The Perfect Summertime Wool Cover: Engel Nappy Pants

At first glance, these thin, single-knit, nearly transparent wool shorts are a little perplexing.  How can something so thin function as a diaper cover?  But after your baby has pushed these nappy pants to their limit, you’ll realize why they are worth every penny.  For hot summer days, there is simply nothing better for keeping your baby comfortable.

Why we love them:

They pull on like shorts.  What’s not to love about that?  You will especially love this feature when your baby has graduated from the phase of lying calmly on the changing table and entered the phase of wildly twisting, kicking, running all over the house, resisting the diaper change.  Just pull on those shorts and you’re good to go, before your baby even knows what happened.

They are trim!  These are by far the trimmest diaper cover we have found.  This holds true for both PUL and wool covers.  When your baby wears these, they fit like a pair of underwear.   Trimness can be a lovely breath of fresh air for cloth diapering parents, especially when you’re trying to fit your baby into that one pair of pants you love so much but just never seems to fit over a cloth diaper…

They are breathable.  This is so important when cloth diapering, especially during the hot summer, and this lovely, lightweight wool exceeds all expectations in the breathability department.  A breathable wool cover helps with diaper rash problems and eliminates the concern for your baby overheating.

They are just the right thickness to encourage more frequent diaper changes.   Nappy pants are thick enough to keep your baby dry for short periods of time, but they are just thin enough that there is no question about when your baby needs to be changed.  They typically start feeling damp on the outside after one or two pees, thereby encouraging frequent diaper changes.   Why is this a good thing?  It is much healthier for your baby to be changed more often.   This is the way it should be, all the time.  What baby wants to sit in a urine-soaked diaper for hours on end?  Babies should be changed every 1-2 hours on average, and most babies pee once or twice in a 2 hour period.  The timing is perfect.   This is also fabulous for parents who practice EC (or for potty training).

They do not itch.  If you are having doubts about wool due to a dislike for itchy wool or suspected wool allergies, we recommend trying organic wool.  Organic wool is the softest wool you’ll ever touch, and it absolutely does not itch.  Often, wool allergies are caused by pesticide residues or residues from other chemical treatments found in conventional wool.   Organically raised sheep are not treated with synthetic pesticides, so the concern for pesticide residues is drastically reduced.

They are 100% organic & natural.  Engel’s nappy pants are made from 100% pure, certified organic wool.  It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that only natural fibers are touching your baby’s skin, especially when it works as a diaper cover too.

They are easy to clean.  Like any wool cover, the nappy pants do not need to be laundered frequently.  You really don’t need to clean them until they start smelling of urine (this can take a while!) or become soiled, as long as you air them out between each use.  If they are soiled in just one area, spot cleaning with a wool wash bar does wonders, and a full laundering can wait until necessary.    Also, since they are so thin, washing them is easy and quick, and they dry faster than most wool covers.

They are perfect for summer time.   These are by far the BEST wool covers for hot summer days that we have found.    In our home, we continue using wool year round, and we don’t usually have any problems with wool being too hot since wool regulates temperature exceptionally well, but our baby lives in his nappy pants during summer.  He runs around at home wearing nothing but a fitted diaper and his nappy pants, and they are truly the most lightweight, breathable, and comfy little wool shorts imaginable.

They aren’t just for cloth- they are great for using over disposable diapers too.   Even if you use disposable diapers, nappy pants are excellent to have on hand.  For nights, disposables are notorious for soaking through, and an excellent way to curb that is by using nappy pants over a disposable.  The nappy pants provide just enough wool to keep your baby dry if the disposable diaper does soak through.  The wool will absorb the moisture before your baby’s clothing does.  They are so trim that neither you nor your baby will notice a difference while wearing them over a regular diaper.

As you can see, we love these little wool shorts!  Have you tried the Engel Nappy Pants on your baby?  If so, we would love to hear about your experience.

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Keep Your Baby Cool in Summertime with Organic Silk

During the heat of the summer, particularly during an exceptionally scorching summer such as this one, new parents often struggle to find appropriate clothing for their newborn baby.  The dilemma is this: how do we find clothing that will keep our babies at a comfortable temperature under the heat of the sun without exposing their delicate skin to the sun’s damaging UV rays?

Silk is one of the best natural fibers for keeping babies comfortable without overheating.  Lightweight, delicate, and incredibly breathable, babies can wear an organic silk top in the heat of the summer and feel cool and comfortable.

Take that same silk garment and make every step of its production sustainable, and you simply cannot go wrong when it comes to selecting fabric to dress your little one.  Certified organic silk is a fabric that is not widely available but that is second to none when it comes to delicate newborn skin.  Organic silk is without doubt, one of nature’s most pure and luxurious gifts to a newborn baby.

Why is silk ideal for babies?  

  • Silk is gentle and soft, making it ideal for sensitive baby skin, soothing  for those with allergies.
  • Silk is absorbent and stays dry.  Silk has the ability to absorb 30% of its weight in moisture while keeping your baby’s skin dry.
  • Organic silk is safe for your baby.  Organic silkworms consume only organic mulberry leaves, making the final product free of any residues of harmful chemicals.
  • Silk has a excellent thermal capacity.  Silk is temperature-regulating, maintaining a consistent body temperature for your baby, so your baby will not overheat or become cold while wearing silk.  Silk is perfect for any time of year!
  • Untreated silk, or ‘raw silk’ has healing properties.   Raw silk has not been degummed, meaning that the natural seracin, or silk gum, has not been removed from the filament.   This type of silk does not have the typical sheen that most people associate with silk, but it is excellent for babies with sensitive skin.  Sericin is said to be healing and anti-inflammatory.
  • Silk is lightweight and breathable.   Silk clothing is not bulky, enabling you to keep your baby warm with fewer layers.  It is ideal either on its own year-round or as a base layer during the cooler months of the year. 
  • Silk is easy to care for.  Most silk garments may be machine washed up to 86 degrees F and dry very quickly since they do not retain moisture. 

What is organic silk?

Conventional silk is available everywhere, and its production dates back thousands of years, but few people are aware of what is actually involved in the production of this luxurious textile.  We hear a lot about organic cotton these days, but what about organic silk?

The reason there is not much talk of organic silk is that it is very rare.  In fact, there is currently only one site for certified organic silk production in the world.  The first and only certified organic silk farm in the world, SABA (Sichuan Alkena Biodynamic Agricultur), is a biodynamic farm that is certified by the IMO (Institute for Marketecology) in every step of the silk’s production, from the raw material to the fabric dyes and labor conditions.

Located in the Sichuan province of southwestern China, this project is unique in many aspects.  In a world of silk production that involves monoculture, dependence on heavy chemicals, and exploitation of poorly paid laborers, the Sichuan Alkena project is truly a gem in the textile industry.

Silk is a direct product of the silkworm, which eats continuously for approximately 30 days before building its cocoon and spinning its silk thread.  As is true with all natural fibers, the quality of the raw material (the silk cocoon, in this case) is directly related to the quality of the end product.   Essentially, the silk worm is made of mulberry leaves.  Therefore, the quality of the diet of the silkworm itself directly affects the quality of the silk fibers.  A silkworm that eats only organic mulberry leaves will produce a much higher quality silk filament that is free of any harmful pesticide residues.

If the feed does contain harmful substances, the silkworm, a highly sensitive organism, will react directly to such substances.  The silkworm will either perish or will not develop properly and will be at risk to many different types of diseases.  Cocoons produced by diseased silkworms are smaller, spotted, thin-walled and yellow in color instead of the healthy, pearl white color of the healthy cocoons.

A healthy silkworm produces a healthy cocoon, which in turn produces healthy, long filaments that may be endlessly unreeled.   This silk is a much higher quality than silk produced from an unhealthy cocoon.  Lower quality silk filaments are dull in color, which results in an uneven knitted silk fabric, often resulting in chemicals being added during the preliminary coloring stages.  As with any textile production, residues of these harmful substances will remain on the final article of clothing.

Photo courtesy of “mynameisharsha” via Flickr Creative Commons

In the organic silk production on the Sichuan Alkena project, the mulberry trees are grown organically and inter-planted with hundreds of other fruit and over 5000 other plant and tree species that provide nesting sites for birds as well as shade and protection from the wind.  The farm is run using biodynamic farming principles.  The biodiversity found on this project creates a harmonious, thriving ecosystem that mimics nature.

Poor labor conditions and low wages are another major concern in the production of conventional silk.  The labor conditions on the Sichuan Alkena farm are excellent.  The workers enjoy safe working conditions,  a casual and relaxed work environment, no child labor, and fair wages.   Sichuan Alkena’s biologically dynamic cultivation of silk improves environmental conditions, overall living conditions, and requires the need for more manual labor, which has a positive effect on the high level of unemployment among the Chinese countryside populations.

All processes in Sichuan Alkena’s organic silk production, including knitting, weaving, dyeing, printing, and sewing are inspected annually by the IMO and meet the GOTS organic production standards.  All dyes used in Alkena’s organic silk is free of heavy metals, toxins, and AOX.

Alkena’s organic baby collection includes beautiful short and long sleeved tops, trousers, rompers, bonnets, and bodysuits.  What better first outfit for a summertime baby than lovely, pure organic silk?

Organic silk apparel for babies is available for purchase at Little Spruce Organics.

Sources: SABA ((Sichuan Alkena Biodynamic Agricultur)

Organic Cloth Diapering: Getting Started

Exciting as it may be, getting started with cloth can be quite overwhelming.  The variety that exists is exhausting.   If you are familiar with our store, you probably already know how selective we are about our offering of cloth diapers.

We feel so strongly about the importance of natural & organic fibers touching your baby’s skin that we have chosen to offer only cloth diapers made from organic, natural fibers.  This eliminates any concern for artificial materials such as polyester will be in close contact with your baby’s skin.

The best part about all of this is that it makes your cloth diapering decisions much, much easier!  Once you cut out all of the choices that include polyester, the number of choices that remain is substantially smaller and not nearly as overwhelming.  Not only that, but the factors such as quality and health for your baby means that any choice is a good choice.   Now it’s just a matter of narrowing it down to what style you like best, how each diaper fits your baby, and your budget.

The beauty of cloth diapers made from natural fibers is that they are extremely absorbent- each diaper, be it a flat, tie nappy, or fitted, is 100% organic cotton and/or hemp, all of which are incredibly absorbent materials.

Organic Cotton Flats, Prefolds, and Tie Nappies

This category is important because not only is it the most simple and traditional method of cloth diapering, but it is also the most affordable.  As long as you don’t mind spending a little time learning the various folds and styles for using these diapers, you will find that they are easy to use and do the job well.

Flats, prefolds, and tie nappies all have one thing in common: they are comprised of one, flat piece of cotton (or other natural fiber).  This piece of fabric can vary in thickness and layers.  It becomes a diaper when folded directly inside of a diaper cover, folded and fastened with a pin or snappy, or tied onto your baby.  These diapers all require a diaper cover to become waterproof.

Flats are gaining popularity these days, and for good reason.  Flats have been around for years but have been overshadowed by new trendy styles of diapers.  As many parents are realizing the benefits of a completely organic cloth diapering solution, flats are making a comeback and have taken their rightful place in the spotlight once again.

There is a multitude of ways to fold a flat, and we will be featuring an article on folding flats on our blog soon!  The benefit of a flat is that it can last from the newborn stage through the toddler stage.  That’s right- one diaper, one size, cost between $3-$7 per diaper, that will have your baby covered for 2 years.   It’s hard to beat.

A flat will need a cover, of course, and our favorite cover to use with a flat is a wool soaker, wool shorts, or a wool wraparound cover.  At night time you can ‘stuff’ a flat with extra doublers, and you can even layer two flats together, fold and stuff them to increase absorbency at night.

Prefolds are similar to flats, but they can have up to eight layers or cotton sewn together with stitching throughout the diaper and around the edge  that creates absorbent pillows within the diaper.  Prefolds, like flats, require a bit of a learning curve to get down all of the folds, but once you’ve got it, it’s a wonderful diapering solution.  Prefolds are typically sized, so you will need to size up as your baby grows.

Tie nappies are a popular concept in Europe and are gaining popularity in the US these days as well.  Tie nappies are a bit more tricky to get on your baby than a flat or prefold, but once you have the hang of it, you can do it with your eyes closed.  Or in the dark, at 4 am, on a squirming toddler.  It can be done!

Tie nappies are wonderful because they require no snappior pin at all (this makes life a lot easier if your snappis have a tendency to run off and hide at that exact moment when you need them).  You simply fold, wrap around your baby, and tie with the cotton strings.  These diapers are as absorbent as you want them to be- to make them more absorbent, you simply stuff them with extra layers, which can be a prefold, a brushed cotton liner, any type of doubler, or combination of any of these.

The cuteness factor of the tie nappy tempts many a mama, and most mamas fall in love all too quickly with the tie nappy.  A favorite in our household, we use tie nappies on our son day and night.

Organic Fitted Diapers

The fitted diaper resembles a disposable diaper more, as it has been sewn into the shape of a diaper, typically featuring gussets around the legs and waist, hidden elastic at the waist, and some type of closure, usually either snaps, Velcro, or nothing at all (requiring the use of pins or snappis).

Many fitted diapers consist of multiple absorbent layers of fabric as well as extra inserts or doublers either sewn or snapped in, giving you the option of adding or removing absorbency as needed.   Fitted diapers are available in various sizes or one-size.    All fitted diapers require a cover to become waterproof.

Both convenience and absorbency are the main benefits of fitted diaper.  Fitted diapers can be quite thick, and since the entire diaper is made from an absorbent, natural fiber, every inch of the diaper will absorb moisture.  Fitted diapers paired with a wool soaker are an excellent night time diapering solution.  

How many cloth diapers to buy?

Generally speaking, you will need around 12-24 cloth diapers (depending on the age of your baby and frequency of changing) and 3-4 wool covers (if you’re planning to use only wool).   A good rule of thumb when you’re just getting started is to purchase a small sampling of various types of diapers so that you can get a good feel for what works best on your baby before investing in an entire stash of just one style of diaper.

Recipes from the Garden: Pasta with Kale Sauce

We planted kale in our garden with no clear culinary objectives.  It found its place in our garden primarily due to the fact that it seemed relatively easy to grow and could potentially withstand the winter.

This gorgeous plant, with its deeply veined, dark green leaves elegantly curving in some misshapen yet entirely perfect way, has proven itself as a staple in out winter kitchen again and again.  We have all fallen in love with kale and are thrilled to discover that there even exists a perennial variety of kale which will take root in our garden permanently, if all goes according to plan.

Kale has surprised us in many ways, but above all we have been amazed with its versatility.  We have tried kale in many ways, from baking it into crispy chips to sautéing it into limp nothingness, taking away all of its glorious raw form.  We have crunched on raw kale in salads and blended kale into green smoothies to mask its strong flavor from certain harder-to-please family members.  And recently, I have discovered the magic that is throwing kale into a blender and making a creamy bright sauce that is delicious over pasta.

As a mother in search of quick yet nutritious meals, this has quickly become my go-to way of preparing kale.  Kale sauce may not sound appetizing, but its depth of flavor, creaminess, and bright green color is enough to convince even the most steadfast doubters of the wonders of kale.

Making sauce out of kale, not unlike making a kale smoothie with various fruits, has given us an easy way to incorporate this green veggie that is loaded with nutrients, into our toddler’s diet.

That being said, he was full of surprises today… (aren’t they always?!) and enthusiastically displayed his new-found love for devouring kale…raw.   Perhaps I don’t need to spend all this time cooking, after all.

Pasta with Kale Sauce (Adapted from this recipe)

Kale Sauce
4 cloves of garlic
4 shallots
1 bunch of kale, stalks removed (I didn’t bother with removing the stalks)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup (2 oz)  goat cheese (feta or ricotta are delicious substitutes)
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
¼ cup sliced almonds (optional)
Salt & pepper, to taste
1 lb dried pasta (any smallish type of pasta works well)
¼ cup of pasta water, reserved

The original recipe suggests to blanch the shallots, garlic, and kale before making the sauce, but when I make a pureed sauce, I am a big proponent of throwing everything into the blender raw (this will work if you have a powerful enough blender or food processor).  I love the strong bite of raw garlic and prefer to preserve the nutritional value of all ingredients whenever possible.  If you choose to blanch the veggies, just boil and generously salt the water you will use to cook your pasta and drop them in for a minute or two before cooking the pasta (I love this method of blanching kale- so simple!).

Prepare your pasta according to the package directions, reserving some pasta water.  Combine the garlic, shallots, kale, cheese, olive oil, and almonds, if using,  in your blender or food processor and puree.  Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.  Add pasta water as needed to create the desired consistency.

Combine sauce with cooked pasta in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add pasta water in small amounts as needed to help the sauce become more ‘saucy’ and adhere to the pasta.  Serve topped with slivered almonds, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with goat or feta cheese.

A Homemade Learning Tower to Nurture the Senses

The kitchen for me has always been the most important room of every home in which I have resided.  The center of so many activities, it embodies warmth, love, nourishment, and now, for my son, a place for learning.

We stand together in the kitchen, side by side.  I carefully chop onions while he “chops” cloves of garlic with his wooden spoon and cutting board.   We assemble the dish together.   He pours the ingredients into the bowl.  He mixes.  He improvises.  He adds a little salt here and there, perhaps where salt didn’t really belong.  But that doesn’t matter.

He dances with joy when he sees what we have created.  I no longer feel the need to explain to him every step of what I’m doing, filling the silence with meaningless words as he tugs at my leg from below, desperately curious to understand the mystery that takes place above him at the kitchen counter.  Now we experience this magic together, in the silence, and our experience is shared.

This type of experience has become routine for my inquisitive toddler and me, and the one component that has made this possible is a simple, homemade structure that now stands in our kitchen.  This is what is known as a “learning tower,” very appropriately named.

Every parent becomes well aware during the early years of their children’s lives that young children learn a great deal through imitation.  As a parent, it is truly incredible to experience this phenomenon on a daily basis.

There is simply no better way for your curious toddler to learn than by observing you and helping you with your daily activities, especially when it comes to chores around the house and preparing food in the kitchen.

This wooden tower has created an environment that nurture his every sense.  He watches, tastes, listens, smells, touches, mimics, and explores.

A few minutes spent observing a child in this setting undoubtedly proves that this experience is so much more valuable than plopping a child in front of a lifeless TV screen while you prepare dinner.

Rather than finding another activity to keep your child busy, finding a way to involve your child in household chores is incredibly rewarding for both parent and child.  This is one of the most essential and powerful tools in a child’s development, and it is truly the easiest form of involvement and ‘education’ he can have at this stage in his life.

We are peacefully engaged in these activities together.   I do, he observes, he mimics, and we do together what must be done.

I will confess, preparing dinner takes a little longer this way.  But since he and I are engaged in dinner preparation together, I don’t consider it time wasted.  In fact, this is some of the most cherished and valuable time we have together each day.

A Passive Solar Greenhouse Breathes Life into the Winter Garden

The garden in the quiet of winter is a still and silent place, but its beauty is unfading.  The only discernible sound is the snow crunching underneath your boots and twigs snapping as they brush past you.  Tips of sage leaves and onion shoots hardly peek through layers of snow, only to find themselves buried once again by the fresh dust that falls from the grey sky above.  A squirrel nibbles on remnants unearthed from an aging compost pile.  The garden appears void of life, but its inhabitants sleep quietly underneath blankets of snow, preparing to emerge with new vigor as the season of spring approaches.

A quiet winter stroll down a frost-laden path takes you past tangles of dormant rose beds, twisting branches whose buds have yet to appear.  A simple greenhouse constructed from salvaged wood, metal scraps, and recycled window panes greets you.  Its shabby appearance is hardly inviting, but you sense a feeling of warmth from  within.

Upon prying open a frozen door, you are hit with a rush of warm, humid air, and you find yourself immersed in beds of spicy salad greens, herbs, and mouthwatering tomatoes that hang about from crawling vines.   The warmth of this tiny indoor ecosystem envelopes you, and you slowly breathe in the sweet, earthy aroma of so much life contained within such a small space, with nothing but winter on the other side of the glass.   Invigorating and inviting, this beauty and peacefulness can be achieved with less effort than one might imagine.

This is our vision.  And it no longer seems so unattainable, now that our groundwork is in place.    Construction of our greenhouse is complete… now we need to add a little more love to bring it to life.

The design

We are proud to have constructed this compact little greenhouse, which requires no supplemental heat source other than the sun, from nearly entirely salvaged materials.  The greenhouse measures only 10’ x 12’.

A solid concrete foundation with a depth of 3 feet is further insulated by sheets of insulation under the ground and thick insulation built into the north-facing wall.  Garden beds are built directly into the floor of the greenhouse, keeping the original landscape intact, and with the objective of keeping the ground unfrozen throughout the winter months and providing the most natural habitat possible for the plants.  The floor of the greenhouse is pure soil; this helps maintain the proper growing temperature to simulate outdoor growing conditions.

A strong wood frame built from scrap wood, old windows that were picked up for free from the side of the road, and an old door that was destined for the dumpster form the structural components of the greenhouse.   Ten 55-gallon steel drums, also salvaged, are now filled to the brim with water that is heated by the sun and maintains a consistent temperature- this stored water is the thermal mass that both heats and cools the greenhouse, making the greenhouse self-regulating despite the ever-fluctuating temperatures we experience in Colorado.  The steel drums sit atop a large concrete slab that supports the back wall.   The entire back wall of the greenhouse is insulated with thick insulation, and its many layers keep those little plants toasty on even the coldest of nights.

A thriving worm farm makes its home inside the greenhouse during the winter, and the glorious vemi-compost these worms produce becomes an essential element of our soil when the gardening season begins.

Why it works:

  • Optimum amount of stored water (thermal mass)
  • Colorado’s 300+ days of intense sun
  • Thermal insulation built into back (north-facing) wall & roof
  • Compact design and south-facing windows
  • Plants are planted directly in beds built into floor of greenhouse (directly in soil)
  • Hinged windows provide ventilation when the sunlight is too strong

Dreams of a greenhouse that would produce food year round have finally fallen into place, and we gaze upon this lovely structure that was built with so much love.  We have big plans for this humble little building, and we eagerly anticipate its great potential, knowing that we have taken one step in the right direction toward the more sustainable lifestyle that we yearn for.

This greenhouse has breathed a new kind of life into our winter backyard garden  that we never thought possible.

Using Wool Full Time & Choosing the Right Wool Cover for Your Baby

Many cloth diapering parents are aware that it is possible to cover their baby’s cloth diaper with a wool cover, but few realize that it is possible to use wool both full-time and exclusively.

When we first discovered wool in our home, we had no intention of using it full-time.  Up until that time, we had been unable to find a diaper that would keep our baby dry at night, so we invested in a wool soaker, thinking we would use it for nights only.  The soaker worked so well that we purchased several other wool covers shortly afterward, and we quickly found ourselves so enamored with wool that we replaced all of our baby’s polyester covers with wool.  I cannot remember the last time I used a polyester cover, and the truth is, wool works so incredibly well that I don’t miss those old polyester covers- not even one bit.  And my guess is that our son doesn’t miss them either.

How many wool covers will I need to use wool full-time?

The exact amount of covers you will need will again depend on your budget, but the beauty of wool is that you can easily get by with very few covers.  Continue reading