I picked up these former pirate-pants-culottes-what-the-heck-are-they-even? pants at a Relove Movement event the other month. I probably didn’t need them, but for some reason I gravitated to them. The lightweight cotton fabric would be perfect for summer coming up.
Except that they weren’t quite right. The legs were cut asymmetrically so they fell longer in the middle and the fabric bunched when I walked. I put them in my ‘to fix’ bucket to think about.
Maybe I could level off the legs, or cut them much shorter into, you know, shorts. Then I had the idea that the pants would make an excellent high waisted skirt. Probably since when I hung them up to take a look, they already looked like a skirt. The elastic waist could sit just under my chest, with plenty of length. I ripped out the seams on the inside pant legs myself to prototype – looked good. Now I needed to sew them back up the front and back to avoid flashing anyone.
I don’t have a sewing machine, so I took them to the tailor I often use, who charged my $18 to straighten out the lines and sew them up.If the cost sounds high, consider that it includes tax and Australian labour costs are high compared to North America. I like supporting small service businesses. They have skills we need to use or lose access to.
I am perfectly happy with how this turned out. I can tie a shirt up, or pull the skirt over the top. The asymmetry, which I didn’t like before now enhances the flowing lines of the skirt. The length makes it easy to do a beachside bikini change, and thanks to the pattern, you’d never notice the seam running down the centre of the skirt.
The first year in our apartment, I enthusiastically planted many, many seeds, with some successes and more failures. We moved in during wintertime and I didn’t realise how far the sun would come around the building to blast our south facing patio space.
Many of my plants died from too much sun and not enough hydration. I’d planted them in pots too small or the wrong material to retain moisture at the roots. I’d come home on a 30 degree day to find my plants shrivelled and parched. A good drenching would bring them back to life (sometimes), but it’s better not to stress plants out like that – even I know that.
Self-watering planters to the rescue?
When I learned about wicking, or self watering planters, I was intrigued. Many people told me it changed their gardens. Wicking beds use a reservoir underneath to hold a tank of water that plants can suck up as needed. This keeps them hydrated on scorcher days and saves water. In spite of Sydney’s past week of heavy rain, Australia is never far from drought.
Self watering planters open up opportunities for growing in places that aren’t easy to water (verge gardens for example) or those that don’t get much rainfall. Wouldn’t it be great to have micro community gardens on the verges and untended patches in our cities?
The only issue I had with the wicking beds was cost. I found many beautiful options to buy or build that ran into the hundreds, which I was not prepared to spend. I searched high and low on the web for inexpensive DIY designs. I talked to people who’d had some experience making them.
I had a breakthrough when I mentioned my struggle to a friend who works at a childcare centre. He showed me how they’d installed beds using simple plastic tubs set into wooden frames. Sidenote: cool childcare centre! This seemed achievable and just the right size for my place. I decided when found the requisite materials secondhand, I would make a go of it. When I came across a 60L lidless plastic storage container at Salvos, I knew it was time.
Materials I used to make my self watering planter
60 L plastic container $5
1/2 bag blue metal gravel $4
1 bag scoria $23
1 bag charcoal $8
1 1/2 bags compost soil $6
Coles reusable bag – free
Hessian sack – free from any coffee roaster
Segment from a broken hose – free
1/2 old cotton sock
The materials came to a total cost of $46 + the seedlings. The cost would have been much less if I had bought the $8 scoria instead of the $23 scoria, but live and learn.
How I made my self watering planter
First I prepped the plastic container. I made a thumbnail sized hole ⅓ the way up the side, about 12cm from the base. I don’t have a drill so I spiralled the end of a pair of scissors until it bored through. This worked easily after a minute or two. The hole is to let water flow out when there is enough in the reservoir.
Next I made the reservoir. I made sure to move the box to where it would live before filling it. I used scoria (a type of porous volcanic rock), charcoal and then gravel for drainage, but you could use sand or just one of these fillers instead of three. I think a finer grade fill would be better, which is why I used charcoal to fill in some of the spaces between my coarse fill. I added the materials up to the same height as the hole in the side.
I should’ve done the next step before I added the rocks, but yeah, we learn as we go around here. I used a bit of a broken hose as the watering pipe and dug it into the rocks . Most tutorials suggest PVC piping. The purpose of the pipe is to deliver water directly into the reservoir, but it’s okay to water from above too, as rain would. A wide PVC pipe also shows you the water level in the bottom so you can see if you need to add more. My hose won’t help with this and truth be told might be difficult to water into. If it really becomes a problem I’ll go get a proper pipe and replace it.
I wrapped the bottom end of the hose with a piece of an old sock to avoid it clogging with particles of charcoal, rocks or soil.
Then I placed a layer of material over the reservoir. The purpose of this is twofold: to keep the soil separate to the reservoir and to help wick the water from below to the soil above. I used an old reusable shopping bag that I cut to open, and then a hessian sack overtop to fill any gaps and help with the wicking action.
Finally, the fun part – plants! I added the soil and my seedlings. In this case, sugar snap peas, lettuce, lemon thyme and basil. Most tutorials advise to water through the watering pipe until water flows out of the outflow, but it’s been so rainy that I didn’t bother and simply gave the transplants a little drink from above. I hope some of these will grow enough that I can bring cuttings to the crop swap I’m organising in November.
It was a fun outdoor project for the brief moments of sun we had this weekend. It’s been a long winter without much garden time and I’m happy to be back picking dirt from under my fingernails. I’m no expert. I don’t know if this will work as hoped. Surely it’ll work better than my dried out beds of the past and help me keep my plants alive when I’m out of town for stretches at a time. I’ll let you know when I’ve had a chance to test it through the hot spells to come.
One final note for us apartment gardeners dependent on bagged soil. Redcycle will accept clean, dry soil bags cut into smaller squares, and seedling containers can be reused or recycled. Check with your local council or nursery about the best drop off point.
Sometimes cheap everyday pens can be converted into refillable pens. Here’s how.
I need the touch of pen to paper. I’m always jotting down notes and leaving to-do lists everywhere. Pencil? No thanks. I resent the the carbon smudges, the ever-in-flux nib diameter and the need for a sharpener. Also, did you know that erasers are often made of vinyl? The pen is my tool of choice, and a necessary evil at work and in my day-to-day.
I say evil, since many pens are made cheaply of plastic and designed to be tossed once the ink’s run dry. The exception are those marketed as refillable (and perhaps fountain pens). I use a refillable model from Parker.
To reduce waste to landfill at my workplace, we collect spent pens for recycling into a Terracycle box bought from Officeworks here in Australia. It’s an additional cost to the business that luckily doesn’t have to be done often.
Refillable pens are everywhere, if you know where to look.
I recently discovered this clever little hack care of my coworker, a man who’s used one leather-bound Faber Castell refillable pen for the past twenty years. One day he sorted through our pen recycling box, and from the hundred or so dead pens in the box, he brought three to my desk and showed me a neat trick.
He unscrewed each one and placed the ink cartridges side by side. Even though the pens all looked different on the outside, the ink cartridges were all the same design. Furthermore, they were exactly the same as those in my refillable Parker pen. They were all secretly refillable!
Radical resource efficiency and less plastic.
I marked the three rescued pens as refillable and now we only need buy the refill cartridges instead of recycling the whole pen. Although Parker refill cartridges aren’t the cheapest at about $9 each, they do write beautifully, last a while – for a writing distance of 3500m to be precise. They’re made mostly of metal, which means they’ll be more valuable when recycled at their end of life. After daily use for nearly a year, my pen has only recently run out of ink. This is not an ad for Parker and I’m certain there exist other high quality brands made of metal.
Refilling our pens reduces material use, plastic production, and our pen recycling cost, without requiring much of a change in behaviour – we will still buy office supplies after all. In Paul Hawken’s language, it’s radical resource efficiency.
The next time you run out of ink, check inside to see whether it can be your new refillable pen. And if this idea sounds like a bridge too far, another innovative solution is the recycled and recyclable Enviroliner pen from Close the Loop. The pen is made with the plastic and leftover ink from printer cartridges collected by Planet Ark.
Now you tell me – what’s your favourite way to minimize waste in the office?
Beeswax wraps are the thing, no question. But what happens when they wear out? Don’t let it be landfill – it’s pretty simply to bring them back to like-new.
Whether you buy beeswax food covers or make your own, the coating will wear out over time. How quickly depends on how often you use and wash them. It’s reasonable to expect them to work well for a few months. A year is a proper stretch based on my own experience. Unused in a drawer maybe.
Sometimes they crease, sometimes they crack, and sometimes the coating flakes off. This is all easy to remedy, and wear out isn’t actually a terrible thing (I’ll explain more below). First let me tell you why tossing your beeswax wraps is no bueno.
Could cotton be worse than plastic?
Yes, if it’s treated as disposable. Cotton is a chemical laden crop that has no great end of life option. it follows that it’s best to keep textiles that have useful life in them in use.
Cotton = water + pesticide extravaganza. Cotton may be a renewable resource – it is a plant, after all – but a thirsty and pesticide-laden crop. Calling cotton a natural fibre is like calling a potato chip a vegetable. i.e. only partly true. And natural isn’t synonymous with harmless anyway (asbestos is a natural fibre). Natural also isn’t the same thing as sustainable. Witness the Aral sea before and after decades of irrigation for cotton production, if you need further convincing.
Textiles are not readily recyclable. There are technologies here and there, but for the most part, textile recycling is not a thing yet. We can compost some materials, but that’s more of a mitigation strategy than a boon to the soil microbiota.
Beeswax wraps are a better solution than plastic wrap, but only when they are kept and reused over a long period of time. We’re not just trying to break even by making these sorts of switches, but improve things.
Here’s what to do when your beeswax wraps wear out
Here’s how to revitalize beeswax wraps that have seen better days:
A quick hit in the oven: The simplest trick to refresh your beeswax wraps is to pop them into the oven on a baking sheet on low heat to remelt and distribute the wax. This will deal with any creasing and cracking. I reuse the same compostable parchment sheet from making the wraps to do this. If there’s a bit of wax still left on the parchment from making them the first time, all the better.
Deep clean and re-wax: If you want to clean up grubbier looking wraps, take the opportunity to do a hot soapy wash of the fabric. This may cause some of the wax to come off, which we normally try to avoid, but once in a while it’s okay. Hang the fabric in the hot sun to lift any stubborn stains, then follow either this simple wax recipe, or the more involved pine rosin formula to add a bit of wax back to the fabric.
Keep using it in its half worn out state: If the fabric is in an awkward stage between waxed and worn out, it can still be used as a handy (and lightly water resistant) cloth for buying food on the go.
With the occasional refresh, your beeswax wraps will last a long time
If you’re thinking, this is too obvious to write about, I beg to differ. Especially since many people will be receiving these as gifts, and won’t have the experience of discovering just how easy they are to make or remake at home. I also see sellers promoting them as lasting ‘up to a year’, which implies an expiry on the wrap rather than just the coating. Also, a personal experience – a friend tossed hers after they wore out and only told me afterwards. The truth is that these could and should last an incredibly long time and are nearly endlessly reusable.