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Posts Tagged ‘green’

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!!

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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!!

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So, before I begin another post about the wonders of cleaning green, I wanted to touch on the use of the word “green” itself and how it gets used in less than satisfactory ways by companies to convince you to buy their product.  When I peruse the store aisles for green labeled products it is very inviting to simply pick up the first bottle or box with a tree or swath of greenery and flowers on it.  Upon closer inspection, many of these items stop being “green” once the packaging is stripped away.  From simple trial and error this is what I have discovered about the differences between “real” and “fake” green products:  its all on the label.  Turn over that bottle or box and look for an ingredient list.  If there isn’t one, its safe to say that you would not be happy with what is in it.  If you turn it over and do find a list, read it.  Sure, there are going to be ingredients that you don’t have a Wikipedia-sized knowledge of but what would you rather clean with?

Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Organic Olive Oil, Tea Tree Extract, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Citric Acid, Tocopherol

OR

Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Decyl Glucoside, Fragrance, DMDM Hydantoin, Sodium Chloride, PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Sulfate, Polyquaternium-7, Citric Acid, Poloxamer 124, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, D&C Red No. 33, FD&C No. 1

The first soap is the tea tree oil variety of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and the second is a common brand of hand soap.  I can’t make any claims against the ingredients in the second hand soap.  I have read a pretty large chunk of text that lists out various toxic compounds and chemicals that are used to produce everyday household materials.  Its a disturbing thought and I vote to use the kind of products whose ingredients are simple and straight forward, to me that is one of the definitions of “green.”

Consider another angle to the concept of a “green” product.  I have been out and about reading articles and blogs that concern this topic.  Something I see a lot of is the idea that what may be directly “green” and beneficial for your home and family-such as a kitchen cleaner that doesn’t require an additional rinsing to make the surface food safe-may continue to contribute to other environmental issues such as non-recyclable packaging or the use of non-renewable resources to produce the product.  It ends up being a lot to think about when turning your life green!  More posts on this in the future, I want to do a little more research on how people handle this balancing act.

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The topic that led me to a more green, human and environment friendly approach to living, is that of cleaning. It certainly does not sound thrilling, but it can be especially satisfying to realize that you can get the same (and often better!) results by using what are being considered eco-and human-friendly substances. I don’t use the term products, which to me denotes a specific conglomeration of materials,  because a majority of the items I use for cleaning are simple ingredients that often alone or in concert with just one other ingredient can get all the work done.

Here are the top items every house should have on hand for cleaning:

  1. Vinegar
  2. Baking soda/Borax
  3. Vegetable-based liquid soap

Thats it, really.  You can use these in a variety of recipes that create everything from a soft scrub for the bathroom to an all-purpose spray.  A lot of times I find myself just grabbing the baking soda and soap and mushing them together on whatever surface needs some cleaning.  I have recently developed a drain cleaning fetish (do with that what you will!) But I love scrubbing around a drain with some baking soda and a cloth, smooshing the soda down into the drain and throwing a little vinegar down after it-make sure to cap the drain to let the fizz do its work!  Follow this with a boiling water rinse and you will be reminded of the original look of your pipes.  This is only the beginning!! Remember, your entire way of doing things is not going to change overnight.  Sometimes its nice to start with the small things and being green is as much about using responsibly as it is about nixing the chemicals.  Try to use up the cleaning supplies you have left.  Have 3/4 of a bottle?  Research your local household hazardous waste facility or give away to someone who will use them.

Coming soon, more discussion on the Big Three cleaning ingredients and what to do when concocting your own laundry detergent is just not practical!

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