Category Archives: Go Green

How to Compost for Your Garden

Let’s face it.  Backyard gardens are in style again.  Whether you live in a rural area with lots of space for plants, a small suburban neighborhood  with a corner of your yard reserved for veggies, or an urban apartment with a few plants in pots.  Everyone is doing it these days.  There are plenty of benefits to growing your own veggies, from knowing there are no pesticides to the freshest tasting produce you’ll ever have.  But, did you know that there is something you can do to make your gardening experience even better? It’s free, too, and takes virtually no effort on your part.  All you’ll need is a bucket in your kitchen and a small corner of your backyard, and you’ve got all of the essentials for making a compost pile.

Compost Pile

Compost Pile

Why You Should Compost

Composting is the single best thing you can do for your garden.  It adds vital nutrients to your soil which helps your plants grow bigger, healthier, and more fruitful.  Sure, you can buy compost, too.  But there are so many reasons to make your own, including:

  1. It’s free
  2. It’s easy
  3. It has a wider variety of ingredients
  4. You know what’s in it

By purchasing compost from a big manufacturer, not only are you spending money on something you could get for free, but you are also usually getting a more limited variety of nutrients, since commercial products are usually from big industries.  So you might get wood compost, or chicken compost, or straw compost, etc.  These are all great, and certainly better than just using fertilizer, but by doing it yourself, you can get much more balanced nutrients for your garden.

So, now you’re probably wondering how to compost, right? I know I’ve told you it’s free, and that it’s easy, but you probably don’t believe me.  Yet.  Trust me, I know.  It seems so overwhelming at first, but once you get started it’s the easiest thing you can do for your garden!

Getting Your Compost Pile Started

To get started with a compost pile, all you need are a small bucket or bowl, veggie scraps, dried yard or plant material, and a corner of your back yard.

There are two basic ways to make compost.  You can do an open-air compost pile, or compost in an enclosed drum or barrel.  I only have experience with open-air composting (I’m too cheap to buy a compost barrel), so that’s what I’ll be talking about here.

Personally, my compost pile is just a big pile in the corner of my yard (like the photo above), but you can also build a small wood box about the same size as a raised garden bed.  Don’t build it too high, though.

Once you have your spot picked out, it’s time to start composting! This is where the bucket and kitchen scraps come in.  I keep a small bucket in my kitchen, and throughout the day, I empty all of my fruit and veggie scraps into it. This means that every time I peel a carrot, I put the peels in the bucket.  When I core an apple, into the bucket it goes.  You get the idea!  Some things you can compost from your kitchen include:

  1. used coffee grounds (and filter)
  2. veggie peels and scraps
  3. fruit scraps
  4. old bread and pasta
  5. tea bags
  6. crushed eggshells

Things you don’t want to include in your compost bucket include meat and dairy products, which will rot and smell in your compost pile.

At the end of each day, Pistache runs our bucket of kitchen scraps out to the compost pile and dumps it. See? I told you.  No effort! Instead of dumping your kitchen waste into a trash can, you dump it into a bucket.  And now it’s useful!

So, that’s the first part of composting.  However, if you only add food scraps (otherwise known as “green matter”) to your compost, it will begin to rot instead of slowly decompose.  It will also smell and attract rodents, which can be a big problem. Then you’ll get frustrated and give up, and we don’t want that.  So, how do you avoid this? By adding brown matter to your compost pile as well.  This is the part that many people forget about, or feel that they don’t have anything to add to the pile.  However, brown matter is almost easier to come by than green matter, believe it or not.  Some things that count as brown matter include:

  1. Dried yard clippings- Every time you mow your lawn, let those clippings dry out for a day or two and then shovel them into your pile.
  2. Leaves that fall off of trees- During the fall, rake up all of your leaves and add them to your compost pile.  Or, as your neighbors for theirs!
  3. Shredded paper products- We all have a constant influx of paper products coming into our homes.  Simply throw those into a shredder and add them to the compost pile.
  4. Straw or pine shavings from your chicken coop- When you clean the coop, add that to your pile as well! This will add a little green matter as well, in the form of chicken poop, which is amazing for a garden.

You want to aim for about 1 part green matter (food stuffs) to 4 parts brown.  At the very least, aim for a 1:1 ratio to ensure that the pile doesn’t begin to rot and smell.

When is Your Compost Ready?

Your compost pile is finished when it looks like rich, brown soil.  There should be no noticeable materials left in the soil when it’s ready. If there are any kitchen scraps visible in your pile, stir them in and wait for them to decompose.  Remember, every time that you add new matter to your compost pile, you’re starting over at day one.  It might be a good idea to keep two piles.  Feed one the new matter, and let the other one “cook.” This way, you can get two compost harvests in a year.  Once it’s done, you can till it into your garden bed or layer it on like mulch.  Wait a few weeks before planting in it, to make sure it’s fully ready, and you’ll have amazing garden soil for your new plants!

This is pretty much everything you need to know to start your own compost pile.  If you start today, you’ll have the makings for perfect garden soil for next year’s garden!

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How to Fertilize an Organic Garden

I’ve put off a post about organic garden fertilizing for awhile, because I sometimes wonder “who am I to offer gardening advice?”  After all, I’ve made it very clear that I am also learning as I go. In fact, if you’ve been following my blog since the very beginning, you’ll know that my garden last year was abysmal.  It was my first attempt at organic gardening, and it was a huge learning experience for us.  However, I’ve had some questions about how I fertilize to help my plants thrive without resorting to commercial fertilizers.  I thought I’d go ahead and share my tips now, so hopefully I can encourage other gardeners to convert! After all, if you see something that works, it might help you make the switch to organic.  All of these tips are based on trial and error, and a lot of research on organic websites (see bottom of post for links).

My favorite fertilizers for my organic garden include:

  • homemade compost (come back next week for a post on composting)
  • Epsom salts
  • used coffee grounds & banana peels
  • egg shells
  • natural garden mulch.

I feel that the combination of these in my garden has made a much bigger and healthier garden this year.  Now, I’ll break down the how and why of each item I use.

June 2013 Cage Free Mom Garden

June 2013 Cage Free Mom Garden

First, and foremost, compost is the easiest and most essential addition you can make to your organic garden.  I let mine mature all year, and then add it to my garden bed and till it in once before planting.  It can make a world of difference! Not only does it add essential nutrients to your soil, it can also improve the drainage.  This means that if you have heavy clay soil like I did, you can make it better year after year by simply tilling in your compost each year.  Eventually, you won’t even be able to tell it was ever clay.  It will just be dark, rich, well drained soil.  If you aren’t adding compost to your garden yet, do it!

Compost Pile

Compost Pile

Epsom salt is another favorite in my garden, but this one seems to be more plant specific.  Plants that really seem to benefit the most from the use of epsom salt are tomatoes and peppers, although I’ve also been advised to add it to my cucumbers as well.  Epsom salt adds sulfur and magnesium to your soil, which are both vital nutrients to these plants.  In addition, if it is added to your soil dry, it can help deter slugs, which are a really common garden pest.

To use epsom salt in your garden, there are a few ways you can do it.  A great way to get your plants off to a healthy start is to add about a tablespoon to the hole before you plant your pepper or tomato plant.  This gives your plants a great source of nutrients right at the beginning so they have the best start possible.  In addition to using this during your first planting, you can also add it occasionally during the growing season.  The best way to do this is to either apply it dry around the base of your plant, or mix 2 TBS of epsom salt into a gallon of water and use that to water your plants.  This is my personal favorite method, although I’ve added it dry on a few occasions when I was in a hurry.

My natural fertilizers ready to work.

My natural fertilizers ready to work.

Coffee grounds and banana peels are two other great natural sources of nutrients for your veggie plants.  Coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen and banana peels are used to add potassium to the soil.  For both of these fertilizers, you can either add them to your compost bin, or put them directly in your bed.  I do a bit of both.  When I want to put the coffee grounds in my garden, I generally just sprinkle the used grounds around the base of the plant.  Not only does this fertilize the plant, but it also burns slugs, keeping them off of my valuable produce.  For banana peels, I generally take whatever peels we’ve produced in the last few days and puree them in a blender with a bit of water, then pour it around my plants.  You can add them whole, or broken into bits, but I feel that pureeing them first allows the break down of nutrients to occur much faster, giving you quicker nutrients for the plants.

Egg shells are another great addition to your organic garden.  They provide calcium, and can also help deter slugs (are you noticing a pattern here?).  When planting my garden at the beginning of the season, I added a handful of blended egg shells to the holes during planting.  Then, throughout the growing season, I simply rinse my egg shells after breakfast and add them to a bag.  Every few weeks I toss them into a blender and then pour them directly around my plants to give them an extra dose of nutrients to keep them healthy.

Straw mulching the garden

Straw mulching the garden

Lastly, if done correctly, your garden mulch can also be a great source of fertilization for your plants and soil!  Many gardeners don’t consider this, since mulch is usually used to keep the soil moist and protect the plant roots from heat, but if you opt for a natural mulch rather than a bag of the rubbery mulch offered in stores, your plants will thank you.  Natural mulch includes hay, straw, dried yard clippings, shredded tree leaves, and tree branches sent through a chipper.  You will have to reapply your mulch more often this way, but that is because it breaks down so fast and goes right into the soil.  As an added bonus, at the end of the season you can just till in whatever is left and leave it for next year!

After careful research all winter long, I devised this system of fertilizing my veggie garden.  I’ve been using these natural fertilizers all season, and I’ve never had a garden look so good.  I feel that a combination of these natural fertilizers gives my plants everything they need to remain healthy all season long.  An added bonus is that you probably won’t have to spend much extra money by doing it this way.  If you do your own composting, that is a free soil amendment.  Bananas and coffee are already on my grocery list, and we eat eggs most mornings for breakfast.  This system simply uses our waste to help produce more veggies! The only things we had to buy to help fertilize our garden were straw and epsom salt, both of which have provided other uses as well.

My favorite gardening websites are MotherEarthNews.com , Organicgardening.com, & organicgardening.about.com

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A Day of Handmade Beauty

As most of you know by now, I am a big advocate for green beauty products.  Because your skin is the largest organ, it’s not only important to watch what you put in your body.  It’s just as important to watch what you put on your body. So, basically, you can eat organic produce and grass fed beef all you want, but unless you change your skin care routine, you’ll still be putting all sorts of unwanted carcinogens in your body daily.

Sunscreen, whipped body butters, lip balm, and chapstick with sunscreen.

Sunscreen, whipped body butters, lip balm, and chapstick with sunscreen.

On that note, this weekend, I biked (5 miles, whoot!) over to my cousin’s house and made all sorts of goodies for us to share.  The sunscreen and chapsticks are a new experiment for both of us this time, but I have been using her whipped body butter for a few months now.

In fact, until I switched my skin care routine a few months ago, I had horrible, horrible acne.  Like, the deep, painful, ones all over my face that left scars.  Now, I use an organic face cleanser from a local store called Down to Earth, a gentle astringent, and some of this whipped body butter twice a day.  Poof! No more cystic acne! Don’t get me wrong, I still get tiny white-heads due to hormonal changes, but it’s nothing like before.

The best part about all of these are, I know what every single ingredient is.  There isn’t a single ingredient hidden in my new skin care products that I didn’t put in there.

If you’re interested in making your own products, trust me, it’s not hard.  If you can cook by following a simple recipe, you can do this, too.  In fact, we followed the recipes over at Wellness Mamma to the “T.” We just added our own scent combos to make them more enticing.

So, this weekend, I encourage you to go out and try some recipes of your own.  You may surprise yourself by how much more you like the stuff you make! I mean, isn’t that how it always goes?

 

 

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DIY Laundry Stain Remover

{I’m going to go ahead and put a disclaimer at the beginning of my post, because let’s face it.  Yes, Cage Free Dad is awesome and helps with laundry.  Don’t hate me!}

Now, on to the topic at hand today.  Last week, Cage Free Dad was helping with laundry (see? I said don’t hate me!) and accidentally left a tube of Chapstick in one of his pants pockets.  Ooops! If you’ve ever done that yourself, you know the stains it can leave.  Unfortunately, he chose this cycle to add Pistache’s brand new t-shirts, so everything that is new to this season now has these nice grease stains all over them.

In a panic, I went to my mom friends for help, and got a few different suggestions, ranging from chalk to Blue Dawn.  Since I already had some Blue Dawn dish soap, I decided to look up how to remove stains using it.  After reading several posts about different ways it can help, I concocted a stain remover that I am really pleased with, so I thought I’d share it with you now.

DIY Stain Remover

Please note, this is not something you can mix up and keep on hand.  You’ll have to make it every time you have stains to remove, because otherwise the magical properties the Hydrogen Peroxide with dissipate.

What You’ll Need:

  • Blue Dawn dish soap
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Baking solda
  • teaspoon sized measuring spoon
  • small bowl for mixing

The Recipe

To make your stain remover simply follow this recipe:

Use 1 teaspoon of Dawn and mix it with 2 teaspoons of Hydrogen Peroxide.  If you want to make more or less of this stain remover, simply use the 2:1 ratio.  Once you’ve mixed those 2 ingredients in your bowl, add some baking soda to form a paste.

Let it Sit

For best results, use your stain remover immediately by rubbing it into the stains on your clothes.  For Pistache’s t-shirts, I let them sit about an hour (I tested this on one of my older shirts first to make sure I wasn’t further ruining her clothes, you should do the same).  After the hour is up, I washed the clothes on a normal cycle and then laid them flat to dry.  This is important since putting clothes in the dryer can set the stain even further.

Pistache’s clothes had already been through the dryer with the stain once, so I didn’t want to do it again.  Most of the stains came out on the first try, but a few pieces still had visible stains.  For those, I simply mixed up another stain remover and repeated the process again.  Depending on how important this article of clothing is to you, you can repeat this process as many times as needed. Unfortunately, one of the new t-shirts did end up in the play clothes drawer after the second attempt at removing the stain, but all others look brand new again.

While I’ve only used this stain remover on grease stains so far, the reading I did online showed that other bloggers have used their Blue Dawn stain removers on a variety of different stains with success, so it is certainly worth a shot.  I know I’ll be trying this concoction first from now on on any stains that come my way.

 

 

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Make Natural Garden Stakes Using Bamboo

Today I wanted to tell you about our “new” idea for staking the plants in our garden.  Last year, we opted to use traditional tomato cages in our garden for all of our plants that needed to be supported.  Even with only a few plants needing this done, the cost still added up. And my tomato and okra plants? They got so huge that the commercial cages were totally worthless.  We still had to do all sorts of extra tricks to keep them from falling over towards the end.  So, this year when it was time for commercial cages, we decided we would only buy a few for the plants we knew would stay smaller, such as the pepper plants.  For our tomato and okra, we decided to use a more functional (and free) approach by using bamboo stalks from my grandmothers backyard.

Bamboo Tomato Stakes

You can see a commercial cage in the corner of this picture and compare the height difference.   I’m much more confident that these stakes will support my plants as they get taller.  Even better? They are natural, renewable, and free. Every year, my grandmother’s bamboo has to be thinned so it doesn’t overrule her backyard.  So, instead of wasting the stalks that get cut down, we just decided to bring them to our house, let them dry out for a couple of weeks, and then trimmed them to size.  We chose to trim ours to about 3′ tall, and tied them with some spare twine from the garage.  So far, we just have the tomatoes done in the garden. We’ll be planting okra in the next few weeks and we’ll stake those the same way-although I may leave the stakes a little taller.  My okra plants last year almost got tall enough to reach the lowest branches on our pecan tree!

Some of the spare stalks I decided to use for extra support for my orange tree.  It was getting much wider than it was tall, and there isn’t yet enough strength in those tiny branches to support that weight.  Plus, there are tons of tiny oranges where all of the flowers were a few weeks ago, so I figured I may as well stake it now before the fruit gets heavier!

Bamboo Tree Stakes

If you have access to bamboo, I highly suggest you use it for your garden!  it grows a lot faster than a tree when it’s cut down, and it’s strong and sturdy as a stake.  If you want to change the shape of it (perhaps an arch? Or weave a few together?) my friend tells me that if you get it wet you can shape it any way you want.  It’s a truly versatile, renewable, natural resource for homesteading.  In fact, I’m even toying with the idea of using one of these stalks of bamboo to root my own along my fence line! It will offer privacy, dim the road noise, and I’ll always have my own bamboo for my garden when I need it.

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Aloe Vera: For More Than Sunburns

The Aloe Vera has been called a “miracle plant” for years.  However, most people grow the plant strictly for it’s sunburn healing properties.  If you’d like to do more with your Aloe Vera plant, here are some of the amazing “miracle” properties it possesses.

Benefits of Aloe Vera

Here is our aloe plant, ready to bloom.

 

1) The first, and most obvious, use for the Aloe Vera plant is to help with sunburns, minor burns and cuts.  It’s what everyone uses it for and buys it for.  Stores even sell the containers of it (very modified & chemical laden versions, anyway) for consumers coming back from beach vacations burned to a crisp and looking for some relief.  If you’d rather not buy the store bought kind, try growing your own plant and get the benefits in their purest form.

2) Aloe Vera can also heal blisters and insect bites by swabbing a bit over the affected area.

3) Aloe Vera can fade or prevent stretch marks, freckles, and age spots.

4) It can be used on hemorrhoids, too! The anti-inflammation properties that make the gel so great for things like burns and blisters can also be taken advantage of for those pesky, irritating hemorrhoids. Just break off a small piece of the plant and apply it to the irritated area and let the healing properties start working.

5) Use Aloe Vera to sooth razor burns and you’ll get a lot of relief.

6) It can also be used as eye-makeup remover, and is perfect for the dry, sensitive skin around your eyes.

7) Aloe can be used on other skin ailments such as acne and eczema by applying Aloe gel to the affected area 2-3 times a day.  It helps sooth and heal these ailments with it’s cooling, moisturizing, and protecting properties.

8) Eliminate dandruff by adding some Aloe Vera juice to your shampoo or conditioner.

These are just some of the ways you can use Aloe Vera on your skin.  There are also many other health and beauty benefits of using Aloe Vera! Some of these include:

9) Asthma relief can be attained by boiling asthma leaves and water.  The vapors help end an asthma attack with their anti-inflammatory properities.

10) You can also take Aloe internally to relieve many digestive issues such as heartburn, irregularity, stomach issues, and many other problems.  Take caution, though, that there are adverse effects (including diarrhea) from taking Aloe Vera that can get worse with prolonged use.

11) Aloe Vera is also great during cold and flu season because of all the amazing vitamins it contains, including A, B, C, & E.

12) Take advantage of the Vitamin B complexes that help boost your energy, too!

13) Aloe Vera also has anti-fungal properties, making it a great treatment for yeast infections.  You can take it internally or apply it directly to the infected area.

14) Some researchers have found that Aloe Vera juice is great for weight loss and control of Type 2 diabetes, because it lowers blood sugar.

15) Soothe an ear ache by adding a few drops of aloe vera gel to your ear.  You’ll experience instant relief.

These are just some of the more common uses for the Aloe Vera plant, but they are certainly not all of the uses for this amazing plant.  If you are not currently growing your own Aloe Vera plant, I highly recommend you make space in your garden (or even a pot on your patio!) for this “miracle plant.”  They are easy to grow and have so many uses.  Plus, with how easy it is to grow, it’s sort of silly to buy the stuff in the plastic bottles at the store!

 

 

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DIY Mineral Powder Foundation

With my current mission to eliminate toxins from my food and skin care, I recently became obsessed with the idea that I could make my own make-up.  I’d been going without for a few weeks, and I was beginning to feel rather frumpy.  I was so glad when I found this post on how to make your own mineral powder foundation! I was even more excited when I saw how easy and cheap it is.

DIY Mineral Foundation

At first, I was really nervous that this wouldn’t work as well as store-bought foundation, but I figured the materials were cheap enough to be worth the experiment.  I mean, c’mon.  Baby powder and corn starch?! Most people have that somewhere in their houses already!

Now that I’ve tried it, however, I can attest to the fact that it works as well as the store bought stuff.  I’m also baffled by the fact that I always agonized over what color foundation to buy for what time of year (it changes as much as 3 shades between summer and winter!)  This stuff is totally white, but goes on translucent, which means I won’t have to change shades when my skin darkens up this summer!

If you’re frugal and green, I really suggest you try making your own foundation.  Not only is it very easy, but you could be saving yourself $30 a pop, and that really adds up!

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