Sunday, 30 April 2017


10 Easy-to-Grow Plants for First-Time Gardeners
By Mark Mancini,
Mental Floss, 27 April 2017.

Gardening is more than a hobby. The act of cultivating veggies for your dinner table and flowers for your lawn has numerous health benefits. Research has indicated that regular gardeners are less likely to suffer from heart attacks or come down with Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, spending time with your backyard crops is an excellent way to relieve stress. Now that spring has sprung, why not get your hands dirty? If you’re new to the game, here are 10 tough plants that you won’t need a green thumb to take care of.

1. Pansies

Image credit: ErjaHoo/Pixabay

These hardy flowers are tough to kill - in most areas of the United States, pansies are resilient enough to survive winter temperatures. More than 300 varieties of pansies exist, including several that have been specifically bred for really hot or really cold environments.

The ideal time to plant pansies is when the soil temperature is around 50 to 60 degrees (August for the northern parts of the country to October in the southern), but you can also set yours out in the early spring. Fully-grown plants can be purchased at most gardening stores and deposited directly into the ground. If you plan on growing some from seeds, deposit each one in moist soil spaced 7 to 12 inches apart. In colder states, pansies do best in direct sunlight, but if you live in a warm state like Georgia or Texas, give the flowers some shade and strategically plant them so that they can spend three to four hours in the shadows per day and see that they get an inch of water each week.

2. Tomatoes

Image credit: THOR/Wikimedia Commons

According to the National Gardening Association, nearly nine out of 10 American household vegetable gardens have at least one tomato plant. Germinating tomato plants need a constant soil temperature of 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and seeds should be planted six to eight weeks before your area’s projected last frost date. Given these requirements, you'll most likely have to start indoors (or buy tomato plants from your local garden center).

First, you’ll need one container for every two seeds. (While it’s possible to raise all of the seeds in the same pot, this makes the young plants harder to remove when the time comes to transplant them.) Plastic or Styrofoam cups work well; make a couple small holes in the bottom of each one for drainage and fill it with a good potting mix. Then, place the seeds about a quarter of an inch beneath the surface. Mist the dirt with water (make it moist, but not soggy) and maintain a constant 70 to 80-degree room temperature, and within 10 days, the little plants will sprout. They'll need plenty of sunlight; if possible, put the plants by a south-facing window or, in windowless homes, use artificial grow lights.

As soon as the plants sprout four leaves apiece, move them into bigger containers; pots with a height of 4 to 6 inches will be perfect. Meanwhile, find a nice, sunny section of your garden outside. One week before the last frost date, till the soil until it’s nice and loose. Then, dig a trench about 6 or 8 inches deep. After the last frost date finally arrives and the dirt has warmed, throw in 3 inches of compost. Cover that with some extra soil and then transplant your seedlings there.

Like pansies, tomatoes come in many varieties which offer fruits of every shape and size. Depending on what kind you're growing, you’ll want to arrange the young plants anywhere from 12 to 48 inches apart. Consult the seed package or a neighborhood gardening store for an exact number. By the way, novice gardeners may want to choose varieties that yield smaller fruits (like cherry tomatoes). If left to their own devices, medium or large fruits may rot prematurely. Preventing this will require tethering your plants to stakes or cages for support. That’s not too difficult, but it is an extra step.

3. Basil

Image credit: Pezibear/Pixabay

Tomatoes and basil make for a great combination in spaghetti sauces, and in your garden, the two plants may help each other grow. According to many amateur and professional gardeners, basil serves as a natural bug repellent that drives off unwanted insects that might otherwise eat the herb - or munch on your tomato fruits; some speculate is that planting the two near each other somehow gives the tomatoes a much better flavor. Garden-raised basil needs plenty of sunlight and should be arranged accordingly. Plant the seeds at least 12 inches apart six weeks before the last frost comes along. Water them lightly whenever the soil feels dry and you’ll have a healthy plant that will keep giving you delicious leaves all summer long. Mangia!

4. Mint

Image credit: Kham Tran/Wikimedia Commons

Another hardy herb, mint is ridiculously easy to grow. In fact, mint does so well outdoors that the biggest challenge associated with it is keeping the plant from taking over your whole garden. But before we get into that, let’s talk logistics. Mint needs damp soil with good drainage, and it tends to do best when kept in an area that receives a moderate amount of shade during the day.

Under favorable conditions, the herb’s specialized stems - known as “runners” - shoot out in all directions. Left unchecked, the runners will devour every inch of available real estate, sometimes conquering entire lawns in the process. For this reason, many people grow their outdoor mints in clay pots from which the roots can’t escape. But if you want to put yours in a multi-species garden, plant it on the inside of a long, tubular container with an open bottom and thick walls. An 18-inch metal stove pipe buried vertically with its uppermost inch poking out above the surface would be perfect. Patio edges and driveways can also be effective root barriers.

5. Sunflowers

Image credit: szjeno09190/Pixabay

Whether you’re hungry for their seeds or just like to look at them, sunflowers are a terrific choice for first-time gardeners. They don’t need much in the way of fertilizing, they can thrive in all but the soggiest soils, and they’re extremely adept at weathering droughts. As the common name implies, these flowers do require direct, unimpeded sunlight. Plant yours out in the open, and be sure to keep them a fair distance away from any other plants you might be cultivating, as a row of tall sunflowers can throw unwanted shade onto neighboring veggies. To get started, wait until the last frost date has passed in the spring and then plant your seeds in 1-inch holes. For best results, space these at least 6 inches apart - or, if you’re dealing with a larger species, up that figure to 24 inches. Water well after planting.

6. Radishes

Image credit: RitaE/Pixabay

An ideal cool-weather crop, radishes develop spicy bulbs during the chillier months of spring and autumn. Arrange the seeds at least an inch apart in half an inch of loose, moist, and well-lit dirt. They'll grow fast: Certain radishes may be ready for harvest just 22 days after planting, although other varieties may need up to 70. Once yours begin sprouting leaves, thin out the rows by plucking every other radish. A new row may be planted in early spring or late summer, depending on when you plan to dig yours up and eat them.

7. Potatoes

Image credit: Jai79/Pixabay

The average American eats roughly 114 pounds of them per year. With spud cultivation, you don’t have to worry about planting seeds. Instead, the objective here is to find a potato tuber that’s grown a few buds that are around one quarter to one third of an inch in length. Cut the potato into chunks, leaving at least one bud on each segment. Before you move on from there, store these wedges indoors at room temperature for 48 to 72 hours.

If you’ve got a lot of space to work with, potatoes can be grown in vast rows across your backyard. (For instructions on how to do that, go here.) But if space is limited, potato plants can be cultivated in bottomless half-bushel baskets. Alternatively, as Janice Stillman of the Old Farmer’s Almanac explains in the above video, a trash can with some holes drilled into the base also make for effective containers. In any event, you’ll need to start out shortly after the last spring frost. Take your barrel or basket and place it in a sunny locale. Fill it with loamy potting soil and bury the chunks 2 to 4 inches beneath the surface. Give them an inch of water every week and they’ll be ready to harvest by midsummer. Home-made French fries, here we come!

8. Spinach

Image credit: kkolosov/Pixabay

Popeye’s favorite food is one of the best cold-weather crops a gardener could ask for. Four to six weeks before the last frost date in your area, you'll need to kick things off by following a process called priming: Soak some seeds in water for 24 hours. Take them out and let them dry off on a paper towel for a day or two, then seal up the seeds in an airtight zip-lock bag and keep them in a cool room for up to one week. When their week-long stint in a cool room is up, sow the seeds in an inch of tilled soil that has a temperature below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You can start harvesting your spinach leaves whenever they reach the desired size.

9. Marigolds

Image credit: Dori/Wikimedia Commons

As far as flower-growing is concerned, growing marigolds definitely fall into the idiot-proof category. Wait to plant their seeds until after the spring frosts have come to an end. Just about any bedding type will suit them, although moist, well-drained soils are preferable. Marigold enthusiasts usually get their seeds by purchasing them in packets, which come with specific instructions about spacing and other topics. Cover the seeds with a small amount of dirt, don’t let the soil get too dry, and uproot some of the seedlings as needed. In exchange for this minimal effort, you’ll get vibrant flowers that will stick around until football season.

10. Zucchinis

Image credit: auntmasako/Pixabay

Not only are zucchinis super easy to grow, they’re also amazingly prolific. Within a few short weeks, your garden will be churning out enough to feed a small army. To get going, dig a row of inch-deep holes in the earth at some point between early spring and midsummer (although in practice, one or two plants will probably be enough). The depressions should be spaced about 3 feet apart, with each crater housing two or three seeds. Make sure the dirt is warm and keep it moist at all times (regular mulching will help you with that). Six to eight weeks later, you can start harvesting. And because new zucchinis sprout to replace the squashes that’ve been plucked, you’ll soon have quite a yield on your hands. Within a single season, a solitary plant can generate 10 pounds’ worth of zucchinis.

Top image: Pansies. Credit: bernswaelz/Pixabay.

[Source: Mental Floss. Edited. Images added.]


9 farms that will broaden your definition of farming
By Josh Lew,
Mother Nature Network, 26 April 2017.

Agriculture is arguably the most important industry in human history. Entire societies have been established around the ability to grow (and export) a single crop. With the Earth’s rapidly increasing population, growing crops and raising livestock for food is as important as ever.

We usually associate farming with fields of grains or pastures filled with grazing livestock, but not all farms are built that way. These unusual operations raise animals or crops indoors, under water or in damp underground spaces. Actually, some of the most lucrative and specialized farms rear animals that are considered pests almost everywhere in the world.

Here are several unusual examples that could change your definition of farming.

1. Leech farms

Photo: Triin Erg/Wikimedia Commons

Leech therapy, more scientifically known as hirudotherapy, has been practiced for ages. Evidence suggests that doctors in ancient Egypt used leeches to treat certain ailments. Though the idea of curing illnesses by general bloodletting has been abandoned, the practice of applying leeches is still surprisingly common. They are mainly used to treat a variety of vein-related problems (by draining internal bleeding until veins have time to heal). In some schools of medicine, leeches are applied to relieve the symptoms of chronic illnesses like arthritis.

Special medicinal leeches are used in hirudotherapy. Though doctors bought wild-caught leeches from professional leech collectors in the past, the blood suckers are now grown and kept in laboratory-like settings until they are needed. Keeping the invertebrates in sterile conditions is important for leech growers, but the creatures themselves are quite hardy. When kept in cold (40 degrees) temperatures, leeches will need to feed only once every few years.

2. Pearl farms

Photo: Ratha Grimes/Flickr

Though oysters are highly prized as a seafood, the gemstones that they produce are even more valuable. In past eras, divers had to collect wild oysters and pry them open, hoping to find natural pearls inside. Pearl hunting was lucrative, but also very dangerous and tedious. Divers would often have to collect a huge number of oysters before finding a pearl. The industry now relies mainly on cultured pearls.

Pearl farms, both saltwater and freshwater, operate in natural bodies of water. The oysters are kept on strings or in baskets. Before they are placed, a trained technician performs an operation that grafts part of the oyster's mantle onto a section known as the “pearl pocket.” For saltwater pearls, a “bead” of mother of pearl is also implanted. One of the biggest expenses of pearl farming is hiring someone with the skill to perform this “surgery” successfully on each oyster. Freshwater pearls generally grow faster and the oysters can have more than one graft at a time. More-valuable saltwater pearls take several years to form, making them a more profitable, but riskier, investment.

3. Silk farming

Photo: Tim DeJager/Flickr

Sericulture, the practice of raising silkworms, has been around for several thousand years. It began in China more than three millennia ago and eventually spread through Asia and into Europe. Always highly prized, silk is still a pricey textile today. Sericulture, therefore, remains a profitable endeavor, even for small-scale farmers who raise the larvae and spin the threads as a kind of cottage industry.

One silk moth lays about 500 eggs during its brief adult life. After hatching, the larvae are fattened with mulberry leaves. Eventually they spin cocoons on twigs provided by the farmer. When they are completed, these cocoons are soaked in hot water to loosen the threads, which can reach nearly 500-1,000 yards (from a single cocoon) when unraveled. This raw material is then spun together with others to make finished silk thread. Silk is still valued today despite the manufacturing of other synthetic and semi-synthetic textiles. It is true that there are many successful smaller operations in China and India, where most silk is produced, but people harboring dreams of sericulture success should realize that the process of refining the silk is very labor intensive.

4. Moose milking

Photo: Kent Wang/Flickr

Though they mainly live in the wild, some moose have been domesticated. Farms in Russia raise the animals, not for their meat, but for their milk. Moose milk contains more butterfat than cow milk. At the same time, however, it has more beneficial nutrients, including high concentrations of zinc, selenium, iron and powerful enzymes that traditional medicine practitioners believe can heal some gastrointestinal problems.

The milk moose are only semi-domesticated. At one farm in Kostroma, Russia, they are free to graze in the surrounding forests for most of the year. They only lactate for a short period during the summer when their young are born. During this time, the moose are milked twice per day, and the daily yield averages a half-gallon. Though they are free to roam, the large mammals are tame enough to come when called (which is often done over a loudspeaker).

5. Mushroom farms


The idea of growing mushrooms itself is not that strange. Edible fungi are a staple ingredient in cuisines around the globe. Though perhaps not as widely used in the U.S. as in other parts of the world, mushrooms are relatively common in American cooking. The unusual aspect of mushrooms - especially some gourmet varieties - is the way they are grown.

Today, the practice of placing mushroom spawn inside of logs or bales of hay is not as common as it once was. However, some species, especially the highly valued shitakke mushroom, are still often grown this way, especially on organic farms. Commercial fungi culture often takes place in climate- and humidity-controlled rooms where the mushrooms are grown in trays under ideal conditions. The substrates used can include straw, corncobs, coffee grounds or ground nut shells.

6. Dung coffee plantations


Some of the world’s most expensive coffee is harvested from elephant dung. Yes, this sounds strange, but it's not unheard of. Civet cats have been used to “process” coffee beans in Indonesia. The resulting “luwak” coffee was very popular a decade ago. However, allegations of force-feeding and theories that connected civets to the SARS outbreak slowed this fad. Black Ivory Coffee, in Thailand’s rural Surin Province, uses the same internal processing idea with elephants.

The elephants are not fed coffee beans directly. They eat a more-natural mixture of bananas, rice and coffee fruit. The beans go through a fermentation process in the pachyderms’ stomachs, and they are separated from the pulp that surrounds them. The elephants do not digest the beans. They are passed out with the dung. Well-paid workers have to pick out the beans, which are washed and roasted before being used to brew coffee. The fermentation process supposedly helps the coffee’s flavor and the small amount of production increases demand and, therefore, price.

7. Seaweed farming

Photo: Janne Hellsten/Flickr

Seaweed has become a valuable commodity. Farming it has long been a lucrative undertaking in places like Japan, China and Indonesia. However, the use of species like kelp in other products, such as cosmetics and medication, and growing interest in seaweed as a healthy food have led to a farming boom. In places where pollution, climate change and overfishing have hurt commercial fishing operations, seaweed cultivation is a welcome alternative that allows people to keep making their living from the ocean.

The underwater plants are relatively easy to grow if the right species is matched with the right conditions. Neither feed or fertilizer is required. Because of this all-natural growth, seaweed can be a supplement to other types of aquaculture, such as shellfish or shrimp farming. Some experts are concerned about the seaweed boom changing conditions in vulnerable coastal ecosystems, but others welcome the trend as a less invasive way of making money from the oceans.

8. Mosquito farms


Mosquitoes are one of the world’s most hated pests. Not only can they ruin otherwise perfectly comfortable summer evenings, they can also transmit deadly diseases. So why would anyone want to establish a mosquito farm? Through a series of trials, scientists have discovered that releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into certain areas significantly lowers the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

For example, one such project involves injecting a special bacteria into captive-bred male mosquitoes. The males are then released and pass the bacteria on to the females that they mate with. The bacteria inhibits the spread of the Zika virus and also sterilizes the females so that they cannot reproduce. In addition to Zika, this strategy could be used to target diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

9. Butterfly farms

Photo: Gryffindor/Wikimedia Commons

Butterflies are bred in captivity for a variety of different purposes. Some butterfly farmers sell their insects to people who want to release them as part of a wedding celebration. Others are sold to zoos, museums or “butterfly gardens.” In some regions, this is a booming industry, with farmers having to buy insects from other farms or import them to keep up with demand.

Farming butterflies is not as simple as housing cocoons. The caterpillars must be kept in ideal conditions. Furthermore, when they are transformed into butterflies, they will need a suitable habitat with “host plants” that will keep them healthy and growing until sale. Butterfly farming also involves growing and caring for these plants as well as for the insects.

Top image: Edible seaweed farming on the small island of Nusa Lembongan, southeast of Bali, in Indonesia. Credit: Jean-Marie Hullot/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Some images added.]

Saturday, 29 April 2017


Technology is dominating the car world at a rapid pace. We now see almost all the major automakers presenting their futuristic vehicles, fully equipped with ultra-high-tech features. And we are likely to see more new car technologies by 2020, as this infographic by Recondition Engines shows.

[Source: Recondition Engines.]


10 Unbelievable Hidden Homes
By Michelle Nati,
Oddee, 17 April 2017.

You may not know they're there, but check out ten amazing secret houses that are worthy of discovery...

1. A hidden triangular home built into the earth in Austin, Texas


Austin's Edgeland House is a unique, triangular home designed by Bercy Chen Studio that is built into the earth and covered with a thick layer of sod. It is highly efficient, and can stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer from the added thermal mass and insulation - and you certainly can't see it from the street!

The architects excavated 7 feet of soil from the site, and they installed a lush green roof. The home also features a “smart pool,” which provides additional thermal mass that ties into the geothermal heating and cooling system.

2. A cabin hidden in the remote mountainside of Norway that can hold 21 people


Norwegian architecture firm Snohetta created this completely remote cabin, built out of natural elements like rocks and grass. It is not only secluded, but it practically disappears into the landscape.

It's bigger than it looks in the photos - the 376-square-foot cabin can actually hold 21 people, so the architects claim. There's an eye-catching fireplace for guests to gather around, and the beds along the walls double as seats. There's even room near the entrance for cooking and storage.


You'll need some stamina to get there - it's on the Ã…krafjorden mountainside, so you can only go by foot or by horse, but once you do, you'll love the breathtaking views just the same.

3. A home built atop a 19th-century Victorian prison vault


This home, actually dubbed “Hidden House” by the architects, is located in London's Clerkenwell neighborhood and sits atop a former 19th-century Victorian prison vault.

The 775 square-foot residence, built by Coffey Architects for Selim Bayer, was specifically designed to not draw attention to itself while maximizing space and light. It is also is simplistically designed - storage is integrated into the walls, bespoke oak furniture matches the oak paneling, and floor-to-ceiling windows open up to a shared garden and a private patio.


"This special place is hidden, part building, part garden, mostly sky. It's difficult to find but well worth the effort," said architect Phil Coffey.

4. A Texas barn houses a luxury hideaway


From outside, the only thing extraordinary about this Texas barn is its enormous size. Inside, however, the 6,600 square foot, two-story structure is an extravagant country man's lair with wood-paneled walls and floors, leather furnishings, and glowing chandeliers.


The structure was custom-built by Morton Buildings. The company repurposes barns like this one into bowling alleys, indoor swimming pools, or swank showrooms. The builders also cater to the wealthy with spacious workshops and eccentric “hobby buildings” that will put any craft room to shame.

5. A British couple's home is built in the walls of the town it inhabits


Berwick residents Jim Perry and Susie Seui call their flat "the hole in the wall," because it is, quite literally, a hole in the wall. It is one of the few private properties set into the town walls of Northumberland, U.K.

The one-bedroom home is reached by a cave-like passage, which has no name and is located next to a similar passage called Sallyport, both of which are cut into the stone wall of the town.


Berwick's original city walls were built in the 14th century to provide fortifications during frequent battles between English and Scottish soldiers. A new set of walls was constructed in the 16th century resulting in the destruction of the earlier medieval stonework, and they have been adapted differently over the years. Today, they are home to a variety of businesses, including restaurants and guest houses, and are protected as a Grade I-listed buildings.

The couple put their hidden home on the market in July 2016 for £65,000.

6. The luxury villas that sit atop a Chinese mall


These quaint luxury villas sit on the roof of a Chinese shopping mall.

The houses feature bright blue roofs, pastel yellow walls, wraparound verandas and are divided by white picket fences, while trees and bushes grow in their courtyards and along the pathways between them.

Authorities say developers did not have the proper licenses to build on the mall roof and have banned them from either knocking the villas down or selling them. They now sit in limbo and are used as homes for the migrant workers who helped build them.

7. A restoration reveals a settlement cabin hidden inside a larger home


A home renovation project in Ocean Springs, Mississippi has revealed some interesting findings - namely a home within a home.

Developer Karen Bryant purchased the 19th-century house which was listed as a Victorian property but told a very different story when it was gutted - a little cabin was hidden inside the larger home.

Bryant researched the property and discovered the original structure dates back to the 1850s, and the walls in part of the house were covered in whiteboards, which she says "were commonly used in frontier cabins, settlement cabins. They are cypress. They are white washed for the interior, because it was thought it was a cleanliness issue."

The residence was once home to the mayor of Ocean Springs, Frederick Weed, who was in office from 1899 until 1910. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

8. The cozy cabin built on a Manhattan rooftop


This rustic rooftop cabin is owned by David Puchkoff and Eileen Stukane in Manhattan's West Village. From the street, the building looks like any other, however, from the vantage of a helicopter, you can see a full porch, complete with a dining table, and a beautiful yard.

Per a 2006 article in The New York Times, the little cabin is "a glorified bulkhead over a hole punched in the ceiling of the family's loft to make way for a nautical stairway that rises to a landing with a galley-like kitchenette, with two paned windows and a door that opens to the roof. Now, the couple doesn't have to leave the city to hear the slam of a screen door, or watch a flock of mourning doves pecking for insects and seeds across the meadow."

9. A large underground home hides behind an unassuming office door on a quiet British street


It may look like nothing more a tiny office from the street, but behind this unassuming door is an architecturally ambitious, underground home.


The "Hidden House" in Knightsbridge spans over 2,100 square feet and hides three bedrooms. LTS Architects designed the residence so that passers-by can see none of its fascinating features. The stunning, but secret, abode took 16 months to complete, at the cost of £1.9 million.

10. The secluded residence built into a Utah canyon wall


How cool is this? A home has been carved into a canyon in Montezuma, Utah!

This unique and secret abode is entirely self-sustaining and features solar panels, a 12,000-gallon freshwater retention system, a multi-acre vegetable garden, orchard, and vineyard with ripe fruits, veggies, and wines for every season.

The hidden hideaway, appropriately nicknamed Cliff Haven, was sold at auction in February 2017.

Top image: Edgeland House. Credit: Bercy Chen Studio.

[Source: Oddee. Edited. Top image added.]

Friday, 28 April 2017


Lemons are plentiful, but these little yellow fruits are often underused. In the following infographic by On Stride Financial, you'll see how you can get the most out of this citrus fruit!

Infographic Sources:
How to remove limescale
2. Getting Rid of Ants
3. How To Make an All-Purpose Kitchen Cleaner Using Citrus Peels
4. How To Clean Wooden Cutting Board with Lemon and Salt
5. How to Clean Copper Naturally With Just Lemon & Salt
6. How to Remove Rust & Rust Stains
7. Natural Weed Killer
8. How to Whiten Laundry Without Chlorine Bleach
9. Cat Repellent Recipes You Can Make Yourself
10. How to Keep Avocados Fresh For Days
11. Spoilage Science
12. 5 Ways To Get Rid Of Bad Refrigerator Odors
13. Soup Too Salty? 5 Tips for Fixing It & Making Sure It Doesn’t Happen Again
14. 15 Foods You Should Freeze in an Ice Cube Tray
15. About The Buzz: Use Lemons Instead Of Salt?
16. How To Clean Your Microwave Naturally with Just a Lemon
17. 11 Beauty Uses for Lemons
18. 21 Things You Can Do With Lemons and Lemon Juice (That Don’t Involve Food)
19. Garlic breath? Eat an apple or drink lemon juice
20. Natural Wart Removal
21. Relieving A Cough
22. How-To: Make A Lemon Juice Foot Soak
23. How to Make Your Own Shoe Polish
24. How To Make Invisible Ink With Lemon Juice
25. Forget Kindling: Start Fires With Orange Peels
26. The Things You Can Do with Lemon Peels and Juice

Top image credit: Comfreak/Pixabay.

[Source: On Stride Financial.]