Salsa – Questions and Answers

With the summer gardens finally coming into season bringing an abundance of tomatoes, peppers/chilies, onions, and herbs, salsa making season is here! With it comes lots of questions to AnswerLine regarding how to make it safely. This blog will attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

I made up my own recipe for salsa or got one from a friend. Can you tell me how long to process it? It is important to use a tested or researched based recipe when canning homemade salsa. The reason being, the ratio of low acid vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic) to acid (lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar) has not been tested in a non-research based recipe. Recipes that have been tested will have enough acid to prevent the growth of the botulism bacteria and provide a safe product that everyone can enjoy straight from the canning jar. (Source: Homemade Salsa is a Science, Not an Art, Michigan State University)

Where do I find safe recipes for canning salsa? Creating a safe product that can be processed and stored on a shelf means having the correct proportion of acid to low acid vegetables to prevent the growth of botulism bacteria. The best way to ensure that the salsa is safe is to always follow a tested or researched based recipe. These recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Land Grand University publications or blogs, The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, and So Easy to Preserve.

Can I make my own salsa recipe? Creating your own recipe is a possibility. However, instead of guessing at the processing time, freeze it or make just enough to be eaten fresh. Another alternative is to follow a tested recipe using the exact ingredients and processing time; when ready to use, add the black beans, corn, or any other ingredient that should not be used in a home canned salsa recipe.

Can I add more cilantro to my canned salsa than the recipe includes? Cilantro is best added to fresh salsa. It is not usually included in cooked recipes. Cilantro loses its fresh flavor when cooked and becomes dark and soft in the mixture. As mentioned in creating your own salsa, cilantro could be added at the time of using the canned salsa.

Do I have to use canning salt? Canning salt is recommended and should definitely be used with vegetable and pickle canning. However, in a pinch, one could get by with iodized or table salt with salsa. The product will be safe but one may detect a metallic or bitter flavor which may not be disguised by the spices or herbs used in the salsa. Also, table salt usually has an added anti-caking ingredient which may cause a slight cloudiness.

Can I substitute peppers? One should never increase the total volume of peppers in a recipe. However, substituting one variety of a pepper for another is perfectly fine.

Must I use the suggested spices? Spices are the only safe ingredient you may change in a tested recipe to adjust for flavor.

Does it matter what kind of onion I use? Like peppers, one should not increase the amount of onion specified in a tested recipe. However, red, yellow, or white onions may be substituted for each other.

Is it okay to use any size jar? The size of the jar can also affect the safety of the product. All tested recipes are canned in pint jars and one should not substitute another size and assume it is safe.

For more information on preserving homemade salsa, check out Preserve the Taste of Summer Canning: Salsa.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Juicing Grapes and Other Fruits

America’s favorite juice and jelly grape, the Concord, is ripe now.   We have a single vine that was planted a number of years ago by our daughter who gave it to her dad for Father’s Day.  It took a few years before it matured enough to harvest grapes; now many years later and with the right early-spring pruning and weather conditions, we have a large number of grapes to harvest and enjoy.  When the harvests were small, it was possible for me to turn what we harvested into a batch of grape jam or jelly for family or occasional gift use.  As my kids left and the harvest increased, it was no longer possible to easily use what we were harvesting for jam and jelly and it took too much time to make juice. 

In my quest to conquer the grape harvest, I learned about steam juicers.  After researching them, I purchased a stainless steel unit and haven’t looked back.  Steam juicers have three pots and a lid that stack on top of each other–water reservoir at the bottom, collection pan with funnel opening in the middle, and steam basket on top.  They work by stewing the juice out of the fruit. Water in the bottom pot is brought to a low boil, the steam funnels through the middle collection pan up and through the fruit in the steam basket at the top.  The steam does all the work. As the fruit heats up, the fruit juices are released and run down into the middle collection section of the juicer.  As the collection pan fills, the juice begins to run out of the unit through a silicon tube on the front of the extraction section to a collection vessel placed away from the unit.  The juice is clear, free of pulp, and is ready to drink, can, or freeze after it comes out of the steamer.  So easy!

The steamer saves so much time and effort.  After the grapes are picked, I wash the bunches and as I do so, I pull off any green or unripe grapes, leaves, and other debris that might be attached.  There is no need to stem, remove seeds or skins, or crush.  They are then packed into the basket and placed atop the middle extraction section with slowly boiling water below.  With the lid in place, the steam slowly goes to work.  There is no chance of over steaming the fruit; one just needs to be mindful of keeping sufficient water in the lower pot so that it doesn’t boil dry.  Extraction is complete when the fruit has completely collapsed; it is a good idea to let the collapsed fruit sit for awhile after steaming as juice will continue to be released for a long while after steaming.  If there is need to move on with another batch, the collapsed fruit can be placed in a colander on the counter and allowed to drain while steaming goes on with additional batches.

Directions one might find online suggest that the juice can be drained right into hot sterilized canning jars, capped, and left to cool on the counter.  This is not a good practice if the intention is put the juice on the shelf; doing so would be fine if the juice was to be used immediately or frozen.  To be shelf safe, fruit juices need to be processed in a hot water bath.  (For more information see National Center for Home Food Preservation.)

Since I do not have room in my freezer for all the juice I get, I need to prepare it for the shelf.  Instead of collecting the juice in sterilized jars, I collect all the juice in a large pot or pots.  After all the grapes have been juiced, I reheat the juice to near boiling, fill the sterilized canning jars leaving 1/4-inch head space, cap, and place in a boiling water canner for the appropriate time for my altitude.

Once the jars have cooled and sat for 24 hours undisturbed, the juice is read for future jelly making or as juice to drink.  Sugar can be added prior to or after canning if needed; it’s all a matter of personal preference.  I usually don’t add sugar to our grape juice as we like it as is.  However, my grand kids like it a bit sweeter so they add a little sugar to their individual glasses to suit their taste.  We also like it mixed with apple juice.  After the juice has cooled and set on the counter undisturbed for 24 hours, it is ready to go on my shelf.

The juicer is good for far more than grapes.  Just about any type of fruit works with a steam juicer; cherries, plums, apricots, blueberries, cranberries, apples, pears are just some suggestions.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Food Dehydrators – Why Use One?

I have been a food dehydrator user for many years. Recently I stumbled onto a short workshop on food dehydrators while out shopping. Since it had been years since I’d purchased my food dehydrator, I decided to sit in and learn what was the newest and latest. While dehydrators haven’t changed much over the years in operation, they have changed a little in style and some have a few more “whistles and bells” than my basic dehydrator.

Home food dehydrators are small appliances that are great for drying fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even meats. They are especially handy for those who grow fruits and vegetables and run short of freezer space or don’t wish to can. Dehydrators come in many sizes with varying numbers of shelves or drying trays. They are simple to operate. One places sliced food on the trays, turns on the power, and waits as warm air circulates through the unit to dry the food. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, most dehydrators are designed to dry foods fast at 140ºF.

Horizontal Unit
Vertical Unit

Food dehydrators are of two basic types—vertical or horizontal. Costs vary depending on the size and features that come with the unit. Horizontal units have a heating element and fan located on the side or back of the unit. The heating element and fan of a vertical unit are located below the trays. The major advantage of a horizontal unit over a vertical unit is that there is less chance of mixing flavors if different foods are dried at the same time. Besides showing the latest features in dehydrators, the demonstrator at the store also talked about some advantages of drying foods:

Safe form of food preservation. Because dehydrators remove the water content of foods, there is a very low risk of bacteria and spoilage.

Taste good and are nutrient dense. Vitamins and minerals are not lost. Because dehydrators work at low temperatures, foods dried in a dehydrator are still in their ‘raw’ state. The living nutrients and enzymes unique to the fruits and vegetables are not destroyed or lost to heat or water. Further, you benefit from all the fiber present in the fruit or vegetable.

Reduced waste and extended shelf life. Most dehydrated foods have a shelf life of 2 years. As such, they make 100% natural, healthy snacks. In addition, they are light weight and portable.

Reduce cost. The average drying time for fruit and vegetable chips is about 8 hours at a cost of less than $1. Further, no additional electrical cost for refrigeration, freezing, or canning is incurred after drying.

Require minimal storage space. Dried foods take about 1/6th of their original storage space. Insect proof containers, canning jars, plastic freezer bags, or vacuum seal bags are all that is needed for pantry storage.

Allow for controlled drying. Foods can also be dried in the sun where climates allow or in the oven. Both sun drying and oven drying are not predictable.

Versatile. The kind of foods that can be prepared in a dehydrator is limited only by your imagination—fruit or veggie chips, fruit leathers, jerky, and herbs to name a few. A dehydrator can also be used to proof bread.

Easy to use. The dehydrator itself is easy to use. The foods made in the dehydrator are also easy to use; they can be eaten in their dried state or rehydrated in water and used in soups, stews, and casseroles.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Donuts, an Old Food Made New

Perhaps you’ve noticed that doughnuts or donuts have taken a new prominence in the culinary world. They have become the new party food being proudly displayed for the picking on peg boards at graduation parties, replacing cake at wedding receptions, the new “cupcake” at birthday parties, and the most requested birthday breakfast treat. Further, there is the opening of new generation donut shops across American featuring contemporary takes on the standard donut with creative flavors, fresh-made on the spot varieties, limited editions, and other creations that deny all healthy eating. At many of these shops, people wait in long lines to get their treats at elevated prices.

Recently, I was one of those standing in a long line to try one of these new pleasures. In June, we traveled to California for my son-in-law’s PhD hooding. We kicked off graduation day with a trip to a nearby gourmet donut shop for coffee and their special creations. As we stood in line, the baristas brought samples of the donuts they were making that morning so that when we got to the counter we could quickly order. We each picked a different flavor and after getting our treats, we went to a nearby park to share and eat. Our choices include strawberry buttermilk, maple bacon, huckleberry, cookie dough, and chocolate (spelled choc-a-lot). It was my first donut in many years and each was definitely unique and very good.

Like other contemporary “doughnuteries”, this shop boasts donuts made hourly from scratch in small batches, using only the finest real ingredients, no preservatives, use of seasonal products, infused glazes and hand crushed toppings to insure a fresh and warm treat for each and every customer. They feature daily and monthly specials as well as regular offerings all created from their own recipes. At other shops one might find donut ice cream sandwiches or donut burgers. The creation list of flavors and uses is endless.

While donuts seem to be trendy now, they have always been a popular food. They have been around for hundreds of years and there is no definitive answer to the donut’s origin. There are, however, events in history that give background to the development of the donut as we know it today.

Dutch immigrants brought the tradition of making olykoeks (oil cakes) with them when they came to North American. Olykoeks were yeast-raised dough balls boiled in lard (pork fat) until golden brown. However, often the centers remained undone and gooey. To remedy that uncooked center, cooks began pushing nuts into the center of the dough balls to assure more even cooking; while this was better than just the solid dough ball, it was not the perfect solution. In 1847, Hansen Gregory, an American ship captain, experimented with a different method. He used a punch to make a hole through the center of the dough ball and discovered that a hole eliminated the uncooked center completely. Thus Captain Gregory is given credit for inventing the traditional ring shape that we know as a donut today.

There is also the question, cake or raised, when it comes to donuts.  Apparently, you are either a cake or yeast donut person.  A yeast donut is made from a yeast dough and is often referred to as a raised donut.  It’s puffy and light and typically is glazed, sugared, or frosted.  Cake donuts rely on baking soda or baking powder to raise and are often denser and sweeter.  Cake donuts can come in all kinds of flavors.

Lastly, there is still the question of whether it should be doughnut or donut. Wikipedia attributes the doughnut spelling to British English and the donut spelling to American English. Historians tell us that in 1809, the word “doughnut” appeared in print for the first time in a publication, A History of New York, by Washington Irving. Sometime during the 1900s, the word was shortened to “donut.” Today, either spelling is acceptable.

In whatever way the donut came to be, how we spell it, or if it is cake or raised, one thing is for sure—Americans and people around the world love donuts in many fashions. My favorite is still the standard, raised and glazed donut.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tips for Completing the 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet

The 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet is part of each static project that 4-H members prepare for the fair.  The goal sheet is usually in written form, but may be submitted as a video or a voice recording.  4-H members can use a standard form or create their own.  Regardless of presentation, the three parts (questions) must be answered. The three parts to the exhibit goal sheet include:

  • exhibit goal – first and perhaps the most important,
  • explanation of steps taken to reach the goal,
  • learning experiences acquired while doing the project as stated in the goal.

A previous blog addressed the “What was your exhibit goal?” question.  This blog will be about the remaining two parts (steps and learning) or questions, “What steps did you take to learn or do this?” and “What were the most important things that you learned.”

What steps did you take to learn or do this?

Here is where the 4-H member lays out the path that was taken to get from the goal to the finished project.  It can be communicated step by step or told in story form.  At any rate, it should be thoughtful and thorough so that the reader can follow the procedure and understand what has been done.  Pictures showing the steps or the project in progress are helpful but are NOT REQUIRED.  If the project is a baked product, the recipe must be included and the source identified (cookbook name, magazine, or website).  If the recipe came from a relative or friend, give their name.

What were the most important things that you learned?

Here is where the 4-H member reflects back on their project and shares all that was learned.  The learning might even include something that didn’t go well or that they would do differently another time.  It may be about trial and error or problem solving.  It may include discoveries that were made in the course of completing the project or some research that was done. Here is were the member can also include the identified elements and principles of design if they are required for the project.  Remember, the learning should come from the project goal.

The 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet form is available from the County Extension Offices and online.  However, the forms do not have to be used as long as the three questions are answered.  Regardless of how it is done, the goal sheet should support the project that is exhibited.  The goal sheet should be typed or neatly written by hand so that it looks as professional as possible.  Be sure to proofread.

For more help in answering these two questions, check out this great video.  A thoughtfully prepared 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet is the final step in putting together a great project for exhibit at the fair.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tips for Writing 4-H Exhibit Goals

We are within days of County Fair season in Iowa.  For some families, that means crunch time to get 4-H projects ready for exhibit.  Besides the project, members must also complete a 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet for each of their static projects.  When the goal sheet is hastily written or not well thought out, the goal sheet can become a detriment rather than a support to the project.  The goal sheet is usually in written form, but may be submitted as a video or a voice recording.  4-H members can use a standard form or create their own.  Regardless of presentation, the three parts (questions) must be answered.

The three parts to the exhibit goal sheet include:

  • exhibit goal – first and perhaps the most important,
  • explanation of steps taken to reach the goal,
  • learning experiences acquired while doing the project as stated in the goal.

This blog will be about the goal or the “What was your exhibit goal?” question.  Another blog will address the steps and learning experiences questions.

The goal is the road map helping one plan how to get where they want to go or the “googled” directions for arriving at a destination. As one usually ‘googles” directions before starting to drive, the goal should lead to the finished project.  Therefore, it is important that the goal be known at the start of the project so that the steps and learning experiences result in the project to be evaluated.

So what makes a strong goal?

  • Goals have three parts—ACTION (what one wants to do)—RESULT (what one is going to do)—TIMETABLE (when one plans to do it or have it done).
  • Goals should pass the “control test.”  Does the 4-H member have control over the outcome of the goal or does someone else have that control?
  • Goals should be appropriate for the age and experience level  of the 4-H member.
  • Goals should be S.M.A.R.T.  or SENSIBLE – MEASURABLE – ATTAINABLE – REALISTIC – TIMELY.  Of the five  S. M.A.R.T. parts, MEASURABLE jumps out as the part that allows a 4-H member to evaluate their own project and see growth.  Measurable is also important to the 4-H judge in evaluating the project.

Here’s some examples of goals and their strength.

Action Result Timetable Pass Control Test S.M.A. R. T. Strong Goal
I want to make a poster. None Yes Not Measurable No
I want to learn how to tie 5 knots and display them at the county fair. Yes Yes Yes
I want to earn a blue ribbon on my photo at the fair. No Not Measurable

 

 

No
I want to sew a pillow for my room before my birthday. Yes Yes Yes
I want to make a favorite family treat. None Maybe Not Measurable No
I want to learn how to make strawberry jam when the strawberries are in season. Yes Yes Yes

Learning to set goals is an essential life skill to develop.  Goals should change and become more challenging each year to show growth in a project.  For more information on strong goals for the 4-H Exhibit Sheet, check out a worksheet and a great video on setting goals.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Is Calling 911 with An Old Cell Phone or No Wireless Plan Wise?

Many Americans have a cell phone of some sort for emergency purposes only and if so, largely for the ability to call 911. For some this might be an older hand-me-down or refurbished cell phone which may or may not have GPS or a service plan. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) laws require wireless service providers to connect ALL 911 calls to Public Safety Answering Points regardless of cell phone age or plan.

However, there are some big drawbacks to those who may be relying on older phones without GPS and/or no wireless service plan to get help in an emergency. Depending on how old the phone is, the 911 answering center may not be able to map where that phone is located if the caller is unable to talk. The call may even go to the wrong answering center. And if the phone is without a service plan and should get disconnected, there is no way for anyone to call back to that phone as the device does not have an assigned number.

This exact scenario played out in Boone and Dallas Counties in Iowa in this spring. Fortunately for the caller in this scenario, emergency responders were eventually (3.5 hrs later) able to reach the victim and get the medical help that was needed. As a result of this incidence, emergency responders have issued warnings of this peril.

In that light, perhaps it is time to consider other options if you, a loved one, or an elderly family member is replying on an older phone or a phone without a service plan as a means to contact 911 in a medical emergency. Options to consider may be a minimal cell phone service on an updated device or contracting with a Personal Emergency Response Service (PERS) for a medical monitoring device. There is some assistance for these services and devices for those that qualify.

Phone service assistance. Forty-nine states, the District of Columbia and Puerto offer programs that offer free phones and free service to Americans on government assistance or those who are below certain income thresholds. (Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota are included.) The programs and eligibility vary by state. To find out more about these programs, check out Free Government Cell Phones. The FCC offers the Lifeline program to help low-income individuals and families get discounted landline or cell phone service.  A Place for Mom offers some excellent suggestions on plans and phones for Seniors.

PERS assistance. Medicare, Medicare supplemental insurance (Medigap), and most private health insurance plans for the elderly do not cover assistance for PERS, medical alert devices or any other form of personal safety monitoring for seniors. However, some options that may be available include Medicaid, state assistance programs for the elderly or fixed income residents that do not qualify for Medicaid, and veteran assistance programs.

When there is an emergency, it is important that responders are able to reach the caller expediently; to make sure that can happen, everyone needs to understand the equipment and service they have and how it works.

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Millipede (and Friends) Invasion

Recently the following question came to the AnswerLine inbox: I have little worm-like bugs, both dead and alive, in my basement; they are especially found in the corners and damp areas. How do I get rid of these?

AnswerLine replied: Without a picture, we cannot be certain. However, something that is common and fits your description is a type of millipede. They are found in damp areas around foundations, basements, etc. Here is an Extension publication from the University of Minnesota that has some photos and management instructions: http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/sowbugs-millipedes-centipedes/

Reply: It is Millipedes.  Thanks for the help.

With the unusual wet conditions that the Midwest is experiencing this year, it is quite possible that many will be seeing millipedes and their counterparts (sowbugs, centipedes, pillbugs, roly-polys) in basements and crawl spaces, around foundations, and damp places in the yard this year.

Spirobolid millipedes gathered on a piece of tree bark

Millipedes and company are unusual arthropods or a many-legged relative of insects. Millipedes, usually dark brown in color, have worm-like bodies with two pairs of legs per body segment and a pair of antennae. When they die, they usually coil because coiling is their first means of defense. Dead or alive, they can simply be swept or vacuumed and disposed of outside.

While they do frighten people, they are more of a nuisance than harmful. They do not bite or pose any danger to humans, transmit diseases to plants or animals, or cause damage to the home or food per information provided by Colorado State University Extension. They often move into the home in the spring and fall but unless they find moisture, they will usually die within two days.

These many-legged insect relatives are actually beneficial in the landscape. They feed on aphids and other soft-bodied insect pests and, like worms, recycle decaying organic matter.

If infestation is a problem, the University of Minnesota and Colorado State University Extension publications linked above provide management information.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Keeping Asparagus Fresh

While fresh asparagus from the garden season should be nearing an end, the asparagus in my garden is just getting into full swing; like me, I think it has been looking for warmer temperatures and sunshine which have escaped us for much of spring. At any rate, I recently picked more than we could use so shared some with a couple of friends. Both asked, “how do you keep it fresh?”

The method I use for keeping asparagus garden fresh is to put the spears in a small amount of water in the refrigerator.  I use a wide-mouth pint or quart jar depending upon the size of the spears. I bundle a group of asparagus spears with a rubber band, pop the bundle, cut-ends down, into the jar and add about an inch of water. I place the jar of spears inside a loose fitting plastic bag to minimize moisture loss and prevent odors from getting to the spears before placing in the refrigerator. The spears seem to keep very well for at least two weeks and often longer.

The same procedure works well for purchased asparagus. However, I trim about an inch from the dry ends before placing them in the water. Depending upon the age of the asparagus at the time of purchase, I find that 7 to 10 days is the maximum time purchased asparagus stays fresh.

Another method is to wrap the ends of the spears with a wet paper towel and place in a plastic bag.

You will want to watch your asparagus and use it before it goes bad. Asparagus is no longer fresh when the heads start to droop or get soft. If the heads are simply drooping and are not soft, use immediately. If the heads are soft, the head can be removed and the rest of the stalk used; stalks make great asparagus soup. When the stalks become limp and start to slack, the asparagus is no longer good and should be discarded.

The garden asparagus season will soon be over.  Harvest should be stopped when the stalks are the size of a pencil or less.  Make the season last as long as possible by keeping your spears fresh and usable long after the last cutting is taken.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Keeping Your Clothes Dryer Safe

Most people don’t think about their clothes dryer as being a potentially dangerous appliance in their home.  Unfortunately, dryers are the source of thousands of house fires each year as well as some household mold issues.   With just a little regular cleaning and maintenance, you can protect your family and home from these dangers.

It doesn’t matter if you have an electric or gas clothes dryer.  The problem is lint.  Lint builds up in the lint trap, inside the vent hose and duct work, and inside the vent.  Whenever this happens, there is a reduction in air flow resulting in reduced drying efficiency.  Lint is also responsible for causing humidity levels to increase around vents and duct work which in turn can cause mildew and mold to develop in walls and insulation.   And most importantly, lint is combustible and causes fires.  Failure to clean the dryer is the leading cause of home dryer fires.

Here’s some tips for keeping your dryer, duct work, and vent as lint free as possible.

  • Clean the lint trap after every load or at the very least, at the end of a laundry cycle.  If you use fabric softener sheets, check the screen for clogging as some sheets will emit enough residue that the screen becomes clouded and tacky.  Should the screen be clogged, submerge the lint screen in hot water, soapy water and clean the screen with a bristle brush to get rid of the residue.
  • Invest in a dryer lint brush.  These long-handled flexible brushes are available at most hardware stores and allow one to clean areas that cannot be reached by hand down inside of the dryer, hoses, and ducts.  You may be surprised by the chunks of lint that the brush pulls out.  After removing the lint filter and cleaning with the brush, run the dryer on “air only” after using the dryer brush.  This will bring up any lint that might have been dislodged but didn’t cling to the brush.
  • Unplug and pull the dryer out at least once a year and vacuum any dust and lint that might have accumulated around the dryer, back of the dryer, floor, cabinets, etc.  While the dryer is out, remove the duct hose or duct.  You may need a screwdriver or pliers to remove the connecting clip or steel clamp.  Use the dryer brush inside the dryer opening to remove the lint accumulation.  Do the same with the hose or duct.  If you have a long duct to the outside as I do, you will have to rig a longer handle onto the brush.
  • Replace the duct hose if you have a white or silver vinyl duct hose.  All building codes now require metal or aluminum ducting for clothes dryers.  The ducting may be rigid or flexible.  If flexible aluminum ducting is used, it should be cleaned more often as it tends to collect more lint along the ridges.
  • Lastly, clean the exterior vent.  This is usually done from the outside of the home by lifting the flaps.  Using your hands or a brush, removed as much lint as possible.  Most of the flaps on the exterior vent can be removed to make cleaning easier.  Replace the flaps if they have been removed and make sure that they open properly.

A little dryer cleaning in a timely manner will greatly reduce the risk of fire.  Further, avoid starting the dryer before going to bed and running it while no one is at home.

For more information see the safety alert from the Consumer Products Commission,  https://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/118931/5022.pdf

Additional flyers like the one at the beginning of the blog are public domain publications and available for download from FEMA at https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/clothes_dryers.html

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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