Beth Wilder

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since Jul 11, 2018
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Recent posts by Beth Wilder

Anita Martin wrote:Regarding good bacteria for cleaning: As I am not sure about the English term I don't know if EMa are also a thing? These are a certain culture of lactobacillus bacteria that are not only used for fermenting bokashi but can also be diluted to wash down surfaces and eliminate odours, as an additive for pet food, as an activator for healthy soil.

Anita, are EMa "effective microorganisms" like this proprietary blend from TeraGanix? Have you used something like this for household surfaces? I've fermented citrus peels and pineapple rinds with some sugar, water, and some brine from previous vegetable ferments as a Lactobacillus inoculant, then diluted the resulting liquid. I spray that on our chest freezer, which doubles as a food prep surface. I have a feeling that, if I sprayed it on our soil, the red ants would go nuts.
3 months ago

Julie Hoolie wrote:Thank you, Beth, for the informative reply!  If I'm going to switch from the bleach-water in the bathroom, would you suggest just straight baking soda for the toilet?  I do have a toddler in the house whose aim is less than perfect so I'm cleaning the floor tile most days as well.  I'll try the peroxide there.

You're welcome, but I'm really not a cleaning expert! (Witness our house. Well, really, please don't.) Raven Ranson has an ebook on good natural cleaners here that I think is great and very useful. In that, if I remember right, she questions the common combination of baking soda and vinegar to de-clog drains. Fair enough. But toilets are a place where I think the two work well together (see this recommendation). Vinegar, in addition to being antiseptic/disinfectant, is especially good at breaking down urine (got a cat that pisses on your bed in revenge? you learn this trick fast), so you could use that first (as the last parenthetical link recommends), and then follow up by scrubbing with baking soda on your toilet brush to remove stains and continue deodorizing, then rinse with water.

Julie Hoolie wrote:Also, which do you recommend for a shower that gets heavy use?

We don't have a shower (I miss showers!), but here are things I've done in the past when I did: Do you keep a squeegee in there for each person to use as soon as they're done in the shower? (Your toddler might even love using it as far up as he can reach!) That should help keep mold and mildew from growing. Then, when it does need cleaning, I've used a spray bottle filled halfway with distilled white vinegar and halfway with water, adding in a few drops to a teaspoon of tea tree oil (like this), to spray on tile and similar surfaces like that, let it sit a while, then wipe off.

What do other folks use for cleaning their bathrooms?
3 months ago

Julie Hoolie wrote:I admit that I've grown to love the smell of bleach and bleach-water has been my go-to cleaner for the bathroom. Why is it frowned upon?

There are lots of reasons for this. As I said, I do still use bleach for some things, although I never use it in an enclosed environment, never mix it with acids (please! don't die!), and never put it down drains that lead to any kind of water environment. Note that I do use it to clean the toilet enclosure (lid, seat, etc.) that our compost bucket goes into, but none of that is hooked up to any plumbing. Here are my reasons:

Human and Animal Health: I've had really bad reactions (skin, respiratory, and head pain) to using even dilute bleach for long periods of time (cleaning large quantities of surfaces for work) even outside in the fresh air, and my mom was once rushed to urgent care with a horrific headache after bleaching out part of a hot tub.

According to Healthline, "Chlorine poisoning can occur when you touch, swallow, or inhale chlorine. Chlorine reacts with water outside of the body and on mucosal surfaces inside your body — including the water in your digestive tract — causing hydrochloric acid and hypochlorous acid to form. Both of these substances can be extremely poisonous to humans.[...] Chlorine poisoning can cause symptoms throughout your body. Respiratory symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, and fluid inside the lungs.[...] Chlorine exposure can damage your circulatory system. Symptoms of this problem can include:

  • "changes in the pH balance of your blood
  • "low blood pressure
  • "serious injury to the eyes, including blurry vision, burning, irritation, and in extreme cases vision loss
  • "skin damage, resulting from tissue injury with burns and irritation"

  • IMPORTANT: Bleach is especially toxic when mixed with ammonia, vinegar, or any other acid type cleaning material. Inhaling the resulting fumes can be fatal. See Healthline again.

    Environmental Health: Bleach is also a water pollutant. This is primarily at larger quantities (say, chlorine bleaching of pulp and paper and other industrial processes) than would normally be used around the house, but it's still a good reason not to pour it down the drain (including into toilets). The damage happens when it combines with other things in the environment to produce toxins (similar concept to combining with ammonia or vinegar). The best-known of these is dioxins, which are persistent (resisting break-down over time). They "can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones," according to the EPA. They're of particular concern for bodies of water like the Great Lakes.

    Good alternatives include:

  • rubbing alcohol (for effective sanitizing in the age of COVID)
  • vinegar (for surfaces, and even to brighten clothes)
  • baking soda (for toilet and sink cleaning, among many other things)
  • hydrogen peroxide (many of the same functions as bleach, including killing bacteria, but much safer and just as effective -- but, like rubbing alcohol, please don't swallow it!)
  • lemon juice (to bleach and disinfect)
  • Castile soap (this and water work just great to clean hands, produce, etc. of bacteria and even viruses)
  • diluted tea tree oil (great antifungal and antibacterial, e.g. for shower curtains)
  • salt (for certain things like we've talked about up-thread)
  • putting things outside in the sun for a while (use lemon juice first for extra bleaching action)
  • 3 months ago
    From this historical sewing site (including, yes, batiste!):

    Fabric Suggestions for Undergarments:

    Muslin – good starter fabric but be sure to feel the piece before buying. Muslin (known as calico in the UK) is produced rather quickly as a cheap textile. You’ll find the hand (feel) is different on bolts sitting right next to each other in the store. Select the lightest weight you can.

    Broadcloth – watch out for poly/cotton blends! They are everywhere and do not deserve to be used for a precious chemise or drawers. One hundred percent cotton broadcloth can be heavy so make sure you can feel the material before purchasing. A wool broadcloth is too heavy – keep that for a petticoat.

    Batiste – perfect for undergarments. It can have a slight sheen to it but is thin and opaque – a good choice.

    Voile – very sheer cotton that will work well for late Victorian and Edwardian chemise & drawers. Early 19th C. chemises should be made with thicker fabrics. Voile is simply too sheer.

    Lawn fabrics are beautiful. Unfortunately for us they are mainly sold as prints today. However, I’ve seen solid colors at a couple online vendors. Lawn is a soft cotton between a voile and batiste that has a stiffer drape like a shirting but sheer. Although mainly used for dresses, the stiff hand shouldn’t be too detrimental to undergarments if you want to use it.

    Shirtings – although cotton and can be used for undergarments, shirting fabrics work best for dresses and petticoats. Look for something else if you can.

    Kona cottons and other quilting cotton solid basics – although 100% cotton, these textiles are rather heavy and don’t drape well for chemises. But quilting cottons will work for drawers.

    Cotton or wool flannel is wonderful for drawers for cold weather if you need something heavy. I wouldn’t recommend flannel for a chemise as it’s just too heavy and with all the other dress layers is not necessary for the chemise. Be cautious though: wool drawers around the legs may be irritating.

    Linen – I have fallen in love with my linen undergarments! It’s simply beautiful to wear, breathes well, and is opaque. Stick with a lightweight linen between 3 and 5 ounces.

    3 months ago
    I had thought that even any passive method of harvesting moisture from the air would be called an atmospheric water generator, even if it was something like a net or air wells, but I may well be wrong. I would agree with you that suspending something like wire mesh or nets between your plants may well yield some condensation or thaw melt and would be worth trying if you already have materials around!

    We don't collect dew yet. We live in a high desert, and most years we get around 13 in. (33cm) precipitation, which we do collect for all our uses around our homestead, from drinking to watering plants. We also harvest ground runoff using dams and seguias and plant in sunken beds filled with mulch to capture and hold any precipitation.

    This year we essentially didn't get any summer monsoon, where normally we get the majority of our rainfall for the year during that time (normally it would have just ended, but our last rain was in early August, and it was one of only three or four small rain events we got all summer). Also, monsoon is normally our most humid season, when collecting moisture from the air might work best, and it was only very briefly at all humid this year!

    We are running low on water and looking into other ways to get it. We have a lot of sun, so I'm thinking something like solar hydropanels might make the most sense, but we can't afford to buy anything like that either. I'm wondering if we could build something like the air wells out of local clay and mud and organic matter; or if our cisterns perhaps already create condensate on their outer surfaces that we could collect (I haven't observed this; it may just be too dry here right now). We don't seem to get much dew. We do sometimes get a bit of frost.
    3 months ago
    Hi, Lukas!

    I feel like this keeps coming up in conversation lately, but I'm having trouble remembering all the different projects we've talked about. I'll try! To aid you in searching, I believe anything used to harvest condensation would be called an "atmospheric water generator."

    Here's a potentially very cool passive means of harvesting water from air using solar hydropanels.

    Here's a paper on dew harvesting in the West Bank.

    Here's an article on using a net to harvest fog in the Atacama desert, here's the Wikipedia article on fog collection in general, and here is a good article on using mesh as well as "fog harps" and more.

    This is very interesting on using air wells to harvest and collect condensate, with a number of historical examples.

    I swore I remembered the intricate and wonderful water collection and storage systems of the Nabateans incorporating an element of condensate collection, but I can't seem to find anything about it now. Can anyone else recall anything like this?

    The other thing that's tickling my memory is a mimetic technology that I think I read about in Stefano Mancuso's The Revolutionary Genius of Plants, that I thought was copying an ability of an unusual desert plant from South Africa that only has two long leaves and uses them somehow to harvest moisture from the air. But again, I can't seem to find this again (I don't own the book -- I had borrowed it from the library). Does this tickle anyone else's memory?
    3 months ago
    I've been somewhat obsessed with terraces of different types and have posted about them here (building them with rock retaining walls), here (might be especially helpful because it's another discussion of what earthworks might be most appropriate for steeper hills), and here (starting them by planting trees and then weaving brush amongst them -- and letting sediment accumulate against them with floods -- so that your stakes are live rather than dead, but otherwise similar to Tyler's suggestion), if you're curious. Also, check out some of this discussion of techniques like checkdams for slopes.
    3 months ago
    Some back-of-the-napkin thoughts (so, if I'm getting things wrong or forgetting things, please correct and/or add in, folks!):

    In my experience and from what I've read, if you're not in a desert situation, techniques like hugelkultur that are raised rather than sunken may work better for you, because you're likely to see a lot more precipitation in a year than the 13 inches that we see here in southeast Arizona, for example. How many inches of annual precipitation do you get there, and how are they distributed through time?

    For us, dams and seguias (channels to direct water) from Middle Eastern foggara systems (more great traditional techniques from the Sahel!) combine well with sunken beds full of organic matter -- like modifications of Zuni waffle beds as well as smaller indentations like zai, in different applications -- because we rarely get rain. In certain seasons, though, we get daily rain and some torrential rain, which we need to be able to control and then hold against the long dry times.

    For you, you may well need more and better drainage lest you end up with things too soggy. That's where raised beds, especially when full of organic matter, come in.

    In various parts of Africa (even some arid parts, if I understand right), this is accomplished by mounding with a hoe in combination with adding organic matter, then planting into the mounds. This may be simpler and more easily accomplished for you than building hugelkultur beds, for example.

    From the Penniman book I cited before, there's a good section on "bed forming" that describes a process of smothering existing vegetation (like with tarps temporarily applied, or cardboard or other biodegradable material you intend to remain there and break down over time) and then moving soil from your pathways to your beds. If the ground is currently thick with vegetation like sod, cutting and flipping it, then seeding a cover crop, then coming back and turning all that organic matter into your new raised beds could accomplish much of the addition of organic matter (pp. 130-131). The Ovambo of Northern Namibia add "manure, ashes, termite earth, cattle urine, muck from wetlands, and other organic matter to increase the fertility of their mounds" (Penniman, pp. 74-75).

    Your pathways should also help drain and move away floodwater when necessary, functioning like the systems of dikes and canals built to move water away from waterlogged soils e.g. by farmers in the Rio Nunez region of Guinea (p. 141). You could mulch them or plant a cover crop like clover there.

    One shared thing here is adding organic matter. The more organic matter you can add to help retain moisture, the less you should have to pump and add groundwater to the system in between rains.

    Keeping the ground covered with plants and/or mulch is also important in both situations, to prevent topsoil loss and excessive evaporation as well as to help any floodwater sink in rather than rushing across the land, carrying everything away with it.

    Also, what kind of slope are you on? That will help to determine what solutions will work best for you as well.

    Sorry for the current obsession with Penniman's book, but it is just so good and inspiring. Highly recommended.
    3 months ago
    You might be thinking of zaï or tassa, an agricultral system of pits from the western Sahel in Africa. This thread discusses a very similar strategy and this one goes into zai pits a bit. There are other strings around Permies that mention it here and there if you do a search.

    I think the original idea is to put compost and other organic matter (manure, whatever you have) in the pits, and you can plant trees in them if you want, or let nature do that for you. The book Farming While Black, by Leah Penniman, has a break-out column on zai that is very interesting. It tells the story of Yacouba Sawadogo of Burkina Faso (in the Sahel, where zai or tassa is traditional), who in the 1980's facing severe drought and deforestation filled zai pits with manure and compost "to attract termites, whose tunnels further decompose the organic matter." The pits helped his millet and sorghum grow, and native trees started to grow out of the zai, "anchor[ing] the soil, buffer[ing] the wind, [...] help[ing to] retain soil moisture[..., and] provid[ing] mulch for the crops and fodder for the livestock. As others adopted Sawadogo's technique, water tables across the Sahel began to rise for the first time in decades" (pp. 80-81 in the Kindle version, which I got through the public library).

    I hope that's helpful! What more can you tell us about your project, where you are, and what kind of desert you're working with?
    3 months ago