Cloudy glasses and filmy plates can make anyone washing dishes see red.
It's likely not the fault of the automatic dishwasher, but the detergent.
So say the appliance and kitchen experts at General Electric. Dishwashing detergents no longer contain high amounts of phosphates, which can cause disastrous algae bloom in waterways. The result is calcium buildup on glasses, dishware and utensils.
"Many people still blame their dishwasher when a film covers their dinnerware," said Lee Lagomarcino, marketing specialist for GE Appliances. "Most consumers aren't aware of the ban on phosphates in their detergents."
About 85 percent of the country including Sacramento and the Central Valley has "hard water," high in calcium and other minerals. Those minerals can accumulate on surfaces, and not just dishes. They cause a white, milky film on shower doors, water spots on faucets and fixtures, dingy gray laundry and a stiff or harsh feel to fabrics.
That white film can coat the inside of the dishwasher, too. Use a cloudy glass for this quick test: Take a paper towel, dip it in vinegar, and gently rub the glass. If the cloudiness goes away, it's hard-water buildup.
After confirming the problem, get the buildup out of the dishwasher. Dump 2 cups of vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher and run it on the coolest, shortest setting possible.
Also, consider using a detergent booster. Today's boosters take the place of phosphates and act on buildup-causing minerals.
Manufacturers are reformulating their detergents to work better without phosphates. Consumer Reports recently tested several no- or low-phosphate dishwasher detergents and rated Cascade Complete All in 1 ActionPacs the best.
Time to fertilize and prepare plants for spring growth. Feed fruit trees before flowers open with a fertilizer specifically labeled for fruit trees. Feed other mature trees and shrubs as spring growth appears.
Fertilize strawberries and asparagus, two perennials from the vegetable garden that will soon hit high gear.
Strawberries should be fed before they flower or form fruit. For bigger berries, use a fertilizer with more phosphorus (the middle number in 10-20-10, for example) or bone meal, then mulch with straw. Feed them again after harvest.
Asparagus like fertilizer high in nitrogen. Put down a layer of well-aged compost over the bed just as new sprouts appear. Feed again at the end of the harvest season.
Feed spring-blooming flowers and established perennials.
Check for aphids on new growth. Knock them off with a strong spray of water or a squirt of insecticidal soap.
Look out for snails and slugs. Hand-pick them off plants an hour after nightfall.
In the vegetable garden, plant seed for beets, Swiss chard, collards, endive, fennel, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, peas, radicchio, radish and turnips. Also plant seed potatoes.
Transplant seedlings for broccoli, cabbage, kale, lettuce and leeks.
Indoors, start tomatoes, eggplant and peppers from seed. They'll be ready to transplant outdoors when the weather warms in late April or May.
In the flower garden, plant seed for baby's breath, calendula, California poppy, cornflower, forget-me-not, larkspur, nasturtium, nicotiana and snapdragon.