Ask the Experts

Experts answer home and garden questions.

Can a homeowner repair a split pipe that occurred in an outdoor shower from water freezing in it over the winter?

Bill Haynes, Haynes Plumbing and Caretaking, West Tisbury

My first piece of advice is if you don’t know how to drain your shower, have someone do it who does. I suggest you get a plumber if you have any doubts about how to do it. If you didn’t drain it correctly because you don’t know how, you’ll have problems.

The key to draining is this: Shut off the water going to the shower, open the drain at the lowest level – usually in the basement – and then open the outside shower. The idea is to let air in and let water out. Do it before the water freezes in the pipes.

Outside showers require a mixing valve that costs about $150. By law this MSL valve works so if someone runs cold water inside the house, you won’t get scalded in the shower. If that breaks, you have to replace the whole valve.

If a pipe splits, cut out the affected piece and solder in a new section. The pipe (an all-copper pipe) is more than likely against a wooden wall. You better know what you’re doing. It’s right against the house. You remove it from the shingles, and put a piece of sheet metal or aluminum or even a few layers of tinfoil behind it before you use the blowtorch.

You have to know how to solder. It’s very simple if you know how.

What are the best ways to protect a yard against deer ticks?

Steve Anagnos, Martha’s Vineyard Deer & Tick Management, Oak Bluffs

Keep your lawn mowed short. Less grass means fewer ticks. Trim back tall grass and brush along the edge of your lawn, because they provide a haven for ticks to thrive. Allow sunlight to penetrate the ground cover to eliminate ticks. Ticks hate sunlight.

Don’t leave piles of debris or leaves around, as they harbor deer ticks. Clear brush. They love moist woodlands. Ticks congregate in stone walls and wood piles. Create a three-foot-wide wood chip, mulch, or gravel border between the lawn and the woods or stone walls. Isolate yourself from the tick. Use caution when you venture into a tick-prone area and do a body check afterward.

There are several products to kill ticks, and we choose the least toxic. Spray is one hundred percent sure if the tick is out crawling around. The spray leaves a residual barrier that lasts from four to eight weeks – depending on rain and sunlight – but it does break down over time. Spray the peri-meter area of lawn that you frequent so ticks won’t come through. Create space between you and them.

How do you prepare a garden bed for perennials versus vegetables?

Linda Ziegler, Linda Ziegler Garden Design, Vineyard Haven
To prepare a shrub or perennial bed, I first determine the needs of the soil. The health of the plants depends on soil that fosters microbial activity,  earthworms, and air and water movement. It’s amazing how four to five yards of compost can be swallowed by a garden seasonally.

If the garden bed is trucked-in topsoil, I add one-third compost, plus some in each planting hole.

I scratch in quick-release lime. Lime helps neutralize acidic soil, and a neutral pH makes nutrients more available. And I scratch in an organic, high-phosphorus fertilizer. Making the effort to build healthy soil removes the perceived need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which adversely affect our environment.

When prepping a veggie garden, I add compost and more compost. And composted manure. I don’t till, but lift and aerate compacted beds with a spading fork and add organic material into the top several inches. Later, I side-dress established veggies with their particular favorites, such as manure tea around the leafy greens and fish emulsion at the base of the tomato plants.

What plants from Brazil grow best on the Island?

Marcos Arado, Oakleaf Landscape, West Tisbury

Jiló is a vegetable that looks like an eggplant. The fruit is much, much smaller than an eggplant, and the taste is more amargo [bitter]. It is green. I like it fried with white rice and sometimes with eggs.

It’s almost the same as tomatoes, except jiló needs to start early. It takes more than a month to germinate, while tomatoes take about a week in a greenhouse. This is my second year growing [jiló] here. I started it in February in the Oakleaf greenhouse, and it seems to be growing well. Bring it outside at the end of May, and it grows until late fall, and it totally dies out like tomatoes. You start again the next year.

We want to eat these kinds of plants. I saw some jiló at the Brazilian store – $6 for a bag of fifteen. So expensive! It grows like a weed in Brazil, so we have to do something [to grow more of it] here. Jiló needs lots of sun, lots of water. It drains well in sandy soil, like a tomato. Some places are growing jiló, especially Morning Glory [in Edgartown] and North Tabor Farm [in Chilmark]. They planted a bunch at Bayes Norton Farm and it makes the price a little lower.

I have a new one I’m trying to grow: It’s called chuchu [chayote]. Chuchu grows up on a trellis like a cucumber and looks like a mango. It’s green and the size of a pepper, three to four inches, with little marks on it. I’ve seen it at Stop and Shop, so it’s not new anymore. The taste is like when you don’t taste anything. It’s more like you eat it with something. Boil it, put it in a salad, or serve with meat. I like to eat it with something else, but my mother will just cook it up and eat it. I don’t think they grow it here, but I’m going to try. It’s easy to grow. Start in a greenhouse, bring outside. That is my next project.

How do you remove streaks in windows?

Zack White, Sparkle Window Cleaning, Edgartown

What we found to be the best is a dish detergent and water. A second trick is to use a squeegee. It covers a wide area, with no room for lines. We use a squeegee for everything. Another trick is to use clean water. If you leave a streak with any dirt in it, water evaporates and you see the dirt. Clean water and
a squeegee.

Raise or remove screens on combination windows in winter. Weather is rough on screens. Take screens off, and windows stay cleaner. Salt air reacts terribly with aluminum; it acts like a corrosive. Sun bakes it onto the outside glass.