Cut sponge "paintbrush" in action

DIY – Dying Easter Eggs Last Minute from Scratch

I never made it to Target this week to buy egg dye.

Every Easter as a kid, mom and I would be dying our brown eggs from our chickens with the Paas and she would say that, in a pinch, food coloring with water and vinegar would get the job done.

I’m in a pinch.

Thursday I found a nice round-up of dies from kitchen staples. DYI dye is the new black.

Seems adding two tablespoons white vinegar to just about anything will turn it into dye.

I could not fathom using good blueberries (fresh or frozen) for dye so I sent a note a few neighbors asking if anyone had old frozen blueberry dregs. A quarter bag turned up – perfect.

I rummaged through the fridge and pulled out remnants of late-summer pickled purple slaw and quick-pickled beets from last fall – both perfect for egg dying.

I mixed up some turmeric (using half for eggs is a good excuse to replace it in a few months so to keep it fresh).

I dumped our espresso grounds into some hot water and added vinegar.

I poured a cup of cranberry juice and added vinegar.

I squirted green food coloring into about a cup of water. Added vinegar.

We dyed brown eggs.

Dyed brown eggs look like old Polaroids. To drive his point home, I gathered all my Hipstamatic shots from this morning to make this all even more washed out. If Hipstamatic drives you nuts, you can experience our egg dying morning here without any photo effects.

If you want cute pastels – use white eggs. Period.

If you just want to dye eggs, use whatever eggs you prefer.

Some Notes for Dying with Toddlers:

1. They aren’t good at waiting. It isn’t fun. Watching eggs sit in dye isn’t fun. Dying eggs is fun.

2. Make it active by adding paint brushes, small cut up rags or sponges cut into small pieces. (How small? If your kid puts everything in their mouth, don’t cut them down to choking size. Duplo block size is great.) Have enough “brushes” so each dye can have a few of its own to reduce (or at least delay) crossing the colors.

3. You just made dye, which is basically watery paint, or watercolors. Gather some scrap cardboard, cut into single smallish pieces (cereal boxes, internet shopping boxes, shoe boxes) or brown paper and “paint” a few pictures while eggs sit in dye. We made “Easter cards.”

4. Keep it moving. Everything should be within your reach but doesn’t need to be within toddler reach. Eggs that are done dying get whisked away from the dye to dry. You can always bring some eggs back for a second dip (or third or fourth).

5. A toddler holding something is happy. Those cut up sponges are wildly satisfying – let them squish and play. A few crayons are great. The toddler(s) can color with crayons on an egg while you move a few things along (or eggs steep). The dye doesn’t stick to the crayon wax so it’s added decoration (and good for busy hands).

6. If you like things orderly, let them manage one or two dyes at a time by placing them close and the others just out of reach. Give them a task with the dye at hand, “Keep painting it! Looking good! Roll it around in the dye!” Take advantage of a toddler’s infinite capacity to repeat an action.

7. Wear old clothes – you and the kids. A smock will be useless against homemade egg dye. I wore old painting jeans and showed Bunny how it was OK to get dye on them. She wore old hand-me-downs.

9. Do it outside if possible.

10. You are doing this with a toddler/preschooler – it does not matter if the eggs come out a mess. They will love it and the Easter Bunny will still hide them.

What Worked/Failed for Dying Brown Eggs:

1. Blueberries!!! The blueberries were a frozen block when I thudded them into the saucepan. I probably had 1.5 – 2 cups and I added about a cup of water. I heated it to melt the frozen block them simmered for a bit. I “strained” it lazily with a wooden spatula then added the vinegar. This was THE most fun dye, really inky and effective. It dyed purpleish. (Elderberries would have been pure inky magic but I couldn’t imagine parting with my frozen ones for egg dye.)

2. Juice from old pickled red cabbage and juice from pickled beets – worked well. Pinkish.

3. Green food coloring – ace.

4. Turmeric. I mixed 2 TBS to 1 cup boiling water and made brilliant yellow muddy paint. It was super fun but didn’t really tint the brown eggs. I have no idea why it wasn’t very effective. It was worth doing just for the fun use of it.

5. Spent espresso grounds added to hot water and vinegar- lame. I was too hurried to brew super strong coffee and add vinegar.

6. Cran-Apple juice with added vinegar – lame. Grape juice would have worked great.

I loved this whole thing. It was super hands-on, it was perfectly messy outside and it pretty much just cost me the eggs since I scavenged the dye makings.You can even make the dyes a few days ahead.

Oh, wait, you can’t. Tomorrow’s Easter!

Even if you just make food coloring dye, it’s fun and you can make more when it gets knocked over.

Post-publishing Additional Notes on DIY  Dying BrownEggs:

If you don’t have time to mess around, have never made your own dye and want eggs that look dyed and not just different shades of brown, then skip the make-it-yourself yellows, oranges and browns.  Head straight for making blues, purples, greens, reds and pinks. 

It’s not that brown eggs won’t take yellow, orange or brown dye (they do!), it’s just they’re kind of already that color.  If you try red, purple, blue, green, pink and your dye isn’t very effective, it will still give some color to those brown eggs and your efforts won’t be all for not.

For serious ideas on really going for gold on egg dying, the Kitchn kills it and she’s included in Apartment Therapy’s rounds up with an additional four to dye for.  Naturally.

The Genesis Story

The first seed catalog to grace our kitchen table.

My first seed catalog experience wasn’t that long ago.  The summer of 2010 found me with a child turning one, a shrinking budget and time on my hands.  Not much time, but re-learning how to accomplish daily tasks as a newly minted mother made it seem I was gaining time back from the showerless, piled-high laundry days of newborn and infant-raising.

I loved the CSA I picked up weekly from Gregg Keckler with Orchard Country Produce.  For the first time in my life I let absolutely no vegetables go to waste since I imagined them to be carefully selected for the CSA subscribers.  Whether I got caught up in childhood memories of growing up in the woods, or figured I could save money by growing my own kale and carrots, I found Southern Exposure Seed Exchange from nearby Virginia and requested a mini-catalog.

All of my wildest gardening fantasies were contained in those pages.  I felt to do this justice I should be sitting at a huge wooden farm table, hand-hewn by ancestors who had left behind the humid summers along the lower Potomac and settled along a stream looking down into a pastoral Appalachian valley.  Lacking this, I put the baby to bed, propped open the back door overlooking our shabby shared back yard and sat at our second-hand Ikea table in our 100 year old two-bedroom apartment.

These bare pages seem timeless.

Being the mini-catalog, there were only a few plant drawings and no tempting “This is the best producing tomato variety we’ve grown!” descriptions.  My engineering days meant, of course, that I already compiled a list of container friendly, locally proven vegetables with which I could maximize space through companion planting.  I mulled over this mini-catalog seeking maximum bounty.

My decoder ring.

I made my selections, ordered online and carefully noted by when I should plant the seeds.  I bought a few pots, scavenged a few and scored the rest on late-season clearance.  My year working part-time at a local garden shop, paired with wild success growing five or six herbs from transplants for two seasons, gave me confidence to spare.

I carefully sewed these dreamy little cabbage and kale seeds into discount peat pots and set them on our bathroom window sill to sprout.  Outside I sewed carrots, spinach, cilantro and dill in the late-summer DC heat.

I tended, I watered, I watched.

And I watched.

I watched the autumn-crazed squirrels dig and destroy, day after day, my window box of carrots.  I replanted them every evening, hoping the furry thugs would move on.  I watched the cabbage worms I had to consult GardenWeb to identify, then consult to treat, devour entire young cabbage plants in the 23 hours since I had checked them last.

I watched the southward-creeping sun tuck further and further behind our neighbor’s house such that, by mid-October, our sunny back stairs that housed the majority of my newest infatuation lay in the shadows, leaving my bush beans and all their companions to sulk in the dark.  I watched the aphids cover my kale so entirely that growth seemed stunted completely.

My original herbs thrived while everything I planted from seed fell victim to one calamity or another.

I harvested four pods of green beans.

This flat of goodies became an incredibly bountiful 2011 back yard mostly-container garden.

Spring of 2011 brought luck on the heels of its warm weather – I won a $25 gift certificate to Old City Green where I kicked in an extra $10 and came home with a fantasy gardening flat sampling every herb they had, a few strawberry plants and three tomatoes.

My herbs and tomatoes were so bountiful that I harvested them fresh for friends and family all summer, dried the last them as gifts for the holidays and vowed to try my hand again at vegetables come spring.

These little guys are part of an ambitious 2012 lineup of veggies, herbs and flowers.

My 2012 Southern Exposure Seed Exchange order shipped today.

Are you starting seeds?  Have you sworn never to again?  Are you going straight for transplants from the garden center?  Do you have any new varieties planned for this year?