Garden Tea prepping

Even though here in sunny Melbourne we are in the midst of a glorious Spring I am preparing for Winter. I only really crave hot tea like beverages when the weather is cold but the chamomile plant is at it’s most prolific for me now, so I will make hay while the sun shines (or tea…)

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I grow my chamomile in pots, it is self seeded, I haven’t planted any seeds for years. This is probably what makes it a Spring crop for me, I cannot keep up with the watering requirements of a pot in Summer. It would need watering every couple of hours on a super hot day.

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This is my 4th harvest. I cut the flowers every 4 or 5 days. I am hoping to get a jar full. That ought to get me through Winter. The Lemon verbena is looking lovely and healthy. I will start cutting leaves off that soonish.

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My peppermint (which I forgot to take a photo of and am now to lazy to get up a go get) is not looking too great. I think it is root bound and needs some TLC, I’ll get on to that soon. I will harvest that in Autumn.

Then I will be set for tea in the Winter 🙂

Low waste update

I haven’t bothered to collect my rubbish in a mason jar, I don’t think I will ever want to keep and store my trash, maybe that’s too confronting.

I am going with a self reporting sort of measure. I feel like I haven’t put anything in the bin for a few weeks now. I stopped being so lazy and put the vacuum cleaner canister contents in the compost. I bought a heap of butter and froze it. It wasn’t a success zero waste wise. The lady was happy to put the butter in my large tin but she used a disposable glove and a piece of plastic to get it in there. Butter was one of the last things that I bought frequently but hadn’t found a solution for. I still haven’t.

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A glass pineapple soap dispenser that my grandmother gave me from the ?70’s. I love it!

I made my own pasta. I used the last of the pesto that I froze from last Summer, delicious. Bought my dry goods with no packaging. Fruit from the farmers market, no packaging. My sister is coming to stay the weekend and she Loves milk. So today I will go to the health food store and buy some milk in a glass bottle, although they are not returnable they recycle better than their plastic counterparts. I have called a few companies that were sending me advertising and asked them to stop. Lots of small steps.

There was a period of a couple of months where I felt like I hadn’t reduced the amount that I was putting in the recycling bin. I feel that has changed. The last few weeks I have seen a real improvement. I have put only a couple of things in the recycling bin.

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I am close to where I want to be, waste wise. If I find any peppermint essential oil at the health food store I will be diving into home made toothpaste. Wish me luck!

Old school sewing

I am not an amazing sewer. I don’t make my own clothes. I do mend my clothes but often by hand not with a machine. But when I was given a heap of material I decided I was going to make a quilt for my friends birthday. Just a basic quilt as you go no skills required. I did not have a sewing machine. I thought I would just borrow one.

I was talking to my grandmother about this quilt. She said she had an old sewing machine I could have. I was fairly excited! Once I saw how cool and old it was I was uncomfortable with taking it. Granny assured me it was unbreakable. My grandfather had given it to her as an engagement present in the 1940’s. I was adamant that I would not take it. Especially with the sentimental value. She eventually talked me into borrowing it. So now I have it on loan (granny reiterates frequently that she has given it to me, I maintain it is loaned).

IMG_3843It had some water damage to the wood. I sanded and now re oil or wax the wood approximately yearly. I made that quilt plus 2 others. Now I make all the handkerchiefs for my etsy shop. I do put a little B&F on them with my mums fancy machine. But for all my basic sewing I am much more comfortable with my grandmothers. The Singer wins hands down.

It is old school and has a knee pedal (not sure if it is still called a pedal if it isn’t on the floor, but the thing that makes it sew is controlled by my knee). It weighs a ton. It is so heavy that it lives on the table all the time and I just slide it to the side when I want to use it.

IMG_3846IMG_3840IMG_3842I cannot believe it still works. I love using it. It is great! So easy to thread the cotton, no fancy buttons to confuse me, just forward and back. That I can handle!

Shorts no longer

IMG_3866I just got me 4 new washing cloths. My sister gave me a whole heap of clothes to take to the charity store, I sorted through them to see what I might want and to weed out anything in too poor a condition to send to a charity store. These shorts fell into the latter category.

They had obviously had a run in with some bleach or experienced a hefty amount of sunshine. They were all mottled on the outside and their original colour on the inside.

I was given a t-shirt about 3 or 4 years ago that was way too big. I did not intend to grow into it. We needed wash cloths. So I cut it up. It made quite a few wash cloths. They are approaching the end of their lives. They have been through the washing machine countless times. Washed thousands of dishes. Mopped up life’s spills. A thoroughly good job.

IMG_3868I will add these 4 into the mix and slowly move the holey ones to the car washing grease cleaning pile. I do knit some in cotton but I am a slow knitter so we only have 3 in the drawer. These were much faster to make.

IMG_3867I intend to cut the material off the waist band and get the elastic out, I will put it aside for a future purpose. This leaves the pockets and scraps. I am fairly certain I can find a use for the mitten like pockets. The rest, I am going to dig a hole in the back yard and chuck the scraps in. The tag says it is made of cotton. It should break down.

There are 2 or 3 other items of clothing in a similar state of disrepair, mostly paint stains, I will store them in the laundry until we need more cloths. I love when I can squeeze a bit more life out of something that has already had a good long life. IMG_3870

EDIT: After reading this my sister, the previous owner of these shorts, informed me that they had a very long productive life as tennis shorts and they were “bleached by the good Australian sunshine”.  A mystery solved.

Soap nuts are the best!

A great opportunity to reduce the chemicals in my life came in the form of soap nuts (actually berries, it is the fruit from the tree). For about a year I was making my own detergent to wash my clothes with which was way better than the mysteriously scented one from the store (I have never smelled Sunshine that smelled like that! Who even has a scent called Sunshine?) But one of the ingredients was grated soap. At that point in time I was not making my own soap so I purchased a box of the recommended soap (8 bars, I only used one in the year that I was using this detergent) but I still felt that there had to be a more natural option, the soap bars were bright yellow! Enter Soap Nuts. In my humble opinion they are the bees knees!

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A couple of times a year I make up a concentrated solution. I use 4 or 5 soap nuts per cup of water and simmer simmer simmer. I stir and squash them occasionally while they cook til the liquid is a nice amber colour. Strain it, then pour this liquid (over the next few days) into an ice tray. I store the ice cubes in a container in the freezer. I keep adding the ice cubes to the container as they freeze. Then I throw a few in to the washing machine when I wash a load of clothes. The shelf life without freezing is a week or 2 in the fridge.

You can put the soap nuts into a little muslin bag and put them in with your clothes in the machine without any of the making a concentrate steps. You can get 5 or 6 washes out of them this way, just allow the bag and the nuts to dry between loads so they don’t go mouldy. My washing machine only washes in stone cold water and not enough of the saponins come out of the nuts for it to be an effective washing solution for me. Hence the liquid concentrate.

I have been using this method for the last 2 years or so. I am happy with it. I put vinegar in the fabric softener compartment if I feel like it, a drop or 2 of essential oils if I am feeling really fancy, otherwise just a few of the soap nut ice cubes.

I purchased a 1kg bag approximately 18 months ago and this has kept me in clean clothes and is only about half empty. The bag cost $28 (just had a look at their website and it is now $35 for a kilo), I did not shop around to see if this is a good price. I think this is reasonable for potentially 3 years of detergent.

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What tasty morsel do you have there? Not for chickens!

Apart from the bag that the dried soap nuts came in (a reusable calico bag but it did have a plastic bag inside that that actually contained the soap nuts) there is no waste with this detergent. I put the used berries in the compost bin. I feel that I could find either unpackaged (loose) soap nuts or one that does not have a plastic bag inside the external calico. That is a job for the future. The other thing to note is that soap nuts are not grown in Australia, these were imported from Pakistan. According to a few websites it is illegal to grow the tree in Australia. As they are dry I assume they are shipped not flown, for the time being this is good enough. I am half heartedly looking into the plant soapwort. To be honest I find the name off putting!

According to their website there are so many things you can do with soapnuts and I am severely under-using them. I am going to attempt to expand their role in my household.

Low waste

I have a goal. It is to not need a garbage bin. I have made the decision that for me and my life zero waste would be just a bit too challenging. Instead I am aiming for very low waste. This gives me some wriggle room. Reduces guilt when I fail. And seems so much more do-able. I have decided that I am willing to accept some waste as long as it is recyclable.

I have encountered some problems that I am still unsure how to tackle. Things like, I can buy local cheese that comes in plastic or I can go to the deli and buy unpackaged cheese that has been imported from overseas and therefore has large miles attached to it. I am going to email the cheese people that I currently buy from once a month at the farmers market near my house and ask them if there is some way to bring some unpackaged cheese. Small thing but it seems to come up a bit. I can buy something in a glass reusable jar from another country but the local is packaged less well.

I haven’t nutted out where to buy milk that is packaged in glass. Luckily I rarely drink milk, but in Summer I like to make my own yoghurt, this will involve sourcing milk. I also have not worked out where to buy butter that is unpackaged. I love butter, so a quality unpackaged butter would seem like heaven!

There are so many things that I have worked out. I now produce very little waste which thrills me but I know I can do better without much more effort. The devil is in the details.

On a somewhat related note my ladies have decided the days are sufficiently long enough that they will lay an egg every now and then. I haven’t found a way to buy their food unpackaged, I am trialing a different way of feeding them that will reduce but not eliminate the packaging. I currently buy it in 20kg bags which is not too bad!

IMG_36783 eggs so far today, I expect a blue one later this afternoon. All the signs point to warmer weather on the way! yay!

Also just made a sandwich. Bread unpackaged from the farmers market. Eggs from the backyard mashed with a tiny bit of garlic salt, garlic from the backyard, salt bought unpackaged, avocado unpackaged from the market, watercress and rocket from the backyard.  Delicious, no packaging. A win!

A more natural clean

In my efforts to rid my home of chemicals, gone are all the antibacterial sprays and whatever else one uses these days to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria. I clean the whole house with vinegar, water, bicarb soda, and soap.

The vinegar is great, I have it in a spray bottle and use it to clean surfaces like I would a supermarket spray.

I do sometimes like things to smell nice while I clean, enter the infused vinegar.

When it is citrus season, like right now, I fill a big jar with orange peels. I cut the flesh of the orange away to leave the zest and a thin layer of rind.

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Yes I know it isn’t quite full, I will add to it as I eat more oranges.

Cover them with vinegar. IMG_3629They will sink over the next day or so, then they should remain completely submerged.

Put the lid on.

Put it in the cupboard, and shake it whenever I remember, generally every few days.

After a few weeks the vinegar is orange in colour and smells like quite orangey vinegar. I make a couple of batches each Winter. When I am satisfied with the level of orangeness I tip the vinegar into glass bottles where it stores for months and months on end. When I need more spray I fill up my spray bottle somewhere between 50 and 75% of the way and top the rest up with water to dilute it a bit. It’s not an exact science. IMG_3655This is all I have left from last year. It is already diluted.

Then in Summer I do the same thing but with sage leaves instead of orange peels. Sage has antimicrobial properties all of its own, add that to the awesomeness of vinegar. Winning. I have year round cleaner. 2 scents. No chemicals. Clean benches. Money saved! If only I brewed my own vinegar…. A project for the future!

This also works quite well with my attempt at Zero waste living ( I am currently at very low waste living, have not achieved zero). There is a place near me that refills my 2L vinegar containers, so no packaging. The orange peels are from the farmers market, I purchase them without packaging, I eat the rest of the orange. No waste. The sage grows in my garden. Zero miles and free.

This is a cheap and easy alternative to some fairly harsh chemicals. Give it a try!