Gardening with a (Re)Purpose

April 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, DIY, Front Page, Gardening, Repurposing, Slideshow

Beeby, Leicestershire - - 35594

Your backyard garden can take advantage of any number of unique containers, as this one does in Beeby, Leicestershire, UK.

Starting a backyard garden doesn’t have to involve spending a lot on containers, watering systems and soil additives. In fact, you could probably plant a rich, healthy and visually attractive garden right now with what you have lying around your house. Everything from that pile of recyclables to the yard waste sitting at the curb can be used to build a low-cost, low-maintenance source of kitchen herbs, vegetables and day-brightening flora. Following are a few ideas to get you started and to spur on your gardening imagination.

Mulch Obliged

Consider using all those leaves, sticks and pinecones you rake out of your yard every couple of months as free and effective mulch in your garden. Leaves and pine straw are a great finishing touch to your garden beds as they help your soil maintain a consistent temperature and moisture level as well as help to keep out weeds.

Planters with a New Purpose

Instead of asking yourself,  “What can I repurpose and turn into a planter?” you should be asking what you can’t, because just about anything that can hold soil and drain water can be used for your planting purposes. Assorted old coffee tins make great containers for flowering gardens and the two center holes of stacked, staggered cinderblocks can be filled with potting soil for a unique wall garden.

Have an old wooden wine box? Drill some holes in the bottom, fill with a short layer of gravel, top with potting soil and hang from sturdy eyelets screwed into the four corners for an intriguing and useful kitchen garden.

Old gutters can also be used as an easy, inexpensive and space-saving garden alternative. Gutters can either be suspended from gutter hangers or drilled into place, depending on whether you’re comfortable with drilling into the wall you’ll be using. Also, make sure to secure these properly since they will be holding quite a bit of weight after you fill them with water.

Start by drilling half-inch drainage holes every six inches or so along the gutter’s length and then suspend or attach it to your wall. Fill the gutter with a short layer of gravel to allow water drainage and top with potting soil. You won’t want to plant any deep root vegetables or top heavy produce in your gutter planters, but plants such as herbs, onions, strawberries and bush beans should do well. If you have the space, consider stacking the gutters for a visually interesting — and well-producing — wall garden.

Self-Watering Planters

Illustration-Sub-Irrigated Planter from pop bottle

Make a self-watering planter using a soda bottle cut in two. Illustration by Zakgreant via Wikimedia Commons

Self-watering planters come in all shapes, sizes and containers, but they all follow the same basic concept. All you need are two containers, one of which can fit in the other, and a wicking device to draw the water from the bottom (reservoir) container into the soil in the top container.

Innovative gardeners have created self-watering containers out of everything from to-go deli containers to storage bins to soda bottles. To make a soda bottle self-watering planter, for example, simply cut a plastic soda bottle in half and invert the top half in the bottom half so you have the planting container (top half) sitting in the reservoir container. Then drill a small hole in the cap of the soda bottle and run a thick piece of yarn half way through it. When you place the top half of the soda bottle back in the bottom half, the yarn will work as your water wick. Fill the bottom container with water and the top container with potting soil and your plant. Refill the reservoir as needed and you’re done!

For larger containers, of course, the wick needs to be a bit bigger. For self-watering planters with large plastic storage bins, for example, the wick could be a small plastic container with holes drilled in it, big enough to allow water to collect. Place it under a central hole drilled in the top container and fill the bottom container with water. You might also want to drill a hole in the side of the bottom container at a level where you can refill the water so you don’t have to lift the top container off every time it needs refilling. Once the sun hits your planter, the water will evaporate through the deli container and water your plants.

Planting a garden doesn’t mean you have to stick with any strict rules of gardening. As long as you have soil, light and water, you can plant just about anything in any style…or container.

What are some unusual containers you’ve used in your garden? What self-watering systems have worked best for you?

Mike Tuma

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

About the Writer

Mike Tuma is a Home Depot store associate in the Chicago area, where he has been helping customers since 2005. Mike focuses on outdoor living writing, ranging from tips on using a wood chipper to the latest in lawn mowers.

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3 DIY Ways to Save Energy Dollars in the New Year

January 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, DIY, Energy, Front Page, Slideshow, Tips, Weatherizing


Caulk windows and doors to save energy and dollars.

Caulking around windows and doors can prevent warm air from leaking out of your home and cold air coming in. Photo: © gmcgill –

While the products you read about below will save energy and money, some contain highly toxic materials. Be sure to look for the most environmentally friendly brands you can find. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Want to make some room in your budget for next year’s holiday shopping? Here are three steps to earning up to $300 dollars in energy savings in one year.

Even better, these do-it-yourself improvements will continue to pay dividends for as long as you live in your house. That means extra dollars in your pocket every year. It also means that when you’re sitting in your living room enjoying next winter’s holiday cheer with family and friends, you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable — no cold drafts, warmer floors, and less furnace run-time

1. Buy 3 or 4 cans of insulating foam sealant

Insulating foam sealant is a high-R, closed-cell insulating foam that gradually expands as it cures. Applied in a bead, foam can be used to seal joints in much the same way as caulk. It can also be used to fill bigger gaps. There are several formulations available, including one for gaps up to 1 in. and one for gaps larger than 1 in.

Don’t simply begin squirting foam wherever you suspect an air leak. There is a learning curve to using the stuff, and it can be messy even after you get the hang of applying it. In addition, you’re going to have to use the entire can all in one session — or else the foam will harden and clog the spout before you can use the rest.

My recommendation is to make a list of where you can use this product. It should include the gaps around recessed light fixtures, ceiling fans, vent and heat register openings, wire and pipe penetrations, and voids behind window and door jambs. Then make sure you have access to where you will apply foam by lowering lighting trim rings, fan canopies, and anything else that’s in your way.

Spread a drop cloth — the disposable paper ones are ideal — and don safety goggles, latex or vinyl gloves, an old hat, and a long-sleeve work short. Have a rag and a can of acetone handy to wipe up spills.

When applying insulating foam sealant, shake the can vigorously for 30 seconds prior to use, and hold the can upside down while applying the foam. For joints with narrow gaps, gently pull the trigger until foam begins to emerge from the straw-tube applicator. Drag the tube along the joint, leaving as narrow a bead as you can.

When tackling bigger gaps, fill only about 50 percent of the void and keep moving. Expect some foam to fall when you’re working overhead, so stay clear of it! It’s tough to remove. You can avoid much drippings and droppings by always applying the foam to one edge of the gap, not simply aiming into a void.

Remember that the foam is going to expand several fold, so be conservative with your application. You can always add more later. When you’ve emptied the first can, pause the job for an hour or so while the foam expands and cures. Based upon the results, adjust the amount of foam you apply with the next can.

2. Add 3 cartridges of caulk to your cart

For air sealing, latex caulk (sometimes called acrylic latex) is usually the best choice because it is easy to apply, adheres to any clean surface, can be painted, and is easy to clean up. Use a silicone caulk when flexibility and temperature extremes are an issue, such as in the gap around a duct where it passes through plaster or drywall.

Caulk is easier to control than foam, and a lot less messy. It is better suited to sealing joints with very narrow gaps, such as baseboard moldings and window and door casings – especially when they will be visible. Use a caulking gun and buy your caulk in cartridges rather than tubes. Cut the nozzle at an angle, break the cartridge seal, and apply the caulk by pulling the nozzle along the joint as you squeeze the trigger. Use your fingers to wipe away any excess.

Caulk can be used to fill bigger gaps, too, but you may need to use backer rod to fill the space first. Backer rod, available at most home centers and hardware stores, is available in various diameters. With the backer rod stuffed in place, you can apply your caulk in an economical manner.

3. Pick up a gallon of duct sealant

Duct sealant, also called mastic, is the right stuff for sealing ducts that carry heated and cooled air. Ducts typically lose up to 20 percent of the heated or cooled air that passes through them — air that you’ve already paid to heat or cool!

To seal duct leaks, brush the mastic directly over duct joints, holes, and seams with a disposable bristle brush. For gaps that are 1/16 in. or wider, apply a bed of mastic and lay fiberglass tape over it. Then apply a second coat of mastic to cover the tape. Don’t rely on duct tape for air sealing. It won’t stay put for long. Pay special attention to high-pressure leaks near the blower.

If you don’t have ducts because your heat distribution system is hydronic (water carries the heat to radiators or to pipes under the floor), buy pipe insulation instead of mastic. Made of insulating foam and split along one side, it can be slipped over pipes. Install it around supply and return pipes to radiators as well as to the first 6 feet of hot and cold water pipes coming from your water heater.

You can buy everything you need to perform the above energy-saving tasks for less than $40 and complete them in a weekend. In addition to preventing heat loss in winter, air sealing will keep cool air inside your home and hot air outside during the summer.

Joe Provey

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

About the Author

Joe Provey writes for Basement Systems, Dr. Energy Saver, and is the author of several books on green living, including Convert Your Home to Solar Energy.

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DIY Natural Cleaning Products for Your Home

December 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, DIY, Front Page, Green Cleaning, Homes, Slideshow, Sustainability

Comments Off on DIY Natural Cleaning Products for Your Home

Walk down the aisle of almost any store, and you'll see a range of cleaning products—many of which are filled with less-than-healthy chemicals. Why not make your own cleaning products out of natural substances? Photo: J Wasson

Many of these cleaning products contain with less-than-healthy chemicals. Why not make your own out of natural substances? Photo: J Wasson

Take a stroll down the cleaning supply aisle in your local market, and you’ll find no shortage of ways to polish and shine your home. You will, however, find a shortage of chemical-free, unscented supplies that promote healthy cleaning and no ill-effects. When it comes to making your home sparkle, most commercially available cleaners will do the trick, but when it comes to your health, homemade cleansers are the best choice for both safety and shine.

Make Your Own Cleaners

The following easy recipes will get you started on green cleaning:

Vinegar & Water

  • 1 part vinegar
  •  1 part water

Natural and inexpensive, a mixture of one part vinegar, one part water provides a gentle cleaning solution for the hard surfaces of bathrooms and kitchens, including stoves, countertops, tile, and floors. Simply spray the solution on, allow it to sit for a few minutes, and wipe it down with a cloth. For more difficult cleaning jobs, heat the solution until warm or use undiluted vinegar.

TIP: To make sure you’re starting out with the cleanest solution, use filtered water in your mixture to avoid spreading chlorine, sediment, and other pollutants found in water around your home.

Vinegar, Water & Alcohol

  • 1 part water
  • 1 part isopropyl alcohol
  • splash of vinegar

The effective overall surface cleaner of vinegar and water can also be used on mirrors or windows, but will leave behind streaks. For a streak-free clean and shine, use a solution of one part water to one part isopropyl alcohol with just a splash of vinegar. Spray on, wipe clean, and the glass dries clear.

Baking Soda & Water (or Peroxide)

Some cleaning jobs require grit, and that’s what baking soda provides. Mix baking soda with a little water and apply to problem spots, like hard soap scum. Or, shake the mixture onto areas that need harder cleaning, like the inside of toilets. A baking soda-peroxide solution is ideal for cleaning the inside of the refrigerator to disinfect and eliminate smells.

Olive Oil & Vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup vinegar

Dry-dusting is a poor home-cleaning habit, because it simply redistributes the dust. Dusting with a wet cloth will prevent the issue, but it doesn’t create that shine you get with manufactured furniture polishes. Just a small amount of olive oil in vinegar, though, both lifts dusts and leaves behind a shine on wood furniture.


Cleaning your home naturally won’t be beneficial to the health of you and your family if your cleaning style allows natural threats to grow. When the health threats of mold and mildew appear around bathtubs or windows, you don’t need harsh chemicals; there are a few natural remedies for mold that work quite well.

Undiluted white vinegar reportedly kills 82 percent of mold. Vinegar’s acidic nature can be hard on grout, though, so go easy on tiled surfaces. For a more pleasant smell, use tea tree oil and water.

Keeping your home clean won’t benefit your health if you’re filling the space with chemicals in the process. Fortunately, there are natural solutions to almost any cleaning problem that might arise. So, skip the cleaning section at the grocery store and head straight to the inexpensive basics of vinegar, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, and peroxide.

Felicia Savage

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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Install a Dimmer Switch: DIY for Earth-Friendly Savings

November 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, DIY, Electricity, Front Page, Homes, Slideshow

Installing a dimmer switch can not only change harsh lighting to soft, it can also save you money. Photo:

Installing a dimmer switch can not only change harsh lighting to soft, it can also save you money. Photo:

Remember the “clap on, clap off” jingle for clap-sensitive lights? For years, we’ve been honing and perfecting our lighting systems, including finding ways to control a room’s brightness from bed.

These days, the truly devoted can hook all of their lighting (and even the coffee maker, for that matter) into remote systems controllable from a smartphone. Apart from switching to more efficient bulbs, however, the simplest and most affordable way to take a big bite out of your lighting energy usage is simply to install motion-sensitive light switches.

Who hasn’t opened a closet, bathroom, or guest room door to discover that a light has been left burning unnecessarily for hours, days, or even weeks? That wasted power costs us on our monthly bill, and it unnecessarily draws from an electric grid that, depending on where you live, may still rely on carbon-generating coal as its source.

Automatic sensor switches turn on when a person enters a room and off soon after they depart. Many are programmable to allow a manual override or to set the amount of time without motion before turning dim. These switches range in cost from around $20 to $50 models with elaborate programmable settings.

Making the ‘switch’ will require a small upfront investment, but you’ll end up saving money in the long run through the power you save.

Gather Your Tools

With your new switches in hand, gather the following tools:

  • Flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers
  • Pliers
  • Wire stripper
  • Electrical tape
  • Wire nuts (these typically come with the switch, but check)
  • Voltage tester (these are inexpensive and worth having for future projects as well)

11 Easy Steps

Installing a dimmer switch is as easy as following directions. Graphic: Courtesy Home Depot

Installing a dimmer switch is as easy as following directions. Graphic: Courtesy Home Depot

Our first step is the most important!

  1. Turn off the power to the switch at your circuit breaker. If you’re not 100 percent positive that you’ve done this, shut power to the entire house, turn off multiple rooms, or put down your tools and hire a handyman. It’s a simple step but it can save your life!
  2. Remove the wall plate at the switch.
  3. If your circuit breaker includes fuses, remove that too, and leave a note to let anyone else in the house know not to flip the switch back to “on.”
  4. Check (one more time) that the power is off by using the voltage tester.
  5. Remove the screws that mount the switch to the wall. Go ahead and take a picture of the back of the switch, just in case you need to refer to the wire placement later.
  6. Remove the wires from the back of the switch.
  7. Strip ¾ of an inch of insulation from the end of each wire.
  8. Reconnect the wires to the new switch.  Automatic sensor and dimmer switches usually have splice connections instead of the screw-on terminals on a standard switch. This shouldn’t make the connection of your new switch any more difficult, but it’s important to note.Begin with the ground wire (usually green), using the pliers to twist the ends together before screwing on a wire nut (the little plastic caps that likely came with your new switch). Do the same thing with your two house power wires, for a total of three connectionsIf there’s an extra wire behind your switch that you don’t know what to do with, it’s for the installation of a 3-way switch, the scenario when multiple switches control one light. Don’t be deterred by an extra wire or different colors — follow the directions that come with your switch to make the proper new connections.
  9. Use electrical tape to wrap the wire nuts securely and ensure that the wires are not exposed.
  10. Remount the switch into the wall, replace the screws, and replace the wall plate.
  11. Check your work by turning the power back on and testing your new switch.

Lighting accounts for 14 percent of all U.S. home energy consumption. By eliminating waste from our usage (and switching from incandescent to CFL and LED bulbs), it’s possible for most households to dramatically reduce that percentage, translating to triple-digit savings each year. That’s extra money for your next trip exploring our amazing blue planet.

Chris Long

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Since 2000, Chris Long has been a store associate at a Home Depot in Illinois. He also contributes to the Home Depot blog, and is interested in electrical topics ranging from solar panels to home automation.


The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting by Chris McLaughlin

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting

Maybe you’re already a gardener, ready to plant some vegetables to reduce your grocery bill and gain some peace of mind about what additives you will not be putting into your family’s bodies. Or, maybe you secretly yearn for a yard filled with colorful flower blossoms from early spring until late fall.

If you see yourself in either of these scenarios, then The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting: Turn your organic waste material into black gold, is for you. No, this isn’t a book about planting a garden. It’s about how to nourish the soil you will use to grow amazing veggies and posies. And, I have to say, it’s even fun to read.

Compost Happens

“The first thing you need to know is that no matter what you do—compost happens,” author Chris McLaughlin says. She sets out to educate, support, inform, and entertain her readers.

I’ve always been a kind of a sucker for the “idiot’s guide” type of book, since I don’t know all that much about anything. I’m not much of a gardener, but I started a compost pile 20+ years ago as an environmental gesture to remove organic waste from the garbage can.

McLaughlin is right, “compost happens.” I knew nothing. I did my composting with the most minimal effort possible. I created a designated spot in the far end of the backyard, put some landscaping logs around it, and began dumping all the kitchen waste there. (Even I knew enough not to put in any meat scraps.)

All I did was keep a covered bucket under the sink, then haul it to the backyard when it was full. Then I dug a small hole and poured it in and covered it up with some dirt. The microbes and worms did the rest. Simple.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t know about the valuable applications of the black gold I was creating has been a terrible waste. After reading this book, I realize I have been accumulating a pile of invaluable compost without actually putting it to use.

From “Idiot” to Composter

In this enjoyable, easy to read, and surprisingly thorough and diverse book, McLaughlin moves us from “idiots” to knowledgeable composters ready to create black gold with minimal effort and maximum results. She not only tells us how to make the stuff, but how to use it effectively and with ease.

Most environmentalists are aware of the rebound in “locavore” eating and the mushrooming of home gardening: community gardens, potted mini-gardens on apartment balconies, backyard gardens, plots shared with neighbors, and even indoor greenhouses to extend the growing season.

But we also are recognizing the urgency for using more sustainable methods. These are part and parcel of the composting process:

  • eliminating synthetic fertilizers
  • using natural weed control
  • growing plants that are healthier and more disease and pest resistant
  • conserving water

McLaughlin reminds us that “composting is sustainability at its finest.” It’s good for our gardens, good for us, and good for the earth. She quickly addresses the issue of common myths and bad reps about composting, such as it attracts rodents, or it stinks, or it requires lots of time and effort and is very complicated or expensive. Nix on those. Read on.

Composting Made Simple

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting is well organized, succinct, and rich in information, helpful hints, and DIY instructions. I particularly enjoyed the iconic little sidebar boxes in each section that address potential problems, provide definitions about terms and techniques, offer fun facts, and afford opportunities to “dig deeper.”

Perhaps most encouraging is the admonition: “Ignore anyone who tells you it has to be a certain way. Use a system that fits your lifestyle.” Yes!

The Basics of Composting

Here are the nuts and bolts (or shall we say, “the humus and mulch”) found within the 193 not-dense pages:

Part 1 – “The Dirt Beneath Your Feet”

  • Learn what makes soil healthy and fruitful, and discover the benefits of composting.
  • Find out how it works and the four main things every compost pile needs.
  • What to compost and what to avoid.
  • The difference between a “hot” and “cold” compost pile, and how to do it.
  • Inexpensive do-it-yourself methods of building your pile.
  • How to shop for commercially available bins.
  • Troubleshooting if necessary.
  • How to use the gold, once it’s ready.

Part 2 – “Worm Wrangling 101: Vermicomposting

You can do without the worms, as I have for 20 years—or read it and then decide. You’ll definitely be better informed. This chapter covers:

  • How to harness the power of worms for particularly potent composting.
  • Everything you need to know about housing and feeding worms.
  • What to do with all that rich worm poop

Part 3: “Creative Composting: Beyond the Bin”

  • Bed, Sheet or Sandwich Composting (you’ll have to read it, I’m not telling)
  • Grasscycling for keeping grass clippings where they belong – on your lawn
  • Mulching is composting, too
  • Planting cover crops for adding nutritional value to your soil
  • Taking compost into the community as a way of sharing the wealth and building community

I told you this book was thorough and diverse.

Three Additional Resources

In the back of the book, McLaughlin gives us these helpful resources:

  • Appendix A: A useful glossary of terms for easy reference
  • Appendix B: The “Resource Appendix,” with helpful websites and blogs on composting, a list of retailers selling composting supplies, other books on composting, a list of university extension offices, and some composting organizations
  • Appendix C: “Compost and Worms in the Classroom,” a fun resource for teaching kids, complete with activities and classroom planning

A Gift to the Earth

If you are or are going to be a gung-ho gardener and composter, this book is invaluable. If you are a new or casual gardener, this book is invaluable. If you are no gardener at all and just want to expand your horizons, this is also valuable and fun to read. If you want to help the planet and cease from putting your organic material down the garbage disposal or in the garbage can, by all means, take a look.

The truth is, I don’t feel like I’m as much of an “idiot composter” as when I began reading. And McLaughlin supports whatever composting efforts I decide will fit in my lifestyle. That’s a gift for me, my garden, and the Earth.

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Miriam Kashia

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Making Natural Soaps

A step-by-step guide to making homemade natural soaps

Soap: Laundry soap, dish soap, hand soap, body soap, shampoo. Until I thought about it, I never realized how much soap I bought and used on a regular basis.

What if I started making all these different types of soap at home? With The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Making Natural Soaps by Sally W. Trew and Zonella B. Gould, I not only learned how to make the household product, but how to do it in an environmentally conscious way.

Homemade natural soaps have tons of benefits compared to commercial soaps: Commercial soaps can contain synthetic lathering ingredients, artificial colors, and triclosan, which is a toxic chemical linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and other problems.

The soap recipes in this book also contain larger amounts of glycerin, a key moisturizing ingredient. With homemade natural soaps, your skin won’t feel dry and itchy after lathering up.

After learning that natural soap is better for my skin and the planet, I had to know how to make it at home. The book dissected the complicated process into easy-to-understand chapters. The first chapter starts with the four basic ingredients of soap (oils/butters, lye, distilled water, and borax). The middle of the book seamlessly leads soap-makers from the most basic aspect of the process to the most complicated. And the last section teaches readers how to make swirl, marbleized, and plaid designs; soap cutouts; and soap confetti.

I was hoping to create my own soap bars; but I live in a small, two-bedroom apartment in a crowded complex with sparse windows, and the process has some safety precautions. When lye is added to water and stirred to dissolve, it produces a vapor that is dangerous to inhale; so, when making soap, you need to be in a well-ventilated area. It’s also very possible to sear your skin, so the book recommends always wearing safety glasses or a face shield, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and shoes. I can’t safely make soap in my apartment, but when I live in a house one day, I am going to become a soap-maker.

The book includes recipes for so many different types of soap that, if I were properly equipped for making them, I wouldn’t know where to start. There are DIY instructions for making baby soap, shampoo soap, face soap, goat milk soap, liquid soap, laundry soap — and the list goes on.

A chapter explaining the benefits of adding in different essential oils tells readers that lemon is antibacterial and antiviral, jasmine is an antidepressant and aphrodisiac, lavender helps burns and headaches, and peppermint is a decongestant.

Essential oils, which are extracted from plant matter, are more useful than simply adding scent. They’re also safer, given that scents are often linked to health problems, such as cancer.

With more and more antibiotic-resistant bacteria, mutating viruses, disease-causing parasites, and infectious fungi in the news each day, it can be comforting to know we have essential oils to rely on because, although the mutating bacteria in viruses can become resistant to Western medicines, they never become resistant to essential oils. When essential oils were tested by diffusing, the report was that the essential oils killed 100 percent of bacteria and viruses in the room. A study in France showed the antiseptic qualities of 34 essential oils. Among them, thyme, origanum, sweet orange, lemongrass, Chinese cinnamon, and rose were so antiseptic that one part of these rendered 1,000 parts of raw sewage free of all living organisms (pg. 29).

I recommend The Complete Idiots Guide to Making Natural Soaps to anyone who is concerned about synthetic add-ins to commercial products. It’s easy to find and, for $14.95, it gives readers a complete overview of every aspect of the process. Instead of buying different books for the basics, the recipes, and ways to get creative, it’s all included in one handy guidebook.

Brigette Fanning

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

The Small Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

Blue Planet Green Living’s review policy is to only review those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by complimentary books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

DIY: Hang a Clothesline in 10 Minutes

Joe hangs a load of laundry on the line he installed. Photo: Julia Wasson

There are lots of reasons to hang your clothes outside to dry, including saving energy by not running your dryer. If you’ve been putting off setting up a clothesline because you thought it would be too much trouble, put it off no more. We found a simple, do-it-yourself (DIY) clothesline that took less than 10 minutes to set up and get started.

Drill two starter holes for the screws, then slide the reel over the screws to lock it in place. The braking device is below the reelPhoto: Julia Wasson

We had been talking about hanging a clothesline for a long time — years, actually. When we finally got around to it, it was a snap. (Easy for me to say, because Joe hung it. But he swears it’s true.) We bought a Sunline retractable clothesline at our local hardware store for $13.78 plus tax. The only tools needed were a power drill, an extension cord, a hammer, and a starter nail.

Using the power drill, Joe drilled two screws into one end wall of the deck on the back of our house. The plastic, round reel, which holds all the clothes line, just fit over those screws and slid down over them, locking into place. Then Joe tightened both screws with the drill.

On the other end of the deck, about 16 feet away from the reel, he tapped a starter hole in the wall with the hammer and nail. Then he hand-screwed the 2- inch hook into the wall opposite the reel.

Next, he grabbed the starter cord from the reel and pulled it across the deck. At that point, it was a simple matter of hanging the built-in loop on the end of the starter cord over the hook. The line was up, but it wasn’t yet ready for us to hang laundry.

Hanging the end of the line is a simple matter of pulling the loop over the hook. Photo: Julia Wasson

There was still one important step left. Standing at the clothesline reel, Joe pulled out a few more inches of clothesline so that the entire line was loose. Then he wrapped the line around a small braking device, which keeps the clothesline taut. Done! And in less than 10 minutes.

We’ve hung several loads of laundry on our new line, and so far, it hasn’t sagged or gone slack. It’s a good thing, too, because Joe loves to do the laundry. This is one device that’s going to get a real workout.

But what if we want to use our deck for entertaining or just to read a book? All we have to do is unhook the line, remove the excess cord from the braking device, and tug on the line to retract it.

We keep the cord retracted when we’re not actually hanging laundry on it, to protect it from sunlight and weather. What’s the environmental payoff? Hard to say just yet, as we don’t know for sure how long this device will last. It’s made largely of plastic, which is a negative, but it helps us avoid using electricity produced by coal, which is a positive.

A typical load of laundry, drying on our new Sunline retractable clothesline. Photo: Julia Wasson

As to whether it’s cost-effective, that’s another question we don’t have the answer for just yet. One estimate I read says that an electric dryer costs about 57 cents per 40-minute load. Our dryer always takes about an hour for a full load of towels, such as the ones on this line, so it’s bound to be closer to 75 cents per load. (I’m purely estimating here, and you’ll have to figure this out for yourself using your own calculations.)

To be on the safe side, let’s assume it’s only 60 cents per load. With a device that cost us roughly $14, that’s about 23 loads to reach full return on our investment. Since we easily do 3 loads a week, we’ll have the cost of the Sunline retractable clothesline paid back in about 8 weeks. And the rest of the summer and fall, we’ll be drying our laundry for free.

There are lots of other choices for air-drying laundry besides the one we used. A quick trip to the hardware store, and you’ll have an air-drying solution for your home laundry in no time at all.

The Small Print

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Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

9 Months – 11 Buckets of Dirt

Joe has pulled the front blocks off to reveal the magic that took place over winter. Photo: Julia Wasson

There are many things in life that require patience: the growth of an embryo into a full-term baby, the long slog through a school year, the development of seedlings into luscious tomatoes … and the turning of garbage into rich, healthy soil.

In July of 2009, Joe built a compost bin in our backyard. It was a relatively simple structure that cost less than $100 (it could have been nearly free, if I hadn’t Freecycled the “extra” cinder blocks we thought we wouldn’t need again). We started dumping our food and garden waste — along with contributions from close neighbors — and didn’t give it too much thought.

When the pile grew to the top of the bin, we kept throwing in food. Mysteriously, all summer and into the fall, the pile never grew higher than the lid. We never stopped adding food and leaves and such — even paper towels and toilet paper rolls. We were careful, though, not to add newsprint or any paper with ink on it. Ours is an organic garden.

It wasn’t until winter set in solidly that we had to add more cinder blocks. That’s when the mass froze, and the pile stopped sinking down. (Thank you, Freecycle, for providing more blocks for the extra height.)

Spring finally rolled around, and, as our thoughts turned to gardening, Joe decided to dig out the pile.

Four distinct layers are present in the compost pile. Photo: Julia Wasson

Wow! When he took off the front stack of blocks, we were thrilled. To us, it was as momentous an occasion as getting that first harvest from a summer garden. (Well, even more momentous to us, though it may sound silly to you.)

What we saw was amazing. The very top layer was recent plant debris we had cleaned from our yard, such as the dried stems from plants that had died with the first frost last fall. This was totally intact and recognizable.

Next was a thick layer of rotting, but largely intact, garbage: food scraps, eggshells, bits of branches — all recognizable as what they’d been when we deposited them.

The third layer was an oozing mass of rotting gunk. It was impossible to distinguish one sloppy mess from another. A watery goo dripped over the edge of the pile, along the side where the block wall had been.

But the wonder of all wonders was the bottom layer — DIRT! There was no mistaking this thick, rich, black soil as garbage. It was fully transformed — magically, it appeared to me — as healthy soil ready for our garden.

The dark soil from the compost looks much richer than the existing garden soil. Photo: Julia Wasson

Less than an hour from start to finish, Joe had shoveled most of 11 buckets of thick, rich dirt onto the ground we’re preparing for our trellis garden. He had enough left over to cover a portion of a flowerbed, too. You can see the difference in the photos: The tired, gray dirt contrasts starkly against the yummy (for worms, plants, and seeds) dark soil that’s ready for our garden.

The next step was to stir the remaining compost and put it back in the bin. Half the bin is now full of this old compost, but already, it’s sinking.

Our DIY efforts from last year took 9 months, from an empty bin to 11 buckets of dirt. We may have to add another bin, now that this one has made so much progress. Or, perhaps we’ll just dig it up in the fall and see how far it’s come.

This may end up a twice-yearly “chore,” in some respects. But I hope we never lose the magic we experienced this spring, as we viewed the transformation from food to garbage to healthy soil.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts

How to Build a Quick and Easy Vegetable Trellis

How to Build a Compost Bin in Your Own Backyard

Organic Gardening in Your Own Backyard