Go Green in 2017: Drink Better Milk

Did you make a new year’s resolution to “eat better” without defining specifically what you meant? or did you try to start the new year choosing all the healthiest, most responsible foods, and now you’re reeling at the difficulty of changing too many habits at once?

Sometimes it’s best to make one change at a time so you can focus on getting it right.  (To make more changes in a year, try a new month’s resolution each month, or give up something for Lent.)  One change you might make is choosing milk that’s better for your health and the environment.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Where does the milk come from?  Where do the cows live, and where is the milk processed and packaged?  Milk that travels a shorter distance from farm to packaging plant to store is better for the environment because less fuel is burned to transport it.  Here’s a handy online tool for finding your milk’s source.
  • Are hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides involved in the production of the milk?  Did the cows eat grass in a pasture or eat genetically-modified corn or even gummy worms in a crowded barn?  Grass is what cows are made to eat, and the milk of grass-fed cows contains more conjugated linoleic acid, which is good for the heart.  Grassy pastures are better for the environment than concentrated animal feeding operationsCertified organic milk comes from cows who were not treated with hormones or antibiotics, ate food that was not treated with pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and got at least some outdoor grazing time eating fresh grass.  Many small farmers that can’t afford every detail of organic certification still manage to meet most of these standards.
  • How is the milk packaged?  Milk stored in light-permeable containers loses riboflavin and Vitamin A.  If your milk containers are recyclable, will you actually recycle them?  If you won’t recycle, do you have a second use for those empty containers?  If you’re able to buy milk in returnable, refillable containers, that is the option with the lowest environmental impact: Washing and sterilizing a bottle uses much less energy than making a new bottle even from recycled material.
  • Where can you buy the milk?  If the milk that’s best according to all the other criteria is available only from a store that you otherwise wouldn’t visit, and you have to drive to get there, your car is burning fuel, which might be enough to offset the environmental benefits of that milk.  Also, if buying better milk is inconvenient and time-consuming, you’re unlikely to keep up the habit.  Aim to buy the best milk you can get at stores where you’re going anyway, where you can easily stop on your way home from somewhere, or within walking/biking distance (so you can double up with that resolution about exercise!).

I wrote about my family’s milk choices in 2012–check out that article for more detail.  Since then, the milk that used to be our #1 choice is no longer available, but we’ve found a new favorite milk. Read more of this post

Make a Soap Saver: neat, clean bar soap with no waste!

The finished Soap Saver hangs in the shower.Photographs by Nicholas Efran

This is a handy tip I learned as a Girl Scout that I still use in my home today.  It’s a great project for Girl Scouts (or any group of kids) as a follow-up to soap carving: kids can put their soap scraps in the Soap Saver and then add any bits of soap they have at home.

A lot of people have switched to liquid soaps, foam soaps, and body-washes instead of bar soaps.  One reason for this is that a bar of soap sitting in a soap dish accumulates a puddle of water underneath, which has an unpleasant look and texture, may harbor germs, and gradually dissolves the soap so that a lot of it ends up being wasted.  A soap dish in the shower really wastes soap if it’s positioned such that the shower water falls on it, causing the soap to melt rapidly and drip from the soap dish onto the shower floor, making the floor slippery.

The other problem with bar soap is that as the bar gets smaller and smaller, it’s more and more difficult to get the soap you need.  You end up turning it over and over and over in your hands, wasting time.  But it’s annoying to throw away perfectly good soap just because it’s a small piece.

However, most hotels still give out bar soap, and most of us don’t use the whole bar during our stay.  If we leave it, they’ll have to throw it away.  It’s best if we can take it home and make use of it.

Also, there are some nice soaps that are available only in bar form, not in liquid, that you might want to use if only you could control the slimy mess problem.

What you need is a Soap Saver!!

pack of 3 Other than soap, the only material needed for this project is a long, narrow mesh tube.  It should be at least 12 inches long; 18 inches is better.  You might happen to purchase some type of fruit or vegetable that comes in a mesh bag you can reuse.  If not, the best source is a scrubby-puff, like these, which I found in a 3-pack for $1 at a local dollar store.

intact scrubby puffOf course, if you happen to have a used scrubby-puff that you don’t mind destroying, that’s even better for the environment than cutting up a new one.  Each puff will provide enough mesh for 2 or more Soap Savers, depending on the size of the puff.

In addition to saving soap, this gadget saves time, because the mesh helps the soap lather up quickly so that you spend less time rubbing it.

Probe through the layers of your scrubby-puff until you locate the cord that holds it together. Carefully slide one scissors blade under the cord and clip it, being careful not to cut a hole in the mesh as you do so. (If young children are doing this project, an adult should prepare the mesh in advance.) Unravel the puff into a long tube of mesh. Cut it into appropriate lengths.
Scrubby puff is made of a mesh tube secured with a cord. unraveled mesh tube--enough for 2 Soap Savers Cut the length of mesh in half with scissors. Read more of this post

Bulk Food in Reused Containers in the Microwave: A Cautionary Tale

I’ve explained how we buy many of our groceries from bulk bins in the food co-op store, dispensing the amount we want to buy into containers we got by buying (and using) foods that came in them.  

Usually, when a jar has a label that can be removed, we soak it off so that the only label on the jar is the one where we write what food is in it now and the numbers for purchasing.  That looks better and is less confusing.  I just demonstrated another reason:

If a jar’s original label had metallic printing on it, and you put it in the microwave, it will give off sparks and an unpleasant smoke smell.  Why would you microwave a jar?  Well, if that jar is full of honey that has crystallized, a few seconds in the microwave will soften it so that you can pour it out.

But if that jar has a metallic label that you did not remove but only covered with the co-op label, this is what happens in only six seconds in the microwave:  

 
Yikes!  There was no damage to the honey, my microwave, or myself–but I wonder if whatever chemicals in the labels turned so black have created something that’s not safe to handle.  I decided to use a new jar of honey in the zucchini bread (I’m revising my recipe–stay tuned!) and figure out what’s best to do about this jar tomorrow.

Get FREE Breadcrumbs for All Your Recipe Needs!

Did you make a new year’s resolution to waste less food, to do more cooking from scratch, or to buy less over-packaged food?  If you did, or if you have ever bought a canister of ready-to-use breadcrumbs, this article is for YOU!  And if you don’t fit into any of those categories, but you do eat bread and there is any chance that you’ll ever make a recipe that uses breadcrumbs, you should read this, too!

The thing is, breadcrumbs are just bread, made into crumbs.  It’s easy to do!  When you buy breadcrumbs, you’re paying to have machines crumble the bread for you and pack it in a container.  Crumbs are much more expensive than the number of slices of bread required to make that many crumbs.  Furthermore, when you buy crumbs as a separate product, you’re buying different bread than what you already have at home (some of which likely goes to waste from time to time, when it gets stale before you can eat it or because nobody likes to eat the bread heels) and you’re buying whatever quantity comes in a package–so after using the amount you need in your recipe, you’re likely to have some left, and if you can’t think of a use for them quickly, they’re going to go to waste, too.

bread in fridgeHere’s what was on the bottom shelf of our refrigerator one Saturday last fall when my son Nicholas (then 10 years old) decided to document in photos our process of converting unwanted bread into useful breadcrumbs.  In the center is an entire baguette that my partner Daniel bought, planning to make a specific sandwich–but then he got sick for just a couple days, and a baguette gets stale very quickly!  You also can see other bread bags, one with the current half-used loaf of bread but most nearly empty.  We took the heels out of that half-loaf bag but left the rest of the slices for our fresh-bread uses.  (Also on the shelf are tortillas, a jar of olives, and some kind of parsley or something, which you can just ignore.)

The first step is to inventory your breads and sort out what is no longer good for fresh eating but could still be used for crumbs.  Discard any bread that looks or smells moldy.  But bread that is damp from being in the refrigerator can still be salvaged! Read more of this post

Sckoon Menstrual Cup and Cloth Pad Review

WARNING: People who are offended by graphic discussion of menstruation should go read something else.

I first tried a reusable menstrual cup in 1997 and reusable cloth menstrual pads in 2001.  Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different brands, and I’ve written about why these alternatives are better than disposable pads and tampons and lots more about how great they are, with details about how to use them.  This article is about one specific brand whose cup and pad I’ve tried in the past year.  This is my new favorite cup, and the pad is very good, too.

Sckoon is primarily an organic-cotton company.  They make lots of baby clothes and some other cotton items, including cloth menstrual pads.  Recently, they also started making a menstrual cup out of medical-grade silicone (and it comes in an organic cotton storage bag).  Their organic cotton is grown and processed in Egypt, but their menstrual cup is made in USA.  They use recycled materials in packaging.

What I haven’t been able to find out about Sckoon is how to pronounce their name.  They didn’t answer my question, choosing instead to maintain an air of mystery…so I’m going with “Skoon” unless I learn otherwise.

I have joined Sckoon’s affiliate program, so you can click here to get 10% off your order (or manually enter the discount code ER01HG) and I will earn a 10% commission! Read more of this post

Make Your Own Foaming Hand Soap!

This tip is a real winner: You can make your own foaming soap in about one minute by mixing just two ingredients.  Foaming soap will save you a lot of money because you’ll need less soap to get clean.  Refilling your foamer will save even more money and reduce the packaging you discard.  You can use plant-based soap, which is better for the environment and probably better for your health than soap made from petroleum distillates and undisclosed chemicals, without breaking your budget.  You can choose whatever scent you like!

This is not a sponsored post.  I’m recommending two specific products (a foamer and a soap) that have worked really well for me for several years.  However, if you already have a soap foamer and a plant-based liquid soap, try them together!  I’ve used several brands of soap and never found one that didn’t work.  You may need a higher ratio of soap to water if your soap is not as concentrated as Dr. Bronner’s.  Some soaps settle to the bottom overnight; just shake to re-mix. Read more of this post

Our Green Christmas Tree (now with photos!)

Back in 2007, I wrote about the little tree Daniel and I, with the help of former housemate Bill, made for our first Christmas together, back in 1996.  Made mostly of repurposed materials, this is a great alternative to cutting down a real tree or using a factory-made artificial tree.  It’s still going strong!  I’m finally responding to all the requests for photos of it.  Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the construction, but I’m reprinting the verbal description, and I bet you can figure it out–it was easy to make.

Christmas tree on the game cabinet

We just set it up for our 19th Christmas together.  Every year, we simply bring it up from the basement, wipe off dust with a damp cloth, and decorate!  Here’s how we made it: Read more…

Cloth Diapers: What Works for Our Family

Our first child was already out of diapers when I wrote about why we use cloth diapers and all the details of our cloth diapering equipment and procedures.  Some of the specific products we’d used were no longer being made even when I wrote the articles, and others have changed or become unavailable since then.

Now that we’ve been cloth diapering our second child for almost five months, I’m going to explain what equipment we are using and loving this time–and a few things that haven’t worked out so well.  This is not a sponsored post.  I did not receive any free products in exchange for writing this.  All opinions are my own.

Our basic diaper system for Lydia is the same as what we used for Nicholas: We use fitted diapers with snaps, waterproof diaper covers, doublers as needed, cloth wipes that are flannel on one side and terrycloth on the other, small wetbags for transporting used diapers, large wetbags for lining a stainless steel trash can with foot pedal that stores the diapers until wash day, and environmentally friendly laundry detergent.  Click here for all the details!

5 Tips for Green Lunch Packing

It’s back-to-school season!  If your child brings a lunch to school, now is the time to think about how to pack that lunch.  If you bring your lunch to work, this is a great time of year to rethink what you’re packing, too.

Choosing the right lunch-packing habits can make a big difference in how much garbage you create.  Reducing waste often saves money, too. If you shift from eating out of plastic wrappers to eating out of washable containers made of glass, metal, or other safe materials, you’ll be taking in fewer harmful chemicals.  So it’s a win all around, not just for the environment!

Here are a few main ways my family makes our school and workplace lunches more environmentally friendly.  This is not a sponsored post.  All of the specific products mentioned here were chosen by my family and purchased at full price, and all opinions are our own.  These tips are written as if you, the reader, are the lunch eater, but they all apply to packing kids’ lunches, too!

1. Use what you have.

The greenest type of reusable item is one that you don’t buy new, because even the most ecologically-produced objects take resources and energy to make.  Here are some things I’ve repurposed for packing my lunch: Read more…

FREE Earth-friendly Party Decorations!

Want to decorate your home for a party?  You could buy a bunch of bright-colored paper streamers or rubber balloons that you inflate with air.  These things are inexpensive, but they’re typically made in China by exploited workers in polluting factories and then shipped halfway around the world to you, wasting a bunch of fossil fuel.  When the party’s over, you can compost these things–if you don’t mind having those strong dyes in your compost (do you put it on your food plants?) and you’re willing to wait a couple years for the balloons to break down.  Another option is to buy mylar balloons and shiny plastic decorations, made (usually in China) from irreplaceable petroleum, which aren’t recyclable and will never biodegrade.  You could inflate your balloons with some of the world’s dwindling supply of helium, which we need for so many other more important things.

Or you could save your money, reduce your environmental impact, lighten the load in your recycling bin, and keep your kid busy while you do other things to get ready for the party!  Simply convert some scrap paper into festive link chains to festoon your home, like this:
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Buying Bulk Food in Reused Containers

Many of the foods my family eats most are purchased from the bulk section of the East End Food Co-op, our local health-food supermarket in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You do not have to buy a membership to shop at this co-op, but members get a discount in exchange for a one-time payment, which is a pretty sweet deal. (If you don’t live here, search for a similar store in your area.)

“Bulk” here does not mean buying an enormous package. In this wonderful section of the store, you get to scoop your own food into your own container, buying exactly the amount you want. First you weigh your empty container and write its weight on the co-op label that you stick on your container. You also write the Price Look Up number, which tells the cash register the price per pound for that food. At checkout, the cashier subtracts the weight of the container from the total weight, and you pay for the food only.

I love this system! Instead of paying for a bunch of packaging that we’d throw away or recycle, we use the same containers over and over again. Most of these containers are better than disposable packaging at keeping the food fresh, and they’re at least as easy to open and close. The co-op sells a few types of containers in the bulk section, but we use mostly containers that we saved from packaged foods. Here are some randomly selected examples, neatly photographed by my eight-year-old Nicholas.
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Cloth Wipes for Bedroom, Bathroom, and More!

I am excited to be a contributing writer in the Green in 365 series at Live Renewed!

Check out my article on how to use cloth wipes instead of paper tissues to save trees, reduce pollution, save money, and just have a better experience in so many ways.  I mean, look, aren’t they pretty?

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I’ve found that looking at a cute basket full of clean, soft cloths in assorted colors and prints makes me feel happy and cared for in a way that instant garbage just doesn’t.  It makes the small amount of extra work involved in laundering the cloths feel completely worthwhile.

Here are some links to related articles here at The Earthling’s Handbook:

Critical readers will notice that I have now posted a picture of my toilet paper on the Internet.  Not very classy, I’ll admit–but it’s for educational purposes!!

UPDATE: I received an email questioning why this post is in the Sex category, so I’ll explain a little less discreetly than I did at Live Renewed: Have you ever had an intimate moment interrupted by your lover picking shreds of toilet paper off of you?  It’s embarrassing–but hard to avoid when using a paper product that is designed to fall apart on contact with liquid on a part of your body that you can’t see!  Have you ever wished to remove sticky fluids from yourself and dabbed with a tissue which then bonded with said fluids and stuck to your skin and shredded apart, turning your postcoital languor into stressful confusion?  Those guys who grab something from the laundry pile to mop up with are actually on to something, ladies!  Cloth works better, and it does get clean in the washing machine.

Cute and Thrifty Kitchen Scouring Powder

My dishwashing method gets most food to wipe right off the dishes, but some things still need to be scrubbed–tea and coffee stains in mugs, blueberry-juice stains in bowls, and bits of pasta that stuck to the pot, for example.  I also like to scrub the cutting board really thoroughly after chopping onions.  Baking soda is a safe, affordable, environmentally-friendly scouring powder that does a great job!

The trouble with baking soda is that it’s packaged either in a cardboard box or in a gigantic plastic pouch.  The box isn’t damp-proof, so storing it anywhere near the sink is just asking for clumped-up baking soda.  The pouch, although it costs less per ounce than the little boxes, is just too huge to keep around our tiny kitchen.  Either type of package tends to dump out a huge amount of baking soda, whereas for scouring you need just a little sprinkle.

That’s why I decided to make my own shaker-top bottle with dampness protection, custom-decorated to coordinate with my pink 1950s kitchen!
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Coffee Bags as Raw Material for Tote Bags

You know those metallized plastic bags that are often used to package coffee?  Those have been bothering me for years: They’re not recyclable and not biodegradable, so when I throw them in the trash I know they’ll be in the landfill forever.  And Daniel and I drink a lot of coffee!

About a year ago, in the comments on someone’s blog about difficult recycling issues, I met up with Alessandro DiLella of Italian Coffee Handbags, a Dutch company that is making fashionable tote bags out of coffee bags.  This gives that metallized plastic a new use and creates reusable bags that people can use for their shopping and other carrying needs, instead of single-use plastic or paper bags.  (The Website is in Dutch, but if you write to the email address there, Mr. DiLella can correspond with you in English.  I work for natives of the Netherlands who occasionally forward me emails in Dutch, so I’m accustomed to trying to read Dutch and find it pretty easy–knowing some German helps–and amusing, but here is a free online translator if you want to read it in English.)

I collected empty coffee bags until I had enough to fill a box, packed tightly; that was about 100 bags of various sizes.  No, we don’t drink that much coffee!  I hung up flyers in my office and my church encouraging people to give me their used coffee bags, and those were more than half of my collection.  The flyer at church has actually attracted bags that I find thumbtacked to the bulletin board next to the flyer, possibly brought in by people attending other activities in the church building during the week.  I appreciate that people want their bags to get repurposed!

Earlier this month, I mailed my box to the Netherlands.  Postage was $27, which is disappointing, but Mr. DiLella may be able to reimburse me or compensate me with some free tote bags.  I’d like that, but if it doesn’t work out, I don’t mind putting some money toward responsible disposal of packaging.  Next time I’ll send a larger amount at once to get a better deal on postage.

Here’s Mr. DiLella’s photo of the array of exotic American coffee bags I sent, which he promptly posted on Instagram! (I can’t copy the photo into my post–is that something about Instagram, maybe?)

If you live in the Pittsburgh area and have coffee bags you want to give me, or if you live elsewhere in the United States and want to mail me your coffee bags at lower domestic postage rates, post a comment or email me!

I’m also very interested in hearing about any companies that are repurposing coffee bags in the United States.  It seems like an obvious thing to do–think how many coffee bags must be discarded every day!–but I’m not aware of any.

Of course, one solution to the coffee-bag problem is to buy bulk coffee in your own reused containers.  We do this a lot.  But it’s hard to resist bagged coffee when it’s fair-trade and organic and on sale for less than the bulk price!

Visit Your Green Resource for more environmentally friendly ideas!

My Coupon Organizer

This is a project similar to our recipe binder, using reused materials to make something that does not look perfectly polished but is cheerful and works well for our household’s specific needs. One difference is that this project started with a purchase of something specifically for the project: I bought this nylon thingy (specifically marketed as a coupon organizer) in about 1994. Originally I used it with the stiff paper tabbed dividers that came with it.

After about a decade, though, those tabs no longer made much sense with the kinds of food I was buying. I mean, it had a separate section for cookies–we hardly ever buy those, because we don’t need them, and when we want some they are fun to bake. Chips and candy also were separate categories. And there was one for meat, but now that we eat less meat that seemed silly. There was no category that seemed appropriate for beans, so I kept forgetting where I had put the bean coupons.

If I had realized this project would be so quick (about 20 minutes) and easy and fun, I wouldn’t have waited so long to get around to it! I was finally inspired 4 years ago when my son’s preschool chucked out a bunch of barely-used file folders in nice bright colors. We used them in all sorts of crafts! The cheery colors of my improved coupon organizer make me happy every time I use it!
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Great Shoes at a Fraction of the Price!

I’ve had some shoe trouble in the past couple of years, since Keen stopped making that style I raved about.  All I want is a pair of black leather shoes that are comfortable for walking, don’t smash my high arches, look good with skirts or jeans, and don’t have Velcro.  (I hate that ripping sound Velcro makes–and on shoes, it always gets full of dust and hair and debris so that it looks awful and may actually stop working.)  I don’t want to pay more than $50 unless the shoes are made with fair labor and/or in an environmentally friendly factory.  Why is this so hard?!  I live in a major city with many shopping options, including a large independent shoe store less than a mile from my home, other shoe stores, major department stores like Macy’s and Kohl’s, and DSW Shoe Warehouse which has an enormous selection and sends me substantial-discount offers several times a year.  It seems that the current trends in shoe styles just aren’t very compatible with my preferences.

Instead of replacing my everyday shoes every year or two, as I’d prefer, in just over 2 years I’ve bought 5 pairs of black leatherish shoes (one pair actually is made of some kind of techno-mesh), and only the third pair was comfortable.  These are some slip-on shoes with a little elasticized criss-cross strap near the toe, Clarks brand, that I got at DSW.  The only problem with them is that the heels wore down rapidly, so after about 6 months they had holes all the way through the heels and I couldn’t walk on wet pavement without getting wet socks.  At that point I began shopping for new shoes but continuing to wear these in dry weather.

I don’t actually like shopping for shoes, so it’s easy to procrastinate–while hurting my feet by wearing bad shoes as I run around doing more interesting things.  When I finally got myself to some shoe stores, I wasn’t finding anything I liked, and both times I grudgingly bought the most-acceptable shoes they had, those shoes turned out to be really uncomfortable after ten minutes of real walking.  A lot of the time I was wearing my plaid canvas sneakers with white rubber toes–which are cute but don’t really look right with business clothes–just so I could walk comfortably.

Then I remembered to actually try the affordable, resource-conserving alternative that is available right in my neighborhood where I walk past it every day!! Read more…

Clothesline Hangers for Basement or Porch

In my article on line-drying laundry, I verbally described these handy clothesline hangers that can be made out of scrap lumber and installed in any place that has exposed rafters/joists in the ceiling.  I finally decided to share some photos of them, since this is the kind of thing that really is easier to understand if you can see what I’m talking about–particularly if you never saw one before.  (I am sorry about the poor lighting–our basement is dim, and I made this post on a sudden inspiration, using my iPad which has no flash–but I think they’re better than no photos at all!)

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The way to make these is Read more…

A Different Party Favor–thrifty and earth-friendly!

Our seven-year-old Nicholas recently had a party.  He also has attended several kids’ parties this year and has come home from every one of them with a bag or bucket of items that he considers treasures and his parents consider crap–you know, cheap plastic toys made in China and low-quality, over-packaged candy and gum.  We didn’t want to buy any of that stuff for him to give away, but neither did we want to have a lame party with no goodies to take home.

Several weeks before the party, Daniel and I decided we were not going to be able to fix two pieces of broken furniture that had been stashed in our basement ever since each of them had a sudden dramatic collapse in which two legs came off.  One of them was an antique end-table we’d bought at an auction.  The other was a Gothic-style chair with a high, arched back filled in with carved wooden tracery, which his grandparents had found in their basement, mysteriously–they couldn’t recall how it got there!  Both were beautiful pieces of woodworking, so we couldn’t bear to put them out for the trash, but we were skeptical about our abilities with wood glue or carpentry techniques, and we have so many chairs and end-tables that we didn’t really need these.

I did some searching online, and that’s how I discovered the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.  This excellent organization takes donations of assorted stuff that might be useful and sells it to people who want to use it.  I spoke with someone there who agreed that our broken furniture might become part of someone’s art project.  When Nicholas and I brought in the broken furniture, we saw PCCR’s store for the first time.  It’s great!  So much cool stuff!  We had fun browsing…but I wouldn’t let him buy anything because we are trying to clear clutter out of our house.  He was very disappointed.

Then, when we needed party favors, we realized we could get them at PCCR!  We knew just what to get.  For only $1 each, we could give every guest a very special gift that any seven-year-old would be thrilled and honored to receive: Read more…

Get Rid of Ragweed and Grow Your Garden!

This is a guest post by Ben Stallings (brother of ‘Becca), adapted from this post at Blue Boat Home.

There are two troublesome things I have in abundance in early summer on our urban farm in eastern Kansas: overgrown weeds and ideas for what to do differently next year!  As is often the case, adding two problems equals a solution.

If you have an organic garden, you probably have a compost pile, and that means you need equal parts green matter and brown matter.  Dead leaves are easy to stockpile from the previous autumn, or you can buy straw by the bale, but green matter (fresh leaves, veggies, and fruit) doesn’t keep.  If you need a quick burst of fertility for your nitrogen-hungry summer crops, you need a lot of green matter that will break down quickly and completely.  You may not have seriously considered weeds as a source of food for your garden–a handful of weeds scattered around the garden is a nuisance–but a wheelbarrow-load growing all in one place is a resource! I start to eye the roadsides and alleyways for lush groves of unwanted plants.

I never paid much attention to giant ragweed (Ambrosia triffida) before I met my wife because I’m not allergic to its pollen, but Jessie is, and it makes her miserable throughout most of August and September.  I try to do whatever I can to minimize this, which means leaving the house closed up even on nice days.  But maybe I can do more than that . . . maybe I can get rid of the ragweed before it blooms! Read more…

Thrifty Tips

Today is the Frugal Tips Edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, so check out the money-saving ideas there!  I happen to prefer the word “thrifty” myself.  This is my big anthology of ways to save money!

I have to start off by responding to Kristen (hostess of Works-for-Me Wednesday)’s first tip, which is to print your own gift tags instead of buying greeting cards.  That does save money, but you know what will save even more?  Making your own tags (or full-size cards) out of free materials.  If you print things, you’re paying for printer ink/toner, paper, and electricity to run your computer and printer.  Some ideas for virtually-free homemade gift tags are in my article on saving money at Christmas.  Here are a few more options:

  • Cut up old file folders (bright-colored ones are especially nice) and use the stiff paper for gift tags or cards.  You can punch a hole in one corner with a standard paper punch and use a bit of ribbon to tie it onto the package.
  • Grab an unwanted sheet of paper that has a lot of text printed on one side but is blank on the other side.  Hand it to your child along with a large set of colored pencils or markers.  (Crayons won’t work unless they’re very new because their tips are too large–unless the text is printed at a largish size.)  Tell him to choose a color for each letter or number and color on all of them: make all the A’s red, all the B’s blue, etc.  This is educational and makes a beautiful pattern!  (It also keeps the kid busy while you are wrapping gifts.)  Then fold the paper in half and write your message on the blank side.
  • Use your sticker collection.  I still have mine in the shoebox where I started it in third grade, when sticker collecting was all the rage; I toss in whatever stickers come my way from junk mail, and once in a while I buy a packet of stickers at a good price, and I’m still using up all those stickers I bought with my allowance (or traded for) in elementary school!  Decorate paper with stickers to make a unique card.  I have made some very surreal ones in a sort of mad-lib style by putting together stickers with words on them.  Other times I set up animal or character stickers in a scene and draw word bubbles.
  • Clip silly or pretty pictures from magazines as you come across them.  Glue them onto paper in a collage to make a card, or glue just one very neatly on the front of the card and maybe draw a fancy border around it or give it fancy edges with pinking shears or scallop scissors.
  • Use those greeting cards that come free in the mail from various charities.  If they aren’t your style, draw in extra bits or add stickers for ironic humor.

Now for some other thrifty tips I don’t think I have mentioned before . . .  Read more…