiding (perfectly willing) shoppers through an experience designed to make the volunteers believe… they’re in the future. When the first full video arrived on the internet, we all watched together as Tranz worked his magic.
Now Tranz has returned, this time leading an unmarried couple through scenes of their potential future together. We actually witness Jeff propose to Beth (and her hilarious reaction). We laugh again as Jeff interacts with the actor portraying the young son he might somebody have. And we cringe when the couple try to appease the teenager they apparently believe to be their own. Skeptical? So were we. So was Jeff! In an interview spliced into the action, Jeff remarks of hypnotism, “I just assumed people faked it all the time.” Afterward, he admits, “Now I don’t know what I believe. I believed I was in the future. I believed we had kids.”
Tranz explains that hypnosis works by lulling participants into a somnambulant state in which they take suggestions as fact. But a large part of the success here must also owe to the totally convincing setting, which was assembled on-site from products available in the showroom. Lately, IKEA has paid close attention to the importance of the bedroom—that’s where the Jeff-and-Beth scenes take place—and of the bathroom, which played such a big role in the first video installment.
Mattias Jöngard, Global Communication Manager at the Swedish retailer, says, “The Time Travel Experiment is our way to start a conversation about the everyday moments that, more often than people think, happen in the bedroom and bathroom.” While the videos simulated adventures amply demonstrate that life events are often beyond our control, we all have the power to make our spaces functional, comfortable, and conducive to happiness. And for that, we can thank IKEA.
This post has been brought to you by IKEA. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.
- Kitchen >
- The Right Way to Load a Dishwasher
The Right Way to Load a Dishwasher
Are some of your plates and bowls still dirty when they emerge from the dishwasher? The problem might be how you're loading the machine. Read on to learn the right way.
Of all kitchen appliances, the dishwasher must rank as one of the greatest, don’t you think? It’s a true time-saver. While the alternative involves laborious scrubbing, this wonderful convenience of modern life takes just the push of a button to restore a glut of dirty dishes to pristine cleanliness. The trouble is that on occasion you may open the post-cycle dishwasher to find that some items are less clean than you’d like. In such cases, it may be that the appliance isn’t to blame; perhaps you, its user, are the culpable one. Most of us are accustomed to packing in as many cups and plates as possible, but did you know there is a right way to load a dishwasher? Read on to learn how to fill the machine to the brim without sacrificing cleaning effectiveness.
Proper use of the dishwasher begins with knowing which items are safe to put in the machine. While it certainly seems that more and more items these days are dishwasher-friendly, there remain some materials that you ought to hand-wash in the sink—namely, wood, cast iron, bronze, pewter, and leaded crystal. Silver can go in the dishwasher only in certain cases; if you’re not sure about yours, it’s best to be cautious and hand-wash.
Scrape and Rinse
Before putting any plates or bowls, pots or pans into the dishwasher, be sure to scrape food residue into the trash. With modern dishwashers, running dishes under the faucet isn’t typically necessary. But if your machine is older and tends to struggle, prerinsing can be a good idea. Don’t go overboard, though; dishwasher detergent actually needs some grime to stick to.
Baking Pans and Cookie Sheets
If you use your dishwasher to clean large, unwieldy items like baking pans and cookie sheets, position them along the perimeter of the lower tier. Safely confined to the sides of the machine, the pans and sheets are less likely to impede the sprays that come from the bottom of the appliance.
Plates, Bowls, and Flatware
Load plates and bowls—plus any dishwasher-safe pots and pans—in the lower rack. Staggering larger and smaller plates can help them all get cleaner. Bowls may be placed side by side but tilt each one so that its dirty portion faces down. If your dishwasher comes with baskets for flatware, take advantage. It’s a good idea, however, to point some pieces of flatware up and others down. Also, mix forks, knives, and spoons together in the same baskets rather than grouping like items. Mixing things up prevents a nesting effect that limits exposure to the spray.
Place larger plastic containers on the lower shelf and smaller ones on top. All should face downward. Unlike dishes, plasticware should be lodged firmly between dividers so that containers do not become dislodged in the course of the cycle and interfere with the machine.
Cooking Utensils, Glasses, and Mugs
On the top rack, lay long utensils (for example, spatulas) perpendicular to the wire supports of the rack (if laid parallel, such items might fall through and block the spray arm). Next, place glasses and mugs along the left and right sides of the upper rack—and if your machine has one, snap down the protective flap. Finally, rest bowls over the long utensils you already placed. Yes, over the utensils—although it’s usually best not to layer items in the dishwasher, you can get away with it here, because cooking utensils are normally thin and not likely to block the spray of water.
The choice of detergent—liquid or powder—is largely a matter of preference, but for maximum effectiveness, use detergent that’s no more than two months old. Once you’ve got the machine running, go ahead and dirty another bowl with something—ice cream, anyone?—to celebrate the fact that you’re now a pro when it comes to loading a dishwasher properly.
- Kitchen >
- Fill the Awkward Gap in Your Kitchen with a Pullout Organizer
Fill the Awkward Gap in Your Kitchen with a Pullout Organizer
In a kitchen with scant storage, a pullout organizer offers a space-smart way to put every last inch to good use.
In nearly every kitchen remodel that involves cabinets of standard dimensions, you’re left with at least one gap between a cabinet and a wall (or a major appliance). You can always live with the void, but if yours is a small kitchen, you probably want to capitalize on every spare inch. I recommend installing a pullout organizer. These versatile, nontraditional kitchen storage options fit into spaces as slender as three inches. The narrowest organizers are perfect for such things as spice jars and cutting boards. Wider pullouts accommodate deeper items you want to keep within easy arm’s reach (for example, pans). No matter the width of the pullout—whether it’s five, six, or nine inches—stored items are accessed not by opening a door and reaching in, but rather by drawing the panel out.
When I redid my own kitchen recently, there was a five-inch space left over in a run of base cabinets. Knowing how our family typically uses the kitchen, I decided to install a pullout organizer here for our collection of cutting boards. (While most fillers are installed at the same time as the regular cabinetry, I was able to install mine afterward by fastening a level cleat to the rear wall.) If you wind up deciding that a pullout organizer would make a good addition to your kitchen, keep these tips in mind as you complete the project:
1. Secure the pullout in place
The first step is to secure the pullout in place. Having rested the pullout on the cleat I’d put on the rear wall, I proceeded to fasten the pullout to the side of the adjacent cabinet. (Don’t use screws that are so long that they interfere with the sliding action.) Be sure to recess the pullout to a depth that equals the width of the cabinet sheet material. That way, when you attach the cabinet front later in the process, the pullout sits flush with the surrounding cabinetwork for a seamless result.
2. Cut the sheet material
Anticipating that the cabinets would leave a gap—and that I’d want to fill the gap with a pullout—I made sure to order extra sheet material along with my cabinets. I knew that some of the sheet material would be needed to create a front for the pullout that would match the cabinets I was installing in the kitchen. Cut yours to the appropriate width using either a table saw or a circular saw and guide. In the picture above, you can see my simple setup for making the cut with the latter tool.
3. Tape the edges
This is an optional step, but I think it’s worth doing, not only for aesthetics, but also to protect the wood. Adhere the banding tape to your cut edges with a clothes iron; the heat activates the factory-applied tape adhesive. If it’s not available through your cabinetmaker, banding material can be found at your local home center.
4. Sand for a perfect fit
Eliminate sharp edges and excess material by sanding the newly taped portions of the workpiece with fine-grit paper. For best results, use a sanding block.
5. Position the pullout front
Prior to attaching the workpiece to the frame of the pullout, use clamps to position the panel in the gap. Drive screws from the inside so as not to mar the facade.
6. Enjoy the finished product
As you can see, I outfitted the pullout front with hardware that complements the style of my cabinet pulls. What’s most satisfying for me, though, is that the pullout area sits perfectly flush with the adjacent drawers. Not only that, but—crucial to a professional-looking result—the seams at the sides of the pullout are the same width as the seams between the drawers.
The pullout has been installed now for two months, and I can report that second only to the silverware drawer, it’s the most-used storage space in our kitchen.