Thanks for the encouragement from Kat– here is an attempt at a short post.
So maybe you are saying to yourself, gee Bruce, how can I have some of that wacky cutting edge sustainability fun you seem to be having without leaving the country?
Look no further! The answer to your prayers is here!
Actually, the answer to my prayers, or at least some of them, are here. It may be the case that people who live, where I imagine many of you readers do, in places that are warmer or have central heating or more wood floors and less carpet won’t be having the problems we had when we moved into this in many ways lovely home.
But here in Christchurch we have coldish temperatures, no central heating, poorly insulated houses, lots of carpet, and curtains.
Those who took note of our former house (still unsold, sadly) may have noticed that there were wood floors throughout, area carpets added by Kathy usually at my protest. There was also a striking and quite wonderful lack of curtains. Venetian blinds where necessary. Well, Kathy did put some foofy pink curtains in her office. The reason I didn’t like these carpet and curtain things was because they are major filth attractors. They get dusty and musty and they aren’t ever really clean. Now, many of you will be saying to yourselves, gee, I didn’t think Bruce was a terribly clean person, and well yes, that is true, which is exactly why having a house that was fundamentally clean(er) makes so much sense.
But here we are now, in a house that has a lot of carpet. Not only is there carpet on the floor of every room except the kitchen and the bathrooms (one of them is half carpeted, actually), but there are whole walls and posts in a couple of the upstairs rooms covered in carpet. Wallpaper was also really big in this circa 1970s house, and they had the great idea to make a lot of it textured. Textured means increase in surface area, and organisms just love increased surface area. There are lots of curtains here too.
The cold temperatures and not heating the whole house with ultra dry central heating also help promote mold formation. It is a commonly acknowledged problem with New Zealand homes. All that carpet and curtains and textured wall paper just give the fungus lots of extra places to hang out and store their spores.
A couple of the rooms were noticeably musty smelling, and a bit of sniffing quickly got one to the curtains.
Enter Effective Microorganisms (EM).
NZ site: Effective Microorganisms/Nature Farm
A site for you yanks: EM Trading
This is a complex of different microorganisms that work together. There are yeasts, lactic acid producing bacyteria (like when you make a pickle), photosynthetic bacteria, and I am pretty sure some other kinds of fungus besides the yeasts. It’s a Japanese invention that was I seem to recall modeled on the activity of a forest floor. The products for different countries use their local microorganisms, I think.
The original use for all this stuff was in agriculture. We have been using it to compost kitchen wastes and it is a whole lot more easy and can handle many more different kinds of things than worm or traditional “hot” composting.
But guess what? We were told you could clean your house with it too. I tried an experiment one week of spraying it on those musty smelling curtains. Wow! It really cut down the smell a lot. So the next week I started spraying it around the house. Pretty soon I was spending an hour or two with a little hand spray bottle going around the whole house and spraying it everywhere. I reckon I was spraying about 6 litres (1 1/2 gallons) or so around the 2500 sq ft. house.
It has made a huge difference in the level of air quality in the house. In a short while the molasses smell goes away (it comes as a concentrate and you add warm water and molasses, sort of like a yeast starter for bread) and the air in the house just smells fresh and good. When it comes time to give the bathrooms a scrub down, the gunge comes off much more easily than one would have expected given the lapse in time from the previous cleaning. It has really made the house a much more healthy and pleasant environment. Some places smelt like a wet dog or there was a little ammonia-like pee smell when they first got sprayed, but with each application this has improved and I think this is the process of these things getting cleaner and the EM eating the unpleasant stuff that was on them that was making them smell bad.
This is the new paradigm: instead of trying to kill everything around us with pesticides, herbicides, and toxic cleaners, we recognize we are parts of living biosystems and we instead try to manage these systems to produce the conditions we want.
There are a very few things you should be careful about spraying. The fresh food sitting around your kitchen should be avoided, or else the EM will start “composting” it. I’m also starting to see some signs of EM activity on the small cork board bulletin board we have in one of the rooms. Other than that, no problems so far at all.
This has been such a success that I have gotten a garden sprayer so I can now walk around the house and hopefully dose it with EM much quicker than when I was going pumpa pumpa pumpa about a million times with my small handheld sprayer.
So much for a short post!