Save Money (and a Long Drive to Town) With Home Made Cleaning Products

Where we live, it's a long trip to the grocery store – when we run out of something, it simply goes on a list. When the list is long enough or the need outweighs the waiting – you go buy the stuff on the “list”. So, partly because of this and partly because I am a do-it-yourself'er, I am always on the alert for simple ways to skip a few aisles at the grocery store. I had so many comments on the window washing solution in my last post, I thought I would share a few of the other cleaning products that I make and use. Be on the watch for future posts – there are a lot that I will post at a later date.


Ever used the product that you drop into your garbage disposal to clean it up and make it smell better? I have – it works great. One type makes this blue foam that swells up into the sink – when it disappears down the drain, your disposal is clean. But if you have a lemon, some white vinegar and an ice cube tray, you can make your own cleaner for mere pennies. Simply slice the lemon into small pieces (including the rind), and drop them into an ice cube tray. Fill with vinegar and freeze. When your disposal needs a cleaning, use a couple cubes with the water running.


Counter cleaner is another favorite. This homemade product smells great, costs very little and kills germs! We use one gallon of distilled water, 2 teaspoons of washing soda (this is not baking soda – look for washing soda!) 1 teaspoon liquid soap, and 1/4 teaspoon of essential oil. For years I have used a combination of tea tree oil, lavender oil, thyme oil and lemon oil. The antibacterial qualities of these essential oils will help keep your counters clean and germ free. You end up with a gallon of wonderful spray cleaner that will last a long time!

This laundry soap recipe has been shared by many – but just in case you missed it – this one works great! There are two ways to make the detergent – and I prefer the “dry” version because of the amount of storage space the “wet” version requires. Figured I didn't need to store “water”! I simply combine one and a half cups of washing soda with a half cup of borax. Then add one bar of either Fels Naptha soap (grated) or one bar of Ivory to the washing soda/borax mixture. Use 1 tablespoon for regular loads and 2 tablespoons for heavy loads. Note: I soak the majority of my grease-laden clothes for 8 hours or so and also add a couple of teaspoons of lemon or orange essential oils to help cut the grease. Depending on how fine you grate the soap, this extra soaking time also allows the soap to melt.

Besides saving you money at the grocery store, these products keep you away from harmful toxins that are in many household products. Consider this – essential oils are an economical way to disinfect, clean, and deodorize. Thyme oil kills strep and staff on surfaces, lavender and rosemary are anti-bacterial, anti-infectious and anti-viral. Lemon oil kills strep and staff in the air and is great for cutting grease. Use equal parts eucalyptus, tea tree and lavender oils for air fresheners. Simple products, natural products. Simple!


Easy Window Washing!

No matter how many times I have tried in all of my years, I have never gotten any good at washing windows. I have heard the different arguments, use newspapers to dry the windows instead of paper towels. Never wash on a sunny day. The list goes on and on. So when I read an article saying your could make your own solution to clean your outside windows and then never have to dry them……well, it sounded too good to be true! I had to try it!

I mixed up a half of a bottle of “jet dry” (the product you use in your dishwasher to keep your dishes from spotting), 4 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol, one handful of automatic dishwasher powder, 1/4 cup of ammonia, and 2 gallons of hot water. Using a cloth, wash the windows with this solution. Have your garden hose ready, when you are done, you simply spray the soapy water off the window. That's it! No drying (or in my case, streaking…) just go on to the next window. I had the whole house done in minutes instead of hours. I will recommend that if your bucket of washing solution begins to get low or gets dirty, refill it with fresh solution. The last few windows that I washed, dried with a few water spots – and I am guessing it was because the anti-spotting solution in the bucket was almost gone.

I will tackle the inside of the windows today using a spray bottle filled with 3 tablespoons of ammonia, 1 tablespoon of vinegar and cool water. Works as well as the “blue” kind for only pennies!


The Best Weeding Tools

There's surely no doubt that the market is flooded with weeding products. One trip down the aisle of any hardware store will score dozens of products to apply. Here at our house, we try to avoid the “quick fix” of the chemical and rather go by some simpler approaches.


Our farmstead came with lots of implements when we bought it. The smaller ones were hanging on this old shed – seriously, all these things were hanging here on the day we came here.


The building appeared to be a blacksmithing/tool shed, and evidently – it was easier to find “just the right part” from the walls than rummaging through a bunch of shelves. There was a forge and a can of coal, there were old leather belts fashioned into tool holders. Old sardine cans hung as trays. Traps, pitchforks, and sand points for a water well. More than not, I had no idea what a lot of the things were – but there are a few that have become my favorites in the garden!

This old hoe looks ancient and I don't know that you would readily find another like it. (Believe me, if you do see a hoe for sale like this – buy it!) It has a slightly angled blade at the bottom of it that you can slide under a weed and slice it right off! Normally in my garden, a whole slurry of baby weeds seem to pop up, all at once, a week or so after putting in the corn, for example . This hoe is fantastic for slicing the top off the invaders without having to work up the soil again and I am able to work a section of the garden plot quickly and efficiently. You can also turn it on end and open a new row to plant your seeds in. Because it is not the typical “V” shape, the trench doesn't get too deep for many of the smaller variety of seeds in your garden.


I found this next gem at an auction last week. So much of my gardening is in a raised bed where soil compaction is at a minimum. By designing your raised beds to be narrow enough to reach 1/2 way across them, you will never find yourself standing inside the bed reaching for that carrot! Soil prep is a snap with this hoe!


So before you reach for a bottle of weed killer, take a look around for some simple tools that will protect our environment, your health, and your children's health. Not only are the best weeding tools in your hands, they are your hands!


No Matter How Small Your Growing Space – You Can Still Grow Potatoes

Everywhere you look these days, people are looking for an opportunity to grow their own vegetables. In Minnesota, as a child, my Mom and Dad had a big veggie garden – and about 50% of the space held potatoes. It was always a big day when we dug up the potatoes in the fall – lots of digging, lots of work.

Today, even if you have a small yard or even an apartment patio, you can grow potatoes. This isn't an extremely new idea, but so, so many people do not know about it that I thought I would share it.

Begin with a bag of potato sets. You can purchase them online, at your local hardware or big box store, or you can use the small potatoes that you have saved from your garden last year. I hesitate to tell you to use the potatoes that you have in your pantry for eating because they are usually sprayed with some sort of a sprout “inhibitor” – so you may not get them to grow.

When you purchase your sets, they look just like small little potatoes – and that is exactly what they are…but you need to do a couple of things to them before you plant them.

1. Look at each of the little spuds. You will see “eyes” – or small sprouts that look like they could grow. Your potato will have numerous eyes – locate all of them. Once you have figured out where they all are, cut the potato in pieces making sure that each section of potato has an eye. You may have big pieces along side small pieces – it doesn't matter. If there is an eye in the piece, you have the possibility that it will grow.

2. Lay the sections on newspaper and allow them to dry for 2-4 days before planting. This is very important as the potato pieces need for harden and form a bit of a “skin” on the cut sides.

Next, check your soil temperature – we all get excited in the springtime to “get those crops in the ground” – but this is a very important step that should not be missed. Your potato sets need a 50 degree soil temperature at 8:00 am (with the temperature taken at 4″ deep) to germinate….meaning – if it is too cold, those little eyes are just going to sit there and rot!

Here is where the small growing space comes into play…..we live on a farm and have numerous old water troughs that have gotten a hole in them for one reason or another. But, if you have a small back yard or apartment building (and no old water troughs!) – then get yourself a large trash container. Drill some drainage holes in the trash can on both the bottom and on the sides towards the lower end. The reason for the side holes is that if you get a really huge rain, like I did once, the bottom holes clogged with debris and the potatoes were swimming in their container. I have put a few “safety” side holes in the cans ever since!

Put about 10-12″ of dirt in the bottom of container, and plant your potato sets 12″ apart 4-6″ deep.

Sit back and wait for the sets to send up a shoot.

Here's the fun part! As a child, I always remember my Dad “hilling” the potatoes. I never could figure out why??? The potato plant comes out of the ground and we hurry to cover it up? Hmmmm! It wasn't until years later that I came upon this diagram:


As you can see, the potato that you have planted is at the bottom of the picture. It sends up a shoot and all the new potatoes grow above the planted potato set! To shield the growing tubers from sunlight (which turns them green and makes them mildly poisonous), the soil is hilled around the base of the plant. (A thank you and credit to my Colorado State University Extension for this diagram).

We have found that if you mulch your potato plants with straw (instead of hilling them with dirt), you will find it easy to harvest your potatoes in the fall. Simply scoop the straw away and your harvest is right there in front of you. If you grow your potatoes in a trash can, you can simply turn the can on it's side to get at your bounty! Plan on about 125 days after germination before you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor!


Grassfed Soap

When I would pass someone a bar of soap that I had made, their smile used to turn to wonderment as they looked at the label. Sure, it's a hefty bar – big enough to be comfortable in Kevin's large hands. And sure, it has a fabulous fragrance. It's even a pretty color. But, oh…'s made from beef tallow? Really???


Yup. I have been making soap for a few years now. I love the joy of giving someone a gift that I have made with my own two hands. I enjoy including a soap shaped like a duck or cow in my grandkid's Christmas stocking, or adding a few bars of soap made especially for an infant to a baby shower gift.

I had always purchased the soap oils online and had accumulated lots of great recipes. It was fun to try new fragrances like sandalwood and pine – and had totally fallen in love with a cinnamon-orange scent. So it seemed like a perfectly natural progression (to me, anyway) to render down the fat from our beef and use it in a soap recipe. After all, our pioneers did it…..

The search began for a recipe using our tallow. Kevin and I wondered whether it would smell funny (who knew?) I figured that some people might be put off by the whole idea even though tallow is actually turned into a different substance through saponification when it is combined with lye. They fear they are spreading animal grease all over them! Actually, some of the characteristics of using tallow in your soap are a creamy lather, mild cleansing, and a fairly hard soap.

Before I get into trouble with anyone, let me first clarify by saying that we raise grass-fed/grass finished beef and our ranch is certified with the Animal Welfare Approved Association. Our cattle are humanely raised without feedlots, antibiotics or hormones, In the interest of trying never to waste, the use of tallow seemed a natural progression.

The recipe I have been using is a blend of coconut oil, olive oil and beef tallow. The amounts I use are as follow:

44 ounces beef tallow

20 ounces olive oil

20 ounces coconut oil

12 ounces of lye

32 ounces cold water

The coconut oil adds a wonderful sudsing quality to your bar, and the olive oil gives it it's mildness.

Well, the soap has been a hit. One friend called to tell me that she had had a patch of skin on her face that she just couldn't get rid of, and it was going away since she started using this soap. She wondered if her old commercially-made soap had been giving her the irritation. We will never know.

I do believe, though, that the less chemicals and preservatives we use, the better we live. The soap makes it just one step closer to healthy living .