Recently, a friend sent me an S.O.S. asking if I knew of any natural pest control to rid an apartment of fleas—a method that would not be toxic to small children.

Treating their pets and animals would be the first step, but surprisingly these folks have no animals. The truth is that flea infestations often occur simply because neighborhood cats or dogs like to lounge near their home or they have purchased an infested piece of furniture from a yard sale.

Illustration showing bugs and rodents that can be repelled with natural pest control

I headed right for my collection of pest control recipes and retrieved the perfect solution for fleas. I thought you might enjoy knowing that one, plus remedies for all kinds of home and garden pests.

All-purpose outdoor insect spray

Mix one chopped garlic clove, one chopped small onion, and one tablespoon cayenne powder with one-quart water. Allow to steep one hour, then add one tablespoon liquid dishwashing soap. This all-purpose insect spray remains potent for only one week, so use it up by spraying the exterior perimeter of the house.

Ants

Repel an ant invasion by with this natural pest control: Wash countertops, cabinets, and floors with equal parts water and vinegar.

MORE: 10 Quick and Easy Ways to Get Rid of Pesky Ants

Aphids

Mix 1-gallon water, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and 2 tablespoons liquid dishwashing detergent. Spray on plants where aphid damage is evident.

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If you’ve given up on the idea of growing an edible garden this year, I’ve got good news. Even if you rent and your landlord won’t allow you to dig up part of the property—no problem. Even if you don’t have time to tend a full-size garden; even if you don’t have time to build square-foot boxes.

 

photo credit: OliveandCocoa.com

 

You don’t need a big yard and “perfect” conditions. In fact, you really don’t need any acreage at all. There are myriad ways to you can get started today growing your own food. It’s easy, too! You don’t need acreage and “perfect” conditions to get started. You can do it now with what you have, where you are.

There are myriad ways to you can get started growing your own food. You can do it now with what you have, where you are.

In a black plastic trash bag

Seriously, you can grow a garden in a trash bag. The easiest way to get started growing stuff in plastic bags is with potatoes. To get started you’ll need a heavy duty black trash bag, a shovel, a knife, potting soil, “seed” potatoes and agricultural sulfur—available at any garden center.

Find a complete step-by-step tutorial for how to get your bag planted and those potatoes growing here.

On a deck

Even in a small space like a deck or patio, you can grow many different vegetables and enjoy an amazing harvest for your efforts. There is nothing quite like making meals with herbs and vegetables that you have grown yourself—that you can harvest fresh, right outside your back door.

Check out these 11 tips for growing vegetables on a deck or patio.

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If you’ve given up on the idea of growing an edible garden this year, I’ve got good news. Even if you rent and your landlord won’t allow you to dig up part of the property—no problem. Even if you don’t have time to tend a full-size garden; even if you don’t have time to build square-foot boxes.

 

photo credit: OliveandCocoa.com

 

You don’t need acreage, a big yard or “perfect” conditions. In fact, you really don’t need any acreage at all. There are myriad ways to you can get started today growing your own food. It’s easy, too!

In a black plastic trash bag

Seriously, you can grow a garden in a trash bag. The easiest way to get started growing stuff in plastic bags is with potatoes. To get started you’ll need a heavy duty black trash bag, a shovel, a knife, potting soil, “seed” potatoes and agricultural sulfur—available at any garden center.

Find a complete step-by-step tutorial for how to get your bag planted and those potatoes growing here.

On a deck

Even in a small space like a deck or patio, you can grow many different vegetables and enjoy an amazing harvest for your efforts. There is nothing quite like making meals with herbs and vegetables that you have grown yourself—that you can harvest fresh, right outside your back door.

Check out these 11 tips for growing vegetables on a deck or patio.

Read more

Whether they come from your garden, the market, or you receive them as a gift, you can persuade cut flowers to remain beautiful for at least a week—maybe two, or even longer!—when you are careful to follow a few fabulous flower secrets.

The first thing is to know the enemy. Actually, there are two: 1) bacteria and 2) drought. Defeat both and your flowers will last and last. You will be amazed!

bunch-of-fresh-lilac-flowers-in-glass-vase-close-up-on-white-background

 

Start with a clean vase

Scrub it with soap and hot water, rinse well and fill with tap water.

Disinfect

Add 1/4 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach for each quart of water. This will slow down the growth of bacteria and fungus in the water without harming or affecting the flowers. Measure carefully! Trying to eyeball this very weak ratio of 1/4 teaspoon per quart of water could backfire.

Remove leaves below the water line

You want to remove any leaves on the stems of cut flowers that will be below the water line. Submerged leaves will quickly rot and promote bacteria and algae growth.

Condition the stems

Cut flowers will die of thirst even when standing in water if the stems have not been conditioned to draw that water all the way to the blooms. That’s because when cut, a flower stem quickly seals its “wound,” preventing it from drawing water.

Just before plunging the stems into the vase of water cut stems at a 45% angle to allow for the greatest amount of water as possible can be absorbed.

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Whether they come from your garden, the market, or you receive them as a gift, you can persuade cut flowers to remain beautiful for at least a week—maybe two, or even longer!—when you are careful to follow a few fabulous flower secrets.

The first thing is to know the enemy. Actually, there are two: 1) bacteria and 2) drought. Defeat both and your flowers will last and last. You will be amazed!

bunch-of-fresh-lilac-flowers-in-glass-vase-close-up-on-white-background

 

Start with a clean vase

Scrub it with soap and hot water, rinse well and fill with tap water.

Disinfect

Add 1/4 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach for each quart of water. This will slow down the growth of bacteria and fungus in the water without harming or affecting the flowers. Measure carefully! Trying to eyeball this very weak ratio of 1/4 teaspoon per quart of water could backfire.

Remove leaves below the water line

You want to remove any leaves on the stems of cut flowers that will be below the water line. Submerged leaves will quickly rot and promote bacteria and algae growth.

Condition the stems

Cut flowers will die of thirst even when standing in water if the stems have not been conditioned to draw that water all the way to the blooms. That’s because when cut, a flower stem quickly seals its “wound,” preventing it from drawing water.

Just before plunging the stems into the vase of water cut stems at a 45% angle to allow for the greatest amount of water as possible can be absorbed.

Read more

For years I’d tried to grow a decent vegetable garden. It was the high cost of fresh basil—$3.50 for a few measly, wilted fresh basil leaves, ditto for a pound of somewhat reddish tomatoes and mostly pink strawberries—that prompted me to try.

I started with tomatoes, basil, and peppers (a salsa garden!). In no time, I added zucchini and cucumbers to my repertoire—even corn one year.

 

But I have to be honest. My harvests have ranged from disappointing to mediocre. Only that one year did my garden produce enough to share with others. I’m still trying to remember how I did that. So far, I’ve been unable to duplicate the results.

Uniquely talented

One thing I do quite well is weeds. I try not to take too much credit here, but I have to tell you I’ve never seen anyone else grow weeds quite as successfully as I do. And I can take them right through the season until they actually re-seed themselves for the next!

Oh, the effort

While I love the concept of a garden that’s not only nice to look at but actually produces something we can eat, I’m not 100% in love with the anxiety, pressure, guilt, backaches, leg cramps, and fear of needing hip replacements.

There has to be a better way

While in the past my efforts to grow a garden have been more of a hobby than a serious endeavor, I feel that changing. The high cost of food—specifically produce—tells me it’s time to get serious. We need to become more self-sufficient, but in a cost-effective way.

True cost? Yikes!

While I feel that I’ve mastered weeds, I’ve failed miserably in cost-effectiveness. I shudder to imagine the true cost of the pathetically tiny bounty I’ve garnered over the years.  That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on vegetable gardening, only that I’m ready for a new way to do it.


RELATED: Grow Tomatoes at Home Even If You Don’t Have a Garden


 

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There’s nothing like a series of sunny days in late winter to awaken my inner gardener. Apparently, I’m not the only one as evidenced by my inbox these past few weeks.

Mary Hunt's garden in spring

Dear Mary:  I just moved into my first home after living in an apartment for the last 10 years. As a novice home chef, I’ve been dreaming of the day I could grow my own vegetable and herb garden and have a nice yard with grass and shrubbery as well. 

Do you have any suggestions for some basic tools I need to get started? Thanks for your help. I love your column and read it daily! Asher

Dear Asher:  I’ve got gardening on my mind, too. Currently, mine in this photo is under a few inches of snow but I have faith. I know that in a few weeks we’ll be back to temperatures in the 70s, which gives me a new appreciation for the condition known as spring fever! I’ve got it bad and can’t wait to get my hands dirty and my garden planted.

With that in mind, I came up with a list of my favorite inexpensive yard and garden gadgets and gear.

While this may look like a sizable investment, it’s not likely you will need all of these items on day one. Just hang onto this list as you begin to furnish your tool shed.

I’m confident you can rely on this list to build a collection of garden tools that will work well for many years to come. I’d rather see you spend a few more dollars on good quality tools from the start than to find yourself having to replace poor quality items every season. Been there, done that and wasn’t very happy about it.

Here for your gardening pleasure are my best inexpensive garden tools:

Gloves, trowel and weeder for the DIY gardener

1. Gloves

I tried so many until I found the gloves that work for me. Atlas Touch Gloves are awesome. Made of cotton with nitrile (similar to vinyl) coating on the palm and fingers, these gloves fit so well and are so flexible I can easily open a can, pick up a small pebble or even take a call while wearing them.

A pack of six pair comes in an assortment of pastel colors and sizes small, medium and large. These gloves are machine washable. Best garden gloves ever.

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So, you planted a garden, lucked out when your property included fruit trees, stumbled upon a produce sale you just couldn’t pass up, or joined a CSA. Good for you! Now what? What will you do with all that bounty?

Your choices are a) quickly consume your harvest before it spoils b) give it away or c) preserve it to enjoy in the future.

 

One of the best ways to preserve—the method of food preservation that is making a big comeback—is known as “canning.”

Canning is not difficult, but it is a procedure that should be followed precisely.

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