Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Window Socket. One Sweet Charger!

This. Is. Awesome. 

Completely.

Awesome.

What am I talking about?  Only the single most awesome modern day invention.  The best, most useful little gadget ever!

It's a solar charger.

But!

It's not just any solar charger.  I mean, solar chargers have been done.  There's nothing spectacular about that, except that it's a green form of energy that can save you oodles of money in the long run. 

No big deal.

This one's different, though.

image via http://www.yankodesign.com/images/design_news/2013/04/26/window_socket.jpg


It's called the Window Socket, and it's... well... a window socket.  Ok, maybe not the most creative name, but it fits, so we'll go with it.  It's a small charger that you stick to your window.  The solar panels on the charger suck energy from the sun through your window, and then the charger converts that energy into electricity.

Plug in your device of choice, and... Zing!  Power.

Now, before you get too excited, I should probably point out that this is just a concept model with some technical flaws, as mentioned by one of the creators (Kyuho Song) on April 28th in the comment section below the device post.

The big problem, I think, probably has to do with energy generated.   The capacity of the device is 1000 mAh (milliamp hours), which converts to only one amp-hour.

What does that mean?  Well, basically, it means that it can deliver 1 amp of power for one hour, 2 amps for 30 minutes, 4 amps for 15 minutes, etc. (Here's a long drawn out explanation)

That's not a lot of power.

So it needs work.

The designers are hopeful, however, and so am I.  I mean, aside from being ultra-cool, it's cute.  Cuteness goes a long way, in my book.

http://www.yankodesign.com/images/design_news/2013/04/26/window_socket2.jpg
It totally looks like an adorable robot head from a cartoon...

So go check out the design by Kyuho Song and Boa Oh at Yanko Design.

It may still be conceptual, but it's awesome, and once they get the bugs worked out I'll be one happy woman, waiting in line to buy one of these cute little bundles of eco-friendly joy.

Seriously.  Who wouldn't want this little socket on their window?



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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Death By Neonicotinoid: A Study for the Birds

On Friday I promised you a look at how the neonicotinoids involved in colony collapse disorder are not only killing off a staggeringly large proportion of honeybees, but also related to the deaths other animals.

The poisoning of one food source can easily cause a chain reaction that ensures the loss or decrease of its harvester   Disease in prey can produce disease in its predator, and cause devastating results in anything that depends on their relationship.  What kills one animal has the potential to kill another.

You get the point: A danger to the one is a danger to the many.

What does this have to do with colony collapse disorder?

It has to do with the danger of neonicotinoids, those chemicals at the heart of colony collapse disorder.

Those chemicals that are 'perfectly safe' because they don't harm mammals.

Those chemicals that are used in farmlands across the globe.

"What's wrong with them, then?" 
you ask.

It's a good question, actually.  On the surface everything seems copacetic. Unfortunately, there are a whole lot more than mammals living within our world.  Every creature is a part of our eco-system.  A serious danger to one of them is bad...

But what if the danger is to more than one of them?

Like birds, for example.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) released a media statement that caused my jaw to drop.  It's entitled Birds, Bees, and Aquatic Life Threatened by Gross Underestimate of Toxicity of World's Most Widely Used Pesticide.

Quite a mouthful.  

Personally, I think it should have been shortened to something like, Neonicotinoids Have the Potential to Kill Everything Except Mammals and the EPA is Ignoring the Evidence.

Oh, wait... that's not much shorter, is it?  Oh, well.  We'll go with their title, then.

So what's it all about?  

Well, the ABC got Dr. Pierre Mineau, whose primary interest is in pesticide toxicology, to do a review on 200 different studies on the subject of neonicotinoids, attaining much of it through the Freedom of Information Act.  The study was co-authored by Cynthia Palmer, the Pesticides Program Manager for the ABC.

The final report, entitled The Impact of the Nation's Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds, is 97 pages long, and focuses primarily on the following neonicotinoids:  Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, and Thiamethoxam.

Conveniently, that link to the report is a pdf file, so you can download it and read at your convenience.

According to the ABC's media release,
The report evaluates the toxicological risk to birds and aquatic systems and includes extensive comparisons with the older pesticides that the neonicotinoids have replaced. The assessment concludes that the neonicotinoids are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.
Indeed, if we continue reading, we learn that:
“A single corn kernel coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a songbird,” Palmer said. “Even a tiny grain of wheat or canola treated with the oldest neonicotinoid -- called imidacloprid -- can fatally poison a bird. And as little as 1/10th of a neonicotinoid-coated corn seed per day during egg-laying season is all that is needed to affect reproduction.”
The report claims that the procedures used to evaluate research regarding neonicotinoids were flawed and outdated.  Interestingly, it's stated that EPA scientists have repeatedly stated concerns about neonicotinoids, but that the agency has essentially ignored them, and allowed registrations for these products to continue.

One particularly interesting point was that:
EPA and other regulatory agencies worldwide have underestimated the toxicity of these compounds to birds partly because the risk assessment methods fail to account sufficiently for interspecies variation in toxicity. For example, risk assessments underestimate acute risk by up to 10 fold for bird species beyond mallard ducks and bobwhites, the two usual test species. As for aquatic invertebrates, EPA has underestimated the toxicity of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid by over an order of magnitude because of the Agency’s failure to consider data from the peer-reviewed literature. EPA has grossly underestimated the toxicity of the other neonicotinoids as well, in part due to the Agency’s reliance on their standard test species, Daphnia magna, a freshwater flea which happens to be uniquely insensitive to neonicotinoids.
Wow.  Just... wow.

As we can see, this isn't just a problem for the bees.  It's also for the birds.

Neonicotinoids effect the birds and the bees.

(Ok, ok... stop groaning.  I'll quit with the bad jokes...)

You get the point, though.  At the end of the press release, it's stated that "The report urges the EPA to expand its registration review of neonicotinoids to include birds, aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife."

And I agree with the study.  Who wouldn't?









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Friday, April 26, 2013

Staggering Increase in Global Bee deaths by CCD

I've talked about Colony Collapse Disorder (ccd) several times in the past, and now that spring is starting to actually, possibly, maybe happen, it's time for me to talk about it again.

I was first made aware of the issue after coming across the documentary Vanishing of the Bees on Netflix.  The movie focused on colony collapse disorder, the effect of ccd on the environment as a whole, as well as on the bees, and the causes of ccd. Here's the trailer for those that want a quick look-see.



A beekeeper by the name of David Hackenberg has been at the forefront of the fight against ccd.  In Vanishing of the Bees, Hackenberg explains that the main cause of this wave of destruction that's decimating entire honeybee populations is the use of neonicotinoids in our agricultural fields.

Indeed, this year's losses are staggering.  

Colony losses are higher than ever before, averaging at around 40-50%.  Every year it gets worse.  Just three hours away from me, in Barrett, MN, Steve Ellis, owner of Old Mill Honey Company reports that 65% of his bees died off this year.

That's almost two thirds of them!  

He has become very vocal in the fight against neonicotinoids, as well, and just added his name to a lawsuit filed against the EPA on March 21st.  
"The coalition wants EPA to immediately suspend the registrations of the insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam. The pesticides have been “repeatedly identified as highly toxic to honey bees, clear causes of major bee kills and significant contributors to the devastating ongoing mortality of bees known as colony collapse disorder,” the groups said.
 Clothianidin and its parent compound, thiamethoxam, are in a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, and have been shown to harm the survival, growth, and health of honey bees and other pollinators and have harmful effects on other animals, including threatened and endangered species, according to the lawsuit. More than two million pounds of the pesticides are used annually on more than 100 million acres in the United States, according to the lawsuit." (via Bloomberg)
More on that "harmful effects on other animals" part, Sunday. Trust me - it's a full post's worth of information.  You don't want me to reduce it to a quick paragraph.

But back to the bees...

Ellis explains that colony collapse disorder isn't just our problem - it's global.  Neonics are used all over the world.  Even if we could stop their use at this very moment, their effects would last for quite some time.  It's imperative that immediate action be taken.

Indeed, just a few hours ago in London the March of The Beekeepers.  Why, you ask?
"To grab the weekend headlines and pile the pressure on the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, ahead of a vital EU vote banning neonicotinoid pesticides on Monday 29th April. Even the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has concluded certain neonicotinoids are harmful to bees and The March of the Beekeepers will show Mr Paterson the full weight of public, expert and Government opinion and persuade him to now support a European ban."
Sounds like a good reason to me!  Hopefully, it'll work.  The U.K.'s bee population has dropped by about 50%, this year.  This will be a huge event, complete with celebrities.  People are encoraged to dress up in a way that shows their support of bees.

Beehive hairdo, anyone?

If only I was there...
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Homemade Watercolors?! Bring it!!!

The other day I saw a suggested post on Facebook that mentioned making your own watercolors for your children.

"That rocks!" I thought.

I raced to click on the link.

NOT.

Ok, see, I have this thing about suggested posts on Facebook - I hate them.  I see them as a bunch of spam that's especially well catered to an individual and placed onto their wall at the expense of posts by friends or pages that they actually want to see.  This means that even if I like the topic of a suggested post, I won't click the link.

Perhaps that's elitist.  
Maybe it's passive aggression. 
I look at it as a passive protest.

Anyway, the concept of homemade watercolors was really exciting.  It was a project that I could seriously get behind.

And so I searched for it online, and found the Happy Hooligans.

Happy Hooligans is a site dedicated to DIY projects specifically designed for people with kids.  Need to make paint?  A child sized apron?  A sensory table?  Well, the author, Jackie, has a post for you somewhere on that site.

Seriously.  She's loaded with them.

My search for homemade water colors took me to a post dedicated to their creation, conveniently entitled Homemade Watercolour Paints.  I read through the post and realized that just about anybody can make these watercolors. Everything about it was catered to people like me that have two left... hands. 

The ingredients she listed were pretty simple:
  • 4 tbs baking soda
  • 2 tbs white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 2 tbs cornstarch
  • food coloring
Easy-peasy, right?

Ok, I had one problem.  Being such an anti-GMO person, as well as someone with a great desire to stay away from pesticides that, coincidentally, also despises high fructose corn syrup... I didn't have any corn syrup.

So I winged it, and used what I normally use in its place: agave nectar.

Otherwise, I stuck to the proper ingredients.

In a nutshell, you mix all of the ingredients together - except for the food coloring - and pour a bit into each section of an ice cube tray, a small muffin tray, or whatever else catches your interest.

A bit of a warning - mixing baking soda and vinegar is really awesome.  It produces tons of bubbles.  So be sure to use a container that's about two times as large as you think you'll need.  

And as Jackie pointed out, using a container with a spout to pour the final goopy mixture out from is a really good idea.  I'm glad I took her advice on that one! I found combining everything together to be rather difficult, since the mixture is rather thick, but that's a good thing.  

Watercolors are supposed to dry out and become pretty sturdy, right?

Once everything is mixed well, pour some - just a bit - into each compartment of your chosen container.  Drop food coloring into each section, and grab some toothpicks to mix it in with.  The result is a bunch of pretty, still wet colors.

Frozen baby food tray holding yellow, orange, green, pink, purple, blue, and red water colors.

And now... you wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Because... you know.  These things have to dry.  Completely.

It'll be a while.  According to Jackie, it can take up to two days, though hers were ready by he next afternoon.  In my case, it took a little over two days for everything to fully dry.

The outcome?  

Well, the watercolors seemed to need quite a bit of water (say, 4 or 5 drops, rather than the standard 2-3), but overall,

Happy face drawn with pink watercolor paint with yellow hair.
Yours probably wouldn't look so... wet.
In my excitement, I used the wrong paper.


I was pretty happy with the results.

Go make some homemade watercolors!  Aside from giving you the satisfaction of a job well done, they're awfully happy-making!

If you run into any problems or are unsure of whether textures, etc. are coming out right, check out Jackie's explanation or leave a comment asking about me about it.  




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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Earth Day Snow: My Dog's Perspective

No tree-planting for me, yesterday!  

Granted, that's what you're supposed to do on Arbor Day, rather than Earth Day, but spending time outside would have been rather nice.

Unfortunately, it was a rather ugly day.  

And then it snowed.

large amounts of snow falling - green house as a backdrop


A lot.

This morning I woke up to snow accumulation so heavy that I had fallen tree branches throughout the yard.

Tree limb snapped in half with a thick layer of snow on top


One of the trees was weighed down so much that the top bent to the ground.

Tree top bent to the ground, completely covered with snow.


Not wanting to miss a rare opportunity, my dog ran to it with glee, and marked his territory.  While I said "eeew" internally, I couldn't really blame him.  I mean, how often do you get a chance to pee on top of a tree?

It's all a matter of perspective.

So today the post is short.  We got quite a bit of snow last night, and schools are closed due to the weather.  There's really only one thing to do when things are this crazy.

I'm going to go outside to have fun with my daughter!
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Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!



I love Earth Day.  It's that one day that people really make an effort to do what's best for the Earth.

Sure, we should do that every day.  Many people make that complaint every year, whining that many people only go green on this one specific day.

I get it.  I really do.

It's easy to become angry when we work hard toward accomplishing something that many people only strive for on one specific day out of the year.

But that anger isn't healthy.

It's a judgmental anger.  It's the anger that fanatics of various religions hold.  It's the venom that sprays from the mouths of political extremists, formed from powerlessness.

We've all seen it.

None of us want to be a part of it.

Are you one of the people that gets frustrated by the fact that many people will celebrate Earth Day, then turn around and go back to a high polluting, wasteful lifestyle?  If so, try to concentrate on one thing:

Earth Day is the one day that people who normally don't think about the environment stand beside you in caring for it.

That is a truly amazing thing.

That's one day that the Earth is shown more love than on any other.  It's a happy, optimistic day.  Don't spoil it for yourself by complaining about everyone that doesn't really care.  Think about everyone that really does care, instead.

Have a Happy Earth Day, everyone!  I know I will.
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Algae Powered Heaven

A few days ago, I discovered something really awesome.

Grist, a humorous environmental news site, posted a piece about green power.  Not just any green power, though...

Algae Power!

Algae with mouth wide open and arms raised.  Sharp sword in one hand, large bicep evident in second arm.


Well, ok... not that kind of power.  They were actually talking about energy production.

Algae trapped within water filled glass. "Help...?" Tubes hang out the top right corner.  Electricity bolts surround them.

See, according to the Grist piece that I read, written by John Upton, there's an apartment building powered by algae standing in the middle of Hamburg, Germany.

How cool is that?! 

The company that designed it is Arup, whose 'About' page states that they are
"...an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists offering a broad range of professional services. Through our work, we make a positive difference in the world. We shape a better world."
I find it hard to disagree, after learning about this building. It's like they create little pieces of eco-friendly heaven.  

Ever since I first learned about the concept of algae as a power source, I've been excited.  Algae has this really cool ability to grow.  A lot.

You know... like The Blob.

You stick it in some water then thrust it into sunlight, and POW!  You have more algae.  It grows at an extremely fast rate, multiplying into more and more algae, making it a very sustainable resource.

Actually, maybe it's more like a Mogwai than the Blob.  Make sure not to stick a cheeseburger in the tank after midnight... just to be safe.

According to the company,
"The façade concept is designed so that algae in the bio-reactor façades grow faster in bright sunlight to provide more internal shading. The ‘bio-reactors’ not only produce biomass that can subsequently be harvested, but they also capture solar thermal heat – both energy sources can be used to power the building.
In practice, this means that photosynthesis is driving a dynamic response to the amount of solar shading required, while the micro-algae growing in the glass louvres provide a clean source of renewable energy." (source) 
And did I mention that the building even looks good?  No joke, it's both environmentally friendly and pretty sexy.

Algae powered building in Hamburg Germany.  Image by Arup

I'd live there.

Well, at the moment, all I can do is look at it.  But!

It's going live on April 25th. That is, that's the day that it will go into full operational mode.  Anybody want to donate a ticket to Hamburg for me?

What about you, though?  We know I'd jump on the opportunity to live in this algae powered building.  It would be like a trip to heaven.

Would you?
         

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Snow Weather... Again. Disbelief Erased.

The past few times we've received reports that heavy snowfall would occur this month after everything on the ground has finally melted, I've laughed.  I didn't take it seriously.

And so I always ended up with tons of snow, and a very bad mood to go along with it.

So this time...

I'm prepared.

::cue suspenseful music::

The weather was yucky when I took my daughter to school yesterday.  It was dark, wet, and dreary.  When I got home, I turned on my computer to find my weather gadget filled with red, bold-faced words.

Weather Alert.

I clicked on it and discovered this:

Weather map via The Weather Channel, showing rain, ice, and snow in various locations.  orange Winter Weather Advisory banner on top
4-6 inches of snow over the next 36 hours...
What?!


My response was this:

Stick figure shouting "Nooooooooo!" with head thrown back.


Very different from my normal laughter.  I've finally learned my lesson.

I took it seriously.  

So here's the way my thought process went:

Stick figure with a smile, pointing a thoughtful finger in the air.
Statement of Problem
It's going to snow.

Overstatement of Problem
There will be a few feet of snow on my roof.

Massive Overstatement of Problem
The snow will cause mass extinctions in the region.

Application of Pseudo-Science to Find Cause
Murphy's Law: Whatever can go wrong, will.

Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills
When I don't believe snow will fall, I laugh.  Snow falls within hours of this action.
Snow is therefore caused by a) disbelief, and b) laughter.
Belief is the opposite of disbelief, while tears are the opposite of laughter.

Solution
I will wash all of our winter gear in order to show my belief in snowfall.  While this is occurring, I will also watch a sappy, tear evoking drama.

 See?  Problem solved.

I looked out the window.

Yard devoid of snow, brown, and wet.

And waited...


Then waited some more...

What was the result of my painstaking effort to avoid snowfall?  Well, this morning I woke up to this:

Large blanket of snow covering the yard.


Something tells me my brilliant plan was a failure.

The bright side?  There's enough snow to make the hill beside our house into prime sledding material.



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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why Complaints About Fluorescent Bulbs in Landfills Are Useless

I'm constantly amazed by just how many people don't understand why fluorescent bulbs always end up in the landfills.

People like to say it's due to laziness:

"Those things are toxic!  There's no reason not to dispose of them properly!  
They can even be recycled!"

That's brilliant, Sherlock.  You're  probably also on a first name basis with everyone at the recycling company, aren't you?  There's a very simple reason for why this judgmental explanation doesn't work for many people.  Actually, a couple of reasons.

1.  Lack of information.

Unlike door-to-door recycling, fluorescent bulb recycling and disposal information isn't clearly pointed out in all communities.  You have to search for it.  The standard person doesn't immediately run to the computer to search for places that take care of these bulbs when they go out.  They set it aside, replace it, then go on with life.

Eventually, they to move away.  The light that was put aside is still there.  There are also several other things that need to be disposed of.  The person still hasn't done the research to find a place, and it's just one light.

And there's a lot that still needs to be done while moving.

It gets tossed.

2.  Lack of Facilities.

Seriously.  This reason is the one that really bugs me.

Why?

Because there's no excuse for this reason to even exist.  And yet it does.

See, most cities have easy drop-off places.  Home Depot, for example, allows you to drop off your fluorescent tubes for free.  Just walk in, hand it over, and go away.

Easy.

Other places, though, don't have it so easy.  Where I live, for example, you have to pay to get florescent lights recycled.  It's not a lot... only fifteen cents.

But you still have to pay.  Sure, that doesn't seem like a huge price.  I mean, you're protecting the environment and doing the right thing, right?

Not so fast...

Fifteen cents means nothing to most people, but what about people that live on minimum wage?  Minimum wage puts you below the poverty line.  Paying that fifteen cents can mean not giving your child a special treat that week.

That fifteen cents is equal to half a can of tomato sauce (on sale) - the sauce you could have used to make spaghetti for your family.  But instead you're going to use it so that you can "do the right thing"?

Somehow, I don't think so.

And that's why people that complain about those that don't recycle their bulbs really gets to me.  If you want to ensure that people do the right thing, you have to ensure they have the same ability to do it that you have.

Want to change things and ensure that fluorescent lights get recycled?

  • Take action to make information about recycling well known to everyone.  Bring it to the attention of the media that this information isn't widely available.
  • Talk to your city council about making fluorescent recycling free.  You can't expect people to do something if there's no incentive to do it.
  • Do you know someone that disposes of fluorescent bulbs in an unsafe manner?  Instead of judging them, offer to take the bulbs off of their hands.  If fifteen cents is such a small and inconsequential amount, after all, you should be willing to pay the cost for them.
Judging a person does nothing to solve a problem.  

Being proactive and stopping that problem from occurring in the first place is far more responsible.

There are many ways to help reduce the incidence of fluorescent waste.  I'm sure you can come up with several more that I haven't mentioned.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Precious Gardening Treasure

It came to my attention yesterday that I was keeping some vital information from you.

It wasn't that I was lying to you.  I wasn't even hiding anything from you.  Rather, I was keeping a gem of the web all to myself.

Selfishly.

I mentioned this treasure to you - bit by bit, piece by piece - yet I never really took the time to put this gem into focus for you.  To really put it in the spotlight.  I kept it to myself, guarding this secret.

Jealously.

Indeed, this is a blog that I frequent all the time, visiting it at least three times a week... and sometimes more.  Just about anything I need can be found there.

And so my lack of a blog post about it is rather self-centered.  I should be mentioning it to everyone, and yet I keep this treasure to myself.  The page that has saved me from huge mistakes.  The page that has picked me up and guided me through the mistakes I've already made.  My favorite.  My joy...

My Precious...

I suppose this means I need to stop talking about how I'm not talking about it, and actually tell you what it is, right?

Fine.  I just want you to know how painful it is for me to give up such information.  How much it hurts to tell you what the blog name is.  How difficult -

Ok, fine!  I'll tell you!

Sheesh...

Cute dr. seuss-looking bug surrounded by the words "Distracting photo of a really cute bug".

That didn't work either?

Well, drat.  

Ok.  It's Gardening Jones.

Gardening Jones is probably one of the best gardening blogs I've ever run across, if not the best.  No exaggeration.  Whenever I run into a problem I can find the answer on GJ's blog.  If I can't find the answer, for some unknown reason, the answer always seems to be posted within a week.

Seriously.

And I don't even have to beg for the info.  It just magically appears... like some cute little fairy is racing over to give GJ the inspiration to answer my question with a poof of her magic wand.

Stick figure fairy with wand held in air
It's pretty awesome.

Gardening Jones taught me how to tell the difference between male and female squash blossoms.

Blooming squash with fallen leaves surrounding it.
This one is male.
And remember the cucumbers I was so proud of?

small, fat cucumber

Jones taught me how to save the seeds!!!

So go visit that awesome blog and see what you can find out about your own garden.  You really don't want to miss out on it.
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Monday, April 15, 2013

A Cheap DIY Planter That Looks Awesome!

When it comes to gardening, one of the easiest ways to spend way too much money is to buy a pretty planter.  There's the cloth planter, the hanging planter, the terra cotta planter with intricately designed edges.

The list goes on.

And seriously... do you really need that?

Let's face it.  All of that prettiness goes away the second you start planting.  The edging designs get chipped or covered with leaves so that they can't be seen.  The hanging planter loses the vibrant color it originally displayed, and the cloth planter is soaked and covered with mud.

You should have just made your own.

I finally learned that lesson this year, and created my own small planter in an attempt to garden on the cheap.  It sure took long enough, right?

The best part is that it only cost me one dollar, and was extraordinarily simple.

Basket lined with red cloth


As a special bonus, it hasn't leaked at all since I created it, while still allowing for the possibility if I over-water and need drainage.

So what do you do for this quick and easy DIY planter project?

Let's start with the supplies.  You'll need:

  • An old pair of pants, destined for the trash.
  • scissors
  • A cheap basket.  I got mine at a thrift store for a dollar.
That's it!  I told you it was easy!

I have an old pair of pajama pants that I bought when I was pregnant with my daughter.  They're way too big now, and have been for years.  That, and they're bright red.  

And ugly.  

With a smile on my face, I began step one:

1.  Measure how much of the leg needs to be cut in order to line the inside of the basket, then slice it off about three inches higher than that.

Red pants with one leg cut off at the knee.
Goodbye, yucky clown pants!!!
2.  Take the tubular piece that you've cut off, and line the basket with it, folding it over the top of the basket to keep it in place.

3.  There should be extra fabric at the bottom of the basket.  Fold it over so that there isn't a gigantic hole at the bottom.

Top view of completed planter, showing the extra cloth folded over on the bottom.

4.  Fill your planter with dirt, add some sprouts, and smile.  Your work is done.

Planter is filled with soil.  Two kale sprouts are inside.

See?  I told you this was a cheap DIY project.  Really, if you already have a basket at home, you can save yourself the trip to the thrift store, and it'll cost you nothing at all.  

Bonus!

And projects don't get easier than this planter.  No hammering, no sewing.  No taping or gluing.   Just a quick clip with scissors and some folding.

Ahhh, the good life...  




***Note:
The rim of this basket had a diameter of about 7 inches, making it perfect for a good tight fit with the pants.  Consider the size of the clothing before choosing a pot.  Alternately, you can use a much wider pot and use a shirt, folding the arms, and closing the neck.  Kind of like what I did with my yarn basket.
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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Adventures in DIY Dishwasher Detergent: Liquid

It's time for part 2 of my experimentation with DIY dishwasher detergents!

Last time, I discussed the dry powder recipe I had found on Organic Authority, which was written by Elizah Leigh.  It was fabulous.  I truly may never buy dishwasher detergent again.  Why bother when two common household ingredients can produce better results?

Well, today I'm discussing the second detergent recipe she had listed in that article:  Liquid detergent.

::commence oooing and ahhhing::

Elizah Leigh listed the following ingredients:

white vinegar, castile soap, lemon juice, essential oil (peppermint), 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 c of white vinegar
  • 2 c of castile soap
  • 1 tsp of lemon juice
  • 1/2 c of water
  • 3 drops of essential oil

First, I sliced the recipe in half.  I mean, there's no point in trying out a full recipe, right?  What if it suddenly starts bubbling and oozing, then growing until at last it's rolling down the streets, absorbing people in its way in a real life re-enactment of The Blob?

The neighbors would probably be a bit annoyed.

So I halved the recipe, although when it came to the three drops of essential oil, I used 2 drops.  One drop felt like too little, and anyone who can manage to add only half a drop of anything into a recipe is my hero, because I sure can't do that!

I poured all of the detergent ingredients into a mincemeat jar, stirred slowly, and watched it do its chemical reaction magic.  The texture and color of the liquid changed. 


mincemeat jar half filled with white liquid

I think it even increased slightly in mass.

angry green mass of goo reaching out of a jar. Yellow eyes and wide open mouth.
But that could just be my imagination...

Anyway, I loaded it into the dishwasher's dispenser, and noticed something that was not a figment of my imagination... the camera proves it.

white liquid with a full top section of bubbles.
It totally bubbled.

A lot.

I sent a few prayers off to whichever god was listening at the time, and I hit 'clean'.

Then I waited.

And waited.

Have I mentioned this dishwasher takes an extraordinarily long time to reach completion?

Finally, everything was done, so I opened up the dishwasher and let it flash dry - which basically means I let a huge wave of hot water vapor come bursting out of the machine immediately after the last cycle ended, causing my sinuses to clear and my pores to soak up large amounts of moisture.

In short:  I scrunched my eyes closed and felt my face turn momentarily red as the heat wave blasted me.

But, you know... I like the first version better.

The result, unfortunately, was horribly anti-climactic.  

I had hoped to talk about how amazing the liquid detergent recipe was, or even to complain about how nothing got washed, and I was stuck with nasty spaghetti bits plastered to the dinner plates.  Alas, nothing like that occurred.

So what was the result, exactly?

Well...  it was... decent.

It got the job done, but I wasn't overly impressed.  Indeed, I wasn't impressed, at all.  It got dishes no cleaner than the standard dishwasher detergent, and if I didn't actually have the ingredients in my house at the time, well...

I would have lost money.  The recipe is more expensive, in total, than your standard eco-friendly dishwasher detergent.

In conclusion?  

The liquid recipe isn't worth it.  Just buy some environmentally friendly detergent.  Or go with Elizah's powder recipe.

Actually... ignore the first part of that statement.   

Just make the powder detergent.  Because it's awesome.

And cheap.

And only two ingredients.









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Friday, April 12, 2013

For Love of... Lard


Oh, my dearest lard,
I've become so lovestruck
That I think I'm a bard,
Though my poetry sucks.  Hard.

Yep.  That's how much I love lard.  



Just be glad I didn't record myself singing that atrocious rhyme!

I even had a brief conversation about it on facebook with a reader who wasn't sure why lard was a staple ingredient in my household.  Subliminally, I knew I should have mentioned why it plays such an integral role in my home, but I ignored instinct, and mentioned nothing in the post we were refering to.

I should have known better.

Why?

Well, because I used to think lard was bad for you.  I used to happily use vegetable shortening in recipes, thinking it was a healthy choice.  It's not.

But if I thought these things at one point, it stands to reason that I'm not alone...

So, let's talk about lard.

I consider it to be absolutely indispensable. 

Lard...

  • can be used in place of oil.
You can grease a pan with it, and it works far better than any cooking spray.  You can heat it up and use it in recipes that require cooking oil.  And heck, with that in mind, lard...

  • can be used in place of butter.
Yep.  I've totally had to do that, on occasion. If you run out of butter for a recipe, just pull out the lard, which, conveniently...

  • is cheap.  Really, really cheap.
 I paid less than two dollars for one pound of lard, and one pound goes a very long way.  How long of a way?  Well, I use half a teaspoon of lard to grease a 9x13 pan. One pound of lard comes out to 35 tablespoons, and one tablespoon is equal to four teaspoons.

That means I can grease 280+ pans for less than two dollars.

Take that, cooking spray!!!

Another thing to point out is that cooking with lard is rather healthy.

Lard contains omega fatty acids, and if it's pastured lard, it contains vitamin D, as well. 'Pastured' means raised on pastures, rather than the industrial Big Ag stuff, by the way.

Lard is also high in oleic acids.  Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat.  They lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and help decrease your risk of cancer.  Seriously.  Just ask the people at Rodale.

Score!!!


Now go start cooking with lard.  Because it's healthy.  Because it's cheap.

Because I love it!

... and you should, too!


***well, unless you're vegetarian.  In that case, feel free to smile indulgently and carry on.






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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Snow in April?! Oh, Minnesota...


I heard about it in the middle of last week.  

I was outside talking to my neighbor, when he mentioned we'd be getting snow this week.  I thought about how my daughter and I had spent that afternoon in the park...

in sweatshirts...

Happy on a swing set, no snow in evidence.

...and reacted in much the same manner that I did the last time I heard that it would snow.

Drawing of a woman giggling, bright sun overhead.


That being said, most of you have probably heard about the crazy winter storm that's blowing through Minnesota as we speak, complete with the National Guard being called into southern Minnesota.

I'm really lucky I live in an area that hasn't seen that extreme weather... so far.

I woke up to a large blanket of snow on the ground.

Two inch thick layer of snow on ground.




And snow lining all the tree branches.

Trees and fence covered in snow.

And snow is still falling, at various levels of intensity.

I should also mention that the evening before this, we got what is referred to as 'thundersnow'.  That's where you get thunder, lightning and snow at the same time... although, in our case it was more like slush than snow... and the thunder was a long, rolling thunder.  Anyway, it's kind of rare.

And did I mention it's April?!

Seriously, I even checked the calendar to be sure of it.  

 Maybe this time I'll learn my lesson:

Never laugh when someone says we're about to have a snow storm.  Ever.  I should have learned that the last time I had this reaction.  Perhaps I just needed a firm reminder.

The last frost date for south central Minnesota is supposed to be May 9, this year.  

Somehow, I think that may end up being inaccurate.  It sure is a good thing I've decided to do only container gardening this year, in preparation for our move from this house, right?

Wacky weather is occurring in abundance, this year. Not only do we have a thick April snowfall, this year, but we've had abnormally icy conditions as well.

What unusual weather have you experienced, this year?  How are you dealing with it? 

If you haven't had any unusual weather yet, I'd be perfectly willing to give you mine!!!

 



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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Urban Garden Research, Hope, and a Swoon

The more I think about how I'll be moving soon, and probably into a home that has a much smaller yard, if any yard at all, I start to panic.

There's some good news, though.  

Even if I move to an apartment, I'll be alright.  You can garden in windows, as we saw in yesterday's post. You can also garden on a balcony.  Sure, you may not be able to get the yields you want, but you'll get something. 

Basically, you have to research which plants work well in shade conditions.

That research took me to Mike Lieberman, the Urban Organic Gardener.

Ok, he's obviously not the only urban organic gardener.  I mean, there are a few more out there.  A lot actually.  But Mike is special.

He can knock a girl off of her feet with his sweet words of wisdom.  My heart skips a beat just thinking about some of those intoxicating things he's said.  Things that have actually helped, such as,
 "Since most of you are living in areas where you are restricted by shade, here is a list of what you can grow."
Female stick figure in the act of swooning, hearts above her head.
So kind.  So giving.  So willing to help those of us in distress. 

Like a knight in shining armor that -

What?!

Oh, come on... Those were some pretty attractive words!

Those words came from his post on why gardening books won't help you start your garden.  You really should give his site a look-see.  All exaggeration aside, Mike has oodles of helpful information. 

I spent a significant amount of time on his site yesterday, reading about how to plan your garden location, how to grow vegetables in the shade, and even how to create a self watering container for under five bucks.

Admit it.  

You totally just swooned after I told you that.

I can't even begin to explain the warm feeling of relief that washed over me as I learned about urban gardening on his site.  His posts mix warnings with solid advice in a way that makes someone who is about to lose a great deal of gardening area fell rather hopeful.

And that's really what we all want when we're about to head into new territory:

Hope.












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Monday, April 8, 2013

Vegetable Gardening on Window Sills? Yikes!!!

I mentioned how easy it is to garden on the cheap, yesterday, but I feel the need to show you how easy it is.

Well...

I also just want to show off.

I bought all of this year's seeds with the knowledge that they may end up as container plants, since our lease runs out at the end of May.  The reality is that I may end up with no more than a balcony for my vegetables... or worse, a few window sills.

Yikes!

This means I have to think in terms of a small area and a large harvest.

Double Yikes!

We'll see what happens at that point, but in the meantime, I have an explosion of plants, and I love it.

The thing is this: as long as you have plastic deli or produce containers, a drive to grow your own vegetables, and enough dirt to do it, you can very easily start seeds on a window sill... even in South Central Minnesota


Dreary view through a window: brown grass, snow piles in shady areas, dark surroundings

...where many days are cloudy and you can still find snow n shady spots in April.

No, really!  

You've seen my wheat grass and the strawberry container that held two types of peppers.  The peppers have since been moved to a window sill in my daughter's room (west facing).  I also have two cucumber plants in containers on a south facing window sill in my bedroom.

The big "plant zone", though, is the spare bedroom.  I have two window sills loaded with mini greenhouses made from plastic containers, as well as some plants that have migrated to pots.

Rectangular, clear container with yellow sticker, square container hanging over window sill edge, and small cup holding two leggy sprouts.

In the container with the yellow sticker we have broccoli, kale, and buttercrunch lettuce.  

Two of each of these sprouts, for a grand total of 6 sprouting jiffy pellets.  The doughnut container next to it houses my 3 jalapenos, along with an assortment of ragtag plants that are taking longer to sprout than others. 

The cup at the end holds two tomatillos.  

Unfortunately, they're way too leggy.  I'll be replanting them soon in hopes of strengthening the stems.  Their problem is a lack of light.  They belong in warm, sunny climates, after all!

Oh, well.  You win some, and you lose some, right?

In a line: tomato sprout in pot, rectangular clear plastic container, tomato sprouts in two more pots.  Larger pot with a tomato cage holding three pea plants sits on a box just behind the sill.




The window sill above holds my 3 heirloom tomato plants, as well as a plastic container full of bok choy and some marigolds for my daughter's garden.

Unfortunately, I have no talent for flowers, so I have doubts that any of the marjoram seeds will ever sprout...

And then there's the peas.  

Three different plants, growing strong in one pot.  I've already had to give them something to climb on!

The reason so much can be done in the window sill, even when sun isn't particularly strong, is that I'm using the plastic containers as mini greenhouses.  The air inside the containers is warmer than the surrounding area, so it jump-starts germination. 

Less evaporation occurs during this sensitive time, also.  This means constantly moist soil at a time when this is crucial.

Score!

The lesson here?  Window sill planting can produce quite a bit in a small area. It just requires some creative problem solving.





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Sunday, April 7, 2013

How NOT to Convince a Low Income Friend to Eat Organic: The Solution

Yesterday, I explained the ridiculousness of the following statement:

"Eat organic!  In the long run it's cheaper!"

It's a statement that's made with all the best intentions, and it's true, but when placed in a real-world environment it falls short, gets ignored, and serves no purpose.  Or worse, it annoys the person you're trying to advise, blocking any communication that will be beneficial.

So don't say it.  Just don't.

There is, however, one cheap way to go organic, and that's gardening.  Most people think that gardening is expensive, and really, it can be.  Indeed, in many cases it is expensive.

Ridiculously so.

But that's because most people don't dive into it as a way to conserve their money.

Most people want gardening to be pretty.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course.  Aesthetics are important, and if you have the money for it, why not do it? 

For those of us without the extra cash, however, the idea of spending extra money on pots, shovels, fertilizer, transplants, cutesy garden mats, and dirt can be daunting... and expensive.

But it doesn't have to be.

With a little work, gardening can actually save money.  How, you ask?

  • Buy seeds, not transplants.
Transplants are expensive, and could be carrying pests or diseases.  Last year I bought some Irish Moss as an accent plant, and ended up with a family of large, fat grubs.  I was not impressed.

Seeds, on the other hand, are cheap.  One packet of seeds can grow enough of a single type of plant to feed your entire neighborhood. You can easily get seeds for under a dollar or two if you wait for sales.  Furthermore, if you buy seeds at the end of the season, you can make a serious killing... as in 20 cents per packet in some stores.

The 'sell by' date on a seed packet doesn't work the same way as the 'sell by' date on, say, milk.  

You can plant the seeds the next season, and they'll still grow.  Heck, I was once able to grow seeds that had been lost in a kitchen drawer for two years.

What I'm saying is don't throw seeds in the trash simply because you've had them for a year.  Seeds are stronger than you think.

Buy seeds and you have years worth of potential from one packet.  Buy transplants and you have... one plant.  For one season.

  • Make dirt.  Don't buy it.
This one was bought... but they can be made, as well.
 This is one area where most people take an expensive shortcut.  Cheap organic potting soil costs almost five dollars per16 dry quart bag.  That doesn't seem like much to most people, but in reality, it doesn't fill many pots.  The typical person can easily spend over $25 in dirt alone if they're doing container gardening.

Who wants to do that???

Composting, on the other hand, is free.  You can make your own composter, and use fruit and vegetable waste, dirt from your yard (Or your neighbor's yard... I'm not picky), and paper waste to create your garden's future soil.  Heck, if you have your own yard, you don't even need a composter.  Just create a compost heap.

Easy-peasy.  And cheap.  And Eco-friendly.

Score!

  • Make your own garden containers.
Really.  I mean it.  You don't need pretty terra cotta pots to have a container garden.  All you need is a large enough container (with drainage holes) to hold the plant and soil.

That's it.

An ice cream tub can be a flower pot.  So can a milk jug with the top cut off.  Just cut a few holes into the bottom.  Not pretty enough for you?  Paint the outside.  Problem solved.

And it cost you absolutely nothing.

  •  Fertilizer is not necessary to grow good tasting vegetables. 
 Don't buy it.

When I do use fertilizer, I just use the water from my fish tank.  My fish is a basic comet goldfish that cost me 13 cents when I got him a around seven years ago.  Food costs are minimal, and the only 'extra' he requires is a basic aquarium filter for water movement.

The fact of the matter, though, is that I rarely even do that.  


These tomatoes required no fertilizer.  Just grass clippings...
And they provided yumminess for a full season.

Simply mulching with grass clippings or fallen leaves is enough.  The act of mulching guards against weeds and helps with the soil's water retention.  The process of degredation over time helps fertilize the roots.

Simple.  And in the latter case (for those that aren't inclined to buy a fish), free.

Want to convince a friend to eat organic?

Show your friend how it can be done without costing a fortune.  Using the methods I mentioned above, for example, it's even cheaper than buying the Big Ag counterpart.


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Friday, April 5, 2013

How NOT to Convince a Low Income Friend to Eat Organic: Part 1

My life has gone through quite a bit of ups and downs.  

Rather than complaining about this, I feel fortunate.  Having those ups and downs has enabled me to expand my knowledge base.  You learn to see several different points of view.

The financially stable times in life taught me how to think globally.  

It taught me how to donate where donations are needed.  It taught me how to recycle, rather than waste.  The ups in life have given me the knowledge of just how useless money is when it comes to happiness.

The rough times, on the other hand, have taught me how to weather the storms.  

They taught me budgeting and belt tightening.  They've also taught me just how ridiculous those of us that have money to spend on frivolous pleasures or on global sustainability can be.

Below is one thing that you should never say in an attempt to convince someone to go green.  One thing that will cause anything else you may say to fall on deaf ears, largely because if you're using it as a reason, you've never been poor, and it's pretty darned obvious:

"Shop organic.  In the long run, it's cheaper."

This is a true statement. 

Eating organic now will keep a person from developing all sorts of nasty conditions in the future.  This is largely because a person isn't ingesting pesticides, nor is the person eating many highly processed foods.  Indeed, by eating organic, a person eats far fewer chemicals than his or her non-organic counterpart.

The problem, though, is that when you're living hand to mouth, it's far safer to buy crappy, highly processed food. 

Why?

Because it's cheaper.  It's a sure way to get enough calories into your family's bodies.  We've all seen the 10 for $10 sales on ConAgra products.  I personally don't consider any of the things I see listed as available choices in those sales to be healthy.  I also find it offensive that they'll label something that's made entirely with GMO ingredients as "100% natural." 

But how do you say no to that when you have an entire family to feed?

You don't.  

You don't, because you can't.  Not if you're struggling to find money to pay for your family's meals for the next week. 

That Banquet chicken pot pie that costs seventy cents after the store coupon, which also happens to be valid for up to a limit of ten?  That means 3 dinners that each cost less than a pound of organic apples... and there's even one pot pie to spare.

There is no "Shop only the outer aisles!" for those that struggle to feed their families.  

In reality, if you're struggling to eat, most of your shopping is done in the center aisles of the grocery store.  Grain rich, highly processed foods are far cheaper than meat, produce, and dairy.

But that's the place where you can begin to help.   

That is where you can show people how to make healthier choices that also end up being green to some extent.  What do I mean by that?

Cooking your own meals is much greener than buying the pre-packaged crap.  We all know that.  What many people don't realize, however, is that cooking your own meals can also be cheap enough to be doable on extremely low income.

How in the heck do you do that?

Sit down and make up a list of all the essentials you need to cook standard meals and snacks at your house.  Think in terms of everything... even the luxuries. 

Cookies? Chips? French fries?
Chicken pot pie?
Bread?

What dry ingredients go into these items?

Continue on by adding necessary perishable items from the egg and dairy section.  Follow that with produce, and then slip spices into the mix. 

The basics are pretty simple.  In my own house, I came up with:


parchment showing a list of items: flour, rice, sugar, corn meal, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, lard, potato, carrots, lettuce, green beans, peas, corn, salt


This seems like a lot, I'm sure, but the trick is to buy in bulk where you can so that you're spending less for the various ingredients, while shopping for them less often, as well.  For instance, I was able to buy a ten pound bag of rice for $5, yesterday.  The two pound bag which was on sale would have cost me $1.69.  You do the math!

Meat is where things get difficult.  

The only advice I can give there is to use it sparingly.  Soups, meals involving pasta, and casseroles are great ways to reduce meat without reducing pleasure (My carnivore husband has never noticed that I dropped the amount of ground beef in our meals by half).

Use up leftovers in an entirely different meal whenever possible.  This will help eliminate a majority of food waste.  Food waste, after all, is simply a waste of money.  Be crafty about it. 

I like grinding up the ends of bread that nobody likes to eat and using the resultant bread crumbs to make chicken nuggets.  Total food cost ends up being nothing more than the cost of the chicken breast (The latest chicken I bought for this only cost me $2.02).

Buying individual ingredients to make your own meals reduces processing.  Less processing means less fossil fuels used, less water used, and less waste generated.  Cooking 'from scratch' is green.

Buying in bulk significantly reduces packaging, which reduces all of the ugliness that I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, making it... green.

What am I saying here?

Thrifty shopping is green and inexpensive, when done right.  Don't try to convince someone to buy organic if they're economically disadvantaged.  Doing so makes you nothing more than an annoyance.

I'm all about eating organically.  If anybody was dumb enough, however, to tell me that eating organic is cheaper in the long run during one of the poor periods in my life, my answer would be very simple:

"Are you going to buy it for me?  
Because if you're not, I don't want to hear it."

People have to start with learning how to save money on the basics before they can even think about the whole organic part.

And that brings me to an end until Sunday, when I go on to part 2.  

I'll discuss how to actually save a little bit of money by growing some food organically in containers.  Because... you know... this is turning out to be way too long!
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