Cleaning without harming

Discover a safer way to clean your home and garden

Every day we bombard our homes with an assortment of chemicals in the endless quest for spotlessness. Whilst giving our homes the sparkle we’re after the chemicals we often use have a less than beneficial effect on our health. Studies have found links between some cleaning products and an increase in allergies, asthma and eczema.

We aren’t the only ones to suffer from these chemicals. The manufacture and disposal of these chemical goods have a damaging effect to the environment and fragile eco-systems.

So, what are the alternatives? Is it possible to achieve a clean and healthy home without harming ourselves and the environment?

Thankfully, yes it is. It’s encouraging to see that there is an increase in responsible cleaning products available. As well as a move towards resurrecting some of the classic cleaning remedies used way before modern day cleaning products were readily available.

To help you get started here are a few of our favourite suppliers of eco-friendlier cleaning products:

Allergy Matters was founded in 2001 and is the number 1 resource for allergies. They promote good health to allergy sufferers through their knowledge and up-to-date information, advice and recommended products.

Natural Collection offers a wide selection of ecologically considered products and services. They are the UK’s leading non-food ecological retailer and are the official catalogue for Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Trees for Life, Out of This World, The Vegetarian Society, Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

Shopeco has a chemical free cleaning section where you can find everything you need to rid yourself of chemical based cleaning products. Their range of value packs will save you time, effort and money and will enable you to choose products based upon your cleaning needs.

So Organic stock a range of quality products for eco-friendly cleaning.

Vernacular Shed Design

For most of human history we built without plans. We just put wood together and worked by eye. For the official definition, Vernacular architecture uses locally available resources and traditions to address local needs and circumstances. So, why spend money on sheds that are too small and too expensive? Sheds are basic utility stores that can evolve and fit your whims.

When we talk about local materials with regard to shed building we can expand our definition to include locally sourced materials. Second hand materials are my favourite. They often define the design. A strange shape or length or colour of a piece of wood may be the key around which the whole design evolves.

Planning your shed

The secret is to think about the large items (typically bicycles or ride-on lawnmowers) and ensure there is enough space to house them. We found that although 2 bikes will fit in a six foot long space, a seven foot space suddenly makes the whole process of getting the bikes in and out of the shed a lot simpler.

Build a couple of box frames of thick timbers for the walls and join them together to make the front and back. A pitched roof is the hardest part, but looks right and is less prone to leaks than a flat roof. Once a timber frame looks right, clad it in cheap wood.Overlapping timbers is a traditional technique, and if you have the time and patience and a router, then tounge and groove is a great way to create shed walls that are totally weatherproof.  Old palettes are a great free resource, once you have removed the nails, but go with whatever you have to hand. Look out for the smaller cheaper wooden palettes that have appeared in recent years. They are easier to pull apart and have good solid bits of wood to work with. Old sheets of plyboard are also a great quick solution for shed walls, but some people are put off by the finished appearance being a bit too ‘homemade’.  To cover the roof, felt is cheap and easy, ceramic roof tiles are excellent (although heavy, so only suitable for really solid constructions), thatch looks cool if you know how to thatch, wooden shingles are fantastic and a natural living roof of seedum gets you maximum green points.

So, why spend money on a mass produced shed when you can design and build your own. Since you built it you can change it, so get fancy with fretwork, windows, extra levels and so on. Let your imagination run riot and your shed evolve into something truly amazing.

Preparing a space for a shed

Start by measuring your area. A typical 6x4foot shed is found in many of your neighbours gardens and this is probably a good reason to try something different. however, for the sake of simplicity I will assume that a standard 6×4 is what you are going to build.

Prepare the ground. A solid dry surface is best to ensure your shed lives a long sound life. A complete concrete footing is fine, but might be overkill. Consider creating a base by digging holes where the four corners will sit. Then fill them level with concrete and when this is dry, kill off the greenery in the space beneath where the shed will sit. Next lay down a weed supressing membrane.

On the four corners lay four paving slabs to raise your shed slightly.

Now join 6x2inch joists together to make a frame. Lay the corners onto the paving slabs.

shed base

The corners can be screwed together using 100mm rustproof screws. You can often find them described as decking screws in diy stores. Also consider add a crossbrace across the centre and for larger sheds, a series of cross braces making a grid of 50cm squares is preferable. Fill in the gaps every 50 cm and add a few noggins down the middle for extra stability. You now have a rock solid base for your shed.

2×2 inch wood is strong enough for the uprights. Make each wall seperately as a flat sheet enforced at the edges. Go and have a look at a standing shed and you will see that they are all made this way. Just screw the four pieces together to create a shell. The roof is made again from  preconstructed sheets held together at the edges. 2 Sheets are needed for an apex roof or just one for a single slope roof.

apex shed

Assuming you will buy roofing felt, my tip is not to bother with felt adhesive. A good line of tacks along the join is all that is required to keep the felt held tight to the wood and will last as long as the felt itself. Also, when the felt does eventually need replacing it will be a lot easier to take the old stuff off if it hasn’t been glued to the wood.

Now, why settle for a simple shed? You made it and should be proud of it, so why not make it look special. Scrollwork, carvings, half moon cuts and all sorts can be added to make your shed more special.

Oven Drying Mushrooms

Wild Mushrooms are a great delight if you are careful and only pick the right varieties. If you find a crop of parasols or perhaps some ceps, then you will want to dry some and use them throughout the coming year.

I know mushrooms aren’t technically vegetables, but forgive me this little faux pas.

To dry mushrooms in an oven, first slice the cleaned mushrooms thinly. Woody stalks (the parasol for example) can be discarded.  Place the sliced mushrooms in shallow unoiled trays and place in the oven. Heat the oven to no higher than 150 degrees Fahrenheit (about 70c) and let the mushrooms dry for an hour. After an hour turn the slices and return to the tray for another hour of gentle drying.

If they still hold water, just do it all again until they are bone dry. Now you can store in sealed jars (with a little salt to absorb any atmospheric moisture).

Of course, to be really environmentally friendly, consider air drying and for something special why not have a go at cold smoking the mushrooms you collect.

Using fire ash

Ash from wood fires is an organic material and can be disposed of in a number of ways.

It can be sprinkled on icy paths to act as a deicer.

It is high in nutrients (potassium carbonate, phosphate, iron, manganese, and copper) so can be added to soil as a fertiliser. However ash is highly alkaline and therefore should be used sparingly and with care in this manner.
Most plants like a slightly acidic soil, so adding ash may do more harm than good.

Ash’s best use is in soap making. You can turn your ash into lye water and then use this caustic solution together with oils (grow your own sunflowers?) and fragrances (grow lavender) to make completely homemade soaps.

At our house, the most regular use for wood ash is in cleaning windows. This was a method recommended by our chimney sweep. I was buying some nasty chemical cleaner to regularly clean the glass window at the front of our little wood burning stove. The stuff was expensive, not too effective and gave off nasty fumes. The sweep suggested that the ash from the fire itself is the best cleaning product for glass he had ever encountered. A ball of damp newspaper dipped in cold ash and rubbed on a window quickly produces a soap like layer that is fantastic for removing dirt. Rub the grey soap off with a dry newspaper ball for a smear free window that will be the envy of the neighbourhood. It is really quick and easy to do and there is no mess. This method doesn’t just produce great results (and the results really are first class) but saves on water and eliminates the need to use environmentally dmaging detergents. The newspaper balls can be thrown into the fire after use.

Wood fires are green fires

People with a log fire or wood burning stove will be delighted to learn that most wood sold as firewood in the UK is locally sourced and is organic, in that chemicals are not used in its production.

There are always exceptions so it is best to get assurances from a respected local supplier, but in general the truth is that buring logs is a pretty eco friendly way of heating your home.

Logs are carbon neutral, in that they only release the CO2 that was absorbed during the tree’s growth, so considered over a typical 50 year cycle the atmosphere first loses then gains exactly the same ammount of CO2 as a tree is grown and then burned.

For these reasons the organic gardener is happy to promote wood stoves as a great alternative to gas central heating.

A Successful Compost Heap

Easy steps to successful composting

Making your own compost out of kitchen scraps is a great way to start turning your garden organic. Here are our tips to help get you started.

What do I need to start composting?

You’ll need a compost bin for your garden. Choose your spot and buy of a size to fit the space. Garden centres stock a good selection of compost bins. It’s also worth contacting your local council to see if they have any recycling schemes that offer you compost bins at reduced prices.

Though not necessary, it’s also handy to buy a composting crock for your kitchen.

Where’s the best site to place a compost bin

Ideally you should place your bin on a level soily area that is either in sun or partial shade. Having it on soil allows worms and other creatures helpful to the composting process to enter the bin and do all the hard work for you.

The heat of the sun helps to speed up up the composting process.

It is possible to place the bin on concrete but you should put a thin layer of soil underneath it to help start the composting process.

What can you put in the compost

As a general rule if something will rot it will compost. Though there are some exceptions to this rule.

A good compost needs a variety of ingredients for the best mix of nutrients and consistency. Each item will rot at it’s own speed (some faster, some slower) and add it’s own special component to the compost. Over time you will discover which mix works best.

Good compost ingredients

Comfrey leaves
Young weeds
Grass cuttings
Wood ash
Cardboard
Paper towels & bags
Shredded newspapers
Cardboard tubes
Egg boxes
Fruit and vegetable scraps
Tea bags
Coffee grounds
Old flowers
Old straw & hay
Vegetable plant remains
Young hedge clippings
Soft prunings
Gerbil, hamster & rabbit bedding

Do not compost

Meat
Fish
Dairy foods
Cooked food (including vegetables and fruit)
Coal & coke ash
Cat litter
Dog faeces
Disposable nappies
Glossy magazines
Perennial weeds