The Permaculture Assessment

In the permaculture online study group I mentioned a couple of weeks back, we were given a rather intensive assignment. We needed to do a site inventory of the property we’re focusing on. Of course, for us, it’s our property and I thought it would be fairly easy to do since I already had our yard drafted in the computer. Well, it turns out mapping was the easiest part.

The assignment had several parts to it. The first parts were mapping the property and doing a site analysis of the current conditions. This included drawing out all the features of the property (trees, structures, permanent site elements) and then mapping out the conditions such as sun aspect, wind, slope, and shade patterns.

Once that was all done the hard part was next – writing the accompanying text which included additional information such as soils, climate, site history, and biodiversity. After the site assessment was complete I then described the different zones of property, the site elements in the zones and what our vision/future plans were for each of those areas.  Wrapping up the text I described what resources we have available (time, money, materials). If you’d like to see what this Permaculture Design Plan looks like click on the link below for the pdf. It’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about our property.

Permaculture Design

That Hugelkultur Thing

Oh yes, I’m going to be talking a lot about hugelkultur beds because we just finished our first small 10′ section of it this afternoon. While it didn’t take very long to do, it was a lot of heavy lifting. Most of the work was actually clearing out the bed of raspberries (that never have produced a single berry) and weeds and then digging a foot of dirt out.

Building a hugelkultur bed doesn’t actually require you to dig up the dirt and sink it, but what can I say? We’re gluttons for punishment? No, actually, our soil has been so nicely amended and had this great texture that we decided to dig it out so we can add it back to the top of the hugelkultur bed. And in the past when we used to do raised beds we always found that when we included native soil in the beds they always did a lot better. My guess is that the native soil includes micronutrients and microorganisms that compost doesn’t have.

We then laid down sheets of cardboard. Of course, this is another step you don’t have to do but because we have such a problem with bindweed (which can have viable roots as far down as 20′) we decided that putting down cardboard would create a barrier to help stop the bindweed but eventually break down once it was no longer needed. Once the cardboard was down we started tossing wood of various sizes onto the pile. and a few old artichoke stalks for good measure. The wood is the key to hugelkultur. While it breaks down over time it will absorb water like a sponge while also releasing nutrients. The water absorption helps reduce your water use. If you make large 6′ tall beds you can go without adding any additional water during dry summers. Since our bed is not that high we’ll still have to supplement with summer water but we can definitely cut back since a bed that’s only 2′ tall can hold water for approximately 3 weeks. This leads to another important thing about these beds. You have to build them before the rains come, which is late fall here, so they can absorb as much water as possible before you can plant them. It’s best to use rotting wood which will hold more water and is also less likely to tie up nitrogen in the soil. Also avoid certain woods such as black walnut, cedar, redwood, black locust and eucalyptus which either contain rotting inhibitors or contain compounds that are toxic to other plants. Fruit tree wood also has a tendency to be too hard and take too long to start rotting.

After we got all the wood in place we placed a good thick layer of poultry litter which consists of straw with chicken and turkey manure and quite a few feathers (just because they are currently molting). Poultry litter is the best way we’ve found to get a compost pile up and running quickly so we wanted to use this directly on the logs to help get the breakdown process started. Again, this isn’t necessarily a step you must do to build a traditional hugelkultur bed, it’s just a step we chose to do.

Another step we chose to include was to cover the poultry litter with finished compost that we picked up at the local recycling/composting facility. $4.31 for a truckload, which you just can’t beat.

The final layer, which is really the only other thing you have to do besides using wood, is covering the bed with soil and smoothing it out. Yes, it’s a lot of work but the work we do now means we won’t have to work later. Hugelkultur beds are kind of self-tilling and since they are raised they’ll never get walked on, which compacts the soil. We’ll definitely finish off this one bed, hopefully getting more of it done tomorrow and then we can start thinking about doing some of the other larger beds. Eventually if this works out for us, I’d like to do all of our beds this way.

Homemade Deodorant that Works

Commercial deodorants, along with shampoos, conditioners and body soaps have all sorts of toxic chemicals in them. Want to freak yourself out? Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database to see exactly what those ingredients can do to you. Thanks to the database I have decided to age gracefully and no longer dye my hair or use “age-defying” treatments for my skin. I’ve switched from using commercial shampoo to using either a homemade shampoo bar or baking soda and apple cider vinegar (depending on my mood for the day). Same goes for body soap – we now use only homemade soap. I no longer wash my face with soap then slather it with some toxin-containing lotion. Instead I now use coconut oil. I slather it on heavily than wipe it off with a cloth which removes dirt, excess oil, even makeup. It leaves my skin feeling supple and smooth and it’s never dried out. Amazingly it’s also never oily either. Goodbye T-zone. And let me tell you, my skin has NEVER looked this good. Gone are the fine lines and most important of all, the mid-life acne is gone. Completely. I don’t even get hormonal acne anymore. It’s a thing of beauty (pun intended).

The deodorant switch was our latest experiment. Tom was skeptical about it and rightly so. Tom is a man’s man and is the muscle around here. He’s big, he’s strong, and he works hard and gets (really) sweaty, which can often times lead to the unpleasant odor of man-sweat. So I had a challenge ahead of me. I found some recipes online but none seemed that appealing. I wanted something easy to make from ingredients that we almost always have on hand, or at least could easily keep on hand and were readily available at local stores. So here is what I finally came up with:

  • 2 oz Coconut Oil
  • 1/2 oz beeswax
  • 1/4 C baking soda
  • 1/4 C cornstarch (non-GMO of course)
  • 20 drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
  • 20 drops any other essential oil for scent (optional)

Melt the coconut oil and beeswax together in a sauce pan on low heat. Once melted take off of heat and mix in remaining ingredients. Pour into cleaned out deodorant containers. This is enough to fill 2 medium sized deodorant containers.

So how does it work? I’ll get to that in a minute but first I want to explain why I chose the ingredients that I did.

The coconut oil is very moisturizing, it’s lightweight and goes on really smoothly. The problem though is that it melts at a low temperature so on a warm day you might end up with a puddle of oil rather than a solid deodorant. That’s where the beeswax comes in. Just a small amount is all you need to harden it up. Too much beeswax though and you end up with a gummy product that doesn’t go on smooth.

The baking soda helps eliminate odors and the cornstarch absorbs excess moisture. Tea tree oil is antibacterial so it helps eliminate the bacteria that cause bad B.O. and then the additional essential oil is optional if you don’t care for the smell of the tea tree oil (I personally don’t like it).

After several months of using this deodorant I have to say I am surprisingly thrilled about it. Tom really likes it too. Neither of us suffer from any type of B.O. which is actually more than I can say about every other commercial deodorant that I’ve ever tried. After several hours they just lose their effectiveness but this homemade stuff lasts all day with no problem. It goes on smooth and a little goes a long way. In addition, for us ladies, it doesn’t making your armpits sting or itch after shaving.

10 Repurposed (Free or Cheap) Things You Should Have

I was puttering around in the yard when I realized that we sure have a lot of random crap around our yard. I guess you can’t call it crap because it’s all really, really useful stuff. None of these items’ primary use is for gardening or livestock keeping but here we are using them all the time. So here’s my list of items that you should keep around if you are an avid gardener or own livestock.

5 Gallon Buckets

I honestly don’t know how I ever got through life without 5 gallon buckets. The food grade ones are awesome for storing food of course, though you need to take care to keep rodents out, but even the non-food grade ones are indispensable. I use them to mix potting soil, tools, irrigation supplies and pipe, and garden supplies. I also use them for harvesting larger amounts that my basket can’t handle (like the 70lbs of apricots we harvested this past weekend) and for collecting weeds in when I’m weeding. You can upend a bucket over a tender plant overnight if you’re suspecting a frost (just remember to remove it in the morning). We also cut them down, hook up a float and use them as automatic waterers (a very wise goat breeder told me that goats prefer to drink out of white buckets). You can even use them to make self watering planters!

Burlap Bags

These are the big bags that they ship coffee beans in. You can ask your local coffee roaster if they have any they can give you or sometimes the dump has pallets of them. We use them as weedblock (doesn’t work very well for bindweed or Bermuda grass though) and in our mushroom garden to keep logs moist. For events we use them as rustic table cloths but when we’re home they are useful for anything we need fabric for outside use. With the animals it works well for insulation on cold nights and for calming animals in distress when we have to isolate them. We also use it to help keep the chickens from sleeping in their nest boxes at night (in picture). By nailing one edge above the nest boxes and attaching a heavy bar to the opposite edge we can roll it up in the morning and bring it back down in the evening when everyone is done laying. Helps keep the boxes nice and clean because the girls can’t sleep in the boxes. Additionally you can use them as temporary planters by setting them upright filled with soil. The jury is still out though on whether they are good for potatoes.

Electrical Conduit

This is probably one of the most useful items we have around here. Tom works for an electrical wholesaler and so any bent pieces they receive he squirrels away until he has enough to bring home. We use it for making trellises for climbing veggies. When making trellises  you lash together two pipes (pound them into the ground some) on each end of the bed and then stabilize them with a pipe running through the crook made by the ends. Lash it all together and it should be pretty stable. Then we use line to run back and forth or up and down depending on what we’re planting. Beans and other twining veggies get a vertical trellis while grasping vines like peas, cukes and squash, get a horizontal trellis. Polyester line works well but we like to use the lines off of hay bales because they are stronger and last longer. Electrical conduit also works well for fence posts. When it involves keeping chickens out they are too thin for the chickens to jump up onto. We use it as the “rails” in our feed mangers for the goats and we even used it for building the chicken run. It is strong enough to support the wire that covers the run and was easily attached to the posts with pipe straps.

Stucco Wire

Similar to chicken wire, stucco wire is cheaper and stronger (after all, it has to hold the weight of stucco to a buildings). We primarily use it for temporary fencing and of course for poultry housing. It’s also good to wrap around newly planted plants to keep critters from digging them up. We use it in planters to keep the squirrels out and then we also tie scare tape to it to keep the birds away from by blueberries. It’s useful to use to for impromptu compost bins by wiring it into a circle because it allows for lots of airflow. It’s also a cheaper alternative to hardware cloth under raised beds to keep gophers out and also as cages under new trees and shrubs that you may plant to also keep gophers away.

Concrete Reinforcement Fabric

By far the BEST tomato cages available are the ones you make at home from a wire mesh meant for pouring concrete slabs. The spacing between the wire is perfect for reaching your hand through to pick even the biggest tomato but it’s also strong enough not to collapse under even the largest plant. We also use this mesh for tomatillos and you can make nice arbors with them. We’ve had ours for well over 5 years with no issues. At the end of the season you can open them back up and lay them flat or stack them in an out of the way place, which is what we do. There’s also an option to cut them into four pieces of equal size and then wire them into square cages which can lay flat for storage.

It also works well for potato towers because it’s strong enough to hold hay, soil and lots of potatoes!

Concrete Pavers or Bricks

We put in a patio in our backyard and ended up with a whole bunch of leftover pavers. People are always trying to offload extra brick and pavers on Craigslist and Freecycle so they are fairly easy to obtain. They can be used as small stepping stones through the garden if you don’t want to put down a path and just want something temporary. We also use them whenever we need a hard, level surface such as under water buckets. They are great for keeping wood and metal off of the ground as well. While galvanized metal is rust resistant it isn’t rust proof so we like to keep our metal pails on the pavers to reduce their contact with moisture from the soil. I also find them helpful protect our irrigation system, particularly where the risers come out of the ground. We stack them around the risers so that we don’t trip on them (makes them more visible) and also to keep us from damaging the rises with tools or wheelbarrows.

XL Wire Dog Grate

If you have livestock this is a must-have item. We have two of them plus a wire pen and all of them are in constant use around here. For rabbits they work well as temporary pens when you’re cleaning out hutches or just want to give them some time in the grass to play. We use the pen most often for this because it’s large enough to let them romp around. If you have chickens (same for turkeys and ducks) they are great for brooding chicks in. Unlike plastic dog crates, the wire ones have a removable bottom tray so you can get those chicks on the dirt as soon as possible. Plus this eliminates a slick footing which can cause splay leg in your chicks. They are also great for isolating a hen if she’s injured or broody, without separating her from her flock which is much less stressful. For goats it’s perfect for keeping the kids off of mom at night if you’re milking her in the morning. They sleep comfortably while still in full view of mom. I also use the crate for transporting the goats to the vet or breeder. It’s large enough for two dwarf goats to move around plus water and food.

Concrete Christy Boxes

These are the those boxes you see set flush in the sidewalk that have a concrete cover over them that usually says something like “Electrical” or “Water Meter.” They come in all different sizes from several feet long to 9″ rounds. The larger ones are the most useful for us as they make great deep raised beds in small spaces. The bonus is that they are concrete so they don’t disintegrate over time. They are also small enough to move around.

Old Recycle Bins

Remember back in the day when the recycle bins were just a small crate that you carried out to the curb? When we moved into our house we found over half a dozen of these boxes in our backyard. They’ve turned out to be extremely useful to us. We use the majority of them as storage bins for garden and irrigation supplies. We use them when weeding large areas because they are great for storing a lot of weeds between dumping. Flip them over and use them as a garden seat. We keep them out in the goat yard to either sit on or let the kids play on or in. I can also foresee making nest boxes out of them in the chicken house. Because they already have drainage holes in the bottom they can work as movable planters. Drill large holes in the sides, fill up with coffee grounds and grow oyster mushrooms in them as well. The uses are endless with these.


The ubiquitous pallet can be had for free from many places. Tom’s work can’t get rid of them fast enough and has stacks of them in their yard waiting to find a new home. Pallets have been getting a lot of attention lately for their usefulness in the garden. From making vertical garden walls to temporary beds for lettuces they have a multitude of uses. We use them for a lot of things here. We built Turkey Town almost entirely out of pallets and burlap. We store our hay on them and we made a hive stand with one. We used them to make our potato bins, which we’re hoping increased yield this year. The uses of pallets are only limited to your imagination.

The Magic of Baking Soda

I ran out of Comet. For as long as I can remember that’s all I’ve ever used to clean the bathroom and kitchen sink. It always left things so sparkling and fresh.

Instead of buying more I decided to give baking soda a try. I had heard it makes a good cleaner and it works pretty well on my hair so I decided to give it a try.

What do you know, it works. And it works well. It’s great at getting up greasy grime in the kitchen sink and soap scum in the bathroom. Because it’s a bit gritty it also requires a bit less elbow grease to get stuff clean. The bonus is that there aren’t any noxious fumes associated with it like with most commercial bathroom cleaners. I don’t have to worry about any residue either.

I’m also finding that apple cider vinegar is good for cleaning as well. I use it to clean the cabinets, countertops and stovetop. I’m going to give glass a try with it. Of course it smells like vinegar for a bit, but it’s less obnoxious than other cleaners. I also don’t use it full strength. I dilute it with a 1:1 ration of water.

What natural cleaning products do you use?

New Face Care Routine

I’m one of those poor souls that has to put up with both acne AND wrinkles. I swear, once I turned 30 my skin decided to get back at me for all the years that it was rather normal. So I went through all of the different brands. I think ProActive was the only one I didn’t use. I ended on Philosophy. Their basic products made my skin worse than it had ever been. It turned me into a glistening ball of oil and I got a new breakout every day. Everyone kept telling me how wonderful it was so I tried changing to another line they carried. The results were….meh. Too dry, my skin started to look chapped. The moisturizer wasn’t enough to make my skin look healthy again.

Then I started getting into all the alternative homemade personal care products. The baking soda shampoo and apple cider vinegar conditioner were the beginning. Then I learned how to make cold-process soup with Maya from Soul Flower Farm. There went the commercial body washes. Another batch got made with our farm-helper Brandy during a meetup. We definitely have enough soap to last us awhile.

But I still needed something for my face. The cold-process soaps that I had seemed a bit harsh for my face so I wanted something different. On a whim I stopped by a soapmaker’s booth at the farmers’ market. I got to talking to her and ended up purchasing two goats’ milk and oatmeal bars.

But I needed a moisturizer. I had heard that coconut oil was really good for your skin. We have a bucket of food grade virgin coconut oil so I decided to give it a try. You can also get non-food grade coconut oil, but I’m hesitant to use it not knowing if hexane was used to extract the oil or not. With the food grade virgin oil, it’s cold pressed and not refined or exposed to any heat.

I knew caffeine was good to reduce redness and I wanted to add some oatmeal as well. I put a tablespoon of fresh roasted coffee and 2 tablespoons oatmeal and put them through the coffee grinder until they were a fine grind. It was a hot day so the oil was already melted (coconut oil is normally a solid fat with a melting temperature of 72 deg. F). I put the coffee and oatmeal in a cheesecloth bag and steeped in the oil for 10 minutes. I squeezed as much oil out of the bag as possible and threw it out.

I immediately noticed a difference. My skin is so soft and supple and it seemed to be clearing up. I haven’t gone a whole month yet using this new program, but so far I’m totally impressed with how my skin is responding to these two relatively simple products. I can’t say it will for everyone but it’s definitely worth a try.

Monday’s Guests – Compost Tea

Brad from Highly Uncivilized has a fantastic post about making compost tea that he wants to share with us. We haven’t really gotten into making compost tea here because we use our animals as composters, but for those that do make regular compost sans animals this is a fanastic way to increase your soil fertility.

Compost Tea 
Improve your Soil Health One Cup at a Time 

As with everything, there is even controversy around how to make compost tea.

Compost Tea Pot

The two basic camps are anaerobic, or aerobic, and there is “scientific research” to back up both sides that you can easily find on google.  The aerobic method “brews” beneficial bacteria with added oxygen, introduced by something like an aquarium pump, and this environment favors the bacteria that requires oxygen.  Anaerobic is the opposite.
After reading way to much on this topic we invested in some supplies to start making the aerobic kind of compost tea.  Two books have really started to reframe my mental approach to yardening, The One Straw Revolution, and Teaming with Microbes.
I’m now understanding why people are making such a fuss about till versus no-till, and the negative impact to your soil life even from something as simple as a basic chemical fertilizer.  As a side, this guy gets into the Highly Uncivilized Hall of Fame for doing no till in an old refrigerator.
Aerobic compost tea increases the number of beneficial bacteria and other critters, which results in naturally healthy plants with good yield.  Most importantly it creates or strengthens a soil web of life that controls disease and creates it’s own fertilizer for the plants.  Some people swear by it, some people say it doesn’t work at all, and one person said it killed some of his plants.  Test some on your plants first just in case.  We are having positive results already and have not seen any plant mortality.  The most positive results so far have been controlling a powdery mildew (or something that looks like it) and some big plant growth.
This kit cost under $20, but you can probably do it for less.  I couldn’t find an aquarium pump at my local pet store or garage sale so I bought a new one from Amazon because I had a credit there.  I bought a two outlet air pump, 10′ of plastic tube and two air stones.  I also got a five gallon plastic bucket from the garden area and a big rock to hold the air stone down.  Here are the pics of the Tea Pot, and some white plant disease we are trying to kill.
You will also need:

  • A couple of cups of compost – I use worm castings from my giant worm bin.
  • Water with no chorine.  Let your bucket of water sit out in the sun for a couple days and you should be fine.  I use a 5 gallon bucket which needs 4 gallons of water.
  • A source of sugar.  Most sites recommend Molasses because of the additional nutrients available to the microbes.  I’m using white table sugar, which works just dandy for other bacteria like Kombucha and seems to work fine for this.  I use a tablespoon per gallon.

Take your bucket of water and turn on the air pump.  Mix the compost and the sugar and add it to the water.  I let mine run for about two days.  It should have a sweet soil smell and it will produce foam and bubbles.  When it’s done you can use it as a soil drench or a foliar spray.  I do both.  I also water it down a lot but I’ve also put it on the plants straight.

spinach with some disease
Spinach with some disease

Every article and book I read has different ways to do this.  Recipes can be for bacterial dominant tea or fungal dominant tea.  Didn’t know this would be so danged complicated, eh?  Here are some articles to give you a well rounded approach to investigating and experimenting.
Compost Junkie
Dirt Doctor
Captain Compost
Don’t run it too long or the bacteria run out of food and start to die.  Don’t do it without oxygen or you grow bad bacteria.  If you add other stuff like fish emulsion then something else happens but I don’t remember what.
I’m trying to keep it simple.  Sugar and oxygen feed good bacteria that promote balanced healthy soil.  The end.

Reader Questions – Baking Soda and Vinegar vs. Greywater

Once a month I’ll be answering your questions! Ask them in an email (if you want to be anonymous just say so) or just leave a comment – I’ll find them and answer them the best I can.

So here is one I found in our comments that I haven’t had a chance to answer…until now.

From Pamina:
…we are trying to do the bathtub to garden water thing, so have been leary of the baking soda & vinegar shampoo. It seems like that wouldn’t be good for the garden, no? Right now we use the oasis bio compatible soaps, but would love to switch to something more simple. 

I would think baking soda and vinegar would be fine in the garden. Did you ever do that experiment in elementary school with the volcano? You mixed vinegar and baking soda together and it bubbled out like lava. This reaction between vinegar and baking soda  creates CO2 (the bubbles), pure water, and a very dilute solution of sodium acetate. Since you’re already using a diluted amount of both baking soda and vinegar in relation to the amount of water you’re using in the shower the amount of sodium acetate would be negligible.

I did find this information regarding an alternative deicer that utilizes Sodium acetate:

The environmental impacts of Ice Shear™, an alternative highway deicer, have been evaluated using standard laboratory tests; biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) tests, chemical oxygen demand (COD) tests, acute rainbow trout bioassays, and phytotoxicity tests were used. Ice Shear consists of equimolar sodium acetate and sodium formate. The organic matter of the deicer can be readily degraded microbiologically in the natural environment with a slow rate of degradation at lower temperatures but an increased rate at higher temperatures. At elevated temperatures, highway runoffs of the deicer may reduce the level of dissolved oxygen in the receiving waters to cause an adverse impact. However, the apparent activation energy calculated for the BOD rate of Ice Shear is low (8.78 kcal mole−1), indicating that the temperature variation may not significantly influence the biodegradation of the deicer compound. Ice Shear appears relatively harmless to aquatic animals, showing a high 96-h LC50 value (16.1 g/L) derived for rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Ice Shear causes minimal toxicity to representative roadside vegetation; herbaceous (e.g., sunflowers, beans, and lettuce) and woody (e.g., pine seedlings) plants. Rather, the deicer at low concentrations (less than 2 g/kg soil) seems to work as a fertilizer, promoting the yield of biomass. The test results indicate that Ice Shear poses minimal environmental disturbance in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

So, in my opinion, the baking soda and vinegar should be a-ok for using.

Monday’s Guests – D-I-Y vs B-U-Y Dishwashing Detergent

This week’s post comes from Erica at Northwest Edible. I’m super excited that she agreed to do a guest post for us as I love all of her posts. She discusses the tough stuff about urban homesteading.

We were unloading the dishwasher yesterday and Homebrew Husband pulled a sparkling wine glass out of the top rack. Forgive me that ad-copy imagery, it irritates me even to write it, but there it is: the night before we had enjoyed wine with friends, and my man willingly unloads the dishwasher.

Nick held the glass up to the light, looked for a moment, and said “The professionals just do a better job with this one.”
Several months ago, we’d made our own dishwashing detergent. It was a combination of baking soda, borax and oxygen cleaner. It worked…sort of. Things got cleanish but a film formed on everything. Once clear glassware was turning grey. Plates had a sort of mottled, streaked look. Our flatware was starting to look like something recovered from a sunken ship.

After a few months (we tried, we really did) we gave up and went back to Cascade. The results were, I’m not kidding, transformative. Before two loads had been run, the glasses were clear, the plates uniformly colored, the knives and forks shiny.

Generally speaking our D-I-Y efforts beat out the B-U-Y equivalent. Our homemade meals and convenience and snack foods are tastier and fresher and healthier. Nick’s beer has basically ruined me to commercial beer (even good craft microbrews) forever. From almond oil moisturizer and vinegar hair rinse to all-purpose surface cleaner and beeswax leather polish, our other homemade cleansers and personal care concoctions have all served us well.

It is certainly cheaper to go homemade, and I’m sure there are a plethora of environmental advantages too, but until we find a better formula, our dishwashing detergent will remain a B-U-Y item.

But our experiment wasn’t a total failure. When DIYing it, we developed a storage system that resulted in much less waste than our old “dump some out” method of filling up the dishwasher’s soap cup. We mixed and stored our DIY dishwashing detergent in a tall plastic tub, and allocated the 1/8th cup measure from our measuring cup set (no one really uses the 1/8th cup anyway) as our detergent scoop.

Even though we are back to the commercial detergent, we kept the plastic tub and measuring cup system, and as a consequence use far less dishwashing detergent than we did before out DIY attempt. We fill the measuring cup a bit shy of full, so we’re using probably 1.5 tablespoons of detergent per load. Our dishwasher’s soap cup holds 1/4 cup, or 4 tablespoons, so this is a substantial savings over the “fill ‘er up and slosh a bit over the sides too” method we had previously employed.

If there is a lesson here, it is to never make perfect the enemy of better. Perfect would be an environmentally neutral homemade detergent. Better is using 60% less of the commercial detergent than we previously did.

There is always something more virtuous, more eco-chic or more happy-hippy to strive towards. Sometimes you aren’t going to hit the bullseye, but just nudging a little closer – by buying less often, or wasting a bit less, or being more thoughtful in your consumption – is a step in the right direction.

Eliminating Chemicals From Your Hair

Almost 9 months ago I decided it was time to make a change to my hair care routine. My hair is fine and had a tendency to frizz. It couldn’t make up it’s mind whether it wanted to be straight or curly. I would wash it, use conditioner and then add product before blow drying it. Split ends were normalcy.

I started reading more about the chemicals found in hair care products (and bath products in general). Sulfates (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate) are irritants. Fragrance is a neurotoxin. Parabens are endocrine disruptors and can cause organ toxicity. 

I tried using shampoos and conditioners that didn’t contain sulfates, parabens or phthalates but I found that they didn’t really get my hair clean and they still weren’t all that safe because they still contained a lot of chemicals.

I had heard about using baking soda and vinegar as shampoo and conditioner and decided to give it a try. I was worried because my hair was oily and since the commercial stuff wasn’t that great at cleaning my hair. What were the chances that simple baking soda and vinegar were going to work?

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been using baking soda and vinegar now for almost 9 months and won’t ever go back to the commercial stuff. I don’t have split ends anymore. I don’t even have to blow dry most of my hair – I just straighten out my bangs and let the rest air dry. It’s shinier, softer and it doesn’t get nearly as oily as it used to. And switching from white vinegar to apple cider vinegar I was able to eliminate dandruff.

Here’s my routine, but people generally choose to do whatever works for them. Some people rinse the baking soda directly with vinegar and then don’t rinse with water. I find this leaves me smelling like salad dressing. Some people use the baking soda dry in damp hair. Some people leave the vinegar in their hair for 5 minutes before rinsing. Just choose what you like to do.

I mix 1/3 cup baking soda with 1 2/3 cup water and pour it into an old shampoo bottle. In a different bottle I add 1 cup apple cider vinegar to 3 cups water.

In the shower I wet my hair and then liberally add the baking soda mix to my hair. I leave it on for about 3 minutes and then rinse it out with water. I then pour on the vinegar and rinse that out with water. That’s it, I’m done with washing my hair.

I find it’s cheaper than buying the commercial stuff too. I can get 5lbs of baking soda for about $2.50 through our buying club. It’s definitely worth it and my hair looks so much better.