Monthly Archives: March 2009

How Much Will Cloth Diapering Save Me?

After spending about $350 or so on various cloth diapering supplies (cloth diapers, cloth wipes, wet bags and a diaper sprayer), the question of course comes up as to how long it will take me to earn my money back. I mean, the lack of waste is nice, but it’s a bit of a financial commitment and money’s tight for us. Knowing when the payback is reached is a nice reassurance.

Payback for us won’t come as quickly as for others. We always bought the store brand Target diapers, which are significantly cheaper than name brands such as Pampers. A mid size pack of Target diapers runs under $11 pretax, versus $16-45 for Pampers, depending on the number of diapers in the package.

The number of diapers in a package drops as the diapers get bigger, so that they can keep charging the same price per package. This makes it hard to do more than approximate things.

And I haven’t even tried to figure in the cost of disposable wipes. Diaper costs alone should be sufficient to show the benefit in a reasonable time frame.

$350 is around 32 packs of diapers. Less actually, since that’s pretax, so I’ll call it 30 packs. Still too many but I would rather overestimate than under.

It’s hard to figure out how long to assume each pack will last on average. Call it two packs a month at the size I buy. I’m guessing here, based on a newborn using 8 or so diapers a day while an older child uses 5-6 a day.

So 32 packs would go for 16 months.

I’m skipping a few factors here. On the disposable side, there’s the cost of going to get the diapers, which is small as I can combine it with other errands. However, the need for them in the past often caused trips to Target that could have otherwise been combined with later trips. The more you shop the more you buy, you know?

As noted above, I’m also skipping the cost of disposable wipes.

On the cloth diaper side there’s the cost of doing laundry. Probably a load every other day in the early days, then spread out depending on how well I can stand waiting. Plus the time to handle the laundry, including hanging them out on the clothesline in good weather for them to dry. But I do that with all the laundry these days, so I really don’t think of it as a big deal anymore.

There’s another factor to consider. One site I saw said it’s an average of 30 months of diapering with babies. However, I’ve also heard that cloth diaper babies tend to potty train earlier. I like that benefit, even if there’s no obvious cost savings with cloth. But it does mean that the financial cost of disposables adds up for longer.

And one more subtle cost factor. This is absolutely my last baby, so I can’t spread the cost out over multiple children. I had my OB make sure of that with a tubal ligation during my C-section. Too bad I didn’t discover cloth diapers sooner.

But cloth diapers have a resale value if they remain in decent condition. When the time comes, I can go to a forum such as Diaper Swappers and get something back for what I’ve spent already. That can bring the payback time frame way down.

Overall, I’m enjoying these early days of my cloth diapering adventures. I hope it continues to go well for us. The money saved and the decreased waste make the extra work worth it for me.

How to Pick a Composter

A good compost pile is an important factor in an organic garden. It’s your best source for many of the nutrients your garden needs. But figuring out which one is best for your particular situation may not be easy.

For some an indoor model may be best. Others would rather do it outside. Then you have to consider how much volume you’re going to need available, as well as how quickly you want it all to work and how much effort you want to put into composting.

The Cheap Outdoor Solution

My husband and I use one of the cheapest but sometimes labor intensive methods. Our landlords left some cinder blocks behind the shed from a project they had done. Turned out to be enough for us to create a space to put our compost.

This compost pile solution works well for us, but it takes some work. My husband goes out when he has some time to turn the pile. Often he’s amazed at how quickly certain things have broken down. But when things get busy and he doesn’t have the time to deal with it properly, it definitely slows down.

Building with leftover materials obviously has a lot of green appeal. We didn’t have to buy anything. I love having a zero waste solution for handling food scraps and other compostable materials.

The negative, of course, is that critters can come and nibble on anything we don’t bury well enough. That means we have to be careful about the kinds of food scraps we put in. We don’t want to attract too many of the wrong kinds of critters.

Most people, of course, don’t just have the materials lying around to build something like that. You may also want more protection from having critters come into your yard and more freedom as to the types of food waste you can toss into the bin. That’s where buying a composter can make a lot of sense.

Buying an Outdoor Compost Bin

There are a couple of types of outdoor compost bin. The basic ones are rather like what my husband built, but generally with a lid to keep the critters out.

My mother, for example, has had something that at least looks rather like this Soilsaver Compost Bin for many years. Two of them, in fact. They do a good job. They’ve held up for quite a number of years and show no sign of breaking down. The lids go on nicely, although she doesn’t use them much since a lot of what she composts is grass clippings. I’m not 100% certain that this is the brand she has, but it looks just like it.

With this style, you can either just leave the food and yard waste in there and wait for it to decompose, or you can be more active and try to turn the pile. You generally need to just take the bin off the pile and then reload it in a new spot with these. They aren’t that easy to turn with the material in them, and getting it out otherwise is a bit difficult.

Another style is a bin that you can crank a handle or otherwise rotate to turn the pile. They come in a variety of sizes. Some are easier to turn than others, of course, and they naturally are a closed container that will keep the critters out. Couldn’t rotate them otherwise! This Green Tumbleweed Composter is an example of a rotating compost bin. Others will be more like a barrel on its side, rather than standing up, but they work in a similar manner.

With an outdoor composter, you need to think about how much work you want to be doing with it. Do you want to turn the pile regularly? A rotating one is probably much simpler. Want to toss stuff in and mostly leave it, doing a slower compost? A plain compost bin is probably a better buy.

Buying a Worm Tray Compost Bin

If you want your composting to go fast, vermiculture may be for you. The worms do much of the work for you, but they can be a bit picky. You really cannot put in onions or meat scraps if you want your worms to be happy. Then again, you probably don’t want meat scraps in most outdoor composters as they can attract critters.

You can make your own as described in this Worm Farm DIY ebook, or buy one like this Gusanito Worm Farm 3 Tray Garden Compost Bin. The tray system allows the worms to migrate upward as they create your compost.

Buying an Indoor Composter

If you don’t have the space or just want to do things indoors, there are systems to create your compost inside that will not stink the house up. Mostly they use carbon filters to control the odor. They may be plastic or stainless steel.

These are nice if you don’t want to have to run outside all the time to dump your scraps, or if you live in an apartment and are composting for dumping elsewhere. You will want to think about the size you can deal with, both in terms of the space you have to store one and how quickly you think you will fill it.

Indoor composters can have trouble with fruit flies. Banana peels are a common source of fruit fly eggs, and so you may want to avoid placing these in your indoor composter. Your nearest rose bush may appreciate them more.

If you really want to get composting going, look for one that you can use with microbes, often called Bokashi. This composts through fermentation and can work in 10 days. You’ll have to keep buying the microbes, but it’s a quick system if you want to do it all indoors.

Teaching the Kids to Clean the Bathroom with Vinegar

Cleaning the bathroom with vinegar

Like most kids their age, my kids can make a rather horrendous mess in the bathroom. The biggest part of it lately has been due to their rediscovery of the process by which dirt becomes mud.

Lots and lots of mud. To dig in or even smear on their skin.

I’ve had to haul the hose out a few times to get them clean enough to even be allowed in the house. Yep, it’s pretty cute and the times I’ve taken the camera out for it has made for some great pictures.

But it sure leaves a mess in the bathroom when they’re washing up from being just slightly dirty.

This lead to a quick decision by my husband and I. They get to clean their own bathroom from now on.

It’s a nice help. They both make quite a mess in there, and my son creates the additional messes that little boys are prone to creating. They’re old enough to do it. And vinegar is so safe I don’t have to worry about their health as they clean.

It’s a pretty easy skill to teach if you don’t expect perfection. I presented my kids with paper towels and a spray bottle of vinegar. I plan on moving to microfiber towels one of these days, but haven’t quite made it yet.

Then I showed them what I wanted done, helping them figure out how to do it and how to notice where dirt was still clinging to surfaces. That was actually one of the bigger challenges. My kids aren’t much worried about dirt these days.

Results were pretty good. Sure, it took longer to supervise and help them than to do it myself, but it’s a way to help them learn to be responsible. And it’s nice to have them cleaning with something that they won’t be hurting themselves with.

Make Green Easter Baskets for Your Kids

It’s just a couple of weeks to Easter, and I’m thinking already on what I want to put in my kids’ Easter baskets. It’s a holiday they have a lot of fun with, and I like to keep up the excitement without overdoing the spending.

With that in mind, I thought I would offer some tips on keeping Easter a bit greener for the kids.

1. Buy Easter baskets that can be reused.

Our kids’ Easter baskets get reused every year. We didn’t get the cheapie ones from the store. We found nicer ones that will hold up for many years. The kids love them.

You can find good baskets at thrift stores or any store in your area that sells baskets. It’s been a few years, but I think ours came from Cost Plus.

You can also consider using a bucket as a basket. This is great for kids who are still young enough to really enjoy playing in the sand.

2. Reuse other supplies from year to year.

Sure, you don’t like all that ugly plastic stuff you may have bought for Easter in years past, but if you have it there is no further harm in using it. Just don’t go buying new plastic eggs or plastic Easter grass.

Build up your supply as needed with more environmentally friendly Easter basket supplies.

3. Real grass in the Easter basket.

Two ways you can do this. The first would be to take lawn clippings the day before and use them in the baskets. It should be simple enough to time mowing the lawn so that you would have the clippings ready when you need them.

Another would be to line the basket with foil, add dirt and grass seeds, then grow the grass in the basket. Best to get started now if that’s what you want to do, as it will take a couple weeks to get things growing tall enough.

4. Skip the egg dying kits.

Nothing wrong with dyeing Easter eggs, but the little kits are relatively wasteful, especially if you have what you need to dye the eggs already at home.

I like to dye the eggs with food coloring and vinegar in a colander. We did this last year, and it turned out really beautiful.

You can also use natural food colorings. You can start with the raw eggs and boil them with the dye agents and some vinegar, using:

  • Carrots or turmeric for yellow,
  • Red cabbage leaves or blueberries for blue,
  • Beets or cranberries for pink,
  • Yellow onion skins for orange,
  • Red wine or purple grape juice for purples.

5. Think about what you put into the basket.

Go easy on the candy and think more about what the kids will use. As it’s spring, seeds and small garden tools can be fun. Books can also be a good gift.

The Start of Our Front Yard Garden

front yard garden

It’s spring, and time to get the garden growing. We’re hoping for better results than we had last year, but we’re also doing some things a little different.

Our front yard has always had a section that was just square stepping stone bricks on the dirt. Didn’t look bad or anything, but kind of boring. Our landlord doesn’t care what we do to the yard, so my husband decided, as you can see in the picture, to take up every other one, and use the area as a garden. No weeds to pull yet that way.

The front yard is mostly an herb garden, although there’s one cherry tomato plant in there. We figure the kids play out front enough with friends that they might get a kick out of having little tomatoes to snack on.

There are also some decorative grasses that my husband just felt like putting in, some nasturtiums, and we’ll be growing sunflowers out there too.

Frankly, the garden looks much better than the rest of the yard, which has been completely overcome by weeds. Some ways I don’t mind the weeds that much; in fact there are a few I wouldn’t mind seeing take over more of the yard. There are some really cute purple flowers in there.

But most of the weeds are the usual ugly stuff. Only nice thing about them is that they don’t take much water.

My neighbor, a fellow renter, pointed out that our mutual weed problems probably relate to the yard services each of our landlords use. Weed seeds probably get carried in on the lawnmowers. We have different weeds than our neighbors do, so this wouldn’t surprise me.

I’d say it would be nice if the yard services would do weed control, but they’d probably use poisons, so… never mind. I’d sooner have the weeds. I may yet pull out the spray bottle of vinegar and give that a go.

If my husband does get a good job, I think I will see if he minds having a discussion with the landlord about xeriscaping the front yard. I like the place I’m living in to look nice, but doing the whole front lawn is not an expense I’d really care to deal with, particularly right now. At the same time, if we can get the weeds out of the front lawn that’s fewer weed seeds to spread into the garden.

Next comes the main garden in the back. The focus this year is on planting foods that will help with our food bills. I hope things take off this year so that we can really see the effects.