Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Prepare the Ground

Even a busy parent can plant a wild garden

This is the year we are letting go of our ambitions for a perfect garden and creating a garden that fits into our busy schedule. We are planting wild gardens for busy parents.

April Preparations

If you follow last month’s easy steps, you already started small, shared your plan, and set your goal. This month, we prepare the ground and the seed or plant. If you are just starting now, it’s easy to catch up.

  • Prepare the ground
  • Prepare the seed or plant

Prepare the ground. Dig the dirt in the area where you are going to plant. How deep you dig depends on the plants. About 6″ average will be fine for most plants. For carrots or potatoes, dig at least 12″. For my volunteer pumpkins, I don’t dig at all. They just grow in the hard dirt next to my sidewalk where my kids carve pumpkins each year. How you prepare the ground depends on what you want the dirt to do.
Goal: dig a little

Add organic matter to the dirt. If you made compost over the past year, its time has come. Dig in about 50/50 dirt and organic matter. If you don’t have enough compost, you can add shredded leaves. If you still don’t have enough, go to a garden store, tell them the condition of your soil, and buy a bag of whatever they recommend. If you have clay, you might need sand (though be careful adding sand). If you have sand, you might need peat moss or topsoil. You’ll pay, sure, but it’s a trade off between money and the time it takes to make enough compost.
Goal: add organic matter

Prepare the seed or plant. When you plant outside depends on your weather and your plant. Look at your projected last frost date. You will probably not plant until after that date, but you can make exceptions if you are willing to put in a little more time to do research. Add the frost date to your plan, if you’ve been taking notes. (Gardeners take notes. If you are more wild than that, fine.) That is your target planting date. If you have to order a plant, place your order now. If you need to grow seedlings, check the seeds to see how quickly they grow. Plan your seed start date so you have a seedling ready on your plant date. It could be time to start the seeds now.
Goal: have the seed or plant ready on the planting date

To check your projected last frost date, you can look at these frost charts for Canada, which give you only one date as a broad estimate, or enter your zip code for this very cool frost chart that gives you the chance of frost by date and spring temperature.

If you have chosen your one tiny patch to nurture for this year, preparing the ground should not take you more than 30 minutes.

What I did.

We prepared the ground the difficult way. Preparing the ground is not such an easy task with my ground.

Shallow. My soil is generally shallow, since my house is built on what used to be a stone quarry. I remember one year when my mother planted carrots that all came out bent at 90 degree angles. (I live in the house I grew up in.) After about 8″, we just have rocks.

Dry. I live in a desert. The soil dries out very quickly and easily, so I don’t want to make it even easier for water to drain.

Depleted. For at least the past 20 years, the spot I chose has had the same old bushes, with no improvements at all in the soil. You can see the stumps that we finally pulled out in last month’s post.

Visible. Because my space is along the sidewalk leading to my front door, I also want it to look nice.

Because of all of this and the fact that my husband is very attached to the success of his hops, I planned a raised bed. A raised bed gives us a lot more flexibility in soil quality and depth.

Ground conclusion: preparing the ground did not take 30 minutes.

I presented my husband with the idea of a raised bed. I showed him instructions and pointed out the pile of painted wood in our backyard, left over from replacing the cedar siding on our house. In my mind, I can see how I would do it in 30 minutes, but his fussery has resulted in approximately 1 hour of planning, 2 hours of him deciding where to put the bed (in a space that is only 2-4″ larger than the bed on each side), and I assume another 2-12 hours of him putting the pieces together and filling them with dirt. As you can see from the photo, he isn’t done. I hear the hammering as I write, so I am confident you will see the result next month.

The expected result is a 6′ x 3′ x 1.5′ cedar-sided raised bed that matches the color of our house, with hops that shade the wall of our kitchen, making that room ever so slightly cooler in the hottest part of summer.

Because the hops we are planting are my husband’s babies, intended to be used for home brewing, he is fussing over them and their bed. That’s fine, of course, as long as he has the time to fuss. In last month’s post I suggested that one of the essentials of your wild garden is to share the gardening or the planning. I shared the idea, and my husband took over. I love this. I just need to give him gentle nudges every once in a while, like researching raised beds and pointing to already painted wood in the yard.

You could also have your children do supervised planting, though that probably takes longer than just doing it yourself. It depends whether your goal is the process or the product.

We prepared for the plant. Three hops rhizomes arrived this week. We need to plant them as quickly as possible, but we also need to avoid frost. We had 8″ of snow last week before the two 80 degree days showed up and melted it away, so it’s warm but we aren’t past the threat of frost quite yet. According to the zip code frost chart above, we still have a 90% chance of more frost. So, part of our gardening this week involves planning to protect the plants on cold nights.

Hops can sometimes grow 12″ a day, though 24″ a week is more usual. We have a space 8-9′ then we will train them to grow out. To give them support as they grow, we are running a wire up from the bed to the wire where our grapes and blackberries grow along the edge of our roof.

If your plant will need support, plan for that as you prepare the space.

Hops rhizomes

Your April List: Prepare the Ground

You can do it! Spend 30 minutes on your garden in April.

  • Dig the ground (10 minutes)
  • Add organic matter (10 minutes)
  • Start the plants (10 minutes)

If you have less than ideal soil to start, you might want to spend extra time preparing the ground, though you don’t have to go so far as to build a raised bed like I did. This is definitely the month to spend a little extra time if you want your garden to perform well.

Progress of my wild garden
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Cloth Diaper Laundry Additives: Fabric Softeners

Cloth Diaper Fabric Softeners

Making your cloth diapers soft has to be a good thing, right? Of course, but don’t be fooled into using chemical fabric softeners to do it or you will be in for a leaky, repelling surprise.

As we think through the reasons behind basic cloth diaper washing techniques, we want you to have the information you need to make decisions about your laundry. Sometimes additives sneak in under your radar based on the claimed results (“Whiter! Brighter! Softer! Self-folding!”). If you saw on the box a description of what products actually do—that is, how they work—you might not be so quick to add to your laundry.

I often think of the 1990 film Crazy People, in which an advertising exec leads a group of patients in a mental institution in writing honest advertisements. Volvo, for example, was “boxy but good.” For fabric softeners, we could say:

“Fabric softeners coat your clothes with chemical lubricants that conduct electricity so you don’t notice a build up of static cling!”

“Hydrophobic chemicals in fabric softeners reduce absorbency of your cloth diapers but feel smooth against your baby’s skin.”

“You may inhale toxic chemicals from this softener, leaving you with headaches and irritability, but at least the fabric won’t irritate your skin, much.”

It doesn’t sound so appealing that way.

First Rule of Fabric Softener for Cloth Diapers: Don’t Use It

Do not use chemical fabric softener with cloth diapers. Look at your detergent, and avoid a detergent with added softeners. It doesn’t matter whether these are silicone-based lubricants, polymer emulsions, clay, salt, acid, fragrance, or whatever. The point is, you don’t want to add any of this to your diapers. They will leave residues that will inhibit absorbency of cotton diapers, wool covers, and microfiber inserts; deteriorate the waterproof laminate layer on PUL covers; cause build up on your washing machine and dryer; and coat all of your cloth diapering accessories with a layer that will hold on to stink.

There are exceptions to the rule not to use fabric softeners. You can soften your diapers without the negative effects of chemical softeners. As with all of our other laundry advice, you need to know what problem you are solving before you can decide on a solution.

Vinegar can have a similar effect to chemical softeners in neutralizing the electric charge that you notice as static electricity. You will find some cloth diaper retailers who recommend baking soda in the rinse to soften cloth diapers. These might be fine with cotton and hemp, but they might not be fine with the rest of your diapers. Using either will void the warranty on some diapers. (More on vinegar and baking soda coming up.)

Wool dryer balls or hard dryer balls, like Nellie’s Dryer Balls, can soften fabrics mechanically rather than chemically—that is, by flexing the fibers as they tumble in the dryer. To the extent that they neutralize the electrical charge, they have a similar effect to chemical softeners designed to reduce static cling.

Dryer sheets without chemicals can also be cloth diaper safeMaddocks Static Eliminator Reusable Dryer Sheets reduce static cling because of their weave. They only get a B in the Environmental Working Group database of household products, though, because they are made with polyester and nylon.

A few fabric softeners get a good grade in the Environmental Working Group database of household products. Keep in mind, though, that any gum or glycerin can coat diapers—even natural fiber fitted or flat diapers. A natural residue is still a residue. You don’t need any kind of gummy lubricants for your cloth diapers.

What Do You Customers Say?

We’ve been asking customers and Facebook followers what laundry additives they use and why. I was pleased to see that most of you already know that you shouldn’t be using fabric softeners with cloth diapers, and many of you understand why.

“I don’t use it for anything at all. Too many awful chemicals!” says Alyssa.
“I don’t even have fabric softener; seems like a waste of money,” wrote Michelle.
“Wool dryer balls all the way!” says Stephanie

Simple Guidelines to Fabric Softening

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Cloth Diaper Detergent Choices

Cloth Diaper Detergents

Your choices of detergent for washing cloth diapers range from conventional, off-the-shelf detergent to special cloth diaper formulas to DIY recipes. Before you decide, though, know your own specific situation. Take the mystery out of cloth diaper detergent choices.

What most parents really want to know first about washing cloth diapers is what detergent to use. This seems like a simple question, but it isn’t. I deliberately covered hard water, pHwashing machine, and residue before coming to the question of detergent because they all matter.

You probably won’t notice much difference when you wash your clothes with any basic laundry detergent. Use what you have. Use what you like. No problem.

Make more careful choices when laundering cloth diapers, though. Diapers have a much bigger job to do than clothes, bedding, and towels. With cloth diapers, issues like residue build up over time. When a diaper is washed 2-3 times a week for a 1-3 years, you will notice stink, wear, and leaks. The detergent you choose makes a big difference, especially if you are trying to get your diaper washing routine right from the start.

Simplest Choice

Allen's Naturally Laundry Detergent

If you want to skip all of the reasons for various choices, go straight to Allen’s Naturally. This is our top choice of detergents for cloth diapers.

Allen’s is formulated for sensitivities, so it contains no dyes, fragrance, or residues that can be irritating to the skin. It is biodegradable and contains no phosphates, so it is safe for septic systems. Works with hard water—even well water. Specially formulated for HE and standard washing machines.

Does it sound like a miracle? It isn’t, really. It’s just a very simple detergent that does the job. We like that.


If you are willing to look at your situation to choose the best formula, these are a few of the issues you can consider.

Hard Water: Consider Formula

Most of us have hard water, water rich in minerals. These minerals can keep your detergent from working as well. Hard water can leave mineral build up in your diapers and in your washing machine, keeping either or both from working as they should.

Avoiding laundry additives can help not to aggravate stink issues when you have mineral build up. (More on that next week.) Choosing a hard-water formula can help to break the residue cycle. You can use stink busting laundry treatment, but you are better off choosing a detergent that works for your situation in the first place.

Choice: Rockin’ Green Hard Rock

Washing Machine: Consider Amount

The most important detergent choice relating to your washing machine is how much to use. If you have a high-efficiency (HE) machine, you need less detergent. The general rule is to use about half of the amount that you would use in a conventional washing machine. You get less heat and less water with an HE machine, so more detergent would not rinse out well. The problem, when washing cloth diapers, is that this might not be enough to get your diapers clean. You have options to tweak your routine to make an HE machine work well for cloth diapers.

Hearing that they need less detergent, some parents go to extremes and don’t use enough detergent to lift the soil from their cloth diapers. This can lead to the dreaded barnyard scented diapers, not from mineral or detergent residues but organic residues. Especially with polyester, microfiber, PUL, and other petroleum-based fabrics, you need to be sure to use enough detergent.

If you are having trouble rinsing detergent completely from your diapers, you might consider a liquid laundry detergent.

Choice: HE formula or half the amount of a non-HE formula. Liquid detergent.

Diaper Style: Consider Formula

If you use only cotton diapers, especially flats or prefolds, you can get away with a lot wider range of detergent choices. These diapers have fewer layers, so it is easier for water to carry detergent through every part of the diapers to clean them thoroughly.

If you use hemp or bamboo rayon diapers, you still have a lot of choices, but you need to avoid detergents that could leave residues because these fabrics are so absorbent that they are more difficult to rinse.

If you use polyester or PUL diapers, you need to be more careful use a detergent that will not cause leaking or build up. Many detergents formulated for cloth diapers will work well with pocket diapers, all-in-one diapers, and polyester covers.

Choice: Low-residue or no-residue formula. Most detergents formulated for cloth diapers will work.

Sensitivities: Consider Formula

If your baby has sensitive skin prone to rash, you should avoid laundry additives and laundry treatments. That can be a problem if you need to use washing soda to break up residues, so work to avoid residues in the first place. That brings us back to Allen’s Naturally, developed in 1979 by individuals suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities to be free of dyes, perfumes, and chemicals.

Choice: Allen’s Naturally

Cloth Diaper Detergent Lists

Most manufacturers will give you a list of laundry detergents they recommend. Some have worked with detergent manufacturers to create their own formula. If you use only one brand of diapers, go with their recommendations. They have a lot of experience in getting their diapers clean, and they want you to have a worry free experience.

If you use a variety of brands and styles, you may need to shift to detergent that is generally understood to work well with cloth diapers.

Bummis provides a comprehensive list of laundry detergents, along the reasons each is or is not appropriate for cloth diapers. Bummis is always my most trusted resource because one of the owners of Bummis was a biochemist before she was a cloth diaper manufacturer, and she is very careful about her recommendations.

Many customers are surprised to find Tide Free (Tide Nature) on the Bummis recommended list. If a customer is using Tide, and it’s working for them, at bynature.ca we won’t try to convince them to switch to a “cloth diaper safe” detergent, but we do tell them it may void some warranties. If you are comfortable with this, then, by all means, continue using what works for you. Tide Original Powder also works for many cloth diapering parents despite the additives.

DIY Detergent

You will find some manufacturers who tell you not to use homemade detergent on your diapers. Specifically, they want you to avoid common ingredients in homemade laundry detergent—natural soaps that will build up in your diapers. So, avoid those ingredients. That’s easy. If you are determined to make your own laundry detergent, follow this cloth diaper detergent recipe from Eco-friendly Family. No soaps, no residue, just basic clean without additives.

Next week I’ll talk about detergent additives. You will find lovers and haters for every cloth diaper laundry additive. We’ll give you the scoop so you can keep your choice evidence based.

Image © Norman Pogson | Dreamstime.com

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Artificial Fragrances in Your Home

Fresh outdoors smell

Artificial fragrances lurk unmarked in many of your household cleaning products. These fragrances can be bothersome as they leave residues, irritating when they are allergens, and harmful when they pose known health risks.

“Fragrance affects us all. For some, it can enhance a moment, invoke a memory, or even improve a mood. As consumers, we seek it out in all kinds of products we use in our everyday lives. And for many of us, there’s a positive sensory experience associated with fragrance. But unfortunately, this may not be without consequence. In addition to the potential health consequences of certain fragrance ingredients linked to cancer, interference with hormones, and reproductive harm, a significant portion of the population suffers from fragrance-related allergies.” Women’s Voices for Earth, “Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Harm Public Health,” February 2013.

Bothersome, Irritating, and Harmful

Fragrances are just bothersome when they leave a residue. I’ve been writing about residues and the consequences for your cloth diapers, so you probably have an idea that residues of oil, minerals, or any other substances can hold on to nasty stink. It’s just strange to me that we allow ourselves to be convinced that we need to spray fragrance around our homes or plug oil burners into our outlets. Both of these leave a film on the walls, the fabric of furniture, and everywhere else in our houses. That is the least of what artificial fragrances in household products do.

Worse, artificial fragrances are often allergens. Even some cleaning products formulated to be allergy-safe have unlisted ingredients that are known to cause problems for those with sensitivities or allergies. There is a lot of work being done right now to expose then remove allergens from household products.

Worst of all, though, are the toxic chemicals in household cleaning and freshening products that expose us to a long list of harmful effects. We don’t even know all of the effects because these chemicals are not tested and approved for use.

Naturemom works hard to help you remove toxins from your home by choosing carefully which products to sell at bynature.ca and by educating customers about the problems with conventional products. She told me that if she could convince parents to do just two thing to keep toxins away from their children, those would be: 1) ditch artificial fabric softeners, and 2) don’t use fragrances that are sprayed around the house. Those artificial fragranced plugins are her worst nightmare.

So, you avoid the problem ingredients, right? Not quite so easy. You can’t avoid them because toxic fragrance ingredients aren’t on labels. Now what?

Disclosure of Ingredients

Have you ever noticed “fragrance” as an ingredient on shampoo, cleaners, or laundry detergent? What is “fragrance”? Can I get a Material Safety Data Sheet on that? No, of course not. Manufacturers are not required to list individual ingredients. They argue that proprietary blends must be kept secret.

Sure it’s a problem that manufacturers include toxic ingredients in their products marketed to clean our houses, but it’s an even bigger problem that they aren’t required to disclose ingredients. How can I stay away from allergens, irritants, and even neurotoxins or carcinogens if I don’t know what is in these products? I can’t—unless I read studies that have independently tested these products for the offending ingredients.

Some manufacturers argue that their websites (or side project websites, away from consumer traffic) are the best place to list ingredients. That just makes the information more difficult to find when we make our buying decisions. Deep on those websites where they are difficult to find and even more difficult to download to your phone while you are shopping, a couple of manufacturers have provided master ingredient lists. These lists don’t help me know which products to avoid because of specific allergens, though. They are not helpful in the way that we as consumers need help.

Listing ingredients on products should be the standard. Some companies (Clean Well and Seventh Generation) use peel-back labels to list all of their ingredients. The methods are available. Not listing ingredients is a choice that large manufacturers are making because it masks their inclusion of toxic chemicals.

Simple Actions You Can Take

  • Go through your house, pull up the Environmental Working Group database, and check every household cleaning, freshening, laundry, kitchen, bathroom, floor, furniture, and other product. Ditch the toxic cleaning products.
  • Use simple ingredients like boiling water, vinegar, and lemon to give your house a cleaner clean.
  • If you want to add fragrance to your homemade cleaning products, use natural smells, such as orange peels in vinegar for cleaning, or add essential oils, that contain no undisclosed chemicals. When you control what you smell, you can avoid anything that causes allergies or sensitivities for your family members.
  • Learn about chemicals of concern and the chemical body burden. The research and campaigns below will give you a lot of information to share with your friends and family.

Consequences of Artificial Smells

One of the consequences of all of the conditioning to artificial smells is that you begin to believe the underlying message: your smell is wrong. If you or your house are stinky, there is a remedy for that. Find the source and clean it up. Doesn’t that sound simple?

2007 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found pthalates in air fresheners, even those labelled “all natural.”

In a 2011 study, Women’s Voices for the Earth looked at toxic chemicals in popular household products, including not just air fresheners but laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, disinfectant sprays, and more.

Women’s Voices for the Earth created the report card The Dirt on Cleaning Product Companies to show what major manufacturers are doing about toxic chemicals in their products.

Campaigns & Organizations
NRDC Take out Toxics campaign points out that 80,000 chemicals permitted in products in the U.S. have never been tested for health effects.

Safer Chemicals / Healthy Families is a coalition of professionals, businesses, advocacy groups, and others. This is an active organization you can follow on social media for alerts about toxics and efforts to remove them from household products. Safer Chemicals / Healthy Families lists the major chemicals of concern and their consequences.

Women’s Voices for Earth Secret Scents campaign focuses primarily on the issue of allergens used as fragrance ingredients in common products.

Women’s Voices for Earth What’s That Smell? campaign focuses on chemicals of concern used as fragrance in cleaning products.

Image © Erik Reis | Dreamstime.com

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Residue in Cloth Diapers

Residue on Cloth Diapers

Are your diapers repelling and your covers leaking? Do clean diapers smell like a barnyard and wet diapers burn your nose? You may have residues in your diapers. Before you contemplate throwing it all away, you can fix it.

Let’s look at the symptoms, the causes, and the cures. It will help if you already know the basic guidelines for washing cloth diapers, a bit of laundry science, and you understand how your washing machine can effect the laundering process.

Keep in mind the WATCH formula: Water, Agitation, Time, Chemicals, and Heat. You can break through residues with water, time, and heat. If you use more heat, it will take fewer washes. If you don’t have the option of a very hot wash or that is not recommended for your diapering products, you can spend more time doing more warm washes.

Residue can cause smells. The filmy layer of the residue can trap particles that hold odors and leave your diapers stinky. If your diapers smell, residue is a likely culprit, and you don’t have to put up with it.

Get rid of the residue then change your wash routine so you don’t have to deal with stinky residue anymore.

What’s the Problem?

Problem: Stinky polyester, microfiber, or PUL

Cause: Most often stink is caused by detergent residue. This can build up over time as detergent isn’t completely rinsed out of fibers. There are several possible causes: you used too much detergent; you aren’t using enough water to rinse the right amount of detergent (perhaps because you have a high efficiency washing machine); or you used only cold water to wash and rinse.

Cure: Bust the residue with washing soda then adjust your wash routine.

  • Are you using the recommended amount of detergent? If so , try using half the recommended amount. If you are using more than recommended, cut back to the recommended amount. If you are already using half the recommended amount, try using one-quarter.
  • Are you rinsing twice? If so, try rinsing with warmer water. If not, add another rinse. Warm water will remove detergent more easily.
  • Are you washing or rinsing on cold? Try using warm or hot. Your first rinse should be about body temperature because dirt comes out of fibers more easily at the same temperature it was deposited in the fibers.
  • Do you have an HE washing machine? Try using the bedding or jeans setting to get more water, and the sanitize setting to get more heat.

Problem: Barnyard stink or fishy smell in clean diapers

Cause: Your diapers aren’t clean either because they didn’t get enough water or because they didn’t get enough detergent.

Cure: Wash on hot several times without detergent then adjust your wash routine.

  • Are you using the recommended amount of detergent? If so, are you sure? This is almost always a low detergent issue.
  • Are you using just a tablespoon or two of detergent? If so, use more. Use one-quarter to one-half the recommended amount. If that doesn’t solve the problem, use up to the recommended amount.
  • Are you using an HE machine? If so, adjust your settings to use more water in the wash cycle so the detergent can get to every part of the diaper to remove soil.

Problem: Ammonia stink in diapers as soon as baby pees

Cause: Your diapers probably have urine or other organic residue that hasn’t been washed out.

Cure: Deep clean the diapers as above with stinky polyester. Then use barnyard stink recommendations to be sure that you have enough water, enough heat, and enough detergent—not too much, not too little, but just right.

Problem: Rash wherever the diaper or diaper cover touches baby

Cause: This might also be caused by urine or other organic residue.

Cure: Try the same barnyard stink cure as above.

Problem: Leaking or wicking covers and repelling diapers—everything doing what it shouldn’t do

Cause: Often the cause of leaky covers and beading on diapers is filmy residue from diaper creams or laundry additives like softeners, brighteners, or oils. The absorbent fibers are coated so they can’t absorb, and the moisture-resistant fibers can’t hold moisture as they should.

Cure: Bust the film with hot wash without detergent or with washing soda if that doesn’t work.

  • Are you using a detergent that promises to make your wash whiter, brighter, softer, or smarter? Don’t. All of those leave behind a film. Use a detergent with no residue. Even if you don’t use additives with the diapers, if you use them with the rest of your wash, the residues will coat your washing machine then transfer to your diapers from there.
  • Are you using dryer sheets? Don’t. Rather than using chemical softeners, use a softening method that flexes the fibers. A wool dryer ball will work.
  • Are you adding essential oils to your wash or dryer? Don’t. Even using essential oils deep inside the wool dryer ball might transfer some of the oils and keep your diapers and covers from working properly.
  • Do you use diaper cream? If so, either use a diaper liner that you don’t need to wash with the diapers or switch to a cloth-diaper safe diaper cream.

Problem: Yellowish whites and greyish colors

Cause: The cause is likely the same issue that causes leaky covers and repelling diapers.

Cure: Check for additives in your wash routine, and try the leaking and wicking recommendations.

Image © Levsh | Dreamstime.com

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