Last week NS from Canterbury asked for pet-friendly ideas for controlling insects like ants and spiders.

Gaynor from Paraparaumu has this anti-ant tip. "I sprinkle ant sand around the exterior of my house. I also put plastic containers of cloves on some windows sills." Gaynor is referring to a product called "NO Ants Ant Sand", which is readily available.

Other readers said salt acts as a barrier to ants. This can be applied as a diluted spray solution or directly. Or sprinkle used coffee grounds at their entry points in a home or in the garden to help keep the blighters away. As it happens, coffee grounds are also a very good growing medium for mushrooms (now there's a recycling idea for coffee grounds coming out of cafes!).

Another reader has suggested feeding ants corn meal. They say the ants can't digest it so they die. It's a safe and low-cost idea that may be worth a try.

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Also, don't forget the suggestion SPH from Waikato shared to get rid of ants: "Bay leaves put around where ants are being busy at work -- I use fresh leaves because we have a bay tree but try dried bay leaves and see how you go."

Jane from Auckland was looking for ideas to clean a toilet bowl that had become stained with a light rust colour. "I have tried vinegar and baking soda and a lot of scrubbing but this was unsuccessful. Any ideas?" JenZ from West Australia has this tip. "My best method for stains is to sprinkle with citric acid, leave as long as possible, then use brush and flush!"

Now for something completely different. H.C. from Thames asks, can you freeze cooked rice? Yes, is the short answer -- it keeps in the freezer for about a month, possibly a little longer. The best approach is to freeze it in air-tight containers as soon as it has been cooked. If you don't have air-tight containers wrap the rice in cling film, then store in a freezer bag. Don't forget to write the date on the bag. To use, reheat the rice in the microwave. If it appears dry, sprinkle with a little water before microwaving.

Josefa from Tasmania writes, "I have bought towels from factory outlets. I was advised to wash the towels with a tablespoon of borax to remove the dressing and make the towels absorbent. The new towels were rather stiff but came out soft and absorbent from this treatment."

Dee from Whangarei writes, "Some friends of ours have hundreds of mandarin trees that are absolutely loaded with fruit. We have given away fruit to virtually everyone we know, and we still have bag loads. So I am sending out an SOS to the oily rag community to ask for suggestions on how to make the most of the free fruit."

Here are a couple of tips to get things going.

Use the blemished and small fruit to make juice. We have a juice maker so the only difficult part is peeling the easy-to-peel mandarins and cleaning the juicer. Mandarin juice is surprisingly sweet -- even sweeter than orange juice.

If you have too much to consume fresh, place it in drink bottles and store in the freezer. It stores well in the freezer so it should keep you in fruit juice until next season!

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To make a delicious "Grandma's Mandarin Cake" you will need: 125g softened butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp vanilla essence, 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup coconut, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 cup plain yoghurt, 1 cup peeled and finely chopped mandarin.

Beat the butter and sugar until creamy, add the egg and vanilla and beat well. Mix in the dry ingredients with the yoghurt and the mandarins. Pour into a well-greased cake tin. Sprinkle some coconut over the top then place into an oven preheated to 180C.

Bake for 45 minutes -- or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. This cake is delicious served warm with a big dollop of cream or yoghurt!

Please send in your mandarin tips to help Dee make the most of the piles of free fruit by visiting the oily rag website, oilyrag.co.nz or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.
* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. oilyrag.co.nz