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Gardening with Elementary School Kids

Gardening with Elementary School Kids

I’ve written about gardening with kids before, but after working with elementary age kids in a garden club at the local grade school, I’ve learned a lot more about how kids and gardens work together. I am not a teacher, and I have had no 

Growing Habanada Peppers

Growing Habanada Peppers

I have struggled for years to grow sweet peppers since moving to the Bay Area. Strangely, hot peppers are not a problem. In fact, about to go into my fourth year with the same jalapeno plant. Despite these issues, I decided to try what sounded like an 

Ditch the Dish Sponge

Ditch the Dish Sponge

I hate throwing things away. I save every “nice” box or envelope that comes in the mail to use again some day. I compost or recycle everything that can be composted or recycled. I shop secondhand. It’s just my natural way of being, to try to leave less of a negative imprint when I’m no longer on this earth.

Unfortunately, there are some things that it would be expensive or difficult or annoying (or all three) to avoid the disposable versions of, like toothbrushes and shaving razors. I don’t see myself shaving my legs with a straight razor I hone myself. Not. Gonna. Happen.

The Dish Sponge

On thing I’ve been putting off ditching is the disposable dish sponge.

I had always used the synthetic yellow-with-a-scrubby-top, or, more recently, the blue-with-a-blue-scrubby-top sponges to wash dishes. While the scrubby part is nice to have, it doesn’t always do the job, so I find myself using brushes for tough jobs anyway. And, they start to break down after only a few days of use, leaving bits of sponge in your sink. Not great. The easiest way to ditch the disposable sponge is to use something that’s not disposable. Some friends have discovered they love reusable dish cloths instead of sponges, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to ditch the concept of a “sponge” altogether. Luckily, there are several options out there.

Alternative #1: Dream Cloths from

The Dream Cloths. Front cloth is wet and squishable, while the dry ones are stiff.

The Dream Cloth consists of a mix of sponge and cloth that gives you the absorbency, washing power, and drying-out capability of a sponge, plus the large cleaning surface of a towel. They dry quickly, so bacteria and smells can’t develop. They last a long time, through many washings in the dishwasher or washing machine, and after that they are compostable, which is amazing!

I thought I would dislike the off-white color of the non-patterned side since it would show dirt over time, but, on the contrary, it is satisfying to rinse them off and see the dirt wash away. The patterns are fun and colorful without being obnoxious.

Detail of the texture on the reverse side of the Dream Cloth.

As a bonus, the cloths are sold by Who Gives a Crap, a B-Corp that gives 50% of its profits towards building toilets in places that need them.


  • Dries out quickly, so stays bacteria-free and stink-free if hung up properly
  • Can be cleaned in the washer or dishwasher(!)
  • Soaks up a lot of liquid
  • More surface area than a sponge for cleaning countertops and tables
  • Compostable when it has outlived its cleaning life
  • Can also replace paper towels
  • Can last up to a year(!) so $12.00 for 3 is a great deal [link]


  • Not that scrubby

Alternative #2: Loofah Sponges

The loofah is making a comeback as a green alternative to plastic sponges. They are scrubby, dry quickly, and are totally compostable when they loose their cleaning power. I actually plan to grow them myself this year to give myself an ample supply of full-on dried loofah, but they are sold compressed into sponge shapes already. These are more scrubby than the Dream Cloths, but do not last as long–they are recommended to be replaced every month or two. And, the Amazon sellers of these feel like those AI-generated ones instead of a real company, which always makes me wary.


  • Scrubby
  • Dries out quickly, so stays bacteria-free and stink-free if hung up properly
  • Compostable when it has outlived its cleaning life


  • Need to be replaced every month or 2, so can get expensive
  • Not super absorbent
  • Cannot be put through the dishwasher or washing machine

Alternative #3: Towels

These towels have been through a lot and keep on cleaning!

In our house, we use white “shop” towels for a lot of purposes, most of which would normally replace paper towels, like cleaning up spills or washing windows. We wash them in the washing machine and have used the same batch of 50 for about 10 years now. Until a recent camping trip where we all forgot a dish sponge of ANY kind, I had never used them to wash dishes. I cut up some of my shop towels into quarters and they became the way to wash dishes for that trip.

The white towels did an OK job when camping, though once they have any grease on them, you pretty much need them to go through the wash cycle, so having a million on hand is critical. They don’t scrub too well, but they do the job. This would certainly be the cheapest option over time, especially because they would also replace paper towels in a lot of cases.


  • Cheap
  • Last many years before being unusable
  • Machine-washable


  • Get gross-looking real fast
  • Not a great grip (too thin)
  • Only medium-absorbent
  • Not very scrubby


Until I have the chance to try my own garden-grown Loofahs, I can’t say for certain which is my absolute favorite, but for now, The Dream Cloth is definitely the best overall option for a blue-sponge alternative. It may be that sponge-like feel to it that makes the transition easier, or just how cute they look drying above the sink.

A dream cloth hanging up to dry next to my husband’s Coffee Sock (another great reusable item).


I am an affiliate of and Amazon, so if you buy something from a link on this page, I will get a small kickback that helps fund this website’s costs.

I want you to know that I also really like the Who Gives a Crap company and their other products, and use their recycled toilet paper and bamboo tissues exclusively in my home (and did so BEFORE ever becoming an affiliate).

The bright, individually-wrapped toilet paper makes a great building toy for the kids, too 🙂
Why Did My Seedlings Stop Growing?

Why Did My Seedlings Stop Growing?

When we start seeds indoors, we are trying to give them a head start before putting them into the harsh world of the out-of-doors. So, when our tender, baby seedlings seem to just pause, or stall in their growth, it can be very stressful. What 

How to Make a Plum and Tonic

How to Make a Plum and Tonic

If you, like me, love plum wine, you might have some to drink on occasion. If, like me, you make your own, you might have a gallon+ sitting around. And, if you are like me, you may be wondering what there is to do with 

California’s New Composting Law Effective Today

California’s New Composting Law Effective Today

As a gardener, the new law that makes it mandatory for homes and businesses to separate food waste from trash is exciting to me. All that food and yard waste that was once going to a landfill (where it would compost anaerobically, creating methane) will now be composted to be used to grow more plants, or turned into biogas (which can power trash trucks! A closed cycle!). It’s a win-win!

If you were not already composting at home, however, I can see how it would be a weird new rule to add to the recycling we’ve all been doing for many years. The questions have already been flooding in:

What about the smell?
Can I put meat and bones in the bin?
Can I put animal waste from cats and dogs in the bin?
What if I just don’t want to do it?

Composting Becomes as Effortless as Recycling

Our household has been composting at home since 2008, since San Francisco already had a composting program at that time. When we moved to a town with no composting program, we just couldn’t bear to throw all those scraps away, so we composted the plant-based food waste ourselves until municipal composting in the yard waste bin became available.

For us, the benefits to the world, and even our own garden, were well worth the minor inconvenience of learning what to separate. It’s honestly not that difficult and becomes second-nature. When recycling became a thing, it was an adjustment, but you wouldn’t dream of tossing a soda can in the trash bin anymore, would you?

What about the Smell?

This question is kind of hilarious to me, because what on earth do you mean? The smell of…the SAME FOOD YOU WERE ALREADY THROWING IN THE GARBAGE? Unless you were using some kind of space-age diaper-genie-type system to hermetically seal away your food waste, I’m pretty sure you already had smells to deal with. All you’re doing is separating the food from the actual trash. It’s the same stuff.

Now, keeping a separate bin somewhere, that is a little tricky if you have a small kitchen, and with our family, we actually have two compost bins–one for plant materials only (for home composting) and another for municipal composting (animal bones, meat, and hard-to-compost material like avocado pits).

We do use the plastic bin that the City gave us, but I have to say, it’s not our favorite when it comes to cleaning. Plastic just doesn’t get clean well by rinsing, and we don’t want to wash the thing every time we empty it.

We also use a ceramic apple-shaped bin that was gifted to us. I don’t love the lip of the ceramic one, but the cleanability is definitely better.

Our gifted ceramic apple and City-issued plastic bins
Our gifted ceramic apple and City-issued plastic bins

There are also some great metal options out there, though I recommend measuring your countertop height before purchasing AND opting for a ceramic-coated or paint-sealed metal bin so you don’t have to deal with rust.

We line our compost bins with either newspaper (weekly ads) or toilet paper wrappers from Who Gives a Crap which are actually the perfect size. These help contain liquids and make dumping the contents into the outside bin that much easier. Smell is almost never an issue because we fill the bins at least twice a week and have to empty them.

Some have suggested freezing compost and then dumping it outside when you have enough. If you don’t cook much at home, or just don’t have a lot, this method may work for you. My mother in law actually does this with her garbage, since they don’t have compost where she lives, and living alone she just never has enough garbage to take it out often enough.

Can I put meat and bones in the compost?

This depends on your city’s rules. I’m sure if composting is new to your area, you will get some educational literature about what is OK and what’s not. For instance, our City does not allow compostable plastic bags in the compost bin because they use the compost to create biogas and so the bags hinder that. Pay attention to what your municipality instructs and you should get to know the rules quickly.

Can I put animal waste in the bin?

So cats and dogs are carnivores and omnivores, respectively. Their waste should NEVER be put in the compost bins (or backyard compost) unless explicitly stated by your municipality. And, while chicken/rabbit/vegetarian animal waste is GREAT for backyard compost, again, you need to see what the rules are where you live regarding the bin.

What if I just don’t want to do it?

Sorry, that will not do. Cities will be implementing inspections and fines for citizens who do not compost their food waste. While I imagine most of their concentration on punitive measure will be aimed at restaurants and grocery stores, who also need to send their human-edible food to Food Banks, the fines will not be fun. Also, food waste in landfills is terrible for the environment and this is a small inconvenience for what will end up making a huge difference. Let’s take better care of our world!

An unexpected benefit of home composting: downsizing your trash can!

Our home composting has significantly reduced our trash output as a household. This means we were able to downgrade our trash pickup bin to the smallest size (which saves money) and we do not use those “tall kitchen bags” anymore. We get the 10-gallon small office trash bags from Costco and that box lasts us several years.

I am so proud that California has taken this bold step to reduce the harmful practice of sending compostable material to landfills, and I hope that, even if you are hesitant now, you will feel the same soon. Happy composting!

Bay Area Bees Don’t Need Special Winter Help

Bay Area Bees Don’t Need Special Winter Help

Just as many gardening blogs, books, and general advice focus on the majority of the country where they have this thing called “winter,” so do Social Media trends. I keep seeing posts and articles on LOCAL Facebook groups giving helpful advice on how to “save” 

Too Many Tomatoes?

Too Many Tomatoes?

It takes what feels like a million years to get 1 ripe tomato, and then suddenly my vines are heavily laden with red, ripe beauties. Once you’ve had your fill of salsa, pizza, spaghetti, chili, and Caprese salad (or your heartburn needs a break), what 

Thwarting the Fennel Menace

Thwarting the Fennel Menace

There are a few pleasures in gardening that really make it feel worth all the work. Harvesting a huge batch of fat, happy potatoes is one. Picking up a cured gourd and finding it whole and hard and ready to be made into whatever project you desire is another.

But there is another gardening activity that is not at all about harvesting and food and goodness. No. I’m talking about the satisfaction that comes when you have completely thwarted an enemy.

My Greatest Foe

If you’ve read my blog before, you might have guessed that the enemy I mentioned is Wild Fennel. I literally named it The Worst Weed in the Bay Area. Back then, I didn’t have much encouraging advice. But that was then.

evil fennel coming up from a previously dug-up root
Like a zombie, the dug-up “dead” fennel emerges to terrorize the garden once more

Now I know how to kill it.


Without digging for hours in dry, unyielding clay.

The secret is Darkness.

Fennel under a sheet of black plastic
It looks awful, I know, but it keeps light away from the plant, which kills it completely

It’s not pretty, but few murder sprees are, amirite?

That Feeling of Victory

Today, I went to check on a few of my fennel torture bags. Yes, some were still holding on, and I carefully repacked them tightly.

But a few were dead. Fully dead. Dry as a bone. Ex-fennel.

And a few even came out of the ground complete, taproot intact. Look at the picture–that’s 2 feet down in the soil if I had tried to dig it out fully.

It was so satisfying pulling these jerks out of the ground intact. You can see the black plastic, yard staples, and the bowl used to cover one of the smaller ones.

How to Truly and Completely Eradicate Wild Fennel

fennel growing under a fence
Even in a tricky place like under a fence, plastic can be used to eradicate fennel organically. I used a staple gun to secure the plastic to this fence and it’s now clear of fennel.
Do you see any evidence of fennel now? It took over 8 months of plastic covering, but the deeply-rooted fennel is completely gone.


  • 6 mil Black Painter’s Plastic (NOT weed block)
  • Yard Staples
  • Yard clippers/trimmers
  • Staple gun (optional)
  • Black bowls from takeout or instant soup (optional)


  1. Trim the fennel down as far as you can go, removing all the material and composting it.
  2. Cover the stump tightly with the black plastic or a black bowl with holes punched in at least two sides near the earth (only use the bowl if the stump is small enough to fit totally inside underneath).
  3. Use yard staples or (near wooden fences) staples to secure the plastic or bowls in place. You are trying to eliminate light getting to any part of the plant, and stop any shoots from finding their way out.
  4. Keep an eye on your fennel darkness pods in case of escaping shoots. Remove any shoots that pop up, secure your light barrier again, and wait some more.
  5. Check occasionally after a few months to see if the fennel is dead. There should be no green or yellow material, and every part of what remains should be dry and brittle. That means success!

Stay Vigilant

While this method will take care of those old-growth fennel monsters, it does not stop new sprouts. Be sure to tear those invasive jerk babies out of the ground as soon as you see them. Fennel cannot be allowed to proliferate!

fennel taking over a fence
Don’t let fennel happen to you!

Bonus tip: This technique also works on Blackberry!

Preparing a Fall Garden Starts in August

Preparing a Fall Garden Starts in August

It seems like summer just started, doesn’t it? Everything is green and growing and it’s a waiting game in the garden. I haven’t even picked a ripe tomato yet this year! Still, I know from experience that it is already time to start thinking about