There’s A[n Unwelcome] Party In My Plants

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have a dilemma in that I looked up the tiny flies that are strolling around my plant soil. I found that they are called fungus flies and live on the decaying soil matter. I’ve sprayed the soil with Home Defense both bug spray and soapy water (nope), put a dish of apple cider vinegar with a drop of dish washing liquid in it to bait them (nope), and most recently, put coarse sand on top of the soil so the “babies that hatch” can’t crawl up and out and die (yech). Needless to say, they are no longer visible on that plant but the fliers have moved on to my other plants. I will never buy that type of soil again (with small wood chips or something) because I’ve never seen this before.

Is there any other way to rid myself of these without buying enough sand to put on all of my plants? They don’t damage the plants (I’m told), but I can’t stand bugs.

Signed,
There’s a Party in My Plants and They Won’t Go Home

Heather says

Fungus gnats, fruit flies, and drain flies are all pretty annoying, but mostly harmless pests. I say mostly because they are aggravating as all get out.

ThanksbutnothanksCider traps don’t work for fungus gnats like they do for fruit flies because fungus gnats don’t eat rotting plant material, they eat what grows on the material. Fungus gnats smell cider and say, “Sorry, I’m just not that into you.” Okay, maybe not literally, but close enough for our purposes.

The solution for getting rid of the fungus gnats has three parts; the most important being perseverance. Due to the life cycle of the flies, it’s going to take weeks to get rid of the little  buggers (ha ha) once and for all.

How to get rid of fungus flies naturally

Dry out the fungus the gnats feed on.

First, you’ll need to ensure that the top two inches of soil are as dry as your plants can tolerate.  Those two inches will need to stay dry for as long as they will tolerate. If possible, practice what is called bottom watering.

To start bottom watering, you’ll need to set the plant’s pot in a container of water. Ensure that the water level in the container does not rise above the top two inches of soil. Let your plant hang out in the container until you begin to feel moisture along the wall of the container in the top two inches.  You’ll want to avoid setting the wet pot on a surface that can be damaged by water until the container itself is dry.

Allowing the top two inches of the soil to dry will reduce the amount of food supply the larva have available.

Capture the breeding adults.

Gnat StixUnlike immature humans, fungus flies can’t breed until they are fully grown. This handy evolutionary trait allows you to implement step two – hopefully before the procreation happens.

Find sticky traps like these Gnat Stix. You should be able to find them in the garden section of most big box stores or your local nursery. You may want to give them a call first to make sure, though. You’ll want to place at least one sticky trap in each of your plant’s container. Replace the traps when the stickiness wears out or you can’t stand looking at the little carcasses any longer.

Keep at it.

Here’s where the perseverance part comes into play. You’ll need to keep using both of these techniques for a few weeks after the fungus gnats first appear to be gone.

Why?

The next batch of eggs and larva are hanging out in the soil and are just waiting for you to water your plant from the top and ring the bell signaling dinner is ready at the fungal buffet.

Another option is to get a medium the gnats don’t want to hang out in and cover the soil in each plant, this is similar to the sand technique you mentioned but with a different material. I haven’t tried this technique so I can’t vouch for the effectiveness.

I hope this helps.  Thank you for writing in.

Check out these other Pest Related Posts

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

 

Fixing Scratches in an Enameled Cast Iron Sink

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Dear Home Ec 101,

I have a fairly new (less than 1 year old) cast iron Kohler sink, it is the shiny black one, the manual recommended using the Kohler cast iron sink cleaner and I have used it regularly and I have used a plastic mat on the bottom of the sink, to try to prevent scratches. Yet I have some minor scratches. Is there any way to safely remove the scratches from my sink without harming the enamel?

Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Again I LOVE your site and by the way I am hooked on Method products!! Love them!!

Signed,
Scratched in Scanlon
Heather says:

Take a deep breath, I have good news for you, dollars to donuts those are not actually scratches in your sink. I highly doubt you were sitting there with a chisel and hammer purpose trying to gouge your sink. That’s pretty much what it takes to mar the finish of a quality enamel finish. What you are actually seeing is called a “pot mark” and it’s just a scuff from the sink taking a tiny bit of metal off of your cookware.

It’s a lot like when somebody just barely grazes your car in a crowded parking lot and leaves a bit of their paint on your car. A bit of buffing is all it takes to get rid of their carelessness and it’s pretty much all that is needed here, too.

Go ahead and use the recommended cleaner, but find a cork, perhaps from last night’s wine-braised pot roast? Apply the cleaner full strength to the scratch on the cast iron sink and then use the cork to gently scrub the marks away and your sink will look good as new!

Pot marks will likely become a source of irritation over the years, but at least you now know that you have not inadvertently scratched your shiny, new sink. It’s going to look good as new for a long, long time.

Good luck and please let me know how it turns out.

Oh and thanks for letting me know about Method, I’ll be sure to pass that along.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Garage Refrigerator / Freezers, Winter, and Your Food

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have a refrigerator in my garage and for the last few weeks I have noticed the freezer isn’t as cold as it should be.
Should I be worried?
More importantly, is the food safe? The vegetables seem a little soft.
Sincerely,
It’s Frickin’ Freezin’ , Mr. Bigglesworth

Heather says

Garage refrigerators can be very useful for food storage, if you have a bunch of kids, they are also useful to keep the kids from running in and out every time they want a drink.

Unfortunately when the temperature drops below 40°F or 4°C the freezer may not maintain the proper temperature.

Why?

Refrigerators are designed for typical household use. The “average” house is expected to be in the general vicinity of 70°F or 21°C or “room temperature.”

Unless you have a high-end refrigerator freezer combo, which is unlikely in a garage refrigerator scenario, the freezer does not have its own thermostat.

The thermostat in the refrigerator portion of the appliance controls the temperature of the entire unit with the logic being, if the refrigerator portion is 40°F the freezer will be at 30°F or below.

In the winter your garage may be much closer to 40°F. Over time the thermostat in the refrigerator tells the motor, hey, we don’t have to run so often. All is well in the refrigerator portion of the appliance, but that freezer is going to slowly approach the temperature of the garage. There is no thermostat back up in the freezer to say, “Hey, we have a problem here, we should be running more often!”

If the garage temperature is only close to 40°F to 30°F for a day or two, it’s really not going to matter. Refrigerators are very well insulated to keep the cold air inside.

The food in your freezer has been beginning to thaw. If it has been over a short period, this won’t matter food safety-wise. If the freezer has time to thaw completely, you’ll need to follow the guidelines in The Freezer Was Left Open, Now What. (Observing whether or not there are ice crystals etc)

Food that is safe is not always good.

Repeated thaws and freezes will destroy the cells walls of the food destroying the integrity and texture of the food. While it may be perfectly okay to eat, I would understand calling it a loss and starting over with the most compromised ingredients, unless you have recipes where the ingredients are cooked to the point that texture is not an issue.

Sometimes life is a series of annoying lessons; I hope that this one wasn’t too expensive.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

Identifying Small Bugs Attracted to Lights

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I noticed tiny, tiny insects on my sheer curtains about 3 weeks ago. Then I noticed one or two on my white tissue box holder. I decided to take the lamp shade off to see better and saw ALL these teeny tiny insects sitting under and even on the CFL bulb. I have kept the lampshades off now so I can see them. I’ve been vacuuming them off since they are so light, but don’t know where they are coming from, and how to stop them. I need to know what they are and why they are here. I have NEVER seen them before, but they move so I know they are bugs. They are about 1/16″ – Please help.

Signed,
Feeling Squeamish
Heather says

Naturally I needed more details about the pests that Squeamish has been seeing and for the record just writing about bugs makes me itchy.

So. Itchy.

I asked:

1. Where do you live?
If I can’t help with the identification, there is a very neat service, usually run through state colleges called the Cooperative Extension System. They can help with all kinds of things from how to can vegetables, to learning what is killing your lawn. The United States is huge and covers a lot of different climates, it makes sense to have experts in each region who can help with specific questions and issues.
2. Do you have house plants?
All kinds of critters, mostly harmless, can come in with plants or the dirt they need to live.
3. Do you have animals in the house?
Animals and their food can each have a cache of critters associated with them.
4. Do you leave the windows or doors open?
Yes, the fresh air is lovely, but you can’t lay out the welcome mat and not expect someone to stop by.
The good news is the fact that the fact that the pest is attracted to light pretty much rules out bedbugs. If you are ever worried about bedbugs, frequent travelers are more at risk, check the seam of your mattress for dark specks. Bedbugs feed, yes on you, and then crawl into the tightest crevice their tiny little bodies can find. They excrete where they hang out and that generally leaves dark spots. If you find the telltale signs of a bedbug infestation call a professional to handle the situation. The pesticides available to the average consumer are not the same as those available to a licensed professional.
After a lot of Googling and scratching, bleh.
I was unable to pin down exactly what kind of bug we’re dealing with, but the size and number make it sound like it could be one of a number of pantry pests. If Squeamish disagrees with my hypothesis, she can contact her local cooperative extension and share the details. They are probably aware of any seasonal pests or localized issues.
It is incredibly easy to bring home contaminated food. At my last house I was dealing with pantry moths and finally traced the problem down to a forgotten package of slivered almonds.
To reduce the headache of pantry pests:
1. Store people and pet food in tightly sealed containers.
Once I got my own pantry moth issue sorted out, I bought two sets of these containers for my dry food items (cereals, sugar, cornmeal, and flour).
Pet food is notorious for bringing pests like moths and beetles into a home. I strongly recommend keeping all dry pet food in a container other than the bag it came in. If you are unwilling to do this, buy the smallest bag that makes sense to reduce the amount of time the potential vector is in your home.
2. Place dry food items like flour in the freezer for 48 – 72 hours to kill any active flour weevils and their eggs.
3. Always inspect the package of dry foods for tears and holes. This makes contamination even easier and increases the likelihood of bringing home new friends.
4. Use pheromone traps and replace them regularly.
Please note that the pheromone traps are not going to solve a moth infestation. They are an indicator that a problem exists. When you spot new moths in the trap, it’s time to clean out the pantry (again) and try to find the forgotten bag of slivered almonds (or whatever the actual cause is in your home). If a contaminated item is found, it should be thrown out immediately and the trash should be taken outside. Most of these moths, weevils, and beetles are very small and can easily escape notice.
Best of luck.
Ugh, my skin is crawling, I’m off to shower again. . .
Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

How Do You Do Everything That Needs to Be Done?

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Hi Heather,

I don’t recall when I subscribed to your site, but I do recall having found your site at a time when all my children would eat for breakfast was pancakes and I knew there had to be a way to freeze them. Lifesaver! Thank you!

But, anyhow, to the point. I know you recently moved. And you work. And you blog. So, how do you find time to do the non-essential things? We’ve lived in our house for 2 and a half years and I still have half-painted trim and the register covers have still not been replaced (from the few rooms that we had painted when we first moved in). How do you do it? I’m a new stay at home mom and had all these awesome plans to get things done around here, yet I find I can’t even handle the laundry anymore. What’s your secret. Please share!!
Signed,
Seriously Slacking
Heather says

Drive comes and goes, at least for me. During the divorce and after my sisters’ deaths, I really had none. I barely could do the things I absolutely had to much less the things that were beyond the bare minimum.
It’s been well over a year now since these events happened and life’s a lot different for me. For the first time in a very long time I am truly happy.  Yes, I still get irritated and annoyed with my kids, especially when I have them for long stretches of time. I’m human and parenting is a tough, but wonderful gig.
That said, to get the things that need done around here, in this hot mess of a fixer-upper, I try to make myself accountable.

What motivates you?

I can’t do X until I do Y and if it’s something very important, but off-putting I tell someone who matters about my goal. I really stink at coming up with internal motivation. Over many years, I’ve learned I can get myself to face the things I don’t want to by placing that motivation and accountability somewhere outside of myself.
My therapist and I have gone back and forth about whether or not it’s the healthiest coping skill.  That said, for me, it works and I have done so many things I never would have had the courage, energy, or motivation to do on my own.
For you, consider getting the tools to do the job, before setting your deadline. This way you remove the excuse of, but I don’t have the right paintbrush, the correct size register, drop cloth… whatever it is that would prevent you from finishing the job you want to start.
Set up a reward for once you’ve accomplished the chore. I can’t have a fancy coffee, adult beverage (eh you may see a pattern with me) or nice dinner out until I’ve done whatever I need to do. It doesn’t have to be food, it can be I won’t start that book from the library until I clean up the house. There are many kinds of little reward motivators you can find for yourself.
When the kids are involved it’s more specific: we won’t go to the park until the kids help pick up the house. We won’t start the movie until the dishes are done. And sometimes? Sometimes I have to be firm and not go to the park or turn on the movie. House didn’t get clean in time to go? Sorry, guys, them’s the breaks.
Rewards and “bribery” only work when used correctly. You can’t give in to yourself or the kids and expect anything to get accomplished.
Yes, sometimes you have to be rigid even with yourself, perhaps especially with yourself. But getting the I don’t wannas done removes the guilt from the fun things.
Over time, the successes build on themselves and a sense of pride in the task itself can develop. To get the ball rolling set the bar low, don’t say I will clean the house and paint the laundry room before I have another cup of coffee… that’ll just lead to frustration.
Today I won’t let myself take a break for lunch until I actually call the contractor about the roof. (I don’t know why I’m dreading this, he already gave me the estimate).
This weekend? I have to paint the dining room and replace the light fixture before getting a Christmas tree. (Wait, I’m rewarding myself with more work, who is in charge here? Oh… me. )
IMG_20141210_085408
If you’re curious, I’m going with the color on the right and whatever light fixture matches. I really want to set my dining room table up so we can all sit comfortably together for meal. I miss that and really, that’s the real reward, the Christmas tree is just a nice bonus.
Tell me, Home-Eccers, what is your motivation for projects you should, but don’t want to do?
Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com