Confessions of an EVERYDAY ECOTARIAN

creative, conscious and conserving ideas, thoughts and solutions

Cold frames, winter sowing and other ways to get a jumpstart on the growing season February 16, 2010

It may not be time to get those tomatoes growing just yet but this is a great time to plant some cold-hearty vegetables even in the colder climates.  I live almost halfway between the equator and the north pole and even I can get a jump on a few crops this time of year.  The plants I love to get started as soon as I can are peas and lettuce.  Baby lettuce greens are such a luxury in my world in the winter so I am especially pushed to get those growing.  There are a couple of ways to do this.  One of my favorite ways is to build cold frames with straw or hay bales and old double paned windows.  These cold frames are easy, quick and only involve finding recycled doors and/or windows and using straw that can later be used for mulching plants in your garden.  Its as simple as creating a warmer environment for the plants than your climate allows at that time in the season by insulating them with the straw and the windows.  Here are some pictures of my cold frames, (as well as the milk-jug sowing I’ll talk about next) from last year, some of our garden seedlings and my curious then 1.5 year old son.

If you don’t happen to be married to someone who salvages any potentially useful thing from a variety of places you may not have what you need to build a quick cold frame.  That’s ok!  You can still do some “Winter Sowing” -or planting seeds while the weather is really too cold for them to grow.  Another quick way to do this is to use a variety of plastic containers for mini greenhouses.  A friend of mine who didn’t even grow up in an area with winters introduced me to this idea.  You can use old milk jugs, fruit clam-shell cases and more.  For more detailed instructions check out   They have a great deal of helpful information on the topic AND an opportunity to get free seeds.  -Yes free.  Last year I received many different lovely species of heirloom tomatoes and a few peppers  -all delicious.   Here are a couple of pictures of plants I grew in milk jugs.  Simply cut a slit around the bottom third of the milk jug, poke holes in the bottom for drainage and fill the bottom portion with seed starting mix.  Then, put your seeds inside.  At this point, tape up the slit in the milk jug and put the cap on.   This is my favorite part:  put it outside somewhere.  I love to just stick mine on top of a snowbank. Last year I put a few on top of the ice in our pool.  It makes me feel as if I am conquering winter.  Anyway, watch it every day and when the seeds germinate take the cap back off.   Then, watch your seeds grow.

The premise behind winter sowing is that by planting the seeds directly outdoors with a little help with heat conservation (either by cold frame or mini-greenhouse like a milk jug) you are allowing the seeds to germinate and grow as they would in nature.  This is opposed to starting the seeds indoors under a light or in a window where they just don’t get the same amount of sunlight.  Winter sown plants end up being heartier and healthier in my opinion.   Although I do use my cold frames to grow plants I can eat early in the season, (like lettuce) I also use them to start and/or grow seedlings I will later transplant in our garden when the danger of frost has passed.   They do seem to be healthier this way and it keeps the hundreds of seedlings out of my house where who-knows-what could happen to them at any time.

The time is now so get yourself a milk-jug, some lettuce seeds and get winter-sowing!


Eco-Chic: DIY Thoughtful Children’s Clothing May 7, 2009

Filed under: Family Economy,Sustainable Economy — adm @ 2:47 am

How can you dress your children, (and even yourself) in eco-friendly clothing while sticking to the ecotarian big ideas of keeping the big picture in mind? Natural fibers…organic…non-sweatshop…soy inks? Sure! -But I’ve got something better. Here are some really fun ways to re-purpose old material. Re-purposing old clothing is super rewarding for those of us who really dig

The Princess Dress
The Princess Dress

making something valuable and useful from something that was formerly…uhg. And it’s fun! A little background on the thought process that led my daughter and I to get out the sewing machine and get to Goodwill:

I have a budding Fashionista for a daughter. Before she could talk she would longingly look at the racks of clothing in the mall and reach for anything she though was beautiful, (and somehow also expensive). Now her mother, (me, right?) -she’s a different story. She’s all about what’s practical and comfortable. She wishes somehow everything she needs would just appear in the right size in her closet. Not so with my daughter. If it’s pink or purple or encrusted with gems she’s all about it, (it’s what all the 6-year-old girls are wearing!). Well, here comes the “confessions” part of Confessions of an Everyady Ecotarian. Do you want to know one of my biggest fears for the future of my fashion-conscious daughter and clothing? Hollister. There, I said it. I don’t know, there is just something about it that gives me the creeps. Maybe it’s the way the store smells when I walk by it, maybe it’s the music emanating from the doors like some kind of elite club, but more likely it’s the plastic models with pants so low that they are nearly showing their plastic private parts, (“mom, why are his pants falling off?”) I guess I just can’t stomach my present carefree, smart, beautiful and budding Fashionista daughter someday getting sucked into...that. So, in order to have a little fun as well as be proactive in encouraging my daughter to develop her own sense of style I got out the sewing machine and we took a mother/daughter trip to Goodwill.

Now, this was not my idea originally. I have an incredibly creative friend named Heather who makes beautiful things out of the most unlikely pieces of fabric scavenged from here or there. She has a blog entitled: Heather In Bloom. You really should check it out. It will greatly inspire you.

But back to Goodwill. Using Heathers free-sewing ideas, (no patterns, no directions, just how I operate!) my daughter and I went through the racks of clothing looking for anything that could potentially turn into something beautiful for a 6-year-old girl. She spotted a teal multi-tiered women’s skirt with a bit of shimmer woven into it and brought it to me declaring it “beautiful!” We purchased it for $1.50, brought it home and with the sewing machine and a little input from my daughter we turned it into a summer dress. Staying true to Heather’s “free sewing” idea I won’t go into too many details. We basically took the sides in and turned the material we removed into straps. We also shortened the dress a bit. That’s pretty much it. I’m not an expert seamstress and I don’t desire to be exact but my daughter is thrilled with the results. Here are some other ideas for “re-purposing” clothing:

Turn Womens Button-Down Shirts into Little Button-Down Skirts

This is something my friend Heather does a lot of.

Cupcake Pink Shirt Skirt

Cupcake Pink Shirt Skirt

It’s a super-simple project with quick results. Find a button-down shirt you like and cut the top of it right off right below the arms! Sew some elastic into a hem on the top, (adjusting the size as needed) and presto, a skirt. Here’s one Heather did. I did the shirt. Quick, cute, practical and inexpensive enough to let her play outside and climb trees in it.

This is also a project a child just learning to sew could do. My cupcake shirt in the picture brings me to the next Eco-Chic idea…

Screen Printing on Second-Hand


This is also loads of fun and not as difficult as you might first guess. The first thing you need to do is self-explanatory. Go to a thrift store and get some second hand shirts -whatever size you are looking for, (I do recommend 100% cotton. For some reason I find they print with less problems). Next, find an image you want on your shirt. You will also need some variety of textile paint. You can find it at most craft stores and many places online, (Dick Blick Art Supplies is great!) I recommend a water-based printing ink. Next, you need a way to get your image on the fabric. Butcher paper is the easiest way to jump into it in my opinion. -No fancy supplies needed. Butcher paper is a thick, one-side waxed paper used for wrapping meat. You might even be able to convince a butcher to let you have a bit. You trace your image onto the butcher paper and cut it out -like a stencil- in the butcher paper using an exacto knife or something similar. Then, iron the butcher paper right on your shirt wax-side down making sure that all of the small corners are nice and tight to the material. Then, using a brush, paint the ink onto the fabric that is showing. You will probably want to have a piece of cardboard inside the shirt between the front and the back to stop ink seepage. Wait until it dries, (or go at it with a hair-dryer if you are impatient like me) then peel off the butcher paper. Your image is now on the shirt. There is a good visual tutorial here. You can also cut your stencils out of acetate, (overhead sheets) and put them under and actual screen that is used for screen printing and get literally years of use out of your stencil-prints. Here are a few more I did.

Chicks Dig Me

Chicks Dig Me

Alright, that’s all for now. I have more ideas to add so check back!

Dinosaurs and Pirates

Dinosaurs and Pirates

Eatin' Machine

Eatin' Machine


Are You Rich Enough to Buy Cheap? : bucking the disposable society February 7, 2009

My new Chaco's Z/2 Sparrow

My new Chaco's Z/2 Sparrow

I bought a pair of Chaco’s today. Considering that I’ve been out of a job for over two years now that may seem somewhat irresponsible. To be honest, it was a bit out of character for me, (although I did get them 40% off with free shipping). I am, after all, the woman who’s worn a pair of cheap $5 flip-flops for the last three summers. However, that’s probably equally foolish considering I have arches that rival those of the ancient Romans. Maybe it was a moment of impulsiveness or reckless spending or maybe it was the beginning of a new way of thinking and acting for me. I recently read a piece where the author was wrestling with the idea of being “rich enough to be poor”. Apparently, it’s an old Russian saying implicating the idea that if you buy cheap things, it will cost you more in the end. So, in theory, you have to be wealthy to buy cheap. Makes sense, right? Well, I think it’s much more complicated in the practical world than it is in the theoretical world, (isn’t that always the case?). After all, if you are already strapped for cash, how do you buy more expensive, higher quality items?

Well first of all, no one is saying that we have to have the best of everything. That’s an entirely different, (and equally misleading) mentality. I’m not talking everything. I’m talking some things. If we take a hard look at what we throw away -and how that’s changed in the last 100 years or so, we see some alarming patterns that I think not only represent a facet of our family economic systems but that also of our larger consumer economic systems.

Data from New York City Waste Collections indicates that the amount of garbage created per person per year went from 92 to 1,242 pounds from 1905-2005. Granted, packaging and containers represent 32 percent of that number, (and that’s another topic to be discussed). However, non-durable goods (products used less than three years) represent 27 percent or roughly 335 pounds a person per year. That’s 335 pounds of junk we each purchased last year that wore out, broke or stopped working too soon, (my flip-flops probably should be in that number, but I’ve resurrected them a few times with super glue). That number alone is about 3.5 times more than the entire amount of garbage per person in New York 104 years ago. Granted, things have changed since then. At some point, however, we need to start asking if this pattern is played out over time, where will we be? Is it something we can afford to continue?

So back to the family budget. How does buying cheap affect us and why do we feel compelled to do it? Well, let’s first take into consideration our extremely human and early-showing tendency to want more.

One of the first two-word phrases my kids learned was “I want”. That phrase along with “Can I…” are enough to drive a parent mad in a consumer-driven, thing-overloaded world. It’s so normal an occurance in our family that we have a code word: Greedy Gimees, (credit to the Berenstein Bears for that). So, to start with, we are all born destined to fight the Greedy Gimmees and if that wasn’t bad enough others, (also endowed with the Greedy Gimmees) have decided to exploit that tendency in us. Not only are we bombarded at all ages with messages of Bigger, Better, More! There is also this interesting little marketing technique, (can I call it that?) called Planned Obsolescence. From Wikipedia:

Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence[1] is the process of a product becoming obsolete and/or non-functional after a certain period or amount of use in a way that is planned or designed by the manufacturer.[1]

What? They want our hard drives to die and our break pads to wear out sooner? Feeling a little betrayed? A little more from Wikipedia:

The purpose of planned obsolescence is to hide the real cost per use from the consumer, and charge a higher price than they would otherwise be willing to pay (or would be unwilling to spend all at once).

That cheap computer that tanks on you in 18 months isn’t so cheap after all. Not when you have to keep replacing it, (even if it’s only one piece at at time). Which, apparently was the plan all along. A little bit maddening isn’t it? It costs us more money, it ends up as more waste all while we are encouraged to be in a perpetual state of the Greedy Gimmees. I can tell you from experience, the Greedy Gimmees push gratitude right out the back door. And life without gratitude is not very satisfying.

So what do we do about this? First of all I’d like to give kudos to the Brits for taking a stance on it. In the UK, it’s considered a breach of consumer rights to engineer obsolescence into products. They investigate claims of products that consistently fail just outside the warranty period, (just ask Apple).

As individuals, and families, I think we can make an impact by bucking the disposable society. Here are some ideas:

Do research to find quality items that last. Before you purchase something, do a little research about the product. Find companies that are interested in longevity and quality, (they are out there). Use the internet to look at the vast review sites for various products. If you see complaints that a product is failing just on the other side of the warranty date -avoid that product.

Don’t count out second hand stores! If the product made it to a second hand store it just might have a better chance of longevity. Sift through the thrift stores and see if you can find a useful treasure that will serve you for years. My favorite coffee mug is a unique hand-made stone wear thrift store find, (it warms up like the beach in the sun…). It cost me .99 and I use it every single day.

Don’t be an impulse buyer. Impulsive buyers are the manufacturers best friends. They are the ones that planned obsolescence is tailored to. Impulse buyers buy into the ideas of bigger, better, more. No matter what you hear, you probably don’t need it right now. There is very little, (outside of oxygen…and coffee?) that we need right now. In fact, it would probably be good practice to let those impulsive feelings pass. Once you’ve ridden that wave without buying you will realize it wasn’t so urgent after all. The next time those feelings arise, it will be easier to wait them out before you make a buying decision. The name of the game in bucking the disposable society is delayed gratification.

Stop. Think. Then buy.

Save your money and wait for the right buy. If there is something you think you need or want to replace, then save your money, push that sense of urgency to buy back and instead wait and keep your eyes open. My husband and I deal with this by having a mental “list” of things we need to replace. For example, a table saw has been on our list for a couple of years. My husband did a lot of research, looking at reviews and inspecting actual saws. He settled on the one he wanted and then he waited. He waited a year. Now, my husbands business involves weekly, sometimes daily use of a table saw and he was using one that was an 11-year-old Sears special that cost $150 new. However, that old saw kept a’ spinnin’ and he let those urges past until he found a great deal. Just yesterday, in fact, the new models came out and the one he’s had his eye on all year long went on clearance, costing him 40% less than it would have new saving us hundreds of dollars. And instead of the perpetual Greedy Gimmees, he’s filled with gratitude that he now has a really nice saw that he’ll have for many years. Which brings me to my last tip:

Plan on using the item for the long haul. Fight the urge to go with the “Bigger, Better, More!” mentality. If you buy a quality product, then tell yourself you are going to use it for X amount of time -and stick with it. You will learn several things. 1. That you can get by without something bigger and better and 2.That those, (seemingly dire) urges to buy more are just that , urges. If you happen to be walking by the next generation of whatever you have, put your blinders on, remind yourself you made a commitment to fight the disposable lifestyle and keep walking -just let that urge pass on by you.

Sometimes, when I realize how enslaved our entire economy is to the idea of a disposable society, (some have argued that it was planned obsolescence that brought us out of the Great Depression) I wonder if our economy can survive otherwise. However, I know that people are endowed with this desire to have meaning in their life -to have their work mean something to themselves and to others. I’m just not sure manufacturing a ton of cheap junk is all that meaningful to anyone. Maybe, we could trade our disposable society for one that encourages high quality, carefully made items that will be with people for years. Maybe then we could afford to buy more expensive items and we could afford to pay the people who make them a fair, livable wage. And instead of being in a state of the perpetual Greedy Gimmees we could instead be in a state of perpetual gratitude for the care that was put into the items that go with us and gather memories during our lives.

So the next time you are considering a purchase ask yourself, “Am I really rich enough to buy cheap?”