Natural Egg Dyes

Natural Egg Dyes

If you are preparing for Spring holidays, chances are you will be dying eggs with your children. I’m always hesitant to you commercial egg dyes. If you are looking for more natural solutions as well, simple natural dyes can give you beautiful, subtle pastel colors of Spring.


Why Eggs in Spring?

Before commercial egg laying, Spring was the time for a chicken to lay the most eggs. They need a certain amount of sunlight per day, and they would anticipate enough time in the year to raise chicks to survive the next winter. The presence of eggs from birds of all kinds was a sign of spring. It makes sense that this and other signs of new life have been adopted to symbolize the season with the world begins to warm and wake from winter.

The subtlety of natural dyes on spring eggs makes a nice contrast to the bright colors of petrochem dyes. Natural dyes also give you and your children a chance to experiment and play in creating your spring decorations.


Basic Preparation

  • Eggs
  • Vinegar
  • Dye stuffs
  • Saucepan(s)
  • Glass jars (so your child can see the eggs taking on the color)
  • Slotted spoon
  • Tray for drying (egg carton will work, but I don’t like the smudges it can make. I like a wire rack)

If using Cool Dip method, hard boil the eggs.

White eggs show subtle colors better, but brown eggs still make nice, earthy colors.

Whether cooked or raw, clean the eggs in slightly soapy water to remove any oils or anything else that could resist color.

Dry thoroughly.


Two methods

Hot Method for more intense, sometimes mottled colors

  • Put one layer of uncooked eggs into a pan. Be careful not to crack the shells or you will dye your hard-boiled eggs as well as the shells, and you will just break your uncooked eggs.
  • Add enough water to cover eggs plus ½”.
  • Add 1 teaspoon – 2 tablespoons of vinegar. 1 Tbs works for nearly all dyes (see below).
  • Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer.
  • Simmer 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove eggs from pan with a slotted spoon.

If colors aren’t dark enough yet, put eggs and dye liquid in the refrigerator overnight.

If you leave an egg in vinegar long enough, the shell will dissolve. Don’t leave the eggs sitting in dye longer than overnight.

Cool Dip Method for lighter, smoother colors with pre-boiled eggs

  • Add 3-4 cups of water to a saucepan.
  • Add your dye stuffs.
  • Boil the dye for 30 minutes.
  • Cool dye (it doesn’t have to be cool but at least take the dye off the heat before adding hard-boiled eggs).
  • Add 2-3 teaspoons of vinegar.
  • Put dye in a clear jar for easy viewing.
  • Carefully lower hard-boiled eggs into dye with a slotted spoon.
  • Leave at least 30 minutes, though you can leave the eggs overnight.


Colors

Use 1-4 cups of vegetable stuffs or 1-2 tablespoons spices.

Yellow – Turmeric
Gold/Orange – Onion Skins (vinegar moves the color toward brown)
Pink - grated Beets, crushed fresh Cranberries, canned Cherries
Purple - Grape Juice
Blue – Red Cabbage (boil 30 minutes before adding eggs)
Green – Spinach
Brown – Coffee, Black Tea

Combine for other colors. Red Cabbage plus Turmeric, for example, make green.


Techniques

Use a clear, white, or light crayon to create resist patterns. Exciting for a child just learning to write her name. Useful for making dyed eggs look like natural, speckled eggs. For an older child up for a challenge, show him pysanky (Ukrainian egg decorating) for inspiration.

User rubber bands to create simple stripes. This is a striking effect and easy to do with children.


Keep Track

This is a great opportunity for your child to learn some of the art and science behind dyes. Have them come up with a hypothesis then test it with the dyes. Does red cabbage, for example, make red dye? (It doesn’t. It makes blue dye.)

If you are going to experiment with dyes from your own garden or from your local area, you might want to keep track of the recipes whose results you most like.

What dye stuffs did I use?
What method did I use?
What was my recipe?
How long did leave the egg?
Did a different length of time result in a different color?
What do I think of the results?
Add a photo if you can.

Next year, add to your egg dye recipe book.

Throughout March we will offer guides to getting started with some of the basic practices of attachment parenting and sustainable living. This is Spring Week with ideas, crafts, and recipes.

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Visualize Your Overwhelming Harvest

Bottled tomatoes

Sure, you are just planning your garden or maybe planting seeds now, but you can also visualize and prepare for the results of your gardening. What are you going to do when you are overwhelmed with your harvest?

Most of my recent abundance has come in the form of mint. I have chocolate mint, lemon mint, peppermint, and nice, plain mint. Every year it gets stronger and pushes out the other herbs. Every year I get more mint than the last—more mint of a kind of peppery, chocolaty, lemon flavor. We put mint in salads, in salsa, in meals, in tea. We can’t even come close to eating all of the mint. So, we preserve it. Like my mother, I reach for mint at the first suggestion of stomach upsets, so a lot of our mint becomes tea. Knowing we will use it for tea, we dry our mint. We have enough mint tea for a year or more packed into big, beautiful mason jars.

If you are fortunate, your harvest will be plentiful. Prepare now so that good food does not go to waste.


Eat it

Pick food as it ripens, and eat it as you go.

Prepare: You don’t really need to plan for eating as you go other than choosing your crops carefully. Make sure you like them. The year I planted row after row of arugula, I was very sad. I had a refrigerator full of greens that smelled like stinky feet, and I could not force myself to eat them.


Serve it

Throw a harvest party. Sure, that’s what Thanksgiving is, but most of our food ripens long before Thanksgiving. Throw a party with fresh raspberries in late June, fresh corn in July, and fresh everything in August.

Prepare: Don’t plan your family vacation during the prime two weeks for harvesting fresh food. Block out the best party times now and talk them up with friends and family. Ask now if they want to come stay for the weekend in late summer so they will definitely be available.


Give it away

Where I grew up, the harvest season joke was playing ding-dong-ditch and leaving giant zucchini on neighbors’ doorsteps. No one I knew ever managed to eat all of their zucchini as they picked it, and no one ever visited my mother in the summer without taking away a few vegetables. I think that sharing food is one of the best parts of harvest.

Prepare: Ask your friends and neighbors what they are planting. Plant something different. Anticipate the trade or giveaway. If you don’t know your neighbors, you have relationships to cultivate.


Preserve it

If you garden, chances are you will end up with more of some food than you can handle while fresh. Dry it, freeze it, pickle it, ferment it, bottle it, or turn it into jelly. The best ways to preserve food depend on what you plant and how you eat.

Prepare: Now is the time to learn to preserve food when the only other thing you have to do is watch your seedlings grow. Once you are faced with a bushel of tomatoes, it’s too late to do more than fumble around with a how-to book. If you want to eat from the bountiful harvest of your own garden year round, you need to understand how you want to use it. Do you want to freeze tomato soup that is ready to heat and eat? Do you want to make salsa with your tomatoes, onions, and peppers, ready to pour out of the jar? Do you want homemade ketchup? How about sun-dried tomatoes? Do you want to put whole tomatoes in jars so you can decide later how best to use them? Let your future use of the food determine how you preserve it. Then, start asking around. Can your mother or grandmother teach you to preserve food? Is there a class at the local college or agricultural university extension? Maybe you can even learn from a book if you give yourself enough time. Choose a method, and set out to become competent.

And, visualize your future abundance as you watch your seedlings grow.

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Square Foot Gardening Gives an Easy Start for Anyone

Urban Square Foot Garden

Are you ready to jump in and plant a garden in your backyard? If you have the space to move beyond an indoor garden or an outside vertical garden, a square foot garden is an ideal way for a beginning gardener to get started on the gardening adventure.

A square foot garden divides a small space into one foot squares with only one type of plant in each square. Larger plants, like tomatoes, are planted just one to a square, while smaller plants, like carrots, are planted with many (16) to a square. The method is very efficient in use of seeds, use of space, and use of water. Because it is so easy to understand and so encouraging, this method works well for gardeners who are intimidated or overwhelmed by the idea of growing their own food.

The space needed can be quite small, but the method is scalable by just repeating the 3′ x 3′ or 4′ x 4′ squares separated by spaces big enough to walk through and to stand while you tend your garden. Your squares can be dug into the ground or planted in a raised bed frame. (The official guidelines put the garden in a frame, but you can adapt the method.) The grid lines between each square foot section can be made with string or something more permanent, like strips from old blinds. You have a lot of choices within the basic guidelines for square foot gardening.

Best of all, you can start today. Draw a 3×3 grid, add dots to represent your crops (1, 4, 9, or 16, depending on plant size), then start building the frame. You can begin in any season.


Square Foot Gardening Resources

  • All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew. This is the square foot gardening bible.
  • Square Foot Gardening Foundation. This foundation, started by the Square Foot Gardening author, aims “to end world hunger by reaching out to families and teaching them how to grow healthy food for their daily meals.”
  • “How to Build a Square Foot Garden,” Frugal Dad. Using the method outlined by Mel Bartholemew, this gardener added a drip irrigation system. Photos and detailed descriptions.
  • My Square Foot Garden. If you are wondering how to garden for your climate, look for planting plans from many different gardeners. The plans are so simple to create and so inspiring to look at.

Image © Claus Mikosch | Dreamstime.com

Small Gardens for Bees—and Hummingbirds

Bees on a sunflower

As you are planning your garden, think about not just food for humans but food for all of the creatures that you want to spend time in your garden. Even a small container garden on your porch can include a few flowering plants that will attract bees or even hummingbirds.

Focus on native plants. Local plants will be more attractive to your local bees. Look at this list of California bee-friendly plants by season for suggestions, but be sure to check with local gardeners or garden centers for the plants that will work best in your area.

Plant a variety. Gardens with a diversity of flowers are more attractive to bees. Be sure that your garden flowers throughout the season.

Think beyond flowers. The plants we think of as flowers aren’t the only plants the produce flowers. Many herbs have bee-friendly flowers. Even dandelions produce flowers that some bees like. You can let the bees have the flowers then get rid of the weeds before they go to seed.

Provide a drinking foundation. Bees are small, so you don’t need to provide more than just a jar lid of water for them. If you have a bird bath, they’ll stop by.

Go mulch-less. Mulch keeps moisture in the soil, but some bees nest in the ground. Too much mulch means no access to the soil. You don’t need to go completely mulch-less. Just keep in mind that it’s OK to let some of the soil go naked.

Or, create a bee nest. Find out about the bees in your area. Are they ground-nesting? If so, clear the ground. Are they cavity-nesting or wood-nesting? If so, add a small log or some other piece of wood with 1/4″ wide, 4″ long holes. The Xerces Society has more information on creating bee nests.

And, a bee shelter. Bees will stay in your garden if they can shelter from the weather. Shelter can be as simple as a densely planted area.

While you are creating a garden friendly for tiny creatures, consider planting for hummingbirds as well. There are only a few types of hummingbirds in Canada, but we might as well welcome them. Both bees and hummingbirds look for nectar plants, and wild plants produce more nectar than hybrids. Yet again, choosing native trees, vines, or flowers will work better than exotic species in the long run as you create a bee-friendly and hummingbird-friendly garden.

With the vanishing of the bees, every bee-friendly garden helps.

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Vertical Garden Inspirations

Vertical Garden

When you don’t have a lot of space for a garden, you can still build up rather than out. Vertical gardens and living walls can be practical and decorative.

You may have noticed that we’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest lately. One of my favorite boards is Edible Gardening. I find the walls of green very intriguing, so I’ve been following the pins back to their sources. I want to share the resources I’ve been finding on vertical gardening.

A Collection of Vertical Gardening Tips
This is a nice introduction, with a few informational resources. The greatest part of this post is the photo of a vegetable wall garden. Look at the wall of green with tomatoes and squash hanging off of it. That is a beautiful vegetable garden.

DIY Project Instructions
Use a pallet to create a quick garden to mount on the wall. Lots of photos.

Raised Bed Kit
This raised bed stacks vertically to give all of the plants plenty of light. This is a kit, but you might be able to use the photo to inspire your own garden.

Indoor Living Walls
These fabric planters are made from recycled plastic bottles. Be sure to look through all of their gallery of vertical garden photos.

Amazing Living Walls
The most amazing vertical gardens are whole walls of buildings, inside and out, created by botanist Patrick Blanc. His own website is difficult to navigate, but this article on his work has several awe inspiring photos.

If you wonder whether you can do it, you can! Start inside or outside; start with a pallet or a pocket; just start. With a living wall, you can create a beautiful environment for your family despise having little space for a garden.

Image © Valeria Sangiovanni | Dreamstime.com