Skill Library

Greening Little by Little – Michelle Mattioli – June 9, 2014

Here are the suggestions discussed at the skill share:

Conserving Water

  • We can fill a jug as the water warms for our shower, then use it later to wash hands, clean the tub, water plants…
  • Keep a bowl in the sink to rinse hands and already­ washed dishes into. Use that pretty­ clean water to pre-­clean dirty dishes, wash out the sink, water plants. We can use most water twice!
  • It’s OK to wash dishes in cold water if we aren’t cutting grease. Or turn the hot water on but wash glasses and other not­-very-­dirty things first as the water heats up, and save the greasy or extra dirty dishes for when the water is hot. Don’t run the water while washing and rinse judiciously.
  • It’s better to run a full dishwasher than to use a lot of water hand washing the dishes, but if you are super careful and only have a few, hand washing might be better.
  • Hook up a rain barrel to water plants and wash the car (if you have one and if you wash it instead of letting the rain do it!).
  • Don’t water the grass. It’s OK if it turns brown in dry conditions – it will green up again when it rains. If we’re friendly with our neighbors they won’t mind too much!
  • If we use edibles for landscaping (blueberry bushes are beautiful, for example) and we need to water the shrubs, herbs and flowers at least we get food/medicine from them.
  • If the garden is too big to water with watering cans (from the rain barrel), using drip tape is much more efficient than hose watering because the water goes to the roots and doesn’t evaporate. Keep an eye out for leaks and fix them right away.
  • Use a simple rain gauge to avoid overwatering. An inch of rain a week is enough.
  • Install a low-­flow shower head.
  • Take Navy showers (turn on water to wet, then off to soap up, then on to rinse).
  • Use bricks or jars filled with water to displace water in your toilet.
  • Reduce the number of showers you take in a week

Saving energy

  • Since it takes so long for water to warm, try washing hands in cold water – and use the cold water faucet. Turning on the hot water faucet heats the water in the pipes while we wash in cold water! Then all the energy that heated the water in the pipes is wasted.
  • We need to turn off and unplug our computers and other electronics when we aren’t using them.
  • Don’t use appliances that have a sleep mode, or unplug them when not in use. Years ago the statistic was that in the U.S. we use the energy equivalent of 24 average ­sized power plants just while our electronics asleep!
  • Use both sides of a piece of paper and use envelopes as scrap paper for notes. Put labels on return envelopes and use them again for mailing. The back side of printed paper is great for kids’ art work.
  • Hold a contest to see which household among your family and friends can go the longest without turning on the A/C or heat.
  • Borrow heat from the apartments above you. ; )
  • Set dishwashers or clothes washers on “delay” so they run between 1­AM and 5AM when there’s excess power on the grid. Power shifting can help reduce the need for new power plants.
  • Install insulation strips for hot water pipes
  • Turn hot water heater down: 112-­115 degrees works fine for summer

Reducing plastic

  • Don’t get plastic bags when shopping. A reusable shopping bag is best, but we can sometimes get paper grocery bags and reuse them to hold kitchen trash – no more plastic trash bags. When there’s a choice, choose more durable and less harmful options to plastic, like glass, wood, fabric, metal. Integral Yoga, Rebecca’s, and Whole Foods all sell refillable foods and other items, just bring your own bag, jar, etc.
  • Use bar shampoo instead of shampoo from a plastic bottle
  • Make your own shampoo with 1 tbls. baking soda and 1 cup water. Make your own conditioner with 1 tbls. apple cider vinegar and 1 cup water.  Pairing these two is important to keep the pH of your hair balanced.


  • Walk – ride a bike – take the bus/train – carpool. Short trips can be made as fast or faster on a bike than in a car.
  • Plan errands to maximize efficiency.
  • If you have to drive, driving slower, not gunning it, and drifting a bit to stop signs and lights saves gas. So do properly inflated tires.
  • Let’s get Zip Cars and Buzz cars in Charlottesville!


  • Let’s grow as much as we can and would like to. Buy locally and eat in season. Waiting a whole year to eat strawberries or peaches makes them taste extra amazing. Buying extra and learning how to can/freeze/dry so we can eat some out of season, too, also helps local farmers.
  • Buy organic seed and use only organic methods in the garden. Hand pick bugs, rotate crops, use mulch and compost. Tilling isn’t necessary and can even be harmful to the soil structure. Weeding is meditative!
  • We waste about 40% of the food produced in this country. Try hard not to. Compost when it happens.
  • We should try to cook at home as much as we can. We’ll use real ingredients, avoid packaging, control the salt/sugar/fat content and eliminate nasty chemicals, and it’s cheaper as well as more nutritious.
  • Thich Nat Hahn suggests that if we eat only as many calories as we need we can afford to buy all organic. It helps to think not only about the environmental effects of pesticides and herbicides, but the effects on the workers who have to use them.
  • Michael Pollan has good advice, “Eat food [real food, not processed products], not too much, mostly plants.” If we all did that, it would make a huge difference to our health and to the planet.

Clothing and other stuff

  • Reduce – reuse – repair – recycle is solid wisdom. Not having too much stuff is freeing. Sharing feels good. Buying at thrift stores keeps our money local, doesn’t support sweatshops, and reduces the environmental impact of producing new things. Trying to put as little as possible in the landfill is a good personal challenge.
  • If clothing is so bad we can’t donate it, use it for rags instead of paper towels.
  • When we throw parties or have friends over, we can use real dishes, glasses, silverware and cloth napkins. Cleaning up afterward can be part of the fun – a great opportunity to chat. As hosts we let other people see that it’s OK not to generate a giant bag of trash every time friends get together.


  • Refill bulk soap containers for shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, dish soap…
  • We can use white vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda to clean just about everything. No need to buy polluting chemicals.
  • Make your own detergents (for dishwasherdetergent use borax, washing soda [sodium carbonate], and add vinegar to the rinse)

Systemic Change

  • We can make all the individuals changes we want, but it won’t be enough to save our ecosystem from serious degradation unless governments make broad policy changes. They won’t do that unless we make them!
  • Ideas for changing the system so our individual actions can have the effect we want:
    • Join a group and pressure decisions makers to implement conservation practices – Transition, 350.0rg, Sierra Club, Wild Virginia, EcoVillage Charlottesville, Virginia Organizing…
    • Write a letter to the editor encouraging local, state or national officials to adopt more environmentally sustainable policies.
    • Attend public hearings and speak up about what matters to you.
  • As Frederick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Let’s all speak our truth to power!

The Resilient Pantry – Lorrie Delehanty – November 12, 2012

Lorrie shared a wealth of information about how to plan and stock your pantry. She has compiled a fantastic resource document that includes storage methods, pros and cons for different types of stored food, resource links and MUCH more. Click here for Lorrie’s pantry resource document (PDF). Click here to learn more about shelf life for long term food storage.


Handing out goodies at the October Skill Share.

The Art of Simpling: Creating salves, creams and other natural goodies with herbs – Cynthia Johnston of MoonMaid Botanicals – October 8, 2012

Cynthia whipped up a collection of salves and creams right before our eyes, showing us that it’s possible (even easy with practice!) to create herbal remedies with home equipment. Click here to see Cynthia’s recipe booklet, “The Art of Simpling” (PDF). Visit MoonMaid Botanicals to learn more about Cynthia and her wonderful, organic herbal products.


How to clean your refrigerator coils

A skill share video from Bob Fenwick


Completed rocket stoves at the September Skill Share.

Rocket Stoves and DIY Camping Stoves – Peter Richardson & Joanie Freeman – September 10, 2012

Joanie demonstrated the Penny Alcohol Stove, an ultralight camping stove  you can make at home with 2 beer or soda cans. Click here for instructions. Peter led the class through construction of a rocket stove using repurposed cans. You can check out the instructions on Instructables.


Self-Watering Plant Containers – Peter Richardson – August 13, 2012

Peter led the class through the steps of assembling a plant container that uses its own built-in water reservoir to keep those plants healthy & happy. He used the plans from Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living (a FANTASTIC and highly recommended book). You can read similar plans online at Mother Earth News (excerpted from  another wonderful book, The Urban Homestead).


Bike Maintenance – Scott Paisley – July 9, 2012

Scott showed us how to do the “bounce test” (a pre-ride check that helps detect loose bearings and other small problems), how to adjust those loose bearings, how to fix a flat tire, and how to lubricate the chain – among many other bits of wisdom. You can watch his Fix That Flat video on the Blue Wheel Bicycles website. Scott also teaches a four-part repair class; to find out when the next class is scheduled, follow Blue Wheel Bicycles on Facebook or stop by the shop and ask.


Homemade Cleaning Supplies – Joanie Freeman – June 11, 2012

Joanie shared a list of vinegar cleaning tips & tricks from Grandma’s Wisdom. Local blogger Madeleine of Get Clean, Girls attended the class – you can find more recipes in her blog post “DIY Cleaning Class”


Indoor Vermiculture – Drew Moore – May 7, 2012

Click here to download Drew’s Indoor Vermiculture Info Sheet (PDF). C-ville Weekly’s Green Scene shared a photo from our vermiculture skill share in the May 15 issue. Thanks, C-ville! And special thanks to Bob Fenwick for capturing the fun on video. Check it out below.