Friday, April 30, 2010

TGIF: Best Posts of the Week

From decluttering and gardening, to money-saving tips and more, here are week's best blog posts:
I'm taking a vacation in Costa Rica (talk about green!) So I'll be back to writing more blog posts soon!

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to Build a Pallet Compost Bin

Another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar...

Wooden pallets

Wooden pallets

Ok, you’ve probably seen these wooden pallets lying around everywhere, right? I sure have. Any construction site or store will have about a gazillion of these things on-hand.

The sobering thing is that most of the time these wooden pallets are just carted off to a landfill when the person or company is done using them. Wasted.

But, we can give these wooden pallets a new life by turning them into all sorts of useful things. People have used wooden pallets to build barns and homes, and even outdoor toilets.

Today, thanks to some help from fellow blogger and friend Renaissance Ronin, I wanted to talk about how easy it is to turn these pallets into a large, outdoor compost bin for yard clippings and leaf waste.

How to Build a Pallet Compost Bin

Pallet Compost Bin:

Step 1pallet-compost-bin

A good bin has four strong sides… unless you’re a rabblerouser with the desire for a pentagonal or even octagonal compost bin. You can do whatever suits your fancy, but me… I’m all about keeping it simple.
Create a four-sided bin by nailing or wiring together four wooden pallets in a cube, leaving the top and bottom open. The finished bin will look like a wooden cage. I like to use scrap “L” brackets instead of nails and wire, they hold better and they look “cool”.

Step 2

You need a gate. Attach one pallet with a hinge on one side. Swing the pallet “closed” and then wire it shut. You don’t want it opening, unless you tell it to.

Step 3

Now… your compost needs a “mattress.” You need to get some air under the compost to help it along…
Lay a pallet flat on the ground in the location of the compost bin.
This bottom pallet increases the air flow under the compost pile. This is GOOD.  But, something good always costs you something, right? That airflow will dry out your compost faster, so even thought it’s a better situation, it will cost you some water.

Step 4

Place your new “compost cage” on top of the pallet that you placed on the ground. Feel free to kick it a few times, first. And resist the urge to make it easier to clean up the mess and place your compost bin on soil or grass instead of concrete or patio tiles.
Concrete and patio tiles give off a ton of heat that will dry your compost out even faster.

Step 5

You need something to add some structure to the bottom of your compost pile now. So, break out the tree trimming gear or your hedge clippers, and chop away! Use the debris to add a layer of sticks and twigs to the bottom of the compost bin.
Compost works better if you chop everything up first. So, it’s more work, but go berserk on the bushes, and then shred up everything that you can, before you toss it on the compost pile.
Continue adding layers of compost by alternating “brown waste” and “green waste”.
And remember… Chopped waste will compost faster than large pieces. Seriously. Unless you want to wait five years for composted soil for your container gardens, do yourself a favor and tear that waste up first.
Besides, it’s a great way to get some “stress relief” after your spouse “helps” you with the chores.

Step 6

Lightly water the compost, but don’t overwater it. You want the stuff to start breaking down, not drown. Don’t allow the compost to become sopping wet. It’ll just rot, smell, and make the neighbors mad at you.
Water your composting waste periodically when the compost becomes “dry”.

Step 7

Turn the compost over in the bin periodically with a pitchfork to speed the decomposing process.
In almost no time at all, you’ll have the coolest soil on the planet for your garden.

Last Word…

Building your own pallet compost bin is a great way to save money (I just saw Home Depot carrying compost bins now…for $100+) and help keep these pallets out of the landfill. And, they work really well!
Have any of you ever used pallets to make an outdoor compost bin? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Here's to recycling, going green and protecting our precious earth. I'd like to share some great posts for you to check out:
What are your Earth Day plans? I'm going to take care of my recycling, from plastic bags and newspapers to aluminum cans and plastic -- it's all getting organized. Then it's onto the garden to see how our compost bin has been doing all winter -- black gold!

I'd love to hear your plans.

    Bookmark and Share

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Green and Frugal Weekend

    Spring has sprung and it's been busy, busy, busy at our house. I've been slacking on the blog lately. My apologies. ;-)

    I think you'll get a kick out of last weekend's activities. It was all about being green and frugal...

    Garage Sale
    First on the list was a garage sale. The kids are quickly outgrowing their toys and clothes. Plus, we have leftovers from last year's garage sale. We live off a busy road, close to a highway. Instead of placing (and having to pay for) a newspaper ad, we strategically placed signs, posted an ad on Craigslist and let the Freecyle board know that there would be freebies after 3pm.  In the end, we made $160.

    Date Night
    Our goal was to make enough money to go out for a nice dinner and get a babysitter for the kids. (Not too much to ask for, right?)  Bistro 55, a South City Grill spin-off, was the game plan for dinner. It's a seasonal kitchen with a varied menu of incredible dishes. Dinner cost $75 and the babysitter cost $60.

    Shopping at Lowes
    No date night is complete without a trip to Lowes. It's difficult to shop with two small children. We needed to return a ceiling fan that we had bought nearly a year ago. (It ended up not working out for what we needed.) We also wanted a 8x10 rug for our newly renovated porch. It has hardwood floors, but we wanted the kids to be able to sit on the floor and play. Best of all, we had a 10% coupon and a $100 credit after the fan was accepted as a return.  While we spent $300 on a rug, we saved $100 with our coupon and $100 from our fan credit.

    Pit-stop at Dunkin Donuts
    Instead of having dessert after dinner, we opted to stop at Dunkin Donuts for a post-dinner coffee. Armed with a coupon and a gift card, it was one less item to spend money on. Cost = $0. :-)

    All in all, it was a fun weekend. We had fun getting rid of stuff at the garage sale. (Although we plan to have another one in May since we didn't get rid of as much as we'd hoped.)

    What do you like to do on your green and frugal weekends?

    Bookmark and Share

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Frugal Tip Tuesday: How to Recycle Pillows

    Here's another fabulous post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar -- good stuff!

    I watched the “Story of Stuff” the other night. If you haven’t watched this 20-minute documentary about where our Stuff truly comes from, then give it a look. It’s an informative, sobering look at the true costs of all the stuff we buy and use on a regular basis.

    So, what does this have to do with recycling pillows? Well, I’m getting there…

    In the Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard talks about how our pillows (and our mattresses and couches and carpeting and curtains…) are treated with flame retardant chemicals, called PBDEs. These chemicals are highly toxic, and yet we’re laying right on them 8 hours a night. Every night.

    The problem is that these chemicals leach out of the products they’re put in. And, they’re leaching into us. These chemicals have been linked to infertility, slow brain development, and cancer. Especially in babies and children.

    Ironically enough, the very next day Michigan Radio (part of NPR) did a story on these PBDEs. They said that although these chemicals are highly toxic, they’re still allowed because the government doesn’t require companies to list all the chemicals they put in their products.

    Of the 100,000 chemicals that are used in this country for manufacturing, only 4% have ever been tested for safety in human interactions. 

    And, none of them have been tested in the real world, when they’re in a product and reacting with other chemicals in other products.

    Yeah, scary.

    So, all of this is still leading up to recycling pillows. Promise.

    Now, I consider myself pretty eco-savvy. But I had NO IDEA PBDEs existed, and I sure didn’t know how bad they were. I was shocked to learn that I was completely surrounded by these chemicals.

    I know I can’t replace everything in my home. After all, PBDEs are in everything: carpeting, curtains, TVs, cell phones, couches, computers…other than moving to a cave with hay on the floor, I’m probably not going to get away from them.

    After feeling sad and miffed about it, I had a EUREKA! moment. I can’t completely eliminate them. But I can work towards getting rid of them where I spend the most time. That is, my bedroom (night sleeping), and my office (day working).

    My Tiny Steps To Reducing PBDEs

    The first thing I decided I could do is get eco-friendly pillows. And when I say eco-friendly, I mean pillows that are made from buckwheat and kapok, and made here in the U.S.
    I found a few options I’m considering.

    1. Buckwheat Pillows on Etsy

    Courtesy enhabiten on Etsy
    Courtesy enhabiten on Etsy

    I found a lovely little shop called Enhabiten, on Etsy, that sells handmade buckwheat pillows.
    The fabric is hemp that she’s stained with tea, and the filling is balsam and buckwheat hulls.
    No chemicals!

    She’s selling these awesome little pillows for $28. So far, buying from her is my favorite option.

    2. White Lotus Organic Pillows

    It’s important to really pay attention when you’re shopping for organic pillows.

    For instance, I found out that GIAM makes organic pillows. But, they’re made in China. I’m not 100% confident that their pillows are chemical free, which is why I’m not buying from them.

    I did find some awesome kapok and buckwheat pillows over at White Lotus. White Lotus makes all their organic pillows here in the U.S., and they offer free shipping.

    How To Recycle Pillows

    So now that I’m replacing my pillows (which is Step 1 in my plan to reduce PBDEs in my home), what do I do with the old pillows?

    I really don’t want to just chuck them in the trash. But, I can’t donate them (Salvation Army won’t accept used pillows). So, where should they go?

    Here is an idea:

    1. Your Local Animal Shelter- Many animal shelters need used pillows all the time. They make great dog beds! This is what I’ll be doing with my old pillows.

    There were plenty of other ideas (like turning them into smaller pillows, using the stuffing for chair cushions, etc.), but my goal is to get it out of the house because of the PBDEs. Which is why I thought the animal shelter was the best idea.

    I did find this creative tutorial at the Undomesticated Wife on how to turn old pillows into cozy dog beds. No sewing involved! I could do this and create some “outdoor beds” for the backyard.

    My Next Step To Get Rid of PBDEs
    Like I said, replacing everything in my home just isn’t an option. That would be wasteful, and expensive. But I am considering going with a buckwheat or kapok mattress, and donating my current one (which is almost 10 years old anyway). We’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, because our current mattress is so heavy that with just the two of us, it’s almost impossible to move without bursting a vein.

    I’ve only just started looking at organic/eco-friendly mattresses, however, and the ones I’ve found are really expensive.

    If any of you know of a good company that makes organic mattresses I’d love to hear about them! And if you’re sleeping on a kapok or buckwheat mattress, I’d love to hear about your experience. I’d really like to go with something smaller and more lightweight than what we’ve got right now.

    Bookmark and Share

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    TGIF: Best Posts of the Week

    It's Friday. It's Spring. Ahhhh, what more can you ask for? How about some great blog posts? Now's the time to start preparing the gardens and getting rid of the clutter with garage sales. Don't forget the spring cleaning!

    Here are this week's best posts to get your weekend started right: 

    Are there any that I missed? Let me know!

    Bookmark and Share

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    What to Do With Imperfect Produce

    Here's another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar:

    I have a confession to make.

    One of my biggest weaknesses, when it comes to being frugal and environmentally conscious, is using up every last thing I buy at the grocery store. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown out lettuce (that’s gotten too soggy), celery (that’s gotten too wilty) or carrots (that have dried out to resemble whitish fingers).

    I loathe wasting food, and money. But this is an area that I just haven’t mastered yet. Yes I make weekly menus, and I do a fair job of sticking too them. Often, however, because of our schedules or my unwillingness to be in the house when it’s nice out, the menu gets derailed.

    Thankfully my vermicompost bin is helping with some of this waste. But I still need to get better at using this produce.

    So, all this is why I decided to write a post on what to do with imperfect produce. My fridge is often full of imperfect produce, and I have a hunch you might be in the same boat, at least sometimes! I needed some ideas to stop this spiral and as usual,  a blog post is born!

    Idea #1: Make Soup

    Wilted celery can flavor a soup just as much as its brand-new, crispy counterpart. And, so will carrots and potatoes. I actually have all three, in various stages of wilti-ness, sitting in my kitchen right now. Which means soup’s on tonight!

    Idea #2: Dry It

    If you’re lucky enough to own a food dehydrator, then popping those brown bananas and shrinking strawberries in there is a great way to give them a new life. Dehydrating food is a great way to extend its shelf-life. The personal finance blog Wisebread has a great article on extending the life of your food. Their favorites for dehydration? Chili peppers and apple rings. Yum!

    Idea #3: Revive Your Wilting Lettuce and Herbs

    I had no idea you could revive wilting lettuce until I started writing this article. But apparent, you can.
    I found a very interesting thread on Chowhound with instructions on how to do this.

    1. Pull apart the lettuce leaves and soak them in ice water for 15-30 minutes. The lettuce will begin to absorb the water through the stem ends.

    2. After 15-30 minutes, once the leaves are crisp again, pull them out of the water, dry them thoroughly, and put them back in the fridge.

    Further down in the thread a produce manager at a grocery store wrote in and said he does this nightly for his produce. It should work with any leafy vegetable, including herbs like cilantro and basil. Simply trim the ends, and then stick them in cold water for a spell.


    Here are some awesome tips I found online for keeping our food fresher for longer…
    • Many fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be stored together. The reason is because they put off ethylene gas, which will make surrounding produce rot. The list of vegetables producing ethylene gas (and those that are damaged by ethylene gas) is long. You can see a list of both here.
    • To keep your fruits and veggies fresh, don’t damage them in any way (like de-stemming strawberries or cutting up mangoes days in advance). The moment you begin to tear apart fruits and vegetables, micro-organisms can get in and start the decomposition process. Keep them whole until you’re ready to use them.
    • Don’t store potatoes and onions together, ever (I didn’t know this one either…right now mine are in the very same bin, on my fridge!). Apparently both will rot much faster when they’re stored together.
    • According to FitSugar, cold will actually damage some veggies and cause them to rot faster. Produce like tomatoes, oranges, and squash.
    • You can keep bananas around for longer by letting them ripen on the counter top and then putting them in the fridge. The outside skin may still turn brown or spotty, but the inside will stay fresh for much longer.
    • Divine Caroline, blogger over at The Weather Channel, says that storing produce in plastic bags, or any kind of “sealed” container (like a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap) is a bad idea. Food needs to breathe.
    • The crisper drawer in your fridge is a great place for vegetables. The reason it’s designed to be humid, and veggies love the humidity. If you can, set the humidity level here at 95%, and store lettuce, herbs and celery in here.
    Last Word…

    I learned so much when doing research for this post! I really think that these tips will help me stop wasting so much food. It’s obvious that I was doing a ton of things wrong when it came to storing what I brought home, and perhaps that’s most of the trouble.

    Do you have any tips for storing food, or for using up food that’s on its way out? If so, I’d love to hear them!

    Bookmark and Share

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Frugal Tip Tuesday: Think Before You Buy

    Before you make the plunge for a high-cost purchase. Wait a day or two and see if you really want the item. This can be anything from TV stands to a new car to a new outfit.

    Also, search high and low for a coupon. Depending upon the savings, it can sometimes be beneficial to buy coupons on Ebay.

    Wait for the item to go on sale if it's something that isn't a rush. For example, if you know you'll need a patio set, wait until the end of the summer season to make the purchase. Prices will be at their lowest. Add a coupon to that sale price and you're really saving money.

    See if it's worth to buy the item used. Grills, furniture, large kids toys -- these are all great items to buy used.

    How do you make sure to maximize cost savings when you're making a purchase?

    Bookmark and Share

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    5 Egg-cellent Eco-friendly Easter Egg Ideas

    1. You may have heard the not-so-great news that dyes used for Easter eggs, even though labeled non-toxic, may not be so healthy. Seems some of the dyes contain coal tar and other petroleum products.

    Why purchase these kinds of products in the first place, especially when it's so simple, fun and educational to dye eggs using items from your fridge or pantry?

    Dyeing eggs with fruits and veggies is not much more complicated than using store-bought dyes. Choose brightly colored fruits and veggies (though  sometimes a not-so-bright item, can yield amazingly vibrant results, onion skins being one example) and give it a try. Here are instructions for both hot and cold methods.

    2. Hunting for colorful fruits and vegetables not your style? Check out the brand new eco-frendly tablets in the Eco-Eggs Easter Egg Coloring Kit where the colors come from purple sweet potato, paprika, beta carotene, red cabbage and blueberries. For $10, you get enough dye for two years.

    3. If you hurry, you still may be able to pick up some souvenir eco-friendly wooden eggs that commemorate the annual Easter egg roll on the south lawn of the the White House. These commemorative eggs are made in the U.S. from FSC certified hardwood.

    4. When it comes to candy eggs to hide or give in a basket, you're in luck. There are more eco-friendly choices available now than ever. Check your local natural food store(s). If you're lucky your local grocery or even big box chain might carry organic or Fair Trade chocolate eggs. If not, further the cause by letting the manager know you'd like this choice and that if she stocks them, you will buy.

    5. Avoid buying new plastic eggs. But if you've held on to old ones or find some at a garage sale, give them new life! Cover with paper mache (made with flour and water); or glue on bits of yarn; or cover in glitter made from old piece of silver foil. You get the idea, bring out a box filled with odds and ends and let the kids have fun using eco-friendly glue of course, fill with healthy, green goodies.

    (Don't store unwrapped candy in plastic eggs because the eggs may contain chemicals that can leech into the candy, especially if left in the heat. Kids have been known to discover hidden eggs months after Easter and devour the contents.)

    Top picks for eco-Easter eggs

    1. Make a paper mache egg diorama

    2. Organic jelly bean eggs

    2. Organic chocolate eggs from, or hand decorated Easter egg cookies from

    For more eco-Easter ideas, visit

    Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at 

    Bookmark and Share