Plastic Free July: 5 Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste

Sustainability

July is Plastic Free Month so I thought it would be a great idea to share some ideas on how to easily reduce how much plastic we’re using. It can be difficult in this day and age to avoid plastic. It seems that everywhere I turn everything is wrapped in plastic – even vegetables! Sometimes using plastic is unavoidable because of this but there are some easy ways that you can reduce your plastic usage that we can all do not only for Plastic Free July but every month of the year.

Swap Your Plastic Utensils

This is probably one of the easiest swaps you can make – instead of using the plastic utensils at work for your lunch (or anywhere when you’re eating out) carry your own reusable utensils. This can mean you have an extra set at work that you use, wash and reuse, or maybe you have a set you keep in your purse. Whatever method you prefer, this is a quick and easy way to reduce your use of plastic every day. And really, who really likes using plastic utensils anyway. You can find loads of silverware and utensils at your local thrift store, or if you’re looking for something new I suggest checking out Etsy for some of the cutest reusable sets you’ve ever seen. Both options are inexpensive and a great way to reduce your plastic usage all year long.

Reusable Bags

This is a no-brainer in California, since our free plastic bags are no longer allowed, but in other areas it may be an important switch you can make to reduce your plastic waste. Reusable bags can be anything from grocery bags, produce bags, zip-up bags to lunch bags. Whether you’re reusing your stockpile of plastic bags or purchasing washable replacements this can be a quick and easy way to lessen your plastic footprint. There are loads of options that can be purchased at local grocery stores for fairly cheap and of course Etsy always has cute and unique options that you can have shipped to you. Stock up on grocery bags, mesh produce bags and even reusable snack bags for lunches. Also, did you know you can wash zip-up bags and reuse them? I’ve been doing this for months now and have even been putting them in the dishwasher. Simply flip the bags inside out and place on the top rack of your dishwasher. Wedge them between a few cups to keep them in place and before you know it your zipper bags will be good as new!

Plastic-Free Produce

This tip can be a bit more difficult to follow depending on where you shop, but it’s also important to let our grocery stores know that we’re tired of all of our food being wrapped in plastic for no reason. I like to try and do my best to purchase only those produce items that come without any added plastic. For example, often times there are english cucumbers wrapped in plastic wrap at my local grocery store, instead of purchasing those, I’ll buy the regular cucumbers that are plastic free. Same goes for bagged salads, herbs, and things like broccoli, carrots or green beans. The easiest way to avoid plastic produce? Shopping at the farmers markets! This is also a great way to get organic produce locally while supporting your local farmers and community. Avoiding plastic wrapped produce can have a big impact per trip depending on what you normally buy and can be also be a great way to encourage us to support our local agricultural businesses.

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk means that you can use reusable containers or bags to purchase things like rice, pasta, flour, nuts and other dry items. This greatly reduces waste and is usually cheaper too! Most grocery stores have a bulk area and if you’re lucky you might even have a dedicated bulk store in your area. Simply weight the container or bag you are using before you fill it up and subtract that from the total weight of your purchase before you buy. Sometimes this can be tougher to figure out depending on where you shop, but if you speak to your local grocer they should be able to help. I’ve seen people use everything from cloth bags to mason jars to purchase items in bulk. Not only is it easy but they look better sitting in your pantry too!

Quit Single Use Water Bottles

This tip is probably the easiest and most impactful of all – purchase a reusable water bottle to refill instead of using single use plastic water bottles. This tip is huge because it can reduce a crazy amount of plastic being thrown into landfills. It’s inexpensive to purchase a nice water bottle, whether you like stainless, glass or another plastic option. Most airports, gyms, public events etc. now offer water refill stations for your reusable bottle so it’s easier than ever. Don’t like the water from your tap? That’s easy. You can either buy a filtered pitcher or sink attachment, OR purchase your water in larger amounts to fill up your reusable bottle. There are over 50 billion water bottles purchased each day that end up in the garbage. Purchasing a reusable bottle can make a difference and help greatly reduce our plastic footprint.

So there you have it! 5 Tips to reducing your plastic footprint for Plastic Free July. All of these tips are so easy and don’t cost much if anything to implement. I hope you’ll be inspired to make small changes to help our environment not just for July but for every month of the year!

Garden Check-In

Sustainability

One of my resolutions this year was to become more sustainable by growing some of my own food. I started mostly everything from seed and I am finally starting to see some of the fruits and vegetables of my labor! Here’s a quick recap of my process: I germinated most of the seeds to start. The only ones I started straight from seed were the sunflowers and the green beans. After germinating I started the seeds inside the house to make sure the weather didn’t beat them up. The beans were the only seeds sown directly outdoors. I did have a few plants die which I replaced with organic seedlings from Green Acres Nursery & Supply. The ones I replaced were the yellow squash and one of the cucumbers (only one of mine survived). I also ended up purchasing a butternut squash plant and an eggplant along with some herbs. The herbs I bought were basil, sage and oregano. I even ended up planting some green onions in a garden bed that were from the grocery store. I think I had a very successful turnout overall and am so happy that things went so well with my first season starting from seed.

Enough recap, let’s show you how everything is looking!

Here is one of three sunflowers. The first image is what the sunflower looked like when it first bloomed. The second shows the seeds forming inside of the sunflower. Stay tuned for a post on how to harvest the seeds.

There are green beans galore in the garden right now! I picked this handful last night and have many, many others waiting to ripen. I can’t wait to use these as a side dish or in a salad. I ate a couple of them raw while I was picking and they are so delicious. Even the ladybugs love them!

Since I bought the squash plants and eggplant later in the season they haven’t produced yet, but the zucchini has not disappointed. This is one of two zucchs I’ve harvested so far, and they are so delicious! And even though only one of the original cucumber plants survived it already has a baby cucumber hiding in the trellis. I can’t wait for the other to start producing too!

The tomatoes haven’t ripened yet, but the plants are loaded with babies! I just know they are all going to ripen at the same time and I am going to be overloaded with tomatoes. I am going to use this as an opportunity to learn to can them into fresh tomatoes and sauces so stay tuned for that! I have cherry tomatoes and larger tomatoes that are coming in – 6 plants total – which is going to yield me a huge crop!

The only fruit items we were looking forward to this year have either already produced or have been taken by the heat. The apricots survived and were delectable. Unfortunately, the peaches seemed like they may have gotten too hot and started falling off the tree while they were still green. I didn’t expect our trees to produce this year at all since it was their first year, but happy that at least the apricot gave us some fruit. What will be sort of cool is picking our neighbors fruit off the limbs overhanging into our yard – figs, plums and grapes oh my!

I’m so thrilled with how everything has been going and can’t wait to see more growth. Stay tuned for more posts on sunflower seed harvesting, canning, pruning and more! Until then, happy gardening!

MelissaRose

Tips for Using Reusable Bags

Sustainability

The plastic bag ban took place in California in 2014. California was the first state to pass legislature prohibiting stores from offering single use plastic bags. This was a huge step because other states have started to follow suit either by presenting their own versions of this legislation or by trying to get similar laws passed by their local governments. Actually, as of today, New York has become the second U.S. state to implement the same plastic bag ban. There are several other states still trying to get similar bills passed. It’s a big step towards becoming more environmentally friendly, but there are other points that should be considered when making the switch to reusable bags.

Plastic Bags for Purchase

There are still plastic bags available for purchase at most stores in California. These thicker plastic bags are more sturdy than their previous counterparts, however they are still made of plastic. For those of us that forgot our bags every time we went to the store in the beginning (we tried, we really did!), we ended up purchasing the newer thicker plastic bags offered by grocery stores at $.10 a pop. This is not to say that the thinner plastic bags are better, but the thicker plastic bags seem to be even worse because of the material. In order to make the newer, thicker plastic bags worth the switch, you must reuse them. I’ve seen statistics online that say you must use them at least 4 times to make the switch worth it, but I know for a fact that these guys will last for several more trips. Be sure to use these plastic bags as many times as possible to make sure they aren’t being disposed of as quickly as the thinner plastic bags. The thicker material makes them less susceptible to holes and also makes it easy to wipe them out if they get a little dirty. It’s not necessary to throw these out right away to opt for canvas or fabric bags. Create less waste in the beginning by using up what you currently have before giving them up entirely.

Plastic Produce Bags

While the plastic bag ban is great, for whatever reason the plastic produce bags are not banned. It’s easy to pile up in the produce department, using separate plastic bags for each variety of fruit and vegetable you’re purchasing. I’ve tried not using them in grocery stores and sometimes get irritated looks from the cashier when they realize all of my produce is floating around inside of my reusable bags. My tip for this, again, is to reuse the bags you already have before buying reusable produce bags. Bring them with you in your grocery tote and use them instead of pulling new ones in the produce department. Once they are no longer usable, you can purchase the netted, mesh or other fabric reusable produce bags (or make your own!). Want to make the switch right away? You can still reuse the produce bags you already have. They work great as dog poop bags, bathroom trash bags (or any other smaller trash cans), and I’ve even used them during travel to hold body wash or other liquids that may leak into my suitcase.

Reusable Tote Bags

The tote bag is a great swap for plastic bags. They can be used time and time again and can even sometimes become a cute accessory for those mundane grocery trips. Unfortunately, like every other fabric item, these things also take resources to make and to eventually dispose of. Again, make sure you are reusing your bags (plastic, canvas, fabric or otherwise) as many times as possible. This eliminates unnecessary waste and ensures that you’re not buying bags just because. Try not to overbuy these reusable bags simply for a cute pattern or because you get bored of your old ones. It can be easy to overload your pantry with reusable bags, but it’s really not doing any more good than the plastic bags if resources are being wasted to create and dispose of what’s taking their place. Try to use your existing bags as many times as possible before throwing them out or purchasing new ones to replace them.

It’s also important to remember to wash your reusable bags to keep you and your food safe from bacteria. This will also help with unsightly marks and stains that may deter your from using the bags as many times as possible. If you’re using the thicker plastic bags you can wipe them out with cleaner and if you’re using fabric or canvas you can throw them in the wash (hang dry them for an additional electricity savings). Also try to separate your tote bags by function. Save a few bags for groceries, a few for outings or other shopping trips and a couple for things that aren’t food related. Overall, you want to keep the bags separate to avoid any cross contamination. You wouldn’t want to keep a pair of dirty shoes in a bag you might later put tomatoes in.

Lastly, if you have to get new totes, try to buy bags that are made from recyclable or biodegradable materials. Several companies now offer totes made from eco-friendly materials such as recycled canvas or biodegradable hemp. You can often find tote bags at the thrift store as well. Overall, you want to be as environmentally conscious when purchasing the bags as you are when using them. Another useful sustainable tip is to upcycle old items such as t-shirts, pillow cases, old fabric, etc. into your new grocery bags. This method cuts down on waste but also saves money on buying new bags. I will try to do a separate post later this season on a few different projects you can easily do at home to make your own tote bags.

Overall the plastic bag ban is a great move for the planet. Reducing our plastic waste makes environmental sense as long as we’re doing it the right way. Always remember to use up what you own before hastily switching to something new. This can be the first and most important step in reducing waste in your own home.

Do your local stores still offer plastic bags? And if they do, do you use them or do you bring your own reusable bags? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time,

MelissaRose

5 Tips for Sustainable Gardening

Sustainability

Gardening is sustainable. You are growing your own food, thus eliminating the use of plastic or other packaging that is often used in the grocery store, the fuel that is used to transport said food to the grocery store, as well as all the pesticides and other chemicals used to grow that food commercially. But have you ever thought about how you might save other items while boasting a home garden? I’m going to give you 5 ideas for making your garden and your process more sustainable, and in many cases, cheaper too!

1. Reusable Containers

This is by far the easiest way and cheapest way to be more sustainable when starting your garden from seeds. I’ve mentioned this in a couple of my more gardening process centric posts if you want to check those out. Basically, this step is reusing items that otherwise may be thrown out as garden containers. This can mean using them for seeds, seedlings, small plants (or I guess big plants if you have large containers) or storage. The first reusable container I used for my garden was egg cartons. I used old egg cartons to start my seeds in. This was extremely cost effective and reduced my waste. Other items you can use are old plastic containers, such as for yogurt, spread, cheeses, old solo cups, or even plastic containers from previous plant projects. I’ve seen posts online using old roasted chicken containers as greenhouses, which looked and seemed like a good idea, but since we don’t eat chicken we don’t have those containers. There are also ways to make origami cups out of old newspapers to start seedlings in. For all of these versions, just make sure that when you water your plants, that there will be adequate drainage otherwise you could kill your plants.

2. Secondhand Supplies

 

I am a huge believer in buying secondhand. Most of the items I own are pre-owned and purchased from a thrift store. The same can be said for many of plant pots. I have several terra cotta pots, a few larger plastic pots and other clay pots that were all purchased at the thrift store at a fraction of the cost of my local hardware store. The big breakable pots are usually an especially good deal in comparison, so be sure to always look for those! This not only saves you loads of money but keeps these beautiful and non-biodegradable items out of our landfills. Another tip if you’re using planters that are less than gorgeous is to place the plastic planter inside of a cool basket. This hides the boring plastic container and can also be purchased for super cheap at the thrift store.

I’ve already mentioned buying pots from the thrift store, but have you ever thought about buying other larger supplies secondhand? Believe it or not, some thrift stores have outdoor areas where you can buy other gardening supplies. You could also visit your local flea market where you can sometimes find used tools such as shovels, wheelbarrows and other useful supplies. This cuts way down on cost and you can save these items from making it into our landfills. Other items to consider are reclaimed wood for planter boxes, leftover bricks and pavers for paths and borders, I’ve even seen old trellis and support pieces that you could pick up for cheap. Another great place to look is garage/yard sales. I think many people would rather be able to make a buck off of an old rake they no longer use than to dump it in the trash. You may even find old potting shelves or storage options for your stored seeds and other supplies. 

 

3. Composting

Composting is a more complicated way to be more sustainable with your gardening process. It allows you to discard your plant based kitchen waste into containers to compost for use in your garden. There are several different methods you can use depending on the size of your yard, the time you have available and the effort you want to put into it. The Farmer’s Almanac online has great info on composting if you want to learn more and start implementing this process in your own garden. The EPA also has a site that outlines the benefits versus letting your scraps go to the landfill.

4. Seed Sustainability

Swapping seeds with friends, family or neighbors is a great way to save money and be more sustainable. Check your local online sites for local gatherings of like-minded plant lovers – usually Facebook or NextDoor has groups with these interests. I’ve even seen these take place online – maybe someone who lives in the same zone, but a different area would be fun! You could send the seeds through the mail without too much trouble. You could also speak to people you work with or go to school with to find out if they share the same hobbies of planting and growing their own food. Luckily for me, many of my friends and family like to garden so I’m able to swap with them. Swapping seeds not only saves money and time wasted on going to the store, but helps to eliminate waste caused by over-buying seeds. This includes the packaging that the seeds come in, the transportation, the trip to the store, etc. I also like to save my seeds from year to year. Seeds don’t really go bad, unless stored improperly. I am storing my leftover seeds from this year to try and sprout for my garden next year as well. This will also give me the ability to log what seeds were successful, which ones were the tastiest and which ones I wouldn’t mind swapping next season. In the end, I’m saving money and finding like-minded individuals that share the same passion for growing their own food.

agriculture-crop-cultivation-95215.jpg

 

5. Water Conservation

The last sustainable tip I have for you is something that has become a huge issue here in California – water conservation. It may not seem like a big change, but adding a drip irrigation system to your garden or something similar can save big when it comes to water and your water bill. Watering the conventional way with a hose or a watering can can actually waste water. Instead of the water being concentrated in the right areas, like you can with a drip system, the entire bed gets watered when it really doesn’t need to be. An irrigation system can also be set on a time to ensure you water at the right times, whether you’re available or not and make it so that your water is being used in the best way. Installing a system may require an upfront investment, especially if you have someone else install it for you. But the investment is worth the cost when you think about the time, effort and precious resource it saves in the long run.

Those are all the tips I have for you today. Let me know if you have any additional tips for a more sustainable garden or if you are using any of these practices currently.

Until next time! 

MelissaRose

 

Transplanting Seedlings into Larger Containers

Sustainability

Since starting my seedlings, I wasn’t really sure how the entire process would turn out. It’s my first time starting my garden from seeds, and while I was up for the challenge, I couldn’t help but be nervous that I might somehow screw things up. I am happy to report that so far, everything has been growing according to plan. I presprouted my seeds a few weeks ago, moved them into egg carton planters after about a week and today I moved them into bigger containers to continue to establish strong root systems. It is exciting to watch them grow and see how quickly some of them begin to become recognizable. If you’d like to see more of that process, be sure to check out my other blog posts under Sustainability.

Last year, I started my garden from pre-grown smaller plants from my local hardware store. Doing it this way was definitely convenient, but I found it had been a bit more pricey than I had anticipated. I mean, sure, it’s great to be able to grow my own food, but why were these little plants so expensive? To top it off, they weren’t organic plants, so I couldn’t even really be sure of what I was really getting – what kind of pesticides may have been used, if any weird processes had been used to grow them or if anything had been done to the soil that they were in. Starting my garden from seeds was an easy choice, even if it meant starting the gardening process months before I needed to with the pre-grown plants. Today I feel like I really got to enjoy some of the first fruits of my labor. Moving the tiny seedlings into larger containers gave me the ability to see how much they had grown, not only above the soil, but in their root systems as well. The entire process was so gratifying, and I cannot wait for the next steps coming up within the next few months.

Since starting this process, I knew I wanted to be as cost-effective as possible. After all, this was one of the main reasons I was starting from seeds in the first place. I did this by repurposing items that otherwise would have been thrown out, and this step was no different. The plants I purchased last year for my garden all came in plastic planter pots – nothing too substantial but sturdy enough that I had decided to save them. At the time, I wasn’t sure exactly what I might reuse them for, but luckily had saved every single one of them anyhow. When I remembered I had stowed them away in our backyard shed I was thrilled. I was able to repurpose almost every single plastic pot so far for my garden this year. I’m also hoping, that if I’m careful, that I may be able to save them for yet another go ‘round next year. These were a perfect solution since they already had drainage holes, and were easy to label on the outsides with a permanent marker. This alleviated any need to buy additional markers for the new plants. I did not have any drainage dishes for them, but I was able to use the same black vegetable snack tray I used to place my egg cartons on when I started. They are now sitting in my living room, under the window that gets the best light, and hopefully, living their best life until it’s time to be planted outside.

I’d say this process is fairly simple. The most important part is to be as gentle as possible – we are dealing with babies here after all. As before, I will put this task in a step by step format in an effort to be as clear and concise as possible. Are you starting your garden from seeds this year, or have you ever? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for success.

Supplies

Seed babies (I guess the technical term would be “seedlings”. These are the ones you have in your egg cartons)

Bigger containers such as terra cotta or plastic pots. You could also get crafty and use red solo cups, old containers for food items such as yogurt, butter spread, etc – just be sure to punch some drainage holes into the bottom.

A small trowel or large spoon. I used a large spoon from my kitchen because it seemed to fit best into my egg carton cups.

Vegetable garden soil. I used Kellog Organic Plus Garden Soil.

A tray to place everything on once completed. This is solely for catching any water that drains out when watering your plants. If you are using a greenhouse or something that you don’t mind getting wet you can skip this supply.

Permanent marker for marking your pots. You can really use any sort of labeling system for these that you like. I’ve seen masking tape with writing on it, popsicle stick labels and even small rocks with the names of the plant written on top. Do whatever makes you happiest!

  1. Collect all of your supplies and mark your pots with the corresponding plant name that will be moving in.
  2. Paying close attention to the name on your first pot, fill the pot with garden soil and get ready to dig out your first seedling (deep breaths! And remember to be gentle).
  3. Once filled with garden soil set the pot close by and grab your large spoon. Use the spoon to carefully wiggle the seedling its roots and the dirt around the roots out of the egg carton.
  4. After you’ve removed the seedling from it’s egg cup, hold it gently in your opposite hand. This frees your dominant hand to dig a new hole in your new pot for your plant.
  5. Gently place the seed baby into the new hole of the new pot and fill around with dirt. Press this new dirt firmly into place, making sure your plant is able to stand upright as it did in the egg carton.
  6. Once firmly planted, water with your spray bottle full of water or use a watering can – whichever method you like best – get some water to the seedling. I actually transplanted all of my seedlings, and then watered them all at once at the end, but you can do in whatever order you like.
  7. Place seedlings in a place with lots of light and warmth and continue to enjoy watching them grow!

I’ve really enjoyed my process so far because I haven’t had to thin anything out this way. I know exactly which seeds sprouted and so I was able to move just one plant at a time. I’m happy to say that I only had a couple of seeds that did not sprout at all, and so I have a pretty wide range of seedlings up to this point. I will continue to keep my fingers crossed that these little seedlings stay alive long enough to provide a yummy harvest this summer. Until next time!

MelissaRose

Transferring Pre-Sprouted Seeds

Sustainability

When I pre-sprouted my seeds, I wasn’t fully sure what I was doing. I read some articles online about pre-sprouting and thought it would be a great choice considering my zone and the time of year. You can read more about my process here. I am happy to say that almost all of my seeds sprouted using this method. I was so happy to open up my little ziploc green houses and see baby plants forming inside. Some of the seeds such as the lettuce and the broccoli only took a few days, the tomatoes, squash and peppers took a bit longer. Sadly, the only ones that didn’t sprout completely, were the peppers. I only had a couple of bell pepper seeds sprout, so I have now planted those directly in the dirt along with some unsprouted seeds, so we will see how that goes. In this post, I want to show you how I transferred them into egg carton planters.

I used egg cartons as planters for a couple of different reasons. First, was for cost – these are basically free versus buying new planters from the store and would ordinarily just be tossed out anyway. Second, because of the material the cartons are made of. I buy cage free organic eggs which come in recycled containers made of paper product pulp. This makes them safe for the plants, but they are also great at retaining moisture, which seedlings need in their earlier stages. So not only is this a great sustainable option it’s a great problem solving option as well that doesn’t cost any money. All in all, I was able to get 10 seed varieties and my bag of seed starter for under $20. This is SO much cheaper than what it cost me last year to start my garden from seedlings from the hardware store, and I think this is so much better because I know exactly how the seeds are being raised and can rest assured that they are completely organic.

I have been saving egg cartons for a few months and a tray from a vegetable snack platter to rest them on. I bought some Jiffy Seed Starter from Lowes to plant my seeds in. Using seed starter is very important as regular potting mix does not have the appropriate nutrients or pH balance for young seedlings, so be sure to use something like this instead. To start, I numbered my egg cartons, 1, 2 and 3. I then created a diagram on another page of my garden planner from Homestead and Chill so that I wouldn’t forget which seed went where. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to tell plants apart when they’re this young! I used a regular kitchen spoon (dirt don’t hurt) to add starter to each egg cup. I then gently pulled the seeds from their paper towels and pressed them each into their own slot. I left the little leaves of each seed atop the dirt but made the sure the roots were covered. The hardest part at this point was making sure I didn’t damage the roots when pulling them from the paper towel. Many of the little roots actually grew through the towel itself, so it was important to pull very gently. If you’re not able to remove it from the paper, you can take some of the towel with the root and plant it with the seed as the paper towel will biodegrade in the starter mix. After planting each type of seed, I wrote it down on my garden planner. I did one seed per cup with the exception of the mixed greens. I had so many seeds (I think I pre-sprouted too many) that I didn’t want to just throw them away. I had enough to put a few per cup (which I imagine I’ll have to thin out later) as well as give some to a friend. It will be a good lesson though, to see how to thin them out and give them their own planters later on.

Once all the little plant babies were in their new homes, I used a spray bottle filled with water to moisten each seed cup. It’s still important to keep the seedlings most and warm as this will continue to encourage growth. I do this by placing them in the sun during the day, and atop the refrigerator at night. Each time I move the cartons I give each cup a good spritz with the water bottle. It’s so exciting to see them grow and perk up even after just a couple of days. There are still some seeds in the ziploc baggies which I need to figure out what to do with. I think I might just plant them also and have a surplus of seedlings to give away to friends, family and neighbors. We will see how many survive, but I’m having a good feeling so far!

Are you doing any gardening yet? I know alot of people throughout the US are stuck in the cold right now. What do you think about starting a garden from seeds?

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Pre-Sprouting Seeds

Sustainability

This post is meant as a New Year’s 2019 Resolution check-in, specifically on the progress of my gardening. I wrote a post a while back about how you could in fact garden in January. Now this doesn’t mean digging in the dirt and planting things, what I meant is to start planning your garden. Throughout January (we only have 3 days left, how crazy is that?) I have been working on planning out my space. This involved sketching out my boxes and plants, figuring out which items would do well grown next to each other, and deciding that I want to implement some sort of irrigation system this year to make my goals easier to attain. I live in zone 9b and we get some pretty crazy hot summers, so deciding to add a drip system is really a no-brainer. Once I had a plan, I made a list of the seeds I wanted to buy. I didn’t need to buy containers or planters, because throughout the last few months, I had been saving things that I thought might prove useful to my new journey. I collected several egg cartons, some random plastic trays from snack packaging and had several ziploc bags on hand for my pre-sprouting.

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Pre-sprouting is basically a first step in getting your seeds ready to plant. I’ve never started a garden from seeds, so I’m really just doing my research and trying to decide what will work best for me. Pre-sprouting sounded like a good idea because it gave me the ability to see which seeds would actually sprout before throwing them into the dirt. This alleviates a few things – wasting seeds, crowding seeds and eventually thinning out plants if more should sprout than you expect. Pre-sprouting also make the seeds sprout faster than if they were started in soil, and for me, it just seemed like the safest way to get this project started. Since I am in the zone that I am, I can start most of my seeds fairly early in the year indoors. Check the planting times for your zone to ensure your seeds are being started at the proper time for your areas climate. This process is really quite simple, I did it in only about an hours time after work on a weekday, and it only requires a few supplies. I’m going to write it out like a recipe in hopes that it’s easier to follow and understand. Please note, that I did this only a day ago, so nothing has sprouted yet, but I will update on how well this works for me once they do (fingers crossed).

Pre-Sprouting Seeds

Paper towels, I used the narrow towels cut in halves, you need one half for every type of seed you will be pre-sprouting

Ziploc bags, I am using snack bags but any size should work, you need one bag for every type of seed. These act like a green house around your seeds.

Water, you can use the faucet or a spray bottle if you prefer. Spray bottles make it easier to dampen the paper towels down the road when they start to dry out.

Vegetable seeds, all of your favorites will do.

Permanent marker or some way of labeling your baggies

A tray of some sort to keep your baggies on. I am using a black plastic tray from an old vegetable snack tray. I think the black will help with heat retention and keeping the seeds warm.

  1. The first thing I did was label each ziploc bag with the name of the seed that would go into it. This made it so that I didn’t crush the seeds once they were in there. Other ideas I’ve seen online is to place a piece of masking tape on the outside of the bag and write on that.
  2. Take your paper towel halves and dampen. I did this by running them under my kitchen sink and wringing out. You can do this, or use a spray bottle.
  3. Lay the damp paper towel out flat. Place a row of seeds in the center of the paper towel. Do a couple extra seeds to how many plants you want as not all may sprout (this is normal). Do not place them on top of one another or too close. Try to do a nice spaced out row.
  4. Gently fold the damp paper towel around the seeds and place into the ziploc bag. Do not seal.
  5. Place unsealed ziploc bags with seeds onto your tray and put somewhere warm and in the sun. The seeds need sun, warmth and humidity to sprout. If you do not have a sunny place, you can use a grow light. At night, I place my tray on top of my refrigerator to stay slightly warm and during the day, I put under a window that I know gets a bit of natural sun during the day.
  6. Now, we wait. This part is killing me if I’m being honest. I want them to sprout meow. But good things take time. So let’s be patient together, and dampen those paper towels with a spray bottle if they become dry.

According to my research, the seeds should start sprouting in about 2-7 days. I will post an update once mine start sprouting. Good luck!

Are you growing your garden from seeds? Are you pre-sprouting? What are your favorite vegetables to grow?

MelissaRose

6 Easy Swaps for Sustainable Living

Sustainability

When living sustainability first hit the blogosphere, it seemed like it might be some kind of fad. People started toting around reusable grocery bags, and companies began advertising their use of less packaging. But sustainability isn’t just a trend – it’s here to stay. More and more people are catching on. We’re becoming more aware of the effects that everyday items that once seemed harmless are having on our planet and it’s vast ecosystems. Some of the changes can feel daunting. It can feel like we don’t have the time, energy or money to make the changes we so desperately want to make. However, I’ve learned that there are some small changes we can all implement without too much effort that can make real differences. These are my top 5 now 6! easy swaps for sustainability and how you can implement them into your life without breaking the bank, ruining your routine or causing unwanted stress in your already busy and stressful life.

1.Reusable Grocery Bags

Reusable grocery bags are one of the first things I can remember seeing pop up on the market that promoted more sustainable living. Grocery stores everywhere started offering their own branded versions of totes and bags that you could purchase for relatively low costs and reuse time and time again on shopping trips. In California, where I’m from, plastic bags were banned altogether; however, instead of them being completely banned, these even thicker plastic bags started making their way into markets. The thicker plastic bags cost around $.10-$.15 per bag, but didn’t seem to be any less destructive than their lighter plastic counterparts. Not only that, but people who weren’t bringing bags had no quarrel with purchasing a couple of these bags and loading them to the brim with all they could fit, trying to save that next ten or fifteen cent purchase. This doesn’t have to be a difficult switch. In fact, there are several reusable bag options that you can try that cost no money at all. If you’re like me, you’ve been saving your old grocery bags since the dawn of time. You can bring these into the grocery store to reuse. I even have a ton of the smaller produce bags that I take with me to the grocery store as well as the farmers market (admittedly, they also work great as dog poop bags). Another free option is to create your own tote bags out of old t-shirts. Instructables.com has a great tutorial on this, and if you don’t have a sewing machine, you can always cut and tie the bottom of the bag as well. Another option I’ve used quite often for quick trips is just using a large purse. Really anything that you use to carry things in will work – tote bags, purses, backpacks, homemade bags, baskets, cardboard boxes, you name it – if it will hold things it will hold groceries. Want to use reusable bags, but always forget them? Keep a stash in your car. Having bags on hand at all times will make it more difficult to forget grabbing them at all.

2. Reusable Water Bottle

I used to buy Smart Waters at the gas station pretty regularly. I’d buy so many that my car was filled with plastic bottles, sometimes not even fully emptied (such a waste!). Once I realized how much I was wasting (and learning more about sustainability), I knew I needed to make a change. There is a serious water bottle crisis happening on our planet. According to this article from The Guardian, there are 1 million plastic bottles purchased every minute. This influx of plastic, although fully recyclable, has overarched our ability to process it all. There is just too much to handle. If you lined up all the plastic bottles purchased in 2016 alone, they would reach half way to the sun. THIS IS CRAZY. Enter: The reusable water bottle. My reusable water bottle of choice is a 24 oz ThermoFlask stainless steel water bottle. You can purchase a two-pack for around $35 from Amazon (they also sell them at Costco). When you add up all the money you spend on water bottles (if you were like me), you’ll be amazed at how much money you’ll save by switching to something more sustainable. Not only that, but I find that I drink more water, waste less water and I’m no longer contributing to the plastic water bottle crisis that is occurring in our day and age. A perfect accompaniment to your new reusable water bottle, is a filter pitcher. This ensures you have bottle-ready quality water to drink (at a fraction of the cost), but also ensures you aren’t contributing to what is already a crisis of epic proportions.

3. Bring Cutlery From Home

If you’ve read any other part of my blog, you know that I very much enjoy cooking and meal prepping. I love being able to bring homemade lunches to work. Not only does this save me time and money, but it makes me feel better throughout the day. Not only that, but the less fast food I purchase, the less I contribute to the use of single-serve plastic cutlery, containers and other utensils. But up until recently, I was eating my lunch at work and realized that I am still using the single-serve plastic cutlery that my workplace provides. This is an exceptionally easy switch, because it does not cost any extra money, it simply requires you pack utensils from home in your lunch. A typical set for me is a spoon for breakfast and a fork for lunch. I pack them in my lunch bag, use them at work then bring them home to be washed. I think what I’ll eventually do is buy a set of utensils from the thrift store and bring them to work to stay. I can wash and use them at work and stop using the single-serve options that seem so convenient. Truth be told, I think food actually tastes better with real utensils! I’ve also seen people do this on the go so that if they end up eating out somewhere they have their own utensils on hand.

4. Thrift, Thrift. Thrift

Again, if you’ve read any other part of my blog, you know that I’m huge into thrifting. Thrifting is the one thing I’ve been doing pretty much me entire life that I didn’t even realize was sustainable. It’s sustainable because instead of purchasing new things, you are recycling pre-owned items and saving them from the landfill. Truth be told, most of my house is furnished with things from the thrift store and most of the items in my closet are thrifted as well. Not only is it sustainable, it’s a great way to save money. You can find pretty much anything at the thrift store, especially if you’re patient, and I regularly find things that are brand new at a fraction of the price they would normally be. For more tips about what to look for at the thrift store visit my post here.

5. Dryer Balls vs Dryer Sheets

Dryer balls are a great way to live more sustainably in that they cut down on waste as well as save you money. Dryer sheets can add up in cost, but with dryer balls, you buy one set and reuse them over and over. Certain sets allow you to add essential oils for an extra scent and others can even attract lint (for those of us with pets, this is a lifesaver!). My favorite set comes from Grove Collaborative (click here for a referral link).  You can buy them alone or purchase them with a bottle of essential oil. (PS. Grove has alot of other great sustainable options for cleaning supplies and other home items – be sure to use the referral link above for your FREE set of cleaning items). I love my dryer balls because they make it so that the clothes dry faster (less energy) while also helping to reduce lint and static from my laundry. I definitely recommend checking these out.

6. Reuse Your Ziploc Bags

Sometimes, trying to be more sustainable can cost money. All of the new reusable snack bags, beeswax food wrappers, fabric produce bags – sure they all look great on your Instagram, but sometimes it’s just not practical to go out and spend a bunch of money on your newfound values. Plus, I know when I started trying to make small changes to my life, I still had alot of things I wasn’t ready to give up yet, or maybe ever. One of these things is Ziploc bags. I know, I know… They’re plastic, single use and get thrown out super quick thus adding to the overall problem. But this got me thinking, I already have a giant Costco sized pack of bags (it’s just me and my husband in the house, so buying in bulk makes things last forever). I don’t want to just toss them out and then spend even more money to buy new alternatives. I did some research online about the materials and makings of these little zipper pouches. Did you know you can wash them and reuse them? Yup. Thus making the Ziploc bag reusable. There’s a couple different ways you can wash them depending on your preference and time. The first is to hand wash. You simply flip the bag inside out, wash and set on a rack to dry. Make sure the bag is open and standing on top of it’s zipper when it’s drying so that the inside (which is actually the outside) dries completely. Another method that I was super surprised even worked is the top rack on your dishwasher. I prefer to hand wash since this can take up alot of space on your top rack, but it is a faster and easier solution if you’re in a rush. Simply do that same thing and flip the bag inside out. Place on the top rack of your dishwasher. I liked to use heavier glasses and things around the bags so they don’t end up flying around inside the washer. You can run a normal cycle with a dry cycle and voila! Resuable Ziploc bags. This is a great trick, and instead of spending money to buy those fancy velcroed snack bags you’ve been eyeing, you’re saving money instead.

So these are my main easy swaps for living a more sustainable life. Each of them are easy to switch and are either free, low cost or will end up saving you money in the long run. There are a bunch of other less easy swaps that I may write about later on, so let me know if you’re interested in those as well! I should also note that this post is not sponsored in any way. I link products that I enjoy using as a recommendation to you. I purchased these with my own money after doing my own research and have been very happy with the results. Let me know if you have any suggestions or questions!

How do you try and live a more sustainable life? Do you find some things are easier than others? Are you more likely to make a swap if it doesn’t effect your current routine or spending habits?

MelissaRose

homemade pizza with vegetables

Easy Pizza Dough

Recipes

Good pizza can be hard to find. With so many restaurants offering low-cost carry-out and delivery pizzas, it can be difficult to sift through what’s delicious and what’s just cheap. The worst is when you pay a higher price for a pizza and are disappointed when you bite into it. A fool-proof way to avoid either of these instances? Make your own. I think pizza dough can be as daunting as making bread because of the yeast, kneading and rise time but it’s really quite easy once you try it out. And the results are so worth it! Making your own pizza is cheaper, more tasty and more satisfying than buying it from a chain restaurant. And not only that, I find that it’s usually more filling too.

Another great and unique thing about homemade pizza are the toppings. You can put whatever you like on them! I’ve done honey sauce, with arugula and pears, the basic caprese style with pesto and tomatoes, and huge vegetable pizzas with almost every kind of veggie you can think of. The options are endless! You can use this dough recipe to make any kind of pizza that suits your taste. It stays great as leftovers if wrapped in foil or kept in a plastic bag. This particular recipe makes two rather large pizzas with thick crusts. You can split in half if you want smaller pizzas or just one large one. Like many of my other recipes, I use a stand mixer which makes this so much easier, but you can always make it by kneading by hand. The photo posted is a pizza topped with homemade pizza sauce (maybe I’ll post a separate recipe for this), mozzarella cheese, spinach leaves, grape tomatoes, baby bella mushrooms and chopped green bell peppers. It was absolutely scrumptious and I can’t wait to make it again!

What’s your favorite kind of pizza? Does pineapple belong on pizza 😉 ?

Easy Pizza Dough

2 cups warm water

1 Tbsp yeast

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp salt

Olive oil, enough to coat a bowl and baking sheets and to brush on the crusts before baking – shouldn’t take more than a few tablespoons

  1. Place yeast in warm water and let sit until foamy (about 5 minutes)
  2. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour and stir to combine.
  3. Add remaining flour and salt and knead with dough hook until a dough ball is formed.
  4. Place in a bowl coated with olive oil, cover with either plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
  5. While the dough is rising, wipe the baking sheets down with olive oil and preheat the oven to 400°F.
  6. Once the dough has risen, split into two equal parts and roll out onto the baking sheets pinching around the edges to create a crust.
  7. Place dough in the oven for about 6-8 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and brush outer crusts with olive oil.
  9. Place toppings as desired and place back in the oven for 18-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.
  10. Let cool and slice; enjoy your homemade pizza!

Recipe adapted from Chef In Training

Easy French Bread

Recipes

Going into 2019, I knew I wanted to make some changes to my everyday life. Some of these changes included more physical activity, a period of detox and some food changes, but overall I think my main focus is becoming more self-sustainable. This is fairly broad but to me it means making more of my own food, or growing it, and depending less on the idea that I have to spend money to take care of myself. This also ties in with the idea of sustainability, such as reusing items, buying less, and contributing less to our growing garbage problem. Basically, I want to buck societal norms and get back to a simpler way of life. Maybe I’ll do another post on my reasoning and inspiration behind this entirely, but for now let’s just stick to one point specifically.

One of my main resolutions for 2019 is to become more self-sustainable with my food. This includes making more of my own items from scratch, such as breads, sauces, jellies etc., as well as growing a larger garden than I did last year. Obviously with it being January, starting the garden is a couple months away, so to keep myself busy until then, I’ve been learning how to make things that I can do inside away from the blustery weather. My favorite of these so far is bread. Bread is one of those things that I think makes a kitchen feel homey and inviting. The smell, the process and the feeling of being able to create something so simple and yet so widely consumed is very special to me. I remember my mom making bread and rolls and pastries and thinking that she must possess some kind of magic to be able to create things that were even better than store bought. As I got older, I seriously thought that I needed some kind of special training or voodoo to be able to accomplish the same thing. The whole process seemed so complicated. The yeast rising, the kneading, the rolling – it all felt so out of reach. What if I messed up? What if my bread didn’t rise? What if I fail? It seems very dramatic, I know, but I do feel like this is the stigma around bread (or dough in general)! Finally, I mustered the courage to give it a shot, and I’m happy to report that tasty baked goods aren’t just for those with fairy dust. With no tricks up my sleeve, and no magic bread-wand, I am able to confidently create warm loaves of bread that make my house smell as if a bakery exploded in my kitchen.

The most difficult part of making bread, I think, is the time consumed to create it. It’s not like making cookies where prep time takes 20 minutes and you bake each batch for 8 minutes and voila! – cookies for everyone! It’s at least a 2-3 hour process because of the rising times. Now, don’t get me wrong, waiting for dough to rise is not difficult in the slightest. You literally do nothing but wait (which for those of us without patience can be quite trying). With a stand mixer, your job is even easier. Pour contents into mixer, wait; pull contents out of mixer, wait; put contents into oven, wait. OK, so maybe it’s not THAT simple, but it’s close. This bread recipe is one of the first that I’ve tried that isn’t a “30 Minute Roll” or a quick bread recipe (like banana or pumpkin). The first time I attempted it, I doubled the recipe and was able to give one loaf away. The bread was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was a little more dense than I had hoped it would be. So, for my second try, I did only one loaf and I tweaked the recipe a bit to what I thought might provide a better outcome. And boy, was I pleased when my fragrant and golden brown loaf was ready to come out of the oven. Not only did it smell divine, it looked like one of the prettiest things I’ve ever been able to bake. As I pulled it out and checked it for done-ness (a fully baked loaf of bread should sound hollow when you tap on it) I think my eyes may have welled up a bit, like I was holding my very own baby for this first time. It was perfect. I slathered the baby in melted butter and waiting for it to cool a bit before digging in. OK, comparing the bread to a baby now sounds wrong… and quite gross. Anywho, I paired this perfect loaf with my Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup and could not have been happier with the results. It was light, it was buttery and filled with carby, bready goodness.

I guess what I’m getting at here, is if I can make bread, so can you. You’d be surprised at how much money it could save you versus buying bread at the store. We’ve used this bread now for french toast, dipping and just for snacking, but I think it could also be used for sandwiches, homemade croutons, bread pudding and pretty much anything else. And money isn’t the only thing you’re saving. Think of all the plastic wrapping and those little plastic bread clips and zip ties you aren’t throwing away. I like to keep my homemade bread in a small paper bag on the counter, but I’ve also heard you can wrap it in foil or make fabric bread bags (which I may do with some fabric scraps in the future). So cast your doubts aside and get your butt in the kitchen. You don’t need any special skills or bread fairy dust for this recipe, just a few hours to wait for the dough to rise and a bit of optimism.

Do you like to make your own bread? What are your favorite recipes? And what are some ways that you try to make your home more self-sustainable?

<b>Easy French Bread</b>

1 packet of active dry yeast

2 Tbsp sugar

1 cup warm water (for yeast activation)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for coating large bowl

  1. Dissolve sugar in warm water. Once sugar is mostly dissolved, add yeast and let sit for 5-10 minutes or until foamy.
  2. Once foamy, add the salt, vegetable oil and half of the flour. Stir to combine (I use my stand mixer with a dough hook throughout this whole process).
  3. Add the rest of the flour and mix until a dough ball forms. I let this knead in the mixer for about 4-6 minutes.
  4. Coat a large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough ball inside to rise. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a dish towel to keep any drafts out. Let sit for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  5. Once doubled, remove dough and work with your hands for a few minutes. Stretch it out in a rectangular shape and roll into a loaf, folding the ends under to create the rounded edges.
  6. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet and let rise for another hour. At this point I like to slice little lines into the top of my loaf. Some people wait until the rising time is complete – to each their own, do what makes you happy. I like my lines to be smaller so that’s why I do it before.
  7. After the hour is up, preheat your oven to 375°F and bake for 25 minutes.
  8. Enjoy the smell coming from your oven and prepare for goodness.
  9. Once the bread has finished baking (tap to ensure that it’s done), remove from the oven and brush melted butter over the top. Move to a cooling rack and let rest before slicing.
  10. Pat yourself on the back, because you just made your very own French bread! Well done!