7 Ways to Prep Your Gas Mower for Winter

mower

A little maintenance before storing your mower for the winter can prevent future frustrations and costly repairs.

I admit it. I love to mow the lawn. While I know a lot of folks dread lawn maintenance, I like a walk in the sunshine with purpose, a chance to catch up on my favorite podcasts and the instant gratification that comes from a freshly shorn lawn.

Struggling to get the mower to start is another story. A dirty air filter, clogged discharge chute or even old gas can turn an afternoon of splendor in the grass to drawing the attention of my neighbors as I swear unapologetically each time I tug at an ineffective pull cord.

Fortunately, regular mower maintenance keeps such outbursts to a minimum and the end of the season is a great time to give your mower the care it deserves before tucking it away for the winter.

These basic mower care tips will ensure your mower can weather a few months of neglect and will be ready to resume the weekly use that will come when sunnier days return.</p>

1. Clean It

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Use a cloth and some all-purpose cleaner to wipe down the body of the mower, cables and hoses, tires, handles and gears. Use a scraper, if needed, to clear out the grass discharge chute and the underside of the deck, which is usually ready for a good cleaning by the end of the season. Always disconnect spark plug before reaching below the deck or inverting the mower.

2. Replace Spark Plug

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Use a spark-plug socket to remove and replace the spark plug. This inexpensive preventative maintenance is work the effort to keep your mower starting the first time every time.

3. Change the Oil
For a lawn to operate at its best, oil should be checked regularly and changed at least yearly. Fall is a great time to consult your manufacturer’s instructions and change the oil to be ready to hit the lawn running when spring finally arrives.

4. Replace Air Filter
Perhaps the most common problem when a mower struggles to start, a clean air filter allows fuel to combust readily and without interruption. If an air filter becomes too dirty, it can lead to more expensive problems if not addressed.

5. Empty the Gas Tank

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Did you know gasoline goes “stale” after as little as a month of pumping? As gas ages, it oxidizes and thickens. Old gas can be hard on your lawn mower’s engine, so use it up before storing the mower for winter. Adding fuel stabilizer to the final tanks of the season will help protect the motor from the damage that can be caused by stale gas, but using up the last of the gas before storage ensures you’ll start next season with fresh fuel.

6. Check the Tires

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If you’ve got a push mower, the wheels on your mower are likely plastic, but that doesn’t mean they won’t wear out. Check wheels for uneven wear or cracks and replace, if necessary. Additionally, make sure assembly screws and bolts have not become loose after a busy mowing season.

7. Sharpen the  Blade

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A sharp mower blade makes it easier to cut the lawn, and a clean cut promotes a healthy recovery of freshly mowed grass.

Inspect blade to make sure there are no nicks and the blade is not bent or warped in any way. Remove blade according to the instruction manual for your mower and sharpen using a file or have it professionally sharpened (usually at a cost of just a few dollars).

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Backyard Garden Gazpacho

gazpacho

Gazpacho is a cool vegetable soup that requires no cooking.

How’s your garden doing? We’re having a bountiful year with plenty of zucchini, yellow squash and peppers of many shapes and colors by the basketful and a surprising surplus of tomatoes after a disappointing season last year. We freeze, we pickle, we juice and we eat. Boy, do we eat. A favorite dish makes great use of our backyard surpluses. It requires no cooking, can be easily adjusted to use whatever is ripe, can be enjoyed at an elegant dinner party or from a “go” cup in the car and tastes like summer should.  Gazpacho is a cold soup with a long history and comes in many forms. Our favorite comes from our very own garden.

A cold vegetable soup with its roots in Spain and Portugal, there is some debate over the origin of the name. Some say it is derived from an Arabic term meaning “soaked bread.” Another theory suggests it comes from a Hebrew word meaning to break or fragment. Either of these etymologies make sense for a soup that traditionally includes stale bread crumbs and vegetables crushed with mortar and pestle, but given the variety of ingredients that can be used to make gazpacho, I like a third translation, which offers that the name comes from a Greek word for a church collection box to accept various donations.

Many modern recipes, like this one, skip the bread crumbs and focus seasonal vegetables. Consider this recipe a jumping off point. The vegetables used here are some of the most commonly found in backyard gardens (mine included), but may not be growing in your garden. Whatever is growing in your vegetable garden, you may find room for it in this easy recipe for the classic cold soup that takes just minutes to prepare. Taste, tweak and make it your own.

Backyard Garden Gazpacho

  • 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, quartered and seeded
  • 1 large cucumber, chopped
  • 1 yellow squash, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded, cored and chopped
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded, cored and minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • Fresh basil

Place 1 pound of tomatoes in blender and pulse to reduce.

Add second pound of tomatoes to blender and pulse.

Add cucumber, squash, zucchini, onion, bell pepper and jalapeno peppers and puree until smooth.

Add olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper and pulse to combine.

Transfer into a large bowl and stir in tomato juice.

Cover and refrigerate 3 hour to overnight to chill.

Garnish with fresh basil leaves or croutons to serve.

 

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How to Infuse Liquor with Garden Ingredients

infused liquors

Pictured are rosemary-infused gin, lemon vodka, ginger dark rum, blackberry rum, pomegranate vodka, mint rum and habanero tequila.

Giving the gift of liquor is a time honored tradition at the holidays. Assuming your co-worker, neighbor, party host or Uncle Steve enjoys the occasional adult beverage, it’s hard to go wrong with a nice bottle of rum, vodka, bourbon, or what have you. Giving spirits is a reliable choice for the acquaintance you know well enough to share the holidays, but perhaps not so well that choosing a personal gift is an easy task. But playing it safe doesn’t mean surrendering your creativity. Infusing alcohol at home with herbs, fruit or vegetables, especially those you’ve grown yourself, turns a classic present into a memorable DIY delight with a “wow” factor that will be remembered long after the ornaments have been packed away.

Infused alcohol is experiencing a surge in popularity thanks to the whole mixology movement. Infused versions of staple brands are appearing with more regularity on liquor store shelves. And stylish drinkeries like Back Bar in Somerville, MA have been drawing discerning clientele with cocktails featuring in-house infused liquor. Back Bar patrons can enjoy pear infused vodka in a “Union Mule” or the rosemary-gin anchored “Bee’s Knees.” Back Bar mixologist Sam Treadway takes infusions seriously, even infusing ice with smoke in pursuit of the perfect cocktail.

No need to leave infusion to the professionals. Infusing alcohol with all manner of fantastic flavors is shockingly simple and once you get started, you may find it hard to stop. Mint infused rum makes for the perfect mojito. Pomegranates steeped in vodka fuel an uncommonly good martini. Tequila flavored with the bold bite of habanero becomes the secret weapon for the world’s greatest margarita.

If you are giving infused liquor as a gift this Christmas, consider attaching a tag with your favorite cocktail recipe and including the ingredients needed.

If you’re lucky, they will be happy to share the spirits of the season.

HOW TO INFUSE SPIRITS

Selecting Liquor

Start with what you like. Infuse alcohol that you’d want to drink on its own, but be sure it hasn’t already been flavored. Rum that has already been spiced isn’t looking for any help.

Find your flavor

Once again, flavor to your taste. Consider ingredients from your own garden or that are in season. Fresh ingredients make for fresh flavor. Matching the ingredients to the alcohol is also key to a successful infusion. Spirits that are fairly neutral, like vodka, are easiest to work with and give added flavors a chance to shine. Whiskies, on the other hand, are full-bodied with bold flavors and can overwhelm weaker flavors.

Prepare the ingredients

Make sure all ingredients have been thoroughly washed. Stems should be removed from berries, but may be left intact when infusing herbs. Allowing the alcohol to have access to flavor is crucial, so larger fruits and vegetables, like apples or cucumbers should be sliced to increase surface area. Fruit and vegetable skins should generally be left on (as in the case of apples or oranges), but remove thicker skins that do not enhance flavors (such as bananas or pineapples). Seeds should be removed if working with peppers.

How much to use?

For most fruits and vegetables, a 1:1 mix of produce to alcohol is a rule of thumb. For leafy herbs, 1:2 is a good starting point. This balance becomes a matter of art as well as science. Flavorful produce requires less solid matter for good results. For example, one or two habanero peppers can easily flavor a quart of liquor. If uncertain, start with smaller amounts. More can be added if the infusion does not progress as desired.

How long?

Let your taste buds be your guide. After a couple of days (or even a single day for stronger flavors), taste occasionally to determine when the desired strength is reached. When tasting, mix a small amount of the liquor with simple syrup so the strong taste of alcohol doesn’t skew the flavor.

Approximate durations:

Hot peppers, vanilla beans, citrus and bold herbs: 1-3 days
Mild peppers, peaches, berries, melon, mild herbs: 5-7 days
Apples, ginger, most vegetables, weak herbs: 7-10 days

The process

Pack ingredients in glass containers with airtight lids and store at room temperature for the duration of the infusion, shaking occasionally to agitate produce. Once desired strength has been reached, strain solid matter from the liquor using cheesecloth or a fine strainer and return to the jar, original bottle or use any airtight glass container to store. Swing top glass bottles are an excellent choice if presenting your homemade infusion as a gift.

Originally: How to Infuse Liquor with Garden Ingredients

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Build a Waterfall Garden Fountain

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A well-placed water feature adds beauty and elegance to any yard or garden. This self-contained waterfall takes up little space, but has a big impact. Bring beauty and tranquility to the yard with this weekend DIY project.

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What You’ll Need

37-gallon heavy duty trashcan with lid

forty 10-1/2-inch x 7-inch x 3-1/2-inch tumbled stone bricks

twenty-six 7-inch x 7-inch x 3-1/2-inch tumbled stone bricks

seventeen 7-inch x 3-1/2-inch x 1-3/4-inch tumbled stone bricks

1/2 HP Sump pump with 1-1/4-inch hose

two 12-inch lengths 2-inch pvc pipe

22-inch plastic flower box

1-1/4-inch bulkhead

1-1/4-inch thread adapter

two 1-1/4-inch street 90-degree elbow pipes

1-1/2-inch x 48-inch perforated angle iron

22-inch x 39-inch piece pond liner

26-inch x 7-inch aluminum flashing

silicone sealant

two 1-1/4-inch hose barbs with clamps

24-inch x 24-inch metal lath or heavy screen

24-inch x 48-inch slate slab

shovel

level

tape measure

drill with 2-1/2-inch and 1-1/4-inch hole saws

tin snips

utility knife

jigsaw

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Select a location and orientation for your fountain. Check with utility companies before digging, then use a shovel to dig a hole just large enough to hold your 37-gallon trash can, leaving a rise of about two inches at the surface. Use a level to make sure can rests evenly. Fill any gaps around the can and cover with lid while working to keep dirt out. This trashcan will serve as a reservoir from which water will be drawn and returned when the fountain is operating.
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Use dirt from hole or paver base to level the ground around the reservoir and tamp down thoroughly. It is important the ground be firm and level to establish a sturdy foundation for the fountain riser.
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Using tumbled stone, create a riser tier 39-1/2 x 21 inches, with a long side resting 1 inch from the reservoir at its midpoint. Tumbled stone found at your local hardware stone is designed to provide a variety of configurations that will result in uniform dimensions. Press firmly to set tier and use a level to confirm it rests plumb and level.
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Remove the tumbled stone resting at the edge of the reservoir and dig a 3-inch-deep trench from the reservoir to the open area inside the riser. Repeat this process on the long edge opposite the reservoir. Measure down 1 inch from the lip on the reservoir at the midpoint of the riser and drill a hole using a 2-1/2-inch hole saw. This hole will be used to create a pass-through for water and power lines from the sump pump.
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Place a 12-inch length PVC through the drilled hole, hanging roughly 2 inches inside the reservoir. Bury pipe and replace tumbled stone above. Place a second piece of PVC in the trench opposite the reservoir, bury and replace tumbled stone.
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Add five more tiers of tumbled stone, using a level to confirm the riser remains square and level. Vary stone configuration of each tier to create a patchwork look. Finally, add a seventh layer, using 7-inch x 3-1/2-inch x 1-3/4-inch tumbled bricks to create a centered, half-height 24-1/2-inch-wide spillway gap facing the reservoir, as shown.
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Use 1-1/4-inch hole saw bit to drill a hole in the bottom of the flower box 3 inches from a short end. Push bulkhead though the hole and secure with nut. Attach thread adapter to the bulkhead inside the box.
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Attach a street 90-degree elbow to the thread adapter facing the center of the box and finish with second street elbow facing downward. This box will rest inside the riser and serve as a diffuser, alllowing water to pool and flow freely over the spillway to create a waterfall.
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Set sump pump in the bottom of the reservoir (pump may be placed on a paver to reduce debris intake, if desired). Water will pump through the diffuser and flow over the riser, returning to the reservoir in a closed system cycle.
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Use a hose barb and clamp to attach hose to the sump pump. Push the hose and power cord from the sump pump through the raceway into the riser. Drape the hose over the top of the riser and push the power cord through the rear raceway of the riser where it can be plugged into an outlet to provide power to the pump.
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Starting at one end of 48-inch-long perforated angle iron, measure and mark points at 5-1/2 inches, 13-1/2 inches, 34-1/2 inches and 42-1/2 inches. Using a jigsaw, cut one edge of the bracket at marked points and fold into a rectangle with a 10-inch open gap on one side, as shown. Trim edges as needed to allow a secure fit inside the riser. This bracket will rest inside the riser and is used to support the diffuser.
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Place the mounting bracket in the center of a 22-inch x 39-inch piece of pond liner and mark points inside each corner.
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Use a utility knife to cut a large “X” in the liner from marked points. This waterpoof sheet will be used to create a barrier between the diffuser and the riser to prevent overflow.
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Place mounting bracket in riser so that the open side of the bracket rests on the back of the riser and the long edge rests inside the spillway (bend as needed to assure a secure fit).
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Lay the water barrier over the mounting bracket and pass the hose through the hole. Attach sump pump hose pipe to the bulkhead on the bottom of the diffuser (flower box).
waterfall 18
Set the diffuser inside the mounting bracket, making sure the water barrier extends beneath the lip on all sides. The diffuser will pitch slightly forward in the space to allow water to flow smoothly though the spillway.
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Along one long side of aluminum flashing, mark points 1 inch from each end. Along the opposite edge, mark points 1-1/2 inches in. Use a pencil to connect the points at short ends. Bend flashing 90 degrees along pencil lines. This “scupper” will rest in spillway to direct water flow.
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Center the scupper in the spillway beneath the water barrier with the tall edge at the rear of the spillway. The outer edge should rest evenly along the outside edge of tumbled stones.
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Use a garden hose to fill the reservoir with water, stopping about an inch below the pass-though pipe.
waterfall 22
Once desired flow is achieved, turn off pump. Lift and drain diffuser and thoroughly dry diffuser, water barrier and scupper with a towel. Use silicone to line edges where the diffuser meets the water barrier and press diffuser firmly back in place. Turn up front edge of water barrier, draw a line of silicone on the top of the scupper and press barrier back in place. The silicone acts as a seal, keeping components in place and preventing water from making contact with the stone or flowing inside the riser.
waterfall 23
Use a jigsaw or utility knife to cut away half of the trashcan lid, leaving a three inch edge to create a half-moon thorough which water may flow. Place the lid topside-down on top of the reservoir.
waterfall 24
Use tin snips to cut a half-moon of lath or heavy screen that meets the edges of the trash can lid and extends at least 3 inches beyond the center of the lid. Place screen on lid to cover the hole. This screen allows water to flow freely into the reservoir while limiting debris.
waterfall 25
Once silicone seal has completely dried, turn the pump back on to confirm water is flowing correctly. If no further adjustments are needed, place a 24-inch x 48-inch slab of slate on top of the riser to cap.
waterfall 26
Place rocks of varying sizes around the edges of the reservoir to obscure screen and add native plants around the site to accent its natural beauty. Avoid placing rocks under the water flow to prevent splashing that will slowly drain the system.
waterfall 27
Consider accent lights to showcase this beautiful fountain after twilight.
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This peaceful fountain may run full-time or put on a timer to flow only at peak times. To maintain, check water levels occasionally and top off as needed. Drain fountain during winter months to prevent damage to pipes.

 

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Backyard Chicken Glossary

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Frizzle

Feathers that curl instead of lying flat on a chicken are known as frizzle. The term also refers to a breed of chicken that displays such plumage.

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Bloom

A nearly invisible coating found on newly hatched eggs is known as bloom. The antibacterial coating wards off disease and is often left intact for egg storage. Once the bloom has been washed from an egg, it must be refrigerated to prevent spoilage.

chicken 3

Broody

Most breeds of chickens have a natural, cyclical instinct to sit on eggs to encourage hatching. A broody chicken will sit on her eggs for days, leaving the nest only for short periods to eat or drink.

 

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Chicken Tractor

A tractor is a moveable chicken coop. These floorless, mobile coops can be repositioned to access fresh vegetation, naturally fertilize the soil and reduce foraging damage in small yards.

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Chicken Run

A chicken run is a fenced area usually attached to a coop. In situations where free-ranging isn’t an option, a run is a safe and secure way to give a backyard flock regular access to fresh air, sunlight and soil.

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Wattle

The wattle refers to the fleshy skin beneath the chin of a chicken. Wattles are most commonly red, but the color varies by breed.

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Clutch

A collection of eggs found in a nesting box or other laying location is called a clutch. Hens within a flock will not distinguish between their own eggs and those laid by other hens when brooding to encourage hatches.

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Crossbreed

Also called hybrid, a chicken hatched from parents of differing breeds is called a crossbreed. Most backyard coops maintain no more than one rooster and crossbreeding is common.

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Coop
A chicken coop is any enclosed structure intended to house chickens. Coops come is a wide variety of sizes and styles, but all should be kept clean and secure and provide the housed flock adequate space and defined locations to roost and nest.
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Comb

A comb is the (usually) red, fleshy crown on top of a chicken’s head. Color and shape varies between breeds. A comb that appears mottled or droops may be an indicator of health issues.

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Down

The soft, fluffy coat on newborn chicks is called down. As chicks develop, in a matter of weeks it will be replaced by adult feathers.

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Dust Bath

Chickens are inclined to roll in loose earth to clean feathers and discourage mites. Dust baths are instinctive and chickens will often scratch a depression in loose soil in which to roll.

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Free Range

Chickens given consistent access to pastures or open fields are known as free range. Free ranging allows chickens to forage for grubs, insects or other small creatures. Access to natural proteins help keep chickens healthy and thriving.

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Incubate
To keep fertile eggs warm and protected though brooding or artificial means, incubation is required for embryos to develop and chicks to hatch. Although hens have a natural instinct to brood, most eggs are now hatched though artificial incubators that reliably regulate temperature and humidity levels.
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Molt

During times of rejuvenation or when cold weather lies ahead, a molt is the process in which a chicken will shed some or all of its feathers to grow a new coat. Although it can appear unpleasant, molting is important for the health of the chicken.

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Nesting Box

Built to provide a safe, secure location for hens to lay eggs, nesting boxes may be shared by multiple chickens. Nesting boxes should be kept clean, dry and relatively dark to encourage laying.

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Plumage

The feathered coat of chickens is called plumage. Feather patterns, shape and color vary widely between types of chickens and are usually the primary indicator of breed.

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Predator

A predator is any animal that hunts another for food or sport. Predators that pose a risk to chickens are many, including raccoons, foxes and hawks.

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Roost

A roost is a slender bar or branch on which chickens perch to sleep. As a verb, it is the act of perching. Outside of a coop, chickens often seek branches on which to roost to avoid predators.

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Bantam

Bantam refers to a breed of chicken in which the adult bird is significantly smaller than standard chickens. Bantam breeds range from one quarter to one half the size of typical chickens and are popular with some backyard keepers for their reduced food and space requirements.

Originally: Backyard Chicken Glossary

 

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How to Build a Raised Bed and Trellis

trellis

Raised beds drain more efficiently, give the gardener more control over the location and soil quality, and can help keep out pests like moles and rabbits.The best part? You can build one in an afternoon. This raised bed and trellis combo uses rough-sawn cedar, which is weather-resistant, insect-resistant and looks good, too.

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Two 9-foot, 2″ x 12″ rough-sawn cedar boards
three 7-foot, 2″ x 4″ rough-sawn cedar boards
one 6-foot, 2″ x 4″ rough-sawn cedar board
four 10-foot, 2″ x 2″ rough-sawn cedar boards
twenty-two 4 1/2-inch lag screws
3-inch deck screws
finishing nails
16′ x 34″ hog fencing panel
20 coaxial cable clips
tape measure
circular saw
speed square
level
drill with 3/16-inch bit
hammer or nail gun
bolt cutters.

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Step 1: Measure and Cut Bed

Measure and cut two 6-foot and two 3-foot lengths from the 2″ x 12″ cedar planks. These pieces will be assembled to form the raised bed.

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Step 2: Cut the Top Rail

Measure down half an inch along the 2-inch side of a 7-foot long 2″ x 4″ board and cut a 45 degree angle at both ends to chamfer (bevel). This angled cut provides a more finished look to the top rail of the trellis.

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Step 3: Measure and Cut Trellis Frame

Measure and cut four 32-inch lengths and four 66-inch lengths of 2″ x 2″ lumber. These pieces will be used to construct frames, to which fencing will be attached to create the trellis.

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Step 4: Drill Pilot Holes

Measuring one inch from the ends of each 6-foot plank you cut for the bed, drill three holes spaced 3-inches apart. Drilling pilot holes for the lag screws reduces the possibility of the wood splitting during assembly.

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Step 5: Assemble the Raised Bed

Using twelve 4 1/2-inch lag screws (three at each corner), build the bed by driving lag screws through prepared holes into the ends of the 3-foot planks. Make sure all edges are square and that they don’t overlap. The thick cedar used here will hold up just fine without any stabilizing posts, but you may need to nail square stakes on the inside of each corner if you’re using a more lightweight wood.

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Step 6: Attach Fence Frame to the Trellis

Use finishing nails to attach the 66-inch 2″ x 2″ to the 7-foot 2″ x 4″ board, flush and centered at one end of the board. Repeat this step with the second 66-inch plank. Make sure you are working on a flat, stable surface—here we used scrap lumber to create a flat level surface to work on.

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Step 7: Assemble the Trellis

Lay all pieces of the trellis and fence frame together; ensure the pieces will fit together snugly and that the corners are square. The unattached 66-inch 2″ x 2″ fence frame sides should meet in the center of the trellis. The 6-foot 2″ x 4″ serves as the bottom rail.

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Step 8: Attach the Top Rail

Center the top rail on the frame so that the chamfered ends overhang the sides of the trellis evenly at each end. Confirm that the corners are square, then attach the top rail to the trellis sides using deck screws.

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Step 9: Attach the Bottom Rail

With the fence frames inserted, attach the 6-foot bottom rail to the trellis sides using two 4-1/2-inch lag screws.

 

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Step 10: Attach Fence Frames

Use 3-inch screws to attach the fence frame to the trellis. Attach the top and bottom rails using finishing nails.

 

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Step 11: Cut Hog Fence Panels

Measure two 66-inch lengths of hog fence and cut using bolt cutters. Hog fencing is sturdy, inexpensive and attractive, but nylon netting or other materials may be substituted, if desired.

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Step 12: Place the Fencing

Place the cut fence panels into the frame.

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Step 13: Attach Fencing

Secure the fencing on all sides of the frame using coaxial cable clips.

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Step 14: Attach Trellis to Raised Bed

On a level surface, slide the trellis over the ends of the raised bed. With the base of the trellis resting on the ground, use a level to make sure the sides are even, then use three 4 1/2-inch lag screws on each side to attach the trellis to the raised bed.

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Step 15: Pick a Location and Anchor the Bed

Cut four stakes at least 12-inches long from 2″ x 2″ lumber. Select a location for the bed (make sure to choose a spot that receives at least 8 hours of sunlight each day for best results), then hammer stakes into the ground inside each corner of the bed. Fasten with 3-inch screws to prevent possible tipping. To prevent weeds and grass from growing in your new bed, cut away the sod before anchoring it to the ground, or smother the grass by lining the bed with newspaper, which will decay over time.

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Preparing the Bed

Those building a raised bed in the fall can try this trick for a thriving garden next spring: After lining with newspaper, add a layer of seed-free straw, blood meal, burlap (in case seeds make it into the straw), composted cotton burr, shredded leaves, another layer of blood meal and compost followed by potting mix. Leaving this to “stew” over the winter will create a nutrient-rich planting area that is ready to go once spring arrives.

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Start Planting

Not sure what to plant? Try our favorite fruit and vegetable picks, learn how to create a lasagna garden full of beautiful spring bulbs or put that trellis to use with these fabulous climbing plants.

Originally: How to Build a Raised Bed and Trellis

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Fire Pit Maintenance Tips

fire pit 1

Whether you buy one or build your own, adding a fire pit to the yard or patio creates an elegant and cozy focal point for your outdoor living space. Great for outdoor entertaining or an intimate evening at home any time of year, fire pits are available in a myriad of sizes and styles and add style and function to your property. Maintenance is key toward keeping your backyard showpiece looking and functioning well all year long. Shayne Newman, president of YardApes Landscaping and board member of the Professional Landscape Network, offers these tips for keeping your pit in top condition.

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Finding the right spot for your fire pit drastically impacts ease of maintenance. Newman recommends finding a site that has some wind protection to avoid smoke problems or scattered ash. Nearby trees with potential overhang should be pruned regularly for safety. An area of at least 10 feet in diameter around the pit should be kept clear of any yard debris.

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A hot fire raging in cold conditions can cause pit stress. When installing masonry fire pits in cold regions, footers should be extended to the frostline or built on a reinforced concrete base to reduce risk of cracking. Cracking issues are common, says Newman. Although some cracks are only of cosmetic concern, all should be evaluated. Severe cracks should be patched before continued use.

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Wood burning pits are fairly forgiving, but burning trash or pressure treated wood can release harmful toxins that are unhealthy to breathe and can damage pit surfaces. Dry, split wood is recommended. Do not burn green wood. Newman suggests using broken pallets or yard-picked leaves and sticks as kindling to help get your fire started. Use of accelerants can be dangerous and can discolor or damage the fire pit and is strongly discouraged.

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When possible, flames should be allowed to naturally subside. Although water should be kept available for emergency purposes. dousing an active fire by pouring water on it can cause rapid temperature shifts that may crack or otherwise damage the vessel.

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Because ashes are acidic, shoveling ashes from the pit regularly is important for preventing long-term damage to fire pits. Newman suggests keeping a metal ash can on hand to collect ashes the day after the pit has been used. Embers can smolder long after the fire has subsided, so care should be taken when clearing ashes and may be doused with water once they have been removed. Spent ashes may be collected in a metal bucket with a lid and properly disposed once full.

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If residue buildup becomes an issue over time, masonry fire pits may be cleaned using a solution of one part muriatic acid to nine parts water to scrub the interior. Once clean, rinse with water and allow to dry 48 to 72 hours before use.

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Fueled by natural gas or propane, gas fire pits can be a good choice for existing patios for their ease of use, safety and low-maintenance requirements. Although they generally produce less heat than wood burning pits, they are “instant on” and produce no messy ashes to clean. To keep your gas fire pit in good working order, keep burners clean for proper gas flow and check fuel lines regularly.

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As with cast iron, rust buildup is common with metal fire pits. Surface rust is easily removed by scrubbing with a stiff wire brush and wiping away the residue. Protective coatings like oil and silicone are available to minimize rust development, but it is important to determine which are appropriate for the type of metal. Consult manufacturer instructions before applying any surface treatments.fire pit 10

Whether a simple vinyl cover or something more ornate, Newman offers that keeping shielding your pit from the elements is an easy way to extend the life of your backyard or patio showpiece.

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Although Newman concedes the use of a screen may sometimes detract from the beauty of an open flame when gathered around the pit on a chilly evening, many prefab pits include flat or domed screens to reduce the spread of embers for safety and to reduce char and clutter.

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If you plan to use your fire pit to cook outdoors, grates or other cooking surfaces should be promptly cleaned. Grease, juices and food residue can build up on the inside of the fire pit, causing stains and exacerbating deterioration.

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Having the right tools on hand can help keep your fire pit looking and functioning in top form. “You can go to the hardware store and pick up a simple fireplace tool kit to use with your fire pit,” says Newman. “You’ll want an ash scoop, a long poker, some tongs for moving the logs around to keep them burning evenly.”

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Permanent pit installations can usually handle year-round weather conditions with minimal maintenance, but if your pit is portable, storing a moveable pit under cover or in a garage or shed during extended periods when not in use can make it easy to avoid the added elbow grease necessary to clean off-season buildup of dirt and debris before sharpening those marshmallow sticks for the season.

Originally: Fire Pit Maintenance Tips

 

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