BRISTOL - Lindsey Rivers stood in front of the sixth-graders at Greene-Hills K-8 School, with a rosemary plant, lemons, and a bottle of white vinegar and announced “today, we’re going to be making all natural cleaner.”
“Over the summertime we built a garden out front and we planted some herbs in that garden,” she told Dawn Killiany’s science class. “Most people think of herbs as something to eat, but you can also make cleaner out of them.”
An analyst with the Public Works Department, Rivers has been instrumental in getting community gardens built at a number of Bristol schools.
Rivers explained that she keeps chickens at home. To keep their coop clean so she started growing rosemary and learned to use it to make a cleaner that wouldn’t harm them.
“It gets everything all nice and clean,” she said. “So, all of this stuff you can eat. Rosemary, lemons, vinegar are in food. Say it got on your hands and you put your hands in your mouth, it’s not going to be harmful.”
She led the students out to the garden Thursday to snip some of the rosemary growing there, with the help of Janet Letourneau, Public Works senior administrator, and Sarah Larson, Parks and Recreation community outreach coordinator. Rivers also brought a rosemary plant with her so there would be enough for all four of Killiany’s classes that day.
Back in the classroom, they designated one student group to handle each ingredient. Those handling the acidic lemons or vinegar wore goggles and rubber gloves.
Larson went over how relatively acidic lemons and vinegar are on the PH scale. They’re not acidic enough to hurt you, she said, “but that’s why you’re wearing gloves to make sure you don’t have a reaction, because every skin type is different.”
“The acids eat away at dirt and bacteria,” she said. “Most bacteria in our natural environment focuses around neutral PH, which is why we can use soaps to kill bacteria. Soaps are basic and disrupt the natural PH of the bacteria. That’s also why we can use things like lemon and vinegar, because they’re also disrupt the natural PH.”
They guided the students in preparing the ingredients and mixing them together in a one gallon blue bucket.
“Now you’ve got to give it a quick stir every day for two weeks, so it all ferments together,” Rivers said. “After two weeks you’re going to be pouring it into spray bottles and you can use it to clean up when you’re ready. I’ve made a six-month supply at home and it stays good. It smells good too, because you can’t even smell the vinegar anymore.”
Even the maintenance staff at the school uses all natural cleaners now, she said. “So I thought this is perfect. Let’s plant rosemary and get the kids involved in making it themselves.”
At the end, the students also got bright green reusable bags, courtesy of Public Works. Rivers said she plans on running the same classroom project at Stafford and Ivy Drive elementary schools.
Student Annalyse White said even though she didn’t like the white vinegar smell, she said she would be interested in trying to make the cleaner at home.
“I love this project a lot, because it’s super fun, and it’s like a new experience for me,” said Nevaeh Monbesir.
“In the future I could try and make it again for my family, because my aunt has her own cleaning business, and I’m thinking that now I could help her with making this to clean stains better,” she said.
The recipe for the natural cleaner is:
4 cups distilled white vinegar.
5 lemon peels, yellow rind and white pith only, not the inside flesh.
1 large sprig of fresh rosemary or thyme.
1 spray bottle.
1 gallon bucket.
1 stir stick.
1. Add the lemon peels and rosemary or thyme to the bucket. Pour the vinegar over the lemon peels and herbs, making sure they are covered and submerged. Cover with a lid and let sit on the counter, out of direct sunlight, for two weeks, stirring once a day.
2. After the two weeks, strain the mixture through a funnel into the spray bottle. Use as needed.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or email@example.com.