Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Homemade Laundry Soap

by Abby of Love Made the Radish Grow

I am so, so very picky about how my laundry smells and how I wash it. It has taken a while, and quite the journey through mainstream detergents (I used the free and clear varieties there), to organic/natural ones, to now just making it myself. People don't really realize that clean laundry should smell just that-clean. Mainstream cleaners use so much unnecessary stuff to perfume the laundry, then you add the softeners (anyone heard of vinegar?) and the softeners sheets, and it is intense! I cannot stand to wear clothes or really even be around them, if they have been washed conventionally anymore. It hurts my nose. Clean is that fresh smell when there is an absence of other smells that were previously in the fabric-an easy smell to find when washing things like your husband's work clothes or dirty diapers.

The formula I like to use for my clothes is from here. Very easy. I use their actual brand of laundry soap bars for the soap I use on diapers as it uses less oils in it, thus giving me less to rinse out of the diaper, thus cleaner diaper. I am less picky for our day to day stuff. I use whatever natural/locally made soap I find. It is actually great for the ends of soap. I can grate them up and toss them in and not, instead, get them caught in my hair while shampooing. Like I mentioned before, if you think you need a rinse or softener, just put vinegar in the same slot you would put regular stuff, but not just in with the soap. This negates the effects of the oils in the soap, which help with the cleaning action. It has to come in its own time. We dry our laundry on a line as much as possible, though with the rain here lately, the dryer has seen a little more action. I also have an indoor rack I use, but with the amount of laundry we've had from some basement water/lightning fire issues, it hasn't been enough. Drying outside adds another hint of fresh to the clothes, as well as softening if it is nice and breezy out.
Here is the basic laundry soap can add essential oils or just use a soap with them if you like for added hints of fragrance.

Handmade Herbal Laundry Detergent
approx 4 oz. grated soap (comes out to about a standard sized bar)
2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
1 cup baking soda 
essential oils (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a widemouth container with a lid. (I use a recycled ice cream bucket). Add essential oils as desired (but they are not necessary). Use 1 tbsp to 1/4 cup per load of laundry.
Notes on ingredients: You can use any kind of soap - non-superfatted handmade soaps are wonderful! I just grate mine with a cheesegrater. Washing soda can be difficult to find in some areas of the world, I understand - usually it is found in the laundry detergent aisle of a supermarket. If you cannot find it, ask a store manager to order it for you. This recipe is VERY inexpensive and I have found it to work really well!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Thinking Differently

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

In last fortnights post about Deviating From The Norm, I mentioned that I have realised that I have different thought patterns that others around me.  Once again, due to my green transformation, I find that I am deviating from what is considered normal behaviour.  Let me give you a few examples, which may seem a little crazy, but hey, that is just who I am.

Driving down the freeway the other day going towards Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, I noticed that the roads department were installing high tension steel cables as barriers.  My very first thought was that it was really nice of them to protect the trees from cars hitting them.  Maybe I am right?  If the drivers didn't do irrational things in their cars, then the trees wouldn't need barriers to protect them!

Every time I walk to the Gym on Sunday morning for exercise rehab,  I am always gazing up at the roof tops as I power walk my way down the road.  Why, I hear you ask?  Certainly not because I am admiring my neighbours homes.  It is to determine the best houses that solar panels would work on, of course.  As I live in the Southern hemisphere the north roof get direct sun and the bigger the roof, the bigger the system.  There is nothing quite like a big north facing, unshaded roof.  I even comment to Kim (my wife) when we drive past massive warehouses and factories, that they should have solar panels on them, or at least have a big rainwater tank connected.  Is it just me?

When it is windy, I don't complain.  I just wish I had a wind turbine.  When it rains, I don't complain.  I just dream of having more space for a larger rainwater tank, and think that the veggie patch is loving all this extra water.

When I see a green lawn, I just want to rip it up and plant vegetables.  Where others see weeds, I see food for my compost bins or chickens.  Where others see empty jars, I see jam receptacles.  Where others see empty beer bottles, I think of my next batch of home brew beer!  Where others throw away lumber, I see chicken houses.  Where other see pretty city lights at night, I see dangerous carbon emissions.  My green thoughts just keep on coming.

The 3R's have become an obsession, to the point of if I can't use it, I try and find another person who might use the item.  Nothing elevates my blood pressure faster than someone putting a recyclable item into the general waste bin at work.  It is not like the co-mingled recycle bin is not right next to it with a great big label or anything!

Anyway, enough of my unusual thoughts, because I could go on forever listing the weird green ways that I ponder each day.  Am I alone in this behaviour or do our readers also have random green moments of insanity like I do?  I would love for your to share your "out there" think with us.  Don't be shy!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Cooling Off

by: Danelle at My Total Perspective Vortex

Two things that cost us a lot of money when it gets hot at the farm: Popsicles and beverage. When we were newly married my husband got so sick from dehydration and exhaustion that he was admitted to the Emergency Room and administered fluids for 4 hours. After that experience I made it my job to keep everyone working at our home in the heat hydrated and taking breaks when necessary. I kept Pedialite frozen pops on hand for immediate heatstroke treatment. Those can cost 10$ a box. Gatorade has basically the same stuff but more HFCS. Ugh. Neither has nutrition, they are just a quick fix.

Now that we have kids who will play play play until they collapse even if it is 106 degrees F outside with a heat index of 10 degrees higher and humidity to boot, I have a different arsenal to battle the dreaded dehydration monster. Our farm provides what we need and it is not expensive (unless you count the stained clothes, but that's just part of farm life anyway!)

There are two things that we now consume: Mint tea and fruit puree Popsicles.

Brewing mint tea concentrate; stock pot full of water, food processed Spearmint leaves, bring to a boil then cover and turn off, let sit for 2-3 hours, then add 1/2 cup of raw turbinado sugar for every 2 gallons. Then I put it in freezer safe pint jars and freeze. It is really strong, so when the time comes I take 1 frozen pint in a pitcher and pour over that cold water to fill...still strong so I serve over a glass full of ice. It is really not at all like "tea" but rather minty ice water. Very refreshing with the added nutritional bonus. I think that the Spearmint vs Peppermint makes the tea, as Spearmint has a much lower menthol content and is not as strong. I'm not sure I'd like it with Peppermint. I have not tried chocolate mint or lemon mint. They added bonus over sports drinks is the folic acid content (vit B9) and natural potassium and lots of other essential nutrients! Mint tea is packed full of natural, easy to digest, goodness!

I dried the remaining mint from that harvest. The dried mint gets stuffed into mason jars with a few grains of rice and used all winter long for hot tea and seasoning. With the next harvest I plan on making mint extracts for cookies.

I've been making so many Popsicles. The kids gobble them and the good kind with no HFCS are expensive and not much selection at our local grocery. Why would I pay 5$ for 6 Popsicles made out of strawberry puree when I just harvested 60 lbs of strawberries and put them up in my own freezer? It just seemed so ridiculous. So I've been using frozen juices and better yet pure unsugared fruit purees. The favourite right now is Watermelon pops. Watermelon in a blender= most yummy dripless stainless Popsicle EVER. No extra sugar so the kids can eat as much as they want. I had to order more moulds because of the freeze time. They eat them so fast. So I will keep a total of 20 pops in a freeze cycle. I have also made these with yogurt and fruit, actual juice (like apple cider or fresh squeezed orange juice or lemonade made with honey or raw sugar).

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Make a Jeans Skirt

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
The heat of summer has finally arrived. I needed a casual alternative to pants, a bit more appropriate than shorts, to wear. Making a denim skirt is an easy afternoon project. I've been turning old blue jeans into skirts for decades, a fashion that never seems to go out of style. It's easy enough for a beginning sewer too, involving only a bit of cutting, pinning, and straight, flat sewing.

Start with a pair of blue jeans that fit your waist and/or hips. Making a skirt is a great refashion for a pair of pants where the inseam is beginning to wear or fray. The cut-off legs are what make the gores of the skirt, and have to be long enough to reach from skirt hem to within an inch or two of both the bottom of the zipper fly and the back yoke of the pants to look best. A jeans skirt, therefore, can't be much longer than knee length, unless you want to piece together two pairs to make one skirt.

Either mark where you want the hem while wearing the pants, or better, with the pants lying flat, flip the legs up to the bottom of the back yoke and cut across where the fold is. I used an old pair of my husband's pants, now too small for him in the waist. He'd ripped a hole in the knee, but since he wears a 36" inseam I knew I could cut away that ripped bit and still have enough length left.

Laying the pants flat, cut away the inseam just inside the stitching and discard.

Cut the seams and hems from the pant legs. When finished, you should have four long rectangular pieces. Pressing them flat will make it easier to put the skirt together.

Match the side seams of the pants together and lay it out flat, front to one side, back to the other. Pull the curved crotch out front and back, smoothing everything so it all lies flat and equal. Cut the curved crotch away, making a straight cut from bottom hem to an inch or two from the bottom of the fly. Do the same on the back, making a straight cut from back hem to a couple of inches below the yoke. Use the leg pieces as a rough measure, since they will be filling in the area you're cutting away, to make sure they'll reach from hem to the top of your cut, especially in the back. After the photo above, I ended up making the back cut reach up even higher, after laying out the pant leg to make sure I'd have enough.

Rip the seam, front and back, another inch beyond where you've cut. Then press about 1/2 inch of the cut edges to the inside, overlapping one side of the ripped part of the seam over the other on the outside. Laying the skirt down flat, position one rectangular leg piece underneath, smoothing it flat, and pin into place.

On this skirt, I used golden thread that would match the top-stitching of the blue jeans. Top-stitch the front gore into place. I turn the skirt inside-out, to make sure I won't catch any other part of the skirt in my stitching. Then, making sure the leg part lies smooth and flat on the bottom, I stitch right next to the pressed edge from hem up to the top, across the top of the gore, and then down next to the edge on the other side. To match the jeans stitching, I top-stitched another row of stitching 1/4" from the first row on all pieces, and went back and forth at the top of each gore for extra reinforcement.

Trim away the excess pant leg material from the inside of the skirt. Do the same for a gore on the back of the skirt: rip the seam another inch (I think it looks best when the gore reaches all the way to the bottom point of the back yoke, if you have enough pant leg material to reach that far), press the cut edges to the inside, lay flat to get pant leg into position, pin, top-stitch, and then cut away the excess inside. The photo above shows a closeup of the reinforcing cross-stitching at the top of the gore.

If you want a straight skirt, you can proceed from here to finishing the hem. But I wanted more of an A-line skirt, so using the remaining two leg pieces I added gores to the side seams as well. Instead of cutting the side seams away, I just ripped them open up to where the front pocket was attached inside. After picking away torn bits of thread, I pressed both edges to the inside, laid the skirt flat, positioned, pinned, and top-stitched a gore into each side. To make sure I wouldn't catch any part of the front pocket in my stitching, I pulled each one up and inside-out the top before sewing. To make a nice point or corners at the top of the gores, leaving your needle down in the material, lift up the presser foot, and spin the material around the needle. Put the presser foot back down to stitch in the new direction. Stitching backwards and then forwards at the very top makes a nice bit of reinforcement over the seam. Cut away the excess bits inside.

Try the skirt on to decide where you want the hem. Lay the skirt out flat, front to one side, back to the other. Trim away the uneven bottom edges, making a nice, slightly curved, bottom edge. If you want a finished hem, leave an extra inch, press to the inside and top-stitch down all around.

For this skirt, I want the bottom edge to fray naturally. After trimming to the length I wanted, I made little bar tacks, stitching forwards then backwards, about half an inch from the bottom of each seam to keep them from ripping upwards. After a couple of times through the wash, and some thread-picking, I'll have a nice soft fringe along the bottom edge.

This is just a basic skirt. But jeans skirts make great bases for customization too. Add a cotton ruffle (or three), or maybe practice your embroidery stitches. Ready to start sewing?

Edit added later: Since my sister, Annodear, asked for a photo of the finished skirt - here ya go, such as it is. My only full-length mirror is old and spotty, and having to use a flash doesn't make it any easier. This pose, you can see both the front and a side gore.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Planning Ahead: Gifts from Our Own Production

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I'm not a terribly organized or foresighted person.  I'm often caught up short on occasions when it's appropriate to give a gift.  Just because I resist the pull of consumer culture doesn't mean I don't enjoy giving things to those I love.  Indeed it's far more satisfying to give gifts that I've had a hand in growing or otherwise producing.  So I'm making an effort this year to prepare and set aside things from my kitchen, garden, and other home production for holiday gift-giving or other occasions.  Jellies, jams and other garden preserves are obvious choices, and for good reason.  I now have a small supply of either raspberry or strawberry jam in jars sized for giving.  But in thinking a bit about other things I want to have on hand come the holiday season, I've come up with a few ideas I thought were worth sharing.

Herbal salves for skin - I'm collecting calendula (pot marigold) blooms, comfrey leaf, and lemon balm leaf now, in the height of summer, to infuse in olive oil.  Later I'll strain out the herbs, warm the oil and melt pure beeswax into it.  Some of the beeswax might even be from our bees this year.  This makes a lovely soothing salve with anti-microbial properties which promotes the healing of burns, abrasions, and insect bites.  I gave it away in four ounce jars last year and have gotten several compliments and requests for more.  I'm happy to comply.

Herbal teas - Bee balm (monardia), New Jersey tea, and lemon balm all grow in my garden.  They all make lovely tissanes after simply being cut and hung up to dry.  I'm still looking for pretty jars to put them into to make the gift look special, but the herbs from my own garden are a pleasure to give.

Elderflower cordial - This non-alcoholic drink made from our elder blooms is wonderfully refreshing in ice water during summer, and lends a festive touch when added to champagne.  This is something I feel is quite special, so I've just made my third batch of it.  I'm glad to feel I've got enough of it to give some away.

Felted mittens - I am especially having fun pursuing this project.  I've scoured rummage sales for cheap wools sweaters and my own closets for those I've outgrown or worn holes in but couldn't bear to part with.  Now I have the chance to re-purpose them with very little effort.  After felting the sweaters in a hot wash cycle, and possibly dying some of them, I'll be making dense, warm mittens out of them.  This page explains the details.

Garden seeds - This one is for gardeners and seed savers more accomplished than I am.  I can manage a few of the easier seeds.  But if I were more meticulous, knowledgeable, and skilled, I'd love to assemble a collection of seeds for giving, from my garden to a friend's.  Even better would be the ability to give an aspiring gardener the diverse stock of seeds he or she needs to make a start. 

Hand crafted gift wrap - The Japanese have a lovely custom of wrapping their gifts in cloths, called furoshiki.  Selecting lovely bolts of cloth to make my own double-sided wraps was a pleasure as well as a chance for me to learn some basic sewing skills.  I chose fabrics to pair up with the idea that each wrap would have a side appropriate for Christmas, and another appropriate for birthdays or any other general occasion.  Whether or not you chose to include a hand crafted wrap as part of the gift, or ask for it back, it makes a lovely impression.  Best of all, with every re-use, you'll be saving paper and tape that would otherwise be manufactured as future landfill.

Loofahs - I'm growing loofah (luffa) gourds for the first time this year, and hoping for a bumper crop to give away as scrubs for the bath and shower.  We'll see what the harvest brings, but as the scrubs wear out, this could become a perennial gifting favorite if the plants do well for us.

What other things do you produce or make yourself that you give away as gifts?  Please share in the comments!