Planting Spring Onions

Originally published on on April 13, 2013


Last weekend I planted onion sets. We mostly eat them as scallions/green onions instead of letting them mature to full sized onions.

Green Onions

We use the year-round mulch method of gardening. I learned about it from reading Ruth Stout’s book :How to Have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back

So the garden is rather messy looking most of the time, but the soil under the hay and leaves is organic and rich and fertile.


This is what the plot looked like when I started, covered over with the winter blanket of hay and leaf mulch.

Planting onion sets is easy. Just clear away the mulch, I use my handy-dandy soil knife to move the hay and “rough up” the soil a little bit.


Then, throw about the tiny onions on the plot


The onion sets are sown thickly because we eat the thinnings.

Then just press down the onions into the soil… making sure the root end is down and the stem end is up.


Then cover them lightly with hay.

Lightly cover with straw

And wait for your scallions to come up. Yum.

I recently saw an article about re-growing green onions. Cool idea, I’ll have to give it a try..

28 April 2013: Onion Update. They’re popping up! Had some in a batch of homemade coleslaw last night. Delicious.


Homemade Coconut Oil Body Balm

Body Balm in Glass Jar
Body Balm in Glass Jar

My sister was the first one to introduce me to coconut oil as a body/beauty product. However, because it’s solid at temps below 76 degrees, you practically have to chisel it out of the container to be able to use it in cool weather.

I started this project in early spring, so the first goal was to find a way to soften the coconut oil so that it could be easily scented with essential oils and easily rubbed into the skin.

So, I began by putting together a mix of 1/2 coconut oil and 1/2 safflower oil, melting it, and adding essential oils.

Then let the mixture cool to room temp, which, at the time, was in the 60’s (degrees F). It came out ok, but the coconut oil got a little grainy. It smelled fantastic. And melted in my hands as I applied it. So, a limited success.

I did learn that it’s better to put the balm right into the fridge for a quick cool … that way the coconut oil doesn’t get a chance to be grainy.

I also learned that it’s not necessary to use the pan and the hand blender. You can actually melt the coconut oil right in a water bath (sort of a double-boiler) using the 4 oz. mason jar. Then adding the safflower oil and scented oils afterward. Giving the jar a good shake after you seal it is all the mixing you need.

This keeps you from having to wash the hand blender or the pan afterward (as long as you don’t spill any oil into the water bath.) Easy is better. 🙂

So this has been episode one of the Coconut Oil Body Balm Saga.

Did you ever watch the Muppets? Do you remember Veterinarian’s Hospital?

“And now, the continuing stoooory of a quack who’s gone to the dogs,”

“Tune in next week when you’ll hear Joanne say…it’s getting warm in here!”

Why Coconut Oil?

So, if you’ve been reading this blog recently you know I’ve been experimenting with making body balm (and other things) with coconut oil. I use it mostly because it’s smooth and sensuous, but there are actually other, more practical reasons for using coconut oil.

Coconut Oil

According to abstracts at the National Institute of Health, Coconut oil is anti-fungal and isrecommended for use in the treatment of fungal infections. It is also recommended for the treatment for xerosis (dry skin). There’s yet another abstract on the antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut oil on atopic dermatitis. And these are just on the topical uses, there is lots of other information, like the article at WebMD on the benefits of the food uses of coconut oil.

I’ve used one of my unscented coconut oil blends as a makeup remover, face wash, moisturizer and even as a treatment for rosacea (more on that in another post.)

If you’re buying coconut oil from the grocery or health food store you are probably paying upwards of $8.00 for 14 oz. A much less expensive way is to buy in bulk from a place like Bulk Apothecary. Where you can get 1 lb of food grade coconut oil for $3.95.

Do you use coconut oil? If so, how and why?

Coconut Oil Treatment for Rosacea

Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that makes your face turn red and may cause swelling and skin sores that look like acne.

There is no known cure.


I have had Rosacea since around the time my son was born. It was years before I sought a Doctor’s diagnosis because it would come and go… flare up and then calm down. Finally, after seeing a dermatologist, I got a diagnosis and was prescribed Finacea for treatment. It did help for a long time. But recently, when I tried Finacea to treat a flare-up, it made my skin sting and burn and itch so terribly I figured there had to be another solution.

Since I have been using my homemade coconut oil balm as a face wash and moisturizer, I decided I would just use some extra as a treatment for the flareup.

Rosacea Flare UpThe picture above is day 1 of a bad flare up. Very red, hot, swollen face. 🙁

I gently applied coconut oil throughout the day, it felt cool and soothing instead of the burning sting from the Finacea. I used the coconut oil balm to wash my face each morning and evening and as a moisturizer throughout the day.

On the second day, my skin was still red and hot to touch, but the swelling seemed to go down alot.

Rosacea Treatment - Coconut Oil

The next phase was that the skin was very dry and rough, as if the swollen, irritated layer of skin had shrunk and died. It wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as when it was red and swollen, but I felt like I had elephant hide on my cheeks. I kept gently cleansing with the coconut oil and using extra as a moisturizer.

Coconut Oil treatment for Rosacea After that the rough dry skin began to peel… not like a sunburn peel, but more like flaking off. It was a challenge to try not to scratch off the flaky skin. Instead I applied more coconut oil and used a soft washcloth for gentle exfoliation.

I continued to see improvement and by about the 9th day, my skin was back to being smooth and soft, very little extra redness (just my usual), no dryness, no flakiness, no itch or burn, just my skin – hooray!

Coconut Oil Treatment for Rosaeaa

I hope that the continued use of coconut oil will prevent flare ups, but I haven’t been using it long enough to know. I do know though, that coconut oil as a natural treatment for a rosacea flare-up was a gentle, comfortable, easy and inexpensive treatment that worked.

DIY Reed Oil Diffuser – Fail :-(

I found a great article online a while ago on how to make an inexpensive reed oil diffuser at home. These diffusers are a wonderful way to gently scent a room without opting in to the “Glade plug in” route. So, I thought it would be great to make my own at home.

I used the instructions at:

I used mineral oil, vodka and orange and lemon essential oils. I had a old, empty diffuser hanging around, so I had the bottle and the reeds.

DIY Reed Diffuser Fail

But, silly me, didn’t realize that oil and vodka won’t stay mixed (think oil and vinegar salad dressing.)

So far, the reeds still have the leftover scent from the previous store-bought contents. I don’t know if they will begin to pickup the new essential oil scent. I guess I could be patient and see what happens. But personally I think it looks so silly as is that I probably will dump it out and try a new recipe.

Basically all I need is a way to thin out the mineral oil to be the correct viscosity to diffuse through the reeds. I suppose I could use another kind of oil…but I don’t want anything that would go rancid and defeat the purpose of a pleasant scent!

Suggestions? Ideas?

Gardener’s Hand Scrub Recipe (easy!)

As a gardener, I am frequently out there in the dirt (with or without my garden gloves) and have found that good soil can really embed itself in skin and fingernails.

Dirty hands

“Dirty hands” © Håkan Dahlström used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

I used to use a great hand scrub by Mary Kay… but since I’ve started living crunchier, I thought I would see what I could make from home. I found a good recipe at One Good Thing by Jillee but instead of using the pink Dawn dish soap as she recommends, I used lavender (seemed like a good idea at the time). But the color of the pale purple with the sugar made the scrub a sort of grey color, bleh! And for whatever reason, I didn’t like the way my hands felt afterward.

So I tried again…. this time I used peppermint castile soap, sugar and a little bit of safflower oil (the castile and sugar alone felt very drying.) I used 1/2 cup of sugar, 3 Tbs of Peppermint Castile Soap and 2 Tbs safflower oil.

This stuff works great, smells fresh and costs very little to make. Next time I think I’m going to make it with lavender castile soap or maybe the unscented and add some essential oils for scent.

Another great use of Castile Soap for Handwashing, it is to use a foaming soap dispenser and combination of 1 part soap to 3 parts water. You can also heavily dilute regular liquid hand soap when using a foaming dispenser.

Plant Propagation – New Plants from Cuttings

After experiencing a bit of “sticker shock” after a foray into the garden store…. somehow all those plants just leaped into my carriage! I decided that I would give plant propagation a try.

Dip cuttings in Rootone
A few years ago, I got a little “pot maker” that makes tiny pots out of newspaper. They’re very handy in that I can make as many as I want and then when it’s time to transplant the seedlings or cuttings, the paper pot can go right into the soil and will decompose.

I used the homemade organic potting soil from the other day, well moistened, to fill the pots. I took cuttings from Rosemary, Sage, Lavender, Thyme and Basil. Dipped the cuttings in a little Rootone and tucked them into the pots. I then gave them a good watering and covered my trays with plastic grocery bags to keep in the moisture. The one bummer about these pots is that I don’t think they would work as well if you tried to water from the bottom, which is what a lot of seed starting and propagating websites advise. I guess I could try it… but with paper pots, I’m not sure how it would go.

It’s been a couple of days and the cuttings seem to be doing well. At least they’re not dead yet! I’m not sure how long it will take until they have roots enough to be transplanted… time for some more reading and research.

What plants have you propagated from cuttings? Do you have any hints or tips to share?

Why Not Use Peat Moss?

Just the other day I wrote a post about making organic potting soil with peat moss as one of the major components.


According to

“Canadian sphagnum peat moss is a natural, organic soil conditioner that regulates moisture and air around plant roots for ideal growing conditions. It will help to:

  • Save Water.
  • Aerate Heavy, Clay Soil.
  • Bind Sandy Soil.
  • Reduce Leaching.
  • Protect Soil.
  • Make Better Compost.”

Then I started doing some research on Peat Moss. I found that peat moss is not a readily renewable resource at the rate we are currently consuming it.

Peat moss is the partially decomposed remains of formerly living sphagnum moss from bogs.

Peat moss is mined, which involves scraping off the top layer of living sphagnum moss. The sphagnum peat bog above the mined product is a habitat for plants like sundews, butterwort and bog rosemary, as well as rare and endangered animals like dragonflies, frogs and birds, not to mention the living moss itself.

Yes, peat moss is a renewable resource, but it can take hundreds to thousands of years to form.

read more:

Wow, I never thought of all that…. and all this time I’ve been using peat moss without even thinking of the long term consequences. (H’mmm how common is that?)

So I started my search for substitutes and found that there are a couple of good ones: Coconut Coir and Leaf Mold.

Coconut coir is one material being suggested as a good replacement for peat moss. It’s a byproduct of the coconut processing industry. It’s made from the fibers found between the husk and shell of a mature ripe coconut. The brown fibers are high in lignin and are water-proof.”Coco” doormats and stuffing for automobile seats and mattresses are made from coconut coir fiber.

read more:

You should be able to get coconut coir at your local garden store, though I haven’t shopped for it since I discovered the other good peat moss substitute is easier for me to get (and free)!

Leaf mold is the result of leaves on the forest floor decomposing. You can’t buy it, but all you need to make it are leaves, moisture and time. I had thought to mix leaves in with my compost, and you can do this to a small degree if you chop the leaves up finely, but the kind of decomposition of a compost pile is slightly different. Leaf mold relies almost exclusively on fungus and compost relies more on bacteria (as well as fungus).

At any rate, leaves are something we have plenty of!

Catching up with Autumn

“Catching up with Autumn” by McKay Savage used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

In fact my dear husband thinks we might be able to break a record for the largest human-raked leaf pile. It’s not as tall now after some heavy rains (thank you Tropical Storm Andrea), but it was quite impressive this fall! And all raked by hand (no leaf blower for us.:-)

The leaf pile

Unfortunately, it takes at least 6 months to a year to make leaf mold. I did read that you can speed up the creation of leaf mold by layering leaves with some alfalfa meal or other “activator” (I have to look into this more…) But since this giant leaf pile has been growing since 2001, I think I could probably get all the leaf mold I need by digging under and around the edges of it.

So, I’m a convert. No more peat moss for me. It’s leaf mold all the way for my organic potting soil. I read that leaf mold makes a really nice mulch for perennial beds too.


Homemade Laundry Detergent (again)

Based on the number of times I’ve written about homemade laundry detergent, one would think I just love laundry… but no, it’s actually my nemesis. It is one of those household tasks that is endless. You no sooner get all the clean clothes put away and the hamper is overflowing again.

The worst is when I’ve put off doing laundry for so long that the whole family is running out of clean underwear. My Mom gave me a tip years ago to buy enough underclothing for everyone in the family so you get a little extra time… I think we all have at least 1+ weeks worth, but somehow I still get behind!

Anyway, today’s post is another version of the homemade powdered laundry detergent I made a month or so ago. I had used Fels Naptha laundry soap along with Borax and Washing Soda. However, Fels Naptha is not as readily available as Ivory Soap in the grocery stores where I shop. So I made a variation.


Since Fels Naptha is specifically a laundry soap and Ivory Soap is not, I added another ingredient, OxiClean. I use the OxiClean spot cleaner on stains and it works beautifully.

The laundry detergent recipe I used is:

  • 1 bar Ivory soap, grated
  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Washing Soda
  • 1/2 cup OxiClean

Just like with my other recipe, you only need 1-2 small scoops (tablespoons) per load of laundry. So far, it’s working great. Easy to make, VERY inexpensive, cleans the clothes and doesn’t irritate my sensitive-skinned family.

Speaking of laundry… gotta run, another load is ready to go into the dryer….

“Generic” Magic Eraser – a less expensive option

I love the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for cleaning tough spots… like the persistent mildew we seem to get in the shower of our master bathroom. The previous owners painted over the 1970′s green tile with white paint. While it made a great first impression when we were buying the house, not only has the paint started peeling away, but also gets terrible mildew that seems to seep from under the paint.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

However, since getting the shower sparkling clean (especially this time of year when the humidity and moisture seem to make the mildew explode) takes an entire magic eraser, and they cost about a dollar each (and that’s on sale!), I thought it was time to find a better way.

I started doing a little research on making “homemade” magic erasers and quickly found that the secret to the magic eraser is not some super-duper chemical formula, but is actually that they are made of Melamine Foam.

In the early 21st century it was discovered that melamine foam was an effective abrasive cleaner. The open-cell foam is microporous and its polymeric substance is very hard, so that when used for cleaning it works like extremely fine sandpaper, getting into tiny grooves and pits in the object being cleaned. On a larger scale the material feels soft.

Rubbing with a slightly moistened foam may remove otherwise “uncleanable” external markings from surfaces.

Ah ha! So, now all I need to do is find a less expensive substitute. As it happens with many things, buying something “generic” vs. the “brand name” is probably the best way to approach this.

When shopping for substitutes, you have to pay attention to size… some of the melamine foam substitutes being sold on Amazon are very small, like the 30 pack of sponges for $14, only 46 cents each. The dimensions are 3.5 by 1.5 by .6 inches. The dimensions of the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are 5 x 2.5 x .75 inches, that’s a big difference in size.


I found a wholesale source online (, that sells melamine foam sponges for about 11 cents each. They are smaller than the Mr. Clean brand, but not by too much, they are approximately 4 x 2.4 x.75 inches. An inch shorter and slightly less wide, but the same thickness. I just ordered some today. I’ll let you know how they work out.