Spring Assessment of Progress

Spring assessment

It has become a bit of a spring tradition for me to take an inventory of the plants growing at our house each year, not including all the wild growing ones (violets, dandelions, chickweed, lamb’s quarters, plantain, etc.). A few of the things in the following list were here when we moved in, but the rest has been planted by us over the last three years. We still have much more we intend to plant this season, but here’s what we are working with so far.

Blue salvia
Orange marigolds
Yellow marigolds
Asiatic lilies
Pink roses
Yellow roses
Some kind of multicolor hybrid rose
Light pink crepe myrtles
Dark pink crepe myrtles
Sweet William
Denver Daisies
Rose of Sharon
Pink purslane
Orange purslane
Bee balm
Pink lantana
Yellow lantana
Lily of the valley
Blue torenias
Lavender torenias
Violet torenias
Garden sage
White sage
Lemon balm
Red clover
Green bell peppers
Red bell peppers
Butternut squash
Green beans
Evening primrose
Redbud tree
Aloe Vera
Ghost flower

And my mother-in-law bought me two elderberry trees as a Mother’s Day gift! Unfortunately, we don’t have room for those here, so she has agreed to let us plant them at her house, which is not far from us.

That probably doesn’t sound like much to some people, but we are not working with a large space. Our entire lot is about 1/8 of an acre, and that includes our driveway, where our house sits, and where our shed sits, so our actual garden/yard space is much smaller. We also live right in the middle of city limits with neighbors yards butted right up to ours on three sides, and a street on the fourth side. By most standards, an urban or suburban homestead is 1/4 of an acre or smaller. We are doing a lot with less than half of that!

Some other things we are working with to make our small space more efficient:

Compost bin
Rain barrel
2 veggie gardens
1 herb garden
2 berry patches
A few flower beds
Wood pile
Fire pit
Retractable laundry line

Maybe our next adventure will be chickens, but it’s not happening this season. It’s time to focus on our growing family this summer.

Don’t let a small space stop you from achieving greater sustainability and self sufficiency. Start small if you must (we did), get creative, and work with what you have. This did not happen overnight, and it’s always a work in progress. We try to accomplish a couple new things each year. We usually have some plant casualties each season, and we are learning as we go, but we learn from our mistakes and keep getting better at it. There are only so many books you can read before you just stick your hands in the dirt and give it a go. We have also had a lot of help from our families (for whom we are eternally grateful) in the process of making our little house a homestead. I especially love this old, little house we call home. It needs a lot of work, and we are slowly working on it a little bit each year as well. We plan to paint the inside with bold colors because we are very colorful people, and life is too short for beige!

My goals to be accomplished still this season include building an archway to let our squash climb vertically, and planting a LOT more veggies! What is your one goal to move toward greater sustainability this year? That’s all you need is just one small goal each year. Go for it.

Easy Natural Hand Soap

hand soap cover

One of the easiest ways to save money, support sustainability, and avoid unnecessary toxins in your daily life is to make some of your own household products with simple and sustainable ingredients. The Internet is overflowing with recipes on ways you can do this, but I don’t like many of those recipes I’ve tried over the years. Some contain far more ingredients than are necessary, and others are more complicated than I care to get when it comes to things like simply washing my hands. We go through hand soap pretty quickly around here, and I don’t have the time or the desire to be concocting time consuming soap recipes on the regular. I finally found a fast, easy, and inexpensive way to make hand soap that I like. (Bonus: It smells great!) You only need these three things:

  • A foaming soap pump
  • Dr. Bronner’s castile soap (1-2 TBSP)
  • Water

Just put a tablespoon or two of castile soap in the soap pump, add water until it’s full, and put the lid on. Give it a little shake once in a while, as the soap will settle to the bottom.

If you have hard water like we do, you would be better off using filtered water for this recipe, but tap water is fine as well. Since this recipe does not have preservatives added to keep a long shelf life, I recommend using distilled water if you don’t go through soap very quickly, and only make it as needed.

* Please note: This is not a thick and creamy soap like many of the store bought ones, which have added thickeners, emulsifiers, and foaming agents, but it gets the job done, and your hands, the earth, and your budget will thank you.

The soap pump

For best results, you really do need a foaming pump. I tried it with a regular pump I recycled, and it didn’t work out very well. You can recycle an old foaming pump, or they are pretty inexpensive to purchase on amazon. Plastic ones are cheaper than glass ones, but we try to avoid plastic where we can, so we have glass.

The castile soap

Castile soap is concentrated, so it lasts a long time since you are supposed to dilute it. Therefore, even the tiny bottle you see in my picture will last us for months. It is available in different sizes, and sometimes you can find a deal on Amazon, Thrive Market, or Vitacost. It is also easy to find at most health food stores and even big retailers like Target. I have a friend who buys a whole gallon of it at a time, and that’s even better if it’s in your budget. It can be used for a lot more than just hand soap.

Dr. Bronner’s comes in many different scents, and even a gentle unscented option. I love the lavender one for hand soap. (Peppermint is nice around the winter holidays if you get the fever for mint everything.) There are some big box corporations making their own brand castile soap now, and that’s okay if that’s all you have access to, but I want to tell you why I specifically buy Dr. Bronner’s. They are still a family owned and operated business, and they have great ethics, as well as great products with truly natural ingredients. (Read more about their company here.)

You don’t have to throw out and replace all of your household products at once. The easiest way to transition to using more natural products is to simply replace one at a time as you run out of the ones you have. One step at a time, you can make a difference and find yourself heading strong down your own green path.

Wild Violets

wild violets cover photo

One of my favorite cool weather blooming herbs is the wild violet, which is one of the earliest signs of spring’s arrival. It’s usually found in shady spots, such as under trees or alongside buildings and fences. Many people view this gorgeous flower as a pesky weed, and they work hard to eradicate it from their lawns. The way I see it, when a weed becomes useful, it’s an herb. That’s right, not only is this little flower great for pollinators and pretty to look at, but violet leaves and flowers are also edible and medicinal.

Abundant in vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and magnesium, violets are a perfect spring food. You can put the leaves and/or the flowers in a raw salad, but the greens also work well as a cooked green in soups and other dishes. Many people enjoy making sweet treats like candied violets, violet jelly, and violet syrup from the flowers. Violets also make great natural decorations for cakes. Every time we harvest enough violets to make treats, our little Wildflower usually eats most of them by the time we get them in the house! I guess that’s a good problem to have.

violet id

There are many different species of violets. The ones pictured here are common blue violets (Viola sororia). The heart shaped leaves in the picture are the violet leaves.

For those who care to learn a little about herbal energetics, violets are cooling and wet, which means they are often called upon for medicinal use when there is a hot and/or dry condition (e.g. Irritating skin rashes, dry and inflamed respiratory ailments). They can be made into poultices, teas, long infusions, infused oils, salves, and extracts, and are also a great herb to include in yoni steams. Don’t know what half of those things are? Don’t worry, we can cover some of that at a later time.

Violets are an ingredient in my favorite homemade herbal salve, which I will post more about after they’ve infused with other herbs in some oil for a few weeks. You won’t want to miss that recipe!

(If you want to make the herbal salve when I post the recipe, now is a good time to harvest some violets (leaves or flowers, or both. Whatever works for you.) and let them air dry in a place out of direct sunlight. Once they are dried, you can store them in a jar or any container you have available.)

How I started on this path

How I started on this path

Before I tell you about who I am and how I got here, let me tell you some things I am not. I am not someone who grew up in a holistic or “crunchy” lifestyle in the least. I am not someone who has always been conscious of what I eat or put in my body. I am not here to preach to anyone. While my diet is now far better than the average American diet, and I have been making an effort to be conscious of what I put in and on my body for several years now, it wasn’t always that way, and I’m definitely still not perfect (though I am proud of how far I’ve come). I’m here to help, not judge. Because I know those first steps down a greener path can feel overwhelming and confusing. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to happen overnight. I understand that there are sometimes economic and other limitations that people have, which may prevent them from changing certain aspects of their lifestyle, but I hope that most people can use the information I will share with you here at This Green Path. Notice how I said THIS Green Path, and not THE Green Path. That was deliberate, as I often am, because there is not just one path. There are plenty of “templates” or people whose footsteps you can follow exactly, but the truth is, you have to be willing to take with you what you find valuable for your life, pack it up, and venture out on YOUR path. Leave the rest.

In 2010, I was incredibly unwell. I saw doctor after doctor. Those doctors referred me to other doctors. They gave me medications that made me feel terrible, but those only masked my symptoms instead of getting to the root of the problem. I had been seeing several doctors, and none of them knew what was wrong with me. Why was my white blood count so consistently abnormal? Maybe leukemia, one of them figured, so she scheduled an appointment for me to go and have my bone marrow tested. A conversation I had on the phone with my mother changed the course of my life, and I never went to that appointment.

“Maybe you should try going gluten free and see how you feel.”

I kind of brushed it off when my mom said it. I had never been on a diet in my life, and I didn’t have the energy or desire to deal with learning a new way to eat. Not to mention, I didn’t even know what gluten was, and I highly doubted removing whatever it was from my diet would magically make my blood counts normal or make me feel any better.


Mothers have a way of usually knowing best, don’t they? What is this superpower? I begrudgingly agreed to try it for a week and report back to her, but I was going to complain the whole time. Three days later, I called her to tell her how I couldn’t freaking believe it, but I looked and felt like a new person. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt that good. My boss even told me I seemed like a new person, and he thought I should keep doing whatever I was doing. Screw trying this for just a week! If this is what I can feel like without gluten, sign me up for life! I frantically scoured the internet for information. I learned all about celiac disease and non celiac gluten intolerance. At my next doctor appointment to recheck my blood counts, it was NORMAL for the first time in months, and I was even able to stop taking all of my medications a short while later. I talked with the doctor about celiac disease, and I was eventually diagnosed. I have been 100% gluten free since December of 2010. (Full disclosure: I had some indulgences in 2011, which I paid for dearly, and I will never do that again!)

This experience opened up a new way of thinking for me. If what we put in our bodies can have that much power, and if all these doctors couldn’t find the problem, and if all their medications just made me feel worse, then this means I need to take charge of my health if I want to be healthy and feel good. I need to give a shit. It matters what I eat, and what medications I take. It even matters what I put on my skin. So that’s how I found and started off running on this green path.