Around your house 5/14/03

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

IN THE GARDENGrowing lettuce under screening materials will slow bolting and extend harvests into hot weather.

Begin fertilizing annuals at regular intervals. Herbs planted in average soils will need no extra fertilizers. Too much may reduce flavor and pungency at harvest.

Mulch blueberries with pine needles or sawdust.

Take houseplants outdoors when nights remain above 50 degrees. Most prefer only direct morning sun.

--Donna Ledbetter, Bollinger County office of University of Missouri Outreach and Extension, (800) 238-2420.

IN THE KITCHEN

Revere rhubarb in its prime

Though rhubarb is generally regarded as a tart fruit, it's technically a leafy vegetable of the buckwheat family. Rhubarb is at its peak from April to June, and usually has cherry red stalks and green leaves. The leaves should never be eaten because they are full of toxic oxalic acid.

Choose rhubarb with moderately thin, crisp stalks that are brightly colored, and with leaves that are unwilted and blemish-free. Fresh rhubarb is highly perishable, so wrap it tightly in a plastic bag to retain moisture, refrigerate, and use within three days.

You can also freeze it for up to a year: Cut it into 1-inch chunks and seal in an airtight bag. Plan on 1 pound of rhubarb to equal 3 cups of raw, sliced rhubarb.

Rhubarb is rarely eaten raw and, because of its intense tartness, it is usually combined with a generous amount of sugar.

To prepare rhubarb, remove leaves and rinse stalks just before using, patting dry. Trim the ends and cut into 1-inch chunks. Remove any tough strings as you would with celery (although they will usually break down during cooking).

Stew or bake with a little water and plenty of sugar.

--AP

AROUND THE HOUSE

Keeping cool

Depending on where you live and the climate there, an air conditioner might be necessary to help you through the warmer months of the year. Operation of an air-conditioning system is a lot like an automobile; efficiency depends largely on the way its maintained and operated. Debris-clogged filters make the system work harder. Disposable filters should be checked every two months (once a month during peak use), and replaced when necessary. Permanent filters should be cleaned according to the manufacturer's instructions. Periodic inspections during the offseason by a qualified heating and air-conditioning contractor can help keep efficiency up, utility bills down and extend the life of the unit. Insulation, weather-stripping, window coverings and shade trees also can be used to help your home beat the heat.

--AP

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