Thursday, 16 April 2009

20 Household Uses For Vinegar

Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

I have stopped buying traditional cleaning products completely now, and have a cleaning cupboard that holds just a few things: vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, olive oil, lemon juice, Bon Ami, and locally-made biodegradable soap made from olive oil.

Vinegar is my most frequently-used item, so I thought I'd share how I use it first!

Worried About The Scent Of Vinegar?

With all of these uses below, there will be a faint scent of vinegar. Remember when I wrote about Redefining Normal? Think of this as the new normal! The vinegar scent will go away quickly, pretty much as soon as the vinegar dries. And it is a lot better than the smell of artificial chemicals and fragrances that just aren't good for you to be breathing. If you truly hate the smell, try adding a few drops of lemon juice, a cinnamon stick, or a sprig of rosemary, oregano, or lavender to your vinegar solutions.

Also, I use organic white vinegar because I think the scent is easier to cover up and it dissipates more quickly, but many people prefer apple cider vinegar. Try both and see which works best for you!

Twenty Household Uses For Vinegar

1. Washing Windows and Mirrors. I have a small spray bottle, bought in a drug store, that I fill at about 1 part vinegar to three parts water. Just good old-fashioned white vinegar you can buy in any store, or make yourself. With that, I spray windows and mirrors with the vinegar solution, and wipe with a soft, clean towel. Others use newsprint and swear by it - that has just never worked for me, but give it a go if you have newspapers lying around.

2. Washing Kitchen and Bathroom Surfaces. When cleaning my bathroom or kitchen, I use Bon Ami and a rag to really wash the surfaces. Then I spray all surfaces with that same spray bottle of 1:3 (vinegar:water), and wipe with a rag. The vinegar gives a shine to the surfaces, gets rid of soap scum, and also kills most germs and molds.

According to a Heinz spokesperson in this article, repeated studies have shown that their vinegar kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80% of viruses. Quite frankly, we are as a society far too focused on antibacterial everything - we need a few of them around for our children's immune systems to develop fully, for our immune systems to adapt, and to ensure that we're not creating monster super-viruses.

If you cook with meat and want to be extra safe, you can always wash cutting board surfaces with hydrogen peroxide to kill the other 1% of bacteria (I do not clean with chlorine bleach as I think it is awful stuff).

3. Toilet Bowl Cleaner. Pour 1/2 cup straight vinegar into the bowl, let stand for 20 minutes, and scrub clean. You can do this with hydrogen peroxide as well.

4. Mopping Unwaxed Floors. Add 1 cup vinegar to 1 gallon hot water. This makes them shine nicely, too. On some wood floors, the vinegar will actually strip the wax. Ours are so old and have so many layers of wax on them, that it works great.

5. Dusting. I don't use this mixture on wood (I use a pure oil instead). But I do use it on other hard surfaces. The same way I use it in the kitchen: spray with the 1:3 solution, and wipe with a rag. Alternatively, spray on the rag and then wipe the surface clean.

6. Cleaning the coffee machine, coffee and tea pot, coffee filter, and tea strainer. If your coffee machine is not making as good of coffee as it used to, chances are that there is a buildup of minerals, coffee oils, and other residue. Fill your coffee pot or espresso reservoir up to the full level, with 1 part vinegar to two parts water, and run that through the machine. If you haven't done this in a while, you may want to repeat the process. Then run just pure water through the machine to clear it out. And you can soak coffee and tea pots, coffee filters, and tea strainers in the same solution to remove residue and stains.

7. Cleaning the refrigerator. That same 1:3 solution works perfectly. I usually make a fresh batch with warm water, as that seems to work better inside the cold refrigerator.

8. Unclogging Drains. If water hasn't yet backed up, pour 1 cup of baking soda down, followed by 3 cups boiling water. Repeat if the drain doesn't clear. If the drain still doesn't clear, follow with 1 cup of vinegar. This makes it bubble, fizz and usually that does the trick! If this does not work, we usually buy enzymes from the local health food store.

9. Cleaning the Iron. I have only done this once, because I so rarely use my iron (I spray clothing with a fine water mist to get wrinkles out), but this does work! When an iron needs to be cleaned, you'll see white or murky residue inside the water reservoir. Fill the reservoir with 1 part vinegar to two parts water, and then run the iron on steam mode until it's out of water (you can do this in the air or onto a rag). If the residue isn't gone, you may need to repeat the process. Then run straight water through and do the same thing.

10. Fabric Softener. Add 1/2 cup vinegar to the rinse water. Note: Most natural fibers do not cling very much, so don't worry about fabric softeners at all if your load is all cotton. And make sure you don't over-dry. Or better yet, line dry your clothing and you don't have to worry about it!

11. Alternative to color-safe bleach. Yes, you can have two-in-one power! Vinegar doubles as a color-safe bleach and fabric softener: add 1/2 cup vinegar to the wash water, add the soap, and let the washer fill up before putting clothing in. If you're also looking for a fabric softener, you probably won't have to add more vinegar during the rinse cycle (above), but try both ways and see what works.

12. Vinegar Hair Rinse. I have posted here and here about my hair treatment. I haven't used shampoo nor conditioner in over 6 months, and I love it. Basically, I mix 1 part vinegar with 8 parts water, and add a cinnamon stick and a bit of vanilla for a nice fragrance. Did I mention I love it??!

13. Denture & Mouthguard Cleaner. Soak them overnight in pure vinegar, and rinse in the morning. (Note: I'm not to the denture age yet, but I do have a mouthguard because I grind my teeth at night!)

14. Kill Weeds. Yes, it's true! My mom taught me this. Pour vinegar full strength onto weeds in sidewalk cracks, and along the edges of the yard, and presto - they die! She's been doing it for years. Gardening aficionados, do you know what it's doing? It's neutralizing the nitrogen, so it's essentially starving the weeds.

15. Ant Deterrent. It's not perfect, but it will help. Clean the surfaces with a 1:3 vinegar solution. Then make your own - or purchase - a natural cleaning solution that contains orange oil and spray it on the ant paths. Leave for at least a few days, until the ants find another place to go. Then clean it up with the vinegar solution. This has worked for me all over the country: north, south, east, and west.

16. Increase soil acidity. If you've tested your soil and found it to be not quite acidic enough, you can add a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water when watering acid-loving plants, or when preparing the soil to be planted. Wait a few days before planting seeds or fragile seedlings, but hardier plants will be fine.

17. Cat urine. Yes, this is where we really discovered the magic of vinegar. If a cat pees on something that you can throw in the washing machine: wash it in hot water with a cup of vinegar (if it's really bad, it doesn't hurt to put in more vinegar). If a cat pees on furniture (eg, sofa, bed, plush chair): first blot up as much pee as you can with a towel. Then you want to really douse the area with vinegar, full strength, making sure that it gets deep into the cushions as far as the cat urine had. After several minutes, dab the area with a towel (or two), to get up as much vinegar as you can. And then cover the area with a doubled-up towel, and top with a couple of heavy books to help get up the rest of the liquid. Leave that for several hours.

This works because the main ingredient in urine is ammonia (like the nitrogen discussed above, when killing weeds). Ammonia is a base, so vinegar, an acid, neutralizes it.

Note: We have used this method on a couple of furniture items that we really cared about, and it did not stain them. But do use with caution. At the same time, generally the cat pee has a greater chance of staining than the vinegar (so at that point, what do you have to loose).

18. Cleaning Gold Jewelry and Tarnished Brass. Ok, I haven't done it (because when I wear jewelry it's generally silver), but I know many people that swear by it. Submerge jewelry in apple cider vinegar for 15 minutes. Then remove the jewelry and dry with a towel. For tarnished brass, simply pour a bit of vinegar on a rag and rub off the tarnish. For super sticky tarnish you may need to soak it a bit in the vinegar.

19. Food-Related Uses: For Instance, Pickling, Canning, Curdling Milk or Soymilk to Simulate Buttermilk, Homemade Salad Dressing, A Nice Addition To Pasta, etc. This topic is for another post, but of course in addition to all of the above uses, vinegar is incredibly useful as food!

20. There Are Many More. If you have another use for vinegar, please share it with us in the comments!!

Save Money, Time, and Anguish!

Ok so, with this list, you can now stop buying a whole lot of other products that you don't need and save a ton of money! Also, there is no need to worry about trying to find natural products in the grocery store, because now you can make them with vinegar and water (and sometimes one other ingredient).

If you want to save more money by making your own vinegar, check out Rhonda Jean's great instructions (with more here) - it's surprisingly easy.

And finally, if you have children and/or pets, please consider replacing your hazardous cleaning products with safe products such as vinegar. If you need incentive to do so, please read Kendra's post here.

What Else?

For those of you who are using vinegar for household needs, what did I leave off this list?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

All Natural Cleaning Supply Basket - As a Gift!

Beauty That Moves
Spring has sprung here in the Northern Hemisphere! I think in my next post I will share a little bit about our vegetable garden attempts on this little urban homestead. You may have noticed most of my writing here at the co-op reflects the simple life within the home. For me, it is important to embrace and work with what I have rather than to ignore simple living until the right plot of land comes along. So I tend to bring a lot of topics from the kitchen, the laundry room, and the craft room. These are the areas where I can make the most difference in the simplicity as well as the vibrancy of our day to day living.

This time of year always seems to bring with it many invitations to gatherings that gift giving is a part of. It always makes me feel so conflicted. While it is wonderful to give something special, I have a really difficult time with the stuff that takes over these sort of occasions. As I was restocking my own cleaning supplies over the weekend, I thought... what a lovely Bridal Shower, Birthday, or Mother's Day gift a homemade, all natural cleaning supplies basket would be!

Now, I know you are all a pretty easy audience, each of you would be thrilled with such a gift! But what about other people? Not everyone spends their afternoon searching the web for green and frugal living ideas, hard to believe but true! Here's what I think... I think people from all walks of life are waking up. I think even your girlfriend with her weekly pedicures, who has the perfect haircut and correct handbag is becoming tired of overspending, over consuming and exposing loved ones to harsh chemicals. I think such a person would actually appreciate the help in getting started on this path. And I really do believe we each start with one single step. Why not let that first step be cleaning supplies? It'll cost you next to nothing to put this together. I had the basket already on hand (I tend to pick up extra baskets when thrifting to keep on hand). I made the labels with permanent colored marker and covered them with clear packing tape for extra protection. Of course something created on the computer would be great too.

Don't forget to include all of the recipes with your cleaning kit, this is the most important part! (I happened to have some very old self-laminating supplies here at home, so these are laminated.) By doing so, you have not only provided a friend with the inspiration to be a little greener, you have empowered them with the simple tools and information to carry on with this practice for years to come. Maybe you could even include your favorite list of simple living resources on the web!

All of my recipes are variations of the ones Rhonda provides on her website. I add essential oils to my supplies, a personal preference.

I hope you find this idea useful, and perhaps it'll produce a few spin-off ideas of your own - do share!! I always appreciate your ideas...

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Green Tomato Pickle

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Chilly nights and the first frost on the ground?  Have your tomato bushes finally finished, but there are still lots of green fruit on your plants?  Well, look no further for a gourmet solution.  This recipe will have you breaking out the Mason/Fowlers Jars in no time flat!  I whipped up a few jars yesterday from left over tomatoes when I pulled out the last of my tomato vines on Saturday. 

You need:

  • 750 ml white vinegar
  • 3 kg (6lbs) green tomatoes, any type
  • 1 kg (2lbs) brown onions
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • half teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 kg (2lb) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder
  • 3 tablespoons mustard powder


1.  Chop the onions and tomatoes, sprinkle with salt, mix well in a bowl, then leave stand overnight.

2.  The next day drain off the liquid.  Add tomatoes/onions to a large frying pan and add three quarters of the vinegar.  Bring to boil and boil for 10 minutes.  Add the sugar, bring back to the boil whilst stirring.  Then boil for 1 hour to reduce, stirring often.

GTP in frying pan 3.  Mix the remaining vinegar with the dry ingredients.  Add to the pan and stir until well combined.  Boil for a further 5 minutes, then bottle into sterilised bottles and seal. 

In this case I halves the recipe and as you can see it makes about two and a half 600ml (1 pint) jars of pickle.  I did not have enough green tomatoes to make up the 1.5kg I needed, so I added some not quite ripe red ones, hence the final colour of the pickle.  I did not need to water bath the jars because there is so much vinegar in the recipe.

Green Tomato Pickle JarsThis is one of the nicest ways to use green tomatoes.  I just hate throwing them into the compost bin along with the spent tomato vines.  It tastes great, and a good way to use something one would normally throw away.  If you have any green tomato tips, we would love to hear them via comment.


Monday, 13 April 2009

What do I do with all this compost?

Posted by Compostwoman from The Compostbin

So, after my compost post you should all have an idea how make good compost (assuming you didn't, already :-)) )and all the things you could be putting in to make it work really well....

I removed the wooden slats from one of the bins the other day, to see how my friends the worms and insects and microbes were getting on with composting...and see what I found! Decomposing stuff up the top and then a beautiful layer of freshly made compost all the way down to the bottom of the box. Ah, the magic of compost. Throw in stuff which is waste and get out for free a valuable resource, which you would otherwise have to pay for!

This is a compostbin filled up in Oct 2008.

But what do you do with it when it is ready, and how do you even tell when it is ready? Well, your compost is ready when it looks dark brown and smells nice and earthy. It should also be slightly moist and have a crumbly texture.

It probably won't look like the compost (growing medium) you buy in the shops and yours will still maybe have twigs and eggshell in it but don't worry... it's still perfectly good to use and you can simply sieve out any larger bits and return them to your compost bin.

So, dig it out and if you can, leave it to mature for a month or two, as fresh compost can "scorch" soft plants if used immediately.

Your lovely compost is food for your garden and will help improve the soil structure, maintain moisture levels and keep your soils pH balance in check while helping to suppress plant disease. Compost has everything your plants need, including nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, it improves your soil's condition and your plants and flowers will love it ( and you for giving them it!)

The compost at the bottom is ready. It looks like soil, smells sweet and has few "bits" left undecomposed in it. There may be egg shells and bits of twig left ( and corks!) but apart from that it has all turned into wonderful, rich compost.

Using your compost in the veg garden

Use about 1 wheelbarrow load per 5 sq m, applied in the spring and summer. Dig it in to the top 15 cms or leave it as a surface mulch. I apply my home made compost at a depth of about 3 cm on the soil but I have lots to spare. I often also put some on the autumn after lifting crops, I then cover with cardboard or geotextile and let the earthworms drag it down into the soil for me.

I also use a generous layer of my home made compost in the bottom of potato and bean trenches.

If you don't have enough compost to do all the veg patch, concentrate on the potato, bean, curcubit and green leafy veg areas. As part of a crop rotation your whole patch will eventually get some compost.

Another experiment in progress! As you know I make a LOT of I use these raised beds to put it in , grow in it and then at the end of the season put the spent compost on the veg garden and start again with filling the empty raised beds next spring.

SO...this bed has lots of lovely home made compost in it and I am using it to grow early spuds and artichokes in it.

One advantage of doing this is that IF your compost still has weed seeds left, you can see them as they germinate and simply hoe or pull them out....

I also grow the indoor tomatos and peppers and aubergines in large pots standing in trays inside the Polytunnel. The reason being that the polytunnel (erected by the previous owners, not us!) was sited on a load of subsoil and rubble dug out from when the garage was the ground is NOT suitable to grow directly into! Even *I* can't work any kind of miracle with it....

I use builders buckets with holes drilled in the base as large pots and plant into them, it works very well, and then the compost also goes on the veg garden at the end of the growing season.

I now grow exclusively in my own compost, in 2008 I experimented to see if my home made growing medium was as good as commercial peat free potting mix, and I found MY mix gave me earlier and better yields from the same sowings of the same varieties with identical this year I am only buying in growing medium to sow seeds into. Once they are plants I will transplant them into my home made growing medium , of compost:loam: sand.

May 2 2008

18th May 2008

In addition to making all this compost in bins I use lots of cardboard/paper to cover my plot when the soil is bare, to stop loss of precious nutrients and to provide some organic material as it rots down...I mulch directly with grass cuttings on fallow soil, and plant green manures WHEREVER I can to promote fertility and add humus to the soil.....

Other ideas for using your home made compost.

If you have plants in pots outdoors you could top dress the soil with a layer of home made compost. Take off the top few centimetres of existing soil and add your home compost. Leave a gap around soft stemmed plants. This will give your plants food and is a great way to make them more healthy.

Dressing your lawn with compost helps young grass take root and can make your garden healthier and greener. First, sieve the compost and remove any large twigs or other bits that have not quite broken down. Then mix it with the same amount of sharp sand : compost (to spread it more easily). You will need a layer of about 2.5cm. I use a stiff broom to brush it into the grass. Mature lawns can really benefit from this dose of nutrients but be careful as newly seeded or turfed lawns can be scorched by it.

Compost is great for your fruit trees and they will be very happy if you spread a thick layer of home made compost around the roots of the tree, as will any soft fruit trees. A 5-10cm layer around the roots will provide important nutrients and can protect against drought and disease. Avoid the base of the tree and do not spread too close to the trunk. This will also suppress weeds growing around them. Doing this once or twice a year will help your trees grow taller and bushier.

Using your compost as mulch is a great idea. Use your 'rough' compost (where not everything has completely broken down) over flowerbeds and around shrubs to help prevent soil erosion and replenish nutrients. Use a layer of 5cm, leave a gap around any soft stemmed plants and if you do this after rain or watering, you will help keep the moisture in the soil.

Digging a 10cm layer of compost into the soil prior to planting will help your new plants and flowers bloom. If you have already planted, simply spread a thin layer of compost-enriched soil around the base of the plants. Nutrients will work their way down to the roots. Remember to leave gaps around any soft stemmed plants.

Spread up to a 5cm layer of compost over your boarders to give them a feed! Earthworms will quickly like get to work mixing it in for you, or you can dig your finished compost into the soil prior to planting. Remember to leave gaps around any soft stemmed plants.

So, I hope this has given you some ideas for things to do with your home made compost and you will all be spreading your compost soon. After all just THINK of all the money saved by making your own soil improver and potting mix!

Also, just think of all the waste diverted from going into Landfill if you compost...think of all the Methane which our waste is NOT producing in the Landfill! Methane is 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide, remember!

And hopefully you will all have even better crops as a result of using your lovely home made compost.

For more ideas on composting, go here, or here,

Happy Composting :-)

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Bush Tucker and Wild Food

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

The term ‘bush tucker’ refers to Australian native foods – the huge variety of fruit, nuts, seeds, leaves, birds, mammals, roots, bark, fungi, herbs, spices, flowers, reptiles, insects, aquatic plants and fish. ‘Wild foods’ are the non-native but often abundant foods of the same types.

Bush tucker and wild food are the ultimate in spray-free, packaging-free local food. So long as they are harvested in moderation from clean environments, these are a very low impact food source. These were once the only means of food and medicine for indigenous Australians – they are a valuable and viable resource worth learning about.

We moved here two years ago so have been discovering, with each change of season in this new locale, native and wild foods on our small farm. So far we have found red and yellow guava, lilly pilly, Atherton nut, bush lemon, millaa vine, woolly pear, Davidson plum, banana fig, blue quandong, wild raspberry, lemon aspen, sorrel, dandelion, gotu kola, day lilies and a rambling old passionfruit vine. We’ve also seen various edible grubs, snails, larger animals, fungi and black wattle, but haven’t tried these … yet! We have had no luck with our few fishing ventures, but when we lived on the coast, backyard-caught fish was regularly on the menu.

To find out about bush foods, we’ve firstly been keen observers. We’ve then utilised our neighbours, books (libraries often have books on bush tucker), the internet, the local info centre, and Queensland Parks publications. The Wet Tropics Management Authority has published a poster and fact sheets to educate about local rainforest bush tucker. At the local info centre, an indigenous guide does weekly information walks through some nearby forest. It is vital to get good information before you try uncultivated foods, including clear pictures and details of any processing required before eating. Old wives tales about fruit being edible if birds eat it, or telling by colour of the berries or the sap, or shape of the leaves can’t be trusted. Please source a good field guide or other means of identification before you do the taste test.

Our regular vegie garden includes a lot of unusual tropical and native plants amongst the regular beans, tomatoes and lettuce varieties. I’ve planted warrigal greens, kang kong, ceylon spinach, cress and other “weed” type greens because they are less prone to pests and disease. They also tend to be perennial so there are no gaps in production like with the normally cultivated annual green vegetables. I supplement the potato and sweet potato crop with yam, yacon, taro and jerusalem artichokes, which are all much more fond of our high rainfall. Fruits such as cape gooseberries and rosellas produce in a short period of time while I wait for the orchard trees to grow.

In the orchards and revegetation areas, I’ve included natives such as lemon-scented tea tree, lemon myrtle, Davidson plums, macadamias, creek cherries, native olives and a few lilly pilly varieties (and dozens more!) I’ve also included numerous tropical fruits and edible bamboo, which are abundant producers. The jaboticaba, for example, fruits up to six times per year. This, to me, is a real mixed orchard.

By knowing about native and wild foods, and incorporating these less common species when we plant trees and gardens, we’ve greatly expanded the volume of food we can harvest from the farm. For others, their source might be riverbanks, footpaths, public parks, roadside scrub (but not close to the road’s edge which is likely to be polluted) or the neighbour’s yard (with permission)…

Some of the foods we found are so prolific that the kids delivered buckets and buckets to me (but wouldn’t eat any!) From the sour Davidson plums and abundant yellow guavas I made jams, jellies and syrups. The jelly worked out at less than 30c per jar, even using organic raw sugar. The syrup can be used as a cordial, or mixed with natural yoghurt for a flavoured treat. These fruit are often exceptionally high in Vitamin C and produce fantastic colourful preserves for the pantry shelves. With the high-mineral, protein-rich bitter green leaves that seem too strong on their own, I simply add them to stir fries, soups or the mesclun mix salad without anyone noticing.

I'd still love to learn more about identifying and collecting honey, fungi, fish and more native fruits and vegetables. Hopefully our family can become further acquainted with our forest area and come to fully appreciate the resources which the original inhabitants relied upon for survival.

Foraging for food can be enjoyable and is good for you. It’s an educational, fresh-air activity that links you to the changing seasons. Supplement your diet and enjoy the savings and the flavour.

Bush Tucker Field Guide – Les Hiddins, 2001. ABC Books. ISBN 0 14 028986 0
How Can I Use Herbs In My Daily Life – Isabell Shipard, 2004. ISBN 0 646 42248 0
How Can I Be Prepared With Self-Sufficiency and Survival Foods? - Isabell Shipard, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9758252-3-5
Wet Tropics guide
Further reading

* I'm in tropical North Queensland, Australia. Please feel free to add a favourite bush tucker or wild food resource suitable for your area to the Comments of this post.