We have an arborist who comes by about once a year to check out the health of our trees.  Every year she shakes her head, frowns seriously and says, “drought stressed.”  Tell us something we don’t know!  Lack of adequate rain is becoming a serious problem in our area and I, for one, can’t stand the thought of losing any more trees in our precious urban forest.  The simplest way I could think of to address this issue in my yard was to install rain barrels.

New Rain Barrel before installation

New Rain Barrel before installation

commercial rain barrel

commercial rain barrel

      A few years ago I purchased our first rain barrel.  This spring I got a second one.  The first one is commercially manufactured, and the second one is made from a recycled food grade plastic barrel which was outfitted with spigots and a screen on the top.  Here are a few lessons I’ve learned so far.

1)  Get as many barrels as you can afford
      My house has an 800 sq ft foot print.  It has a pitched roof with a couple of dormers.  There are gutters and drain pipes at all four corners.  I figure that about 1/4 of the rain that falls on my roof runs down each drain pipe.  I have rain barrels at two corners. Each holds 55 gallons.  When we get one inch of rain, about 500 gallons of water falls on our roof. That means 390 gallons of water are wasted.   That’s extra water that could be protecting our gardens and trees.

overflow spigot on commercial rain barrel

overflow spigot on commercial rain barrel


overflow spigot on home made bararel

overflow spigot on home made barrel

2) Buy barrels that can be attached together

     Both of my barrels have overflow spigots near the top.  When you connect  two barrels together,  the overflow from the first barrel flows into the second one, thus capturing twice as much water. 
      The overflow spigot on the home-made barrel is only the size of the garden hose, so it isn’t as effective as the one on the commercial barrel, which is about 2-1/2 inches in diameter.  The water from the downspout runs faster than it can run out of a 5/8 inch garden hose so it ends up running over the top of the barrel.  This problem could be solved by adding a couple more overflow spigots.
      I run a hose from the overflow spigot on the home made barrel to the spots that need extra water.  Thus, when it is raining, your trees/gardens are getting a double dose of water.

3) Get barrels with a removable tops
      The water stored in the barrels can become stale and musty smelling.  When the barrel is empty it’s nice to be able to reach in with a long handled brush and give it a scrub out once in a while. 
      The top on my homemade barrel comes all the way off.  I haven’t had to clean it yet, but when the time comes I think it will be easier to clean than the commercial one which has a plastic guard on the top that’s not removable.

3)  A screen on the top is very important
      In addition to keeping debris out of the barrel, a screen prevents your rain barrel from becoming a mosquito incubator.  You definitely don’t want that.

4)  Consider hoses
      I made the mistake of buying a cheap plastic hose for the overflow on my newest barrel.  It kinked up at the outlet and was quickly useless.  Buy a good quality rubber hose.  Avoid vinyl.  It is pretty toxic. 

5)  Cost
The commercial barrel is available for about $100 in the garden stores.  I paid $60 for the home-made barrel because I didn’t actually make it myself but bought it from some one who is making them in bulk.  Do-it-yourself kits are available on line or from some hardware stores.  The prices vary widely depending on what is included in the kit, i.e. barrel, spigots, connections, screen. etc.  I decided that $60 was a pretty reasonable price for having one all put together and ready to go. 

So that’s all I know about how to buy a rain barrel.  I welcome your comments on this blog, particularly your experiences with rain barrel construction, use, set up etc. 

Check out my store at www.earthlygoods.net   for earth friendly products other than rain barrels.


Safe Food

This is for those of you who are concerned about food safety, yet cringe
at the cost of organic produce. It’s research done by the Environmental
Working Group (www.ewg.org) on the chemical load carried by various
fruits & vegetables.

Safest conventionally grown produce (lowest pesticide load)
        Onion, avocado, frozen sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus,
frozen sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli,
tomato, sweet potato, grapefruit, honeydew melon (onions were lowest with
a score of 1, the melon the highest with a score of 30 on a scale of

Least safe conventionally grown produce (highest pesticide load)
        peach, apple, sweet bell pepper, celergy, nectarine,
strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, pears
(peaches were the worst with a score of 100; pears the lowest with a
score of 63)

Most of the produce they tested was washed and peeled (no, they didn’t
peel the peas).

We have a pretty basic compost bin for our garden.  It has three fixed sides, and the fourth side opens up for unloading compost.  We use the lazy person’s system for composting, which is to throw everything compostable into the bin and let nature take its course.  This takes longer, but we really only need to dig out compost once a year, so it isn’t a big deal.

DSCF0020-1When we do dig it out in the spring, however, we need something to sift the compost and keep out the sticks, the not-quite-decomposed corn cobs,  and other detritus that needs more time in the bin. 

I built our sifter about ten years ago and it has held up just fine.  I learned how to do it by watching Martha Stewart. 

I used 2×2 lumber because it is lighter than 2×4 and it is really all you need.  The long sides are 47″ and the cross pieces are 24″.  This size goes well with my wheel barrow.  

LDSCF0018-1ay the 24″ pieces crosswise between the 47″ pieces.  One cross piece goes a couple of inches from the end and the other goes about mid-way along.  See the picture aboveThen drive nails through the long pieces into the ends of the short pieces to secure them.  Next, attach some sturdy L braces on the inside of the corners with wood screws to keep them secure.  This thing gets some pretty hard use so you want it nice and sturdy.

Next cut a piece of half-inch heavy mesh screen, about 27″ by 25″.  Or just cut it to fit the frame with enough extra to allow for attaching it to the frame.  Attach the screen to the frame with staples. 

Next, and this is important, nail some trim over the DSCF0021edges where you stapled the screen.  When I first built my sifter I didn’t do this and the staples came loose after about twenty minutes of sifting.  I just used some scrap trim that was laying around and fastened it with 1-1/2 inch nails.  It has held up just fine. 

As I said, we use our sifter about once a year for digging out the compost.  The long ends serve as handles for shaking and lifting.  We get about 10 wheelbarrow loads of good quality compost, which goes back into the garden and the rest of the yard.  Over time our very heavy clay soil has improved significantly and the level of the garden has risen about 6 inches. 

Have fun composting, and be sure to visit www.earthlygoods.net to see what new interesting stuff I have for sale.

How to Play

“The days ahead require mastery and clarity
AND strength in numbers. Pay attention to your group bodies.
InterPlayers are subversive, sexy,
wild, bewilderers, catchers of light and dark.
We’re alchemical mystery workers and wannabe’s. We’re life artists
who really make shifts not just in ourselves but in the world.”

By Cynthia Winton Henry  Founder of Interplay


Cynthia writes about the days ahead, and suggests that they may be difficult and challenging.   Sometimes the whole world challenges me; sometimes its only my own small piece of it. Either way,  playing helps.  Playing gives me access to my body’s wisdom.  Which turns out to be a powerful resource for coping, figuring things out, and most importantly changing the world. 

Here is what you need to know.  Everybody who has a body can play.  Do you have an urge to stomp your feet, clap your hands or swing your body when you hear music?  Or maybe your body wants to hold perfectly still and take in the music of the country or the city, or the silence of the quietest night.   That’s playing.   Anyone can do it, anywhere, any time. 

1)  Playing Alone.  (Sometimes it is helpful to listen to some music, but that is entirely optional)  Take a breath.  Take another breath and this time let it out with some sound.  Shake out your body.  Take another breath.  Pay attention to your body,  with a particular focus on what feels good.  Now pay attention again.  Notice the desire to move, and the desire to be still.  Follow that desire, notice what happens next.  What catches your attention now?  The sound of the traffic?  An ant on the sidewalk?  The lines in the palm of your hand?  Pay attention to that.  Now pay attention again.   Continue with this process until it becomes a total way of life. 

2)  Playing with Others.  Again, music is optional.  It also helps if you are playing with others who are paying attention and have decided to play together.  

However, it is possible to play with others even when they aren’t necessarily thinking about playing with you.  Start with taking a breath and shaking out your own body again.  A very small shake is sufficient.  Pay attention again and again.  Now notice the group body.  Pay special attention to the place in yourself where love and good will reside.  Notice the connection between you and others.  Be aware that the connection exists even if you aren’t thinking about it.  Be curious about it.  Are you happy to be in the company of others, nervous, irritated?  Be very curious.  Notice the connection in the coffee shop or bus stop or in line in the grocery store.  Notice your body moving through space without crashing in to another body.   Notice your internal responses to the other people in the space.  Continue to be curious.  Be mostly curious about yourself.  It isn’t necessary to acknowledge the connection out loud, but you might with a nod or a smile.  Your bodies already know all about it.  Breath.  Move.  Pay Attention.  Pay Attention again.

Wanna know more?  Click on the photo above and it will take you to the InterPlay home page www.interplay.org.   There you can find lots and lots of other subversive, sexy, wild bewilderers to play and learn with.  We are out to save the world!



Friends  –  Need I say More??

Hanging Out

webassets/laundry1.jpgI Wrote this back in March but didn’t post it.  So here it is now.  Better late than never.

Spring in Minnesota!!!  Crocuses, Tulips, Robins and Laundry.  Yep – laundry.  Here in the north country where I live there are many months of the year where hanging the laundry out on the line is just too difficult.  Well, there might be a few die hard hanger-outers who can tolerate the cold temperatures long enough to haul their baskets of wet laundry out in the back yard over the snow and freeze their fingers hanging it on the line.  But I know from sad experience that taking down frozen blue jeans is tricky business, and they don’t even really dry very well anyway.webassets/DSCF0020.JPGwebassets/DSCF0020.JPG
       But Spring.  Here is my chance to venture out into the back yard, carefully stepping around the last remaining patches of snow and ice, and expose the world to my underwear. 

        Here are some of the other benefits of hanging out your laundry:

1) Saving Energy 
OK, I know, it isn’t a lot of money saved by not running the dryer.  Maybe really only a few cents.  But it adds up when you combine it with other money saving, energy conserving measures and every little bit counts right?

2) No Static Cling 
Think about it.  Static cling is caused by the action of the heat and friction of the clothes rubbing together.  No dryer, no static cling.  Which brings me to —

3) No Dryer Sheets 
That’s right, no toxic chemicals to make you and your family sick.  No worry about offending your neighbors by pumping those toxic chemicals out into the air and no worry about offending your friends with clothes that may look nice, but smell like, well, dryer sheets.  But what about that nice fresh scent that dryer sheets provide you might ask.  This brings us to —–

4) Fresh Smelling Clothes 
The nice fresh scent of fresh air.  Yes indeed.  If you hang your clothes outdoors they come back in with a real rather than fake fresh scent. 

5) Less Wear and Tear on Your Clothes
Not putting your clothes in the dryer will prolong their life.  This is why many manufacturers of nice clothes say “Do Not Tumble Dry”, on the tag. 

6) The Bleaching and Disinfecting Power of the Sun
Your whites will actually be whiter and any nasty germs will be killed by the Sun.  In fact, here is a hidden tip,  if you put a little lemon juice on a stain and leave it exposed to the sun, almost any stain will fade and usually disappear.  I have used this on some pretty nasty old stains on white linen table cloths and it really worked.

7) Hanging out in the Back Yard
You can hang out while you hang out.  You get the benefit of being outdoors which is good for your body and your spirit, and sometimes get the chance to visit with your neighbors over the fence, build relationships and probably strengthen your community.  Everybody wins.


I know there are a few down sides to hanging out.  Yes, the clothes can come out wrinkled and the towels aren’t as fluffy.  You can, if you want to, throw everything in the dryer for 5 minutes after you bring it in to smooth out the wrinkles and fluff things up a bit.  Also, sometimes it is raining and you can’t wait for a sunny day.  Once again an automatic clothes dryer can come in handy. I suppose it also does take a little more time to hang things out than it does to throw them in the dryer, but I’ve not timed it so I can’t be sure of that.   

So there you have it.  Lots more pros than cons in my opinion.  Try it – you’ll like it.  And here is the final tip

Hang your underwear on the center lines and the towels and sheets on the outside.  Less embarassing for everyone

Get a Rain Barrel

New Rain Barrel before installation

New Rain Barrel before installation

We got a second rain barrel today.  We bought one a couple of years ago and I’ve been really wanting a second one.   We got this barrel through a drawing at the grand re-opening of our local food co-op.  The co-op was giving coupons for $25 barrels, and they had over a hundred of them.  All we had to do was wait around for someone who didn’t want/need a barrel, even at the great price of $25, to win one in the drawing and offer to take the thing off their hands.  We got ours from a young couple who rent in the neighborhood and didn’t have a place for one.  They gladly gave us their winning ticket and we gladly paid our $25 and went off to pick up the barrel.

Ironically, it was raining quite hard when we went to get the barrel.  So there we were, cold and soaking wet, hauling home the heavy black barrel that has been fitted with a couple of spigots (one for the hose and one for overflow).  Now I have to wait until a nice sunny day to saw off the downspout, move the elbow up and then situate the barrel under the pipe.   Then, I have to wait for it to rain again, and wait for the barrel to fill.  It is a lovely, satisfying sound as the rain pours out of the downspout  into the barrel, to be used later when our poor birch tree is thirsty.

We have been experiencing a drought for the past several years here.  Last year the birch suddenly dropped a whole bunch of leaves in about two days.  I was alarmed enough to call our local arborist, who said that it just needs more water.  She explained that the problem is cumulative over time, and that this tree has been struggling to survive for the past several years on an inadequate water supply.  It is planted in a fairly wet part of the yard, where the sump pump drains out, and I had assumed that that would be enough extra water for it.  I was wrong.  So, today’s rain was most welcome.  I can see the tree greening up before my eyes.  And, I am counting on the rain barrel to help bring extra water to its vulnerable roots.

Go Birch!