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 (dhgate.com), 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.

How to Remove Label Residue (easy & non-toxic)

I had a couple of sticky things to deal with this morning, glue residue left after taking the label off a plastic bottle and sticker residue left on a polyester sport shirt that inadvertently got washed with the sticker still on.

Let’s start with the bottle label. I had a great plastic bottle left over after finishing up my Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Castile soap. But after pulling off the label I was left with a lot of sticky residue all over the bottle. It’s kinda hard to see in this pic, but believe me, it’s there.

Plastic Bottle Sticky Label Residue

So I went online for a little research and found that Eucalyptus oil, rubbed onto an adhesive residue will remove it quickly and easily and it smells great.


However, I recognize that not everyone has essential oil of Eucalyptus hanging around, so I decided to try another recommended method, vegetable oil.

I coated the bottle with vegetable oil and let it sit for about 1.5 hours. Then I came back and rubbed on the label residue. The oil had definitely started to do something to soften it, but it just all mushed around as I rubbed instead of coming off. So, I let it sit another hour or so (of course the website I got the instructions from said to let it sit overnight, I just didn’t have that kind of patience!).

So after another hour, I tried again and yes, Voilà! The sticky label residue rubbed right off and now I have a lovely clean, clear bottle that I can reuse for body oil, homemade shampoo, or whatever.


Homemade Sun Screen

The other day I bought a package of sunscreen for our son to take to camp.


Coppertone by Laura Gilmore used under a Creative Commons Attribution license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

It was a 2 bottle set with a small spray bottle of sunscreen and another small bottle (4oz.) of sunscreen lotion. It cost $10.99, which was supposed to be a great “promo-price.” I’m either very behind the times, which is entirely possible, or that’s an awful lot of money for 2 little bottles of sunscreen.

Most commercial sunscreens have several chemical compounds, some of which are of health concerns, see the Wikipedia article entitled: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potential_health_risks_of_sunscreen

One of the main, and most effective, inorganic compounds in sunscreen is zinc oxide. So, I thought, what the heck, maybe I should try making my own sunscreen.

As it happens, both our children have very sensitive skin and to date have only been able to use Coppertone’s Water Babies (even though at 13 and 16, they are hardly babies). This was another reason to try a homemade version.

As with most things, I found alot of articles online about making your own sunscreen. See references. However, I found this little gem on Wellness Mama:

An Even Faster Way To Make Sunscreen :

  • Get a bottle of your favorite lotion (that doesn’t contain citrus oils!)
  • Add a couple Tablespoons of Zinc Oxide
  • Mix well
  • Use as Sunscreen

Well, Hooray! Couldn’t be easier, right? And as long as we are not allergic to Zinc Oxide (which you can get very inexpensively at Bulk Apothecary), I can just mix some in with lotion that we know won’t give anyone a rash and we’re in business.

Once the zinc oxide arrives, I’ll mix up a batch and put up a quick tutorial on Hubpages. If you have recipes for homemade sunscreen that works, please comment. Thanks.

UPDATE: I made a batch this week and I have spent some time in some of our hottest days this week out in the sun. Anecdotal Conclusion: Homemade Sunscreen works just as well as the commercial brand I’ve been using! Find the full “How to” at: http://askjoanne.hubpages.com/hub/Easy-Homemade-Sunscreen

Update, 3 hours later.

The only place I did NOT reapply sunscreen was on my back. The homemade Sunscreen side of my back definitely got redder than the Water Babies side.

Other parts: arm, chest, leg where I used (and reapplied) the homemade sunscreen were great even after 3 hours on a scorcher of a day.

Conclusion: Homemade Sunscreen needs to be reapplied more frequently than commercial Sunscreen.


Homemade Organic Potting Soil

This post was originally posted in June 2013: Mixed up some potting soil this weekend. It was very easy to make, the texture is great, and it’s organic. I had always thought it was curious that most gardening sites recommend a sterile soil for seed starting and for propogating plants. I just loved this quote I found on the seedsavers.org forum:

I’d no sooner raise seedlings in sterile potting mix than raise kids in an apartment without a yard; some things that are done are just not natural.

So I started looking for information to backup this opinion and found this article online: http://naturalfamilytoday.com/lifestyle/a-dirty-little-secret-about-sterile-potting-mixes/ that made really good point.

The ultimate mixture for a potting mix should be teaming with life. Compost is the key in suppressing soil born disease. It is an amazing thing that the living organisms within the soil will eat each other. Your seedlings and young plants will have all the perfect nutrients in which to grow strong and healthy.

Their recipe for potting soil is 4 parts screened compost, 2 parts organic sphagnum peat moss, 1 part perlite and 1 part vermiculite (make sure they’re organic and not chemically treated).

Easy Homemade Potting Soil

We have a backyard composter where garden waste and kitchen scraps are composted. I don’t yet have a nice framed screen to screen the compost, but a bit of screening put over your mixing bucket will work just fine in a pinch.

I didn’t measure very carefully (lazy gardener!) but I did base my “parts” on the number of shovelfuls of material I used.

My plan for my lovely trug full of organic potting soil? I’ve started some cuttings of rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender. I will write more about that project and process next time.

Do you have a favorite recipe for potting soil? Please share.


What’s in Season: Connecticut Seasonal Produce Chart

This crop availability chart, created by the CT Department of Agriculture: http://www.ct.gov/doag/lib/doag/marketing_files/crop_calendar_updated_02-22-2013.pdf is handy for seeing what’s locally available.

CT Produce Chart

As much as I would like to, I haven’t yet been able to integrate this into my buying habits. I suppose it would help if I spent more time shopping at Shortt’s Farm and Garden Center instead of Stop & Shop.

So, what’s in season now (September)?

  • Apples
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Greens
  • Herbs
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Nectarines
  • Onions
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Plums
  • Potatoes
  • Raspberries
  • Summer Squash
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips
  • Watermelon
  • Winter Squash

A mighty bountiful time of year!

To get myself in the mood for some season cooking, I’ve decided to make Peach Cobbler for dessert for our Labor Day Picnic. In fact, it was the great price on peaches that got me thinking (again) about making more of an effort to eat locally.

Next, I have to learn about preserving… canning, fermenting, freezing, maybe even jams and jellies.

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Yellow Fuzzy Caterpillar: Apatelodes torrefacta

Look at this lovely we found on the deck last night…

Apatelodes torrefactaAfter a bit of research… and I did use Google Image Search to start (that handy little tool that lets you drag and drop an image onto the search page and it returns similar/related results) I found out that this is probably an

Apatelodes torrefacta, or Spotted Apatelodes, is a species of moth in the Bombycidae or Apatelodidae (if this family is considered valid) family. It is found from Maine and southern Ontario to Florida, west to Texas, and north to Wisconsin.

The wingspan is 32–42 mm. Adults are on wing from May to August. There are two generations per year in the south and one in the north.

The larvae feed on FraxinusPrunusAcer and Quercus species.

From: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatelodes_torrefacta

I had never seen one before… and quite frankly I think the adult moth that comes from this caterpillar is rather frightening looking.

Spotted Apatelodes, Apatelodes torrefacta
Spotted Apatelodes, Apatelodes torrefacta by Michael Hodge used under a Creative Commons Attribution license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

However, there is a joy in learning about new creatures in one’s environment, even if they are a little scary looking. The caterpillar is certainly an eye-catcher.

Hay Mulch – Why I will never neglect it again!

I’ve been an organic gardener for over 10 years now. I have always followed the Ruth Stout method of a year-round hay mulch on my garden. Before I had a compost bin, I used to compost kitchen scraps by burying them under the hay mulch. The hay itself  decomposes to keep the soil nourished. The hay also keeps the soil moist in drier weather and, most important of all to a lazy gardener, the hay keeps the weeds from growing.
Hay Bale 1Well, this past year, for a variety of reasons I didn’t “put the garden to bed” in the Fall with a new blanket of hay, nor did I order hay in the Spring for a fresh layer of mulch. I decided to try the green mulch method of Dick Joy. It has worked well so far in the area where I thickly planted green beans – that is, it’s shading the lettuce and also keeping down the weeds between the plants in that bed.

However, in the rest of the garden… the edges of the beds are getting over-run with weeds:


And it’s making me crazy! As a lazy gardener, who gets eaten alive by the ubiquitous mosquitos at this time of year, I can’t spend too much time out there weeding without getting covered in bites. Yet, looking at my poor veggies being over-run with crabgrassarrowleaf tearthumbasiatic dayflower andclover is so depressing!

This Fall, I’m definitely putting the garden to bed with a heavy layer of hay and in the Spring, I will “tuck in” all my garden beds with a nice thick layer of hay to keep the weeds at bay. Actually, I should probably order some hay right now (we get it from, Castle Hill Farm) so I can save myself weeding for the rest of the summer.

Do you have any secrets to keeping weeding to a minimum? I would love to hear them.

Softwood Cuttings – Mock Orange Propagation

After some initial success at herbaceous propagation (rooting cuttings from herbs), I decided to give it a try on a Mock Orange Bush (Philadelphus coronarius) I got from my sister a few years ago. She has since moved and I thought it would be great to give her back a cutting from the bush she gave me.

Falscher Jasmin (Philadelphus coronarius)

I did a little reading about Mock Orange plants and found this tidbit:

Mock orange will root if softwood cuttings are taken at this time of year. The cuttings should be treated with a rooting powder or liquid and stuck in a sand/peat media. The cuttings should be in partial shade and kept moist.

read more: http://www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/hortiscope/shrub/mckornge.htm

I started on June 3rd, when the bush was flowering and had soft, green shoots with new leaves. I snipped a few of the shoots just above a leaf node, but made sure to include at least one other leaf node on the cutting. I dipped the bottom of the cutting in rooting hormone and popped it into a prepared hole in my organic potting mix.

I watered them well and left them. That first day, I didn’t even think of covering the cuttings with plastic to keep them moist and prevent them from dying from over-transpiration. By the end of the day they were totally flopsy and looked about ready to keel over. 🙂

So I did a little more reading and found:

A greenhouse is not necessary for successful propagation by stem cuttings; however, maintaining high humidity around the cutting is critical….. Maintain high humidity by covering the pot with a bottomless milk jug or by placing the pot into a clear plastic bag.

read more: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/hil-8702.html

So, I watered them some more, said a little prayer and covered them with some translucent grocery bags. I also moved them to the North side of the house so that they would be protected from the sun.

Softwood Cuttings with Grocery Bags

So, it’s now over 2 weeks later. I’m not sure how long they will take to root. I found some info online that said 2-3 weeks. But it didn’t specify if that was for herbaceous or softwood cuttings. My guess is that it will take at least 3 weeks or maybe more.

Softwood Cuttings
Mock Orange Cuttings after 2 weeks.

They’re not quite as perky as when I first took the cuttings, but they’re not dead yet! So, there’s hope. I’ll keep you posted on how they do.

Oddities of Gardeners – Why I Love my Soil Knife

Have you ever had this happen… you’re out gardening and a weed catches your eye, you pull it. Then you see another and another. Somehow you end up about 15 feet away from your trowel (or clippers, or knife..) and you come upon a monster weed that requires digging up instead of pulling up. You’re so into the task of conquering this weed that getting up to walk the 15 feet to your trowel doesn’t even occur to you and instead you find yourself tugging, pulling, even digging at the weed with a nearby stick instead of stopping to get up and get the right tool?

Ok, so maybe I’m strange, but that has certainly happened to me… on more than one occasion.

Soil Knife

Enter the greatest gardening tool I have ever owned, my soil knife. This knife is a multi-function tool that, in my opinion, is all I need on a regular day in the garden. It has depth markings on the blade, a little notch in the side for cutting twine or string, a super strong blade and sturdy handle, and a serrated edge (which was perfect for the lettuce crew cut I did this morning). It even comes with a handy-dandy leather sheath that can hook onto your belt.

I use this knife to dig holes for transplants, to stir up the soil before broadcasting seeds, to cut twine, to tie up floppy plants and even to gouge out weeds and sweep them under the garden walkways to decompose.

Just this weekend I learned a new way of harvesting lettuce where my soil knife comes in very handy. Previously I had just harvested the outer leaves of lettuce to make my salad, but I read of another method in Garden Way’s Joy of Gardening. The author recommends giving your early lettuce a crew cut instead of cutting just a few leaves. He says pulling just a few leaves allows the lettuce to keep on with it’s original life-cycle toward bolting and flowering and that giving the lettuce a crew cut forces it to start again with tender new leaves in a few weeks time, thereby giving you an easy second harvest and possibly a third after that before the plants are done for the season.

Soil KnifeHe also recommends sowing seeds very thickly in a wide row instead of using the recommendations on the seed packets. The lettuce plants above were transplants fromShortt’s Organic Farm, but the picture below shows how I did sow some lettuce seed very thickly. They’re still too small to harvest, but will be ready soon.

Baby Lettuce

If you have gardening tips to share on how to make gardening easier or increase yields, I would love to hear from you.