Miss Cellania
Miss Cellania

Let's Make Some Fall Decorations!

Miss Cellania
Miss Cellania

Several people have asked me why I haven't made a post about my garden yet this year. I've already written about growing tomatoes, experimenting with pumpkins, canning beans, pickling cucumbers, and making salsa. What's left? Well, corn, but I have never had much luck with corn. Still, I wrote a post about the many products we get from corn, but my personal patch failed spectacularly this year, even more than other years. However, many long-time readers know how I love to use things that are already laying around, so this year I decided to make that miserable corn patch good for something.

As October drew near, I got the urge to put up fall decorations. That patch of corn might not have given us more than one meal this year, but the stalks might make a good corn shock display! So, armed with a pair of clippers and a camera, my youngest daughter and I went out to do the deed. We'd never done this before, but there's a first time for everything.

The best corn shocks, or fodder shocks, if you are using them for animal feed, consist of healthy corn stalks harvested right after the last ears are picked. We did not do that, and now that it's October, neither you nor I have a choice in harvesting earlier. We used what we had. I considered the idea of pulling the stalks up by the roots and then chopping the roots off (in order to make tilling easier), but the stalks were so dry and weak that any kind of pulling would tear them up. Instead, we settled on cutting them near the ground.

We separated the stalks in piles according to height. There was just enough for a tall shock and a medium shock. The short stalks looked good only for the compost pile.

The next step is to line up the cut ends so that they are fairly even with each other. Otherwise, you'll have trouble keeping them upright.

The best twine to tie the shocks with would be baling twine, as it is coarse enough not to slip. Getting some meant driving across town, so I instead used some neutral rope we had lying around. You must tie the stalks tight enough to keep them from slipping out, but if the rope is too tight, dry stalks will fall apart. I was expecting either or both to happen.

Well, they stood up okay. We carefully moved both the tall and the medium shocks to the front of the house.

There are several ways to display a corn shock. You can run a pole into the ground to support it. With dry ground, it's a bit easier to stick a tomato cage in the ground and arrange the shock over it. My husband wanted to tie the shocks to the porch columns. I resisted the idea, since they were very different sizes. You see who won that decision. The bottom of the shock should still reach the ground, unless you are going to arrange more decorations around the bottom, which we did.

Last year, we had four straw bales to display our pumpkins on. Only two remain this year; I don't know why. They provide a foundation for the pumpkins and corn shocks in front of the porch steps. This year's pumpkins are store-bought, as my pumpkin patch failed even more miserably than the corn. A few potted flowers found a new home in the fall display.

The cats liked it, too. Within the next week, I'll put up the town's largest Halloween light display, possibly visible from the ISS. But those only look good at night. The corn shocks and uncut pumpkins can stay up until the Christmas lights go up (around Thanksgiving) or when they fall apart, whichever comes first.

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How to Spot Poison Ivy, According to a Scientist
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If you're a former scout, you've probably heard the rhyme “leaves of three, let it be.” This mnemonic device, used to steer intrepid outdoorspeople away from poisonous ivy and oak, is generally sound advice for ensuring you don’t come home with a nasty rash. Not all three-leaved plants are the enemy, though, and several harmless plants are often confused with poison ivy.

Microbiologist John Jelesko shared some tips with NPR for identifying this pernicious plant. First, it helps to know what you’re up against. Poison ivy is a master of disguise and can take many different shapes and sizes. It can appear in small patches, take the form of creeping vines or a bush, and can even mimic the appearance of a tree it has wrapped itself around. The leaves can have either “smooth, jagged, or lobed edges” and may or may not bear white or greenish berries.

If the plant has thorns, you can be sure it’s not poison ivy, whose mode of attack is a little more stealthy. In the city, Jelesko had found that climbing vines are the more common form; look out for ground-creeping vines in forested areas. While there are exceptions to this rule, Jelesko’s research found that poison ivy tends to take different forms depending on the landscape.

A longer middle stem and a hairy vine are also signs that you could be dealing with poison ivy. If you have a plant in your garden that you can’t identify, you can conduct a “black dot test” to see if it’s poison ivy. Put on a pair of gloves, tear a leaf in half, and place the sap on a sheet of white paper. If it’s urushiol oil (the rash-causing chemical in poison ivy), it will turn black within 30 minutes.

Sometimes, even our best efforts to identify poison ivy may fail. If you think you may have brushed up against it, don’t panic—take a shower within a few hours of contact. That should keep your chance of developing a rash at a minimum.

[h/t NPR]

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DIY Tips for Preventing 5 Household Bugs from Infesting Your Home
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Most American homes—whether they're houses, apartments, or something in between—have bugs. A 2016 study estimated that there are more than 100 species of creepy crawlers in the average house. Pest Web suggests the global insect pest control market will hit $17.3 billion by 2022.

Bed bugs, cockroaches, termites, ants, and mosquitoes are some of the most prevalent intruders—and they can damage your health, your building’s structure, and your wallet. Fortunately, there are DIY ways to prevent these household pests from getting in the door. Grab your sponge and sealant: This is a long war.

1. BED BUGS

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Though they’re not known to transmit disease from one person to another, bed bugs—which pierce exposed skin to suck blood, causing itchy, red welts—are still bad news. They can sneak into your home via used furniture, luggage, or, if you live in an apartment, from your neighbor's place. And infestations are on the rise.

“Everyone is really concerned with bed bugs because they’ve made a real resurgence in the U.S. in the last 20 years,” Dr. Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist at the National Pest Management Association, tells Mental Floss. In 2015, 99.6 percent of exterminators treated bed bugs during the year. That number was just 25 percent in 2000.

With all pests—but especially with bed bugs—the best treatment is prevention. A little time and money up front can save a huge headache later on, because professional bed bug treatment can run from $1000 to $10,000. Bed bugs aren't microscopic (and they leave behind markers like reddish stains or dark spots) so a periodic inspection of your home, especially your bedroom, is key. Apartment renters with nearby neighbors should be extra vigilant.

When you return from vacation, wash and dry all your clothes, towels, and bags from the trip. Drying on high heat for 30 minutes will kill all live stages of bugs that may have hitchhiked home with you. (If any garment can’t be washed or dried in a dryer, experts suggest storing the items in bags for a few months and, if possible, storing in direct sunlight or in a freezer, which can dramatically decrease the storage time needed.)

And don’t let the “bed” in bed bugs fool you—they don’t always need fabric to make themselves at home. Bed bugs can also hide behind loose wallpaper, wall hangings, the corners where ceiling meets wall, and electrical outlet covers. Follow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rule of thumb: If a crack can hold a credit card, it could hide a bed bug. Do a sealant sweep of the house to keep unwanted visitors at bay.

If prevention fails, it’s time to call in the big gun exterminators. They have specially designed equipment that will heat up your house enough to kill bed bugs and eggs.

2. COCKROACHES

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Cockroaches come in two main sizes: big and small. American cockroaches (which are actually native to Africa) are one of the heavyweights. This large breed typically lives outside, and there are things you can do to keep it that way. For example, don’t store trash or wood close to the exterior of your house, and if you’re bringing firewood inside, tap it on the ground before crossing the threshold to shake off any hangers-on.

German cockroaches—which migrated to the United States long ago—fall into the small set. They can stealthily slip into your abode with everyday movement, like in a package fresh from the delivery truck. Once they’re inside, their population grows rapidly. Of all the pest roaches, German cockroaches have more eggs, more successful hatchings, and the shortest time from hatching until sexual maturity, which speeds up their reproductive cycle. In just a year, it's possible to go from one egg-laden female German cockroach to 10,000.

To keep these pests at bay, maintain a neat interior and don’t forget to clean regularly behind the stove and fridge. Watch for grease buildup in sneaky spots like the hood over your stove, and clean the bathroom drain. Though you may prefer not to think about it, hair can be a food source if it collects gunk.

If you live in an apartment, there’s another consideration. Heavy rain can cause the sewer line to fill up with water, and cockroaches of any size living inside will rise to the top of the sewer and move to someplace dry. Sometimes when this happens—particularly in large cities—they’ll start moving into buildings through the pipes.

In your home, look for pipes that attach the sink to the wall. If you see a gap, close it with a surface sealer like Poxy Paste. You can also get a small mesh screen to put in the drain so cockroaches can’t get through.

3. TERMITES

Termites eating rotten wood
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Termites, which are hardwired to seek out wood for food, can often go undetected for years, by which point (depending on the size and age of the colony) they've already done a lot of damage. So don’t give them a reason to get close: Keep logs, wood piles, and mulch away from your exterior walls. Be on the lookout for raised tubular trails around the base of your house’s foundation, which indicate that a termite network has already arrived; shredded cardboard boxes in the garage or basement are also telltale signs of termite infestation.

Though physical termite barriers—plastic or metal guards that prevent termites from burrowing into the house's foundation, which can last up to 50 years—are often installed when a house is built, a chemical barrier can also be installed along the foundation of any existing structure for extra protection. They'll last five to 10 years before the pest control company needs to upgrade.

Since termite damage can have devastating consequences on buildings, think seriously about professional help if you fear an infestation. “Let’s say you have a support beam in the center of your house that’s been damaged—you need to have that repaired,” Dr. Angela Tucker, a Tennessee-based Terminix entomologist and manager of technical services, tells Mental Floss. “At some point you’re going to have an issue with the foundation of your house. It’s the same thing with floors and walls.”

4. ANTS

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Ants can appear in and around your home even if you're not prone to picnicking. Once inside, they can contaminate food, and carpenter ants can cause structural damage by nesting in soft or weakened wood.

If you’re eating outside, always clean up so you’re not attracting ants to the building. Keep them outside where they belong by filling cracks and crevices with weatherproof sealant.

Inside your home, store food in airtight containers. Original packaging isn’t necessarily bug-proof, and ants are savvy at finding those food sources. And rinsing cans and plastic food containers before disposing of them can go a long way toward repelling ants. “You’re doing a good thing, you’re recycling your soda cans,” Orkin entomologist Chelle Hartzer tells Mental Floss. “But the last few drops of soda in there can build up in the bottom of your bin and be attractive to cockroaches, ants, and other pests.”

5. MOSQUITOES

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Contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes don't just bite at night—they can be active outside day or night. Beyond the exasperatingly itchy bites they cause, mosquitoes can carry a slew of serious diseases, including the West Nile virus and the Zika virus—which might explain why, in 2016, mosquito control services were among the fastest-growing pest segments.

When a virus-carrying mosquito is looking for a watery place to breed, “it doesn’t even need to be as big as a saucer,” Tucker says. “They need as little as a bottle cap with water to get the eggs in it.”

To keep mosquitoes out, confirm that all of your window and door screens are intact—look for rips or worn-out rubber seals and replace them if needed. If you keep plants right outside the door, check the saucer underneath for stagnant water. In fact, make sure there are no areas of standing water—birdbaths, patio décor, or children's toys in the yard—near your home.

According to Mosquito Squad pest control group, if mosquitoes do infiltrate the house, place a small bowl of water in the corner and add a camphor tablet. The odor will drive mosquitoes away.

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