Make watering a snap

As I put away my hoses and shut off faucets for the winter, it reminded me of something I figured out a few years ago that saves me a little time and effort. So, I thought I’d share this quick tip to make your watering chores a tad easier too.

I use a variety of nozzles on my hoses; hand nozzle, extended handle nozzle, oscillating sprinkler, and soaker hoses, depending on the application. Twisting these on and off each time I needed to change to a different one was a pain. So, I installed quick-connects on both of my hoses, and each of my nozzles. Now its literally a snap to switch them out.

A quick-connect is a device that allows you to push on a nozzle, and remove it by pulling back a ring. This is much faster, and far less frustrating then fighting to remove nozzles you’ve over-tighten to prevent leaking, or that have rusted in place. By the way a little plumbers tape placed around the threads of the quick-connect couplings before attaching them to your hose and nozzles will help keep those from leaking or getting frozen in place as well.

quick connct
Hose Quick-Connect

You can pick a set of quick-connects up at any hardware store for about $5 for a set of 2. There is a great set on Amazon for $11.99 that will outfit 2 hoses and 6 nozzles.  Where ever you get yours, make sure you get mettle. The plastic ones are likely to crack and not last more than a season. You’ll get many years out of a good aluminum or brass set for only a buck or two more. So snap up a set of quick-connects when your picking up an extra extension cord for those holiday lights, and you’ll already have one task simplified for next spring.

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Why I welcome my weeds, and why you should too

Dandelions. The single word that strikes fear in the heart of every suburban homeowner. The yellow spring invaders disturb the sanctity of pristine expanses of green grass in every subdivision from coast to coast. And we respond with pulling, burning, and all-out chemical warfare. How misguided.

I’m here to tell you that rather than a blight, dandelions, and the other frequent lawn invader, clover, are a great blessing. If you’re goal is food production and greater self-sufficiency, these gifts from nature are the way to turn your lawn from a money sink, to a source of nutrition for your garden, and for you.

If you live in a typical suburban neighborhood, and particularly if it has an HOA, lawns are going to be a fact of life. Even if you’d prefer to commit 100% of your property to gardens, and never push another mower in the hot sun ever again, for reasons of regulations, conformity, and not upsetting your neighbors, you will likely need to maintain some portion of your property as lawn.

Plus, lawns are not completely without utility; as access ways, picnicking spots, spaces to play ball with your kids and let the dog run, patches of lawn do have value. But if we drop chemical fertilizers and weed killer on them, they suddenly become expensive to maintain, and potentially toxic to those kids and that dog. And you sure don’t want those chemicals leaching into your gardens.

You can get even more utility out of that lawn as a tremendous source of green mulch if you let nature be. Dandelions and clover are two of the greatest nutrient mining plants you’ll ever find. Dandelions have tap roots that pull valuable nutrients including magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron, and calcium from deep in the soil. Clover mines nitrogen out of the air. By inviting these wonderful agents of fertility into your lawn, you can harvest them to feed your fruits and vegetables. And the great part is “inviting” them takes zero cost and effort. Just don’t spend time and money killing them.

Instead, let them be. Then, every other time you mow your lawn, bag the clippings and spread the as mulch around your plants, or add them to your compost pile. The blend of clover, dandelion, and grass makes for a great, nutrient packed fertilizer that you obtained for free from your yard. How cool is that!

These same helpful plants also fertilize your lawn. Notice my recommendation was to bag ever-other time you mow. On alternate cuttings simply use the mulching setting on your mower and add the clippings back to the yard. If you stay on top of your mowing, you won’t have so many yellow flowers or white puffy heads that it disturbs your neighbors or invites a “helpful” notice on how to control weeds from your HOA. (full disclosure: I got one of these once when a vacation allowed my lawn to get away from me). And we haven’t even touched on the many ways dandelions can be directly consumed. But I’ll save that for another post.

So my advice is become a “weed huger” and embrace natures volunteer plants. You’ll do less work, spend less money, and get more fertility as a reward. Where else are you going to get that kind of deal!

Essential Bike Accessories for Safety, Comfort, and Performance – Part 3

When it comes time to step it up and use those two wheels to get you in shape, a few additions will help you get more out of your bike and yourself.

Bike computer. Nothing helps you turn you bike from simple transportation to motivational fitness tool like a good bike computer. Prices can vary from under $50 to $100’s depending on the features, functions, displays, and connectivity. But even entry level models will show you the basics like speed, pace, distance, and time.

Bike computers usually work by mounting a sensor to your front wheel and fork that count tire rotations. A little internal computer math, along with proper initial set up of your tire size, translates that spinning tire into status that help you know how much ground you are covering at what speed, and thereby monitor your training over time.

Baskets or Toe-Clips. By simply attaching your feed to your pedals, you suddenly can apply power in more directions then just the down-stroke, increasing your efficiency, speed, and training. Baskets are basically straps that go over your toes. They allow you to gain some forward push, and even some upward pull, on your cranks. It’s just the bottom 30% or so of your crank, when your foot is moving backwards, that remains lost power. Other basket advantages are that they don’t require special shoes, and it’s relatively easy to learn to get your foot in and out of them.

Toe-clips require special pedals and custom shoes. They do just what you would think, clipping your shoe securely to your pedal, allowing you to apply close to 360 degrees of power to your cranks. If you want to get the most out of your bike, or compete in races, you are going to want toe-clips.

Bike lights. Why did I put lights in fitness and not safety? Well usually I don’t consider it safe to bike at night.  I recommend avoiding it if you are anything less than a serious rider. But for those with a goal, life is going to require you to get up early, or stay out late one day to fit in that ride, and you better have some lights for that occasion. Most come in sets for the front and back of your bike, and take the place of your reflectors. (they are reflective when not switched on). It doesn’t hurt to keep the back on in a flashing mode during the day either. There are rechargeable LED models, and those using AA or AAA batteries. The conservationist in me wants to recommend rechargeable, however for any battery powered device I’m going to depend on away from home, the ability to swap out a set of easy to carry, readily available batteries that will allow me to keep going, is going to win-out every time. So, get some lights where you can do so, and carry an extra set of batteries in your bike bag.

Well there you have it. Safety, comfort, and fitness. You can make the versatile bicycle into whatever you need with just a few additions, and get the most out of the time you spend in the saddle.