Winterizing Your Pool

How to prep your pool for winter

Cannonball! It’s time to make your last big splash as we head into the fall season! Is your pool ready for the colder months? Get it protected from damage caused by freezing temperatures and weather. Don’t live in an area that typically freezes? Best to play it safe and still take the proper precaution. If done correctly, winterizing your pool can save you time and effort when it comes to having it prepped for next summer’s BBQ and pool parties.

First thing’s first! Before closing your pool, be sure to brush and vacuum all the debris.  An Aquamate Leaf Skimmer can be used to easily pick up any leaves or bugs that are floating in the water.  Attach your garden hose to PoolMaster Pool and Spa Vacuum and lower it into the water to let the vacuum work its magic to clean the bottom of your pool.  Keep in mind that the water won’t be cleaned or sanitized in the off-season so get that water nice and clean! Don’t forget to remove any pool accessories that shouldn’t be left in the pool like toys, slides, vacuums, and heaters.

If you live in an area where freezing temperatures are common, make sure that the water level is at least 4 to 6 inches below the skimmer or tile line.  This prevents the skimmer from being easily damaged by any freezing water.  Freezing water expands and causes damage to the pool, plumbing, and filter system.  In freezing areas, add an antifreeze after draining the pool water a couple of inches.  Antifreeze prevents pipes from bursting or being damaged.  In areas that don’t experience frigid winters, you have two options when it comes to water level.  You can fill the pool with water to the point of overflowing, or drain the water to the level of the mouth of the skimmer and place a cover over the skimmer’s mouth.  Completely drained pools can crack from the pressure of the cold and will require costly repairs.

Balancing the water chemistry is the next step of the process.  It is very important to balance the pool’s pH, calcium hardness, and total alkalinity.  Having the right chemical balance helps prevent calcium deposits from staining the pool’s surface.  The pool should have a pH level between 7.2 and 7.6.  If it is higher, be sure to use a pH decreaser or a pH increaser if the level is lower.  AquaChek Pool & Spa Test Strips are quick and easy for pH testing as they give accurate results within 15 seconds.

Next, make sure the water hardness is adjusted to the proper level of calcium already in the water.  For all pool types, a calcium level between 175 and 225 parts-per-minute is ideal.  To decrease the calcium level, you can drain some of the current water and refill it with water containing a lower calcium level.  Add a calcium hardener to increase the level of calcium.  The next step is to adjust the alkalinity- the dissolved particles in pools with water that have a pH higher than 7.0.  If the total alkalinity is not balanced, the water may be murky next spring.  To keep the water looking clear and blue, use a winterizing chemical.  This prevents algae from forming.  This chemical will be effective even into the spring.

Plan to clean the pool as well as its filtration system. For sand filters, refer to the manufacturer’s directions for backwashing the filter correctly.  The directions should involve closing the filter’s valves, adding a filter cleaner, backwashing the filter an hour after adding the cleaner, removing the drain plug, draining the filter, and finally, closing the valve.  For cartridge filters, refer to the manual to see when it is time for you to replace your filter.  Some cartridge filters can be cleaned multiple times before needing to be replaced.  After removing the filter, spray it with water and soak it in a filter cleaner.

After cleaning the filter, turn off the filter pump and drain the equipment as directed by the manufacturer.  Don’t forget to drain water from any additional pumps, filters, or heaters.  If you use a chemical feeder, drain and completely empty it.  Any leftover chemicals can wear down the equipment.

The final step in winterizing your pool is covering it up.  Not only does a cover protect the pool, but it also helps keep your family safe from accidents.  The water in the pool will help support the cover.  The type of cover depends on your pool, but a good, solid cover will protect against any extreme weather- rain, snow, and ice.  You may want to use air pillows under the cover.  The air pillows create a tent with the cover which helps debris slide off instead of clumping together on the top of the cover.

These winterizing steps will help your pool stay clean and protected during the months as you dream of sunshine and warmer weather! Take care of your pool and it will take care of you.

Big R Guide to Canning

Yes, We Can! (A Guide to Canning)

Big R Guide to Canning

Why Canning?

There are many great reasons to take up canning and preserving your own food. Do you want to be able to keep eating tasty fruits and vegetables from your harvest throughout the year? Then canning is a good way to do just that. Do you want to enjoy high quality food that you know is free from harmful additives? Well, canning your own harvest means you’re in control of what you put in each jar. Do you want to save a little money? Canning is like meal prepping – it can save you money and time on future meals. In fact, you could call canning the original meal prep.

The science behind canning is quite simple. You add the food mix to a jar and seal the lid. Submerge the jar in a boiling water bath and wait. The process removes excess air, which is the reason that food spoils. The escaping air creates a vacuum tight seal that keeps your food fresh, flavorful and ready to enjoy any time over the next 12 months!

The process of canning can be intimidating, but with a few tools and a little patience, you can be a canning pro in no time.

How to Can in a Pressure Cooker

When it comes to creating the boiling water bath, there are two options. For highly acidic foods, like fruit jams, salsas, or pickles, you can create the water bath in a dutch oven or high walled pot. For foods with lower acidity levels, like vegetables, poultry, or meats, you’ll want to use a pressure cooker, which can heat up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit to kill foodborne bacteria. If you’re mixing high and low acid foods, be safe and employ the trusty pressure cooker.

To begin, gather the necessary tools: tongs, a wide-mouth funnel, a jar lifter,  measuring cups, and jars with 2 piece screw on lids. Don’t have these items laying around your home? You can pick up a 4 piece starter set  or 6 piece canning set, and these limited edition Ball jars at your local Big R store.

Now that we have all our tools, it’s time to assemble these cans!

  1. Choose a delicious recipe – Find something tasty on Big R’s Pinterest page or from a canning recipe book. Canning is the perfect way to save this season’s foods, so make sure to use only the freshest produce you can find – even better if they come from your own backyard!
  2. Heat the jars – Place the jars in hot (not boiling) water until ready for use. Fill a large stockpot halfway with water, making sure to fill the jars with the hot water to prevent floating, and bring to a simmer. You’ll want to keep the jars hot until you’re ready to fill them or they’ll break when filled with hot food. You can leave the lids and bands at room temperature. TIP: To simplify this process, you can also use your dishwasher to wash and heat jars.
  3. 2 step filling – First, fill the pressure canner with 2 to 3 inches of water and place over the stove to simmer. Keep the water at a simmer until you add the filled jars to the pressure cooker. To fill the hot jars with your prepared food mix, use a jar lifter to remove them from the hot water bath, and use a jar funnel to slide the mix in. If needed, remove air bubbles with the bubble remover and headspace tool.
  4. Clean the rim and threads – Use a cloth to remove any food residue that may have made its way onto the rim. Next, seal the jars and add water to the pressure cooker, which should still have 2 to 3 inches of simmering water at the bottom.
  5. Start cooking – Lock the pressure cooker’s lid, but keep the vent pipe open. Once steam is steadily escaping from the vent, allow it to vent for 10 minutes to release remaining air. Now, close the vent. Adjust the heat and pounds of pressure to the amount specified on your chosen recipe.
  6. Cooking complete – When cooking is done, you’ll need to cool the pressure cooker down by removing it from the heat. Once the cooker naturally returns to zero, wait 10 minutes before removing the weight and unlocking the lid. Wait another 10 minutes before removing the jars from the pressure cooker. Set the jars on the counter and let them be for 12 to 24 hours.
  7. Check the lid – First, remove the bands from around the jar. If you cannot lift the lid with your fingertips, then the jar is successfully sealed. Store your jars in a cool, dry and dark place for up to a year. Should your lid come off with the fingertip test, not all is lost! Instead of leaving your food in your pantry, move it to the fridge.

That’s it! You are just a few easy steps away from preserving your harvest bounty and enjoying those flavors for months to come.

Bonus Recipe

Here’s one of our favorite recipes for beef stew to jumpstart your canning inspiration! Rich beef chunks are in perfect harmony with tender potatoes, carrots, and celery. This recipe is courtesy of the canning superstars at Ball:

Ball's Beef Stew Canning Recipe | Big R

Ball’s Beef Stew Canning Recipe | Big R

Ingredients:

  • 2 to 2-1/2 lb beef stew meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1-1/2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 6 cups cubed and peeled potatoes (about 6 medium)
  • 4 cups sliced carrots (about 8 small)
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped onion (about 2 small)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Water
  • 3 (32 oz) quart jars or 7 (16 oz) pint glass jars with lids and bands

Directions:

  1. Prep the pressure canner – Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil.  Wash lids in warm soapy water and set bands aside.
  2. Brown the meat – Add the meat to oil in a large saucepot. Add vegetables and seasonings to browned meat. Cover with boiling water. Bring stew to a boil. Remove from heat.
  3. Fill the jars – Ladle hot stew into hot jars leaving 1 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
  4. Time to cook– Process the filled jars in a pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure for 1 hour and 15 minutes for pints and 1 hour and 30 minutes for quarts, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

To test your new canning skills, follow Big R on Pinterest for more delicious recipes!

5 Ways to Keep Your Chickens Healthy in the Winter

chickens-healthy-winter-1

As the chill of winter continues, we all stay prepared to stay warm and brace the cold with furnaces, stoves, blankets, and more. The winter months can be brutal and being prepared is essential!

Remember to do the same for any animals you live with too, especially your chickens! As the temperatures continue to drop and the winds become colder and drier, it’s important to keep your chickens comfortable during these freezing months.

Here are a few tips on keeping your feathered friends happy and healthy this season:

1. Make The Coop Cozy

Humans love coziness in their own homes — your chickens aren’t any different! Make sure to fix anything that could make your chickens unhappy in their coops. Repair leaks and cracks, make sure to get rid of any pests lurking in the coops, and ensure the temperature isn’t too hot or cold. If windows don’t manage to close completely, that’s perfectly fine. Too much heat kept in the coop will encourage mold to grow, and will make your chickens sick with respiratory diseases. The coop doesn’t have to be airtight!

2. Bring A Heat Lamp to the Coop

Some chicken owners swear by this method to keep chickens happy and toasty throughout the winter months. The heat and warmth encourage relaxation to prevent stressed out chickens. The heat lamp will really help your chickens enjoy the winter and not be bothered by the snow and wind!

3. Add Karo Syrup or Sugar to Water

Karo Syrup or sugar, when added to the chickens’ water, helps create perky and excitable chickens during the never-ending winter. For chicks, the ratio should be one part sugar and two parts water. For waterfowl, one part sugar and three parts water. Chickens and smaller birds also like their water to be a bit warmer during cold weather as well.

4. Make a Deep Litter for Warmth

This method will naturally help keep your chickens warm without exerting too much extra energy. Throughout spring, summer, and fall you’re essentially letting your chicken manure decompose and warm up with the nutrients on the floor. The litter should be made out of sawdust, pine shavings, dry leaves, hay, and other shavings. These microbes are actually beneficial for your chickens — think of them as probiotics.

5. Use Metal Containers

During the winter, rats and other invaders will try to come in and take away space and warmth from your chickens. They are more likely to come if the food is more readily available to them. Keep your chicken feed and water in metal containers so they have a more difficult time getting in.

Big R also has some great heat lamps you can buy for your chickens to keep them warm this winter. Visit the store today!