Green Barbarians

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A Garlic kind of day

Today is going to be a garlic kind of day. Walt and I have been preparing the garlic beds for autumn planting, clearing out the weeds, adding worm compost and worm juice, and I hope to start actually putting cloves into the soil sometime tomorrow. Autumn planting is the only way to grow really large heads around here, and garlic adores a heavy feeding of worm compost and worm juice!

This year’s garlic heads are dry and slumbering cozily in paper bags in the study, and I have separated out the largest, choicest heads for replanting. After planting only the largest, most robust garlic for the past 11 years, our garlic is quite well adapted to our particular garden, and last year’s almost total crop failure, due to flooding, caused much heartache. I ended up planting what we would normally have been eating, and we ran out of garlic before the new garlic was ready to eat this summer, which was very frustrating. However, because we made sacrifices last year (and dug very deep trenches around all our garlic beds) this year’s crop is spectacular. To paraphrase an old saying: “Never eat your seed garlic.”

Walt and I eat what to most people must seem like ungodly amounts of garlic, but I have grown so accustomed to garlic that I can barely detect a reasonable amount of garlic when it is cooked into a dish–if I am to recognize it as food with garlic in it, it has to contain a really large amount of garlic, for instance a whole head in a pot of soup.

This year’s garlic gourmandizing has been aided and abetted by a nifty keen new gadget that Walt just had to have when he spotted it in a super-discount store in Chicago last fall: it’s called a Leifheit Gourmet Cutter, and since we bought it, we’ve used it a minimum of once every day. This morning Walt cooked our eggs over a bed of sliced garlic, YUM! I’m not much of a gadget person, but I do appreciate being able to cut paper thin slices of garlic without garnishing them with pieces of my own skin!

Next time, musings on filet gloves.

Hedge fund manager John Paulson “earned”  $5 billion in 2010. (Yes, that’s a five with nine zeros behind it.) Under our current tax laws, if Mr. Paulson paid the full tax owed on that sum of money, rather than the discount rate he actually pays after loopholes, deductions, and money stashed overseas, he would have paid 35% tax on his income, (which is, coincidentally, the same tax rate as mine because of self-employment taxes, though his income was approximately 100,000 times larger than mine last year).

Besides the obvious income disparity, there are other differences between me and Mr. Paulson. For instance, I earn money by writing about environmental topics, wrangling composting worms, and teaching Federal inmates how to vermicompost food waste. I also grow, forage and scrounge a lot of our food. In other words, I am flying by the seat of my pants, which are getting increasingly threadbare. Mr. Paulson, on the other hand, made much of his money last year by “shorting,” which means that he made money by betting against our economy: the worse the economy got, the more money he made. Thus he had no incentive whatsoever to try to help the economy or create jobs. Could anyone possibly get farther from being “a jobs creator” than that?

The highest tax bracket ever in the United States was 94% in 1944-1945, at the end of WWII. This top bracket, was for people who earned more than $250,000 a year. But $250,000 ain’t what it used to be: those 1944 dollars translate to approximately $3.2 million in 2011 dollars.

I have wracked my single functioning brain cell that does numbers, and figured out that if Mr. Paulson had paid the 1944 tax rate on his 2010 “earnings,” his take home pay would have been $300 million. And I don’t know how anyone could possibly survive on such a paltry sum. Could you?

Hi Ellen,

I purchased your book Green Housekeeping and am using  and loving the cleaning advice.  I have a question about vinegar…I had a couple bottles of “green cleaners” one was “holy cow.” In the description of their window cleaner they state that it contains no vinegar or any other harmful chemicals…???  I just wanted to get your take on that.

When using sals suds, mixed with water for cleaning, do I need to rinse?

Last one, Sal suds has SLS as the second ingredient next to water in their suds.  I’ve  spent years looking at shampoo labels, trying to find one without SLS…??

Please advise. Your website looks great !   Thanks, Vicki

Hi Vicki,

I’m very glad to hear that you are enjoying Green Housekeeping!  Thank you for writing to me!

I don’t know what planet the “holy cow” people live on, but on my home planet, vinegar is what happens when vegetative matter ferments… It’s not harmful here.  In fact, the Department of Defense uses vinegar in bioremediation projects to remove contaminants such as nitrates, carbon tetrachloride (a solvent used in plutonium processing), petroleum, explosive compounds, and even uranium from ground water, and they do this by pouring vinegar down wells!

The common kind of vinegar that one buys at the grocery store is diluted and is “food grade,” meaning that it is safe to ingest full strength–which I frequently do when I eat oil and vinegar salad dressing.  I’ve also drunk apple cider vinegar in water as a health drink, and I’m still here. People have been making and ingesting vinegar for millennia…  There is such a thing as laboratory grade acetic acid out there, which is quite strong, and is NOT available in regular stores. However, no consumer product would contain that high a percentage of acetic acid. Sal suds are basically liquid soap, so yes, you should rinse.

The only cleaners I know of that don’t need to be rinsed are vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, everything else leaves some kind of residue. SLS is one of those substances that is a bit harsh when used full strength, but pretty harmless when diluted. There are a lot of substances like that out there, and just because something should be diluted before use, does not mean that one should not use it in dilute form.  As the label on the Dr. Bronner says: “Dilute! Dilute! Dilute!”  I once read a forum in which people were chatting about Dr. Bronner’s Soap: one person was extremely worried because soap is made with lye, which is very very caustic–she concluded that Dr. Bronner’s was too dangerous to use because soap is made with lye. Well, there is no other way to make soap other than to “saponify” fat with a strong alkali (i.e. lye) and once the fat is saponified, there is a chemical reaction, and the lye is no longer lye.

Another woman complained that her private parts stung after she washed them with full strength Dr. Bronner’s, and stated that she was never going to use Dr. Bronner’s Soap again.  Good grief! Of course it hurt! Getting full strength soap on a mucous membrane is going to hurt!  Getting soap in your eyes hurts too, it doesn’t mean that soap is bad, it just means that you should keep it out of your eyes, and, until you dilute it, out of your tender parts.

I always dilute my Dr. Bronner’s Soap down to half strength as soon as I get it home, by pouring half of it into an empty Dr. Bronner’s bottle, and then filling both bottles up the rest of the way with water. We waste far less soap when it is diluted, and we don’t end up with stinging nether regions…

I hope this helps!


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I have gotten quite a bit of feedback about my post, “Applied Primatology,” which was based on work done by the behavioral economist, Dan Ariely. Positive reinforcement works upon me in exactly the way it works upon all animals; therefore I have decided to write again about Professor Ariely’s work. I am rereading “Predictably Irrational,” and this time I will be writing about Ariely’s research into the allure of “free” stuff.

via Green Barbarians: Applied primatology, Part Two: The Power of Freebies.

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Coal Ash Purgatory

Yesterday I had a heartbreaking exchange with a young woman who asked for my help in researching the health effects of coal ash. This morning I asked her permission to post our correspondence on the blog. She very graciously assented.

Here is our correspondence, with her name removed because we are dealing with such tragedy. Empty parentheses ( ) indicate deletions made in order to remove identifying details :

via Green Barbarians: Coal Ash Purgatory.


It’s Like Butter

I grew up eating margarine rather than butter because my father was on a “heart diet” after suffering a major heart attack at age 45. In retrospect, it becomes quite obvious that the cause was the 4-pack-a-day cigarette habit that my Dad kicked immediately after his heart attack. His doctor said, “Well, you could keep smoking…” The rest of the sentence didn’t need to be spelled out. It was: “and die.”

via Green Barbarians: It’s Like Butter.

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While I was writing “Green Barbarians,” I researched the legal hotwater that some people have gotten themselves into simply by line-drying their clothes. Many homeowners’ associations (HOA’s, ain’t that appropriate?) ban, among other things: suffering a dandelion to live; flying the American flag; installing curtains, siding, fences and doormats of unapproved color and style; and hanging out laundry of any color at all.

via Green Barbarians: Line Drying Clothes–Across the Great Divide.

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Let’s ask Walmart to stop selling Genetically Modified Foods – start by signing this petition.

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Dear Ellen,

What do you use to clean out your sink after you wash off poultry?

Sue and Gary, Duluth, Minnesota

Dear Sue and Gary,

When I clean out my sink, I use the same environmentally friendly method that the USDA has approved for decontaminating beef carcasses. This method utilizes hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and distilled white vinegar, and is actually more effective than using chlorine bleach. Hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar can also be used to decontaminate delicate fresh produce such as lettuce, fruits, and vegetables.

Here’s how to get started: buy two spray bottles. One of the bottles must be very dark and opaque because hydrogen peroxide breaks down when it is exposed to light. Fill the dark bottle with H2O2. If you cannot find a dark spray bottle, search for a spraybottle-nozzle that will screw into a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide. (Hydrogen peroxide is usually available in drug stores and in the pharmacy section of supermarkets.) Fill the other bottle with full-strength distilled white vinegar. (Vinegar is usually located in the pickle section of your local supermarket. I buy distilled vinegar by the gallon, it’s cheaper that way).

Utilizing this system is easy: after you rinse off a chicken carcass, wipe the interior of the sink down with a damp cloth and dish detergent in order to get rid of the schmaltz (chicken fat), then rinse the sink. Next, spray the entire surface of the sink with hydrogen peroxide and with vinegar. The order in which you spray these liquids does not matter. Your sink is now free of live bacteria. If you are decontaminating produce, you might want to spray the vinegar first, so the hydrogen peroxide can wash away the vinegar.

The dual-spray system can also be used to disinfect bathroom surfaces as well any other hard surfaces that may be harboring bacteria.

Environmentally yours,


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