Be An Agri-Tourist

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Enormous oranges littered the ground beneath the trees of a family-owned Florida citrus grove. The waste-not person in me thought, “They’re not picking them fast enough. What a shame.” But my thoughts were answered by the woman offering a farm tour.

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“Here at Dooley Groves, we leave all fallen fruit on the ground. It acts as excellent compost for the trees. Please don’t pick up any fallen fruit.”

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This tidbit of information was great to know, and my estimation of the farm promptly grew by several notches. And then I saw the cow barrel. Yes, they save all their citrus waste for the nearby cows who love it.

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We were instructed to not pick the green-bottomed fruit on trees as it’s affected by a disease that must be treated by steaming the tree at 125 degrees to kill the bacteria.

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A green-diseased orange.

There’s a machine they have at the grove that can steam two trees at a time. All they need is a few seconds of the steam and the bacteria is wiped out. What a huge investment, to fight a disease that has affected every grove in Florida for the past few years.

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But the steaming is well worth it, when you see the trees that are at risk, the yield from the grove and the products that come from it. I’m a big fan of citrus and the many wonderful things you can do with citrus peels.

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We love picking juicing oranges to use in our hand-lever juicer. This varietal is ripe when the oranges start to turn brown.

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But the red grapefruit is spectacular.

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I had never been to a citrus grove until we visited one a few years ago with our children. I’m happy to know they have learned much about where their citrus comes from, a valuable lesson in appreciating food, how it’s grown and harvested, and how to support local agriculture wherever they are.

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Walking through the rows of laden trees was such a privilege, with orange blossoms overwhelming the senses. Agri-tourism, especially on organic farms, is so important to support and take part in. Many of the groves we’ve visited recently are just barely making ends meet. Seeking them out and paying to pick your own fruit and veggies, is one of the best ways to support our farms.

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And the honeybees, of course, will thank you with their honey, later.

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What farms have you recently visited and enjoyed?

Find Your Wild Places

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Hammock and swamp, left in their natural state in Myakka State Park. Photo © Liesl Clark

There are some places on Earth where it’s hard to know what the original local habitat used to look like, what the land should look like if we weren’t here. With all of our built-up neighborhoods, networks of roads, mini-malls, shopping centers, urban and suburban landscapes, even rural farmland sprawl can hide what the land truly could be if we simply left it alone.

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Spanish moss-covered canopy at Myakka State Park. Photo © Liesl Clark

Today, in the United States at least, many of these untouched places are only available in protected places, our national, state, and sometimes local parks, sanctuaries for fauna and flora alike. Whether you’re at home or traveling, I implore you to find your nearest wild places.

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Myakka River State Park © Liesl Clark

Seek these unfettered wildernesses out and help steward them by volunteering to keep them in their pristine state, or give money to help keep them wild.

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Great Egret on the banks of the Myakka River. Photo © Liesl Clark

We recently visited Myakka River State Park outside of Sarasota, while on a spring break trip to see Grammy. This beautiful park is the largest state park in Florida, and you won’t regret a visit as you’ll see more alligators, up-close-and-wild, here then just about anywhere.

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The waterfowl here are stunning:

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Heron. Photo © Liesl Clark

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You can travel by an air boat tour to view the wildlife, or gently glide through the waters in a canoe or kayak.

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Or, rent bikes right there at the park and pedal along the water or oak forests to view the undeveloped wildscape.

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It’s like stepping back in time to a lost world.

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A wooden walkway takes you over the marshland to birdwatch from a pier that provides a vantage onto the open water and grasslands.

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Where grass meets sky. Florida’s original landscape. 

But perhaps most spectacular of all is the canopy walk, a chance to get up high above the trees and view the wilderness from the perspective of an egret, turkey vulture, or crow.

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Here, above the treetops, you can see so far you almost see the curvature of the Earth.

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Find your wild places. Define them, why they’re important to you. Help protect them. Visit them often and share them with your loved ones. BT0C2453.jpg

Before it’s too late.

 

In Praise of Simple Machines in the Kitchen

Back to basics with our morning joe. Photo © Liesl Clark

Simple machines in the kitchen and household are one of our secrets to living the pleasures of the simple life, decreasing our dependence upon electricity or fancy gadgets with many parts. The simple machine simply works. They’re the hand tools of old that we fall back on when modern conveniences break down, which they often do. Take the lever, for example. Pull a lever for mechanical advantage and you have the strength of Hercules.

When we arrived at Grammy’s Florida home with a 10-gallon bucket filled to overflowing with valencia oranges we had picked, I looked in her cupboard to find an electric citrus juicer.

Citrus Juicer. The plastic small appliance we can do without. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Great!” I thought, until I plugged the plastic thing in and found it didn’t work. Taking it apart to see if it needed a new fuse, etc. wasn’t something we had time for. So Grammy pulled out another juicer, the hand lever kind you pull down that squishes your halved oranges in seconds, and I knew she had found the better machine.

This beautiful, all stainless, citrus press is a thing of beauty. Photo © Liesl Clark

In minutes, we had lovely glasses of hand-lever-squeezed orange juice, all from the effort of a 10-year-old who wouldn’t relinquish the lever. I’m ready to invest in one now that I’ve discovered the joys of fresh squeezed, self-picked liquid gold. We currently use a ceramic citrus juicer at home which works really well, but the simple machine could cut our hand-rotating out completely, which makes sense for 4 cups of o.j. in the a.m.

Fresh OJ in seconds, and a lesson in simple machines. Photo © Liesl Clark

We’ve been on a mission, lately, to seek out these ingenious machines that provide mechanical advantage, putting force on an object like an orange with little effort. One-by-one, they’re replacing our small appliances.

Take the electric coffee grinder, for example. Nothing wakes up our household more abruptly than the sound of someone whirring coffee beans in an electric grinder. And when the electricity goes out, which it often does in winter on our Northwest island, we can’t have fresh ground coffee. Could we find an adequate coffee grinder that wouldn’t tap resources like electricity or fuel? I searched for months throughout the web and in antique shops for old-fashioned grinders and found some beautiful ones. But none got great reviews that I could trust and most wouldn’t grind the beans to espresso grade. I bought a camp-style one for my husband to take on his mountaineering expeditions. But it wouldn’t grind enough for a house full of groggy adults.

We then purchased a beautiful Persian grinder that also took ages to grind beans. We imagined in the warmth of some semi-arid desert, this grinder would fit nicely on the back of a camel but you’d need an hour or so each morning to get enough ground stuff for a decent cup of joe. It was promptly retired to pepper grinding.

Finally, we found a grinder that was the most simple design (by Stumptown) and can take a mason jar as its reservoir. This simple machine utilizes larger gears than the 2 grinders we had previously bought and it produces a fresh ground coffee perfect for my hubby’s stove-top espresso maker.

The best we could find, a modern version of an antique coffee grinder. Photo © Liesl Clark

Contrary to what Stumptown says on their website, my husband husband claims “it’s effortless” to grind the coffee. No workout, truly. And I can attest to the fact that it’s not too hard to grind your beans and it doesn’t take very long to produce the perfect grind for several cups of coffee and gives us peace-of-mind for power-free days at home. We use hand-grinder daily, in fact, power or no power.

Two minutes of grinding and you've got a fine espresso grind. Photo © Liesl Clark

Our toaster, too, is a simple camp stove version of placing your bread over your burner, because we’re on a mission to reduce our electric appliances so we can sustainably live off the grid. We haven’t owned a toaster for 5 years now and haven’t missed it one bit.

If you want to go caveman-style, you can even forgo your garlic press for a stone. Seriously, for us, the large pestle we brought back from Nepal is the best garlic crusher I’ve ever used.

So try your hand at using simple machines again. You’ll enjoy cutting back on your power dependence and feel like you truly earned that morning fix of java and o.j.

Zero Offset Vacation Days

Zero Offset Your Carbon-Heavy Vacation Travel with Days Spent at Sustainable Organic Farms. Photo © Liesl Clark

Let’s face it: Flying to Florida from Seattle isn’t the most carbon-free activity. But if we want to see Grammy, we have to go to her. She simply doesn’t fly.

Once we arrived in Florida, we dreamed up a few activities to help offset the jet fuel burn our family of 4 incurred. Hitting the beach, only 100 yards away, was easy — just throw a towel around your shoulders. But be sure to bring a bag for collecting plastics.

Plastics Retrieved En Route to the Beach. It's Easy To Do. Photo © Liesl Clark

Before reaching the beach, we filled our bag with lots of straws and straw sleeves found in juice boxes. Interestingly, we didn’t find too many plastics on the beach as I discovered, a day later, that 2 men drive along the beaches in a little golf cart with a trash picker and retrieve all the debris. I wondered why they couldn’t simply walk?

Here's one they missed. Sunglasses part on the beach. Photo © Liesl Clark

Every day, we filled a bag with plastics while walking along the sidewalks or shore. For our children, the incentive was finding something odd and different. A tiny working flashlight in the shape of an alien was the first day’s reward, then a cute plastic fish the next, and all types of plastic beach toys were recovered, too. We needed a shovel and it didn’t take long to find one. No lack of entertainment when you decide to do a bit of daily good and pick up the world’s plastics. And the Earth always gives back to our little scavengers in interesting ways. Plastic “swords” used in tropical drinks to hold fruit together washed ashore daily to the delight of my son, who started collecting them for his Lego characters.

McWashed Ashore. Sliced apples in a bag? Photo © Liesl Clark

The contents of a bag of McDonald’s apple slices found tucked in the dune vegetation became food for eager sea gulls.

Apple snacks. Courtesy of sea-borne McDonald's fare. Photo © Liesl Clark

In between hours of play amidst the waves and digging in the sand with our newly-found beach toys, it didn’t take much effort during our “plastics recovery” walks to fill a bag a day. If we all did this, just bent down and picked up the straws and plastic caps under foot, we’d feel like we did a form of good, helping to extract the plastics from our shorelines before they head back out to sea.

This leaf wasn't plastic, and it's a pleasure to see a stretch of sand that was plastic-free. Photo © Liesl Clark

But the greatest fun we had was visiting a local organic fruit grove. I spent a little time online and discovered a list of pick your own-type farms in our region and many are organic farms. We hopped in the car and drove inland about 16 miles to find an organic orange grove.

Get to know the places you vacation in a little better by picking local organic produce there. Valencia oranges are in season in February in Western Florida. Photo © Liesl Clark

The kids had never picked oranges and this experience is surely one they won’t forget. In the direct sun, the temperatures were in the 90s and we had to watch the ground for fire ants. With some long fruit picker poles in our hands, we ambled several rows of valencia orange trees into the grove and were overwhelmed by the sweet smell of orange blossoms.

Fruit Picking in Manatee County, FL. Photo © Liesl Clark

These fruit-laden trees grew in what loooked like pure sand, but they’re obviously getting the nutrients and water they need because the oranges are delicious and juicy. It took us 15 minutes in the hot sun to fill a 10-gallon bucket. And with the price of $10/bucket we walked away feeling we got the better end of the deal.

Bucket Full of Valencia Oranges. Photo © Liesl Clark

The children needed an ice cream cone to cool off, so we discovered another U-pick organic farm down the road. This one grew hydroponic strawberries — and we picked our fill of delicious sun-sweetened fruit.

Picking Strawberries at O'Brien Family Farm. Photo © Liesl Clark

And the ice cream cones, of course, were the perfect plastic-free end of day snack, a just reward for our zero offset vacation day efforts.

Ice cream cones are the original plastic-free treat. Photo © Liesl Clark

Fabric Scrap Tiny Tents For Little Hands

Our daughter has been sewing avidly since she was 6. She loves to design and sew her own doll clothes and to make little spaces for her toy animals out of fabric scraps. Here’s a great project for small hands and a fun sewing project for 2, using up fabric scraps and old trousers, too!

Step 1: Trace a perfect circle onto a stiff fabric like felt, fleece, or corduroy (we used some old corduroy pants of mine). The circle will determine how tall your tent will be. We cut ours about 6″ wide.

Step 2: Cut that circle in half and then trace it onto a pretty fabric of your choice which will be the outer fabric of your tent.

Step 3: Cut the half circle out of your pretty fabric.

Step 4: Pin the rounded edges of the half circles together, stiff fabric facing in on one side and nice fabric facing in on other.

Step 5: Sew the pinned rounded edge of the 2 half circles together.

Step 6: Turn the half circle right-side-out so the sewn edge is hidden. Fold it in half and then sew the remaining straight edges together as shown in the photo.

Step 7: Turn this right side out and you have a cute closed tipi/tent for little animals or people to live in (or a pointed hat for a doll!)

Step 8: A variation on this tent/tipi is to add a door: Simply leave a couple of inches of “flap” left open on the last straight edge and sew the flaps back about 2-3 cm so you have a tipi opening opening.

Looking for more ideas to use up your fabric scraps? Please visit our Trash Backwards app that has reuses for everything in your home!

Click Through for Fabric Scrap Reuses at Trash Backwards.

 

DIY Stone Pillars & Planters

We simply have too many rocks in our soil. When we harvest potatoes, there are many false alarms on harvest day as perfect potato-shaped rocks are  procured from the soil rather than spuds. So when we cleared a new spot to add planting space to our veggie garden this summer, we had a pile of waste as a result — rocks. What to do with the rock pile? I thought about giving them away in our local Buy Nothing group (yes, I’ve seen people post that they want rocks on our neighborhood Buy Nothing group), but then the hoarder in me took over and we chose to make stone pillars instead. It’s quite easy, but there are a few tricks you’ll need to know about to pull this artistic gardenscaping off well.

First, you’ll need chicken wire. Make sure your chicken wire holes are not too wide for the size of your rocks.

1) You’ll need to cut a rectangle of chicken wire out, about 2.5 to 3 feet high (depending on how high you want your pillars to be) by 4 to 5 feet wide. Wrap the wire around, into a cylindrical shape and hook it together with the wire ends you’ve created in your wire-cutting process. Make sure you leave no wire ends poking out anywhere as those could be a hazard for passers-by. You now have a cylinder cage for your rocks.

2) Then, start filling your chicken wire cylinder with rocks! The trick is to place your largest spuds, I mean stones, on the outside of the wire so they block the smaller ones from falling through the mesh. My son and daughter love filling the pillars up with the stones they bring in on their wheelbarrows.

3) Fill until your cylinder is full, brimming with stones to give a pretty fieldstone pillar affect to your favorite spaces.

Now, Make Stone Pillar Planters!

We love our pillars around the pond so much, and found we had plenty more rocks to deal with, so we created 2 more pillars with the added feature of a planter inside. Here’s how:

Fill your stones only 1/3 of the way up your chicken wire cylinder. Then, add a gallon or half gallon plastic or clay pot inside so the pot’s rim is flush with the top of the chicken wire cylinder.

Fill in around the outside edges of the pot with stones and completely cover up the pot from the outside, all the way to the rim of the pillar.

Then, plant your favorite flower in the pot as you would any planter!

10 Toxic-Free Home-Made Easter Egg Ideas

Home-spun toxic free Easter dyes are beautiful. Photo © Liesl Clark

1) Toxic-Free Magic Marker Dye: I’ll start with my favorite because it’s so easy and does 2 things in 1. It dyes your eggs but also revives your tired out Crayola or other toxic-free magic markers. Do visit our article about it to read the full instructions, but all you need is some warm water in a glass with a splash of distilled white vinegar. Put your markers head down into the glasses, grouping them by color (we have tons of magic markers because we collect those that our school throws out and simply revive them.) That’s it! Let the eggs soak in there for as long as you wish. The longer the darker the color. If you start by making polka dots or designs on the eggs with white crayons, you’ll get a lovely design on your eggs where the wax won’t allow the dye to do it’s magic. When you’re done, pull the markers out, cap ’em and they’ll work again for you for quite some time!

2) Natural Dye: The above dyes aren’t all that natural and you wouldn’t want your child eating the ink from a magic marker, but since they’re labeled non-toxic we figure using them to dye our eggs is probably still better than using chemical food coloring. But, by far, the best option is to make your own natural dyes. There are lots of articles available on the subject. We tried it one year and liked some of the colors, but not all.

3) Kombucha Natural Dye: This recipe is similar to that above except you’re using kombucha vinegar.

4) The Ultra-Natural Easter Egg: These colorful eggs are laid as Easter eggs directly from the hens! Find yourself a dozen eggs from heritage breed hens and you’ll see that Easter egg colors can come naturally. And, Rebecca is right, brown eggs can be colored for Easter, too.

5) Sienna Easter Eggs: This beautiful technique requires onion skins and some natural items from outdoors like ferns and grasses. It leaves a beautiful sienna or sepia color on your eggs with the imprint of your fern, flower or grasses. Gorgeous.

6) Silk Tie Tie Dyed Eggs: Reuse a silk tie and tie dye your eggs.

7) No-Dye Decorating: Creative egg decorating is another great non-toxic alternative. Non toxic glue and some cute art supplies are all you need.

8) Use an Egg-Bot! This totally frivolous machine (a robot actually), if you use it with a non-toxic pen, might just wow your neighbors when you hide those eggs on the fenceline.

9) Put a ribbon on it: Wrap a ribbon around your egg and glue it down with non-toxic glue or wrap your egg in yarn with glue. These eggs look beautiful.

10) Modpodge: I’ve modpodged eggs in the past with pretty tissue paper and a light solution of sugar water that dries overnight.

Do you have any ideas to add?