Saturday, May 26, 2012

Clean Freak

Alright, I am moving into all-out hippiness and that's ok. I decided to try making my own soapy products; laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, and soap wash your dishes. My first reaction to homemade recipes like these is 'geesh hippy.' But then again, why do we have these arbitrary rules on what should and shouldn't be homemade.

And I like being a hippy. So here it goes.

Washing soda- $3.24. (yellow box) Main cleaning agent. More caustic than baking soda.
Baking soda- $0.99 (orange box). Not crucial, you can stick to washing soda only but it works well if you are washing with hard water.
White distilled vinegar- $1.1. Softens clothes.
Borax- $3.38. Helps remove stains. Sometimes called "20 Mule Team."
Lemon juice (not from concentrate). You can grate a little of the zest and mix that in too.
Fels-naphta soap- $0.97. Or just your favorite bar of soap (Ivory is good too).
Castile Soap- $9.95. Kind of expensive but worth it. Very concentrated and environmentally-friendly soap. You can by it unscented or scented (almond, lavender, eucalyptus). If you are using the unscented version, you can then add a few drops of essential oil to your final soapy mixtures. This was the only expensive ingredient, but you use so little of it, it's worth it in the long run.

Make sure to read ALL the instructions before getting started!

Powdered Laundry Soap
1 cup of vinegar
1 cup of baking soda
1 cup of washing soda
1 cup of borax
1/4 cup of liquid catile soap.

Just pour all the ingredients together and mix, mix, mix!!! This is the key here, if you stop mixing and stirring too early, the ingredients congeal together in a solid white chunk.

FYI, when you add the vinegar to your mix it will start fizzing. You just gotta keep mixing until it gradually dries and looks like cottage cheese or popcorn. Then you can let it dry for about 1/2 hour and squish it to get a fine powder. You're done! Make sure to keep in an airtight container. This makes about a quart of soap and you should use about 1/4 cup per load.

I also decided to try liquid laundry soap. The powdered version takes up a lot less room, doesn't need to be heated, but is more time-consuming and stressful to make. In case you didn't hear me before, you need to stir, and when I mean stir, I mean freaking stir.
A long time.
Or it will turn into a hockey puck.
You'll try to chisel away at it.
And you'll eventually throw the whole thing away in frustration.

The liquid version is a lot easier...

Liquid Laundry Soap
1/2 Fels-Naphta soap
1 cup of borax
1 cup of washing soda

In a large pot, bring 1 gallon of water to a boil. Grate your soap as you would cheese and mix it in.  Add the borax and washing soda and lower the heat. Once everything has melted, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool down.

Then dump everything in a 5 gallon bucket and add another gallon of cold water, stirring slowly. Let sit overnight. By morning, the soap will have "gelled." You can either transfer all this into an old laundry soap container, divvy the mixture into two empty milk jugs, or keep everything in the 5 gallon bucket. Done!

Dish Soap
1.5 cups water
1/2 cup castile soap
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp shredded soap

This is pretty much the same thing as the laundry soap. Bring the water to a boil and melt the grated soap. Turn off heat and add all the other ingredients until they are dissolved. This mixture is pretty concentrated so use sparingly or dilute in water. If your soap isn't scented, you can add a few drops of tea tree oil.

Dishwasher Soap
1.5 cups of water
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup castile soap
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp washing soda

You can add 2 tbsp of lemon juice if your soap is not already scented. Bring the water and vinegar to a boil. Turn off the heat and add all other ingredients until they are dissolved. Again, this is concentratedl; use 2-3 tbsp/load.

I did not perform a fancy scientific experiment to keep track of how many loads of laundry I get from store-bought soaps vs. homemade. Websites and blogs have calculated all this pretty precisely. All I can say is that all the items cost me roughly $20, which is the same as a large container of laundry soap at Costco. After making all this though, everything except the soap bar looks barely touched, which means I can still make several more batches with the remaining ingredients. The price breakdown seems to be $0.01-0.10 per load with homemade recipes vs. on average $0.25 with store-bought detergent. Other people factor in time spent buying the ingredients, etc. Honestly, I just wanted to test this out.

A few reminders
-Your soapy mixtures will not have as many suds. Store-bought versions are made to produce a lot of bubbles, but it does not make your laundry any cleaner.
- Same goes with smell, we're so used to store-bought soaps that are overloaded with 'fresh mountain air' or 'wildflower meadow' smells that at first your laundry won't smell as clean. But it is! Again, if you want soaps that are more scented, there are a variety of essential oils you can buy. Don't add perfume though.
-Definitely invest in a funnel.
- All of the liquid soaps might separate or harden between uses. No big deal, the mixture is still fine, don't throw it away. Just shake or stir before using.
- Some conversions
1/4 cup castile soap = 1/2 bar of Fels-Naphta soap = 1 bar of regular soap.
You can use all three interchangeably. The soap bars just need to be grated and melted.
- Watch out these soaps and chemicals are all very concentrated, I got a huuuge soap high doing this.
- These recipes came from various cool blogs, if you want to check them out!

Next on my list? Homemade shoes. Why the heck not.

Friday, May 18, 2012


So this is how my pantry looked like as of a few days ago. Not very visually-exciting. Bags were breaking, stuff was leaking, and some items were lost forever within the inaccessible depths of my shelves. I found an onion-dip mix that expired in 2009.

But more importantly, not environmentally-exciting either. There is sooo much waste in packaging. Even if you buy organic food, unprocessed food, healthy food, what-have-you food, it is always wrapped, bound, enclosed in shiny, sparkly, crispy plastic.

Spring cleaning and lots of rethinking is in order. My belated 2012 resolution: I am no longer buying grains/dried fruit/pasta etc in these cute little colorful packages. Bulk is the way to go. You can buy as little or as much as you want, it's usually cheaper, you can see what you're buying, and you are not buying A LOT of useless plastic and cardboard.

Here are my tips to try and save a little on packaging:

1. Buy as much of your food as you can in bulk. You can even bring your own plastic bags to the store and refill them a million times. Some even bring their tupperware/containers directly to the store and then deduct their weight off the total at the checkout aisle. Some stores will let your grind your own coffee.

Furthermore, most boxes of things like chips, popcorn, or cereal are only filled halfway. Individual servings of the same items, or things like kid snacks are even more ridiculous. I've refused to buy things based on their packaging (apples wrapped in hard plastic at Costco, 'pouches' of fruit juice for kids, itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny packets of chips, etc). The various company reps will say it's necessary to leave empty space in the box so the product can breathe or as a buffer so the chips won't get squished, etc.

For more info on this "wasted space" in food packaging, check out this article from ConsumerReports:

2. Don't buy individual servings of food. This will be the demise of modern civilization. Just divvy up your snacks, no biggie.

3. Don't take the plastic bags provided in the grocery store. I'm talking both the ones at the produce section as well as the ones at the checkout aisle. People will bag their bananas, then bag them again at the checkout, get to their house and rip both bags apart. All that plastic lasted 15 minutes. Really unnecessary, especially if we're talking bananas. If you MUST use them, then reuse them once you're home. But seriously, you don't need them. Bring your own cloth bags and dedicate one to just produce when you're at the checkout aisle.

True, grocery stores do provide bins where you can recycle your unwanted plastic bags. But did you know they can't wash them and use them again directly? Nope, it's not sanitary apparently. So all those bags have to be shipped, melted, reprocessed, and reshipped to make... NEW bags. Americans go through 100 billion plastic bags annually, for a total cost of $4 billion, that is insane. No need to go into detail about that, we know the damages of plastic bags to oceans and ecosystems, the impact it's had on the digestive track of animals, the chemicals that are in now our soils and aquifers, etc. Plastic bags blow, we've heard the campaign.

4. Please, please, please don't buy plastic forks/plates/cups. I don't know what else to say about that. Just don't. Wash your dishes, period.

5. Don't buy ziploc bags, either, argh! There is really no need for them. Reuse the plastic bags from other packaging (i.e. bread). Or use tupperware. Or glass containers. They all work perfectly well in the fridge or freezer.

6. Oh yeah, no plastic bottles either. People argue that the plastic breaks down over time or in hot weather and that's why they throw them away. Yuck. So even more reason to buy just one good bottle, like a Nalgene (they are now BPA-free) or stainless steel container. Hang on to it and reuse it.

7. Take advantage of your farmer's markets, 'tis the season! No stickers on produce and packaging is kept to a minimum.

If you want more info on how to reduce your garbage and minimize waste, check out this cool blog. Some of it is pretty extreme but the author has lots of good tips and ideas to get started:

So this is my pantry after my little OCD afternoon. Waay better.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Aha! and Huh? (No. 5)


This is the coolest and apparently the oldest Cottonwood tree in all of Arizona!
It is on private property in the cute little town of Skull Valley.
I don't think it's been officially dated, but it has to be over 200 years old.
The shear size, weight, and immensity of it is breathtaking.

It's such a beautiful tree, we go on a pilgrimage there every year!


Do we need to even talk about it?
Does this make you want to buy Koolaid?
Do people by Koolaid, ever?
You actually want your kid to look like this?
Are they choking?
Shouldn't there also be a purple grape-flavored tongue?

Advertising genius, that's what this is...

Friday, May 4, 2012

Antigua Farms

The main reason I wanted to start this blog up again was so I could have a record of our latest project.

Last year we bought a beautiful but run-down property with the idea of progressively turning it into a family farm. Our home has virtually no backyard and is surrounded by pine trees, which makes gardening a bit of a challenge. And we wanted our children to have a place to run around and play too.

This idea has grown and grown so quickly over the last months that I thought I would retrace this last year, as we started this almost exactly a year ago. So here is the accelerated version of the beginnings of ... Antigua Farms!

In May of 2011, we bought a 1930s stone house built on a 1.4 acre property near a creek, right in town. We had been looking all over for something similar and were incredibly lucky to find this beautiful place five minutes from our home. it was exciting and daunting all at once.

The "Farmhouse"

Over the summer, Jim went beserk. I forgot how incredibly efficient and tireless my husband is. He litterally gutted the entire house and nearly rebuilt the whole damn thing. And he did this in record time; by August, we had tenants.

I call this one 'Kitchen, Deconstructed'

Kitchen Before
Kitchen After!
 During the fall and winter months, we shifted our focus on the adjacent land and again Jim went nuts. This time it involved cutting trees, mending fences, weeding, plowing, and digging beds. If that wasn't enough he also built a 200sq ft greenhouse a cute lil' red barn for tools and equipment. Did I mention, the property has a well, so we have free water, which is usually an issue with farming in the Southwest. Two large water tanks were hooked to a well-pump to allow for easy water access throughout the farm.

June 2011

January 2012

May 2012
We also had the good luck to team up with Thomas from Karma Farms. He and other local farmersplant food on private property and then share what they grow with the owners. They fixed up the small barn that is on the property and added a goat pen. They have fresh milk, we have fresh eggs as trade, as well as some extra hands in the garden.

Refurbishing the goat pen

Twilla mid-crunch
Goat hotel and message board

The lil' red barn

Over the Spring months, we planted potatoes, garlic, and onions in the beds. The greenhouse kept us busy with a "pot party" during which we planted over 1,000 seedlings, including tomatoes, a variety of peppers, eggplant, zucchini, herbs, squash, etc. Lots of watering and transplating...

French Musquee Squash

The greenhouse was equiped with a solar panel connected to a fan to control the temperature inside the structure. We (Jim) also created a picnic/firepit/shade spot for our work parties, saturday night bbqs, and family picnics.

Pre pot-party
Pot party underway

Wind, earth, and fire

Tomatoes everywhere

Baby jalapenos and bell peppers

Now that we have finally moved into summer; tomato and squash plants were transplanted outside, Hopi corn was planted along the creek, and a variety of greens, carrots, peas, and alfafa were seeded in the beds. Basically, you name it, we planted it.

Alfafa for the goats to keep their milk nice and sweet...

Potatoes and onions sharing some straw

Lettuce mix

Itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny carrots

Tomatoes keeping cool in 'water tents'

Butternut squash chilling in the shade

Hopi corn growing using dry-farming techniques

I will now make sure to track the progress of this crazy endeavor of ours in more detail. Hopefully pictures of us harvesting loads of veggies will be coming soon!

Future plans in the works? Chickens, hammacks, a tree house, fruit trees and berry bushes, and a more permanent community space (yurt anyone?). And we're always looking for some helpers, so you and your muscles, come on over.


Silvio's aerial view of the garden!