Saturday, June 9, 2012

What's All the Talk About Rubber Mulch?

As with a lot of products, there is always some deceptive advertising.

This couldn't be farther from the truth with rubber mulch or rubber pine straw based on several university studies. Like any product there is an entire list of all the potential benefits. However, several comprehensive reports going back many years have found just about every benefit at odds and in some cases completely contrary to both garden area uses and other general usage, i.e., ground coverage.


Why would someone even try rubber mulch?

The main reason is the concern over termites from wood chips or other products harvested from the forest. The only other reason is to make use of all the recycled tires. Both of these can be dismissed without much thought. Termites are only a concern if the product is a wood chip grade and then only if used right on the border of your foundation of a traditional stick built structure. The rubber is never really recycled. It has just found another dumping ground -- your yard.
Now let's get to all those wonderful benefits this product promises.

First, the product is safe for flowers, plants and pets. Research from multiple universities has found that leaching from the recycled tires can kill entire aquatic wildlife, insects that are beneficial to plant growth, microbes that improve soil quality. It doesn't stop there. Any runoff finds its way to storm drainage areas or other water sources where it contaminates with chemicals that sound like they belong in a battery, e.g., cadmium, copper, sulfur, zinc. Most plants easily die from zinc toxicity.

The USDA has found after 20 years of research that based on the possible of zinc contamination, the product should never be used in gardens and landscaping.

Second, the product claims water and nutrients permeate. Yeah, this might happen for the first few weeks. However, earthworms and microbes require organic material as a food source. Without this, the entire structure of the soil pancakes preventing both water and air from entering. This results in conditions that breed both disease and kill off all the healthy bacteria, microbes and other organisms that facilitate the uptake of nutrients. Keep watering and now you have runoff.

Third, the material is supposed to be extremely durable, long lasting, no fading and doesn't decay. Well it does decay by harmful microbes resulting in the release of a toxic soup that then triggers another effect. The first wave of toxic chemicals prevents bacteria decay -- triggering a runaway effect of toxicity and overall death except from the bade microbes, fungi and bacteria you never want in your garden.

While there are multiple shades, the product is also going to fade. Most products unless specifically protected from harmful UV rays will fade. Another unwanted effect is the trapping of heat. As we know dark colored items, especially any black items, are going to absorb the heat from the daylight sun. The plants basically overheat and are starved of moisture. However, this is not directly related to the rubber mulch. This is just a natural process from anything close to black in color.

Before using this product, you should do some research yourself. You will find contradictive reporting, but both the US government studies and university reports tend to agree this product is not good or harmless to use. It may also depend on your intended use. If you have no concerns for the plant life, soil and any runoff issues, maybe this product can serve some purpose.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Gas Grill vs. Charcoal Grill

Debating about gas grills vs. charcoal grills is about as sensitive as a political issue.

Then, how can we forget about the comical reference on one famous prime time cartoon television show? The deciding factor comes down to preference of taste, convenience, grill placement and cost.

There is no getting around gas grills do not enhance the taste of food whatsoever. Whereas, charcoal grills sear meat quickly, retaining natural juices and absorbing that deep smoky flavor. There is no argument this makes for the best grilled meat. In addition, there are a variety of charcoal briquettes to add different varieties of flavors that best fit your palate. However, in several independent taste tests, participants only detected meat grilled with charcoal for items that cook a little longer, e.g., thick steak and not so much for quick items such as hamburgers.

Just like there is no getting around the added taste from gas grills, there is also no denying the benefits of a gas grill. They are extremely convenient and ready to go at a moment’s notice. You still have to exchange the empty gas tanks which can be a hassle. With the price of gas, a lot of people are finding that this service is a lot more expensive lately. Whereas technology developed for charcoal grills has eliminated the need for lighter fluid or ready-to-light charcoal briquettes. Meaning much cheaper charcoal is now available.

To utilize this new method, you only need an inexpensive charcoal starter. They can be found in most hardware stores. You still have to be a little patient and wait for the coals to get just right, but it eliminates the need for more expensive brands of charcoal and buying lighter fluid. The device basically works by convection updraft currents getting the briquettes dry and white-hot and ready for the grill. Once ready, you simply dump them into your grill.

Regardless to the type of grill, cleaning is about the same in both gas and charcoal.

However, charcoal still does have one annoying little detail – dumping the used briquettes and if you are not utilizing newer methods for starting a charcoal grill and are impatient, you may be left with a slight hint of lighter fluid in the flavor of your food.

More importantly, space is a very significant issue when it comes to choosing a grill. Gas grills require more room. Therefore, a larger open area such as a patio or deck is essential. There are also usually strict regulations against gas grills on apartment and condo balconies. I can’t stress this point enough. You need to check your local policy if living in an apartment or condo. You may even be limited to an electric grill.

In my younger days while living in an apartment complex, there was a major fire from an innocent accident but not quite so innocent placement of a propane tank on an apartment balcony. While putting out a cigarette, the cigarette rolled under a storage door where the gas grill was kept and eventually set off a propane tank explosion – setting ablaze an entire row of apartments that even melted siding on other units 100 feet away.

Finally, you have to consider the overall cost.

Gas grills are usually going to run twice the price of their charcoal predecessors. The reason, gas grills have all sorts of bells and whistles today for all sorts of cooking. However, charcoal grills are starting to close the gap by offering comparable features. It all comes down to your taste preference, convenience, location and how much you want to spend. Remember, if you live in an apartment or condo with a balcony, always check the policy for what is and is not allowed.
Happy Grilling…

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Isn’t my deck by itself good enough?

There is no arguing that a really nice deck can make a backyard and home much more beautiful.

However, does it make it more livable? That is the main question you should ask yourself. When you are in the middle of full-on summer, will you really get much enjoyment sitting directly in the sun? Yes, you can sun bath or grill out, but why not do these things and more?

Adding a patio cover or pergola over part of or over the entire deck multiplies the benefits. To begin with, you now have shaded areas that offer anywhere from 20 – 30 degree temperature differences compared to being in the full sun. It doesn’t stop there. Adding an outdoor ceiling fan even makes it better. You now really have an outdoor living area.

Partial areas can be blocked off for privacy with oversized ferns, palms, border walls and other areas can remain open for entertaining on any occasion.  Outdoor patio furniture can remain truly outdoor furniture year-round. How many times have you started to grill and all of the sudden you find yourself fighting time against an approaching thunderstorm? You no longer have to worry about issues like this or rained out parties. Everything and everyone is now protected from the elements.

With summer just weeks away, I know you don’t want to hear about heat, but even with winter months, rain or snow, you still have an enjoyable living area with a fire pit or outdoor heater to keep you toasty and warm.

Backyard living is a very trendy subject in today’s home improvement projects.

A deck is just a deck. Add depth and dimension with a patio cover and/or pergola and you now have added square footage that adds to the value of your home and makes it much more attractive. If you ever decide to sell, your home value has now increased. Contact Factory Direct Remodeling of Atlanta to get started turning your backyard into a truly enjoyable living area regardless of the weather.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lawn Care for the Month of June

Summer is just around the corner and it’s time for the next phase of lawn care.

Any seeding should be completed by now. If not, you only have a few more days remaining. If you have just put down new seed, wait before using any type of weed and feed for a minimum of two weeks. Also, only sprinkle with water lightly if necessary. Otherwise, you run the risk of washing the new seeds away.

Now that we have any reseeding completed and are ready to go, let’s talk about lawn care. You should never cut your lawn below 3 inches. 3” – 4” is ideal. Cutting shorter will stress your lawn and may cause burning from the intense afternoon sun. Watering in the afternoon sun will also cause burning.

What to do with clippings after mowing?

Clippings are very IMPORTANT and should be REMAIN on your lawn. They hold in moisture and protect the grass from too much sun. Think of it as SPF for your lawn. The only time to never leave clippings in your yard is it if it is diseased or unhealthy. This is prevents further infection to healthy areas. If you have a lot of weeds, it is okay to still leave the clippings. You only need to follow up with some weed-n-feed from your local hardware or garden store.

Should I cut my grass if it is too wet?

It doesn’t hurt your grass to cut when wet and should definitely be done if your grass is getting too tall. The only problem is it will cause clumping as you mow which may require a little extra effort on your part. If the grass is still within 3 – 6 inches, you can wait until it is has dried out a little bit.

How often should I mow my lawn?

You should always cut your grass about every two weeks. It all depends on the rate of growth. If your grass gets too long, mowing will strain your lawn and make it susceptible to disease and open it up for ample opportunity for weeds to start overtaking the area.

To keep your lawn looking healthy, keep your mower blade sharp following these steps and occasionally gently raking over your lawn to loosen the top layer of soil a little. This enhances root growth – making for a beautiful lawn. Make sure your lawn gets an average of 1 inch of water a week. This may vary depending on the type of grass. Watering in the morning or evening is okay, but NEVER water in the middle of the day. You will only damage the lawn you have worked so hard to create.