Shop local At your Midtown Mobile hardware store, or order online.


I grew up using non-stick Calphalon cookware. While the non-stick feature was nice, you couldn’t use metal utensils on it. One way or another it eventually got scratched and had to be replaced. There were also heat restrictions on it, so its uses were limited. I remember this one bulky, black pan that always sat in the back of the pan drawer. It didn’t have the sleek look of a new Calphalon pan and the handle and pan were all one piece. I figured it was something that my parents held on to for sentimental reasons, maybe their first frying pan. I may have tried cooking with it once but didn’t know what I was doing and everything stuck to it. It wasn’t until my twenties that I discovered the wonders of cast iron when used properly. Today, whether I’m pan searing a steak, preparing gumbo in a pot, cooking bacon and eggs on a griddle, or frying stir-fry in a wok, I’m using cast iron. I even found a lesser known cast iron piece called an Aebleskiver. It is traditionally used to make a sweet Danish snack that resembles donut holes, but I found that is perfect for cooking oysters. At one time, my kitchen was even decorated with cast iron knick-knacks.  My wife has since vetoed that. After cooking with cast iron for 20 years, I still have every piece I ever bought and they are all used regularly.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.If cared for properly, cast iron is always non-stick, easy to clean, and virtually indestructible. Even improper care won’t destroy cast iron. Cast iron is exactly what it is called, a piece of iron cast into the shape of a pan. Iron rusts. Cast iron cookware must maintain a coat of oil as protection from moisture. Each piece is originally coated with oil and baked in an oven. The oil cooks into the surface of the iron creating a non-stick surface that protects from rust. As long as you maintain the oil coating, the cast iron will always be non-stick and easy to clean. To maintain the oil coating, do not use heavy amounts of soap. Soap breaks up the oil and removes it from the cast iron. I never have the need for soap on my cast iron. Hot water and light elbow grease works fine. Remember, you are not trying to remove all grease from the surface, just food particles. But if you do use soap, make sure you recoat with oil which you should do after each use anyway. Once the cast iron is clean, dry it off immediately as any moisture left on the piece can cause rust. Then apply oil and wipe down with a paper towel. Any oil will do. I use cooking spray because it is easy to apply the right amount. A light coat will usually suffice. The entire surface of the cast iron should have a glossy coat. If any of it has a flat, matte finish, apply more oil. If you do get rust on a piece of cast iron, it can be fixed. Sand the rust off with steel wool or sand paper. You can even use an electric sander if necessary, just be careful not to distort the surface of the pan. Coat the entire piece in oil. Place upside down on the middle rack of an oven and bake at 375 degrees for an hour. The piece will regain its black, glossy finish and will be ready again for use.

If you have never used cast iron, start out with a medium frying pan. Try it out and if you like it as much as I do, move on to multiple sized pans. Then you can get in to the griddles, woks, pizza pans, baking dishes, dutch ovens, and Aebleskivers. If you really want to be an aficionado, you can get into the knick knacks. They have sauce dishes and spoon rests shaped like miniature pans, guitars, or cauldrons. Your grandmother may have made corn shaped cornbread in a cast iron corn stick pan. Those are one of our more popular items. If you are a camper, they make campfire dutch ovens that have a lip on the lid for holding charcoal and long legs that allow for charcoal underneath. They make a small, all in one sportman’s grill that is 100% cast iron. Any cast iron can be put directly on a fire or hot coals. I have even heard of putting cast iron in a fire as a method for cleaning.

Cast iron also makes a great gift for a cook in the family, a beginner heading off to college, or a practicing enthusiast who needs to add to their collection. But it is important to get the right brand. Make sure it is a Lodge cast iron product. Lodge has been making cast iron cookware in Tennessee since 1896. We tried selling an off brand of cast iron at the store and found that the quality of the metal made in other countries was subpar and frail. One skillet arrived at our store, cracked in half. I have never seen a Lodge skillet cracked in half. Visit their website at and take a look at what all they have. Then head to your local hardware store to pick one up.


Well it’s March. We are on the verge of longer days and warmer weather. It’s time to get outside, plant your garden, and enjoy some porch time with your neighbors. We are not the only ones excited. Mosquitoes love this weather too for it marks the beginning of their mating season. But before a female mosquito can lay her eggs, she needs your help. Don’t worry about reaching out to her. She will find you. The carbon dioxide in your breath will lead her to you. Once she finds you, there is no need for you to offer her what she needs. She will take it. She wants your blood.  In return she will leave you with a sting, an itch, and a little red bump to remember her by. Next thing you know, you will find yourself running indoors and wishing the cold weather back. But have no fear. Sparty is here.

Last time I wrote to you about mosquito control in your yard, I told you that the only options available were either short term remedies, or expensive and labor intensive solutions. There are many effective products that you can distribute in your yard to provide relief, but they only last for a few days. You would have to distribute the product 2 or 3 times a week. At that point, the remedy becomes quite expensive. The other option is to buy an electric insect fogger for around $100 and spray your yard with potentially harmful chemicals once a week. The chemicals themselves are not cheap either.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.Two weeks after writing that article, I was introduced to a new product on the market called the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. The consumer testimonials were raving. For the price of $24.95, the product controls one acre of mosquitos for up to 90 days. I had to try it, and if it works, get it in our store. At that time, I had recently moved to a house in Old Dauphin Way. It was winter and about to start warming up, meaning the mosquitoes are coming.  I’m not sure what it is that makes mosquitoes attracted to some people more than others. But whatever it is, I have it. I also love working in the yard. So for years, I’ve dealt with lathering insect spray all over myself. The smell doesn’t bother me but my wife detests it. I decided that I would try the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator at my new residence and get an early start by putting it out in March. For the first time in my entire life of living in midtown, I didn’t have to use insect spray the whole summer.  I immediately bought a large supply to sell at the store and it is now our best-selling mosquito control product.

Each box contains two bottles that resemble sports water bottles. Each bottle contains sucralose, sodium chloride, and yeast. The yeast emits carbon dioxide simulating a living, breathing animal with blood. The sucralose gives the mosquitoes something to eat, and the sodium chloride works with the yeast to upset the mosquito’s stomach to the point of rupture. Spartan does not trap the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes fly off and die after consuming the ingredients so there is no nasty clean-up. To deploy the Eradicator, fill the bottle up with warm water, shake, and hang it on a tree about six feet high around the perimeter of your property in the shade. Be sure to maintain the water level and replace the bottle every 90 days. If you start in March, two bottles per acre should suffice. If you wait until mosquitoes are bad, you will need to double the dosage. That is why I am writing this to you in March. Don’t wait. Start using this product now before the mosquito population has time to establish itself.

This summer will be my first living in Oakleigh. We were shopping our house at the end of last summer and the mosquitos were horrible. I think the abundance of water oaks around our house make for a nice shady habitat for the blood sucking scavengers. The Spartan Mosquito Eradicator will be put to the true test this summer for sure against the Oakleigh mosquito population. My neighbors on either side can expect a gift of two Spartan Mosquitos Eradicators on their doorstep early this March.

GOT (Game of Termites)

I write to you in fear as there is an irrefutable threat to our homes and way of life. The Queen is capable of such destruction that I can only hope heeding my warning will minimize the damage ahead. I am NOT referring to Queen Cersei or Queen Daenerys. My fear is of Queen Isoptera of House Rotting, First of Her Name, Ruler of Formosa, Destroyer of Homes, Breaker of Joists. Her reign is tyrannical and her only objective is to destroy every home in Westeros. Her ancestors have wreaked havoc across the world for millions of years. They have vanished more wood than fire. This Queen does not attack with the fire of three full grown dragons. Her army consists of billions of tiny dragons most of us will never see. They will destroy far more homes than high flying dragons that you can see coming from miles away. By the time you realize they have attacked, the damage will have already been done. The invasion is imminent.

Disclaimer: Readers whom are not familiar with Game of Thrones may not understand some of the references in this article. However they may still enjoy reading for informational purposes. I have put all GOT references in italics so as not to confuse you.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.Termites aren’t quite little dragons. They look like little white ants, some having wings. The way they feast on wood will make you wish your house was ironborn. Studies suggest that termites have been around for somewhere between 47 and 60 million years. They live in colonies much like the people of The Seven Kingdoms. They have kings, queens, workers, and soldiers. The only difference being that in the termite kingdom, all the workers and soldiers are Unsullied or sterile. The royal termites capable of reproduction have wings. They mingle on their nuptial flights, or swarms, and pair up with their mate. This is what we experience every year in the spring when termites are swarming around our lights and coming in our windows. Don’t fear yet. These termites are not going to eat through your wood. Once they find a mate, they burrow into moist soil establishing their new chambers and crowning themselves king and queen. Now it’s time to worry. They begin to mate creating workers whose job is to feed the king and queen. These are the ones you will find in your wood. They do not have wings and their responsibilities include gathering food and maintaining the nest. The workers can later moult into soldiers or even royalty. Termite queens have the longest life span of any insect in the world living up to 50 years. All together, they are arguably the most successful reigning insect group on Earth, occupying six of the seven kingdoms (continents).

How do I know if I am under attack?

This is what makes termites so dangerous. There is no way of knowing you are under attack until after the damage is done. You will never see the worker termites that stay in the wood and near the nest in the ground. The termites that moult into royalty will grow wings and try to leave the nest to find a mate. So if you see termites with wings outside of swarming, it could be the sign of a colony. But if royal termites have moulted, then many workers have previously moulted and have been feeding the nest for some time. Other signs of termite damage are hollow wood or mud tubes.

What do I do if Queen Isoptera (Termites) has attacked?

If the Queen’s army has attacked, you know she is nearby. She must be destroyed. There are three main weapons that have proven useful in defeating the Queen’s army. You can use bait traps that provide poison disguised as food which the workers will take back to the nest. You simply stake these into the ground around the infected area. You can buy liquid chemicals to spray and saturate the ground around an infected area. These chemicals kill by contact. There are aerosol poisons for use inside if the invasion has reached inside your home.

There are a few natural options. Wet cardboard can be used as a trap. Place the wet cardboard near an infected area. When you see the termites starting to eat the cardboard, remove it and burn it. But this will not kill the Queen, only her soldiers which she will quickly replace.

The sun will also kill termites. This is useful if they have gotten into furniture. Simply take the furniture outside and place it in the sun. UV lights may work when sunlight is not an option.

Parasitic nematodes are a great natural option if you can find them. They are worms that find termites as tasty as termites find wood.

How do I prepare for the Queen’s invasion?

Remove all wood from around the outside of your house such as firewood, yard debris, or mulch. If possible, make sure there is no wood that connects the ground to your house such as lattice. Put a barrier of sand around your home. Termites struggle to move through sand. Do anything you can to prevent moisture from building up under your home. This is big problem with midtown houses. Make sure your gutters are draining rain water away from your house. Check under your house for plumbing leaks. Regularly inspect all wood in your home. The sooner you are aware of an invasion, the sooner you can stop it and minimize the damage. The weapons used to defeat the Queen can also be used as a line of defense. Place bait traps around the outside of your home. If a colony is formed around a trap, it won’t last long. Spray chemicals approved for termite control under and around your home at least once a year. Be thorough as termites are good at hiding.

I don’t want to fight. Is there an army for hire?

If you choose to go the route of The Golden Company, there are many options. I’m sure you see pest control commercials all the time. Just realize that you will probably pay double for something you could do yourself.

Is there any way to ensure protection from the Queen?

This is a hard question to answer. You can get a termite bond on your home. A pest control company will inspect your home to determine whether there are any infestations and whether they think your home is a safe bet for them to insure. If you past inspection, they will treat your home once a year and replace any damage in the event of an invasion. The only problem is that many bond holders have had a hard time getting the insuring pest control companies to pay. Be sure you use a pest control company who always pays his debt.


We all know the obvious reasons to shop local. Keep the profits in your community. Support your neighbors. When you shop at a big box store, your money goes to a corporation’s shareholders all over the world. But the general consensus is that prices are higher if you shop local. So when it comes time to check out at a local retail store, you think, “Great! I’m doing my part.” But a part of you would like to walk away with the extra jingle in your pocket. You ask yourself, “Will I really see the extra money I spent come back to me?” Why must it cost more to shop local?

Popular opinion would say that local stores have less buying power. They have to pay more for their products. Thus, they must charge more. While this is true to an extent, the bigger truth is that big box stores came to market with a more sophisticated pricing strategy. Traditionally, stores doubled cost on their products. This allowed breathing room for overhead and profits, and a simple way to know how much is made on each item sold. Big box stores realized that consumers only pay attention to what they spend on big ticket items. They sell those items at low prices while increasing their prices on small ticket items. Consumers ignore the prices of these small ticket items which they buy in greater quantities.

A traditional hardware store would pay $100 for a lawn mower and sell it for $200, while a big box store would sell it for $100 at no profit. The same hardware store would pay 50¢ for a box of screws and sell it for $1, while the big box store would sell the same box for $3. You don’t call the neighbors to brag about the $2 you saved on a small box of screws. Truth be told, you probably didn’t even notice. But if you save $100 on a lawn mower, you may invite the neighbors over to celebrate. You only buy a lawn mower every decade or so, God willing. How many times a year do you need screws or other small hardware? The big box stores easily made up for smaller profits on big ticket items with big profits on small ticket items that you buy every day. The consumer will always remember the $100 they saved on their lawn mower, but may never notice the hundreds of dollars extra they are paying on many small purchases throughout the year.

Small, local retailers obtained a negative price imagine as a result of the big box pricing strategy, and many perished. Some were able to survive with their superior customer service. But as shopping options continued to grow with online shopping, superior customer service was not enough to get customers to pay more. The independent retailers that have survived did so by becoming wise to modern pricing strategies. With the help of national distributors that service independent stores all over the country, they have gained intel similar to that which you would find in a national home office of Lowe’s or Home Depot. These distributors gain buying power by buying in bulk and supplying small stores. They do pricing research to help small stores stay competitive on big ticket items, while making sure they are getting their extra $2 on a box of screws.

The big box stores were very successful in developing a positive price image, but the small stores have conformed. They no longer have inferior pricing and they still have superior customer service. So before you assume you are saving money at a big box store, check prices. Many small stores now have their prices online.

–By: Mick Blankenship

A Comparison of Beer and Paint

While painting your home can be fun, it can also be very tedious. The fun parts include picking out the colors and seeing the finished product. Unfortunately, those activities only make up about 1% of the time spent on the project. The other 99% is spent on the grueling labor of sanding, tedious brush strokes, and constant clean-up. Since no one will pay me to paint my own home, I have to do it in my free time which I prefer to enjoy as much as possible. That’s why it’s important that I always have two additional supplies on hand; music and beer. I’m not talking about drinking and jamming out while up on a ladder painting my second story window frames. I’m also not talking about throwing a keg party where I offer free beer to any friends willing to help me paint. I’m talking about a few beers and good music making the tedious parts of painting feel more like relaxing on the porch on a spring afternoon. But if drinking on the job isn’t your thing, I’ll tell you another way in which beer can help you paint. You should shop them the same.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.

Most of your big name beer companies have a light beer, a regular beer, and a premium beer. What’s the difference? Many would say calories. If you want to stay skinny, stick to light beer. Some would say alcohol content. Lighter beers have less alcohol. If you give up the calories, you give up the alcohol. You may get fewer calories per beer but you have to drink twice as many to get the job done. Others would say taste. Premium beers have more taste than their lighter counter parts. It would be hard to argue that an Imperial Pale Ale has less taste than a Miller High Life… though if you’d like to see someone argue that point, come to the store and ask for Tommy Blankenship. However, the general conclusion is that premium beers are higher in calories, alcohol, and taste. The liquid volume of a light beer fills up the same 12oz can as a premium beer; but with less calories, alcohol, and taste. So what makes up the rest of its contents? The answer is water and the same is true with paint.

Most paint manufacturers offer various grades of paint at different price points; cheap, not so cheap, and expensive. But they don’t want to market their products as cheap, not so cheap, and expensive. So they call them “Good, Better, and Best.” In reality, these products are Bad, Better, and Good. The premium paints are the good paints. Whereas premium beers have the most calories, alcohol, and taste; premium paints have the most pigment, resin, and additives. The pigment provides the color. The resin bonds the pigments to each other and the painted surface. The additives enhance certain properties such as ease of brushing, mold resistance, scuff resistance, drying, and sag resistance. These elements are added to a solvent which acts as a carrier. This solvent is water. Just as the calories, alcohol, and taste of a beer can be diluted with water; so can the pigment, resin, and additives of paint. While beer manufacturers market their watered down beer to those looking to lose weight, paint manufacturers market their watered down paint to those looking to save money. The beer manufacturer hopes the weight conscious beer drinker will not consider the amount of additional beers they have to drink to get the same effect. The paint manufacturer hopes the price conscious painter will not consider how many more gallons of paint it will take to paint the same room.

Unless you prefer polishing off large quantities of beer to sipping a couple delicious pints, you should always go with a premium beer. You may enjoy the surplus of empty beer cans to stack in a pyramid on the hood of your truck. The premium beer sipper can’t do that with just a couple empty bottles. But if you don’t want to work so hard for the same calories, alcohol, and taste; buy premium beer.

The same goes for paint. If you don’t want to paint a room twice and have to buy two gallons of paint for the price of one premium gallon, go with the premium paint. Maybe you are trying to collect paint cans for an art project and you really love long, drawn-out painting projects. If this is you, sure, buy the cheap stuff. But if you don’t want to work so hard for the same color and coverage on your walls, buy premium paint.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.


The hardware store can be a great resource for arts and crafts supplies. Our store is frequently visited around Mardi Gras by the guys who design stages for Mardi Gras balls. We have helped our local celebrity drag queens design props for their performances. But we are not just a resource for these high profile artists. We have a lot of supplies that you can use at home. Supplies you may already know we have include; glue, glue guns, staple guns, wooden and metal rods, tie wire, and paint. However my favorite medium for craft projects is one that may not occur to you in your creative brainstorming; galvanized pipe and fittings.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.Galvanized pipe is normally used to transport water or gas through your home. It is a waterproof, metal pipe that comes in diameters ranging from ¼ inch to 2 inchs. Lengths of pipe can be as long as 21 feet, and we can cut them to any size you want. The ends of each pipe are threaded to allow the fastening of fittings. There are a variety of fittings; elbows, couplings, bushings, flanges, and tees. These allow you to connect pipes of different sizes at different angles.

I have personally created a medieval candelabra lamp and a bicycle trailer. There are many possibilities for designing lamps with galvanized pipe. Go the hardware store and sit in front of all the galvanized pipe and fittings like a kid who just poured a box of Legos on the floor. Start playing around with them and see what you come up with. Once you have your design, place light bulbs sockets in the desired spaces and run lamp wire through the pipe. On the other end, connect a plug and wah lah.The electrical work is not difficult and does not require an electrician. If you need help, your hardware store salesperson will be glad to assist.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.I get around Midtown by bicycle, and I love landscaping. But it is tough to transport garden soil and lawn equipment on a bike. I went shopping for bicycle trailers, but the ones I found on the market could only haul up to 70 pounds. That’s only one and a half bags of potting soil and a lot of trips to the hardware store. I needed to design a bicycle trailer that could haul a few hundred pounds. I had never designed anything like this before but I thought it was worth a shot. Even if I failed, I knew I would have fun trying. I went to the hardware store and started to construct a frame. As I did, the ideas began flowing. I even came up with a shock absorbing system. By the end of the day, I had a new custom bicycle trailer. With a few tweaks over the next week, it was ready for a test ride. It successfully carried over 300 pounds.

You are not limited to lamps and bike trailers. People have made tables, chairs, curtain rods, shelves, towel bars, and even alcohol dispensers. I suggest Googling “galvanized pipe crafts” to get some ideas. The possibilities are endless. Here are just a few of other peoples’ creations.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.
Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.

Getting to Know Blankenships

Have you ever found yourself in need of a specific item to fix an issue around your house? Maybe it’s a specialty bolt, a hand tool, or an AC filter. The next thing you know, you find yourself wandering the aisles of a large hardware warehouse, scanning row after row of items that aren’t your specialty bolt, hand tool, or AC filter. After you finally give up searching on your own, you spend the next ten minutes hunting down an employee, searching aisle by aisle, hoping someone can direct you to your item.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.That frustration and disappointment is a waste of time when you have the convenience and superior customer service that is offered at your neighborhood hardware store, Blankenships’ Universal Supply, Inc. in the Midtown community on Springhill Avenue. If you’ve ever walked into Blankenships, you know the welcome feeling you have as you enter the door. If it’s not Mike or Tommy greeting you at the counter, ready to help, then it may just be the friendly, store cat.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply, Inc. opened in 1949 through the hard work of Thomas Blankenship of Little Rock, Arkansas. In the early 1940s, Thomas worked for Pittsburgh Glass and was transferred from his home in Little Rock to Mobile, Alabama. When the building at 1305 Springhill Avenue became available to rent, Thomas chose to open a hardware store and glass company, leaving his job with Pittsburgh Glass. Thomas later purchased the building at a time when there were seven hardware stores within a two-mile radius. Today, Blankenships’ is the only one of those seven stores that still remains.

Today, Blankenships’ Universal Supply is a retail store providing products that include hardware, household goods, lawn and garden supplies, pet food and supplies, building materials, and more. It is owned by two of Thomas Blankenshps’ sons, Mike and Tommy. Both sons grew up in the hardware store working alongside their father and have continued to work there their entire lives. Ten years ago, Mike’s son, Mick Blankenship, left his career in accounting, joining his dad and uncle at the store.

Since the store’s opening as a hardware and glass company, the inventory has grown steadily to include pet food and supplies, and more recently, building supplies. While their goal at Blankenships is to supply their customers any goods that they desire at competitive prices, they do so with the superior customer service that makes you feel like a friend rather than a customer.

Some of the biggest inspirations that the Blankenship family have are their customers, and they cherish the relationships that they have built over the years with their customers and neighbors. It’s having those relationships that brings them the most joy. Besides loving their role as a part of the historic midtown community, they are also proud to be a part of its history and to add to the character that charms so many. And it’s the character of the store that draws you back. More times than they could suggest, people have told the Blankenship family that a reality show should be filmed in the store. With a vast array of characters who come in on a daily basis, and the store cat that gets chuckles by sneaking up and scaring unsuspecting customers, laughs are a part of daily life. Like Floyd’s barber shop on the Andy Griffth Show, there are many locals who will drop in just to say hi or gossip.

In addition, animal rescue has become an important part of Blankenships as well. Mike’s wife, Valerie, is Save a Stray’s director in charge of rescuing cats. Her son is the treasurer for the New Beginnings Animal Rescue. Some people like to stop in just to visit the cats that are being fostered or are up for adoption.

Blankenships has been making changes to expand their brick and mortar store, but in addition, they are expanding their sales onto the online market. Now, you can shop locally online at The inventory that is available online is much more than they can keep in the Springhill Avenue store.

The next time you have a hardware need, a DYI or fix-it question, or just want to stop in and say hello, take the time to stop into your neighborhood hardware store, Blankenships’ Universal Supply, Inc. and see the expansions they have made, in addition to all the inventory that they are able to offer the Midtown community and its customers.

Now Taking The Field: The Mobile Mosquitoes

I can remember as a teenager when my family first heard that a minor league baseball team was coming to Mobile. We began to discuss what the mascot should be. I said, “It should be something intimidating that Mobile is known for.” It didn’t take long for the brainstorming to start. My mom said, “The Mobile Mosquitoes.” My sister chimed in with a mascot that to her was, and probably still is, the most intimidating creature on Earth, “The Mobile Cockroaches.” I’m sure if the family dog Gretal could have had a say, she would have argued for, “The Mobile Fleas.” Why were all of our suggestions insects? When you think about it though, insects really are the most prevalent terror in our city. As we enter into our hottest and most humid months, the environment becomes so inviting to these prehistoric creatures that we begin to wonder whether we humans actually belong here. Until we are ready to surrender this Earth to the insects, here are some useful tips to keeping their population to a minimum around your home.

If money is not an object and you like the warm fuzzy feeling you get when a uniformed, almost officer-like, man arrives at your home in a truck that looks like it could belong to law enforcement; then you should call a pest control service. He will pull equipment out of his truck that could have belonged to the Ghostbusters. He will size up your yard and home as if he is using his education from years at Arachnid University to determine exactly where he should spray his ectoplasm. In an official manner, he will administer the answer to your fears before tipping his hat, handing you a bill, and wishing you good day. This is a perfectly effective option that only ranks low when it comes to the level of necessity.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.If you prefer stretching your dollar, and are a little skeptical of how Officer Pest Control earned the stars on his uniform, there are options for you at your local do-it-yourself hardware store. Extermination techniques vary slightly from insect to insect, but you can execute any of them yourself. In this article, I will focus on the most prevalent and annoying insects in our area: Mosquitoes, Fleas, Roaches, and Flies.

Mosquitoes are the most difficult to control for a significant length of time. They are attracted to standing water because that is where they breed. Anything that catches and holds water during and after a rain is going to attract mosquitoes. An old pond without running water, the spare tires your hoarding neighbor keeps in their back yard, or a depression in your yard that holds water for days after a rain; these are all guaranteed breeding grounds. Even though you can reduce the amount of standing water in your own yard, you can’t control the standing water in your neighbors’ yards and in nearby marsh lands. Because mosquitoes can travel for miles, it is impossible to keep them out of your yard.

There are effective remedies for short term mosquito deterrent within a given area. These are most popular before a lawn party or barbeque and work well for keeping mosquitoes out of your yard for a day or two. It is a mix of oils that you can buy in granulated, liquid, or aerosol form. Simply spread or spray the product in the area you want clear of mosquitoes a couple hours before your party and you should be good for a day or two.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.As far as long term control, the only effective remedy of which I am aware is to buy a fogger and spray your bushes at least once a week during the day. A fogger is a sprayer that blows mosquito killing chemicals in a mist. Bushes are where mosquitoes lay dormant during the hottest parts of the day. Spraying the bushes during the day will catch them in their sleep and destroy a large part of their population.

Fleas and Roaches
The methods for treating your home for fleas and roaches are similar. The main difference is that fleas are attracted to and live on your pet, whereas roaches like trees and areas concentrated in organic debris. For either insect, the best place to start is your yard. If you kill all the bugs inside your house first, the bugs outside will quickly replace them. Invest in your own Ghostbuster proton pack (aka plastic pump-up sprayer for $11.99) and a bottle of the appropriate chemical. It is important to periodically change the chemical you use as insects can grow a tolerance to the same chemical. Your local hardware store should be able to tell you which chemical is working best for people at the moment. Mix the chemical in the correct proportion with water in your sprayer and administer to your yard. For fleas, focus on the grass. For roaches, focus on flower beds, under and around your house, and any other areas of heavy yard debris such as dead leaves, fallen tree branches, and yard clippings. It will usually take a few applications of the chemical to get the insect population under control. For fleas, adding an insect growth regulator to your chemical mix can speed up the process. While the flea killing chemical kills all living fleas, it can leave eggs and larvae unharmed to hatch weeks or even months later. An insect growth regulator will destroy the eggs and larvae during the initial spray.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.Now that you have cut off the supply of insects coming into your home, it’s time to eliminate the population that is already inside. The chemicals used outside can be used inside, but I don’t recommend it unless the home is vacant. Instead, purchase chemicals that are made for indoor use in spray or aerosol form. If you have a bad infestation, vacate the house for a few hours after setting off insecticide foggers in each room. Then apply the spray to areas that bugs frequent but people do not; behind major appliances, under and behind cabinets, and along floor boards. The foggers destroy most of the population while the spray continues to kill any survivors who come in contact with the poison.

You should rid your pet of fleas simultaneously with ridding your home. There are many options for your pet. First, kill the fleas that are on your pet now. Give them a flea bath or a Capstar pill. Then use a monthly flea preventative. There are many options that can be purchased from a local hardware/pet supply store or your vet. Effectiveness varies so find what works best for you. Don’t stay with the same one too long as the fleas may develop a tolerance to it.

Attention Environmentalist
There are natural solutions for treating your home for fleas and roaches. Diatomaceous earth, sulfur, and hydrated lime are known to affect insect populations. They are powders that you simply spread in your yard. You could use them inside but it would be messy; and smelly if you use sulfur. Inside, try natural insecticide sprays. They are made with a mix of oils such as clove, lemongrass, cedarwood, and cinnamon. They smell good and are safe to use on your pet.

For a long time, people have enjoyed killing flies with a fly swatter or an electric fly trap hanging on the porch. They even make electric fly swatters now. Though these methods may be more fun, they are less effective.

Fly baits are the best way to extinguish a large population of flies outside of the home. They are made with an attractant and a poison. You can buy them in a granulated spread, liquid spray, or trap form. They are very effective, but be careful using them around areas where people spend a lot of time. Do not place in the middle of a barbeque or directly on your porch. The reason flies seem to come from miles around to die at the hand of this poison is the attractant smells like a dead animal. You’ll want to place it off to the side of where everyone is eating or hanging out. The bait will attract the flies away from you.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.Because of the smell, you will not want to use fly baits inside. Use fly tape or fly ribbons. They use a non-fragrant attractant and adhesive so the flies are permanently stuck to the tape or ribbon once they land on it.

I was trying to decide how I should end this article when divine intervention decided for me. A salesman from a pest control company dropped a quote and service contract on my desk for the hardware store; literally while I was writing this article (I am not making this up). The proposal: $2,110 installation fee with a $652 annual renewal to treat for all rodents and insects AS NEEDED. I cannot testify as to the quality of these services, but I can say for that price, I’m going give doing it myself a try.

The Price of Fear: Plumbing 101

Plumbers can smell your fear, and they charge you for it. Whether it’s a running toilet or a clogged drain, a plumber is going to charge you $80 – $100 just for the trip; and another $80 – $100 for each additional hour. Plumbing parts don’t cost nearly that much, and $80 an hour is a steep labor fee (I know I don’t make nearly that much). So what are you being charged for? The answer is your fear. Often times the fix is easier than putting together Legos. But plumbing is intimidating. And what if you make a mistake? A water leak can cost thousands in repairing damage to flooring and walls. Well I’m going to let you in on a little secret that might cost me a few of my plumber customers. Plumbing is easy. Sometimes a little nasty, but it’s not rocket science. It can be as easy as screwing a hose to a water faucet. And if you have a helpful, local hardware store; a sales person will tell you what you need and how to fix it. If you exercise that option, you may get out of your plumbing bind for less than $10.

In this article, I’m going to go over a few common plumbing issues and how to fix them. But all you really need to know is how to get to your local hardware store. Take a picture of your issue with your cell phone. Be sure to include a ruler or tape measure in the picture to help determine the size of plumbing parts. If your sales person is worth their salt, they will sell you the parts you need and walk you through the repair.

Leaky Faucets
Faucets include kitchen and bathroom sinks, bathtubs and showers, and outdoor garden hose faucets. There are two ways they can leak; through the spout, or out the handle. The handles are connected by a screw to a valve called the stem. The stem either blocks or allows the flow of water by being turned by the handle. It has a rubber washer that is screwed on to the opposite end from the handle. This washer seals the water blockage. Eventually it wears out, allowing a little water to pass through the valve and drip out of the faucet. You only need a screwdriver to disconnect the handle and washer from the stem. With a dollar for a new washer and gas money, you can save the $80 plumbers fee with a trip to the hardware store. If the water is leaking out of the handle of the faucet, the packing in the stem has worn out. With a dollar and some change you can buy new packing. You simply apply it around the stem just before re-attaching the handle. I always suggest replacing both the washer and packing anytime you remove the stem.

Running Toilets
A running toilet can be caused by one of three things. It is very difficult to figure out which one of the three is the cause of your leak. Since the cheapest of these fixes is also the easiest, I suggest starting there. Replace your flapper. Your flapper is a piece of rubber that lifts when you push the handle and slowly falls and blocks the hole once your tank fills with water. These wear out regularly and need to be replaced. Cut the water off to the toilet by turning the valve on the wall located behind the toilet all the way clockwise. Open your tank and simply unhook the flapper from the flush valve. Take it to the hardware store so they can match it up. If that doesn’t stop your leak, I would next try replacing the fill valve. This is the contraption with a float that moves up and down with the water level. It cuts off the water when the water level reaches the desired level in the tank. It can malfunction causing the toilet to run. These are fairly universal but it never hurts to take your old one to the hardware store. It’s a little more labor intensive to disassemble than the flapper, but it is still fairly easy. After you cut the water off and flush the toilet, place a bucket under the toilet tank to catch the water that will leak. Disconnect the water supply line and the nut under the tank and the fill valve will come right out. If replacing the fill valve doesn’t work, then there must be some obstruction to the surface where the flapper lies. This is a part of the flush valve and can be replaced similarly to the fill valve.

Clogged Drains
This is the most common plumbing issue. Fortunately it is often the easiest to fix. We sell many devices for unclogging drains, but I’m going to tell you about the most popular ones. The number one selling item in our store is Liquid Fire. It is a sulfuric acid based liquid that you poor down the drain. It will dissolve any organic matter such as hair but not plastics or metal which make up your drain plumbing. Be careful using it on finely polished sink drains as it can discolor the metal.

An even cheaper fix is an item we sell for $3.49. It’s called a Mini Snake. It is a long, thin, hard, but flexible piece of plastic with a handle on one end and barbs on the other. Every home should have one of these on hand, especially if you have or live with someone who has long hair. You stick it down the drain until you feel resistance. Work it in as far as you can then pull it back out of the drain. The barbs will grab and retract whatever is obstructing the flow of water.

If neither of these solutions work, consider removing the drain and cleaning it out. Kitchen and bathroom sink drains are very easy to remove. The clog is likely in the trap which is the curvy pipe under the sink. It removes and connects by loosening or tightening the plastic nut by hand. These nuts have washers in them which I suggest replacing each time you dissemble the drain. They can wear out and cause leaks.

When our midtown homes were built, plumbers used terracotta pipes made of clay to run from the house to the street. If you have never had this pipe replaced, I guarantee it is full of roots and you are destined for a clog. They connected the clay pipes with cement which by now would have worn out allowing space for roots to enter the pipe. For larger drain clogs such as these, I recommend something called a Drain King. I had a house on Fulton St which had terracotta pipes full of roots. I was very young and poor at the time, so I couldn’t afford to have the pipes replaced. I was able to buy myself a year using a Drain King once a week before finally having to replace the pipe. A Drain King is a bladder that you screw on to the end of the hose. You shove the hose down the drain, towards the clog and turn on the water. The bladder expands creating pressure in the pipe and shoots water at the clog.

All of these fixes are at or under $10. So instead of calling a plumber next time, I encourage you to try and fix it yourself. You may be surprised how easy it is. And if your neighbor is a plumber, please go to their mailbox right now and remove this publication from their mailbox. Thanks!

— By: Mick Blankenship

No Shame in the Rat Game

You’re a clean person. You have a beautiful, immaculate home. You always clean your kitchen floors and counter tops after dinner. You never leave food open. The dog food containers and garbage cans all have tight lids. Then one night while going for a drink of water, you walk up on an intruder. It scampers away in a flash and you are not even sure what you just saw. Your thoughts are in denial, “Was it a rat? It couldn’t be. Not in my house.” Well you shouldn’t be ashamed. Rats and mice are everywhere. They live in our trees, our yards, our sewers, and our homes. We don’t realize they are there because they only come out at night. While your cleanliness definitely helps keep them away, the litter bugs of our city who throw food trash on our streets keep these creatures well fed. A mouse can have a litter of up to 14, and one female can have up to 10 litters a year. Her babies have babies, and their babies have babies, and so on goes the exponential growth of the mouse population. Unless we douse our city with environmentally harmful pesticides, these creatures are here to stay, and we will all be victims.

When it begins getting cold outside, mice are prone to do more of their hunting inside. Our beautiful, old Midtown homes generally have a number of VIP entrances for our scavenger friends. Rats and mice can fit through holes and cracks that are a fraction of their own size. So don’t be ashamed, be prepared.

FYI: Rats are the larger ones, usually 6 – 10 inches in length, not counting tail. Mice are much smaller, usually 2 – 4 inches.

What to do
It is virtually impossible to seal off all entrances that mice could use to enter your home, especially in an older home. Start by focusing on sealing any obvious entrances. The dryer vent is often the most common entrance. Also, look for any holes that have been created to accommodate plumbing or electrical pipes. Rats can chew through wood and plastics, and often will in order to access food or water. So you also will need to look for entrances they may have created for themselves. A great way to plug these holes is with steel wool. Because of the sharp fibers, mice find it offensive and painful to chew through. The versatility of steel wool makes it easy to apply and remove from openings.

Second, you will need to find any food sources. The primary motivation for rats and mice to come into your home is food. Make sure your trash cans have lids. Check your pantry for plastic containers that may have been left open or chewed through. Do not leave pet food sitting out over night or leave it in the bag in which it was purchased. Store it in a hard, preferably metal, container with a lid.

In our hardware store, we roast peanuts and store the raw nuts in the back, in a large, trash can made of ¼ inch thick fiberglass. One Monday morning we came to work and a rat had chewed a hole right through the thick fiberglass.

Next, you will need to look into repellant and/or extermination options. The best repellant and exterminator is a house cat. We started selling dog food at our hardware store about fifteen years ago, and it didn’t take long for the mice to move in. They were building nests in the shelving and in the walls, not to mention pre-opening bags of our premium pet food. We brought in a store cat and the problem was solved. Not everyone can have a cat though, so let’s explore some other options.

There are audial and olfactory repellants. These are non-toxic, pet-friendly options commonly used by people that don’t want to harm rodents or the environment with inhumane traps and poisons. An audial repellent plugs into an electrical outlet and produces constantly changing, high frequency ultrasonic waves to which rodents cannot acclimate, and humans cannot hear. The drawback is that the sound loses effectiveness when it hits soft surfaces. It would work best in a room with hard wood floors and little furniture.

Olfactory repellants come in liquid sprays or granules. They are made of a variety of ingredients such as; putrescent egg solids, garlic oil, cedar oil, castor oil, peppermint oil, cloves, and capsaicinoids such as red cayenne pepper, piperine, and black pepper oil. The downside to these repellents is that humans can detect the smell, and they’re messy. They are for the most part only suitable for outside use.

Both audial and olfactory repellents are great to try in an effort to protect animals and our environment. But as with most green alternatives, the drawback is their lack of effectiveness.

The most common traps are glue traps and snap traps. Glue traps are simply a pad of glue in the middle of which you can place bait. These are great for detecting a rat problem or catching multiple mice. The larger glue traps can catch three or four mice at a time. Only expect to catch one large rat at a time with a glue trap, and sometimes larger rats get away. Disposal is often an issue with these traps and is not for the compassionate or faint at heart. The mouse does not die a quick and peaceful death, and the rodent will likely still be alive when you find it. You will need to make sure these traps are placed out of reach of children and pets such as under and behind large appliances.

Snap traps have been around the longest. They are simply a wooden plank with a spring rigged metal bar that snaps down on the rodent when it tries to take the bait. Rats sometimes get away from these traps, and they can go off accidentally. However, they do have more success with larger rats and provide a quick, less painful death. As with glue traps, you will need to place these traps out of reach of children and pets.

There is an animal friendly option in this category. Humane traps catch the rodent without harming it. They work by bait being placed inside a cage with a trap door. Once caught, the rodent can be taken to a new location and released unharmed. Humane traps are often necessary to catch the largest of rodents which can be illusive to glue and snap traps. The downside is that they are expensive, and don’t be surprised if you catch the neighbor’s cat a time or two.

There are a number of different chemicals used in poisons and they are relatively equally effective. They take about a day or two to kill the rodent, but they are the most effective way to kill the largest quantity of rats and mice. They come in many different forms from small pellets to large chunks. Smaller pellets are more effective and easier to use inside. Large chunks last longer outside where the poison is subject to the elements of the outdoors. It is important to make sure the rodents don’t have access to human food otherwise they will eat it instead of the poison.

While poison is the most effective extermination tool, it warrants a lot of concerns. The poison must be carefully placed as it can be harmful to children and pets. Environmentalists are concerned that the poison goes into our ecosystem after the rodent dies and decomposes. Pet owners are concerned that their pet will catch the poisoned rat and ingest some of the poison itself. The most common complaint about poisons is that the animal may die in your walls or attic and you are stuck with the smell of decomposing rat until the decomposition process is complete. There is a popular misconception that certain rat poisons embalm the rodent after it dies. This is a hoax. There is a rat poison sold in Louisiana called M-BALM-R. The packaging is designed to target those who want to believe this is possible. But if you look at the ingredients, it is the same as RAMIK brand rat poison, just different packaging and four times the cost. Your hope is that the poison makes the rat thirsty, and it will go outside looking for water and die. Though this is often the case, there are no guarantees.

As you have learned, there is no perfect solution to our living amongst rat and mice populations. But now that you know all the options and their pros and cons, you can decide what measurements are best suited for your home. Just remember, no matter what actions you take, you will likely see these rodents again, and you shouldn’t be ashamed.

— By: Mick Blankenship