Put Plastic Berry Baskets To Work

What are we to do about the plastic berry basket? You know which berry containers I’m talking about: The plastic mesh variety, pint-size and usually green in color that our cherry tomatoes and strawberries come in. They come under the following names: Berry baskets, berry boxes, strawberry baskets, pint berry containers, plastic strawberry baskets, plastic cherry tomato boxes…the list goes on.

Why do we need to surround our beautiful fruits and veggies in plastic? It’s not the grocery stores that are packaging your lovely berries. Farmers choose the packaging, but many grocery stores will give feedback to farmers if their customers just don’t want their fresh produce packaged in plastic berry baskets.

If you want to avoid accumulating these baskets, simply buy your strawberries and cherry tomatoes only when they’re available in cardboard baskets and if your grocery store only carries plastic ones, give them your instant feedback by not purchasing them and get proactive in letting the store know you’ll start buying berries again when they can provide waste-free packaging. It’s grocery store strawberry season here and I cannot find a single one that’s plastic-free. Ours are packaged in clear clamshell packaging, aka styrofoam, and that stuff is a known carcinogen. No strawberries for us until they ripen in our garden or are offered at the Farmer’s Market or our local garden produce-share group.

What to do with your plastic berry baskets if you have to buy produce in them? Check to see if your local farmers can reuse berry baskets, if they’re clean. Save them and then pass them along, or collect enough of them to post them on your Buy Nothing group, and you might find a craft group or teacher who could use them.

Otherwise, here are 9 ideas to get you reusing the pint berry baskets you might have.

1) Turn them into candy boxes or gift boxes by weaving pretty ribbons through them.

2) Use them as a doll playpen.

3) Let your child’s teddy bear wear one as a space helmet for galactic journeys.

4) Start your cucumber, melon, and other starts in them by lining them with newspaper, adding potting soil and keeping in a sunny warm space. Then transplant the whole thing, basket and all, into the garden. Roots will grow through the plastic mesh and there will be no transplant shock for your seedlings. Remember to retrieve the plastic basket from your garden at the end of the season for reuse.

5) Place them upside down over your seedlings in your garden to protect them from birds.

6) Make an Easter Basket.

7) Line them with paper and use as a container for little things in your everything drawer or child’s playroom.

8) Use one as an earring holder/display.

9) Reuse them for your own berry picking.

I’m just going to refuse them from now on, and maybe you will, too. If we just stop buying them, maybe the farmers will find better baskets for their berries.

Styrofoam Filler For Planters

Have a large pot you’d like to plant cucumbers or flowers in? Don’t fill it up with planting soil! Save your soil and fill the base with Styrofoam first. The foam will reduce the overall weight of your planter, enabling you to move it around for best sun exposure. It also acts as good drainage for water.

Styrofoam Planter Filler, Photo: Liesl Clark

We found some big chunks of styrofoam washed up on our local beach, so I knew that we wouldn’t be able to recycle it. If you don’t have a readily-available source on your beach, save a few styro-blocks to stuff into your large planters. If you’re concerned about the carcinogenic qualities of polystyrene, make sure you place the foam on the very bottom of the planter so the roots don’t touch it. Then, fill with good planting soil, ensuring you’ve filled in all the in-between spaces so your plants’ roots don’t dry out.

Studies aren’t conclusive whether there are any known effects of styrofoam or plastics in our soil upon our foods. If so, we’re in trouble. Almost all commercial compost has polystyrene and hard plastics throughout.

Most of our styrofoam gets recycled around Earth Day when a local feed store drives our styrofoam to a recycler on the other side of Puget Sound.

What do you think? Have you got your own reuse for Styrofoam? We’d love to hear from you.

12 Twist Tie Reuses

OK, I have thirteen twist tie reuses, but it sounded better with the number twelve.

I have a lot of twist ties. Organic farmers tend to package some of their lettuces and produce in twist ties. I’ve vowed today to avoid those items because the twist tie waste is getting overwhelming in our house. Also, when we get bulk items at our supermarket we accumulate quite a few twisties. Over the course of a year, they add up, and my everything drawer is looking like a twist tie nightmare. But before getting rid of ’em, I thought I’d write down some obvious reuses for the little twisters to see if I might want to save a few:

Everything Drawer Turned Twist Tie Drawer. Photo © Liesl Clark

1) Take them back to the store for your bulk needs and reuse them. I try to remember to bring a stash of twist ties inside my reusable bags for my grocery shopping. If you’re really organized you’ll even have the bulk bin numbers figured out so you can simply reuse the same one over and over again. I discovered an ingenious way to decode the bulk bin numbers by….writing the name of the bulk item on the twist ties too! Duh!

Twist Tie Trash Hack: Write the Name of Your Bulk Item Along with the Bin Number For Reuse. Photo © Liesl Clark

2) Tie up plants and vines in the garden with your twist ties.

We reuse twist ties for training our espalier fruit trees. Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Corral your extra electrical cordage with a twist tie to avoid tripping over them and causing a domestic electronic disaster.

4) Make twist tie stick people. Ok, that was pretty bad. If you want to check out a true master at the craft of twist tying, check out the Twist Tie Guy.

Twist Tie Person? Sort of.

5) Use them to secure ornaments to your Christmas tree.

Twist Tie Ornament

6) Hold your ear buds together with a twist tie so they don’t get all discombobulated in your backpack or briefcase.

7) Make an obvious key ring heart to identify your favorite house key.

Key Ring Heart. Photo © Liesl Clark

8) Reuse twist ties to cinch together plastic bags storing produce, etc. (That was an obvious one.)

9) Make a 4th of July Centerpiece.

10) Give them away on your Buy Nothing group. I was able to BuyNothing a few of my long pink ones for a local textile recycling project. They’re used to tie up trash bags filled with clothing for Goodwill. Yeehaw!

11) Use one to hold all your, um, twist ties together.

A Twist Tie Twist Tie Holder. Photo © Liesl Clark

12) Make a set of “Garbage Gods.” They’re more rad than Legos.

13) Recycle them! If you’ve saved up enough of them, I guess you could strip the paper from the paper ones, put the paper in your paper recycling and put the metal in your scrap metal bin.

But wait, twist ties may be toxic!? According to some reports the metals used in twist ties are often unknown and could have lead in them. But…many store-bought vegetables like kale and Romaine lettuce are held together by metal and paper twist ties. My local supermarket even uses twist ties to indicate something is organic!

What reuses do you practice with your twist ties?

Potato Tower in a Hamper

We acquired several broken baskets at a town recycling event here on our little island. They were headed to the landfill and I have a thing for almost-perfectly-good large wicker baskets. They can be used for many wonderful things both outside and in. Although most of the baskets were simply missing their handles (and I further dismantled the broken handles so the baskets looked as good as new), I sensed their lives could be extended, or at the very least they could make a final appearance in our fire pit, rather than taking up space in the landfill.

Always searching for innovative ways to corral our garden potatoes so they don’t end up growing everywhere in the garden, I decided to try planting a potato basket. If gardeners can plant potatoes in such vertical gardens as trash cans and stacked tires, a wicker basket might prove just as useful, a little more breathable, and a bit kinder on the eye than tires and garbage cans amongst my veggies.

Simply add a 4-6 inch layer of compost mixed with soil to the bottom of your basket and then lay your potatoes about 4-5 inches apart atop the soil.

My friend, Yangin Sherpa, who plants acres of potatoes in Nepal (near Mount Everest) claims that she gets the highest yield by slicing inch-long pieces of potato with a single eye on each piece as her “seeds.” We took her advice and planted the little slices in our basket.

Then add about a foot of soil on top of your potato slices.

We’ve watered the basket periodically, and lo and behold potato tendrils have sprouted a few weeks later!

We keep adding more soil, always leaving 6 inches of leaves above the soil level, until the basket is full and we’ll have a basketful of potatoes by the the fall!

How do we harvest the potato baskets? We tip the basket over onto a tarp that we place alongside it, and gently dig out the potatoes in the soil and reuse the baskets until they’ve melted into the Earth. They’ll then be composted back into usable plant food. I don’t have a photo of our potato harvest, but suffice it to say we get a basketful!

Do you have any broken down basket reuses or innovative ways to plant potatoes? Please share.

Use Your Bean Water!

Did she say bean water? Yes, bean water is how I refer to the leftover liquid after I’ve cooked beans in my slow cooker or pressure cooker. Every week, we do at least one pot of beans, to provide the staple ingredient (beans) for many meals for the family.

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Dried beans, bought in bulk, are among the cheapest and most nutritious foods we can buy. Now, that weekly practice of ours has yielded several more meals that I had never thought of before — using the bean water to make wonderfully delicious dishes!

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Here’s our black bean water, leftover after I removed the beans to make refried beans.

This week, our beans of choice were black beans, and thanks to this article, I saved the bean water and used it as the basis for a huge pot of Tarascan Bean and Tomato Soup. It’s a recipe I first started making in my 20s, because I wanted to find something to use up the bacon grease that I save.

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We save our bacon grease for recipes and bird suet 

The soup takes on the flavors of the bacon and it’s absolutely delicious and Whole30 compliant.

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Bean water can also be saved for use as a base in vegetable stock and in soups like minestrone. Seems there’s a bit of a craze out there for bean water, especially chick pea water, which has the official name of “aquafaba.” Chick peas, or garbanzo beans, can yield a liquid that is a great replacement for egg whites and even meringues can be made from them. So, get creative, learn about aquafaba, don’t pour your bean water down the sink. Use it up to flavor your favorite meals.

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Behold, our bean water.

I’m feeling so very proud that the Tarascan soup which I love has 3 ingredients in it that many people would normally toss: bacon fat, vegetable scrap broth, and bean water.

Here’s the recipe for it, which is based on one found in my favorite Mexican cookbook, The Cuisines of Mexico, by Diane Kennedy.

Sopa Tarasca

4 Cups Bean Water (pinto beans or black beans)

2 Tomatoes or 8 oz Canned Tomatoes

2 Cloves Garlic

Half an Onion

4 Tablespoons Bacon Grease

1 Cup Vegetable Broth (or Chicken or Pork Broth)

Cilantro for garnish

Salt and Pepper

Blend the tomatoes, garlic and onion in a blender or Vitamix until a soupy puree. Set Aside.

Place the bacon grease in a soup pot and put the heat on high to melt it. Add the tomato mixture and mix by hand as it cooks for about 5 minutes. Gradually add the bean water and bring the soup to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and cook for another 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the broth and allow the soup to cook for another 10 minutes on low, until your soup reaches the thickness you’d like. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the soup and garnish with cilantro, paprika, shredded cheese or sour cream to taste.

Enjoy!

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DIY Freezer Bags

We never buy freezer bags and I’m on a mission to help people see that they’re entirely unnecessary. In the category of plastic bags in general, please don’t ever buy them!

Most of our freezing is done in glass jars. Roasted pumpkin, for example, goes into a large mouth glass jar with a few inches left at the top to account for expanding liquid when it freezes.

But what about things that really don’t need to be put in jars, like berries and bananas and pre-made burritos? Enter the DIY freezer bag. I’m feeling sheepish even writing about this, because I know most of my friends already do this. If you’re going to freeze your goodies for more than a month, be sure to use a very sturdy bag. Simply reuse another thick bag!

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We get frozen cassava tortillas, for example, and frozen berries when we run out of our own, and simply save those self-sealing bags to reuse as freezer bags for our own food.

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A DIY Freezer bag, Ahem, is Just a Reused Freezer Bag.

And, if you run out of those, double up on regular self-sealing bags that you’ve saved. By using two, you’ll extend the freeze-life of your perishables. Simple! If you don’t have ziploc-style bags, just ask for them in your local Buy Nothing group. People will gladly share the ones they typically throw away and you’ll never have to buy those bags again.

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Don’t Buy Freezer Bags. Just Double Up on Your Reusable Self-Sealing Bags.

DIY Suet

I love making things from what I already have in my house, without buying anything new, things that are secondary uses for what might eventually become waste. When we fry up some bacon, there’s always some leftover grease. What do we do with that bacon fat? We turn it into suet for our wild birds.

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Our bacon comes from grass-fed natural sources with no added sugars or chemicals. It’s about as healthy as bacon can get. So, I’m happy to share the grease with our little feathered friends who in winter do need an added boost of calories.

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First, save the plastic holder for bird suet that commercial suets come in. If you don’t have any, ask in your local Buy Nothing group for the square plastic packaging for suet. This way, you’ll be able to use that plastic container as your future mold to fit into the suet feeder.

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Here’s our recipe:

  1. Fill 3/4 of a plastic suet mold with any kind of bird seed.sizzling bacon
  2. Collect the melted liquid fat from your bacon grease. You can keep it in a jar until you have about 2 cups of it, and melt it. Or, simply pour the not-too-hot grease into your plastic suet mold with seeds in it. Fill the suet mold with your grease. IMG_2777
  3. Place the plastic suet mold filled with seeds and bacon grease in the freezer. IMG_2787
  4. When the suet is completely frozen, take it out of the suet mold and place it in your suet feeder. Done!Suet 1

We sometimes add peanut butter, old flour, nuts, berries, anything that birds would like. Chicadee suet 1

Your little tweeties will love their suet and you won’t have to buy any more plastic-packaged suet again!

Willa and bird feeders

 

DIY Wool Dryer Balls Reduce Dryer Time

The title of this blog post were the words I used for a Google search yesterday, as a question, and the answer from over 10 bloggers was resoundingly “yes.”

I had to find this out for myself.

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So, I went to my yarn basket and found a few balls of 100% wool yarn that we hadn’t used for years and wound a few contrasting colors of yarn around them. If you’re not sure if your yarn is wool or acrylic, check out this article that’ll help you determine what’s what.

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I also took some old knitting projects the kids had done (half-finished scarves and finger knitting garlands), balled them up, wound more wool yarn around them to make them into tennis ball and soft ball size.

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I then grabbed a few oddball socks out of my single socks box (yes, we have hundreds) and placed one wool ball inside one sock and tied off the end.

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I did this for each of the balls, until I had 6 balls-in-socks, ready for the washing machine.

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I put the cycle on high and threw in a few towels and T-shirts. I did the cycle twice, just to be sure that the wool balls were felting up. The wet wash then went into the dryer for a high heat cycle.

The outer tied-off socks were easy to untie and I rescued the now-felted-wool balls from their sock prisons. Each one felted up pretty nicely!

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Experts at this have suggested putting a few drops of your favorite essential oil on the wool balls about every 4th load you dry, so I found some rosemary (so my son won’t feel that he smells too flowery and to also keep buggies off of us (they don’t like rosemary.))

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Now, the true test was upon me: If I ran a load of laundry with wet towels through the dryer, would 6 wool dryer balls reduce the dry time? The answer is resoundingly yes. Typically, we have to run our towels through our high heat normal dryer cycle twice. This time, with 6 dryer balls, I only had to run them once! So, that’s a win. I figure this will save our family on dryer time (i.e lower our electricity bill) during the winter months when we can’t put our laundry out to dry in the sun.

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Oh, and the wool dryer balls also are a replacement for fabric softener (we’ve never used it anyway) and dryer sheets (ditto) as they remove static cling, soften your fabrics and add a lovely scent via your essential oil!

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20 DIY Crafts Not Plastic

A Case For Exposing Your Children to Traditional Arts Using Natural Materials. Photo © Liesl Clark

When my children reached elementary school age and we enrolled them in programs that had art classes, we were amazed at how few natural materials were used for art supplies and just how much of it was plastic: glitter glue, colorful plastics for mosaics, acrylic-coated feathers, various items to be “recycled” through art like yogurt cups and plastic straws. The myriad cut-and-paste-style art projects they did were primarily made of art supply store plastics. All too often schools and art classes are cutting corners and can only afford cheaper plastic materials for art supplies.

Hand-crafted tiles or buttons, made by a young Nepali stone-carver. Photo © Liesl Clark

I would’ve preferred sticks, stones, leaves, sea glass, natural feathers and wood over the pre-fabricated plastic materials my son and daughter were exposed to. These plastics were simply mimicking what’s found readily in nature. I also believe the color palette children are exposed to in those early years, through day-glo style plastics, can affect their color choices later in life. Gone might be an appreciation for natural greens, browns, blues and purples found regularly in the environment. We started to opt out of the popular kinder art projects in preference to doing our own art, making an effort to learn from traditional artists who work with stone, wood, glass, wool, and ceramics. These experiences, for our children, were enriching as they learned quickly that they could create things of beauty from resources found in the natural world, as people have done for millennia.

A Young Nepali Artist Carving Prayers Onto a Mani Stone. Photo © Liesl Clark

A coupling of leaves, feathers, and flowers could become a miniature nest or fairy’s bed from a 7-year-old’s imagination.

A Fairy Bed, Made From Leaves, a Pod, Feathers and a Flower. Photo © Liesl Clark

Or a piece of wood might be whittled into a boat, a stone carved into a work of art. Exposing children to traditional folk art from around the world is a great way to teach them how natural materials that are readily available can be turned into works of beauty.

Azurite Is One of The Pigments Used in Traditional Himalayan Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

On a recent trip through South Korea while we were in transit, we took part in a program at the airport in Seoul that teaches traditional art forms. Every time we pass through this airport our children learn a new form of art made from a surprising material. They’ve worked with rice paper to make stone carving prints onto them, they’ve made paper lanterns, they’ve hand painted fans, and they made a tapestry necklace. This time, they learned the Na-Jeon art form, working with mother of pearl-colored shells and shellac from the lac tree.

Learning the Na-Jeon Art Form in Korea. Photo © Liesl Clark

This highly sophisticated ancient Korean craft utilizes iridescent abalone and conch shells in contrast to a lacquered black wood background, creating a sense of balance and harmony in this mariage of opposites.

A Hand Mirror Made in the Korean Na-Jeon Style © Liesl Clark

The children were given hand mirrors to decorate in the Na (which means “pearl”) Jeon (which means “decorate”) style. The focus and concentration the craft required was mesmerizing for us to watch. And the mirrors will be treasured for years to come in our family.

IMG_5929 © Liesl Clark

If you’re looking for some ideas for arts and crafts less plastic, we came up with a list of 20 traditional crafts from natural materials found in and around your home that are easy to try. Copy this list or share the link with your art teacher at school. No need for spending money on cheap plastic art supplies when there are supplies we can contribute from our own homes and backyards: scrap fabric, acorns, sticks, scrap paper, wool sweaters, leaves and sea shells are just a few. Incorporate information about the cultures that started the folk art form you’ll practice so your children appreciate the history behind their craft and how interconnected we all are through our art forms:

1) Doll-Making: Fabric Scrap Dolls have been made for the children of many cultures for centuries.

DIY Tiny Dolls Wear Fabric Scraps in Style

2) Vegetable Stamps: My favorite veggie to use for stamps is okra. But you can also carve stamps from a potato with excellent results. And the celery rose stamp is absolutely beautiful.

3) Fabric Scrap Mosaic: Reusing fabrics is an art unto itself and certainly has been passed down for generations. Try making a pretty mosaic from your leftover scraps.

4) Embroidery: Try your hand at embroidery. You can even embellish a tired old lampshade to create color in a room.

5) Twig Basket: Collect some long green twigs and make a freeform basket out of them.

6) Origami Tea Bag Folding: Learn the traditional art of origami paper folding using the paper the covers tea bags! If families saved up their tea bag covers, a school art program would have plenty of paper to work with and couldn’t complain about budget constraints.

7) Scrap Paper Flowers: Art classes should save all scrap paper to make these beautiful flowers. Or toilet paper rolls are all you need to make these flowers.

 

Toilet Paper Roll Flowers. Photo © Kelly Munson

8) Fallen Leaf Art: There are many beautiful artistic creations you can craft from leaves.

9) Scrap Paper Tree: This pretty craft utilizes tiny pieces of your favorite scrap paper as well as sticks collected from outdoors.

10) Seashell Arts: We’ve made mobiles from sea shells and endless mosaics. These seashell koalas would make any child happy.

11) Tin Topiary: Use pie tins to make these beautiful tin flowers.

12) Knitting: With some saved-up chopsticks, you can teach anyone how to knit.

Knit with Old Chopsticks photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

13) Felting: Learn how to felt your wool sweaters.

14) Rubbings: Make rubbings for things natural or extraordinary.

15) Weaving: DIY weaving is easy and a great craft to do with scrap yarn and fabric strips. You can even make your own loom.

16) Phone Book Paper Painting Meditation: Teach the kids meditation by doing phone book paper art.

17) Sock Crafting: If you’re in need of a stuffed animal, try making one from a sock.

Sock + Rubber Bands + Bits & Bobs = Sock Hippo. Photo © Liesl Clark

18) Hand-Made Valentines: Valentines are an original folk art scrap hack.

Handmade Paper Valentines, An Original Folk Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

19) Stencils: You can make stencils from food boxes and use beets as your ink dye.

20) Driftwood Sculptures: If you collect enough of a variety, driftwood lends itself to creative art from their smooth appealing shapes.

What crafts from materials readily-available can you add? We love to make things from what’s abundant around us!

Easy Wrapping Paper Storage

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We’ve had three rolls of wrapping paper for the past two years since we typically use cloth bags for “wrapping” our gifts. Yet occasionally a wrapped present is shipped out because it’s easy to pack into a box filled with paper-wrapped items. Our three rolls of paper seem to be lasting forever and we’ve found the most simple way of storing them.

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Just cut a toilet paper roll open and place it around your wrapping paper roll. It holds that paper together gently, without the ripping we sometimes get from rubber bands.

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Happy wrapping paper storage for next year!