Archive for the ‘how to’ Category

Organic Gardening

grow vegetables in your home

Now that Spring is here and the tulips have bloomed it is the time to start thinking about gardening. Have you considered starting a garden? It is a daunting task to consider, but really a garden is rather enjoyable project.

I only started gardening last year.? I decided to dive right in and found a community garden plot in our neighborhood. Our community that we live in is known to have high lead levels due to the number of houses that are over 100 years old and the lead paint that was used on the exterior of the houses has leached heavily into the soil.? So the community garden was a great option for us because it had all new soil and we did not have to worry about lead or other contaminants.? A community garden may not be an option for you, but if you have even a small amount of space, a container garden may be just the right thing, just make sure you get enough sun (South facing areas are the best).

So why do I care about gardening and think it is worth the effort to go get some pots and seeds or plants:

  1. It costs less than buying veggies or herbs at the store
  2. Whatever you grow will taste better because you put the effort into growing it
  3. You will end up eating more veggies
  4. It feels great when you can say, ?I grew that!?

So if you are going to garden in the yard or in pots or on your window ledge, it really is easy for everyone. For your first year, don?t be surprised if some things don?t grow, pick plants that are hardy and will grow.

  • Zucchini
  • Lettuce
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Tomatoes

Start small, choose a few things to grow.? After a month, if they are still alive and you think you can handle the time to water a few more plants, then get more!

When it comes caring for a garden, it really does not take much time.? Everyday it takes a? few minutes to water the plants. If it rains, then you get the day off.

Every week or so it is good to check the plants that are growing and see if there are any pests eating your plant. Pests are where organic gardening comes in. You can use harmful pesticides in your garden, but then you will end up eating the pesticides that have coated your beautiful veggies. Instead of using pesticides there are plenty of safe, effective, pest management solutions available. When you do find a pest on your plant, make sure it is truly a pest. There are plenty of bugs that help with the growth and elimination of harmful bugs on plants. So if you think your plants are being eaten by a pest, look it up online. There are plenty of resources available online to help solve your garden problems, without using a toxic expensive pesticide.

Enjoy your veggies and herbs!

Sustainable Home Decorating on a Budget

Over the past year I have come to the realization that many people I know have an uncanny knack for something, not that unlike a superpower.? Dan and Alicia have this amazing ability to find anything.? It is almost as if God has sent angels for the sole purpose of bestowing them with free gifts.? Like last Fall, walking our neighborhood they found and gathered enough apples to make gallons and gallons of apple cider.? Meanwhile, Kendall and I couldn’t even find a single apple tree on our walks.? Similarly, Jared is the king of getting steals-of-a-deal when it comes to buying anything from train tickets to office furniture.? Then there is my sister, Kathryn, who can sell anybody anything (usually on craigslist) while never budging on her price.? When moving from Chicago to Houston last summer with only room for what would fit in her Civic, she had to sell many of her possessions and after doing so found that she made a profit in the process.

Well, today, I am happy that we are being joined by one of my superheroes.? Kathryn has been kind enough to agree to share another one of her gifts.? With her cross country moves (Dallas to Chicago to Houston) Kathryn has gotten unbelievably good at sustainably furnishing empty apartments on a small budget.? She has gathered a few of her tricks and ideas and written them out for us below.? Please give her a warm welcome!? Enjoy.

Oh and I think the key to all of their superpowers may be vision and balls.? I am not sure which one I am missing.

?We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors….we borrow it from our children.?
-Native American Proverb

This quote inspired me to share with you some ideas that can not only ?cuten? up your home, but make you feel good about doing it!

One of the greatest issues facing our environment is the severe amount of waste that we produce. We can all do our part to reduce the number of disposable items we use, but we can also help by reusing what we already have. Have you ever had a table that just didn?t work with your room anymore? Or a lampshade you suddenly found dull? Before you toss it, here are some ideas to spruce it up and essentially create a new table, without the waste and without the buck.

An easy way to add a little pop to your room is to recover your table with a cute fabric or paper. Start with the top and move to the legs if you are up for a bit of a challenge. Arrange your paper/fabric (you can combine several different styles to create a fun design) onto the top of the table. Make sure the papers/fabrics are cut to fit the exact size. Place your design aside and paint the table with a water-based polycrylic protective finish. Now lay your design back on top of the glue and set it in place. Use the same protective finish to paint a seal on top of the design. Repeat this process on the legs if you desire.

A more complicated, yet rewarding, approach to recovering your table is to mosaic it. You can always find cheap plates at any second hand store. Just break them up and adhere them in a fun pattern with craft glue. Add some grout and you will have a brand new look.? Here are a couple tutorials I found.

If you like painting, you can always paint (using zero-VOC paint) a solid color on the table and then paint a fun design or pattern on the top or sides. I?m a big fan of silhouettes, so I constantly find myself painting something black and then painting a leaf or floral silhouette on top. You will end up creating a completely unique piece that can?t be found at the closest Pier 1.

Even if you don?t have an older piece of your own to play with, Craigslist and garage sales are the perfect places to find a fixer upper. For $5-$10 you can find solid pieces that simply need a makeover. This way you save money buying used, you cut down on the amount of waste the table could potentially cause, and you find yourself with hours of entertainment creating your own masterpiece.


A fun idea I had came about when I was shopping at the Canton Marketplace. I found an old window for $7 in the garage sale section. I also had an Eiffel Tower poster displayed at home in a regular frame and I wasn?t crazy about the look. So, I took the window home, cleaned it up with a rag and then placed the poster behind the window, transforming a regular poster into a really unique addition to the living room. Even better is that it only cost about $15 total for the window and poster.


Just remember….don?t limit yourself and don?t worry about messing up! Almost anything can be sanded down for a clean start. These techniques can be used on picture frames or mirrors as well. Basically treat any item as though it is your canvas for creation! Check back in soon to find a fun and easy way to liven up your lampshade and much more!

A little environmental School House Rock

Eco School

Working on my Undergrad degree has been a broken trail for me as I have steadily committed to give it a place of importance, but never wanted it to be The Most Important piece in my very full life. There are other things that I have come before and will always come before my formal education. That being said, it has over the years remained important to me to graduate with a Bachelors degree and because of this I made a return to school last September. I am now attending University of Washington and it has been a very positive experience and I am very much enjoying this part of my life. There are some changes to my schooling habits that I have made upon my return that I would like to share with you.
In the spirit of ecological responsibility at universities around the world, I now present you with NOTES on Environmental Changes for Students (or anyone really):

  1. Travel Mug filled with: fair trade, organic tea; fair trade, organic, decaf coffee; or fair trade organic hot chocolate. So, good. Drinking a warm beverage is lovely on these cold, wet Seattle days.
    • Produces less waste than disposable cups
    • On campus they have a Tully’s that only uses fully compostable cups. However, unless you actually put these cups (like any compostable products) in your compost they are not compostable.
    • It provides a lovely treat while sitting in class or studying.
  2. Bring a refillable water bottle
  3. Take public transportation (or of course walk, bike, or carpool)
  4. Rebinders
  5. Recycled notebook paper
  6. Take notes on my computer through WordPress (how to below):
    • Install a webserver on your laptop. It’s easier than you think. There are packages that make it easy to install and setup (MAMP for a Mac and WAMP for a PC).
    • Create a database using the tools installed with either MAMP or WAMP.
    • Install WordPress. There will be some manual text editing you need to do for setup, but it’s minimal.
    • Create categories for each of your classes.
    • Start a new post for each class session.

    When you use this method of taking notes, you can easily look back at past class periods by date, and also there is a search function installed by default. If you run into trouble, my husband has offered assistance to those who need some direction. You can get in touch with him over at his company web site Vigilanteweb.

  7. Print only when a Professor requires a hard copy of an assignment and print on both the front and back of each paper.
    To print on the front and back from my computer I:

    1. Press Print
    2. Within the Print Detail page select Paper Handling
    3. Select “Print Odd Numbered Pages”
    4. Print
    5. Place either the single sheet or stack of printed pages face down in the paper tray with the bottom of the page closest to me in.
    6. Repeat steps 1 and 2
    7. Select “Print: Even Numbered Pages” and “Page Order: Reverse”
  8. Buy used Text Books. There are plenty out there already and they are usually cheaper. You can also check text books out of the library instead of buying it. A final suggestion is to book share. If you have a reliable classmate it may work out for you to share a text book and split the cost. Everyone has their own study habits and you know what works best for you.

If anyone else has tips feel free to share them through comments!

Fair Trade

The general idea behind the term “fair trade” is that producers and workers trading/selling their goods internationally will be fairly paid for their products. This can become very relative, therefore, standards in the form of certifications were started to keep everyone in check. There are a couple of different fair trade certifications/labels out there. If you see one of the following labels on a particular good (coffee, tea, chocolate, crafts, etc.) you are buying that lets you know that a set of fair trade standards has been met. Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) is the “worldwide Fairtrade Standard setting and Certification organisation”.

There are two sets of generic producer standards, one for small farmers and one for workers on plantations and in factories. The first set applies to smallholders organised in cooperatives or other organisations with a democratic, participative structure. The second set applies to organised workers, whose employers pay decent wages, guarantee the right to join trade unions and provide good housing where relevant. On plantations and in factories, minimum health and safety as well as environmental standards must be complied with, and no child or forced labour may occur.

As Fairtrade is also about development, the generic standards distinguish between minimum requirements, which producers must meet to be certified Fairtrade, and progress requirements that encourage producer organisations to continuously improve working conditions and product quality, to increase the environmental sustainability of their activities and to invest in the development of the organisations and their producers/workers.

Trading standards stipulate that traders have to:
? pay a price to producers that covers the costs of sustainable production and living;
? pay a premium that producers can invest in development;
? partially pay in advance, when producers ask for it;
? sign contracts that allow for long-term planning and sustainable production practices.

Finally, there are a few product-specific Fairtrade standards for each product that determine such things as minimum quality, price, and processing requirements that have to be complied with.

A few trusted fair trade labels to look out for:

Fair Trade Certified Fair Trade Certified

International Fair Trade Organization International Fair Trade Organization


Indoor Compost Bin

Find out more about One/Change.

How to make an at home indoor compost bin that DOESN’T stink.

When my husband, Ariah, asked me if I wouldn’t mind trying to compost inside our apartment I had some visions of sharing our apartment with overgrown, slimy, yucky little critters. I envisioned dirt everywhere and a huge mess with rotting food smell to boot. It turns out that I was wrong, and we have about 500 little clean worms under our sink contained in a wonderful home-made little composting system that (my happiest little part) DOES NOT smell!

So do you want to know how to make your composting dreams a reality? Follow our steps and we will get you going.

1. Order worm friends. In order to do this you will need to search online (if you’re reading this you are capable of ordering them online, thankfully) which is pretty easy and will take a little while. A website that we used was Worm Man’s Worm Farm. Mail Order Worms
2. Collect newspapers without color (this may take you a couple of weeks) so that you can shred them into pieces about 1-2 inches in width. (This is actually kinda fun because you get print all over your little grippers and you get to tear apart any ads that may be totally ridiculous or any articles that you don’t like the author of.) I would recommend doing all of the shredding at once so that you sit in a fun pile of paper AND only make as much as you need. Make Strips of newspaper
3. Select a good sized bin (you can see the picture of perfection in our bin 2’x3’x1′ Rubbermaid, which fits nicely and snugly under our sink in the cupboard). Having a bin with a large surface area is more important than having a deep bin. Using a sharp object, like scissors or a knife, put holes in the sides about 2/3rds of the way from the bottom. This gives your friends the oxygen needed to turn your rotting veggies into great compost. Putting holes in your bin
4. Take your shredded newspaper and get it wet in your sink. Now, if you take it and hold it under the water to soak it and then squeeze it out like a sponge it is kinda fun – and the benefit is that you won’t totally drown your new worm friends. (NOTE: sometimes worms like a little change in texture…so if you are adventurous you could also add some wet shredded thin cardboard to your bin – a good example of this type of cardboard is the toilet-paper role!) Wetting your bed
5. Spread the damp/wet and loosened newspaper in the bottom of your bin to cover it to about the depth of 1/2 full. This is their nice little bed. Then spread your new worms over the bed and watch them wiggle. This is the fun part where you get to say hello and say any blessing over their work that you would like to do. And then cover them up with about 2 more inches of the damp/wet newsprint that you have shredded, wet, squeezed out, and loosened. Spreading the newspaper
6. Next you wait one week to let the friends get accustomed to their newspaper home after which time you can take veggie/food scraps that you have. Good ones are carrot peels, excess from cutting celery, banana peels, and actually egg shells crushed up (if you are going to do egg-shells you need to rinse the shells right after you crack them so that they don’t have any gook on them when you put them into the bin), coffee grounds that have been used, tea bags, used paper towels. Things to avoid putting in your compost pile: meat scraps, actual eggs, anything that is already rotting. or other leftovers. Let your composting begin
7. Wait, and smell the nothingness of your bin while the worms do their job and fulfill their purpose.

NOTE: Wormies like to be in a dark cool place that has not TOO much noise or movement of their bin. If you open up the bin with the light on they will run away because they don’t like the light…so if some of them wiggle near the top of the bin just open it up and watch them retreat.

Another NOTE: You can add about 1-2 pounds of veggie scraps to your bin every week, and the best way not to disturb your little friends every day is to collect them in a larger tupperware bin in your refrigerator through the week and then open the bin to put them in once on the weekend or something.

One more NOTE: For up-keep of the bin you need to move the created compost to one side of the bin and then add some more of the good damp/wet paper to the other half and ONLY put your food scraps on this new half. This will coax your worms to the new bedding and then you can take the created dirt and put it in your garden! This is good to do after about 3 months, but you can wait until about 6 months if you are like us and don’t want to do it that often. Just make sure that your friends aren’t drowning in the nutrient rich liquid that gathers at the bottom of the bin (and if it is gathering, just add some shredded but dry newspaper).

Outdoor Compost Bin

I walk out my backdoor 32 steps, past the shed that Mike built, past the forsythia that is starting to bloom to my15 year old compost bin in the back corner of our yard. I dump the little bucket-full of grapefruit rind, banana peels and coffee grounds on top of the decomposing leaves and know I?m doing something good for the earth. But let?s start over so I can tell you exactly how you could start a compost bin of your own, just like ours.

First you need to get a wire frame in which to dump all of your stuff. We purchased a do it yourself compost bin years ago, but it is just as easy to buy 7 sections of sturdy wire measuring 36x36x26 from your local hardware store. We have three separate bins, each is 36? wide and 36? deep and 26? high and made of plastic covered wire. The three bins are connected with a chain link fence comprising the back wall of each bin. Because it was possible to utilize the chain link fence in the back, we were able to make 3 joined compartments out of the 7 36x36x26 sections.

We joined them together using long wires on the sides of each section, but you could buy extra wire and using a pair of pliers, wrap it around each section you are joining. If you don?t have a chain link fence to hook it up to, you would be able to make a 2 compartment bin with the 7 sections using the same method. It is best to situate the bin with as much exposure to the sun as possible. Ours gets more sun when there are not leaves on the trees and we have trimmed trees in order to expose it to as much sun as possible.

The bulk of the contents is leaves from the autumn season, but you need some moist stuff like grass clippings, dead plants, and kitchen waste mixed in to make it go. I don’t like to put in sticks or pinecones or other solid matter because they really don’t decompose fast enough. Be careful not to put the weeds you pull out of your garden into the compost because the seeds will not be destroyed so your compost soil will contain weed seeds.

We keep an orange plastic bucket in the kitchen sink so that every time we are tempted to put some biodegradable item in the disposal, we will see the bucket and put it in there instead. Mike likes to cut everything up into little bits so it will decompose faster, but being the lazy me, I sometimes leave the grapefruit half intact and that?s okay. It will just take a little longer to de-compose. We compost all fruit and vegetable detritus including coffee grounds. However, avoid putting in animal product waste (e.g. bones, eggshells, etc.) because it will stink, attract pests, and not decompose fast.In the fall, we load the bins up with leaves; 97% of the volume of the compost bins is leaves. The kitchen waste we put in the bins speed up the decomposition process of the leaves.

Mike turns the contents more in the spring summer and fall, than in the winter, probably 12 times year. If you leave one bin empty it makes it easier to mix things up with a pitchfork by throwing the stuff from one bin into the other. That turns the pile. The purpose of turning the compost is to put air pockets in between the stuff. If a compost pile is working well it will generate heat from the decomposition happening, you’ll feel it if you plunge your hand into it. But you need oxygen for decomposing. You should turn the pile as often as you can to keep it going. After a rainstorm, the pile will shrink due to the water absorbed. That usually will drive out the oxygen, requiring a turn. Depending on how you choose to practice compost managment, you can either have each bin at different stages or all at the same stage.

Compost piles make great quality dirt by the time they are done! It’s time to take the dirt out when you see that you are turning mostly dirt with your pitchfork. You can separate dirt from the other pretty easily. Then just shovel it out into a wheelbarrow and you can place it somewhere in your yard or garden.

Happy composting!

What is RSS and What is it for?

So you’ve seen the little orange link on all of these sites around the internet. What does it mean? What does it do? It’s a link for an RSS feed.

What’s that you might ask. Well the long and the short of it is that it’s a technology that you can use to subscribe to regularly published content. You can read news stories, blog posts, movie reviews, etc. from all of your favorite websites in one central location.

That central location is called your RSS Reader. There’s a wide variety of RSS Readers to choose from: NewsGator, Bloglines, and even the free, open-source email client Mozilla Thunderbird has RSS support. Each one of these readers have their own specific set up directions which you can find on their respective sites. Many of these will be easier than setting up a new email account.

Using RSS feeds will probably change the way you use the internet. I know that it’s changed the way that I use it. It makes getting content from a lot of different sources really easy and centrally located. And that is really helpful for me.

So without further ado, click here or copy this link and paste it into the RSS reader that you’ve selected. Also, if you’d like to read more about RSS, here’s a good primer. If you have any questions let us know and we’ll try and help.

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