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Hello All,

I know that I pretty much gave up keeping this updated quiet a few months back.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed blogging but between doing the garden and green lifestyle and blogging about it, I just was not keeping up!  So I am back again in middle of a dark and snowy winter to once again take the reins of a “green” lifestyle and experiment.

My garden unfortunately petered out about midsummer.  I did get some fantastic herbs, there was a lot of homemade mint tea and rosemary meats.  I got a decent handful of potatoes but I think I crowded them in my excitement.  The bulbs that came up were beautiful, I put up some pics of the early ones mostly crocus.  I did spend a few solid weeks eating many varieties of lettuce.  That was a real treat and proved how easy it was in the cool Seattle climate to get some early greens.

Gardening aside, my eco-friendly household has been pretty steady with its changes.  I have not used a standard home cleaning product in at least a year (My one exception is dishwasher soap, it is hard to find a good one!)  I successfully cleaned my burnt food covered oven with baking soda, vinegar and elbow grease.  It was a real relief to not have to use a conventional oven cleaner; I had a lot of pies to bake for the holidays!!

Of new interest to me are the “no-waste” households I see in the news.  Every person has a slightly different way they go about achieving their lifestyle and I am going to be bringing you at least a few posts on this topic.  I want to understand how to make the transition and what prevents more households from making these changes.  Also there will be lots more book reviews!  The subject of “green” is ever-growing on bookstore shelves and I can’t wait to see what’s new!!

In honor of spring, the welcoming of the fresh and new and the thought of Spring Cleaning, I want to revisit my initial definition of the term “green.”  In the past few posts I have introduced using the term “eco-conscious” in place of “green.”  I actually like them both, a lot, therefore I plan on using them interchangeably.

Here is a revised and expanded version of my definition based on some of my thoughts and work in the last six months.

*I took away the use of the “does not equal” symbol, I would rather keep everything in terms of positive action*

GREEN = using what you have and making it last

ECO-CONSCIOUS = re-evaluating your usual level of consumption

GREEN = not wasting what you have

GREEN = considering the environmental  impact of the things you consume

ECO-CONSCIOUS = staying informed about the most useful tools for a “green” life

GREEN = eliminating from you life the things/substances that harm you

ECO-CONSCIOUS = eliminating from your life the things you don’t need

The last two points are the main focus of this discussion.  First, I wanted to eliminate the things/substances in my life that may harm me.  This seems rather obvious but will mean different things to different people.  Initially it meant getting rid of all my mainstream cleaning supplies.  I now use the standard “green clean” kit; a bag of baking soda, jugs of distilled white vinegar, vegetable-based liquid soap, the occasional leftover chunk of lemon and salt.  There is a myriad of combinations for these ingredients so I just experiment for the cleaning occasion.

For myself, the next step in the elimination of harmful things rests with food.  Not in the sense of going on a diet but rather getting rid of the foods in my kitchen that offer nothing but empty calories and and the taste of artificial flavors.  A really excellent resource for changing food habits is another Michael Pollan gem called, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.  Its a very small book, coming in at just 139 pages.  Each page is devoted to a food rule and the rules encompass everything from what to eat to where to shop for food.  I am considering removing the pages and posting as many as I can around my house, especially in the kitchen!

After a long winter of keeping the windows closed and accumulating the dust and clutter of life I wanted that feeling of lightness and clean.  So it became the perfect time to eliminate the things from my life that I did not need.  For a solid week I was really focused on getting rid of stuff.  I wanted to fly through my closets, book shelves and kitchen cupboards pulling out anything and everything I deemed superfluous.  Suffice it to say it has not been that whirlwind of an experience.  In fact, it has been a little tougher than I thought.  There appears to be a tiny hoarder hidden inside of me, a voice that says, “Hey, you might want that, later.”  There was also the question of, “Well I don’t need it but I certainly enjoy it, so whats wrong with that?”  The answer:  Nothing!  I realized that I was most frustrated and looking to cleanse my surroundings when everything got cluttered and disorganized.  So in the process of cleaning things out, I made a big effort to organize what I did want to keep.  The min-homesteader in me was eager to keep some of the old clothing for potholder and quilt material, and make a good storage space for the jars and containers I wanted for candles and soaps.

This post is a bit of a grab bag.  Obviously I touched on a lot of points that will each eventually be posts on their own.  What I wanted to convey is how “green” or “eco-conscious” is a concept that can be easily incorporated into everyday living and that your current lifestyle need not be utterly torn down to make way for “green.”  I see it more like a regime change.  Most people will probably do some kind of a Spring Clean.  Take it as an opportunity to try a little baking soda in your scrubbing, throw out the candy (or instead of waste, give it to someone with a sweet tooth!) and give your craft clutter a re-evaluation.  I cannot wait to explore the rest of my definition as I try out more and more “green” ideas!!

Here again is a small update on my veggie-herb garden to-be!  I went wild this week and procured the bags of dirt my dull yard soil desperately needed.  However, the joke’s on the yard, it won’t get this soil until AFTER the growing season!  I am taking an idea from Mother Earth News about getting started in vegetable gardening without dealing with the shortcomings of my current soil.  I have my seed potatoes soaking up some rays and getting their eyes ready in their handy egg carton tray.  I have two varieties; bintje, which is a golden yellow medium size tuber (seems like a Yukon Gold lite), and a French Fingerling which is a medium to large tuber with a distinctive rose-colored skin.  The only problem is that in some belated additional research I discovered that these are both mid-season varieties.  So much for a lengthy harvest!  Oh well, a lesson learned for next year 🙂

Eye on a French fingerling

 

 

In addition to potatoes seeds for a beautiful red poppy called “American Legion” went into the ground around my tulips and hyacinths.  I learned my lesson last summer when my fall bulbs had bloomed and finally dried up leaving me with a bed of depressing yellow husks and nothing to coming up to replace them.  If all goes well as the bulbs die out my hardy summer blooming perennials and new annual flowers will gently take over the show.

 

My final little announcement concerns my “herb garden.”  I have this in quotes because quiet frankly none of this is from seed out of fear that I would not be able to get anything started!  In the Northwest many of the popular culinary herbs can be tricky to get started because of their desire for such warm weather.  Instead I bought some nice starter plants; thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano.  There seemed to be a million different varieties of each but I gravitated towards ones that were deemed hardier and had more pronounced flavors to cook with.

The start of my "herb garden"

 

I chose a metal beverage bucket to house the herbs so they could be more easily moved around, very few places around my house get continual sunlight and I wanted the herbs to get the most they could.  Ultimately I want to always keep a strong and varied herb garden so that I can begin making my own supplies of essential oils and dried herbs.  It is amazing to see how even the smallest projects can create big opportunities for satisfying many daily needs.   It can be a great example of self-sufficiency, even on a small-scale.

So I made a trip to see a curious creature this week-the garden center ( This was after having made an online order of seeds and starters).  I am happy to report that I stuck with my initial garden plan!  This year will include two types of potatoes, pole beans, bush beans, a lettuce mix, snap peas, a basic herb selection and two types of sunflowers.  Ok, I fibbed, I threw on a small and charming rhubarb start because I dream of one day making a strawberry-rhubarb pie from scratch!!  It is with this desire of “from-scratch” that the garden center becomes an odd concept in my mind.  Without them where would I begin as a Hopeful Gardener?  I think maybe a seed swap or a neighbor with a prolific garden?  Maybe scavenge from a wild version (that’s assuming I know what I am looking at) ?  I certainly see the irony in my comments on a resource I so clearly must take advantage of.  As I browsed the massive selection of seeds, soils, sprays, plants, gloves, tools and every decorative garden stake known to man I began to note the sterility, tidiness and not to mention extravagant selection and required consumption in the modern gardening experience.  How is it eco-conscious to buy plastic bags of fertilizer every season?  Or a new set of plastic tools?  The ultimate silly that I recently laid eyes on was the plastic compost tumbler.  When I saw this product all I could imagine were people buying it with the best of intentions to begin composting and having it sit outside with a handful of rotting vegetables in it for the next few years, the novelty of it having worn off and the plastic with us forever.  Naturally there is a place in the world for businesses to offer gardeners and farmers the tools to do their craft.  At what point are these offerings keeping gardeners isolated from or even working against their purpose to cultivate and enjoy the world around them?

In this second year of my established garden I have worked very hard to not require a “tidy” garden from myself.  I have avoided artificial mulches, fertilizers and the overwhelming desire to weed like its going out of style.  When I fertilize I enjoy using Dr. Earth products.  They create organic products and much to my enjoyment only allow their products to be carried at independent garden centers (however I get mine at an Ace Hardware- not a chain?)  I discovered how effective it is to re-use and re-classify materials I already have for gardening.  This has significantly cut down on what I need to go and purchase new.  The most obvious example is the re-use of containers for planting-although I do use some of the old plastic starter plant containers to transport mulch and compost to different beds.  I treat my garden tools well and I don’t get hooked on garden gadgets.  You really only need a certain number of tools to do most garden jobs and a little research will save you money.  I will admit, the closest to “gadget” I get is my bulb planter.  Since bulbs are some of my favorites to cultivate this tube with teeth is indispensable when I am digging 60, four-inch deep holes into the ground as the bitter November winds blow.

A peak of green from a mysterious bulb...

One of the best gardening moment I had so far actually happened today.  I took some composted mulch I have been working on for a year and a half and spread it around my garden bed.  This pile was partially in place when I moved into my house and I amended it with  kitchen leftovers and cover soil from when I took out a number of fabric weed sheets.  Since the bottom of the pile was a bit of a mystery and the top was less than carefully planned I waited two winters while I turned and observed.  Today I laid it around my new bulbs and hardy perennials, mostly as a mulch and hopefully as a mild compost.

Funny enough I plan to go to the garden center this weekend and buy the bags of soil I am going to use to start my vegetable garden.  The goal is to get what I need and get out (a good goal to have at any store!)  Until my dreams of self-sufficiency and homesteading more fruitfully blossom I will admit that a Hopeful Gardner has to start somewhere. The important thing is that I finish in the garden bed, not at the check stand 🙂

As I gradually experiment with the intellectual, emotional and lifestyle changes associated with an eco-conscious life-yes, I have officially decided that this is my new “green” descriptive but my blog name probably won’t change for a while– I try to remind myself why anyone is or would be interested in this life.  It’s not only about maintaining and hopefully improving a damaged world but also understanding and creating a sustainable life as a survival tool.  A question that has interested me for many years goes along the lines of, ” If everything were to rapidly begin falling apart tomorrow, what do I know and what can I do to survive? ”  Before I continue, I am referring to an economic disaster that changes the face of our everyday lives, not necessarily nuclear war or zombies although its good to try to be prepared 🙂  Here I introduce a new category for future posts, Sustainability as Survival.  Yes, this sounds ominous, but I was fully inspired by another book I am reading called The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen.  I admit that I first assumed it would be another thin guide to the charm of chickens and what you can grow on a patio.  While both of these topics are discussed, the authors forge ahead with each subject as a facet of the concept of homesteading.  Homesteading (to myself) being a way of life that emphasizes self-reliance and ingenuity rather than consumption based beyond the home and passive reliance on resources controlled by others.

One section of the book that really caught my interest was about how to construct your own stoves and other heat appliances.  I have been introduced to an item they call the “Buddy Burner.”  It is cardboard that has been curled and stuffed in a shallow can then allowed to soak in wax until you have a kind of high-powered candle.  A simple concept that when read emphasized my lack of knowledge about basic and intermediate levels of living.

The broad range of subjects, overall tone and emphasis in important details makes this book such a standout and a truly useful resource for anyone considering a more independent eco-conscious life that can easily translate to help in a (possible) time of hardship.

Ruminating on this question of long-term survival can seem depressing, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to post this.  However, the “green” or eco-conscious movement begs this topic to be considered.  Why else are people wanting to learn how to live without plastic, grow their own food or power their own homes?  The more I write about and research the concepts of sustainability, the art of homesteading, a lifestyle that emphasizes reduced consumption and advanced self-sufficiency the more I understand the essential connections amongst these topics.

What do you think of sustainability as survival?

 

At the end of the day...

 

 

Hopeful Garden 2011

After some consideration these gardening posts will probably come in two parts.  The first being a discussion of any gardening related reading (all of my reading and reviews will eventually make it to the Resources and Inspirations page) and then news on my Spring 2011 Hopeful Garden.  In documenting the process I am looking forward to better understanding the work a garden truly involves and how certain styles of gardening relate to the eco-conscious movement-could this be the “green” replacement phrase I was looking for? I may need to post a poll to get that one figured out 🙂

Now that I am typing and talking to myself, these gardening posts are probably going to come in three parts.  1.) Gardening reads and musings    2.)  Updates on Hopeful Garden 2011    3.) The progress of my current garden beds, always a source of curiosity and wonder.  Today I shall count all this explanation as my musings and discussion-I never want anyone to feel as if they are slogging through a post!

Hopeful Garden 2011 is still just that, hopeful.  Not in the negative *sigh* kind of way but more of a twinkle-in-my-eye way.  The goal is before I head to my soft and fluffy bed that I write a list of exactly what I want to grow.  Nothing else, just that.  It’s a starting point for all that research and seed shopping.  I am sticking to foods I know I am willing to eat if they survive; beans, potatoes, lettuce, zucchini, pumpkins, herbs and rhubarb.  Not wasting is a huge part of these eco-focused lifestyle changes.  In addition, I am planning a to do a “bag garden.”  For those who may not know, this means taking bags of garden soil, cutting a large window in the top and punching numerous holes through the bottom and planting directly in them.  It doesn’t sound pretty, but its the easiest way to get a veggie garden started if you don’t necessarily have the perfect area to start with.  The bag will smother the weeds and leftover turf during the growing season and once the plants are done you can tear away the bag and break it all into the ground, making way for a more sophisticated bed next year or even a start for the fall and winter plants.

All three colors!

Finally, my current garden which I have illustrated with a little photo from this morning.  This was taken during a break between pounding hail and rain! I really tried to get the crocus perspective.  These are the children of a previous year’s planting and I am proud that I was able to help preserve them and that they came back so strong!!  From some garden gossip I heard crocus wear themselves out pretty quick so I may need to look into adding more this coming fall.  But for now I will enjoy the added color.

The Would-Be Gardener

I figure I will just dive in to this post since I spent the whole morning online trying to plan my mega-garden and now feel that I have much to say!  And none of it has to do directly with gardening!  Instead, its more of the confusion in planning for the spring/summer and thoughts on what gardening entails in modern life.  A great book that made me really meditate on this subject is Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education.  As usual Pollan adeptly blends his own gardening experiences with the history of horticulture.  As an aside, if it is just the plant stories you are interested in Pollan wrote a book called The Botany of Desire (also an excellent documentary) that delves into the histories of four of the most influential plants in human history.  What Second Nature offers is a look at the what the act of gardening means to people, how it signifies a person’s place in the human culture and where the balance is between clear-cut nature control and letting nature run rampant around your home and yard.  After scolding myself for not being a more prepared gardener (I am only now starting to write modest plan of what I think I want to grow)  I make sure to remember this book and how an appreciation for what is going on in your yard, whether you have it under total control or not is the new essence of gardening.

As I was researching my hopes and dreams for a more substantial garden this year I ran into the familiar feeling of needing to go shopping.  I don’t have the right seed starter, I don’t have seeds, my garden tools are lacking, I could stand to have a soil testing kit, and so on and so forth.  Then, I remembered my very current experience with gardening.  It has been limited to fall and spring planted bulbs.  My favorites for fall planting are hyacinth, tulip and crocus.  I know something else is planted out there but I cannot for the life of me remember what it is!  Spring plantings have been a little less successful simply because I have the worlds shadiest yard and most of the popular flowers for summer demand an intense amount of sun (never shall I get to enjoy a lily)  But, my luck has been with begonias and anemones.  Everyday I leave the house I always peruse the garden bed which stretches from underneath my living room window to the driveway.  There has been snow, drenching rain, hard freezes and lots of wind this winter, but I am astonished to report that right on schedule, my crocus from not last November but the November before that have come back with force and became a thick strip of orange, white and purple edging.  This in concert with the peeking tulips (both old and new), hyacinth (old) and a couple of lavender plants that beautifully wintered has made me absolutely appreciate the effortless work of Mother Nature. I realize that any effort I make to add to my surroundings will be met with just the right energy from Mother Nature.  With this thought in mind, I will be grabbing some seed packets, picking a pretty good spot and forging ahead with sunflowers, potatoes and beans.  Hopefully Mother Nature agrees with me 🙂

As I experiment with the various green improvements to my lifestyle I like to read a few types of books (besides my usual perusal of the internet, which I can say sometimes gets a little overwhelming!)  At first I stuck to the nitty gritty informational kind that included cleaning product recipes, organic gardening and self-sufficiency/homesteading advice.  Most of these are great, but I feel the gap between my current life and the fruitful organic garden and chemical-free environment.  I needed to uncover my own motivations toward change in hopes of discovering how to attain my green-life goals.  Recently I have begun to read books that focus more on the intellectual and spiritual reasons for choosing a green.  This month’s book is Twelve By Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid & Beyond the American Dream by William Powers.  So far it is a deeply emotional and spiritual look at why one person chose and why another person may choose to pursue a extremely simplified and in turn, greener life.  Once I am finished a final review will be posted under my Inspirations and Resources page.  Until then I will share the tid bits that speak to me most.

Finally, the word “green.”  For my purposes and the purposes of many a blog and book, green is not only meant to be understood as the desired color of a perfect world, but in a much larger sense as a way of harmonious and clean life.  I struggle with the use of “green” as the descriptor.  It has become short-hand for a multitude of thoughts and philosophies and I often feel that the intricate and awesome connections amongst them is lost in order for this movement to stay “catchy.”  In an upcoming post I want to explore these connections and hopefully find a new way of describing my work-it may even mean changing the name of this blog!!

Hello all,

As you can see I have sorely neglected my blog and I am now hoping to get back on track with it.  My goal is to deliver on a regular basis.  What I have to say may be small, but I want to show you, the reader, something new as often as possible.

Unfortunately, my first post of the now old new year is going to be a bummer.  After some unexpected research, I have discovered that one of my beloved cleaning ingredients has been implicated in health problems and now takes its place in the pantheon of things to avoid.  That ingredient is BORAX.  I found the article at www.motherearthnews.com which then led me to an environmental health blog along with a liberal helping of site user comments on both.  Disappointing yes, devastating, no.  I went to my cleaning supplies and dumped out my bottles of all-purpose cleaner and made an experimental substitute.  Instead of Borax I used baking soda, this could be a problem since the baking soda and vinegar in in my recipe are going to react with each other, but we shall see.

This problem brings me to another thought.  Much of the “green” culture is based in a fear of the things we don’t want in our lives and fear of the things we used to do.  You can’t just throw anything you don’t want in the garbage.  You can’t use most of the cleaning and hygiene supplies for fear of industrial chemicals.  The foods we eat are genetically altered or covered in pesticides and pumped with hormones.  While I will always agree that you should be educated about your world, at a certain point the perspective needs to change.  If what we know about our world is true, then how do we prefer to live?  How do I buy/grow/support food I want to eat?  What should I clean with?  How do I want to organize my recycling?  Education and understanding can quickly lead to negativism and paranoia because it can be almost too easy find whats wrong.  Changing my own lifestyle and in hopeful extension others’ lifestyles, is what interests me most.  This recent borax discovery emphasizes the need to focus on finding the positive alternatives as we educate ourselves about what we use and depend on.

This was a wordy post, I hope to get down to nuts-and-bolts in posts to come!!

So maybe you have cleared out a bunch of your cleaning chemicals, possibly mixed up a bottle or two of an all-purpose cleaner and scrubbed your first sink with baking soda, excellent!!  If you have not, I am sure you are well on your way and I could probably stand to post some of the recipes I use as a start point, but be sure to check out my Resources and Inspirations page where I list the books I have used so far.

My second major change-up when it  came to eliminating unnecessary chemicals in my life was the overhaul of the laundry.  At first I was nervous, what could possibly clean my clothes with the depth and vigor of that viscous bright blue compound I have always used?  Any reading into alternative cleaning techniques will leave you frightened of laundry detergent.  The concern that stuck with me the most was the use of surfactants, bleaches, dyes and formaldehyde that often do not completely rinse off the clothing-the clothing that touches my body!!  Many books mentioned soap flakes, Borax and washing soda in order to concoct my own.  Sadly, my bravery has yet to extend that far mostly for fear of my clothes and washer in any misguided attempt to combine the correct ingredients properly.  Luckily for me, there is a current trend against standard detergents that appears to stem from the objection to the phosphates that get rinsed off in the drain water, causing a host of environmental issues.  As with any product trend that gets support, the retailers must follow.  Now a trip to the laundry aisle is littered with standard detergent alternatives.  I would never advise to pick the first product that claims it is “green.”  More often than not, the company may have eliminated or reduced the phosphates but not much else.  I was looking for a product that took me back to the original elements of laundry cleaning.  The first one I have I tried is a brand called Ecos.  This stuff comes in a giant clear bottle with a very detergent-like clear liquid inside.  The ingredient list is exactly what I like to see in a green product, short and pronounceable! It is highly concentrated like many natural, vegetable/fruit based soaps so one bottle has lasted me a good 4 months and it has a very mild and pleasant smell.  Can’t complain yet 🙂  Obviously, as with any products, you just have to experiment with what works for you, but if the plan is to go green, remember to do your homework and read that bottle/box-a true green product will tell you all you need to know!!!

In other laundry news, besides soap flakes, Borax or washing soda I came across discussion of things called soap nuts.  Check out urbanherbwifery for the blog post I discovered. I can’t wait to try them out!!