Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How To Make Homemade Laundry Soap and Homemade Fabric Softener

One of the things that I enjoy is to know how things are made so that if I am in a pinch, I can make them up if I have the ingredients on hand.  I do this in cooking and I do this in the home.  Sometimes, I like to make my own laundry soap and I find it often less expensive than the commercial laundry detergents on the market.  It is super easy to make your own laundry detergent with just a few simple, easily obtained ingredients.  I can show you how to make homemade laundry soap in just a handful of easy steps.

Homemade Laundry Soap Recipe

When you make laundry soap, the basic recipe remains the same.  You will need:

·         1 bar soap  (Fels-Naptha, Ivory, Kirk’s Coco-Castile)
·         1 cup sodium carbonate  (Arm & Hammer Washing Soda)
·         ½ cup sodium borate  (20 Mule Team Borax)
·         4 cups hot tap water
·         2 five gallon buckets with a secure lids for storage
·         Essential oil for fragrance (10-15 drops per 2 gallons)
·         Saucepan
·         Used laundry soap bottle/dispenser

Recipe yields 10 gallons at approximately $.01 per load.

Grate the bar of soap into the saucepan and add water to cover.  Melt the soap over medium heat, stirring until completely dissolved.

Fill the five gallon bucket half-full of hot tap water.  Add the melted soap, the sodium carbonate, the sodium borate and mix.  Cover and let sit overnight to thicken.    This is the resulting laundry soap concentrate.  To use, mix half laundry soap concentrate and half water in the laundry soap bottle.  Shake to blend.  You will need to shake each time you use to mix up the ingredients.  Also, this is a low-foam laundry detergent.  If you are looking for a lot of bubbles, they won’t be here.  Bubbles don’t clean clothes, detergent cleans clothes and this is pure laundry detergent.  If you want to add essential oils, go ahead.  Some favorites are lavender, orange, lemon and peppermint.  Otherwise, your clothes may smell more like soap, which is also okay.

Homemade Laundry Soap (Liquid Castile Based)

If you prefer liquid castile soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s, here is a homemade laundry soap recipe for that type of soap:

·         1 cup Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap (any variety)
·         1 cup baking soda
·         2 cups warm tap water
·         1/3 cup of sea or other coarse grained salt
·         1 gallon container (any clean jug or milk bottle works)

In the warmed water, stir in the baking soda and salt until completely dissolved.
Add the Dr Bronner’s and pour into your gallon container.  Fill to the top with water and shake to mix.  Use ¼ cup of laundry soap per load.

Recipe yields 1 gallon or 64 loads worth of laundry detergent, price will vary depending on the cost of the Dr Bronner’s – which I find price-y. 

Homemade laundry soap is very cost effective and it gives you the choice, as a consumer, which ingredients and scents or dyes (if any) that go into your laundry soap.   Its impact on the environment is much smaller than commercial equivalents. Each recipe for laundry soap is simple and the ingredients are readily obtainable from your grocery or natural foods store.

For fabric softening, I tend to use just straight white vinegar in the rinse load, and for many things I don’t use fabric softener at all.  For items made of silk or other delicate material, I hang them to dry and allow the iron to soften them when I iron.  On the clothes like jeans that I do soften, I have not experienced clothes smelling like vinegar, regardless of being dried in a dryer or on a clothes rack (or line).  Some people don’t like using vinegar and claim they can smell a faint trace of it on clothes.  So, here’s a frugal recipe that is greener than commercial softeners, but which still uses traditional scents and existing materials:

Homemade Fabric Softener Recipe

·         6 cups hot tap water
·         3 cups white vinegar
·         2 cups inexpensive hair conditioner like White Rain or Suave*
·         1 gallon container (any clean jug or milk bottle works)
·         Clean rags or old washcloths to turn into dryer sheets (if desired) & a storage box

Mix hair conditioner and hot tap water in a bowl or deep pot until all the conditioner is dissolved.  Stir in the white vinegar.  Put into the gallon container and shake to mix again.  Use approximately 2 tablespoons of fabric softener either in a dispenser ball or the softener unit on the machine.  To make dryer sheets, put the rag over the mouth of the jug and tip some out onto the rag.  Squeeze to spread the fabric softener over the rag and toss it the dryer with the load to dry.  (I tend to line dry 50% or more of my clothes, but for some areas doing so is difficult, so dryer sheets might be helpful to make).

*If you use coupons and combine them with sales, often these inexpensive conditioners can be next to or absolutely free!

So, there you have it!  It’s so simple and easy to make homemade laundry detergent and it gives you a sense of control over what chemicals, dyes and fragrances you allow on your body.  I always recommend experimenting with the recipe until you find one that works best for you.  When you make your own laundry soap, it can feel quite satisfying and fulfilling!  It is definitely one of the more fun parts of ‘going green’.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Best Books Ever On Organic Gardening & Composting (In My Opinion)

Below, I have added my list of  the best books ever on organic gardening and composting.  I have or have read these books and keep them handy as references when I am working on my organic garden or my herb garden.  Various topics covered by these books include companion planting, planting tips, crop rotation, composting methods and natural pest control for organic gardens.
  • Stephens, James M.  Vegetable Gardening in Florida, published 1999.  ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-1674-0.   This is a great book!  It is very simply laid out , very detailed (complete with pictures) and filled with planting tips and information on companion planting.  It has pictures and shows you what you need to know.  It doesn’t focus on organic gardening specifically, but it does talk about organic gardening and what kind of crops grow well in this climate.  I learned about this book from a co-worker who also gardens, and she gave me a copy as a gift.  I definitely use and refer to this guide a lot, for zone 9 gardening.
  • Martin, Deborah & Gershuny, Grace (editors)  The Rodale Book of Composting, published 1992.  ISBN 13: 978-0-8785-7990-7.  This is a definitely 'best book ever' on compost methods and troubleshooting for most areas.  There is some complaint about not enough information on composting methods for drier climates, but since I live in a sub-tropical climate, I find this book fits my needs.  This Rodale book was a really good investment and I have found my compost bins to be very fruitful, productive and beneficial to my vegetables due to using their composting techniques.
  • Martin, Deborah, Bradley, Fern, Ellis Barbara (authors)  The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining A Healthy Garden and Yard The Earth-Friendly Way (Rodale Organic Gardening Books),  published 2010.  ISBN 13: 978-0-8759-6124-8  This book is definitely my go-to resource for natural pest control for gardens and the recommendations and solutions are often very easy fixes, a lot of which can be made with normal household items or easy to obtain ones (like neem oil).  It also talks a lot about how to prep your garden to avoid pests before they start.  Another great Rodale book, and highly recommended.
  • Hamilton, Geoff  (author) The Organic Garden Book (American Horticultural Society Practical Guides), published 1994 ISBN 13: 978-1-5645-8528-8. I love this book.  It was one of the first ones I read about organic gardening and it is very helpful for beginning and experienced gardeners alike.  Another reference book for me, I keep it handy.  I like being able to use certain approved standards by which to work, along with tried-and-true methods that help me avoid costly mistakes.  It is my encyclopedia of organic gardening.
  • The Old Farmer’s Almanac 2012, copyright 2011 by Yankee Publishing Incorporated.  Library of Congress Card No. 56-29681 The Old Farmer's Alamanac was one of the first things I ever read about gardening and it still serves me well for planning and planting today.  It has never steered me wrong and I buy a new one each year and wear it out until it isdog-eared and raggedy.  It addresses companion planting and when to set seeds out, it also deals with natural pest control for organic gardens and serves as a companion to any organic gardening guide. 
So, there you have it.  These are my top 5 organic gardening books and if you have an opportunity, I would highly recommend picking them up and giving them a read.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Farmers Markets, CSAs and Local Produce Markets

Because my family consists of locavores and 'mostly vegetarians', we tend to eat a lot of local produce.  This can be a budget buster for a lot of people, because it can be expensive and the food doesn't last long.  Also, for some people, it can be difficult to find access to a local farmers market and that may make it difficult to eat local produce.  One of ouur remedies to this situation has been to use CSAs (community supported agriculture, aka community farming projects) and a local farmers market that offers organic produce that is locally grown.

I have found that our CSAs locally offer competitive pricing.  A half share, which has fruit and vegetables, is about $25 for organically-raised, in season produce and is enough to feed three people for a week.  A full share is about $50 and will feed a larger group of people, or a smaller group of people for a longer time (if properly stored).  Our main CSA is HomeGrown Organics and we make arrangements to pick up our produce nearby, whenever there is a need.  The only reservation about using CSAs is you often have to place an order in advance, so it's not a good option for just picking up a few needed items.  It is an excellent option however, if you want a regular, weekly supply of locally grown, in-season, organic produce.

Another option is to use produce markets.  Often, these offer organically grown, local, competitively priced seasonal produce.  Not too far from me, there is a weekly farmers market - the Alachua County Farmers Market.  One of the great things about this farmers market is that, in addition to seasonal produce, it offers fresh baked goods, honey, candles, cheese, free-range chickens, homemade jellies and jams and smoked mullet (local catch), as well as wild boar sausage.  Some of the vendors will sell vegetable, herb and fruit plants, too.  That makes it a convenient, stress-free way to eat local, in season produce.  As a person who strongly supports community farming projects, it feels good to spend money to support produce markets and local farmers markets instead of big chain grocery stores.

A lot of areas have food co-ops to join, as well.  That can be a very effective way to keep costs down while maintaining access to organic, locally grown and in season produce.  A recent development in Alachua County is the Citizens Co-Op, which is a community-owned market.  A member purchases a share in the market, and purchases items from the market.  The individual will get a dividend, or refund, from the market based on how much money is spent there, reducing out of pocket costs.   There are student and low-income shares available, too.  Other memberships available are producer memberships and employee memberships, which require more direct contact and support of the food co-op, as opposed to a consumer membership.

The last option is to grow some yourself.  While this may not yield the entire amount of in season produce you might need, it will help to cut your costs.  Anything you can grow and eat yourself is going to be less expensive and will yield less packaging, less fuel costs and less environmental impact than what you can buy elsewhere.  It's fine to start small, with a small container garden on your porch.  I have herbs like oregano, basil, chives and stevia on my porch.  I also have tomatoes, peppers (sweet and hot), white beans, eggplant (aubergine) and squash.  I am sprouting okra, spinach, bok choi (pak choi), and Swiss chard for the next wave.  Since I have been doing this a while, my investment is almost nil annually. In fact, my last bunch of seeds was given to me by a co-worker.  I grow organically, so I spend a lot of time reading on organic pest control and optimizing compost and manure for fertilizer.  To me, it's worth it.  I feel more comfortable and secure being able to control my access to healthy, nourishing  in season produce.  I don't want to have to depend on CSAs, farmers markets or organic food co-ops for everything.  I love supporting them, but ultimately I feel I should be able to take matters into my own hands if needed.

Once you move beyond container gardening, you can start with small bed.  I have a pentagonal (five-sided) plot that has herbs like fennel, thyme, tarragon, chamomile and feverfew.  I will build some boxes and expand my vegetable garden next year.

I have also been a member of organic gardening co-ops, also known as allotments in the UK.   These groups host community gardening plots that you can rent for a season for about $10 or so.  (That is what mine cost).  UF Organic Gardens was where I had my plot, or allotment. The thing I really enjoyed about this was learning from other gardeners how to do organic gardening, being able to discuss and bounce problems off of other members, and that they had all the tools and seeds readily available for use so no additional outlay was required to get started.  What changed for me was the perspective of traveling 10 miles each way to do my organic gardening.  The need to be out there nearly daily in the height of growing season caused the fuel expense to go way up.  It seemed inefficient to spend that much gas to just be able to organically garden.  What I miss about the allotment is the comraderie and the large space in which to grow produce (along with the ease of having all the tools and seeds available).  We would also donate in season produce we couldn't use to local homeless shelters in town.  I felt really good about that.  I also enjoyed the ability to eat local and share in season produce with my fellow co-op members. However, if you have one nearby, I would highly recommend doing it.  It is educational, and empowering, to learn how to grow your own food organically.

Eating well, and nutrtionally, is an investment in yourself.  Using farmers markets, produce markets, CSAs, food-coops and garden plots (or allotments) can help make that easier and less expensive in the long run.  We encourage everyone to become a locavore, eat local and get engaged in community farming projects, even if you're in an urban area.