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?

Mystery Weed Identified: Geranium Molle

ebo02991

A number of Root Simple readers identified a plant that springs up in our backyard every winter. It’s Geranium molle.

Readily pollinated by hymenoptera, Geranium molle has two popular names: Dovefoot Geranium and Awnless Geranium.

Native to the Mediterranean, it was introduced to North America. The Plants for a Future database has a reference to the use of Geranium molle on wounds (Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants). Other than that, it’s not an exciting plant from a human perspective.

Name This Weed and Win . . .

mystery weed

. . . bragging rights. Extra points for telling us the scientific name.

I think it’s some kind of geranium and it’s been sprouting up in the backyard for years every winter. If allowed to grow it puts off small, uninteresting flowers.

I’m hoping it has rare pharmaceutical value. Then I could offer better prizes on Root Simple, like an all expenses paid trip to East Hollywood.

Picture Sundays: Superbowl Edition

treshombres-669x333 It’s the time of year when my in-box fills with misguided attempts to get me to blog about Superbowl snacks such as a bag of chocolate covered pretzels that looked like–there’s no nice way to say this–a sack of humanure. In response I’m posting, for the second year in a row, the gatefold of the ZZ Top album Tres Hombres. No snack stadium could possible out-compete this Texas sized combo platter. What are you up to today? Watching the game? Preparing for the next arctic vortex/drought? Reading homesteading blogs? Constructing a lacto-fermented snack stadium?

Saturday Linkages: Can We Please Have More Underpass Chandeliers?

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Ballroom Luminoso: Ugly freeway underpass beautified with recycled bike chandeliers : TreeHugger http://www.treehugger.com/urban-design/ballroom-luminoso-underpass-converted-bike-chandeliers-joe-oconnell-blessing-hancock.html …

Yes, the farm bill is politically corrupt. Veto it! http://goo.gl/fb/vhLtK 

What’s wrong with an ugly winter garden? http://gu.com/p/3mb4a/tw 

The secret light of plants by Elizabeth Licata http://feedly.com/e/_hlIqNZG 

California Legalized Selling Food Made At Home And Created Over A Thousand Local Businesses http://onforb.es/1e8mNCY 

Massive Water Reduction http://feedly.com/e/v787ggKN 

Fodder System Updates http://feedly.com/e/dKXb-Y-Q 

It’s Not the Snow, It’s Not the Politics: Blame the Car-Dependent City http://gizmodo.com/its-not-the-snow-its-not-the-politics-blame-the-car-1511337035 

MyFigueroa! Needs a Hero as Livable Streets Villains Line Up Against City’s First Cycletracks http://la.streetsblog.org/2014/01/29/myfigueroa-needs-a-hero-as-livable-streets-villains-line-up-against-citys-first-cycletracks/#.UumqSw7MlPw.twitter …

Extra Virgin Suicide: Olive Oil Corruption Slide Show http://nyti.ms/1f7yHcI 

Black Bean Soup http://feedly.com/e/lPhvrdNB 

Meet the Bakers: Louie and Clinton Prager http://feedly.com/e/KsUR-_dv 

Poultry Show Common Sense http://feedly.com/e/YNk88kWG 

Bee Colony Adapts to Human Environmental Impact by Using Plastic to Build Nests http://inhabitat.com/bee-colony-adapts-to-human-environmental-impact-by-using-plastic-to-build-nests/ …

Thin Wall Earthbag — 10x Faster than Typical Earthbag http://feedly.com/e/ulUxRdow 

Fantastical Garden Images

File:Sudama bows at the glimpse of Krishna's golden palace in Dwarka. ca 1775-1790 painting.jpg

Sudama bows at the glimpse of Krishna’s golden palace in Dwarka,. ca 1775-1790

Not to contribute to the dreaded analysis paralysis, but this Pintrest collection images of fantastical gardens– from medieval sources to contemporary artists–may inspire your own garden, or at least give you a good dose of winter inspiration.  Well worth a peek. Thanks to BoingBoing for the lead.