indoor gardening: are cacti the new succulents?

We went through an air-plant phase. Then, terrariums. Then, table-top succulents were all the rage. All did wonders to bring a little green to our indoor spaces, and appeal to our modern, kitschy sensibilities. But recently we’ve noticed that trendmakers are starting to turn their well-manicured thumbs towards brightly colored catci arrangements, reminding us of a beloved plant from a long ago. Remember when every office had a little cactus sprouting in a pot? True, in certain spots of the country, cacti never go out of style — but we’re here to declare they’re in again. Because they don’t need much, other than sun and the rare sprinkle of water, they’re perfect to liven up any dreary space. We especially love the ones shown here, discovered via the UnCovet blog (above) and A Beautiful Mess, below.

Here are a a few tips on how to care for your indoor cactus plants, but remember: Those thorns are prickly! Use gloves and proceed with caution.

Related links:

Steal This Idea: Succulents in Bricks

deck before-and-after: no more splinters!

The straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back was when Isadora’s BFF Sophie got a splinter in her foot. This has become a common event in our home due delicate bare little feet and a back yard deck that is past its prime. When it is our own girl, we just grab the tweezers and muscle through the splinter extraction … but with Sophie, that was not an option. The girl wouldn’t sit still to save her life, so we sent her home early, teary-eyed and limping. The next week, Chad started investigating our deck options. At first he thought merely flipping the boards would do the trick. After testing a few, we sadly discovered the underside of the wood was not much smoother than the top surface. Our current budget and life-improvement-plans do not allocate for a brand new deck, so we went for plan B: Lets paint it. We debated using a traditional stain, but wanted something that would literally change the texture of the deck under our feet. After much debate, we went with a product called Behr Deckover. (We considered something called Rust-Oleum Restore but that seemed a bit more heavy duty than we needed.) Soon we began to embrace the fact that our deck would no longer look like wood, and instead decided to embrace its colorful future. We chose a slate grey for the floor and a pale grey for the railing. The resulting effect reminds me of a traditional Cape Cod feel. Chad also mixed in some sand with the paint, which gave it a bit of grit. That way the texture is not slippery, even when wet.

To complete this project, our deck had to be sanded, and then three coats of Behr Deckover were liberally applied. With all the rainy days we had recently, this took about a two weeks to complete. At $35 a gallon, the total project cost us about $280.

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:

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!

adventures in beekeeping 2.0: installing the new hives

This was the weekend we’ve been waiting for! Our bees have finally arrived. Chad picked them up from BetterBee on Saturday morning. When we had hives five years ago, they arrived in early May, but because it has been so cold here in the east, BetterBee postponed the distribution of the hives until June 1st. Unlike last time, when there was a spring chill in the air and the bees were a bit docile, this Saturday it was hot, hot, hot! As a result the bees seemed really active and eager to be in their new homes. We all donned our beekeeping suits and got in the on action — even Isadora, who was much more annoyed with the heat than she was the buzzing insects.

Here are some of the basics of Bee Hive Installation.

1. Give The New Hives A Drink

There are about 3 or 4 thousands bees in each of these boxes, and they make a lot of noise! While they are waiting for you install them, they are thirsty and anxious. We spritzed them with a sugar water solution to refresh and calm them.

2. Take The Queen Out First

The queen to each hive is in her own little box. It is on the nailed on top of the crate and needs to be gently pried off. You have to be careful doing this, because bees are not fans of vibrations — it makes them feel like they are being attacked. Take it nice and slow. You pull the queen’s box out and take off its lid. You will see that she has a sugar plug keeping her in there. You place the whole box into the hive, with a little wire mesh cradle to keep it in place. Eventually the queen will eat her way out and start getting busy making little bees.

3. Remove the can of sugar water in the box.
Each box comes with a tin can filled with sugar water that the bees have been living off of for days. You pull that out and place it near the hive. Be careful not to smush any bees while you do this. If you smush a bee it gives off a pheromone that makes other bees want to attack.

4. Shake out the bees into the hive.

The bees will just pour into the hives. It’s amazing to see! BetterBee suggestion that you put the whole crate inside the hives, but Chad prefers doing it this way. Afterwards, he just leaves the open crate near the front of the hive. Remaining stragglers will find their ways in!

5. Put the lid on the hives.

After you shake in the bees, place the honeycomb files back in carefully, and then place the lid on the hives. We put a heavy rock on the top stop any critters (or a heavy wind) from blowing it off.

Here’s another great article on how to install a beehive, from Treehugger.

For more of our previous beekeeping adventure, including some of perils we faced, see our archives. And follow me on Vine or Twitter @angelamatusik to see more videos.

Next update comes in two weeks!

jewelry for your trees: mquan birdhouses

I am not a jewelry person, but there is one line of fine trinkets that always makes me swoon: Me & Ro. Their delicate, often-Asian inspired pieces provide just the right amount of sparkle to compliment any chic wardrobe. (In fact, it’s where my engagement ring is from.) So it goes without saying that I was tickled to learn that one of Me & Ro‘s founders, Michele Quan, has branched out to make lovely objects for the home and garden. Yesterday, Rima Suqi (who always has a great eye) pointed out in The New York Times that many of Quan’s objects are meant to dangle from trees. Especially lovely are her birdhouses. Meant to attract little wrens, sparrows and warblers, they also have holes for ventilation and drainage. Each is painted by hand, and features quaint flowers, leaves or astronomical patterns. They are pricey — between $250 to $475 — but verge more towards a work of art than a garden accessory. Visit for more information.