Category Archives: living green

state of support

lady slipper in the upper penninsula, MI

lady slipper in the upper penninsula, MI

Something that has crossed my mind more than once in the last 5 months has been moving to California, where they seem to take environmental protections at least a little bit seriously. Realistically, this wouldn’t even be possible for another 3 or 4 years, but the thought has floated through my head.

It seems like every week, on top of the anti-environmental moves being made by the federal government, our governor here in Wisconsin is trying to keep pace. Trying to remove climate change from the rhetoric. Making it against the rules for government employees to work on climate change issues. Trying to take a century old publication away from the DNR. All of the denial is exhausting. Especially when each summer we watch the effects of more severe weather take a toll on the crops. A state with a largely agriculture based economy should be doing everything possible to preserve our natural resources.

But the answer is not really for us to move to a part of the country where more people already think and act like we do when it comes to conservation and care for the earth. Instead it is to plant our feet firmly here and do what we can on this land. Act as an example of how we can not only preserve nature, but we can restore it. We can make the land healthier with each passing season if we act thoughtfully. And we can do it while both enjoying the beauty of the land, and enjoying the benefits of our 21st century life.

We currently live in a town of about 12,000 people. We live in town, just a few blocks from the town square. Our small house sits on about a quarter of an acre, with neighbors on all sides on similar lots. We chose this house because its modest size is enough for us at this stage in our lives and it means we get to have a big backyard. Even knowing that we were only going to be in this place for a few years, we decided to invest in the small bit of land. We began amending the soil with compost, manure, and blood meal. We planted a substantial garden full of herbs, vegetables, and flowers to attract pollinating and beneficial insects. And we dedicated a few hundred square feet of the yard to a prairie garden, full of native grasses and wildflowers. Over the course of two years we’ve seen birds and butterflies flock to our small space. A reprieve amidst the other lawns and driveways. It takes some sweat equity, but we’ve made a little ecosystem here over the last two summers, and we’re hoping to take what we’ve learned and apply it to bigger lands in the future.

Californians, please keep working to protect our beautiful country. The regulations that you enact are important, and your population is big enough, that businesses have to take note, have to make adjustments to be able to keep up with you. Set the path. And we’ll do our best here to hold down the fort in the middle of the country. To act as an example. To vote responsibly when we have the opportunity.

And to hope that someday soon, our government will takes it head out of its ass.

40 Green Actions You Can Start Today

simple green actions to start todayFor the past month I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a climate change discussion group in my community. We’ve been reading EAARTH, and discussing the realities of climate change both world wide and within our own small part of SW Wisconsin. And we’ve been trying to envision what action looks like for us.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by how big this problem is, and how little it seems like our personal actions are. The Tanzanian’s have a saying, “Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.” Which translates to “Little by little the bucket gets filled,” and that’s important for us to keep in mind. Yes, we may have seemingly little say in the policies enacted within our own states and country, let alone in the worldwide cooperation that is needed to tackle our energy, and resource issues and our greenhouse gas emissions. But we can start taking simple, concrete actions now. And as we successfully implement each habit, it will be easier to take the next step. Little by little, we’ll fill the bucket.

So with those thoughts in mind, here’s a list of actions you can start taking right now to increase conservation, decrease energy use, and reduce your carbon footprint.

40 green actions you can start today

1. Switch out your incandescent light bulbs for LED light bulbs.

2. Plug your electronics into a power strip, and turn off the power strip when you’re not using them.

3. Turn your thermostat up a few degrees now (and down a few degrees in the winter).

4. Sign up for your local power companies green energy program, you’ll pay a little extra for your energy, but you’ll get it from renewable supplies and tell your power company how important it is for them to invest in renewables.

5. Set the temperature on your hot water heater to 120 degrees or lower.

6. Hang dry your laundry.

7. Stop watering your grass.

8. Plant something edible.

9. Shop your local farmers market.

10. Bring reusable bags along for all your shopping trips (not just to the grocery store!)

11. Purchase dry goods like beans, grains, and pasta from the bulk bins.

12. Start a compost pile.

13. Clean with vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap.

14. Walk if your destination is less than a mile away. Work your way up to two miles away.

15. Look for opportunities to carpool or take public transportation.

16. Add meat-free meals to your repertoire.

17. Purchase humanely and ethically raised meat.

18. Unsubscribe from catalogs

19. Unsubscribe from “junk” mailings

20. Refresh yourself on your communities recycling capabilities and look for opportunities to expand your recycled materials.

21. Carry a reusable water bottle or coffee mug.

22. Use reusable bags or glasses for food storage.

23. Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown in your area.

24. Support local small businesses and local trades workers.

25. Shop consignment or second hand stores for clothing, rather than buying new.

26. Share infrequently used appliances and tools with your neighbors, like lawn mowers.

27. Shovel your snow instead of using a snow blower.

28. Set up a clothing swap among your friends and neighbors.

29. Support local conservation by visiting your state parks.

30. Let your grass grow a bit longer between mowings.

31. Purchase “made in America” and recycled materials.

32. Donate your own no longer used items to second hand stores.

33. Cook more meals at home.

34. Make your own coffee.

35. Use mulch on your garden to cut down on watering needs.

36. Wash your clothing on the cold cycle.

37. Switch from paper napkins, towels, and tissue to cloth.

38. Check out books from the library.

39. Sign up for electronic statements.

40. Sign up for electronic bill pay.

Again, these simple actions aren’t going to save the world from climate change, but they will start a habit of mindfulness about consumption and energy use. These small actions can help pave the way for you to start taking bigger actions, and they can start conversations with your neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers.

Do you have others to add to this list? Send them my way!

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Announcing the building earth Newsletter!

While I have been writing blog posts about green building practices, renewable energy, and sustainable living practices since January of 2014, last July was when I moved everything over to the domain and made this blog official. So here we are, almost a year later, and to celebrate making it this far, I’m kicking off the monthly buildingearth Newsletter!

building earth newsletter july 2015

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Getting started, the building earth newsletter will include recommended articles, podcasts, videos, and books, exclusive content, and behind the scenes info about And I’m looking forward to how the newsletter will grow throughout the upcoming months.

So sign up now, and look for the first building earth newsletter to hit your inbox in July.

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Building a Sod Compost Bin

With backyard garden dreams like stars in our eyes, Neil and I began tearing up the sod in the backyard. We’ve torn up probably 500+ square feet of sod so far, making way for kitchen gardens, flower gardens, and a prairie garden. Thinking of getting rid of all that sod gave Neil an idea of building our compost bins out of some of it.

As you may recall, our quick and easy winter compost situation was just to toss it in a steel drum that I found on craigslist. When the weather started to warm, we wanted a compost pile situation that was a bit less “trash fire” or “junk yard” looking. So Neil planned out and built a two-pile compost bin arrangement made of sod. And I want to share how we did it just in case you have plans to tear up a bit of grass for a garden and start a compost pile this spring or summer.

Building a Sod Compost Bin

Building a Sod Compost Bin

  1. Measure out the area that you want for your pile, and include 1 foot for each wall.

We wanted about a square yard for each pile, and we had enough room for two piles. so the are we mapped out was:

length = 1 ft (left edge wall) + 3 ft (pile 1) +1 ft (center wall) + 3 ft (pile 2) +  1 ft (right edge wall) = 9 ft.

depth = 1 ft (front wall) + 3 ft (pile) + 1 ft (back wall) = 5 ft.

  1. Dig out the sod within your measured out area so you are starting out with a blank dirt rectangle.

OK, this step is optional, because the walls and compost pile will kill all that grass anyway, but it does give you some sod to start building your bins out of.

We dug out the sod beneath the bins using a square edge shovel. Tearing up sod is not an easy job, especially at this point in the spring when it’s had a good bit of time to re-establish its root system. When we cleared out the sod beneath the bins, it was the end of March, so the grass hadn’t really come back to life yet, which made this process easier. For the sod removal we did for our garden beds, we rented a manual sod ripper from a local hardware store. It was still tiresome manual labor, but it definitely went faster than working with a shovel. Rumor has it you can also rent gas powered sod rippers from Home Depot and the like, but our nearest Home Depot apparently doesn’t have a rental center.

Building a sod compost bin side view

  1. Build the back, side, and center walls out of sod using an alternating pattern. This means you face dirt side to dirt side and grass side to grass side. This is the pattern you use to stack sod to compost it as well. We also overlapped the sod layers so that the breaks in sod strips didn’t line up from layer to layer – you know, lego style.

We built our walls to be about 2.5 – 3 ft tall.

You may want to enforce your walls by making them a bit wider at the bottom than they are at the top. I did this by taking some piece of sod and leaning them along the bottom inside and outside of the wall.

building a side compost bin inside view

  1. Build a shorter front containment wall. Our front wall is maybe only 9 inches tall. Its purpose is just to keep the compost pile from spilling out the front of the bin. You don’t want too tall of a front wall so that you have easy access to the pile for turning it and for retrieving your finished compost for spreading on the garden.
  2. Finish off your walls with a dirt-side-up layer of sod, and plant flowers or a vining plant on the top of the walls.

This step is obviously also optional, but will potentially make for a prettier compost pile situation in the middle of summer. We planted some old nasturtium seeds we had along the top of our walls.

Sod compost bins are certainly not a permanent compost situation. We’ll probably have to build new bins next spring or certainly by next fall. But they serve as multi-taskers for now: containing our kitchen and yard compost while also composting down some of the sod that we were tearing out of the yard anyway. When the sod walls have composted themselves, we’ll be able to use that as garden food as well as the compost piles the walls are containing.

Interested in more building earth articles on compost? Check out the following:
Starting a Winter Compost Pile
Composting during the Winter
Can I Compost That?
Apartment Composting

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Cloth Diapering: 5 months through 1 year

Cloth DiaperingWe still love cloth diapers! We love that we aren’t producing huge amounts of diaper waste that will sit in a landfill forever. We love that we have control over the materials sitting so close to Cheek’s skin. Last time we checked in on how cloth diapering had been going for us, Cheeks was just 5 months old. Now he’s just over a year, and I wanted to share how things have changed with our cloth diapering routine to keep up with a babe transitioning to toddler-hood.


Cheeks is now holding tipping the scales at somewhere in between 22 and 25 pounds. He has been eating solid food basically since we last checked in, and produces 2-3 poopy diapers a day, along with 2-3 wet diapers. His poops are generally pretty solid, and if I see that they’ve gotten a bit more on the soft side, it’s a good reminder to check his diet and make sure he’s eating some extra fruits and veggies, not just crackers and cheese. He also consistently sleeps through the night, so we are not changing him at all over night.

Diapers, Covers, and Wipes

We continue to use unbleached, organic cotton prefolds from Diaper Safari, although, in a diaper emergency, we added a pack of Gerber cotton prefolds to our stash as well. We have a mixture of size infant size and standard regular size, and really, with around 40 prefolds we have way more than we need. We could probably get by easily with 24. The infant size we mostly use as a second layer for nighttime diapering.

Right around 6 months we upgraded to size 2 of the Thirsties. We have 5 wraps, and only occasionally (when I should have done laundry a bit sooner) do I wish we had a 6th wrap. The wraps don’t need to be washed between each diaper change so long as they didn’t get poopy and they don’t smell funky. Ours typically get worn for a full day or two depending on the state of the dirty diapers.   We love these wraps. We almost never have a blowout – in fact I can’t even remember the last time we did. And the only time we have leaks are when a bit of the prefold hasn’t gotten tucked in around the legs correctly, or when we need to adjust our snaps because Cheeks has grown.

We continue to use our old cotton t-shirt rag wipes with just water. Neil got a bit over ambitious when he cut the tees into rags, so we have tons of these. Which is no problem because we use them for everything.

Diaper Rash

We’ve been pretty lucky on the diaper rash front. It doesn’t rear its ugly head around here often, mostly just when teething is happening. When it does, we apply a generous coating of Butt Paste, and make sure we are changing diapers frequently so any wetness isn’t near Cheeks’ skin for very long. With this routine, any rash is generally cleared up in about 2 days.

Night Diapering

Since we put Cheeks in a clean diaper after his nightly bath around 6:30 pm, and don’t change him until he wakes up in the morning around 6am, we double diaper over night. We use a combination of one standard size diaper and one infant size diaper, and we have no trouble with leaks or diaper rash.

Washing and Drying

We can still go 2-3 days before we run out of diapers or covers and need to do laundry.  Our laundry routine is still very similar to what it was for the first 5 months. When we change Cheeks, the diaper, any wipes we use, and the cover (if necessary) go into a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. Conveniently, after about 2-3 days it is also full, so that’s the signal that we need to do laundry. Poopy diapers get scraped (or sometimes rinsed) into the toilet before going into the bucket.

We still wash the diapers, wipes, and covers, mixed in with our regular laundry. The diapers, etc. don’t make a full load, so we just fill up the washer with whatever else needs to be washed. We haven’t had any trouble with staining or stinking. We set the washer to cool water and a regular cycle.

We made the switch to homemade powdered laundry soap last summer, and use that for all our laundry – diapers included. For each load we use 2 tablespoons of the laundry powder. I’ve recently started adding a tablespoon of oxygen bleach to our laundry as well to help with boosting whiteness. This works great at getting our laundry clean, fragrance free, and doesn’t include any additives that could build up on the diapers and cause diaper rash or problems with absorbency.

We line dry everything. Over the winter we line dried in the basement, and it took about a day for the diapers to dry. They didn’t get the added bonus of sun bleaching, but it’s a diaper, nobody is going to see it but us. In the summer our diapers (even the thickest ones) are dry in a few hours of sun, and the sun naturally bleaches any stains that may not have come out in the wash. Before we moved and had access to an outdoor clothes line, we hung our diapers on a drying rack indoors, and it took about 18-20 hours for them to dry out.

So, that’s where we currently stand on the cloth diapering a one year old front. I’m hoping it continues to keep working so well for us, and I’ll keep you posted if we make any changes to our routine.

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