new eco-cleaner review: giving replenish a try

When it comes to all purpose cleaners, there are three things we look for. One: Does it do the job without harming any surfaces? Two: Is it eco-friendly? And, three: Does it smell nice? So when we heard about a new cleaner called Replenish, we were curious to try. Replenish is a concentrated cleaner that comes with its own specially designed bottle. The soap/action part of it attaches to the bottom of the bottle, which is then filled with water. Give it a couple of squeezes and a bit of the yummy-smelling concentrates enters the “water” part of the bottle. Shake it up and you’re ready to clean! Here’s how Replenish stacked up for us:

Upside:
1. Does it do the job?
Yes, it does clean things down. We tried it on wood, marble and stainless. All were good.
2. Does it smell nice?
Yes! We used the green tea scent and it is pretty heavenly.
3. Is it eco-friendly?
Yes! Not only is the bottle biodegradable, but when it comes time to refill, you only have to buy the concentrate part — which saves plastic and money. Each “pod” provides enough cleaner for three full bottles. In our house, that would last us a couple of months!
Downside: The first thing you realize about Replenish is how much water is in our everyday cleaners. If this can do the job so well, why not just make your own? Also, the bottle is a commitment. One of the nice thing about cleaners in general is that they all use the same vessels. You can make your own or buy a big lug of replacement cleaner and essentially have the same eco-effect as Replenish. I might be a bit dim (it happens at moments), but when I went to “shake” my cleaner up to mix the solution, the cap wasn’t screwed on tightly and I ended up giving myself and the floor a bit of an early bath.
Verdict: If you’re not already committed to an eco-cleaner, and are looking to give one a try, we recommend Replenish. You should get a lot of cleaning out of your first purchase, $7. Replacement pods are $4 each; available at Safeway and WholeFoods, among other retailers.

To learn more about Replenish, visit their website, or watch the video below.

Other cleaning stories:
Method’s New Ocean Plastic Bottle Takes Recycling To Whole New Level

We Tried It: Method’s New Spray In Fabric Softener

Make Your Own Cleaners: They Work!

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the 2013 cicada invasion hits our backyard

If you live on the Eastern seaboard, you’ve heard about the impending cicada invasion. Supposedly there are about a billion of these little red-eyed buggers emerging from the ground every square mile. They start their rise to the surface, after being dormant for 16 years once the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees. That must have been what happened on Wednesday evening, because we went out into our backyard and found them everywhere. While not exactly biblical in numbers, they are bountiful and easy to spot. They especially seem to enjoy parking themselves on our daughter’s swingset. They come out of the earth small and brown nymphs, and then crawl onto to something where they can “hatch” out of their exoskeletons. It’s pretty trippy to discover them mid-hatched. They come out looking like white albino bugs, but then turn dark and almost, dare I say, beautiful. Their wings are iridescent and their eyes are indeed beady and red. Our girl has been having great fun corralling them for my photog husband, who is documenting them in all their glory. We’re currently investigating cicada recipes — apparently they taste a bit like corn and are high in protein. We’ll do some experiments and report back here.

Is your yard being overrun by cicada’s yet? Would you eat them? Share your tales here!

Photo by Chad Hunt Photography.

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dog poop composting — yes or no? a topic revisited

We share great recipes, muse about building the best playsets for our children, and delight in objects that add a little beauty to our days. But what post from more than five years ago is still getting regular comments from readers? Dog poop composting! With that kind of interest, we decided it was high time to revisit the topic.

My dog poop composter: no longer in business

First, my update: we stopped using our DIY dog poop composter after a few months. (If you’re not the DIY type, you can purchase dog waste composters, too.) Reader comments had tipped me off to some potential hazards of the compost, and as I said in my original post, two big dogs = a lot of output. Our bin filled up fast, and it seemed the waste wasn’t really going anywhere. So we went back to bagging. I’ve done more reseplace for this post, and here’s what I’ve found out.

Dog poop composting: the negatives

Maybe it’s because the Pacific Northwest is full of environmental types and ample waterways, but it seems a lot of the negative press on dog waste composting originated here:

  • The Public Works department in nearby Snohomish County, where a four-year study was conducted on pet waste composting, flat-out calls dog poop composters a bad idea: “They may seem practical, but they do not kill hazardous pathogens that may be in the waste and can pollute water. Landfills are designed to safely handle substances such as dog waste, cat litter, and dirty diapers. Yards are not.”
  • King County (where Seattle is located) is officially okay with it, but Tom Watson from King County’s Recycling and Environmental Services was less than enthusiastic in this 2009 article for the Seattle Times.
  • The City of Eugene, Oregon is cautiously okay with burying the waste, but discourages against using the actual resulting compost. Their study found that harmful bacteria and disease is present even when dog waste has turned to compost. Compost Gardening sums it up well:

Compost specialists obtained samples and tested them for salmonella, coliform bacteria, and other nasties. “We then allowed the material to sit for another six months and tested it again, hoping time and microbial competition would bring the material into the ‘safe’ level,” wrote compost specialist Anne Donahue. “It didn’t.”

Eighteen months after the crumbly-looking compost was set aside to cure, it still contained enough microbial pathogens to contaminate a planting of leafy greens.

Dog poop composting: the positives

That’s not to say opinions out there are 100% negative:

  • The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District offered dog waste composting as a solution for sled dogs. This publication from 2005 gives a detailed how-to, along with troubleshooting tips. (Note: PDF at the link takes some time to load.)
  • How-to articles from National Geographic and the Sierra Club are also pretty good endorsements for the practice.
  • This CNN/Mother Nature News article is for composting, but not for using the resulting compost: “bury it deep” is the advice (there are also some good links to more information in the article).
  • Sharon Slack at City Farmer, where I first got my compost bin how-to, has had practical success. Because Slack lives in a part of Canada where putting dog waste in the garbage is forbidden, she has been composting it for more than 15 years and says she’s only had to empty the bin once in that time.

Pet waste composting caveats

It’s a simple fact that pet waste composting poses more potential hazards than regular food and yard composting. These are the big cautions:

Don’t compost pet waste anywhere near water sources or edibles gardening

Keep the bin away from your growing vegetables, fruits and any water sources (one source said at least 100 feet from water sources). Once the waste has broken down, you can use the compost on ornamental plants, but never on something you intend to eat. (Or as the City of Eugene recommended, bury the waste, but don’t use the resulting compost at all.)

Cat or other animal waste?

Do your reseplace on other types of waste, but make sure any cat litter is biodegradable. This Root Simple post may help.

Make sure your pet waste compost will heat up consistently to 145ºF

As Tom Watson said in the Seattle Times, pet waste composters must reach high enough temperatures to kill hazardous pathogens — the USDA report says this means the bin must reach 145ºF at least once a day for several days. The Sierra Club article recommends adding other materials to keep things hot. If you’re willing to take your compost’s temperature several times daily, the USDA report has this advice:
Temperatures in fresh compost mixtures rise quickly—up to 160º F and greater—then decline slowly until the compost temperature approaches air temperature. If you do not see this rapid rise and gradual decline of internal temperatures, the compost recipe may need to be adjusted.
That same report includes suggestions for getting your compost mix correct.

The bottom line: whether you compost doo or bag it, ALWAYS PICK IT UP

The worst thing you can to do the environment is just leave your dog waste lying where it is. Check out this dog waste infographic at Mother Nature News: dog waste left on the ground can contaminate water up to 20 miles away. Dog waste contains parasites that can sicken humans. Decomposing dog waste in the water robs fish of oxygen. And on and on.

So, dog waste composting wasn’t right for me, but what about you — what will you do with the doo?

Photo by Flickr user Nick Herber; used by Creative Commons License.

 

 

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my first raised vegetable garden: filling it up

After Craigslist scouring, I ended up with nearly enough cement blocks to build two raised garden beds (I had to buy about seven new to fill the gaps, which added up to around $8). The next step was to calculate how much soil I would need to fill each, starting by using this really nifty soil volume calculator at Gardener’s Supply Company, which told me that I would need 75 cubic feet (or 2.765 cubic yards) of soil to fill one bed. Gardener’s Supply lists a “recipe” for raised bed fill as follows:

  • 60 percent topsoil (I would need 45 cubic feet for each of my beds)
  • 30 percent compost (22.5 cubic feet)
  • 10 percent soilless growing mix that contains peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite (7.5 cubic feet)

That kind of volume meant that bagged materials were out of the question. If I went the Home Depot route, buying Earthgro ($2.47/cubic foot),  Ecoscraps compost ($5.97/cubic foot) and  Grower’s Gold Outdoor Growing Mix ($10/1.5 cubic feet), I’d end up paying nearly $300 to fill each bed!

There’s got to be a cheaper way.

And there is! If you have access to clippings, cardboard, and kind neighbors, check out this simple recipe at Eco Films Australia:

  • Top layer: straw
  • Layer 2: compost
  • Layer 3: newspaper and cardboard
  • Layer 4: grass clippings
  • Layer 5: rough mulch
  • Bottom layer: branches

The gardener in question swears by this mix for growing great plants. But while I do have great neighbors, what I don’t have is patience. So I ended up contacting a local green landscaper for a bulk delivery of their growing mix: topsoil mixed with compost. I paid about $248 to get five yards delivered, and this was more than enough to fill each bed and have a big pile left over for another section of the yard that needed some love. And then came the plants — in my next garden post.

Image via Eco Films Australia.

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re-energized by design: the kitchen challenge

This is a sponsored post.

The moment everyone’s been waiting for is here! The reveal of the final rooms in the Re-Energized by Design Competition is live, in a super-sized two parter. This time, the two remaining teams have TWICE the budget, a room full of LED lighting from GE Lighting, and a full range of gorgeous and energy efficient appliances from Frigidaire to pimp their room. We are REALLY going to see some major transformations happening here.

The GE LED lighting is available in many different “temperatures” of color, something that can dramatically affect in how things look in your kitchen. I experienced this first hand after I painted my own kitchen recently. I loved the paint color in daylight, but at night, the color looked awful. I switched out to a softer LED bulb (3000K) and it made ALL THE DIFFERENCE. And I won’t be needing to change the bulb (or the wall color, thankfully) for 25 years!

I really wish our team, the Bedford family, had made it to this final round. They could have really benefitted from those new Frigidare Gallery appliances — the ultra efficient induction range alone is a huge safety boost for families with young children (less burning risk). There’s no need to replace existing cookware, either — if a magnet sticks to the pan, it will work with induction. And a convection oven is a must-have for those of us who love to bake.

The Sayers, of course, did not disappoint in this challenge by using some unconventional materials to maximize their budget — and because they are obviously just cool like that. I loved their use of the salvaged steel chalkboard as a backsplash; and that mirror in the kitchen (though I wouldn’t want to be the one cleaning it) reminds me of my days as a culinary instructor, where we taught with a huge mirror over the butcher block. All this and surprisingly below budget!

The Reilly family has consistently been more traditional in their design choices, though I’ll admit I really liked what they did in the kitchen. Nothing wrong with the combination of white subway tile and dark grout, I always say. And the paint treatment on the cabinets? Spot On. No matter what team wins the grand prize, both these families have beautiful new kitchens to enjoy for years and years to come.

What do you think of the final room? Is it the Sayers family’s funky loft or the Reilly’s clean classic kitchen that should earn the $5000 grand prize? Watch and see who takes home the giant check below!

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