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Gardening

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Earth Mama

November 21, 2012

The Earth Mama is a special lady. She’s in touch with her surroundings. She’s down with nature–whether it’s the wind, grass, and trees encapsulating her country hideaway, or the energy of the bustling city streets and other people, all sharing the planet and working with one another. She’s been called a hippie, a new ager, a granola girl, and a bohemian. But she doesn’t mind, because she dances to the beat of her own music and knows that her tune is just one song on the universe’s eternal playlist. So what do you gift someone with such deep love for the sublunary world? One of the organic, handmade, responsibly-created goods on this list could be the perfect uncommon gift for an unconventional gal.


Zen Elephant Garden Sculpture / Inspirational Totem Necklace / Embroidered Belt / Roaring Fork Valley–Renee Leone / Hand of Buddha Jewelry Stand / Agate Coasters / Stone Finish Organic Bowls / Garden Pens / Wool Landscape Scarf / Beer Soap 6 Pack

The Uncommon Life

Raising Your Children Green by Oh Dear Drea

July 30, 2012

Hello! I’m Drea!

I’m a single mama to one beautiful daughter, Miss Marlowe Paloma. The two of us share a tiny home in sunny South Florida, just two miles from the ocean. I’m always striving to keep my home for the two of us as natural, organic, and earth-friendly as possible… vegan too! The choices we make in our lives and in our home will forever affect our children and all following generations. I like to know I’m doing what I can to help make this Earth and life a little more healthy, simple, and naturally beautiful for my little one. I’ve put together a short list of simple changes we can all make (or partially make) to live a more eco-friendly, natural life. I hope you enjoy!

Pesticide-free gardening (Weather permitting, not so much in the Florida summer.)
Herb and vegetable gardens are great. You know exactly what products/chemicals/pesticides are going on the herbs and vegetables you will be putting in your body. There are millions of natural and organic gardening tips out there to use in your home. Here is a list of some of the tried and true natural gardening techniques we’ve used.

Natural and homemade products
Toxins, parabens, and chemicals are a no-no in this household, as these are all bad for the body and many cause or increase your chances of developing cancer. Only natural soaps are going on our skin and on our countertops. You can find a list of my favorite beauty products (for mama and baby), here and even a natural deodorant recipe, here. The deodorant works, trust me… I work on a small, hot food truck, in the middle of summer, in Florida.

Organic, Unprocessed, Vegan Food
We try to buy organic food as much as possible. We keep processed foods to the very minimum. There are no chemicals and preservatives going into your meals (and your body) when you cook organic food from scratch. And of course, you get to share the joy of cooking with little ones. We’re proof that it most certainly can be done on a budget… take a peek at our pantry. Skipping out on processed, “convenience” foods sufficiently reduces your budget by taking out processing, shipping, chemical, and packaging costs. And it makes sense that being vegan would be a lot more inexpensive too, since you’re re placing animal proteins with legumes. Beans are cheap cheap cheap… and extra delicious. Being vegan is also 100% more sustainable for our earth, but of course, not everyone has to be vegan to be beneficial. Just being aware of where your food is coming from, and making a few conscious choices from there (such as one meat free meal a day), can make a big, big difference.

Cloth napkins
I try to eliminate paper products as much as I can in our home. It seems like a huge waste to buy something, just to throw it away. There is a drawer for dining napkins, hand rags, and counter rags. By using cloth, not only are we saving tress, but we are also eliminating any of the chemicals used in processing paper (such as chlorine). So it’s nice to be able to choose what soaps we want to use on our linens, we only use free-and-clear soap here. You can buy cloth rags just about anywhere. I’ve found some really adorable ones on Etsy. As an extra bonus, you can even find cloth napkins made from vintage and up-cycled materials, such as the ones from dot and army.

Cloth diapers
Cloth diapering is the best way to keep chlorine and other chemicals off tender baby butts. There are a ton of places selling them now, and there are so many different options and styles to choose from. As a bonus, outgrown diaper inserts make the BEST clean-up rags, as they are so incredibly absorbent. I’m still using Marlowe’s newborn diaper inserts in my kitchen, and she’s almost two now! And of course, it keeps our landfills free of hundreds and thousands of diapers. Even using one cloth diaper a day, keeps 365 diapers out of a landfill for the year! Amazing!

Drea picked out her favorite organic, eco-friendly baby gifts from UncommonGoods. Check out her collection here!

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Fresh Air Compost Collector

July 5, 2012

Background Research

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, designed by Heather Tomasetti and Tal Chitayat, is a smart-looking, new-fangled container for storing your compostable food scraps.

Image: Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society

First, for those of you who don’t already participate in the wonderful world of composting: what is it, and why should you do it? In a nutshell (ha-ha, see what I did there?), composting is piling up a lot of waste plant matter–fruit and vegetable peelings, moldy bread, browned avocadoes, raked leaves–in a specific way that makes them decompose in the same manner, but at a faster rate, than they naturally would on their own.

Compost Heap, a 39 Day Time-lapse

Not only does this divert them from the general waste stream and thus the landfill, but “finished” (thoroughly broken-down) compost works magic on plants, not only in an eco-positive way, but also in terms of complex plant science. I tried it, and my plants shot up like they were on steroids.

You’ve probably heard of people keeping worms in bins in their homes in order to compost. But you don’t have to do that. You can just save your scraps and bring them to a compost site run by your community, or a neighbor. However, there’s no getting around the fact that saving compost scraps means keeping them at room temperature for at least a few days if not longer, which can have its unpleasant aspects. The purpose of the Fresh Air Compost Collector is to make them less so.

Time-lapse Fruit and Vegetable Decomposition

See? It’s not necessarily gross. It’s natural, and fascinating to your inner biology nerd.

Most indoor compost collectors either have a lid to prevent odors from escaping, or, like the one I used to have, above, use charcoal filters or other devices to absorb them. (Admittedly, the ventilation-promoting, filter-holding, cut-out flowers on the lid are nicely done.)

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, on the other hand, is designed to allow air to circulate around the scraps in order to slow down the rot rate. (The inventors refer to “air flumes,” and there are no such things, but calling them that is kind of adorable on their part.) Oxygen can get in and heat and moisture can get out, so your moist, vegetably, fruity leftovers evaporate a bit, preventing “anaerobic” (oxygen-free) breakdown. That’s what causes quick bacteria and mold growth, evil-smelling slime, and the fruit flies it attracts.

Hypothesis

The Fresh Air Compost Collector will allow me to enjoy composting, relatively undefiled by disgusting smells and unwelcome fruit flies.

Experiment

I got my Fresh Air Compost Collector in January and have been using it ever since. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to work all that well, because I usually believe in the tried, true, and un-chic, and this is pretty stylin’ for a waste receptacle.

I was game to try, though, because it was a pain to deal with my old compost pail. With that one, I was never sure if I was supposed to put a bag inside it to collect the scraps, or drop them directly into the naked pail.

If I just put them in the pail, it would soon absorb their collective noxious stink. But plastic bags would never stay upright enough to catch the scraps when I dumped them in (which almost invariably happened when I was cooking and unwilling to stop, open the pail, and hold up the stinky, slimy bag to get the scraps in while somehow keeping it upright so as to not spill its contents). Paper bags disintegrated when wet. And when I pulled the bags out to bring it to the compost pile, they always dripped putrid, decomposing produce juice on me, either then, or on the way there, or when I dumped their contents into the community container.

So, on to the new one: First of all, the design of this container is deceptively simple. You can’t really perceive this until you use it, but it’s very well thought-out in every detail.

The sides and bottom of the container have ribs that stick out and keep the bag from lying flat against them. Any liquid that might drip evaporates instead of pooling and festering.

 


Image: Picker's Treasures

 

 

 

 

 

The spring-loaded lid, which is full of tiny holes that allow air to circulate but keep out the flies (just like the tin panels of an old-fashioned pie safe), pops open when you press the button, and stays open without having to be held.

A detachable metal frame keeps the bag upright, so you can toss your scraps into it without getting glop all over yourself. The frame is strong, but light and very easy to lift off and click back into place when you put in a new bag.

One ergonomically crucial factor for me is that, because of where it needs to be stowed in my kitchen, it has to fit under my all-the-way-open dishwasher door, and at 9” tall (and 11.4″ long by 8.5″ wide), it does.

Whether its 1.3-gallon capacity is a good size for you or not depends on how often you eat fresh fruit and vegetables, and how often you’re able to drop off your saved scraps at a compost pile. The one I go to, the North Brooklyn Compost Project, is only open Saturday mornings, so I have to keep my scraps for up to a week (or longer, if I miss the day–see below).

There have been weeks when it was too small for me (I joined a food coop, got overly ambitious, bought too many vegetables, then got busy with other things and most of them went bad in my fridge).

There have been other times when it was too big (my cat died suddenly, I wasn’t up to cooking for a long time, didn’t bother to grocery shop, and put only coffee grounds and the occasional squozed-out lemon in there).

Aaaaand there have been weeks when I missed the compost drop-off day. By “weeks,” I mean “three weeks in a row.” (In my defense, this happened in the middle of winter.) Then it started to smell, though it never got as bad as my old one did.

But those aren’t fair testing conditions; no composter could deliver fume-free service under such circumstances. In general, the Fresh Air Compost Collector performed as promised: it emitted way fewer smells than my old composting pail, and the only time fruit flies were appeared were that one time when I pushed the limits of biology way too far. Even then, I saw only the beginnings of mold.

 

You’re meant to use compostable liner bags with the Fresh Air Compost Collector, because unlike plastic ones, they “breathe.” Since the bags start biodegrading as soon as you put moist food in them, I was sure they’d break in the container, or on the way to the compost pile. As a precaution–because I don’t like coffee grounds mixed with fermented mango skin and slimy rotten cucumber bits dripping down my legs–I put the bag into a plastic shopping bag for the walk to the compost pile. But it was never actually necessary, even after three weeks. None of the bags has broken yet. Still, I recommend holding the bottom of the bag in such a way that it won’t tear when you pick it up. The speed with which they (and everything in them) break down increases as the temperature gets warmer.

The container can easily be taken apart and put in the dishwasher, though the one time I needed to wash mine (following the three-week-no-compost-pile era), I did it by hand.

Tip: Don’t buy the wrong type/size of bags like I did once, duh. Doggie bags! Rusty Marmalade (RIP) was so disappointed in me.

Conclusion

I’m impressed with this doohickey. The Compost-Scrap-Saving Experience no longer means mess, stink and flies. As all three of those are greatly disliked by humans, no wonder the Fresh Air Compost Collector won a 2012 Green House Design Award. Six months in, I’m still happy with it, and am looking forward to filling it with the remains of this summer’s delicious fruits and vegetables.

The Uncommon Life

How To Repot Succulents

June 8, 2012

As Charlotte (you know, the one with the web) would say, Salutations! I’m Blair – the bloggin’ gal from the lifestyle and fashion blog, Wild and Precious and what a pleasure it is to be over in the beautiful blogging world of UncommonGoods today. And now that I’ve introduced myself lets chat about a way to spruce up that patio of yours.

In the world of trends, Succulent plants seem to be taking home the crown in the fauna and flora category. And why shouldn’t they? Their lush “I don’t give a darn,” character is nothing to be ignored. Succulents are hardy, unique, and perfect for the dry summer heat. They don’t ask for much, but a good environment to get their start in life will take them a long way. No green thumb needed — follow this quick DIY tutorial to get your happy Succulents repotted and ready for your front porch or city window.

Did you make mudpies growing up? If so, this might be your favorite part — make your own dirt mixture! When picking out potting soil just get the very most basic stuff. You don’t want anything too rich in additives — Succulents just don’t like that stuff. The goal of your dirt mixture is to get water/food/light/nutrients to and away from the roots in a time appropriate fashion. Mix coffee grinds and a little sand into your dirt before filling your pots. The sand will keep your soil from getting too over saturated with moisture (remember, these type of plants are desert dwellers – they aren’t use to a whole lot of the wet stuff) and the coffee grinds will help fertilize as well as keep away slugs and bugs that would otherwise love to nibble your Succulents down to nothingness.

You can save and use your own coffee grinds but if you aren’t a joe drinker check out your local coffee shop or favorite Starbucks. In a new effort to be green (reduce! reuse! recycle!), Starbucks is bagging and giving away used coffee grinds for garden use.

As far as picking out pots the world is your oyster. You don’t need anything too big and can even choose to put more than one succulent together in a pot. I chose these funky modern pots to compliment my trendy vegetation.

With your pot(s) picked out fill 1/3 of each pot with sand. Do not try to cut costs (sand is cheap anyway) by bringing home sand from your beach vacation — that stuff is full of salt and your succulents will no longer be… well, succulent. Sand is important in helping move around and drain water. Once you’ve got the sand in, fill with your dirt mixture leaving a small lip of space up top.

The plants: I picked out three wee little plants from Home Depot. They were around $4 each. They had crazy names, but in my excitement I lost the tags. I’m thinking about naming them myself though… ah, I digress.

Before introducing your plants to their new home give the bottom of the existing dirts/roots a bit of a scrunch. Flare the root structure out a bit. This will help it transition better into its new/bigger/better environment. This is something good to remember when planting anything anywhere. If you don’t break up the bundle they are used to having in their temporary store shells, they might be a little too shy to branch out (pun intended) into their new world.

Now — where to put them? These guys are not fans of the midday sun. They prefer indirect/filtered sunlight and enjoy a nice airflow (I chose to put mine on my front porch which is roofed). As for watering — unlike planting in your garden, you do not want to water these right away after repotting. Give them some time to adjust and then give a good watering about once a week during the warmer months. Don’t ever leave standing water in your pots — it makes them angry.

Wham bam thank you ma’am we have ourselves some repotted Succulents! Call your self hip cause you’ve got the trendiest little plants on the block. Mischief managed!

Thanks for hanging out with me — pop over any time to say hi Wild & Precious. ta ta friends.

Check out more planters and seed kits at UncommonGoods.
Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Moss Terrarium

February 16, 2012

Hypothesis: I’ve killed every houseplant I’ve ever owned. But the moss terrarium is so green and cute, so I want to give my green thumb one more try. Can I keep this fellow alive and maybe even flourishing?

Experiment:

First off, I need to create my terrarium. I grabbed a mixing bowl, a spoon and a squeeze bottle from my kitchen and got to work. Most everything I needed was included in the kit– dirt, moss, bottle & stand. But it did take a little bit of dexterity to get my terrarium up and running. Some assembly is required!

I activated the moss with in a quick warm water bath.

Gave the dirt a quick mix. Doesn’t this look like the beginning of a cake recipe? I know, I know… you just got totally grossed out. But Martha Stewart’s got a pretty impressive dirt cake recipe

Then I used my mixing spoon to spread out the dirt along the bottom of the wine bottle, and layered the moss on top with the included pair of chopsticks.

Here’s my finished terrarium, hanging out next to the last lonely tendril of parsley.

Results: Since the time this picture was taken, my parsley has since died. But my beautiful moss terrarium has stayed green, and I only need to spritz it with a spray bottle a few times a week. I did move my terrarium away from the window. I missed those instructions to keep it out of direct sunlight, and now that it’s hanging out with my favorite Beatles action figures, my terrarium just might make it through the winter.

Conclusion: If you’re worse at gardening than I am, don’t despair. The moss terrarium kit is a chance to redeem yourself and bring a bit of nature indoors.

The Moss Terrarium Bottle is $38, and you can dress yours up with handmade terrarium creatures, $34.