Tag Archives: zero waste

Sustainable Living: The Summer I Spent My Savings on Soil (Week 18)

The title is an exaggeration, but I have never in my life made so many soil runs. I’m sure it’s because I am gardening in pots. Honestly, I think gardening in pots is better than in the ground because the plants are more protected from critters and disease. The last bag of soil has been bought, I hope.

After being gone for several days and thinking about the welfare of my garden the whole time, I arrived home to find that all my veggie plants had at least doubled in size. I was astounded to discover that the peas have regenerated and are producing again. It’s astonishing, as the bottom three feet of the stem had turned yellow, including the leaves. I was sure they were dying. Lo and behold, the stem has turned green again, shed the dead leaves, and sprouted new leaves and peas. I had put the cucumber in the ground last week, and it has quadrupled in size already. The largest tomato plants are blossoming, and the onions are happy in their forever spot next to the garlic patch. I’m harvesting spinach and beans every day now.

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For the last two seasons, I have tried to grow butterfly weed and purple coneflowers from seed. I direct planted them both times with no results. This year, I started them in eggshells in a plastic container with a clear lid. I stored them in the refrigerator for three weeks, then placed them in a sunny window. Voila! One, the other, or both have sprouted!! I had told my husband that if they didn’t come up this season, I would buy the plants. It seems I will not have to resort to buying them. My lemon tree seeds are another matter, as I planted them weeks ago and still nothing. Fortunately, I’ve got more seeds, so I will do some research and try again this week.

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My goal for this week is to get my beefsteaks in the ground and to start home-baking bread. I also want to try making a ginger bug for naturally carbonating beverages, as demonstrated by The Zero-Waste Chef. But, we’ll see how far I get; the bug might become a future goal because I’m a bit worried that I won’t be able to tend to it every day.

I so, so appreciate my readers and their inspirational comments. Thanks!

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Sustainable Living: One Sustainable Story (Week 17)

Because it’s been raining every day and most of my plants are in their forever spots, I don’t have much new to report on gardening. All my veggies are happy with the excess rain. (My tomatoes are blooming!) We don’t have a good system for collecting rain water yet (future goal), so I’ve been letting a large tote fill and then filling all the gallon jugs I’ve saved. I shouldn’t have to use my hose for a while, which is good on the water bill.

With nothing to report yet and an itch to write, I’ve decided I want to tell another of our sustainable stories from last summer. The inspiration comes from the It’s Not a Slow Car, It’s a Fast House blog. Last May, my husband and I traveled to San Clemente, CA to stay with his daughter for two weeks. She lived in a cute two-bedroom apartment near the beach and was paying $1900 a month for rent. She talked about wanting to live a simple life without all the expense. She said she wanted a small camper to live in as she traveled from place to place. She wanted to be freer and in more control of her destiny.

When we returned home and continued our weekly treks from town home to country home (100 miles apart), we encountered a 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon for sale on the side of Route 20 in Illinois (Pic 1).

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We knew immediately that it would be perfect for our daughter (technically, my stepdaughter, but I would claim her if I could). I will call her Zeedle for blogging purposes. When we looked at it, we knew it would need a ton of work to make it livable. It had been sitting in a barn for about five years, and the mice had made it their home. Every cavity had become a mouse home. We took pictures (Pics 2, 3, 4, 5), sent them to Zeedle, and asked her if she would like us to purchase it on her behalf and restore it for her to live in. She went for it, so we made an offer and worked for about a month on an acceptable price.

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Before we left California, all of us had agreed to meet at my mother’s in Colorado in August because we had purchased tickets to see The Head and the Heart with Iron and Wine at Red Rocks in Denver. So, we rearranged our plans a bit to include bringing the restored Vanagon with us to pass on to Zeedle. We would drive two vehicles to CO, and she would fly to CO and drive the Vanagon home to CA. We grossly underestimated the time it would take to restore the Vanagon, and we barely gave ourselves enough time to get it ready enough to make the trip. However, we got it to a point that Zeedle could drive it home and finish it herself.

First, we took it to a mechanic for new tires and brakes. Then, we gutted the inside down to the steel (Pics 6, 7, 8). Covering the dash with plastic, we pressure washed the inside at a car wash. We made a tiny customized vacuum attachment for the shop vac to clear the vents. I bought long cleaning tools to scrub the vents and also scrubbed every inch of the inside. We pressure washed the seats, as we wanted to let Zeedle decide on the upholstery design.

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We kept all the original cabinetry, and my husband cut out the moused parts and reconstructed them with new material. Not all of the cabinetry came with it when we bought it, so he made a new cabinet to hold the sink and refrigerator. We intended to install the stove, but Zeedle decided she would rather have the space, so we sold the stove via Craig’s List in CO.

My son had stored an old camper in our backyard with the intentions of restoring and selling it, but it became obvious that it was just going to sit there. So, we took as many parts from it as we could for the Vanagon, including water pump and pipes, lights, stove, sink, hinges, etc. (We’ve since turned the old camper into a 27-foot trailer!) We bought a solar panel, storage batteries, ac/dc/propane refrigerator, porch carpeting for lining, vinyl flooring (Pic 9), wainscoting (Pic 10) for the cab ceiling, and tons of glue. Otherwise, we repurposed material we already had. The cleaning and reupholstering took a few weeks to complete. We worked night and day for about three weeks, including a week into our vacation in CO. (Thanks, Mom, for letting us commandeer your backyard!)

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In the end, my husband had to reconfigure the starter due to a power drain on the battery. (The mechanical stuff is lost on me.) I drove the Vanagon to CO myself without brake lights, as the mechanic screwed something up on the master cylinder when putting the new brakes on. The VW dealer wanted to charge us hundreds of dollars for the part, and my husband managed to pick up the part for ten dollars from a VW restoration shop. (Always look for a second – or more – opinion!) The trip was difficult and sweltering, as the Vanagon’s top speed is about 60 mph on flat terrain. The previous owner had rebuilt the diesel motor, and that speed is all we could expect. (I induced a lot of road rage from other drivers on the trip!) It was an interesting journey, as I watched people’s reactions when they saw the Big Blue Vanagon—pure disgust to smiles and peace signs, and many people whipped out cameras to photograph it while laughing. The Vanagon was in great shape by the time Zeedle had to leave CO (Pics 11, 12, 13, 14).

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Since then, she has turned it into an adorable, inviting home for her and her cats, and she has lived in it for almost a year now (Pics 15-22). We could not be more pleased with the home she (and friends) made of that once decrepit jitney (as my grandmother called it. Those crosswords do come in handy, Granny!)

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Ultimately, I had thought that my children taught me all the patience I’d ever need, but the Vanagon trumped that notion by far. I also learned that my husband and I make an able partnership for sustainable innovation, as we both have tons of great ideas for getting the maximum use out of available resources. I am confident we have what it takes to reach our ultimate goal of starting a sustainable community. AND, my husband and I are in search of a Vanagon of our very own—to practice how we roll, one sustainable act at a time…

Sustainable Living: Gaga Over Gardening (Week 10)

When I started gardening this year after years of not gardening, I planned to grow a few basic vegetables. “Keep it simple,” I had said to myself. BUT I should know better by now that I tend to go overboard when I decide to do anything. AND I have gone overboard, but I’m giddy about it. I’m having so much fun planting, growing, and sharing my seedlings and story with others. Again, the Law of Attraction is at work in my life!

Today, as we were leaving for the store, my neighbor stopped over to give us some onion plants and chives. We made plans to exchange more goodies. She has oregano, and I offered to give her as many zucchini and green bean seedlings as she would like. Bartering is the best and easily accomplished with veggies and herbs!

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Gardening has become a second job. This week, I planted cilantro, lavender, apple melons, lime basil, lettuce basil, lemongrass, onions, beefsteak tomatoes, and white cucumbers. The onions and lemongrass have sprouted already, and my cherry tomatoes and butternut squash popped as well. Despite our initial thought to grow everything in pots, we’ve decided to plant the zucchini, cucumbers, and butternut squash in mounds where the old garden used to be in the backyard. We will plant the green beans along the back of the deck. This week’s goal is to get these veggies in the ground. I’m going to refrain from taking on more than that in addition to tending new seedlings because I’m wracked with grading and student conferences. I hope I have some time to spend on the flowerbeds, but we’ll see…

Last week, I transplanted the tomatoes and carrots into bigger pots. They seem happy. I prepared the homemade vanilla extract and will wait three weeks for it to be ready. It’s beautiful! I bought chicken wire for composting and have been saving kitchen scraps, contributing more to my waste reduction goal. I’ve struggled with my kale. It is puny and unhappy. I read that it likes the cold, but does that mean it won’t grow at all in the heat? (Hopefully, one of you can shed some light on this problem.) I was told I need to continuously plant new kale seeds, but the at-least month-old seedlings I’ve got now are only about an inch tall. Is it worth trying new seeds? Perhaps I should abandon my kale dreams and resign to buy it. I want to grow my own because I usually end up wasting about half of what I buy. Anyway, I think I learned from GreenEggs about saving unused seeds for next year, so I have started rolling them up and placing them in a jar that I will store in the refrigerator.

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I’m going to cut this short because I would like to spend some time working on another book review and reading others’ blogs. Thanks for the views, likes, and comments. Keep ’em coming!

Sustainable Living: Big Picture, Baby Goals (Week 8)

In light of reading The Jungle Effect, I’m thrilled that I have already incorporated some of Dr. Miller’s findings from exploring indigenous diets around the world. For example, I am:

  • Growing much of my food
  • Learning to prepare and store food
  • Purchasing mainly whole, unprocessed, local-grown, organic foods
  • Reading labels to select the healthiest versions of processed foods
  • Preparing whole and simple processed foods in combination for synergistic health effects
  • Eating many of the foods she recommends on a regular basis such as organic milk, kefir, cinnamon, honey, vanilla, organic meat, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, cabbage, squash, green beans, olive oil, garlic, flax seed, vinegar, oregano, kale, kefir, potatoes (small, waxy, with skins), lemon, walnuts, free-range eggs, raisins, apples, ginger, and dried fruit.

I will build on these healthy habits by integrating new ones and more of the foods she recommends. I definitely need more fish and greens. In fact, this book has solidified my plans to undertake a small-scale aquaponics operation at my rural homestead because it is growing increasingly difficult to find nontoxic fish. I assume the fish recommendations Dr. Miller provides in the book are outdated given recent nuclear disasters and oil spills. Thus, I’m not willing to trust any third-party sources of fish, although I am hopeful that the organic fish market will become a viable option soon.

In general, I’m buoyed by the myriad of food and sustainability movements in the world that may deliver us back into a healthier era. Industrialization has given us lots of great inventions and social improvements but has introduced new problems for which solutions are desperately needed. Upon reflection, changes for the good are possible when the masses are paying attention and poised for change.

As for my sustainable living goals, I caught an illness earlier this week. It’s been running its course through most of my students and settling on my husband who had almost recovered when I caught it. I mistakenly thought it had passed me by, but alas, it got me. With extra doses of apple cider vinegar and ginger-infused tinctures, I was able to conquer it in a few days versus the 2- to 3-week cycle I’ve witnessed in others. Despite the illness, I managed to make cereal bars from The Homemade Pantry (easy, convenient, and delicious), order low-sugar pectin to make the jam I need for the toaster pastries, order organic vanilla beans for making homemade vanilla extract, and order seeds to grow an indoor lemon tree.

Additionally, I was able to care for and transplant seedlings. I was delighted to learn that my 12-year-old planted some seeds in science class, and we were able to compare results. Now that his seedlings have sprouted, he seems more interested in our growing efforts around the house. What a relief from the usual video-game mentality! The imitation instinct is alive and well!

My goal for next week is to master the art of composting, or at least learn all I can. I’ve begun to save some organic materials for it (banana peels, coffee grounds, veg waste, egg shellsetc.), so I need to get started. This effort will further reduce my weekly curbside contributions to the garbage collectors.

Thanks for reading and sharing your sustainable living experiences!

A.M. Tuesday

I think this will be the most helpful, practical “diet” book I’ve ever read. I’ve never read one all the way through until now, but I believe I will use this one every day for the rest of my life. It just makes sense.

In the beginning, Dr. Miller confesses to trying to handle her patients’ health problems as any doctor would, offering the usual diets, exercises, and prescriptions. But they rarely worked and sometimes made the problems worse. The typical health issues she witnessed in her San Francisco practice included depression, heart disease, respiratory disease, bowel disease, diabetes, cancer, and the like. Dr. Miller gives several reasons for her inability to lend patients reliable diet advice: (1) nutrition contributes to overall health in the long-term, and few studies run long enough to determine the outcomes of consuming certain nutrients; (2) foods with the same name may contain vastly different…

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Sustainable Living: Big Picture, Baby Goals (Week 7)

I returned from a weekend away to find kale, pepper, carrot, and zucchini sprouts. The terrarium planting worked beautifully! Now, I will wait for more sprouts before transplanting into larger pots.

During our weekend away, my husband and I spent all day and night Saturday loading and hauling lumber from an urban building. The building is being remodeled because the previous business moved to a new location, and the owner is splitting the building into four units for lease. The developer (our connection) had instructed the remodeling crew to toss all the “scrap” lumber into one room, knowing we might want it. He notified us last week that the project is almost complete, and the lumber had to be moved over the weekend or else it would be hauled to the dump. Typically, the lumber would be hauled to the dump without any attempt at allowing someone to reclaim it.

Fortunately, our developer friend recognizes win-win-win scenarios. In this case, he saved on two dumpsters (~$600-1000 for each 30-yard dumpster). We get excellent old-growth hardwood lumber to repurpose. The lumber is about 30 years old, and it’s not even possible to buy this quality of lumber in stores anymore because all the old-growth forests have been cut. The environment benefits from decreased cutting and waste. The only cost to us is gas to haul, time, and toil. In the last few years, we have benefitted greatly from this practice by adding several room additions to our houses at little to no cost. Thus, it is well worth the cost. (Also, my husband experiences no greater joy than encountering a beautiful piece of wood and transforming it into a work of functional or aesthetic art.)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t take all the lumber. About one dumpster full will go into the trash heap, which I consider tragic. My husband said the lumber will take many years to decompose. I wish more people would be proactive in trying to prevent construction waste. Last summer, we collected two 20-foot U-Hauls full of lumber (and other useful material) from the building that the business I mentioned previously moved into. We took all we could and watched as six 30-yard dumpsters were filled with mostly reusable material and hauled to the dump. I suspect we did not witness all of them. My husband told me that he has seen thousands of tons of useable material go to the dump in his 30 years as a carpenter. He always felt bad about it but rarely had the ability to load, haul, and store it himself.

For the sake of expediency in reconstruction or demolition, no one is ever asked to collect and sort the material for repurposing. I would like to see and will work toward a law that forces contractors, businesses, or waste companies to hire someone to collect, sort, repurpose, or sell the useable material from construction jobs. Just as we need a network for collecting and redistributing food waste, we will need a network of people and businesses to deal with construction waste in a less destructive manner.

What do you think? Any ideas for how to preserve more construction waste? Please share your trash rescue experiences. I’d love to hear about them!

Sustainable Living: Big Picture, Baby Goals (Week 6)

Just a quick update today. With Easter and husband’s illness, I’ve not had enough time to fulfill all my goals from last week. My peas, green beans, and tomatoes are taking off, and I will have extras to give away. Sharing is one of the great joys of my life. (Unfortunately, some people take it the wrong way or misconstrue my intentions. I really only have one motivation for sharing. I feel good about it; no strings attached—really, that’s all! Weird, I know. When a trade can be made, that’s fun too!)

To my dismay, many of my seeds sprouted and died from lack of moisture. We can’t stay at this house every day of the week, so the sprouts burned up. I figure terrarium-style planting will solve my problem. (Gardening is trial and error, anyway, right?) Reusing my eggshells, I replanted the kale, peppers, carrots, and zucchini in clear containers with lids. I planted the potatoes in the Smart Pots and placed them in a sunny spot. Next week, I intend to plant three more veggies: cucumbers, butternut squash, and some kind of onion (suggestions welcome). Other than that, I plan to nab some herbs from a neighbor to plant by the kitchen sink and be done planting for the season (except for flowers).

As for The Homemade Pantry, I’ve got my ingredient list for toaster pastries made out. I hope to get to the store sometime this weekend, so I can have everything on hand when I make them next week. My other goal is to get my seeds to sprout.

Sustainable Living: Big Picture, Baby Goals (Week 5)

Because of another obligation, I was not able to publish a post last Friday, so I will write two this week. Honestly, I’ve been reading more than writing lately. Ever since I quit grad school (long story, dirty scam!), I’ve been devouring books for pleasure. (It’s been five long years of deprivation from one of my favorite pasttimes!) I’m now reading three books at once, one fiction and two nonfiction. I finished a fiction novel last week for which I intend to write a book review on my other blog. Actually, I intend to write reviews of all the books I read from now on.

I mentioned one of the books in a previous post. I am so glad I purchased The Jungle Effect. The more I read, the more sense it makes. I intend to follow its philosophy for the rest of my life. I will write more extensively about it soon.

As for my goal for last week, I cared for my seedlings and planted the Amish snap peas in their permanent pots today (with the help of my husband, of course). On Wednesday, I will transfer any ready sprouts to their permanent pots. I think the rest of the peas and the Brandywine tomatoes will be big enough to plant. I received my order of Smart Pots last week, and I will use them to plant potatoes on Wednesday, too. I learned about a method for growing potatoes in the Smart Pots from fellow blogger GreenEggs, except I am planting in two larger pots (golds and reds). I’m growing my entire garden in pots because I’m hoping to move mid to late summer.

My other goal of making some recipes from The Homemade Pantry got pushed into this week because some of these recipes are quite complicated. Each recipe is made from multiple homemade concoctions. So, I really need to plan out how I’m going set up the infrastructure for making all this homemade food. I did get all the ingredients to make cereal bars, which do not require any other homemade item. I’ve made these before a few times and have altered the recipe to my liking. My goal by Friday will be to generate a list of all the ingredients I will need to complete at least one of the recipes from the book.

To conclude, I want to mention a new invention over which I am extremely ecstatic—a machine that converts plastic into oil or gas. As my overall waste production continues to dwindle, I can’t help but notice that the number one waste product I can’t seem to reduce much is plastic. But here is a viable solution I hope goes mainstream.

Please share your thoughts. Thank you for sharing in my journey!