Treading Lightly: Mending

Our capitalist culture wants us to throw away any garment that is slightly damaged. Socks aren’t expensive – why not buy a new pair?

But there are costs to that practice that have nothing to do with our bank accounts. Costs to the planet, in the form of trash in the landfill, and carbon footprint for the manufacture and shipping of new socks, not to mention all the packaging (usually plastic) involved.

My favorite socks are still good, it’s just that they wore thin in a couple of places. So I decided to learn how to darn them. Darning is basically using needle and thread to weave new “cloth” over a thin spot or even a hole. I used colorful cotton embroidery floss to mend some small holes in other socks before tackling the large wear in this one.

As I was darning those small holes, I wondered if anyone had ever done a “spiderweb” darn rather than a rectangular one. I searched, but didn’t find anything about a circular darn. So I decided to just try it. It was a little chaotic, but the result is kind of like a mandala, and I like it. Anyone who does Tai Chi knows that these areas of the foot are energy centers, so I like having circles there. And the weaving of these circles was a kind of meditation.

Little holes can also be covered with embroidered flowers or leaves, making mending into decoration. I like that. It’s even becoming a bit of a fashion statement to mend clothing with color, like a badge of honor, instead of trying to hide the fact that the clothing has done good service. It’s a reminder that we can still get good use out of things by mending them, instead of following the consumerist practice of tossing them and buying replacements.

Treading Lightly: Homemade Mouthwash

Here in the Treehouse, we have to get by on what’s at hand. This series explores simple, nature-friendly alternatives to conventional products and practices.

Plastic bottles are amazing. They can hold all different kinds of things, mostly liquids. They’re highly squishable, usually (depends on the plastic).

And they will last for millions of years.

Long after I’m dead, that plastic water bottle will be kicking around somewhere, causing trouble. I’m on a campaign to eliminate plastic from my life as much as possible. Especially single-use plastic. And hey, when you live in a treehouse, and going to the store is a big deal, you tend to find alternatives.

I use mouthwash to brush my teeth (on the advice of my dental hygienist, years ago), which has the advantage of also eliminating toothpaste tubes. When I came to the treehouse, I decided to stop buying commercial mouthwash, and researched a bunch of recipes. This one is tweaked for my preferences. I usually make a large batch of mouthwash and store it, refilling this glass bottle which I keep on my sink. Continue reading “Treading Lightly: Homemade Mouthwash”

Treading Lightly: Growing Greens

Here in the Treehouse, we have to get by on what’s at hand. This series explores simple, nature-friendly alternatives to conventional products and practices.

When you’re in a treehouse, in the middle of the woods, there is no popping down to the corner store for last-minute whatevers. Our excursions are few and far between, so we are coming up with ways to compensate for the lack of easy access. We find this has also led us to try some more eco-friendly methods – in this case, for acquiring greens.

Gardening at the base of the tree is not an option. Never mind the climbing up and down; anything we might try to grow on the forest floor would be quickly snarfed by the local fauna. But I want lettuce. Fresh green things to eat. Greens that I know are uncontaminated.

Hydroponic tower garden

So I started growing lettuce in my office. This tower rack sits in the corner, taking up a 2’x3′ footprint. It’s got lettuces up top, seedlings in the center, and bok choy and basil plants on the bottom. All of these (well, not the seedlings yet) produce amazing amounts of wonderful leaves.

Fresh veggies, especially greens, start to lose nutritional value the moment they’re picked. In 24 hours, they’ve lost 90% of their nutrition. By growing them here, I have clean, absolutely fresh greens year-round, with a carbon footprint of…well, probably zero. The lights are LEDs and are powered by our solar system. Each lettuce plant uses around two gallons of water during its lifetime, compared to more than twenty-five gallons it takes to grow a head of lettuce in the ground.

The low carbon footprint is important to me, almost as important as the clean food. That Romaine heart that I used to buy for a couple of bucks had to travel from California, and was probably over a week old, maybe a couple of weeks old, by the time I brought it home. And while a couple of bucks seems fairly inexpensive, it’s a lot more than the cost of my lovely home-grown lettuces.

Growing these darlings is a bit different. You don’t wait for the lettuce to get big and then yank it from the garden. Instead, as soon as it’s big enough, you start harvesting the outer leaves, a few at a time. (I have been known to snack on a leaf now and then.) The plants get harvested this way for two or three months. When they’re tired, they bolt, and I retire them with thanks and a bit of ceremony. Each plant has probably given as much lettuce as two or three commercial lettuce heads, by then.

It’s a different way of gardening, and a different way of interacting with food. I’m very aware of the interdependence between me and my plants. I feed them and make sure they have enough light and don’t get too hot, and in return they feed us. Mutual giving.