8 themes from our Edible Garden, Season #1 (2015)

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She fingers a baby okra, then looks at me. It’s in her eyes, the question, “Can I pluck this?”

Questions and answers, touching and feeling, being and doing – our garden brings all of these to life with intensity and joy and lots of sweat and muck.

For someone who probably holds the record for killing the most money plants due to neglect, the renaissance of our garden project is huge. After I got pregnant with Roo in 2013 our vegetable garden quickly became overgrown with weeds.

It was an eyesore that I had to constantly avert my eyes from but I became hopeful again when Roo turned 14 months old last February, had started walking and the older children could help watch her a little more.

Growing our edible garden again has evoked several consistent themes. Here are some of them:

1. Starting something new is always hard.

In February 2015, we started pak choy and spinach seedlings. Sweet Man and I then spent a couple of days getting rid of weeds, repositioning our vegetable bed frames and double digging to loosen the hardened soil. We hadn’t done this kind of work in a long time, so our muscles paid the price!

During the rest of the month we were busy with Chinese New Year celebrations. In that time, we let the beds rest and covered them with tarp to allow the remaining weeds to die off.

Meanwhile, our seedlings were growing ….

8 March
8 March 2015

2. Getting hands-on help and advice from someone experienced is invaluable.

In March, I dug a bed along the left wall with the intention of planting passion fruit and flowers to enliven the area.

My mother brought me a young passion fruit tree and I dug a huge hole for it in the left corner of the flower bed.

8 March 2015. Passion fruit
8 March 2015. Passion fruit

My mother is an avid gardener who grew up in the Cameron Highlands and her own mother had a thriving and successful vegetable garden. Watching Puppy, Lamb and Piglet learning from their Po Po (grandmother) how to transplant spinach and pak choy seedlings was something special. They also sowed okra seeds directly into the soil.

Everyone loved going barefoot and getting their hands in!

9 March 2015. Everyone loved going barefoot and getting their hands in!
9 March 2015

3. The human baby comes first before the garden baby.

With all the tarp off, the threat of weeds was a constant challenge.

There is no way you can keep a wee toddler out of the garden especially when you want to be there, and she is still nursing every few hours.

Roo was always about and sometimes I had to nurse with her on one side and weed with the other hand. Other days I had to just sit back and let those weeds grow.

These blossoms inspired and kept me going

17 March 2015. These blossoms inspired and kept me going
17 March 2015

 

4. When everything is happening at once, the garden has to wait.

By the end of March, okra, smooth-leaved spinach, Malabar spinach, water convolvulus (kangkung) and sweet potato leaves were growing fast. Unfortunately our family was hit by a cold bug that plagued us for three long months. Four cycles of colds!

With everyone taking it in turns getting sick, including myself, I didn’t have the time or energy to harvest veggies regularly.

Weeds overtook the garden paths.

But our incapacity is a blessing in other ways. It forces us to sit back and remember our complete dependence on God. It also keeps us focused on the essentials.

So April was a busy month saying no to garden work and keeping up with other ongoing things – chores, homeschooling, Puppy’s 9th birthday, Easter preparations, school Sports Day, and community projects at church.

14 April. The battle of trying to grow grass instead of weeds! 
14 April 2015. The battle of trying to grow grass instead of weeds!

 

5. Taking up gardening means learning all kinds of new skills, like carpentry!

The fast-growing passion fruit vine desperately needed a trellis to climb on, so despite still having a cold I had to figure out how to build a suitable structure for it.

And how to do it with a sick, snotty little Roo clinging to me.

18 April 2015. “Thou shalt not work, Mama … until I nap.”
18 April 2015. “Thou shalt not work, Mama … until I nap.”

We got these pieces of good quality hard wood from my parents. They had some unused ones to spare, so one evening we went over to their house with a hand saw and Sweet Man cut all the pieces we needed.

He also very patiently taught me how to use a hammer and nails, having a good laugh every now and then.

Four year old Piglet helped me varnish the trellis with food-grade mineral oil while Roo napped and he asked me questions about the Virgin Birth, of all the topics in the world!

21 April 2015. 4 year old Piglet helped me varnish the trellis with food-grade mineral oil while Roo napped and he asked me questions about the Virgin Birth, of all the topics in the world!
21 April 2015 

Sweet Man drilled holes and helped me screw in the trellis the next day. It’s positioned at the side of the garden to avoid sheltering other vegetables from direct sunlight and where we hope the passion fruit will eventually hide our neighbour’s ugly extension.

22 April 2015. Sweet Man drilled holes and helped me screw in the trellis the same day. It’s positioned where we hope the passion fruit will eventually hide our neighbour’s ugly extension, and keep to one side of the garden to avoid sheltering other vegetables from direct sunlight.
22 April 2015 

I realised the passion fruit needed a bit more help to climb and so had to string twine in between the bars. It would have been easier if we’d done it before installation. Live and learn!

You could also say we learned another new skill by aiming and throwing a stringed pebble just at the right place and weaving twine in and out of the trellis. The kids loved the challenge.

23 April 2015
23 April 2015

Meanwhile, the Malabar spinach and kangkung were doing well.

malabar spinach and water convolvulus

Malabar spinach is a fast-growing vegetable and an excellent source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus. It also provides us with dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese. 

Kangkung (or water convolvulus) is also full of nutritional goodness: A 100g serving contains water (90%), protein (3%), fibre (3%), fat (0.9%), carbohydrate (4.3%), minerals (2%), nicotinamide (0.6mg), riboflavin (120mg), vitamin C (137mg) and vitamin E (11mg). 

We love both as a quick stir-fry. I’m sure many nutrients are lost in the cooking process so we try to eat as much as possible over both lunch and dinner.

 

6. Planting flowers in an edible garden definitely makes the whole project more pleasing to the eye.

My mother had a significant hand in establishing this lovely flower bed to disguise the old railing that separates the flat garden from the slope beyond. Thank you, as always, Ma.

7 May 2015
7 May 2015

And thank you, Roo baby and Piglet for helping me water the blossoms. I always need more than two hands!

watering the garden

 

7. When veggies really start growing, it can be hard to keep up.

Okra and spinach, exactly 2 months after planting. Don’t they look wild!

7 May 2015 
7 May 2015

Overgrown sweet potato leaves, Malabar spinach, kangkung and more okra. We always have an overabundance of sweet potato leaves. They grow so quickly we can eat a stir-fry twice a week and hardly see a difference in what’s left.

7 May 2015
7 May 2015

Ma brought me a lemon plant! I planted this on the slope, next to the fence.

7 May 2015
7 May 2015

Oh no! What’s this bug attacking the okra?? The two boys began an intense hobby of bug-catching. We now have a designated Bug Jar for all varieties of captured devils.

7 May 2015
7 May 2015

I also started hunting for an effective natural pesticide recipe which I’ll share in a future post.

 

8. A good harvest is a good motivation to persevere.

15 May 2015. We were still suffering from that nasty cold that began end-March and I wondered when it would ever end.

Besides keeping up with the house, children, and mid-year exams for Puppy and Lamb, I also had new challenges – sorting and storing all the disorganised garden tools and general equipment and repainting the peeling awning above. If the kids were going to be out there more often, we needed to keep it child-friendly.

With those projects underway, grass eventually grew over the bare patches of the lawn.

In mid-May, the okra started flowering. By the end of June, we had so much okra to harvest I didn’t need to buy any.

3 July 2015
3 July 2015

The bumper crop of okra was an encouragement for me to see what could finally become of the messy backyard – an edible garden and outdoor green space for the whole family to relax and play.

Related post: 10 Themes from our Edible Garden, Season #2 (July-September 2015).

For more updates on our garden-to-table project, homeschooling, natural living, motherhood, faith, and more, follow along via Facebook.

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Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap

Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap

Making natural liquid laundry soap is so easy, inexpensive, and great for the environment. I’m glad to say that despite the introduction of GST in Malaysia this year, we can still maintain our commitment to green cleaning at home by making our own natural laundry soap.

It takes only 30 minutes overall to make your own liquid laundry soap (including the time to divide it into containers).

This recipe I’m sharing with you makes 15 litres of soap (126 loads), which is enough to last my family slightly over 4 months (we run one load daily). The total cost is around RM39.50, which works out to only RM0.31 per load!

Compare this with store-bought “natural” liquid laundry detergent. One of the popular brands in Malaysia retails at RM47.70 for 50 loads, which works out to RM0.95 per load, 3 times the cost of homemade.

Conventional laundry detergent pollutes our earth with chemicals like sulfates, phenols, petroleum distillates and more, so all the more reason to switch to homemade natural laundry soap.

Ingredients

  • 1 bar natural soap or homemade soap (I used Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Baby-Mild bar soap, 5 oz)
  • 1 cup Borax (I used 20 Mule Team Borax)
  • 1 cup Washing Soda (I used Arm & Hammer)
  • Essential oil (optional) (I used 10 drops of peppermint EO from an old bottle)
  • 15 litres plain tap water*

* Some other recipes use more water (all other ingredients remaining the same), bringing the total volume up to 19 litres, and users are apparently happy with the results. I chose to make my laundry soap more concentrated because of the amount of dirt our 4 kids get onto their clothes! I suppose when their messy days are over (if ever?), I may make 19 litres instead which would mean this recipe alone will enable us to run 160 loads across 5.3 months, decreasing the cost even further to RM0.20 per load!

What’s in these ingredients?

  • Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Baby-Mild bar soap is made with organic oils (coconut, palm, olive, and jojoba). Best of all, Dr. Bronner’s soaps are certified fair trade.

Dr Bronner's castile soap

  • Borax (sodium tetraborate) is a naturally occurring substance produced by the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes. The 20 Mule Team Borax variety is free of phosphates, per-oxside, chlorine, and other additive chemicals. Some people have expressed concerns over the use of borax, but this well-researched article by Wellness Mama has convinced me of the safety of using it in laundry soap. Basically, we won’t be ingesting it or using it undiluted. In my view, this reasoning applies equally well to many other natural substances.

borax

  • Washing soda (also known as sodium carbonate or soda ash) is the water-soluble sodium salt of carbonic acid.

washing soda

Where to buy

(Prices at the time of writing:) 

  • 20 Mule Team Borax (available at Ace, RM38.05 for 76 oz)*
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (available at Ace, RM28.51 for 55 oz)*

* Borax and Washing Soda are useful for a myriad of natural household cleaning jobs, and they are used so minimally in our homemade cleaning concoctions so the cost of these items (reasonably priced already) are spread out over a long time.

Now for the recipe!

Liquid Laundry Soap Recipe

  1. Add 2 litres of water to a medium-sized pot.
  2. Grate the entire bar of soap. (I used a cheese grater.) Add it into the water.
  3. Heat the mixture, stirring constantly until the soap dissolves.
  4. Add the borax and washing soda to the soap mixture. Stir until dissolved. Remove from heat.
  5. Pour 13 litres of warm or hot water into a big bucket/pail that can contain at least 16 litres. (A large one that most people use for mopping floors will do just fine.)
  6. Add the soap-borax-washing soda mixture to this big pail of water. Stir well.
  7. Keep overnight and allow to cool in a safe place, away from children and pets.
  8. The next day, the mixture will have separated a little, but that’s ok. Add essential oil (if using). Stir well until combined.
  9. Pour into clean, empty containers. Using a funnel helps get the job done much faster and with minimal spills. (I recycled our empty milk cartons, cleaning and drying them well beforehand.)
  10. Use ½ cup per load (or up to 1 cup if clothes are really dirty). Shake before use.

How to make laundry soap

Does this liquid laundry soap work?

When researching numerous homemade laundry recipes online, I decided to go with liquid laundry soap instead of the dry powdered version as the liquid recipe ensures all the ingredients are well incorporated.

We have been using this laundry soap for exactly 2 weeks now. I usually add 4 tablespoons of white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment of our front loader washing machine and am extremely pleased with the overall result.

(By the way, using white vinegar as an alternative to store-bought fabric softener is another healthier, environmentally friendly, very cheap and effective way of softening fabrics. Clothes don’t come out smelling like vinegar at all. On where to buy white vinegar in bulk and save cost, contact me here.)

With this homemade liquid laundry soap, the clothes come out without the distinct and heavy fragrance of conventional laundry detergent, but I prefer that because those fragrances are actually made of a mix of harmful chemicals. The fragrance of the peppermint essential oil in this recipe dissipates after the clothes are washed but adding the oil may extend the shelf life of this homemade laundry soap, given its antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Given how simple this laundry soap is to make, its economical and environmentally responsible benefits, why not give it a try? You may never use store-bought again – and ease your budget!

 

Upcoming posts: Homemade liquid dish wash, homemade liquid body wash, homemade citrus cleaner and more.

This post is sponsored by Dr. Bronner’s Malaysia. All opinions are mine. I’m so glad these versatile, magic castile soaps are now available in Malaysia, both bar and liquid versions! You can also buy them at MacroB Malaysia, located at SS2, Petaling Jaya. Go ahead and like these Pages to get more updates on green cleaning and natural health!

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