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.

Eat and Drink Your Dandelions

It’s been a long winter, and since the deer ate all our kale, we’ve been sans greens for too long. This week, the dandelions are in full force, and I’m eradicating them from my vegetable garden while weeding the lovelies more selectively from the lawn. Honey bees need their pollen, too, so I aim to leave plenty to flower for the bees, as dandelion flowers are among the first pollen sources for bees in the spring.

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Today, I collected a bucketful of dandelions, making sure to get as much of the roots and greens as I could. This is my second harvest, and we’re hungry for more. After washing the greens thoroughly, I’ve made a few dishes with them and they’re delicious!

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Sausage on a Bed of Dandelion Greens (serves 2)

Sauté 4 sausages to your liking.

Add some olive oil to the pan and sauté 4 cloves of chopped garlic in olive oil. Add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes to sauté along with the garlic. Add two pinches of salt. After 2 minutes, add a couple of handfuls of dandelion greens and another pinch of salt. Pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vegetable or chicken broth into the pan and let simmer for a few more minutes. Place sausage on top of the greens on a plate and enjoy!

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Poached Eggs on a Bed of Dandelion Greens (serves 2)

Follow the same instructions above for cooking your greens and in the last 4 minutes, add 4 eggs sunny side up to your skillet or pan, right on top of the greens. Put a cover over your pan to let the eggs poach. Let them cook for 3-4 minutes until the eggs have cooked to your liking.

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Roasted Dandelion Root Tea

I love dandelion root tea as a substitute for coffee. It’s dark and bitter like coffee and tastes great with cream or your favorite creamer. Simply clean your dandelion roots as best you can.

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Dice them and throw them into a Vitamix or blender to chop them into small nugget size pieces. Don’t puree them into a powder.

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Place them in a 250 degree oven and roast for 2 hours. Let them cool completely and store in an airtight jar.

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You can grind them down to a powder after this if you like. I just put them in a tea strainer like other loose leaf tea and brew up!

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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

 

Corn Mache, The Sustainable Green

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This is my favorite hardy green as it’s the first to pop up in the spring here in the Pacific Northwest. If you don’t know what corn mache (Valerianella locusta) is, Google it and you’ll find some people call it corn mache choux, mouse ears, or corn salad. It’s a super fancy French green, used in top restaurants, and yet it grows like crazy in my garden, self-seeding every year.

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I just love the stuff: as a substitute for baby spinach, in salads, in stir-fry, and as a bed of greens beneath any kind of organic meat we have for dinner. It has a creamy, nutty, slightly floral taste, but is very mild, so putting something flavorful on it works well as it compliments strong flavorings.

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Balsamic chicken thighs and asparagus on a bed of corn mache © Liesl Clark

We throw it in smoothies every morning this time of year. And I give it away to happy neighbors in the spring, who are hungry for anything green and fresh. Plant yourself a bed of corn mache, let a few go to seed, and next year you’ll thank yourself for the effort as this lovely little veggie, like arugula and jerusalem artichokes,  will be come a perennial springtime friend.

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It takes a little extra effort to wash as grit can get down inside. I just soak the little florets in a big bowl of water and submerge them before pulling them out. Seems to work just fine!

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10-Minute Daily Yoga

I’ve done yoga on and off over the years, but I have to admit, for me, I really just needed to do it on my own, not in a group where I would feel self-conscious. My need for a more meditative solitary practice inspired me to ask my friend, Paula Suter, if she would be willing to pass on to me her intuitive yoga knowledge. She has such a way about her, I wanted some of her calm and beauty for myself. This was her gift that she passed on to me. In the spirit of paying it forward, here’s her rudimentary 10-minute version for you to try yourself, modify for your needs, and then share with others. Enjoy.

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We were in a beautiful place in Mexico surrounded by unpopulated hills and the sounds of the sea in the distance. Seeing these images and video just transports me there. I had only shot it for my own personal use, but Paula has graciously given me permission to share it with you all here. The images and video should simply speak for themselves (do pause the video to do your stretches, as we blasted through the poses quite quickly.)

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