Two effective ways to fix low spots in your lawn

Ever step in a hole while you’re mowing and fall? Annoying, isn’t it?

We’ve got a hole in the front yard because someone pulled a bush out of the ground and didn’t fill it in. That hole has me shaking my fist every time I mow.

Low spots and holes in your yard are ugly and dangerous. But you don’t need to hire a landscaper to fix them. We’ll give you two ways you can do it yourself.

Specifically:

  • Top-dressing
  • Cutting turf to patch

 

Top-dressing

This method involves filling in low spots with dirt without removing sod. You’ll need to cut the grass to 1” or less and then dethatch in the areas you need to fill in.

Thatch is dead grass that collects around the base of the grass blades. It’s stopping your grass from getting all the light, air, and water it needs to thrive. Thatch also retains moisture during times of rain and promotes the growth of mold.

You’ll need some things before you begin:

  • The right dirt (see below)
  • A garden cart, unless you’re planning an Epsom salt bath later
  • A landscaping rake
  • A leaf rake
  • A shovel (if you’re using the patch method)

1. Use the right dirt

Most agree it’s best to use a 50/50 mix of soil and fine sand. Probably a good idea to add a little fertilizer, too. The soil and fertilizer will add nutrients, but they’ll also break down. So if that’s all you use, you’ll have to repeat this process more than necessary.

Sand is inorganic and will remain on the ground. You’ll still have to repeat this process in a few weeks, but won’t have to put quite as much work into it.

Buy more than you think you need. You might miss some spots the first time around.

2. Cut your grass to about 1”

You need the dirt to get through the grass to the ground. If you leave the grass too long, the dirt will just mash it down and lie on top of it.

At an inch, the grass is still tall enough for the amount of dirt you’ll be laying down, but not tall enough to lie flat and get buried by the dirt.

3. Put dirt on the low spots and level with the back of a landscape rake

You’ll only want to use about half an inch of dirt on the ground to begin with. It’ll settle, anyway. This is a process and takes patience. So you might as well treat it like a huge Zen garden.

Then, you’ll need to get on your hands and smear the dirt around. It’s fun, but maybe a good reason not to use anything with manure in it.

While you’re at it, look out for wood chips or pieces of mulch. Best to get those out.

4. Wait 2-4 weeks before repeating

Some say six, but four is probably enough time for the dirt to settle and the grass to get used to it. What you really want is for the grass to grow in healthy before you cut it and throw dirt on it again.

Filling and patching with sod

This is the one you’ll need the shovel for. We got one with a square, flat blade guessing it would help us avoid gouging out too much earth.

1. Cut your grass

You might have to use dirt to fill in the seams, so you want it to get all the way to the bottom. And it just makes it easier to cut through with a shovel. Again, you’ll want to cut it to 1” or less.

2. Use a shovel to remove 10”x10” squares of grass from the area

If you’re doing a large area, it helps to lay the pieces aside in the same arrangement you took them out in. None of us probably make straight enough cuts with a shovel to make all the edges match up evenly otherwise.

3. Fill with 50/50 mix of topsoil and fine sand

The same as you would mix for the first method. Even though you’re laying sod back down over it, you’ll still lose some volume as it settles and the organic parts break down.

4. Put the sod squares back in place

After you put the sod back on the ground, check for gaps between them and fill them in with dirt. Make sure you water thoroughly so the roots can get some moisture and start growing deeper into the ground.

If all else fails …

Take out all the grass in that area and grow vegetables there. You’ll be adding dirt, anyway, so that will help with the leveling problem and you won’t have to mow that part.

Next year, we’ll have a garden where our worst pits are. Hope you like tomatoes.

Lots and lots of tomatoes.

Takeaways

Wait till the right time of year and the right weather conditions to level your lawn. Avoid top-dressing when the forecast calls for rain the next day. And you’ll get the best results with both methods if you choose a time when the grass is full and healthy, not heat-shocked.

Both methods require cutting your grass to an inch and dethatching the problem areas.

A 50/50 mix of soil and fine sand ensures the soil will have nutrients but also longer-lasting leveling.

Do you have any tips or methods for leveling we haven’t mentioned? Set us straight in the comments!

What to do if your refrigerator is ugly

Do you have a butt-ugly fridge that’s ruining all your efforts to make your kitchen look nice?

It can be so frustrating to have to design around an ugly appliance because you can’t afford to replace it yet. Maybe you’re struggling to ignore the color while planning the color scheme you want.

But what if it’s something you can fix yourself? The first step is to diagnose the problem.

What’s making your fridge look like someone beat it with an ugly stick?

Common causes of refrigerator ugliness

It’s a putrid color.

Did you inherit an avocado green fridge from your house’s prior owners? If the color is the problem, the only thing you can do about that is replace your fridge. Or cover it with novelty bumper stickers. It’s not like you can paint a fridge, right?

Actually, you can. Here’s how to paint your fridge.

It has dents or scratches.

Good news. Depending on the material your fridge is made of, you might be able to fix the dents yourself.

If it has bad scratches where something gouged through the finish, you might be able to fill in the scratches with epoxy.

Your dog colored on it with crayons.

At least, that’s what your child says. But you know your dog’s favorite color is not cornflower blue.

You already have everything you need at home to remove crayon marks, so let the cleaning power of vinegar do the work for you.

There’s an unsightly gap around your fridge.

Maybe you never even considered the gap because you’re so used to seeing one. Maybe it just seems so normal you’ve never considered the gap before.

But now that you’re thinking about it, try to imagine if the gap weren’t so big. Or, even better, there was a way to cover it and make your kitchen look that much more finished.

Double-door refrigerator with trim

Whoa! That looks professional — almost like an engineer came along and thought there must be something he could do about the gap around his fridge.

What if you could have something that looked like that? But you’d have to hire a contractor and none of them are looking for a job that small, right?

Your job would constantly be reshuffled to the bottom and it would never get done.

Refrigerator Trim Kits makes the trim. You install it

It’s easy — all you have to do is a little measuring. So grab your tape measure and a pad of paper. It’s time to answer a few questions.

The Refrigerator Trim Kits quiz

Answering these questions will tell you if Refrigerator Trim Kits has a solution for you.

  1. Is your fridge one of these colors?
    1. “Bright” stainless steel
    2. Black stainless steel
  2. Does it have one or two doors?
  3. What’s your project type?
    1. Remodel
    2. New construction
    3. Existing cabinet and fridge
    4. Replace existing built-ins
  4. Now measure the gaps on the top and both sides and write this down for later.

Based on your answers, Refrigerator Trim Kits might be able to help. Take our online quiz with the answers you just wrote down to find out.

How it works

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVBr5vDzCE8

We make an array of products you can mix and match to meet your needs.

Maybe the gaps on the sides are narrow and you only need trim for the top. You can order just the top trim. Got a wide fridge with double doors? No problem.

If your quiz results hook you up with a trim kit we make, you’ve already done the hard part. The rest is easy. Just order the kit.

It’ll take a week or two to complete your order, depending on the complexity of your project and our production capacity.

We deliver by USPS and UPS, and shipment usually takes 2-4 days.

Installation is simple. You need about 15 minutes and some basic tools. Your kit will come with detailed instructions explaining every step.

So what are you waiting for? Your kitchen will look so much more finished than you ever thought it could, and your guests will be so impressed that you did it yourself.

Take a look at our trim kits and see how we can help you with that today.

How to use a weed whacker without whacking yourself (a nervous beginner’s guide)

Are you a weed-whacking novice and nervous about edging your lawn for the first time?

First, don’t panic. A weed whacker (weed eater, string trimmer) is not an uncontrollable doomsday machine. It’s basically just a long stick that spins a strip of plastic really fast.

This post will prepare you to use a weed whacker safely and keep it in good condition.

Be prepared to use a weed whacker safely

A weed whacker is just like any other tool. Even a simple tool without moving parts — like a hammer — can injure you if you don’t use it properly. (Or if you use it properly for the wrong purpose.)

Anything that can cut through plant material can also cut your skin. And anything that moves at high speeds — like the plastic line in a weed whacker — can fling material like mulch, dirt, and small rocks into the air.

So practice good safety to avoid getting hurt.

Dress appropriately

Cover up anything you wouldn’t want lacerated by the weed whacker line and dirt and gravel the weed whacker might churn up.

For minimum safety, you need:

  • Safety goggles. They’re not just a versatile accessory for elegant evening wear. They protect your eyes from flying debris.
  • Long pants. It’s hard to remember this when it’s hot and you’re wearing shorts every day. But your ankles and shins should be protected.
  • The right shoes. Open-toed shoes are no safer for weed-whacking than they are for knife-dropping. You don’t need steel-toed boots. Just cover your feet.

The right way to hold a weed whacker

For best results, hold it parallel to the ground as possible so the cutting line doesn’t chop up the ground and wear out while simultaneously chucking stuff at you.

Know your equipment

Read the manual.

No one really likes reading manuals, we know. But at least skim and read the important parts.

If you don’t have a manual, you can easily look up your weed whacker’s make and model online and usually find a PDF version.

You may be surprised at how many different kinds of weed whackers exist.

Different types of weed whackers

Gas-powered

There are two kinds of engines for gas-powered weed trimmers – 4c (4-stroke) and 2c (2-stroke). Like it needed to be any more complicated.

If you haven’t bought a weed whacker yet, this should give you food for thought.

Electric

  • Corded. These give you more power, but the cord is only so long and it tends to get in the way.
  • Battery-powered. They don’t have cords to trip over and are great for small lawns and power outages.

How to load line into a weed whacker

You could do this:

Or you could do this:

Remember basic physics. An angle cuts better than a flat edge. Cut your line so that the cut edge angles out.

How to mix fuel for a gas-powered weed whacker

That means knowing which type of engine you have. Use gas only for 4-stroke engines. Look for a label stuck to the side of the weed whacker or look at the manual if you’re not sure.

Use this online oil and gas mix ratio calculator if you need extra help.

Tips for maintaining your weed whacker

Like all things of a physical nature, weed whackers break down. You can extend the life of yours by:

  • Using the right fuel. Pay attention to the instructions and make sure to get the oil to gas mixture right.
  • Cleaning away trimmings so they don’t gunk up moving parts.
  • If it has a cord, make sure the cord is in good shape.
  • If it has a battery, remember to charge it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Takeaways

Safety first. A weed whacker won’t rip your face off, but it can lacerate your skin and kick up things that shouldn’t go in your eye. Wear protective eyewear, long pants, and closed-toed shoes.

Be prepared. Do you have enough fuel? Is the weather on your side? Will you have to step around dog poop?

Maintain your equipment. Things just work better and last longer that way.

Don’t worry — it takes practice just like anything else. Before long, you’ll be a pro at it.

Paint and primer: What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Oh, jeez, here we go again. The difference between primer and paint.

There’s so much misinformation circulating, it’s hard to determine who’s right and who’s wrong. Some say priming isn’t necessary. Some say there’s no difference, that primer is a kind of paint. (WRONG!) Some say you can use old paint as a primer. (Also WRONG!)

There absolutely is a difference between primer and paint. The ancient Egyptians knew it, the Italian Renaissance painters knew it, and now you’ll know it.

Paint and primer have different ingredients

Paint and primer were made for two different purposes. Of course they would contain different ingredients. You wouldn’t use silly putty in a Play-Doh Barber Shop, would you?

Silly Putty is far less pliable and would clog up the holes in your Barber Shop. Play-Doh is designed to be soft enough to push through those holes so you can cut it with plastic scissors into the worst mullet you can imagine.

Primer and paint are like silly putty and Play-Doh. They have different physical properties because they’re designed to accomplish different tasks.

What primer and paint are made of

There are a few differences in formulation, but some ingredients are the same.

Primer contains:

  • Resin. The “binder” that binds pigment particles to the dried film. In latex paint, the binder is usually vinyl acrylic, polyvinyl acrylic, or styrene acrylic. For our purposes, a binder is just a material that the pigment particles can “hang out” in until they get close together enough to crosslink.
  • Limestone. It’s not just an extender — it’s really a color-neutral way to add body and texture to the primer.
  • Titanium dioxide. An opaque, lightfast, and bright white pigment.
  • Additives. To handle things like frothing, clumping, and separating.
  • Vehicle. The fluid part of paint — solvent combined with resin. In latex paint, this would be water and vinyl acrylic.

Paint contains:

  • Pigment. The ingredient that gives paint its color. Pigments are mined or manufactured, processed, and ground to extremely fine particles before being added to paint.
  • May or may not contain titanium dioxide. TiO2 is a white pigment and an opacifier, meaning it’s very opaque and mixes with other pigments in a way that increases their opacity.
  • Vehicle

Paints don’t contain limestone. They don’t need to because they aren’t meant to provide body or texture on their own.

Whether or not they contain titanium dioxide (PW 6) depends on how light or opaque they are, or what pigments are necessary to mix the color.

Paint and primer are made for different purposes

Paint was invented thousands of years before primer. Paint used in caves definitely predates 11th century Egyptians and 14th century Italian Renaissance artists.

So, if people have been painting surfaces for thousands of years, why was gesso invented in the first place? Weren’t painters getting along just fine without it?

Gesso was — and still is — the primer used by oil painters to prime their canvases, wood panels, and other substrates before painting.

The primers you use to prepare your walls before you paint serves the same purpose. To seal the surface you’re painting to prevent over-absorption of the more expensive pigmented paint you’re painting with.

Do I really need to prime before I paint?

I don’t know.

Do you want to:

  • Spend too much time and money on paint because it soaks into the wall and requires two or three additional coats?
  • Over-spend on paint because it takes several coats to cover stains?
  • Throw your cash away to repaint because the color you applied never formed a stain-resistant finish?

Then painting without priming first is for you.

But if you have better things to do and spend your hard-earned scratch on, here’s why you should prime first.

Yes, you need to prime before you paint!

Sometimes the easiest of what you hear is wrong.

If you paint without priming first, woe befalls you:

  • You’ll throw away good money after bad by repeating this step too many times. Primer is made to seal an overly-absorbant ground (like drywall) so that you don’t waste paint on it.
  • Your paint job will be compromised long before you’re ready to paint again. You don’t want to spend all that time taping and painting, and now you have to do it again a few years later because the paint is peeling.
  • Forget about covering stains. They’ll show up again. Especially if anyone in your household has an affinity for Sharpies or spaghetti sauce.

Priming first guarantees you the best coverage and the ideal ground to accept paint layers. The paint you apply will adhere well to a primer. It has plenty of texture to adhere to.

That’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Important: If you’re using latex paint, apply a latex primer first. Applying latex over an oil-based primer will cause the paint to peel.

What about paint and primer in one?

Paint and primer in one is fine if you’re painting over a similar paint color. Usually.

Not useful for first-time paint applications. If you’re looking at raw drywall or wood, forget it.

Remember that any porous surface will absorb too much water from the paint and ask yourself if an opacifier will stop this. It won’t. That’s not the function of an opacifier.

Painting and priming serve different purposes and are formulated accordingly.

Takeaways

  1. Prime before you paint.
  2. Use a latex primer under latex paint.
  3. That’s it.

How to get urine smells out of hardwood floors

Ever have a cat that treats the litter box as a suggestion? Or move into a place that smelled fine until it rained for the first time after you moved in?

Bad news — urine not only smells terrible, but it’s full of bacteria and it off-gasses ammonia fumes that can harm your respiratory system.

Good news — you can get rid of it. But how?

First, we need to get into what makes it stink, and why the smell hangs around for so long.

Why is the smell of old pee so hard to get rid of?

So what makes pee smell like pee? None of the liquids you drank smelled like that.

Because urine is a carrier material for part of the body’s waste, it is almost all water with a few gross odds and ends.

What pee is made of, according to Bio Pro:

  • Water. Human urine is an aqueous solution of over 95% water. Cat urine is much more concentrated.
  • Urea. A colorless, odorless, non-toxic compound comprising ammonia and carbon. At least, it’s odorless until it breaks down.
  • Chloride. When you eat food, sodium chloride (salt) is absorbed by your intestines. Excess chloride goes out in urine.
  • Potassium. An electrolyte that aids digestion.
  • Metabolic waste compounds. Creatinine and other byproducts.
  • Uric acid. Okay, this is it — the extremely sticky, stinky component of pee that’s hard to get rid of.

It’s the breakdown of urea and uric acid that makes pee stink. Uric acid contains insoluble salts that bind it to whatever it comes into contact with. The longer it stays there, the more bacteria feed on it, releasing ammonia.

You can mop and mop with your usual floor cleaner, but unless that cleaner contains an acid, it won’t work.

Ammonia is a base, and you must fight it with acid. Most household cleaners and soaps won’t work to get rid of the smell because they don’t contain the acid necessary to break down ammonia and unbind it from the wood.

That’s where the distilled white vinegar and baking soda come in.

Before you spring for expensive enzymatic cleaners, try these dead simple DIY methods first.

3 DIY ways to get rid of old urine smells

Great news! You can do this cheaply with the same safe, natural ingredients you can make your own cleaning products with. Here’s why they work.

Baking soda is an alkali (base) that neutralizes the pH of uric acid. Fresh urine is more acid than base. So for fresh puddles, throw some baking soda on it to neutralize as much uric acid as possible before it starts to break down and bind to the material.

White vinegar’s active ingredient is acetic acid. So, how does it neutralize uric acid? It doesn’t. Uric acid breaks down into ammonia and carbon dioxide.

Baking soda is good for breaking down uric acid and sucking up gross smells, but it won’t kill bacteria feeding on the organic waste products. Vinegar will.

For fabrics, upholstery, and small areas of floor

If your pet has peed in your hamper — or worse, your laundry basket full of clean clothes — don’t worry. Just rinse the affected clothing and then soak in water with baking soda to attack the uric acid right away.

For hardwood floors

Depending on how much of your floor is affected, you may want to make enough solution to mop with. If you’ve ever moved into an apartment where the previous tenant had pets who left every room tainted with aging urine, you know you can’t depend on the landlord to have the floor cleaned properly.

Make your own vinegar and water solution to mop the floor with. Two cups of distilled white vinegar in a bucket of warm water should do the trick. And to combat the smell of vinegar, it’ll help to add the citrus oil of your choice.

If the smell is extra monstrous, or the stains are extensive and have been accumulating for a long time, expect to repeat this step.

As a last resort

You can soak old towels in hydrogen peroxide, lay them on the floors, and leave them there for a few hours. This is a last resort not just because it takes up to eight hours, but because hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleach. It might eat through the finish and lighten the wood.

Vinegar and baking soda work better solo

Vinegar is an acid and sodium bicarbonate is a base. Remember that an acid cancels out a base. If you mix them together, they’ll neutralize each other instead of the uric acid.

Commercials have brainwashed us into thinking that bubbles clean stuff. But bubbles are just pockets of air contained by a fluid membrane. Bubbles do not equal clean. Nor do they mean the solution is breaking down or neutralizing the uric acid.

Takeaways

You don’t necessarily need commercial or enzymatic cleaners to eradicate odors from pet stains on your hardwood floors.

Two cheap, natural ingredients you probably already have — baking soda and distilled white vinegar — might do the trick.

[Dishwasher 101] How to clean it and what you should never put in it

We ran a post about where the bad smells in your kitchen are coming from. But there’s one we left out because it doesn’t come up as often.

If you’ve got a dishwasher, you revel in its convenience. Until it starts emitting a funky odor. How can something that cleans other things get so dirty?

Well, that gross food has to go somewhere. And it collects in your dishwasher drain. Not to mention that it’s the perfect environment for mold to grow.

So let’s talk about how to really clean your dishwasher. And what you shouldn’t be putting in there.

How to get your dishwasher sparkling clean

You’ll need white vinegar and baking soda. Possibly a toothbrush and gloves. Oh, and you’ll need to roll up your sleeves because you’ll be taking out both racks, utensil holder, and filter. Hey, that’s the only way to get to the drain where all the slimy old food residue is.

Clean the removed parts and wipe down the inside

Leave the filter soaking in a 1:1 mix of warm water and vinegar while you do the rest of this. You can spray down the utensil holder and racks.

Now, take a look inside the dishwasher for any crud stuck in the corners, drain, door hinges, and spray holes. Clean gunk out of those with a toothbrush if you have to.

Some commercial cleaning products might damage surfaces on the inside of your dishwasher. But you could use a homemade cleaner made with the same ingredients you’re already using.

Break down food, grease, and soap scum

Put a cup of white vinegar into a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it at the bottom of the dishwasher. Run a cycle with hot water.

Acetic acid from the vinegar breaks down the remaining buildup. It dissolves calcium deposits, too. If you have hard water and see chalky white crust around the holes where water sprays out, consider repeating this step once a month. Water will start spraying at full strength again, which will get your dishes cleaner.

Lemon juice works on mineral deposits, too, if you find yourself short on vinegar.

Blast away stains

After the vinegar cycle is finished, take the bowl out and sprinkle a cup of baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher. Run a short cycle so the baking soda can neutralize any remaining odors (including the vinegar), scrub off any remaining residue, and brighten things up.

Baking soda is abrasive enough to clean, but not enough to scratch the surfaces of your dishwasher.

Now that you know how to clean it let’s talk about how you use it. As in, probably putting things in it that shouldn’t go in a dishwasher.

Things you shouldn’t put in the dishwasher

Wood. Water from the dishwasher should be at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit to clean your dishes. That kind of heat can split wood. And the detergent is too harsh for wooden items.

Anything delicate. Because things knock around in there sometimes and can break fragile dishes easily.

Cast iron. Iron rusts and should be exposed to water as little as possible. One cycle through the dishwasher will strip off the protective seasoning. With course salt and a newspaper, you can clean it without using water at all.

Aluminum, copper, and other soft metals. They’ll tarnish and become dull.

Nonstick cookware, like pans with a Teflon coating. Teflon eventually breaks down and flakes off into your food. You don’t want to eat that. Putting it through the dishwasher with 120-degree water and caustic detergent will only hasten the process.

Many plastics, like acrylic. They’ll eventually become warped by the heat. Especially the lids.

Kitchen knives or anything with sharp edges. Like cheese graters and vegetable peelers. The blades rattle against other items during the cycle and become dull.

Anything hand painted. The force of the water coming out of the jets, along with heat and detergent, will chip the paint right off.

Anything with adhesive. If you have knives or other implements with hollow handles, the water can get hot enough to melt the adhesive holding the two halves together.

Printed measuring cups. The numbers will wear off eventually, and you’ll have to Sharpie them back on.

Anything with a paper label. The paper and adhesive will come off and get trapped in the drain.

How to make homemade dish detergent

You’ll never believe how easy this is. I was stunned and can’t wait to make some.

https://youtu.be/9OivmnM3usk

How tempted are you to try this? Sign up for our email list, so you never miss a post — we’ll have more DIY recipes, tips, and tricks on the way.

15 Ways to use shredded paper

Do you shred stacks of incriminating documents and throw them away wondering if there’s more you could do for the environment?

First of all, you may be wondering why you can’t just toss your shredded paper in a bag with the recycling. Paper is paper, right? Well … sort of. Most recycling centers won’t take it shredded because the small bits clog up the machinery and cause all kinds of bother. Recycling equipment that can handle it is expensive and drives up operating costs.

Then there’s the fact that paper can only be recycled a few times before the fibers are too short to use.

To shred or not to shred …

Before you shred, consider separating the glossy from matte (uncoated) paper. Whether or not coated paper is suitable for some of these uses is so hotly debated I’m still looking for a definitive answer. Almost everyone agrees glossy paper is recyclable as long as it doesn’t have a metallic or polymer coating.

But if you’d rather use it for some nefarious artistic purpose, like making ironic ashtrays, you’ll probably want to keep it intact. There are lots of things you can make with old magazines, for instance. I’ve categorized these uses for shredded paper according to whether you can use the glossy pages.

Stuff you can do with shredded glossy paper

Use it as packing material. Those styrofoam peanuts are bad for the environment. And they cling to every surface while you’re trying to clean them up. Meanwhile, you’re shredding junk mail and throwing it in the trash. So next time you send a package, skip the styrofoam and check your shredder bin.

Make Easter basket grass. Here are instructions that include how to dye the shredded paper if you’re so inclined.

Stuff gift bags with it instead of buying tissue. Will the person you’re giving a gift to expect gilded name brand tissue paper made from African blackwood? Probably not. And if they are, why are you giving them a present?

Throw it in the bottom of your trash can to help absorb liquids and reduce garbage odors.

Line the bottom of your cat’s litter box with it for the same reason. Especially if you’re not using self-clumping litter. Pour the litter on top and your cat will never know the difference.

Pranks! Like the one my sister’s coworkers pulled by filling her office with shredded documents.

Desk covered with shredded paper

What you can use shredded uncoated paper for

Paper mache. The Spruce Crafts has three recipes for paper mache paste and directions for how to use it. Paste will stick to uncoated paper too, but not as well.

Bedding for small pets, like hamsters or rabbits. It keeps them warm and dry just like any other bedding. And a rabbit won’t try to piece your credit card statement back together to snag your number.

Insulating material for outdoor plants. A layer of shredded paper also helps retain moisture and feeds the soil after it breaks down.

Composting. Paper is high in carbon and great for your compost. And apparently worms nosh on it like it’s tempura or something.

Compress with wax into bricks to make firestarters. This self-proclaimed cheap guy, Dave of Dave’s Ohio Barbecue, will demonstrate.

Make three-dimensional art by layering the paper with mod podge or matte medium around objects wrapped in plastic wrap. Mod podge and matte medium are permanent adhesives and require a strong solvent to remove, so make sure not to forget the plastic wrap.

Donate it to the animal shelter. Yeah, it might seem a little weird to show up somewhere with a garbage bag full of long, skinny pieces of paper. But at the shelter, they’ll use it under litter and line cages with it.

Make biodegradable seedling pots with shredded paper, water, and flour. Then you can plant the seedlings, pot and all.

Make your own paper. Here’s a fun term – paper slurry. That’s the blended mixture of paper bits and water that you pour onto a special screen and let dry. This is not only a perfect activity for kids, but homemade paper is way more fun to paint on than most because it’s so heavily textured.

Wrapping it up

Shredded paper is so versatile, you’re really only limited by your imagination. I bet there are enough ideas to write at least one book about it. If you have an active imagination (and we know you do), leave us a comment with an idea I haven’t listed.

7 Natural, effective ways to keep pests out of your garden without chemical pesticides

It’ll be time to start planting soon, and you may be wondering how you’re going to keep aphids, cutworms, and other pests out of your garden. Chemical pesticides are starting to fall out of favor as organic gardeners revive old chemical-free methods that have always worked.

Specifically, there are seven safe and effective alternatives we’ll discuss:

  1. Routine lawn maintenance
  2. Mechanical methods
  3. Companion planting
  4. Crop rotation
  5. “Soft” chemicals
  6. Parasites
  7. Predators

1. Routine lawn maintenance

Keep your grass short. When you let your grass get tall and raggedy, it becomes the preferred habitat of ticks and fleas. They like moist, cool places and tall grass keeps them covered in shadow. So channel your inner Hank Hill and keep that lawn well manicured.

Weed regularly. Weeds provide too much comfortable shade for pests and act as a bridge to help them spread from one plant to another. Plus, savagely yanking them out of the ground is a great way to blow off steam if you’re feeling some stress.

Keep your yard free of debris, like grass clippings and leaves. Not only do they provide shade, they also trap moisture, which can cause fungal infestations. Some people like to leave the clippings on their lawn to return the nutrients and moisture to the soil. If you want to do this, be sure to mulch them so they break down quickly and easily. Alternatively, you can put the clippings in your compost.

Surround your plant beds with mulch to create a migration barrier. Fleas and ticks aren’t that ambitious. Crossing such a terrain makes them visible and vulnerable to predators and they won’t do it if they don’t have to.

2. Mechanical methods

Barriers and traps can protect your plants and ensnare pests using no chemicals at all. You can make sticky boards, bury coffee cans, etc. to capture bugs.

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is also a mechanical means. It’s a fine white dust made from fossilized fragments of diatoms. The particles have sharp edges that cut through the exoskeletons of insects and causes them to dehydrate. A word of caution about DE – it will also kill beneficial insects.

3. Companion planting

Some of the plants that smell fantastic to us smell absolutely terrible to bugs and keep all kinds of pests away. Lavender, marigolds, and rosemary repel the most dangerous insects in the world Including ticks, and mosquitoes.

My grandmother was a serious gardener. She planted marigolds to keep harmful insects out of her vegetables. She also did what is now referred to as diversified planting.

Diversified planting takes companion planting to a level that can actually help you find creative ways to organize your plants. For example, plants from the Allium species (garlic, onions, et al.) repel aphids, slugs, among other things. So I might plant them next to tomatoes and peppers and think of that part of my garden as the Italian section.

4. Crop rotation

Some pests lay eggs in the soil around the plants they like to eat. Rotating your plants can help cut down on parasitic activity by forcing them to travel to find their food and expose themselves to predators.

It also helps to preserve a better balance of nutrients in the soil.

5. “Soft” chemicals

Dish soap diluted in water can be sprayed on the plants to repel insects. Some dish soaps may be too harsh for certain plants, but mild soaps like Castile soap can be used on more sensitive plants.

Certain plants, like rhubarb and stinging nettles, produce oils that repel or kill insects. You can make a spray out of nettles by cutting them up and soaking them in water. You can also use rhubarb leaves.

Baking soda is one of the most useful substances you can have as a DIYer. Not just because you can use it to make your own cleaning products, but because it can also kill bugs.

6. Parasites

Certain fungus species, like mycorrhizal, protect your plants from parasitic fungi. Parasitic insects like Braconid wasps lay their eggs inside larvae and other eggs. When they hatch, the larvae then devour the host from the inside out.

Below ground, tiny unsegmented worms called nematodes feed on eggs and larvae of pests in the soil.

7. Predators

Bugs have a lot of problems. Reptiles, amphibians, birds, spiders, and bigger bugs are always trying to eat them. You can use that to your advantage by taking a few steps to attract these predators.

Birds can eat loads of insects every day. Especially in the spring when they have young to feed. So make your lawn a welcoming environment and they’ll happily snipe those caterpillars and Japanese beetles right off your plants.

Frogs and toads eat many types of pests. They need shade and water, so creating habitats for them is a good way to lure them to your yard.

Predatory insects like ground beetles, lacewings, and damsel bugs can actually eat too many pests. Ironically, to attract beneficial insects to your garden, you first have to have the pests they like to eat. It might seem strange to wonder if you have enough aphids, but not if you’re planning the menu for lady beetles.


Between all of these methods, some of which you can use together, there’s something that should work for everyone who wants to be rid of chemical pesticides. In many cases, taking care of your lawn and taking a few simple steps to leverage nature against your pests is enough.

Got any favorite methods of your own to share? Let us know in the comments.

How to take care of your wooden cooking utensils

Do you cringe when you look at your raggedy wooden spoons? How long has it been since you’ve shown some love to your fuzzy cutting board?

Don’t worry. As long as the wood isn’t cracked, you can still preserve it with simple routine maintenance.

Why use wooden cooking utensils?

Wooden cooking utensils have been with us for millions of years, and we still love them. And why not? They’re easy to use, clean, and maintain. They stir, toss, beat, mix, and scrape. Without snapping in half like some plastic utensils or scratching nonstick coatings like metal ones.

Some wonder if wooden utensils are sanitary to use with food because wood is porous. If you’ve wondered the same, you’ll be happy to know trees have cells that bacteria and mold won’t grow on. They’re naturally resistant.

And even though your salad bowls are just wood now instead of a living tree, they still have the same cellular properties that prevent bacteria and mold growth.

So, stir with bravado. (But not too much bravado because it’s hard to get marinara stains out of paint.)

What not to do to your wooden utensils

The first thing you need to know about how to take care of your wooden kitchen utensils and dishes is that heat and water are the natural nemeses of wood. Wood absorbs water and expands. Heat makes both expand. A cycle of expanding and contracting weakens almost any material.

Never put wood in the dishwasher. The water temperature is too high, and detergent is too caustic for wood. The long cycle of hot water and harsh detergent can really mess it up over time.

The right way to care for wooden utensils

Always wash wooden tools by hand with warm water and mild dish soap. If they’re fuzzy, roughened, or stained, you can sand them with fine-grit sandpaper. 

So what kind of soap should you use? Well, since this whole blog is for all you DIYers, I have found links to some well-researched recipes.

These articles have all the information you need about the ingredients and how they interact.

How to treat wooden utensils after washing

You don’t want to let the wood get too dry. About once a month, treat the wood with oil. Or wood butter (AKA spoon butter) – a mixture of beeswax and oil. But what kind of oil should you use, considering you’ll also be putting it in your mouth?

Some people swear that you need to use food-grade mineral oil because it’s safe and plant-based oils go rancid. Others say it’s not really good to ingest petroleum byproducts and that there’s a plant-based alternative in extra virgin coconut oil because it has a long shelf life.

So, pick your poison:

And don’t forget your wooden cutting boards, bowls, knife handles, etc.

How do you get bad odors out of wood?

Some foods leave pungent smells in the wood that transfer to other foods. And there’s a reason produce companies don’t genetically engineer strawberries that smell like garlic.

If you’re cutting garlic or onions for a dish that also uses tomatoes, cut the tomatoes last. Set the cutting board aside to soak up the tomato juice for 20-30 minutes. The acid cuts the oils and odors and lets them rinse away. 

If you’re not cutting tomatoes, you can use a wedge of fresh lemon or other citrus fruit.

Stains come from many foods like dark fruits and marinara sauce. Those should fade over time. But if you don’t want to wait, there are a few easy ways to remove them.

Wooden kitchen utensils are inexpensive, beautiful, and sturdy enough for heavy-handed cooks. Caring for them properly is ridiculously easy and can keep them in great shape for decades.

Are you in love with your oak cutting board or teak chopsticks? Show them how much they mean to you.

3 Easy, effective ways to remove old paint and varnish from repurposed wood

Every self-respecting DIYer has an idea or two for something they’d like to do with old doors. Maybe you’ve even started clandestinely collecting them in that spot behind the garage you’re hoping no one will discover. 

Whether you want to build a corner shelf or a giant door made of doors, you might need to strip old paint or varnish off the wood first.

Materials you’ll need:

  • A mask
  • Gloves, if you’re using a chemical stripper
  • Sandpaper or a sanding block
  • Steel wool
  • Coffee can (to put scrapings in)
  • Paint scrapers of various sizes and shapes
  • Small scraping tools for tight areas and detailing
  • Cheap brushes
  • Shallow glass or metal container (for chemical strippers)

Before you sand, heat, or scrape anything …

Check to make sure the paint you’re about to remove does not contain lead. You don’t need a mass spectrometer to do that, either. You can buy tests for home use.

If there’s lead in the paint you need to strip, you should avoid sanding it. Breathing in the dust can cause serious health problems, especially for children and pregnant women. If you really can’t avoid sanding off lead paint, at least protect yourself by wearing the appropriate mask and taking sensible precautions.

Should you strip wood indoors or outdoors?

If you’re lucky enough to have a garage, workshop, or other dedicated indoor area to work on projects like this, be careful about sanding or using chemicals in an enclosed space. Make sure you have the proper ventilation to do this safely.

Cleaning up after yourself, ironically enough, can be just as messy as making a mess in the first place. Only not as much fun. So it’s worth taking a little extra time to prepare your work area for easier clean-up. Like putting a dropcloth on the floor.

Three methods of removing paint and varnish

1. Sanding

If you intend to paint the wood for whatever project you’re using it for or have concerns about using heat or chemicals, sanding might be the way to go.

Paint needs two things to adhere – a roughened surface and an absorbent ground to draw the binder and pigments closer to that surface as the water evaporates. That means you don’t need to worry about removing every speck of the old finish. You just need to rough it up.

If there’s still a layer of either on the wood, you should prime it first to give the paint an absorbent surface.

In some cases, you can use a sander. But for the areas you can’t use a sander on, use sandpaper with a coarse grit to start. Then follow up with a finer grit or steel wool. Smaller files – even nail files – can help you get into the crevices.

2. Using a heat gun

If you’ve got something with a lot of layers of paint on it, heat can soften thick paint in fast, making it easy to scrape off. This method requires a greater degree of attention because if you point a heat gun at the wrong thing or for too long, you can start a fire.

Also, be aware that heating chemicals can cause harmful vapors, and you may want to use a mask for this, too.

If you’re afraid of burning your house down or don’t want to risk exposure to vaporized chemicals, consider using a chemical paste or gel. Like this lady in the video below.

3. Using a chemical stripper

Clean-up: Wiping off the crud

If the project you’re working on has fine detailing or hard-to-reach spaces, you’ll have to work a little harder to get the schmutz out. That’s what the small tools are for. Dental scrapers, small files, even old silverware can do that job.

But the best thing I can think of for that job is a set of scratchboard tools. Many artists use them to make drawings by scraping away India ink that has been applied over a white clay ground. There are tiny scrapers of different shapes, wire brushes designed to make fine lines, brushes made from stiff fiberglass bristles, and more.

When you get down to the wood’s surface, there might be cracks, holes, or gouges. How you deal with this depends on what kind of surface qualities and textures you’re looking for. The distressed look has been in for a while now and is still going strong. But if you’d like to smooth out the surface, you can use wood filler.

Use a dry nylon brush to sweep the crud off the surface. A natural bristle brush will work, too, but a softer brush will do a better job.

Got any tips you’d like to share with the rest of your fellow DIYers? Favorite tools and materials for stripping wood? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.