Natural Living Des Moines

Calling all Ankeny residents! by sarahtar
June 7, 2011, 9:49 am
Filed under: Community, Home and Garden, News

Do you think you might want to raise your own chickens at any time in the future? Or are you supportive of the idea in general, even though you may not want to raise them yourself? The city council is poised to pass a new regulation that would forbid chickens in the city limits. NOW is the time to make a difference! Please check out the Iowa Urban Chicken Farmers group on Facebook. If you’re not on Facebook, please contact me directly and I’ll get you in touch with the folks trying to persuade the Council that chickens aren’t disease-ridden, horrible animals. The Council needs FACTS to counteract the FEAR that they’re currently working from.


Hang that Laundry! by sarahtar
August 3, 2010, 11:24 am
Filed under: Energy, Home and Garden, Urban Homesteading

It’s summer, and the hot air that makes us all sweat is perfect for drying laundry outside! Air-drying is cheap, doesn’t use any energy, and makes your clothes last longer. Read more over at Boulevard Farm.

Interested in making your own laundry soap? by sarahtar
July 7, 2010, 7:32 am
Filed under: Home and Garden, How To
Reposted from Love Made the Radish Grow by Abby Glann

I am so, so very picky about how my laundry smells and how I wash it. It has taken a while, and quite the journey through mainstream detergents (I used the free and clear varieties there), to organic/natural ones, to now just making it myself. People don’t really realize that clean laundry should smell just that-clean. Mainstream cleaners use so much unnecessary stuff to perfume the laundry, then you add the softeners (anyone heard of vinegar?) and the softeners sheets, and it is intense! I cannot stand to wear clothes or really even be around them, if they have been washed conventionally anymore. It hurts my nose. Clean is that fresh smell when there is an absence of other smells that were previously in the fabric-an easy smell to find when washing things like your husband’s work clothes or dirty diapers.

The formula I like to use for my clothes is from here. Very easy. I use their actual brand of laundry soap bars for the soap I use on diapers as it uses less oils in it, thus giving me less to rinse out of the diaper, thus cleaner diaper. I am less picky for our day to day stuff. I use whatever natural/locally made soap I find. It is actually great for the ends of soap. I can grate them up and toss them in and not, instead, get them caught in my hair while shampooing. Like I mentioned before, if you think you need a rinse or softener, just put vinegar in the same slot you would put regular stuff, but not just in with the soap. This negates the effects of the oils in the soap, which help with the cleaning action. It has to come in its own time. We dry our laundry on a line as much as possible, though with the rain here lately, the dryer has seen a little more action. I also have an indoor rack I use, but with the amount of laundry we’ve had from some basement water/lightning fire issues, it hasn’t been enough. Drying outside adds another hint of fresh to the clothes, as well as softening if it is nice and breezy out.
Here is the basic laundry soap recipe…you can add essential oils or just use a soap with them if you like for added hints of fragrance.

Handmade Herbal Laundry Detergent
approx 4 oz. grated soap (comes out to about a standard sized bar)
2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
1 cup baking soda
essential oils (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a widemouth container with a lid. (I use a recycled ice cream bucket). Add essential oils as desired (but they are not necessary). Use 1 tbsp to 1/4 cup per load of laundry.
Notes on ingredients: You can use any kind of soap – non-superfatted handmade soaps are wonderful! I just grate mine with a cheesegrater. Washing soda can be difficult to find in some areas of the world, I understand – usually it is found in the laundry detergent aisle of a supermarket. If you cannot find it, ask a store manager to order it for you. This recipe is VERY inexpensive and I have found it to work really well!

Making your own Rain Barrel by sarahtar
July 6, 2010, 10:34 am
Filed under: Home and Garden, How To

We here at the Reid household have been going back and forth on this one all summer – do we want to make our own rain barrels or just buy some already made? Our current barrels are over 10 years old. One is split down the side, the other is bowing out at the bottom, giving it a decidedly tippy demeanor.

We can’t find what we want locally, but the risk with making one is that it doesn’t function quite right. And finding a good, cheap source for 55 gallon barrels is somewhat of a challenge, too.

But should you decide you want to make your own, Des Moines Juice has recently posted a set of instructions.

Farm City by sarahtar
April 19, 2010, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Books, Food, Home and Garden, Urban Homesteading

Last month, on a road trip with my extended family (more accurately, my husband’s extended family), I had a chance to read Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. It’s available at the Des Moines Public Library.

I will say, once I got past the first chapter, I really, really enjoyed the book. It’s a light narrative that talks you through the joys, frustrations, learning experiences, and successes of a busy urban farm in California. It was like sitting down to a long chat with the author.

In addition to chickens, the author kept ducks, turkeys, pigs, bees, and I think possibly a few other animals, as well. She killed and processed the fowl herself, which impressed me quite a bit. She fed the livestock largely on scraps (or at least that’s the impression I walked away with). Many of these scraps came from refuse bins at local restaurants – and her descriptions of their foraging trips have inspired me to find a dumpster or two to dive into myself for my own chickens.

I will say, though, her descriptions of keeping the bees made me rather less eager to give beekeeping a try. They got stung. A lot. And not while tending to the bees – just while living. Apparently, the bees liked it inside their apartment. Hm, no, thanks.

Novella, during the time of the book, was able to farm on a deserted lot that bordered her apartment’s lot. She was a squatter, but she also had permission from the landowner. I did end up wishing that I lived next to an empty, sunny lot whose owner would allow me to garden there! The trick in Novella’s case, though, was that she was living/farming in a rather impoverished part of town, and so the lot’s owner had a fairly difficult time finding anyone who wanted to build anything on the lot. I’m not likely to have that issue in my neighborhood.

One item that continually irked me throughout the book was the author’s mentioning of people’s political leanings – most particularly, anyone who somehow didn’t live up to her standards and who also happened to be (or was presumed by the author to be) a conservative. It was interesting – I’m not sure, for example, how one’s political identification affects one’s willingness to return phone calls in a timely fashion.

Regardless, this is a pretty good read that I’d recommend to anyone. I picked it up after what seemed to me to be a rather lukewarm mention in the Urban Chickens Network blog, expecting something completely different. I was pleasantly surprised. AND this made for a perfect read on our trip.

Free Mulch and one step further into self-sufficiency on our Urban Homestead. by sarahtar
November 7, 2009, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Home and Garden, Urban Homesteading, Waste

Today, we took our new Yard Chipper out of its box and put it to work. (And I broke it all in one day.)

<a href=”; title=”Chipper by sarahtar, on Flickr”><img src=”; width=”332″ height=”500″ alt=”Chipper” /></a>

Um, can you say LOVE?

Here at our little Urban Homestead, we have tons of trees. They are beautiful and also a pain in the butt. One of the reasons they’re a pain in the butt is that they regularly drop large branches. Usually during storms, but sometimes just for kicks. When I say large branches, I mean that I have friends who have trees that are smaller than these branches.

These branches accumulate in the yard. We haul them into a pile. And then, after a year, we have a huge pile. In the city, we can’t burn our pile. So, if we need to have tree service, we pay the tree service people to haul it away. This is expensive, but we’ve done it. Otherwise, we could chop the branches up into the 3 foot lengths required for city pickup, and pay the city to pick it up. Expensive and labor-intensive.

Add to this nonsense the fact that we have a high need for mulch around here. Mulch is also expensive.

Enter the Yard Chipper. Yeah, it was like $150. Yeah, that’s kind of a lot. But, um, hello? FREE MULCH! Just in today’s work, in which I nearly obliterated our backyard brush pile, it’s easily paid for itself in terms of money saved in haulaway charges, and money saved in purchasing mulch.

Even more, it’s another step towards being self-sufficient. We have the source for all the mulch we could possibly need or want right here in our yard. Why buy it from the store?

In case you’re wondering, our chipper is a Yard Machines electric model. Most of our yard equipment is electric. It will handle branches up to 1.25 inches in diameter, though it’s more realistic to say that it’ll handle straight branches 1.25 inches. Anything bigger, we cut up with our chainsaw (rechargeable cordless electric Ryobi) and add to the woodpile for use in our outdoor fireplace. Or our indoor one if we ever get the chimney fixed.

In Praise of the Fabric Shower Curtain by sarahtar
September 27, 2009, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Home and Garden


Last fall, we took down our vinyl shower curtain and hung up a green canvas one. We had bought it at Target, after they put their back to school stuff on 75% clearance, for about $4. We weren’t entirely sure that an all-fabric shower curtain would work – would it keep the water in? Would it get soaked? Would it drip on the floor?

Well, I’m happy to report that it DID work, it did keep the water in. It got soaked, but it did not drip on the floor.

It did, however, start to break down and tear apart. We think the problem was combined soap scum and mildew. And once it started to go, it really deteriorated quickly.

So, this fall, I bought myself some Hemp and Organic Cotton plainweave and made us a new one. It was not hard to make (I mean, it’s just a big square – 72 inches by 72 inches – with holes for the rings at the top). Hemp is a bit more rot-resistant than cheap cotton is, and we’ll also take it down to wash it more often. Hopefully, this one will last us a good many years.

I like the natural color better than the green, as well. (hey, when you’re buying on clearance, you can’ t be too picky!) If we ever fix up the bathroom, I’ll stencil the shower curtain with historically-appropriate designs.

What I love most of all is that it’s not vinyl. It doesn’t fill our bathroom with noxious fumes. It’s renewable and biodegradable.

Cross-posted at Boulevard Designs.