Urban Homesteading and Sustainable Living

A Joyful Homestead

Month: May 2020

Dishwasher detergent

Easy DIY Dishwasher Detergent

Homemade dish detergent is easier than I thought. I wanted to find a simple DIY recipe that used very few ingredients and would be environmentally friendly while still doing a great job of cleaning. If you’re already into eco-friendly, natural home cleaning, you may already have the ingredients for this in your cupboards. I’m sharing this recipe with you, in the hopes that you can save money, reduce harm to the environment, and make fewer trips to the store. I’ve been using this since 2019 and love how easy it is. 

The three basic ingredients are washing soda, citric acid and vinegar. I buy a large box of washing soda about twice a year for $6-8 a box, and a large bag of citric acid sells for $11 on Amazon. I have also recently noticed it in the laundry and cleaning products aisle of grocery stores. I buy large jugs of white vinegar wherever I see it on sale, as it is my most commonly used household cleaning product.

Washing soda is sodium carbonate and has a high pH (alkaline), so it is best to keep it out of reach of children and avoid prolonged contact with the skin. It is rated as safe by the EPA and FDA. For more safety information click here. You can make your own washing soda by heating baking soda in your oven, but unless you are on a very tight budget, I recommend saving yourself some time and just buying it from the hardware or grocery store. Here in Canada, I buy it at Safeway or Canadian Tire.

Citric Acid occurs naturally in all citrus fruits (and some other fruits like strawberries and pineapple), but the citric acid you buy is typically synthetically manufactured. You can buy food grade citric acid that is safe to use as a food additive. It is one of the most common food additives and is typically used as a preservative or flavour enhancer. While it is rated for safe ingestion and handling, I find that it irritates my skin, so I always use gloves when handling it. It is great for cleaning soap scum and mineral scale, so it is my go-to product for cleaning the bathtub and sinks. This also makes it ideal for adding to the washing soda to give the dish-washing powder a boost. If you are concerned about the safety or price of the citric acid, there is an easy, affordable alternative: unsweetened lemonade or other citrus-based juice crystals. Check the ingredient list carefully to make sure there is nothing unnecessary added to the juice crystals like colour or artificial flavour. You could also use watered down lemon juice, but unless you have an excess of lemons and nothing better to do with them, that would not be very cost-effective.

 

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Dishwasher detergent ingredients

Instructions:

Fill a quart-size or litre jar with washing soda, leaving about 2 inches of space on top. Add 4 tbsp of citric acid and stir or shake the jar. I recommend Ball or Bernardin plastic lids if you don’t want to use your metal canning lids. I have started storing mine in a quart-size glass storage container with rubber seal (pictured above). The wide mouth makes it easier to scoop out. 

Fill your dishwasher’s detergent container, close it, and you’re almost ready to go. The final ingredient, vinegar, gets added to the bottom of your washer and will help keep your glass dishes spot-free, as well as acting as a disinfectant. I use about a half cup but I honestly don’t bother measuring how much I splash in anymore. It is not a necessary ingredient if you are on a budget and don’t mind a few spots. The washing soda and heat of the water is sufficient to clean and sanitize your dishes.

We are a two-person household, and typically fill and run the dishwasher once a week. When we have family visiting, this can increase to up to 4 times a week, but even with annual month-long family visits in the summer, I only need to buy the washing soda twice a year. I go through citric acid and vinegar a bit faster, as I use both for general cleaning.

Some DIY dish-washing powder recipes also call for coarse salt and baking soda, but unless you find your dishes aren’t as clean and spotless as you want them, don’t bother with adding them. The citric acid softens the water much as the salt would, and baking soda is generally added to break down grease on dishes. I pre-rinse the majority of my dishes, so I don’t find that baking soda is necessary.

Let me know if you try this recipe and it works as well for you as it does for my household! We are on city water, so this recipe will likely need some tweaking if you are on well water that contains more minerals. Remember that you can add a cup coarse salt or Epsom salt to the detergent if your water is especially hard.

Update Sept. 18, 2020

I ran out of citric acid and tried using just washing soda and vinegar. The dishes still came clean, but some of my glassware had a cloudy film. I had to then rinse them by hand. After I added citric acid back in this week, there is no more film, so it is an essential ingredient. 

Regrow Celery

Regrowing Celery from a Store-bought Bunch

They told me it couldn't be done. The naysayers said, “Your growing season is too short and celery takes too long to fully develop.” But I have proved them wrong, as my windowsill celery is nearly a foot tall and thriving.

Why Regrow Celery?

About a year ago, the price of celery skyrocketed to as high as $8 a bunch due to a celery juicing trend. I still wanted to cook with celery, so I started looking for economical solutions. As an avid vegetable gardener, my solution to this price hike was to try to grow our own.

I was in the planning stage of preparing the vegetable garden, and looked into growing celery in our region. Most of the information that I found indicated that our zone (zone 6) was not well suited for it because our growing season is relatively short, and very dry. Celery needs 3 to 4 months to fully mature, and plenty of water. I had been seeing posts on social media on regrowing celery from the root end of a bunch, and despite the chance that it might not grow to full size, I decided to try it out.

Unfortunately, I did not get a garden sitter when I was away on a camping vacation last summer, and my celery dried up. This year I started my windowsill celery near the end of February, hoping that a few months of slow growing in the kitchen would give my plant enough of a head start to be planted out in the garden and mature before the scorching days of summer arrived. I’m happy to report that after two full months, my celery is a foot tall and ready to go in the garden as soon as the danger of frost has passed.

How to do it

Regrowing celery from the end of a bunch is easy if you have the patience and the right conditions. Ideally, you want to have a south facing window with a wide sill. I am fortunate that my kitchen window faces due south and gets sunshine almost all day long. I suspect that it also could be done with good quality grow lights, or in a window that faces east or west, but I have not tried that myself.

Celery starts
  • Cut off the bottom of the celery bunch so you have about an inch and a half to two inches with the root end.

  • Place the celery end, root side down, in a shallow bowl or cup of water, so that at least half an inch is submerged in the water. I prefer to use a clear glass bowl, but you could even use a plastic container. You will see in my pictures that I have used wooden skewers on one of my growing ends. I’ve since learned that this is not necessary, as it will grow just as well if it’s sitting on the bottom of the bowl or container.

  • Place the bowl on your windowsill, or under grow lights if you don’t have a window that gets enough direct sunlight.

  • Change the water at least every other day, and change or wash the bowl every few days.

  • Within a few days, you will start to see new growth in the centre of the celery end.

  • The outer stalk portions will begin to decompose. Leave the decaying portions attached when you go on to the next step.

  • Once the new growth reaches about 3” tall, plant it in a container of potting soil, place the container on a saucer, and water daily. Celery plants are thirsty! Keep the soil damp, but not swampy.

  • When the new celery plant starts to get too big for the small container, re-pot it into a larger container, or plant it out in your garden if the danger of frost has passed. If you are not sure if it is big enough to replant yet, look at the bottom of the container and see if any roots are peaking out the bottom. If they are, its likely time to plant in a bigger pot. Another sure sign that it needs to be “up-potted” is yellowing or browning of the leaf edges.

  • For advanced tips on how to grow celery in your garden, I recommend reading more here: https://www.almanac.com/plant/celery

You will notice that your growing celery plant has many more leaves than a store-bought bunch. You can trim off a few leaves, once the plant is well established, and use them in any recipe that you would like a bit of subtle celery flavour. You can also dehydrate the leaves and use them as you would use dried parsley or similar herbs. I like to add mine to spaghetti sauce and even to fancy macaroni and cheese.

I now have four plants at various stages of development.

Celery plants

Do not be discouraged if your first attempt does not grow to be a full-sized celery plant. Of the four that I started this spring, one is failing to thrive and will likely have to be composted. You can read all the books and webpages in existence on gardening, but as most gardeners come to realize, you learn the most from trial and error. Keep trying!