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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Clean Green, More Ideas Using Household Products

Keeping up with maintaining a clean home is a challenge enough, so when ideas come up to help make tasks easier, safer, cheaper and more rewarding, it is worth noting.

A prior post about green clean covered the more common products to use, such as vinegar, baking soda, borax and lemons. This post will cover a few ideas you may not have heard about but are probably already in your cabinets: cream of tarter and hydrogen peroxide


Found in the spice aisle, cream of tartar often is only pulled out to make an angel food cake.
But it can be a great non-toxic source for laundry stains, warding off bugs and cleaning.
A byproduct of the wine making process, cream of tartar is acidic enough to tackle tough cleaning jobs.

1. Ring around the collar
Dampen the shirt collar with a little water and then sprinkle the area with some cream of tartar. Rub the fabric together to work in the powder and then launder as usual.
2. Whiten whites
Pretreat white clothes with a cream of tartar soak. Add a tsp. of powder for each quart of water and soak the clothes before washing.
3. Remove stains on clothes and carpets
Mix some cream of tartar and lemon juice to form a paste. Apply the paste to the stain and let sit for at least an hour. Machine wash clothes as usual or with carpets, blot with a damp cloth. Think of this idea for those ink stains that can ruin a good dress shirt.
4. Cleaning toilet stains and bathtub rings
Mix some cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide (or white vinegar) to form a paste. Apply the paste to the stains and wait till it dries before rinsing with water.
5. All-purpose kitchen cleaner
Mix some cream of tartar and white vinegar to form a paste. Use on stove burner pans, grout, ovens, kitchen sinks, spigots, stainless steel appliances, coffee pots, even cleans mildew.
6. Clean copper
Mix 2:1 cream of tartar to lemon juice (2 tbsp. cream of tartar and 1 tbsp. lemon juice). Rub onto copper pots and wipe clean with a damp cloth
7. Clean silver
Tarnished silver can be cleaned by dipping a damp magic eraser into some cream of tartar and wipe away the tarnish on old trays and utensils.
8. Sooty fireplace
Wet some cream of tartar with water and apply to the soot. Wipe away soot with a damp cloth.
9. Deter ants
Sprinkle where you suspect the ants are coming into the house.
10. Out of baking powder?
Mix 2:1 cream of tartar and baking soda (2 tsp. cream of tartar and 1 tsp. baking soda) to make 1 tbsp baking powder.

Be careful with how you clean granite counter tops. Acids such as vinegar and lemon juice can what they call "etch" granite and dull the surface.


We all recognize the typical brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide usually found in the first-aid section next to the rubbing alcohol. You want the 3% H2O2 antibacterial strength, nothing higher.
Hydrogen peroxide is amazing stuff and so cheap, keep a bottle in stock at all times. You'll be amazed how many different ways you'll find to use this safe and natural product.

Hydrogen peroxide is a weak acid, consisting of water (H2O) and an extra oxygen molecule (H202). It could even be called oxygen water and is so safe to use since it quickly breaks down into oxygen and water. Hydrogen peroxide can even be found in rainwater and snow.
All living things contain this oxygen water. Our white blood cells naturally produce it to fight infection and being it is in fruits and vegetables, that is another reason to eat more of these foods.

Have two bottles under your sink, one with the cap it comes with and one replace that cap with a sprayer top.
1. Remove dirt and pesticides from fruits and vegetables. Add 1/4 cup H2O2 to a sink of cold water, add your produce, wait a bit and rinse thoroughly with water.
2. Help your dishwasher sanitize your dishes by adding 2 oz. to your regular detergent.
3. Regular dish soap can be improved too by adding 2 tbsp. to the dish soap bottle.
4. Spray counter tops and cutting boards with hydrogen peroxide, let it bubble for a few minutes before wiping clean.
5. Spray the interior of the microwave and refrigerator to clean and disinfect. Spray and wait a few minutes before wiping it away.
6. Clean those kitchen sponges. Mix hydrogen peroxide and water at a ratio of 50:50 and soak sponges for about ten minutes. Rinse the sponges afterwards.
7. Clean crud from the bottoms of ovens, pots and pans. Combine hydrogen peroxide and enough baking soda to form a paste and rub onto the dirty areas, let sit for a while before scrubbing.
8. Clean floors by combining 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide to a gallon of hot water. Because this mixture is so mild it is safe for floors as well as pets and children who'll be crawling around on those floors.

1. Soak toothbrushes and hairbrushes in hydrogen peroxide to keep them clean and fresh.
2. Make your own mouthwash to kill bacteria and freshen breath. Use at a 50:50 ratio with water.
3. Help whiten teeth by mixing a little salt and baking soda with enough hydrogen peroxide to make a paste. Do not overdo this. Using higher concentrations than 3% H2O2 or using too often can harm tooth enamel.
4. Add natural highlights to hair by making a 50:50 mix of hydrogen peroxide and water, add to spray bottle and spray onto wet hair.
5. Add a bit of hydrogen peroxide to a cotton square and apply directly to pimples.
6. Help kill foot fungus by spraying a 50:50 mix of hydrogen peroxide and water onto feet or make a foot bath with it and soak the feet.
7. Deter bacteria on shower curtains and shower stall by spraying down with H2O2.
8. Wash shower curtains to remove mildew and soap scum. Place curtains in washer with a bath towel and regular detergent. Run through the usual wash cycle but then add a cup of hydrogen peroxide to the rinse cycle.

1. Spray lunch boxes, toys and anything else your child touches.
2. Clean pet bowl with hydrogen peroxide to keep them fresh and slime free (often the case with plastic bowls).
3. De-skunk recipe solution for your pet. Combine 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide with 1/4 cup baking soda, 1 tsp Dawn dish soap and 2 quarts warm water. Apply this mix to your pet's fur and wait a bit before rinsing it all off.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Spotted Lantern Fly, Invasive to Southeastern PA

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) was first detected in the U.S. in our own Berks County, PA in September of 2014. The bug established itself so quickly that by January 2018, quarantines were already in place to include portions of 13 counties. We're now in August 2018 and that quarantine has increased to 19 counties.

These insects came from Asia, notably China, Vietnam and Korea, and there are no known predators here in southeastern Pa. The Praying mantis and spiders have been seen eating them but for now the main source for control is left up to us. Any old insecticide won't do so don't just go spraying willy nilly or you'll do more harm than good. The last thing we need is to do more damage with the destruction of beneficial insects. The proper combination of chemicals are just recently being sold at garden centers.
Home methods that seem to work are a mix of dish soap and either neem oil or isopropyl alcohol. The nymphs can be killed or at least prevented from climbing into trees by wrapping the trunks with a band tape. The drawback to the bands is that it'll catch things we don't want to harm such as birds and squirrels. To help prevent that, chicken wire can be wrapped around the trunks.

An idea I recently learned about is to plant milkweed. The sap of the common milkweed is poisonous which deters predators from eating the plant, thus a means of self-defense. Since the lanternfly is new to the U.S. they do not yet know that, therefore destroy themselves. Plus, more milkweed is what we need anyway to help the plight of the monarch butterfly.

Lanternfly nymph

The favorite host tree is Ailanthus,which most of us know as the Tree of Heaven or Chinese sumac. Ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima) looks similar to smooth sumac (Rhus glabra).
Both plants have alternate compound leaves that droop but Tree-of-Heaven is a lot taller, up to 80 feet, whereas sumac grows to about 15 feet. Another way to tell the difference is through the berries. Smooth sumac has upright clusters of tiny red berries which last through the winter. Tree-of-Heaven has clusters of flat, winged seeds that also last through the winter but are yellow to green in color.

Smooth sumac

Tree-of-Heaven is considered a scrap or weed tree and it is strongly encouraged that if you have them on your property, feel free to remove them. Other plants effected by the lanternfly are maple trees, poplar trees, sycamore trees, grapes, apples, blueberry, peaches, bittersweet and Virginia creeper.

As we approach the month of September, be on the lookout for egg masses and get rid of them. All smooth surfaces, not just plants, are sites for egg laying. The egg masses are easily scraped off. Patio furniture, grills and decks are all likely spots. The adult lanternflies will die by December with winter cold but the egg masses survive.


The lanternfly has devastated orchards and vineyards. The damage is from the loss of sap from stems and leaves. This reduces photosynthesis and the mess from the drippy sap promotes mold growth.
The life cycle involves four stages, from crawling to the flying stage. The first three have been found on 30 species, including oak, birch, blackgum and poison ivy. After that, the Tree of Heaven is sought out. Just crushing the nymphs is futile. Both the nymphs and adults are excellent jumpers and it is very difficult to just knock them into a jar as we can do with Japanese beetles.

By late July into August the nymphs are at the winged, flying stage and seek out the Tree-of-Heaven trees for egg laying, but any smooth surface will suffice.

Infested trees are a pitiful sight. The lanternflies suck the sap from the leaves and bark. Not all of that sugary sap is needed by the insect, therefore they excrete the extra in the form of honeydew which drips to the ground around the base of the tree. If you've ever seen this mess, it is in no better terms, gross. The bark and soil turns black and mushy and forms an actual fungal mat at the base of the tree. If you stand under the tree you can actually feel the dripping of honeydew secretions from the lanternfly activity above you. Further problems can arise since this sweet mess attracts ants, bees and hornets.

Learn all you can by contacting:
PA Department of Agriculture 
Penn State Extension offices.

Below are two videos, the first one is during the nymph stage and the second is the flying stage.

Lanternfly adult stage
view from underneath
Lanternfly with closed wings

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Mockingbird Love Song Serenade

Open windows and cool night breezes are part of the charm of summer. But nighttime sounds can go way beyond the chirp of crickets or tree frogs. Why in the world would birds sing at nighttime?

Should you be kept awake by the nonstop medley of a bird filling the long night hours with its ballad, it is most likely a mockingbird.

Before you let yourself even think about strangling that bird, find some interest and humor as to why it goes on and on and on.
The bird is a young male bachelor.
Imagine having a suitor trying to win you over by singing under your window!

Most birds learn the songs they'll ever sing before reaching a year old. But mockingbirds continue to listen and learn throughout their lifetime, copying the sounds of other birds. All mockingbirds sing during the day but only the male bachelors sing at night. Once that bird keeping you awake finds a mate, the singing will stop.

Rather than trying to block it out, focus on those repetitious songs and try to catch the recognizable sounds of other types of birds. You may be amazed how many different songs that bird knows. Though annoying at first, that "racket" just may lull you off to sleep after all, and once nature plays out and he finds a mate, you just may miss his nightly visits.

The law is on the side of these birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects the mockingbird. It is against the law to harm or kill any type of migratory bird.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Song of the Elder Fairy

When the days have grown in length,
When the sun has greater power,
Shining in his noonday strength;
When the Elder Tree's in flower;
When each shady kind of place
By the stream and up the lane,
Shows its mass of creamy lace
Summer's really come again
"The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies"

One of nature's medicines is the wild elder (Sambucus species). A shrubby, unruly bush found among hedgerows, this small tree is lanky and not much to look at when not in bloom. Attempts to rid unkept landscapes of this shrub are often in vain as it easily resprouts even after a hard pruning.

However, every June this versatile herb is beautiful as it is covered with large, saucer-shaped off-white flowers. 

These flowers can be gathered and used as a food source such as flower fritters, a wash or toner to maintain clear skin, soothing skin care salves, a medicinal tea to clear congestion in the respiratory tract, relieve hay fever or aid in reducing fevers. Poultices for minor burns, wounds and swollen joints are made with mashed flowers wrapped in layers of cheesecloth. Elder flower water was once considered a valuable beauty aid among women to keep the face blemish and freckle free, as well as a great aid for sunburn.


The following vinegar spritz combines elderflowers and rose petals with raw apple cider vinegar to create a soothing sunburn relief body spray.
A variation in the recipe for the sunburn soothing spray and we have a wonderful ph balancing facial toner. Raw apple cider vinegar helps bring balance to troubled skin and helps with blemishes.

Elderflower & Rose Facial Toner

Sunburn Spritz

The use of elderflowers for a balm or salve is a win win from the delicate skin of baby bottoms to the fragile skin of the elderly. The flowers are rich in anti-oxidants and contain anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties that help keep the skin healthy. Below is a very soothing salve which combines elderflowers, calendula flowers and lavender buds, all safe and soothing for any age.

Baby Bottom Balm
In the late summer, the flowers have turned to dark blue berries often sought after for jam, wine and syrups. If you wait too long the bushes are soon stripped clean by the birds. Don't eat these right off the bush. The fresh berries can upset your stomach. Dry or cook the berries before eating them. If you do collect your own elderberries, make sure they are the dark blue or black ones and not the red berries. The red berries belong to S. racemosa which is toxic.

Elderberry Syrup

More information on Elderberry Syrup

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hydrating and Moisturizing Dry Skin...What's The Difference

The terms moisturizing and hydration are used interchangeably but they are not actually the same thing. Normally, when people have dry skin they go out and purchase a lotion and think little else about it. We reach for a cream or lotion to moisturize our dry skin without really thinking about what the purpose is for each of the ingredients. A bit more observation of what is on the store shelves brings us to the assortment of body butters and balms. The butters are advertised as containing the ultimate moisturizers for baby soft skin. So what is the difference and when is one better than the other?
Well, it all depends on the needs of the skin.

Our skin is the largest organ on our bodies. We don't often think about its function and importance until something isn't quite right. When you think about our internal bodies and the external environment, our skin is what supports and protects our entire system. Should the skin become out of balance, it doesn't take long for us to notice.

Our skin functions as both a physical and chemical barrier. It prevents the penetration from allergens and bacteria, prevents evaporation of water and helps maintain body temperature. Problems arise when there is a disruption in the skin barrier, resulting in trouble maintaining proper moisture balance.

Healthy skin is able to produce what are called lipid cells. The purpose of these cells is to trigger the skin's natural ability to protect from moisture loss. There is communication to the sebaceous glands to produce sebum which is our skin's natural oils. Should there be a disruption of this lipid barrier, the resulting loss of hydration leads to suffering from inflammation, dry flaky skin, itchiness, wrinkles and even trouble staying warm.

Environmental conditions such as cold, wind and sun can all upset the barrier function. Harsh soaps and cleansing products can strip the skins natural sebum. But there are situations when it goes beyond the occasional need for moisturizing due to such things as dry indoor heat during the winter. Autoimmune conditions can play havoc on the normal functioning of our bodies and being the skin is one of our organs, it is vulnerable as well to disruption. Eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and lupus are examples of such aggravating chronic conditions. Allergic reactions to medication can also cause detrimental issues with the skin.

The natural barrier of skin is the outermost layer of the epidermis called the stratum corneum. Its function is to prevent invasion from threats such as bacteria and allergens and prevent what is called trans epidermal water loss (TWEL). Healthy skin shouldn't need continuous help from moisturizers to prevent evaporation of water from the skin. There are multiple stacks of flattened cells called corneocytes which are layers and layers of dead cells with a surrounding oily water-repelling coating. This provides a barrier to the escape of water and protection from the environment. The mixture and structure of lipids in the spaces between the corneocytes allows the correct maintenance of the barrier.

The loss of the lipids that sit between the skin cells results in flaking, tightness, redness and itching. A damaged barrier affects nerve endings which lead to itching that goes beyond the typical satisfaction of scratching an itch and that's the end of it. This type of itching only gets more aggravated by scratching. It's almost like a domino affect where to start scratching starts a chain reaction where the itch pops up here, there and seemingly everywhere. Scratching to relieve the itch further injures the barrier causing redness and inflammation. Anyone who suffers from dry skin conditions knows very well by scratching there is increased risk of injury and infection but it is very difficult to break the itch, scratch, itch cycle.
Here is a very good article by dermatologist Dr. Gil Yosipovitch about how itch can be a disease in itself.

When skin is having trouble maintaining proper moisture, what it needs is first hydration and then creams, lotions or butters to hold in the moisture. Moisturizers are formulated to hold moisture in and hydrating products are to increase the water content of the skin which then helps moisturizers do their job. What are first needed are humectants, such as vegetable glycerin, aloe and honey. They absorb water from the air and bind it to the skin.

The most effective creams and lotions for dry skin combine the hydrating effects of water and the lubricating effects of oil(s). The term for trapping in the water to prevent evaporation is occlusion. Good occlusion ingredients to look for are cocoa butter, shea butter, mango butter, coconut oil and beeswax. The barrier created is called hydrophobic or "water hating" which reduces TEWL or transepidermal water loss.

Ingredients that soothe, lubricate and bring wonderful relief are those that help our skin feel smooth and supple. These are the emollients that help the skin repair the damaged lipid layer through the cell renewal process. They penetrate the outer layers of the stratum corneum. Plant oils, cocoa butter, lanolin and shea butter are good examples of emollients.

Jojoba oil is so close to our natural sebum that it is an excellent lubricant and help with barrier repair. Castor oil and coconut oil are very high in triglycerides which are very moisturizing.
Linoleic acid is one of the most significant lipids for barrier function. Oils high in linoleic acid include rosehip seed oil, hemp seed oil, pumpkin seed oil and evening primrose oil.
Lecithin is high in phospholipids which are a class of lipids. .
Olive oil and wheat germ oil are high in squaline.
Shea butter and mango butter are high in fatty acids and sterols.
Other wonderful plant oils for skin health include sweet almond, apricot, sunflower, avocado and grapeseed. High in antioxidants and vitamins, these are all considered nourishing "skin food"

Hydrating ingredients make the skin more receptive to absorbing all the beneficial ingredients in the moisturizer. A good lotion or cream has the benefit of both hydration and moisturizing. This is why for severely dry skin, to just slather on oil based salves, vaseline or butters, though it feels wonderful at first, you'll wonder where it goes since the skin seems to need frequent applications.That is because these barriers don't have the moisture that is normally in the skin to help them absorb.

The difference between a cream and a lotion is the oil to water ratio. Lotions are lighter due to the higher water content. Body butters may or may not also include liquid plant oils in addition to the solid butters such as shea, coconut oil and mango, but don't contain any water. Depending on the needs of the skin you can choose which is best for your situation. Once the skin is showing signs of improvement, you may only need a light lotion. Butters are rich and help skin feel baby soft, and does reduce loss of moisture, but won't directly moisturize. The best way to use moisturizers and body butters is to apply to dampened skin such as after a bath or shower. A layer of water on the skin prior to applying the moisturizer or butter is ideal.

A healthy skin is our first impression to the world so do what you can so you glow!

Meadow Muffin Gardens