Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cleaning Up Our Act

Returning to laundry basics

We’ve been hanging our laundry to dry for about a year now.  I love the way it smells and even the act of hanging the laundry and gathering and folding it is a relaxing task I look forward to. Hanging laundry forces me to slow down and enjoy a simple pleasure while being more thoughtful about our use of energy. Honestly, it makes me feel good every time I do our wash. 

We still have a dryer and, yes, it is used on occasion, but very rarely any more. We just don’t have the need. One thing that has made this change possible for us is our wonderful screened in porch. Hanging laundry each week would not be nearly as easy if we had to depend on the weather. After all, everyone who lives in this house works full time and has a very busy schedule. Weekends are the time for us to tidy the house, do laundry, gather groceries, work around the yard and hopefully find a moment to relax before heading into another work week.  I’m sure this is a familiar scenario for most of us.

 If it’s raining on the weekends we don’t have the luxury of waiting for a nicer day to do laundry. So, no matter what the weather, unless we are out of town, the laundry is done Saturday morning.  The back porch has a clothesline running the entire length of the porch and there is a folding drying rack out there. If it’s sunny and we’re inspired to move the rack, it gets pulled out in the sun, but honestly it mostly stays on the porch. Rain or shine out goes the laundry on Saturday morning. If it’s nice and our schedule allows, the laundry gets put away Saturday afternoon.  If it’s rainy or we don’t have time it stays on the line until it’s dry or we get around to it. It’s a perfect system for us.  

So a year of hanging laundry has gone by, and we are ready to take the next step. We decided to make our own laundry detergent. I found a recipe online that made a nice big batch and gave it a try.  

Here’s the recipe

Laundry soap 

2 gallon bucket

1/3 bar Fels Naptha bar soap
1/2 c. washing soda
1/2 c. borax powder

Grate soap and put it in a sauce pan
Add 6 cups water and heat until soap melts
Add washing powder and Borax and stir until they dissolve
Remove from heat
Pour 4 c. hot water into the bucket. 
Add soap mixture and stir
Now add 1 gal. plus 6 cups of water and stir
Let soap sit for 24 hours. It will gel.

use 1/2 c. per load

You can add an essential oil if you want. I didn't this time to see how it is unscented. 

We've been using this detergent for several weeks and it seems to do an excellent job of cleaning at pennies per load. I'm excited about our new soap, which I think is much more environmentally sound and it definitely will save us money.  My only question about my ingredients is the Fels Naptha soap. According to what I read originally the soap has been around for 100 years and so I assumed (never assume) that it was a safe or at least more environmentally friendly product. But, after some poking around on the internet I'm finding mixed reviews.  Some say that the soap contains at least one petrochemical ingredient and others say that there is no longer any petrochemical products used in the soap.    I don’t know. I might try Ivory instead in my next batch. If anyone has any feedback on this it would be greatly appreciated. In the end, I think I probably have a better product now than what I was buying previously at the grocery…cheaper anyhow. 



Saturday, November 13, 2010

Snapshots of Adventure Farm

I picked up a load of mulch that, when I parked it in the driveway, showed a little microcosm of our farm in the city:

Here is our farm truck in the middle of residential St. Louis, loaded with mulch and tools, with the haul from our great pumpkin heist below and tree cuttings on the right from my nascent tree business.

And this is a view from above (well, from the roof) of our back yard showing Deanna's creativity and hard work. You can see the mulch paths and organic garden on the right that we're currently working on. Throughout are other growing beds and her lawn-art touches like the pond and stream in the upper left that is run by a water pump, the wooden arch on the left made out of ladders, old bathtub fountain in the lower right, etc.

Just a couple of snapshots of the humble beginning of our Adventure Farm.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Great Pumpkin Heist

Helping Jack-o-Lanterns find a better final resting place

This year Halloween really got under my skin, and it wasn’t the spooks in the streets that got me.  In fact, it was more post-Halloween angst that was making me anxious and on edge.  I kept looking at all those jack-o-lanterns on everyone’s porch and envisioning their final journey.  All that organic material headed to the landfill! I was having a hard time accepting this, and so I decided that this year I was going to do a little something about it. My only defense for my behavior is to say that living in an urban area makes me extremely aware of the wasted materials we send to the dump that should (in my opinion) be going back to improving our mostly poor urban soil.

So, last night Guy and I went on an undercover mission in search of trashed pumpkins. Guy drove the get away truck while I jumped out and snatched pumpkins peaking out from under trashcan lids.  In a matter of about 30 minutes we had gathered seven pumpkins to join the 7-8 pumpkins I already had from a friend who noticed a nursery that had cleaned pumpkins to sell as “ready to carve.” She stopped and asked if she could have what was left. They were glad to get rid of them. Thank goodness for crazy friends.

However, I suddenly found myself with all these pumpkins, and I’m not set up very well for composting. I really don’t have room for a large composting bin. Instead I have a tumbling composting barrel for my kitchen waste and a small freestanding pile for stuff I gather out of the yard during the summer.  In the fall I just compost in place.  The vegetable plants I cut down this fall I cut up into smaller pieces and dropped them right there. I’m working now to get the beds covered with leaf mulch and horse manure before winter sets in.

Nursery pumpkins in the new bed 

I brought home the nursery pumpkins this past weekend and smashed and added them to the new bed. I’m making, a sort of hugelkultur/sheet mulch bed.  The ones I got on our nighttime raid will be broken up this coming weekend and added to the existing gardens as a layer to be covered by leaf mulch and horse manure. 

I decided I needed to break them up a bit

First layer of free compost covering
the broken pumpkins.

I’m discovering that looking for organic materials can make me do some strange things. 
Happy Jack-o-Lantern

Don’t forget to compost your pumpkin. Or, if you live in St Louis I have room for a few more.

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Exercise in Focus

New mulched path along the future woodland garden (left)

I’m making an effort to stay focused on one area of my y
ard this year. My usual habit in the garden is to flit from one thing to another surrendering to whatever interests me at the moment, and therefore rarely actually completing anything. This has been fine in the past when gardening served primarily as an escape from the stresses of life and for my own personal satisfaction. However, now I want to be more focused. There are new reasons for my garden, and I want to share what I’m doing with others.

After the recent permaculture course, I had a million ideas floating around in my head with the tendency to want to do a little of this and a little of that just to try out these new ideas. However, I’m attempting to change this habit so that I have some solid working examples of permaculture practices to show people as I move forward with my urban permaculture project. So, much as I would like to work on my front yard, I am determined to focus on getting my backyard to a place that is more complete. At this point I think I have a pretty solid plan for my beds and what I want planted in different areas of my yard, it’s just getting areas completed that’s the big hurdle.

This weekend Guy and I worked on hauling wood chips to complete (or nearly complete) the path system in the backyard. I say nearly complete, because there is one area at the top of the driveway that I’m not quite certain what to do with yet. I’m thinking possibly chickens, but I need to mull this around a bit longer and look into some chicken tractors. That’s another story. Now I’m doing my best to stay focused on mulch :)
Potential chicken tractor site with the
abruptly ending mulch path
As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, if you live in an urban area there is an unlimited supply of organic matter free for the taking. I’m fortunate that I have several municipalities in the area that leave mountains (well, small hills) of organic matter for community members to haul away. There’s plenty of woodchips of varying textures available now, and soon there will be plenty of leaf mulch too. I’ve been dreaming of a lawn free yard for years and this weekend I have the job half finished. My backyard is now mostly lawn free except for the spot I can’t decide on yet, and the front yard is well on its way.

The paths have also allowed me to more easily define my garden beds. Because a large part of my yard was once a well-packed gravel driveway, most of my beds need to be raised. Therefore, you will see cement blocks in the pictures. I’m not a fan of rectangle beds, I like softer shapes, and I’ve found that the cement blocks are an easy way to design beds in any shape I need and holds the new soil well. After a year I can remove the cement blocks and continue to add organic matter to the bed without worrying about the soil eroding away. The beds become more hilled, tapering down to the pathway, but much nicer looking without the blocks. You can see examples of both types of beds in the picture below. By the end of next year, the cement blocks should be gone and the beds beginning to look more established.

A view from the brick patio. You can see the newer garden
 addition with the concrete blocks on the right and the
older beds on the left and back center.

I’m pleased with the results of the weekend. Now on to amending the existing beds and building some Hugelkultur beds (using woody materials as a base for a bed). Besides looking for those wonderful jack-o-lanterns that everyone wants to pitch, we will be hauling soil, leaf mulch and horse manure regularly until we fill in the beds. Hopefully, in a year of two we will be able to sustain the beds with the organic matter generated on the property, but for now we need outside help.

Hope to see you at the leaf mulch pile.