Our Favorite Eco-Friendly Swaps for Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! On our homestead, one of our goals is to reduce waste and take good care of our land and animals in a way that is healthy for the ecosystem that we live in. To that end, we are moving toward renewable energy as much as we can, trying to buy less stuff, and continuing to eat a meat-free mostly plant-based diet. We are certainly far from perfect, but we try to keep striving to do better. 

I do think that it is important to remember that the idea of an individual carbon footprint was a marketing strategy to distract people from the damage done by big oil companies. To fight climate change, we have to hold companies and governments accountable for their role, vote accordingly, and keep the pressure on. I also subscribe to the Future Crunch newsletter to help with my climate anxiety. 

Nevertheless, we are not off the hook for reducing our own impacts as well. Here are some of our thoughts on reducing our impact this Earth Day. 

Don’t Fall for Greenwashing

Early this week, I started to get emails about Earth Day sales. Although I am not one to sniff at a coupon for a product I already use, the very idea that there is something “green” about a sale is kind of laughable. One of the biggest ways that we can live more sustainably is by buying less stuff

It reminded me of a struggle I had recently over a body wash we were using, but which I discovered had been “Green Washed.” Green Washing is when a company uses marketing smoke and mirrors to appear more eco-friendly than they really are. My complaints with the body wash in question were that it is produced by an “eco-friendly” company owned by Unilever, which tests on animals, and that it contains palm oil, a nearly ubiquitous ingredient linked to deforestation of tropical rainforests. Certainly, this product was “greener” than some other options, but in trying to find a body wash that did not include palm oil, I just ended up switching to vegan, palm-oil-free bar soap. That also meant no plastic bottles. I’ve been happy with the switch, but the experience was eye-opening. 

Fast Fashion, Worn Slow

The fast fashion industry is terrible for the environment and relies heavily on fossil fuels not only for production but also for shipping. The whole business has been built on releasing more and more styles in shorter and shorter seasons, and making clothes less durable so that they have to be replaced more frequently, making the cycle hard to break for the average consumer.  This rapid increase over the last century has been really bad for workers and the planet. 

One idea I’ve seen that I really like is “fast fashion worn slow.” The idea is to buy clothes that you need, or really love, but to buy much fewer (perhaps 75% fewer) garments overall and wear them for longer, moving away from the idea that you can’t repeat outfits, even for big events. It’s also important to take good care of the garments you have, washing them in cold water, and line-drying the less durable fabrics.  And thrifting helps too, of course.

IMG_20210803_081806030Become a St. Kateri Habitat

We are proud to be a St. Kateri Habitat. This program, run by the St. Kateri Conservation Center, encourages Catholics, Indigenous people, and “people of good will” to use the land they own (homes, businesses, schools, etc.) as healthy habitats for people and wildlife, with an emphasis on native plants and ecosystem services, as well as religious expression. Making your property a habitat is not as hard as you might think and it has been really rewarding to us, helping us think carefully about what we plant and how we care for our habitat. 

The Zero Market

923A24A3-ADA4-4668-951C-E8748D88216FIf you are local to Denver, check out The Zero Market (at Edgewater Market or Stanley Market). It is a good place to get products to replace single-use options, but it is best for buying household and beauty products in bulk, refilling your own containers to keep them out of the landfill. While not necessarily cheaper than buying soap, etc. in single-use packages, the quality of their refills is excellent, and you save those plastic containers. I take my own glass jars and get refills of hand soap, dish soap, air fresheners, tea, dental floss, and rosewater. Their rosewater is the best I’ve ever tried and I also really like the smell of their Sweetgrass room refresher spray. My mom loves their save soap. The Zero Market has a rewards program in which you earn a point for every container you save from a landfill, but they also regularly send out coupons, which helps with the cost/benefit equation. Recently, I was really excited to buy half of a shampoo bar from them for $3.50. I have wanted to try that switch for some time, but I have long hair and didn’t know if it would work for me, so the low investment was great. So far so good!

Compost

I am still struggling to get composting just right, but in the meantime, our food scraps are decomposing in two compost tumblers instead of releasing greenhouse gasses. Composting is an easy but impactful way to reduce waste in your home and there is a ton of information about how, why, and where to do it, as well as urban composting services (even in Denver) if you want to get started, but don’t want to manage the pile. Right now, I am a little compost obsessed, so if you want to talk about it, hit me up!

Reusable Cotton Rounds

D20466CD-D981-4377-8140-5EFB1D6C7702An easy low-waste switch is to use reusable cotton rounds. I bought my set off of Etsy years ago and they’re still going strong. Now, you can find them everywhere. I wash them in a lingerie bag that gets tossed in with my other laundry. I also got reusable nail polish removal pads from Zero Market and they were a game-changer. One side is slightly scrubby and so the nail polish comes off so much better than with disposable tissue. (Ella + Mila is my favorite cruelty-free brand of nail polish, by the way.)

No Paper Towels or Napkins

514D0020-9362-4A0D-AFB9-45BC9EE17FA3Back in 2018, I bought a couple of packs of cheap washcloths and have been using them, washing in hot water, and reusing them instead of paper towels since. Some of them are starting to get tattered, but I set them aside for really bad messes or for cleaning up things like paint. We also use cloth napkins instead of paper. Once (or twice, depending on the toddler) a week, I wash and dry them, which does use energy and water, but less than producing new paper products does. Back when we made this change, I was worried that it would be a heavy lift, but, even when we had a shared apartment laundry room, it was not a big deal, and folding the cloths and putting them away (we use a basket in the kitchen) is actually a meditative task for me. Between washes, we put the cloths in a bucket under the sink, out of the way. We do keep a roll of paper towels for emergencies such as dog barfs, but that’s it.

Bamboo Toilet Paper and Toothbrushes

FE00CFCD-2B79-457E-B2DA-DA18C4100D53We have a subscription to Who Gives A Crap and it lasts us a loooong time. We were set during the great 2020 toilet paper rush, too. 

We also switched to bamboo, biodegradable toothbrushes. A plastic toothbrush basically lives forever. I have one I reuse for cleaning tight spaces, but I don’t like the idea of our household putting at least 8 in a landfill each year. Not only do these babies take care of that issue, but they also look and feel chicer than a plastic toothbrush. I was even able to find some for our toddler. 

Biodegradable Floss 

In the same vein, I looked at the pile of floss building in our bathroom wastebasket and didn’t like it. At the Zero Market, I got us each a roll of biodegradable floss. They came in the cutest little glass vials with a screw-top lid that makes it easy to replace the roll when it runs out. This switch wasn’t as cheap as our old floss, but the biodegradable floss lasted longer than I thought it would, so I felt okay about it in the end. We ran out when I wasn’t planning a trip to the Zero Market soon, so I found a similar product at the grocery store. Reducing waste is getting easier and more popular! I still like the glass vial better though.

What are some of your favorite eco-friendly tips, product swaps, or resources? Let us know. Happy Earth Day! 

Sol Homestead in Winter

Miss Firecracker

Winter is allegedly a quiet time, when the garden and apiary are done for the season and I am all cuddled up reading a mystery novel. There’s always something to do, though, between the toddler, the chores, and keeping all of us living things warm, fed, and growing. 

Animals

The hens went on “sabbatical” for about six weeks and egg production is slowly ramping back up. They molted starting in November. When hens molt it can be a “hard” molting when they lose their feathers all at once and look awful for a minute before they grow back. Our hens did a “soft” molt. Aside from feathers blowing everywhere on the property and Eliza looking a little naked around her neck, you’d not really guess that they were molting. The energy needed to produce new feathers, plus the very short days probably caused them to stop laying eggs. Someone is also eating eggs if we don’t get to them soon enough. This would indicate that they might need a little more calcium in their diets. Oyster shell it is! 

Freeloading chickens Angelica, Persephone, and Peggy

The alpaca herd is doing well and getting fluffier by the day. Little Luna has grown so much. She is four months old and almost as tall as her mama, Miss Firecracker. We didn’t really notice how much shorter Miss Firecracker is compared to the other girls until Luna started to catch up to her!

We still have two 200 yd 2-ply worsted weight skeins of Miss Firecracker’s yarn left for $35 each. Send us a note in the contact tab if you’re interested!

Bees

A couple of weeks ago, we had a three-day stretch of temperatures in the mid-50s, so I decided to get into the hive for a couple of quick chores. I had seen bees out flying occasionally and I could hear them when I put my ear to the hive, but still, I was nervous that when I opened it I would find that they had blitzed through their food or that there would be signs of too much moisture or too few bees. None of the above happened. I didn’t pull any frames out, but it looks like they have most of their honey left. I added sugar to the feeding shim just in case they do run out of food (the Mountain Camp Method), as I am not planning to open the hive again until spring. If they don’t use the sugar they will just haul it out eventually, but in the meantime it will help absorb moisture.  

A big winter cluster still!

I also did a quick Oxalic Acid dribble just in case the previous mite treatments weren’t sufficient. I wanted to do it when it would be warm for a few days so that the moisture had time to dry out before it got cold again. I have read over and over that this year was an especially gnarly mite year. I think I got out there just as they were heading out for the day, which was the perfect time because they were still mostly in one place for the treatment. There was just one little hiccup. To dribble the OA in the lower deep box, I just tilted the top one up, as I was trying not to disturb the hive too much. Just as I was dribbling the solution along the last frame, the top box slipped and almost fell to the ground. It was heavy and I was holding it one-handed, but somehow I didn’t drop it or smash anyone. 

An undertaker bee at work

Once I reassembled the hive, I brushed as many dead bees out from behind the mouseguard as I could and then watched the bees coming out to relieve themselves and do their chores. I got to watch some undertakers at work. I did help them by brushing the dead bees off the landing board before I left. 

Overall, I am really encouraged by the size of the cluster and how tidy and well-stocked the Bee & Bee is looking. The average overwinter survival rate is ~40%, though, so I’m still keeping a close eye on the hive on sunny, warm days.

Orchard

IMG_20220113_154658038We are hoping to see more growth out of our orchard trees in the coming year now that they are fenced in and safe from alpaca attacks. We need to be more regular about watering them, but for now, the blanket of snow is taking care of that. Our little orchard trees have stood up to some brutal winds this season, assisted by a slight windbreak created by the barn. 

Ideally, I should have wrapped the trunks on the trees around Thanksgiving, but I got to it around New Year’s Day. Hopefully the little guys are okay. I wrapped each trunk in felt, which provides breathable protection from the harsh winter sun in the absence of leaves. They look like they are wrapped up in little scarves. I saw tiny buds on one of the trees when I was wrapping it, and that little glimpse of spring was encouraging. Colorado is not the easiest place to grow fruit trees. 

Garden

I am getting ready to start seeds in about a month, and the first order of business was organizing the seeds I have left over and the new ones I ordered on sale last month. The result was too many seeds! My big goals are to expand the pumpkin patch and get the pollinator garden blooming this year. I think the soil was too hot last year, since the beds had a layer of old horse poo under them, so I put down a heavy layer of mulch to try to cool it down. In order to make everything fit, I am expanding the container garden on the patio, using some pots left by the previous owners. In terms of seed starting, last year was a total flop, so this year I am adding heating pads and humidity covers to try to get some little plant babies growing! These additions should be especially helpful for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Any tips, master gardeners?

First attempts at spinning

Spinning

I am learning how to spin. After almost a year with little progress, I decided that I needed to put a deadline on myself to get the ball rolling, or the spindle spinning, rather. I decided to use the pretty merino fiber I had to make Christmas gifts for my grandparents. I was really pleased with how my first two yarns turned out, but I got less than a third of the way through knitting a cabled headband before I was out of yarn. That’s when I learned how to measure a skein using a niddy noddy, and discovered that I had only spun ~30 yds out of 4 oz of fiber. Yikes. I had to learn to spin thinner!

My first skein. So fluffy and pretty, but only 30 yds!

I eventually managed to spin three 2-ply 100 yd skeins of bulky weight yarn and I thought they turned out nicely. I know they are durable too, because I had to restart one knitting project three times due to some technical mistakes, and the yarn held up splendidly. Now, I am working on spinning thinner, more consistent yarn and finishing skeins so that they are not just usable, but saleable. A huge help in all of this was the book and DVD Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont and the Youtube channels MeganERisk Tutorials and JillianEve. I’m spinning every day now, for at least a few minutes and I’m enjoying it, which is a huge improvement from just a few months ago. 

Home 

Spinning thinner yarn with leftovers from Moira.

Aside from holiday festivities, things have been quiet around the house (knock on wood, throw salt over your shoulder, whatever it takes). We have been enjoying our repaired fireplace and trying out some new recipes. We are vegetarians, and each winter I am on the hunt for new veggie comfort food. This winter has had some real hits. 

Some of our favorite new-to-us recipes this winter have been:

In a few weeks, we will be putting up a new fence, to provide some more privacy and deaden the road noise in the backyard and pasture. That, we hope, pray, cross our fingers, is our last big house project for some time. 

What do you do during this winter season, for fun or around your own homestead? Let us know below. -Kasey 

The Fiddle Leaf Fig Who Could + Tips for Growing Fiddle Leaf Figs

IMG_20190623_072110521_HDRThe first Father’s Day after my father died, I was having a low-key, but difficult day. Nothing dramatic, no great outpouring of grief, just a sad day spent mostly on the verge of tears that never really came. That afternoon, Julio went on an errand and came home with a Fiddle Leaf Fig that he named The Last One. I had been filing our apartment with houseplants and he had made me promise that I wouldn’t bring home anymore for a while, but I really wanted a Fiddle Leaf Fig. So here it was, the last houseplant. (Or so he thought.)

It was a sweet gesture, tacitly acknowledging that he knew I was down in the dumps and that there was nothing he could do about it except to bribe a smile out of me with a houseplant. As we sat on the balcony admiring our new addition, I explained to him that I wanted the Fiddle Leaf Fig because it was notoriously finicky—a real challenge to my fledgling gardening skills—but if kept happy, it could grow to the ceiling over time.

Fiddle Leaf Figs are native to Africa and love humidity. We technically live in a high desert climate so, even running a humidifier, I was never going to be able to convince this baby that it was in the jungle. I had also read that you could kill a Fiddle Leaf Fig just by breathing wrong near it. I was determined, however, to keep The Last One growing.

IMG_20210905_095052250I bought Fiddle Leaf Fig fertilizer, dutifully applying it once a month through the summer, and watered it exactly one Ball jar a week on Saturdays. I soon deduced that the humidifier was unnecessary, as it made no real difference in the humidity. I opted instead just to keep my tropical plants clustered together, sharing the sunlight and the moisture they “exhaled.” Over the summer and fall, the Fiddle Leaf Fig grew about a foot. I was delighted. I celebrated every new leaf that emerged, first as a tight coil, gradually unwrapping into a bright green, tiny leaf that, over time, grew and darkened into a deep green violin shape.

Screenshot_20220113-102028-161In January, we moved to our house. I was prepared for the Fiddle Leaf Fig to drop some leaves in response to the change in environment as everything I read about the plant suggested that big changes could stress the poor thing out. At first, it seemed to be enjoying its new home next to a sunny South-facing window. Then, I came down one morning and leaves had dropped to the kitchen floor. They were weirdly far away from the plant, but I thought the dog must have accidentally dragged them away with her tail.

A week or so later, I came downstairs in the morning and discovered that the top half of the plant was missing, leaves and all. My once lush Fiddle Leaf Fig was now a potted stick. There was nary a leaf in sight. Something did not add up.

I was in the midst of the first trimester of pregnancy and we had just moved and murmurs about a possible pandemic were starting, so I did not think much about the plant. I didn’t throw it away, but I put figuring out what happened on hold.

A couple of weeks later, now under lockdown in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Julio was coming upstairs one night when he saw a rodent dart from the dog’s bowl to hide behind the refrigerator. The following night, I dusted the area with flour to confirm what he saw. The next morning, tiny footprints were in the flour. Julio was thoroughly creeped out, but I had an a-ha moment. When Julio moved the refrigerator to see if there was a hole there allowing a rodent to enter the kitchen, he found a hole and I found a few pieces of Fiddle Leaf Fig leaf.

IMG_20200317_094918587_PORTRAITGetting rid of the packrat that was breaking into our home each night through a gap under our balcony was a long process and a different story, but now I had an answer on the plant. It wasn’t dying; it had been robbed. I moved The Last One and the small orange tree we were given as a housewarming gift to the west-facing window in our bedroom and leaves and fruit stopped disappearing. A month later, the Fiddle Leaf Fig had a handful of tiny leaves. It kept growing and I kept fertilizing it once a month and watering it deeply once a week. A year later, I repotted it into a bigger pot. Almost two years later, it is hip-height and still thriving.

IMG_20220113_101816554_HDRI watched the resurgence of The Last One with awe and amusement. I am generally pretty successful with my houseplants. I only lost one, a pothos, to the move, and I subsequently killed a young Parlour Palm because I couldn’t find the right spot or the right watering routine. Other than those losses, however, my little indoor jungle has done pretty well. None, however, have thrived like The Fiddle Leaf Fig who could. This plant, known for being easy to kill, so challenging to keep that Julio joined a Fiddle Leaf Fig support group on Facebook when he brought it home, has proved itself resilient beyond what I thought possible. I do not exaggerate when I say it was at one point a potted stick. The rat took all of the leaves and the young portion of the trunk. I couldn’t imagine that it would start producing leaves again without any way to take in sunlight. I am thankful that I neglected the plant in those first days after its losses, too distracted by another new life to count the plant as a loss. That pause gave it time to start again, growing back with vigor. Fickle who?  -Kasey

My Tips for Maintaining a Fiddle Leaf Fig

  • Choose the right size pot and establish drainage. For the first year or so, keep the plant in the grower pot it comes in. I simply set the grower pot inside of a prettier pot. This ensured that excess water could drain out because the Fiddle Leaf Fig hates getting soggy.
  • IMG_20210410_103212768Repot the plant once it is rootbound. One way to tell is if roots start to come out of the drainage holes in the grower pot. Make sure the new pot has adequate drainage. Choose a new pot that is one size up from the current pot. For example, an 8” pot after a 6” pot.
  • There are different philosophies on watering. What has worked well for me is to water deeply once a week, no more. I have occasionally gone longer, for example when we traveled, but underwatering is easier to correct and to spot than overwatering. For example on one very hot day, I came home from work and the leaves were all drooping significantly. I watered the thirsty plant and within two hours, the leaves perked back up.
  • To water deeply, water the plant evenly until the water starts to run out of the drainage hole, then stop.
  • Make sure that the Fiddle Leaf Fig gets several hours of direct sunlight a day. Mine has been happy in windows facing both South and West. If the sun is too hot in your area, placing it slightly back from the window or using a sheer curtain could help.
  • Once a month, turn the plant a quarter turn so that the stem grows straight and even. I forgot to do this for a couple of months and my plant developed a big curve in its stem. I have since staked it up, trying to correct the curve before the trunk hardens.
  • Occasionally, give the plant a wind bath by placing it outside on a breezy day or gently shaking the stem with your hands. That helps the trunk develop strength.
  • Occasionally, dust the leaves gently with a cloth. The leaves can get dusty, which can prevent them from taking in the sunlight properly.
  • Enjoy your plant and have faith in it! These babies can grow to 40 feet tall in the wild. We only think they’re fickle because we’re trying to grow a jungle baby in a climate where it snows.

IMG_20210410_103815476

Preparing for Christmas at Sol Homestead

If you have longed for a simpler Christmas in years past, 2020 has provided you with the opportunity. For us at Sol Homestead, it is our first Christmas in our home and also our daughter’s first Christmas. Due to the pandemic, we are not traveling to spend the holiday with either of our families and we are trying our hardest to make things merry, despite the circumstances. To do so, we are focusing on starting traditions with our daughter that we plan to continue through her childhood. In short, the joy of this Christmas, if we manage it, comes not from bustle and merriment, but from designing what Christmas will feel like in our home for the first time.

We are trying to keep things simple and cozy in the traditions we establish, focusing on togetherness and simple pleasures. It has been on our hearts how much of a struggle it will be for some families to celebrate this year, not only because of a pandemic advisement against travel, but also because of economic hardship. We look at our newborn, who won’t really “get” Christmas this year (beyond lights—she loves those) and our hearts hurt for parents who may struggle to get gifts for their children. In that spirit, we think it is best to keep our celebration modest—for the most part, making due with what we have, even though the tree skirt is too small and some of our lights burned out, etc. (Of course, we got each other alpacas for Christmas, so that feels pretty big!) We did get a real, tall tree, and Kasey invested in the supplies to make the JOY garland on the railing, an idea her mom found on Pinterest.

The additional benefit for the long-term is that trying to keep things simple this year will hopefully set a foundation for Christmases that don’t get super commercialized every year. One of our hopes for our girl is that she does not get stuck on the consumer hamster wheel and we want to do our part to keep the holidays feeling homey and special without them feeling too much about stuff. So, here is what we’re doing.

Advent We are Catholic, so Advent is a special part of our preparation for Christmas. It feels like the verse on our advent wreath really hits home this year: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:1). We use two advent wreathes, even though it is awkward to find a place for them both, because the first Christmas we were married, Kasey’s dad sent us one, not knowing that we already had one. He has since passed away, so it feels extra special to put out the one he sent. We also use our nativity set, just like the Fontanini one Kasey grew up with. Baby Jesus arrives for Christmas night and then the three wise men start their journey from across the living room to the nativity for the Feast of the Epiphany. This year, we also have a felt advent calendar where we will put up a different character in the nativity each night before bed. We imagine these things will only get to be more fun as the baby grows.

Pajamas for St. Nicholas Day We love the idea of giving Christmas jammies but wanted our growing girl to get to wear them all month (especially since zippy jammies are the easiest thing to dress her in), so we’ve decided that we will give her new Christmas pajamas on St. Nicholas Day each year. We will also continue our tradition of listening to David Sedaris’s hilarious story “Six to Eight Black Men” that morning over coffee (Caution: it is not safe for little ears).

Jólabókaflóð A couple of years ago, we went on a trip to Iceland, which was amazing, and Kasey was really drawn to the Icelandic tradition of giving books for Christmas, Jólabókaflóð. That year, she gave everyone on her list a book and made bookmarks to go along with them. The leftovers have become her very favorite bookmarks. Starting this year, we are making it a tradition in our little family to exchange books and hot cocoa on Christmas Eve and getting snuggly with them before bed.

In the meantime, we checked out several Christmas books from the library to enjoy for a few weeks. So far, our favorite has been Tonight You Are My Baby, which focuses on Christmas night from Mary’s perspective and, we think does a better job than The Christmas Baby. We will also enjoy some of the wintry books that we were given at baby showers, including The Mitten and The Snowy Day.

Christmas Eve Dinner Christmas Eve is the day when our family traditions will be most blended. A big meal and celebration is traditional in Julio’s family. We already feel so grateful that his mom brought us two bottles of coquito when they visited in October. In Kasey’s family, her dad also made a meal of soup and a big salad (and also usually a roast for the carnivores). This year, we will enjoy coquito, Kasey’s dad’s Hungarian Mushroom Soup, and either a drive-in Mass or streaming Mass, hopefully at Midnight.

Gingerbread Alpacas Kasey loves making Smitten Kitchen’s spicy gingerbread and will miss making sugar cookies with her mom this year. We were gifted a couple of alpaca cookie cutters and a llama cookie cutter last year, so the perfect combination of all of these things will be making alpaca and llama Christmas cookies for friends and neighbors this season.

Lights Finally, we are putting up lights as much as we can. We found 500 feet of Christmas lights when we were cleaning out the barn, so that will go a long way. (Metaphorically. Literally, it will go 500 feet.)

We hope that you all have ways to make this Christmas season cozy and special. What are your traditions? Let us know in the comments.