The tale of the tub scrubber

white and purple bath puffs

I’ve used the purple bath puff on the left in the photo above to scrub my bathroom sink and tub for eight years. Eight years! It’s a little shocking now that I count back. (Puff n’ me, we’ve done a lot of scrubbing. Good times.)

I received this puff has part of a gift set of bath items. I don’t enjoy using puffs in the bath, personally, so decided to try it out on the shower scum instead, and found it worked amazingly well in conjunction with the vinegar, soapy water and baking soda I use to clean the bathroom. It didn’t hold dirt or get grungy. Only now, after all this time, has it started to deteriorate and leave little purple bits of itself behind after a scrub.

This is not a deep post — I just wanted to point out that sometimes we can make good use of things which would otherwise end up in the garbage. Purple Puff is finally going to the trash, and will live out its sad, eternal half-life compressed in a landfill, but at least it served a purpose for a while, and did some good work. While I try to avoid buying plastics myself, it feels right to make good use of the plastic jetsam which tumbles into our lives.

At this point I could switch to biodegradable cleaning implements–like cotton rags and loofah sponges (which you can grow, if you have a long growing season!) — but in the back of my bathroom cabinet I have another gift puff, a white one, waiting to be called into service.

Do you have any plastic recycling tales to share?

A viewing suggestion from the media arm of Root Simple

I really enjoy learning about technologies that are basic enough that I feel like I can understand them–and maybe even replicate them. The technology of Tudor-era in England is by no means primitive, but it also is not as complex and machine-based as the tech which takes off in the 19th century and accelerates so quickly into the present era. I would be hard pressed to explain how anything around me works–from this machine I’m typing on to communicate with the outside world, to the electric light burning beside me.

Bless the BBC for making Tudor Monastery Farm (a title which I believe would not fly on American television). This is a quiet series showing three historians/archeologists at play in the Weald & Downland Open Air History Museum, trying out some of the skills they’d need to be tenant farmers to the local monastery. It has some of the structure of a reality show, but it seems that no one really wants to go that direction much, so with the exception of a bit of camera confession about the urgency of getting the peas planted before Easter, there is none of that annoying reality show faux drama. Instead, it’s just full of juicy nuggets for the appropriate tech geek.

The series is on YouTube. I pray the BBC doesn’t take it down before I get to finish it.

In the first episode alone, they cover goodies like:

  • Coppicing
  • How to make two type of fences: a hazel wattle fence and a dead hedge fence, both of which can be made with a machete and a club
  • Treadwheels: Giant human powered hamster wheels which, along with water wheels, were the engines of their time.
  • How to make rush lights out of sheep fat and rushes.
  • An almost forgotten food plant called Alexanders, which is a Mediterranean plant related to parsley, which I’ve never heard of but now want to plant in my garden.
  • Tips on calligraphy done with quills. Did you know the quill has to be almost horizontal in the hand?
  • And how to make a paintbrush out of a feather and a stick. Marvelously clever, and the secret to the fine lines in illuminated manuscripts.
  • How to make a magnifying glass out for working the detail in said illuminated manuscripts.
  • How a Tudor gentleman literally sewed himself into his clothes each day, & the mysteries and marvels of the codpiece. (I suppose that if I were transported to that era I’d eventually stop staring at the distracting cords dangling from gentlemen’s crotches. You’ll see what I mean.)
  • You get to meet one of the last working teams of oxen in England (sad!), and see what it takes to plow a field.
  • How to build and wattle and daub pig house
  • And finally, very exciting, there’s a cameo by Robin Wood, the last professional wooden dish carver in England. I’ve seen his videos (where he looks much less dorky than he does in Tudor gear) and actually have one of his bowls. He carves beautiful bowls and spoons, his only tools his hatchet, his carving knives, and a foot operated pole lathe. The foot operated lathe was in use for nearly 1000 years, but now is almost extinct. It’s a wonderful piece of technology. Robin makes it look simple, but I’m sure it takes mad skills to use.

And that’s just the first episode. Ale and cheese, blast furnaces and sheep shearing to follow!

One last take away: Because my undergraduate degree is in art history, one thing that really struck me was how much everyone in this show looked like characters out of a Bruegel painting. If you know Pieter Bruegel’s work, you might remember how all his people have this particular stocky, stuffed, oddly jointed, funny-footed sort of look. I thought this was an artistic affectation.  Turns out it’s just the way the clothes fit. Pieter, I did you wrong. You were just painting what you saw.

pieter bruegel's painting, The Peasant Wedding

Legalize Beekeeping in LA!

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Action alert: LA City Council will vote on legalizing bees this Wednesday. I got the following note from Francesca De La Rosa–If you’re in LA please consider writing your councilcritter or attending the council meeting.

As you’ve heard, LA City Council is voting on 3 pending bee measures on Wednesday, February 12th (press conference at 9:15 am). These are the three items that will be voted on:

#1: LEGALIZE URBAN BEEKEEPING IN LOS ANGELES
http://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/index.cfm?fa=ccfi.viewrecord&cfnumber=12-0785

#2: SAVING AMERICA’S POLLINATORS ACT
http://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/index.cfm?fa=ccfi.viewrecord&cfnumber=13-0002-S134

#3 HUMANE POLICY FOR LIVE BEE REMOVAL
http://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/index.cfm?fa=ccfi.viewrecord&cfnumber=13-1660

We hope to see you at City Hall on Feb. 12. But before that, we still need to build support and secure commitments from the Councilmembers. We urge you to reach out to the City Councilmembers by email, asking them to vote yes on all three motions. 

Please send out a simple email to each of the Councilmembers with the following:

Greetings Councilmember __________,

My name is ____________, and I urge you to support Council Files 12-0785 (Legalize Urban Beekeeping in Los Angeles), 13-0002-S134 (Saving America’s Pollinators Act), and 13-1660 (Humane Policy for Live Bee Removal).

Bees are essential to urban food production, providing local environmental and economic benefits through pollination and honey production. Over the past several years, honeybee colonies throughout the United States have experienced high rates of loss and many are in danger of collapse. Los Angeles, with its diverse pollen sources, is an urban oasis for bees, which are also threatened by heavy pesticide application in rural areas. Legalizing beekeeping in our neighborhoods gives our communities a resource to humanely and non-lethally care for healthy bee colonies.

Emails and phone numbers:

Councilmember Gil Cedillo (CD-1): councilmember.cedillo@lacity.org

Councilmember Paul Krekorian (CD-2): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Bob Blumenfield (CD-3): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Tom LaBonge (CD-4): councilmember.Labonge@lacity.org

Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD-5): [email protected]

Councilmember Nury Martinez (CD-6): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Felipe Fuentes (CD-7): councilmember.fuentes@lacity.org

Councilmember Bernard Parks (CD-8): councilmember.parks@lacity.org

Councilmember Curren Price (CD-9): councilmember.price@lacity.org

Council President Herb Wesson (CD-10): councilmember.wesson@lacity.org

Councilmember Mike Bonin (CD-11): councilmember.bonin@lacity.org

Councilmember Mitchel Englander (CD-12): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell (CD-13): councilmember.[email protected]

Councilmember Jose Huizar (CD-14): councilmember.huizar@lacity.org

Councilmember Joe Buscaino (CD-15): councildistrict15@lacity.org

Feel free to use your personal email address if you cannot send one from your work address.

Free Laundry to Landscape Plans

LaundryToLandscapeDiagram

Judging from our blog comments, the drought here on the west coast has people thinking about greywater. We’ve blogged about it many times before, but it’s worth repeating. Greywater expert Art Ludwig has excellent free plans on his website for putting together a laundry to landscape greywater system. I put this same system in at my neighbor Lora’s house a few years ago and just finished replacing our older greywater system with the one on Ludwig’s website.  It’s easy to install, inexpensive and legal to do without a permit in California.

Greywater Design and Installation Workshop

almaden reservoir car

Learn how to install the popular “laundry to landscape” (L2L) greywater system in this design workshop presented by Laura Allen of Greywater Action and Leigh Jerrard of Greywater Corps.

Laundry to landscape greywater systems are simple, affordable, and easy to maintain. With your own L2L system you can irrigate your landscape each time you do laundry, saving you water, time, and resources. Experienced instructors will lead you step-by-step through the design process, tailoring a system to fit your home. This system is legal to install without a permit, just follow 12 basic guidelines you’ll learn about in class.

Learn

  • How to design a system for your home and landscape
  • How to build a system- you’ll create a “mock-up” of a real system with real greywater parts
  • What parts you’ll need for your home
  • How much greywater you produce and how many plants you can water
  • What soaps and detergents are “greywater friendly”

Tour

  • Real L2L greywater system
  • Gravity “branched drain” greywater system from sinks

Date: February 22, 2014 – 10:00am to 12:30pm
Location: Los Angeles EcoVillage 117 Bimini Place LA, CA 90004
Cost: Sliding scale $15 to $40, limited work trade positions available

Register HERE

Bring: Photographs of your laundry room and landscape. Site plan of your yard.
For more information on an L2L system refer to the SF Graywater Guide for Outdoor Irrigation, downloadable HERE

Please join our mailing list to be notified of upcoming workshops.
A long-submerged abandoned car is exposed at the bottom of the now-dry Almaden Reservoir
(January 16, 2014. Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle)

Drought-Proof your Landscape with Greywater Lecture

almaden reservoir car

I’m sure that our drought will get a lot of people interested in greywater, If you’re in the LA area there’s a lecture coming up with Laura Allen of Greywater Action and Leigh Jerrard of Greywater Corps. They are also putting on a laundry to landscape workshop on February 22. Here’s the info on the first of the two events. For more information go to greywatercorps.com/whatwscurrent.html.

Interested in Reusing Greywater? Greywater is water from sinks, showers, and washing machines. Instead of sending it down the sewer it can be safely and simply redirected into the landscape for irrigation. Reusing household greywater saves water, saves time, and reduces water flowing into the sewer system. Find out if a greywater system is a good match for your home and landscape in our informative evening slideshow presentation “Drought-Proof Your Landscape with Greywater.”

Learn about:

  • Common types of systems
  • Advantages and limitation of different systems
  • Plant friendly soaps and products
  • How much water you may save
  • System costs
  • Codes and regulations

Location: 7pm-8:30pm at the Los Angeles EcoVillage. 117 Bimini Place, Los Angeles, CA 90004.
Date: February 19, 2014 – 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Cost: $5 to $15 sliding scale. No one turned away for lack of funds.
RSVP: For questions or to RSVP email [email protected]

Saturday Linkages: Battling Herbicides, Solar Wall Ovens and Jaywalking

Solar wall oven. Photo: Natural Building Blog

Solar wall oven. Photo: Natural Building Blog

Rachel Aviv: The Scientist Who Took on a Leading Herbicide Manufacturer http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/02/10/140210fa_fact_aviv?currentPage=all?mbid=social_retweet …

Consider the Cane Toad http://ensia.com/voices/consider-the-cane-toad/ …

Commercial Solar Wall Ovens http://feedly.com/e/nrC8gJXU 

Wilson Solar Grill for outdoor cooking http://www.examiner.com/article/wilson-solar-grill-for-outdoor-cooking …

America’s public transit routes, mapped: http://boingboing.net/2014/02/06/americas-public-transit-rout.html …

LA residents: The city offers free native trees for street planting. Coast Live Oaks are approved as street trees! http://environmentla.org/pdf/2014/Theodore_Payne_Foundation_FlyerTA.pdf …

Documenting the NYC snowpocalypse’s neckdowns: latent traffic calming revealed by climate and crowds: http://boingboing.net/2014/02/05/documenting-the-nyc-snowpocaly.html …

Tom Vanderbilt in NYT: Jaywalking Tickets Don’t Make Streets Safer http://feedly.com/e/V1mmSoBo 

Decoding News Helicopter Signals on YouTube http://feedly.com/e/5p1EiKdZ 

The Flying Tortoise: If You’re A Gardener And A Chess Player, Check Out… http://theflyingtortoise.blogspot.com/2014/01/if-youre-gardener-and-chess-player.html?spref=tw …

Driving Apps Are Incompatible With Safe Driving http://feedly.com/e/TaIIlCln 

What laundry detergent should I use for greywater applications?

oasis

When your laundry water is going to the soil instead of to the sewer (or a septic tank) you need to make sure that detergent is friendly to soil life. Your big brand detergents are a no-go. And even the various eco-detergents, even ones marked “biodegradable”, are not appropriate for the soil because they are essentially salt-based. They play well with aquatic life, bless them, and they’re a great alternative to more toxic detergents if your laundry water is going to the sewer, but they aren’t good for soil microorganisms. Surely you’ve heard that salting the land is a bad idea? You don’t want to salt your garden. Those salts will build up in the soil and can cause salt burn on tree leaves. (This appears as leaves with browning tips, as if they’ve been sunburned.)

It’s worth adding that the drier your climate, the saltier the soil, because there is not enough rain to help percolate it away–so if you live in a dry climate it’s even more important to be careful with salts.

Homemade detergents–the ones based on soap and washing soda–are also not an option, again because of their salt content.

This leaves you with two options, at least as far as we know. If you know another detergent which is specifically formulated for greywater use, please let us know.

1)  The first is a laundry detergent called Oasis Biocompatible, sold by Bio Pac. This is what we use. It’s a basic, colorless, odorless, super concentrated liquid detergent, specifically formulated for greywater use.  It works very well, but doesn’t have the bells and whistles of “whiteners” and “brighteners” found in grocery store brands. To me, this is a plus.  It is not found on supermarket shelves. I have seen it in some health food stores, but we order it online. This is not too bad of a deal because it is concentrated, so a gallon bottle lasts a long time.

2)  The second option is soap nuts. Soap nuts are the dried fruit of the soap nut tree–they look a little like a cross between a date and a hazelnut. They are full of natural saponins (soaping agents) which are released in the wash. These saponins have been tested and don’t harm soil life.

You just drop 3 or 4 of the nuts into a little muslin bag (which comes in the box), and throw that bag in the wash with your clothes. They activate better in hot water, so some people will opt to soak the bag in a cup of hot water first–like making tea–and then dump the water and the bag into the wash.  Other people stew the nuts in water and make soap nut tea, which can then be used like liquid soap, for both hand washing and laundry. There’s lots of info online about soap nuts if you poke around a bit.

I just remembered that I posted here back in 2010, asking for feedback on the nuts, and got lots of it. So you might want to check that out.

If you’ve never heard of soap nuts, the whole idea might seem strange. But remember, all soap really does is help water work better, and they release soap. The real washing power is the agitating water in your machine.

Incidentally, both Oasis and soap nuts are fine for HE washing machines.

ADDENDUM: Option #3:  Thanks to commenters Kay and Matt, I’m going to add a 3rd product to this list: Ecos  Laundry Detergent. It claims to be greywater safe, I checked the ingredients and saw no salts, and Matt says he’s used it for a year successfully. Sounds good to me! Also in the plus category, this Ecos seems easier to find in stores than Oasis.

Also:

Pure castile soap, like liquid Dr. Bronners, is okay for the soil, but it doesn’t really work as a laundry detergent. You can use it as such for the occasional load, but you will find your clothes turning grey with extended use. Sometimes, however, if I’m dealing with a musty or stinky load of laundry, I’ll put a squirt of scented Dr. Bronners into my machine along with my Oasis or soap nuts, since Oasis is odorless, and soap nuts have a bit of an organic scent (which doesn’t linger on the clothes).

Laundry additives:

You also need to be careful with laundry additives when your laundry water is going to the garden. No bleach, obviously. Bleach alternatives, like OxyClean, are also suspect because they are often based on sodium percarbonate. Check the ingredients and scan for the word sodium. If you see it, it’s best to avoid the product. For this same reason, no baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) either, or washing soda (a sodium salt of carbonic acid).

Vinegar is okay, lemon juice is okay, and I don’t see how small amounts of hydrogen peroxide would hurt anything, though I’d want to do more research if I made it a regular part of my laundry rituals.  I’m suspicious of the various specialty stain removers. If you’re just squirting one spot on a shirt, obviously it will be greatly diluted in the wash water, but really, who knows what is in these stain formulas? When you use greywater you really learn the meaning of “closed loop” — you have to live with what you put out there. So, the decision is yours in the end.

So how do you use your “nuclear option” type laundry additives? Read on, dearies.

The Importance of a Three Way Valve:

It is well worth the time to install a diverter valve by your machine which allows you to choose whether your wash water will go to the sewer or the garden. If you have one of these, you can do loads with bleach or what-have-you and send that water to the sewage treatment plant.

Also, if you are washing diapers, this valve is an absolute necessity. All diaper wash water should go to the sewer. Soil is a great cleanser, but you don’t want to push your luck by depositing fecal matter around your garden.

(Addendum here, too: I spoke a little too absolutely above. It is possible to reuse that water, but you need to do so very carefully.  Diaper water is blackwater, not greywater, and needs to be handled in specific ways  Perhaps we’ll do a separate post on that later.)

Finally, during periods of heavy rain you may just prefer not to send any more water to the garden, and this allows you to make that choice.

A few words about other greywater applications:

If you’re using greywater from your shower, most soaps and shampoos are okay. Though again, I’d remember the closed loop principle and try to use soaps and shampoo from the more natural end of the spectrum.  Again, good ol’ Dr. Bronners, soap or liquid form, is something I’d feel good about sending out to the landscape.

Bio Pac also makes a concentrated soap which is a sister to the Oasis Detergent called Oasis Dishwash/All Purpose Cleaner. This is an all purpose soap that you can even use in the shower. This would be a good product to use for more casual water recycling–so when you’re cleaning house, say, you can safely dump a bucket of dirty water outside and know that it won’t harm your garden.

California’s Drought and What To Do About It

dune-poster

By this summer, due to the worst drought in memory, California will resemble the desert planet Arakis in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. Not only will we be watering our lawns less, we’ll be drinking our own urine. Knife fights with a bikini clad Sting will break out and we’ll be trading our bikes for rides on the over-sized worms emerging from our compost bins. But I digress. Let’s cover what we’re doing at the Root Simple compound.

  • We’ve expanded our drought tolerant plantings over the past few years. These plants use less water and encourage beneficial wildlife. I consider them part of the vegetable garden, in a way.
  • I just made a major change to our laundry to landscape greywater system–more on this in another post.
  • I’ve consulted historical irrigation data to more intelligently program our drip irrigation system.

Keep in mind that 77% of California’s water use goes to agriculture (the media tends to forget this). Residential water use is a small part of the total. That being said, there’s a lot more we can do–the residents of Sydney Australia use half as much water per person as Californians in a similar climate.

I’m fairly certain we’ll eke our way out of this crisis but I’m not sure about the next one. In the meantime I’ll be walking without rhythm so as not to attract those big worms.

What are you doing to deal with the drought? If you’re outside of California, how are you surviving those arctic vortexes?