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Suburbia Take 2

Having lived in suburbia for the past year I have a few more things to add onto my original post. Plus a link-fest of relevant sites. I redid my house’s ‘walkability‘ and scored 46 compared to last year’s 55, even though I live in the exact same house (strange).

Anyone who has been to this site would know that I managed to start my own garden. It was only small, watered entirely with greywater from my showers, and it produced (is still producing) lots of booty. [disclosure: It did get watered occasionally on town water via a drip system that was turned on sometimes on watering days, but that only reached a couple of spots and the garden certainly did not rely on it.]
In doing this I did not use even close to all my shower-water, or even a quarter of it. I shower for less time than the save-water timers, however I guess my shower-head is probably putting out easily 15-20L/minute. What I am trying to say is that I could have watered a lot more veggies than what I did.

My resolve to do things that I believe in, like gardening, has recently extended to bike-riding. The station that previously I could walk to in 20 minutes is now a 5 minute bike-ride away. This also increases what I can take with me on a journey cos I have a fabulous bike-basket on the back. The other day I also connected lights which means I can ride home in the dark, this makes it a little safer for me to catch the train home late at night. I feel much safer speeding away from the station on my bike than walking away weighed down by stuff.
I’ve also found that church is within riding distance, as are some family member’s houses and many many shops. This is not only making me healthier but cutting down on my car use which not only saves money, but the earth.

Talking about saving the earth, I went to the Sustainable Living Festival (highly recommended), and Cecilia told me that to have a worm-farm is to save the world. After a little bit of thought I totally agree (although obviously not as the only thing one does). Worm farms can be made by anyone, anywhere – even if all one has is a balcony – and thus those in the suburbs have no excuse. However wormfarm costs seem to be generally in excess of $100 (after a quick google), the solution to this is to make your own. Most DIY worm-farms recommend using polystyrene, but I just can’t condone that, so I found one that also recycles old stuff. Now cynics (like young Joanne) claim that worm farms are so hard to maintain that even my Mum (aka gardensuperwoman) killed worms in her younger days, but she had younger kids in those days and rather than persevere she gave up. Cecilia says that everyone kills their worms every now and then, apparently they all die once they hit 30*C. Some tips for preventing that are to keep them in the shade on those killer hot days, and also to put a wet towel over the contraption. So, given the fragile vitality of a worm, my solution to not having to go out and buy worms everytime the weather hits 35*C in Melbourne (lots – here is a few tips on how to survive those days), is that people can share (a novel concept I know)! Worms take about 6 weeks to get to full capacity, so after that one can give half ones worms to someone who has lost theirs for whatever reason.
Related to worm-farms is composting. I recently made my mother’s sister a compost bin (a cardboard box weighed down with bricks after the first one blew away – whoops). I also wrote her up a list of what can and can’t go into the compost (for a good website – check this out). However I would say the basic rule is any raw chopped up veggies (bar onions – which apparently kill worms, or so I’ve heard… can anyone confirm or deny this?). Joanne and I disagree on a lot of compost points – I chop things up so they break down easier, Joanne doesn’t bother; I put seeds in (so they GROW without me doing anything), Joanne does not (she says they make stuff grow in the compost).
However look out! Some people are not very forward-thinking, and don’t think composting is necessary. Scary.

Talking about growing seeds, Corrente has a pretty intense series on growing seeds, this book by Nancy Bubel seems to come highly recommended from a number of sources. Still on the topic of seeds, leftover sunflower heads can be used as a cheap bird feeder.

Moving up from seeds, there is the food side of things. I have read a couple of things about urban foraging, and if anyone knows anything about what can be urbanly foraged in Melbourne I would be very interested. The Vic Market website has a great list of seasonal veggies (with pictures!), that I intend to make good use of, especially when I move out of home, and when you buy too many fresh veggies, you can read all about how to freeze them here. In my own life I made Nectarine Jam using about 10 Nectarines (and one peach) that were starting to go mouldy, I cut those parts off, and it turned out really well :).

Now, if one is to freeze all this excess produce that we have grown and bought, we are going to need electricity to power the freezer. At 15metres tall, these are probably not appropriate (or within the budget) for most people, however I know people (okay, my boyfriend) who can make a homemade windmill that works and everything. My father has suggested that the fact that batteries and the like still need to be used is problematic as that is not truly sustainable, but still, while we are doing the ‘use energy’ thing, wind power is so much better than coal (especially dirty coal).
Homegrown Evolution featured a bike-powered washing machine. Which takes away the need for a battery to store charges or a grid to feed into.

And of course, the wine cellar to end all wine cellars, one that doesn’t take up too much room as well. I would love one of those now, and I would have loved a cubby-hole like that as a kid! Something a little easier to create yourself is this handy little stool, this will help reach those high up jam-jars and other preserves that I have not yet worked out how to make.

This flowchart/brainstorm lists a bunch of good ideas that are worth researching and implementing.

And to finish up, if anyone is interested in reading more on the suburbs, this series by The Oil Drum is worth looking at.

Gah! I totally forgot to add the link that inspired me to write this post. Amazing to see good stuff come out of a tragic situation, it makes me want to move to the US and buy a $100 house.

Balcony Gardening

This post is just a type-out of my notes taken in the talk on, you guessed it, balcony gardening. The talk was given by Cecilia of Balcony Garden Dreaming at the Sustainable Living Festival.

Balcony Gardening – a self sustaining eco system created by you.

– Somewhere to sit
– Not many weeds
– Pot plants can be arranged
– Have to be fed all the nutrients they need
– Pollution may affect food-growing ability
– Don’t think of it as work
– Balcony gardens are contagious
– Have to take the time
– Bucket shower water
– A way to connect to people
– Your balcony garden will be a reflection of you
– A drawn design beforehand can become a reality
– Strawberries are a good plant
– Keep water with your plants
– that way when you notice they need watering you can do it right away
– Citrus
– Put old rugs or off-cuts of wood on the floor to make it a more pleasant space
– If your garden is special or themed you will have more energy and passion to maintain it
– Grow a garden in jars – alfalfa, lentils, mungbeans
– Grow normal plants before moving onto food
– this shows you it is possible and is less pressuring than growing food
– Have self-watering pots
– You can’t grown plants in dead soil
– You get to make your own soil
– Have a worm farm – save the world
– worm population takes about 6 weeks to get to full capacity
– Cut scraps for worm farm or compost small
– Tomatoes
– Chillies
– Chives
– Rocket
– Passionfruit
– Figs
– Citrus
– Not thin-leaved plants (like raspberries)
– East specific:
– Lettuce
– Herbs
– Green things
– Flowers
– West specific:
– Think about a water-garden
– Make sure your balcony can hold the weight of the garden
– There has to be some shade
– grapevines or other deciduous vines are good for this
– Big, deep containers are good for food
– Terracotta pots breathe but also sap water from the soil
– A long trough can hold multiple plants
– check that the plants won’t compete for nutrients and water in the soil
– Wrap ugly pots in hessian
– A small table for eating and other activities
– Funky homemade clotheshorse
– Google ‘heritage edible’ plants
– Schedule in dates to do things (ie. Go buy pots and plants)
– this increases the chance of the gardening happening

Sustainable Living Festival

This weekend I went to the Sustainable Living Festival in Federation Square. There were lots and lots of stall holders including organic food, ideas for house and garden as well as lots of fairtrade and organic clothing and other stuff. There was also lots of great talks, although I only made it to a few of them.
In an attempt to not take a million brochures (and thus trees) I tried to refuse brochures from people instead taking down their web addresses. Thus follows a list of links I wrote down.
By the by I have some photos and a few posts to make on my garden, it is still there despite the heat, things have just piled up lately and the blog goes to the bottom of the pile.

Permaculture Melbourne
I didn’t actually make it into this stall as it was always crowded out, but as permaculture is a great idea I wrote down their site. They have ways for people from different areas to get involved which looks great.

The Victoria Naturally Alliance
A woman accosted me as I was walking along finishing up writing the last address down and rather than take a brochure I said I would write the address down. I think they are involved in saving forests and the like. However I am not much of a joiner so I didn’t look closely.

Oases Graduate School
I doubt I would ever do my grad dip, but these guys have a really holistic program rather than focussing on one aspect of a healthy society in isolation they look at all aspects. If I were to do a grad dip (let’s get through a BA first), then this looked good from the stall.

Very Edible Gardens
These edible garden people are awesome. They sell garden beds, some of them are raised, so it is like working at a work bench, rather than crawling along the ground, which I think is a great way of making gardening more accessible to more people. On top of that they have a deal where you pay and they set up a garden and will come and look after it for you. Basically they do all the work and you get a killer veggie patch. The reason I like this is because people who are busy or don’t want to put in the work can still see how awesome it is, and maybe even take over looking after the garden themselves after a while. 🙂

Resource Smart
This is a government website that was listed up in the Design Tent. I wrote it down because I figured it would have some good tips. I notice one of their tips is to go to the festival, so I must be doing something right!

Alternative Technology Association
The ATA people put on a great talk on what renters can do to be more sustainable, a lot was stuff I knew, some was stuff I can’t do where I’m living, but lots was good tips for now and in the future. They also gave out a book on how to save water which I am reading through, it has some great ideas.

Lanfax Laboratories
The ATA talk quoted some stats from this site. I believe they have statistics on good laundry powder to use and the like.

Permablitz: An informal gathering involving a day on which a group of at least two people come together to achieve the following:
* create or add to edible gardens where someone lives
* share skills related to permaculture and sustainable living
* build community networks
* have fun
Why wouldn’t anyone want to be involved in that?

Balcony Garden Dreaming
This woman was so beautiful and passionate about balcony gardens. I took down lots of notes and tips from her which may become the basis for another post.

This I did not need to write down as I saw it everywhere and remembered it. It seems to be more of a search engine for sustainable-type stuff.

My Garden Day 66

Wow. So the whole thing went crazy while I wasn’t really looking! Over the weekend Opa attempted to pin up some of my tomatoes, but they are just crazy. Today I found a couple of other loose strands so I put some more stakes in and tied them up. I also put some stakes next to the taller type of chilli, cos they look like they are getting to the stage where they will start to fall over in a stiff breeze or if they put out another leaf.
Over the weekend I was at Mum and Dad’s house and I am SO jealous of Mum’s veggies. She just has stuff growing all over the place. I was a bit worried when I saw how crazy her oregano is, but she said if I just cut mine back, it won’t go all wild. As soon as I got home I cut back a few of the more adventurous shoots so that they stay little.
My chillis are black in the joins where other shoots as well as the flowers are coming out, hopefully that is not a problem. I tried to take a pic but it focussed incorrectly. Nothing seems to be dying, so hopefully it will be alright.
Actually, talking about dying, anything under the tomatoes spread is looking very unhappy!! 😦 But I think it is just two marigolds, one chilli (which is hanging on okay), some carrots and leeks. But there are more of all of them in other places, so I am not fussed.

Pics are on facebook

Useful Information

I have discovered the best source of knowledge for the future. People over the age of… well I don’t know the exact age, but my Oma (who I refer to as Joanne) is 70 and she qualifies.

Last night around the dinner table I asked how you can keep growing parsley and other herbs, because she was saying the coriander went to seed and she had to pull the whole plant out. So I wondered, when transports stops being widely available, the possibility exists of nurseries not keeping seedlings for us to conveniently go and buy a new coriander or parsley plant. So how does one propagate that plant. The answer for parsley is that when it goes to seed, then seeds grow (no way!) and you can collect them and then grow then, but you would need a bit of a glasshouse. She also reckoned that if you just leave the parsley to go to seed then the seed fall on the ground and grow into new plants.
That being said, she has a parsley plant that has been going strongly for 3 or so years because she keeps trimming it back. So I figure you need two sets of plants, the ones you are growing for seeds, and the ones you are growing to eat. Because we also talked about carrots, and how Joanne planted carrots from seed as a kid (although mum said that is the best way when she was over the other day). We guessed that if you leave your carrots to grow long enough then the stalks must produce seeds. Again, you would need to have digging-up carrots, and seed-growing carrots.
Probably all this information could have been read on the internet or from a younger gardener. But I like it when information comes from a person.

Then this morning we were talking about showers and she told me how when she was a kid they used to have a bath once a week, cos the bath water had to be heated up using a bath-heater.. Then when she was about 12 her mother told her she would have to start having showers everyday, so she used to go out and chop kindling with a little tomahawk (eat your heart out Lenore) and heat up enough water for her shower. That amazed me, because I forget (or don’t realise) how she lived in a time before many of the amenities that we have today, especially as she grew up in the country.
Okay, I just asked my Opa if he had to heat the water for his bath, and he drew me a picture of what they used as a bath/shower heater.
What he explained to me doesn’t involve wood, but gas and, of course, water. He says the gas couldn’t be turned on without turning on the water. and that it heated the water up then there was a tap that meant you could either fill up the bath, or direct the water up to the shower-head. I guess there isn’t too much choice about how hot you have your water.

I hope to continue learning valuable information out of them for the future. I thought it would be good to catalogue it here, otherwise I will forget.

Gas Bath Heater

Question: Does anyone besides me read my blog? I am interested to know as mostly it is more for me than for others, but yeah. Let me know 🙂

My Garden Day 36

So it has been more than a month and there is some definite growth happening.
Yesterday I got around to doing a bunch of things that needed to happen. I weeded both halves, and finally mulched the second half. I also put dirt around the leeks again, and mulched around them. I was out there today to water the tomatoes in the morning and the leeks almost could do with more dirt again today, but I will leave them a bit.
I also redid some of the mulch on the first half, cos it had become a bit sparse. As well as mulching around the carrots on the first half. So all that took a while because on both halves I had to work around the existing plants.
Then my parentals arrived and so I gave them a bit of a tour and mum showed me how to break off the bottom sprout on the tomatoes, cos it wouldn’t produce fruit. I think she gave it a name but I forgot it.
I really need to tie my tomatoes to the stakes that are there, the problem is there are 6 plants, some with two main sprouts that would need tying and I only have 6 stakes. Hopefully it will be alright though. I would love to have a big garden and be able to stake them using concrete reinforcing wire, but I think I have said that before…

Pics can be found here.

My Garden Day 19

So I invited my second cousin Mitchell to come and plant some carrots in my garden. This morning I woke up bright and early and drove to the nursery to buy some plants for us to plant. I got to the nursery before 9am, the signs were all out and the gates were open, but when I went in there there was two guys shovelling dirt out the front but no one inside, or out the back where all the plants are. I figured someone would apprehend me if there was a problem, so I chose some plants and went to the counter – but no one appeared. So I went and got one of the digging guys who found the manager (he had been in the office), he was really flustered, but we managed to complete the transaction.

I came home with: one yellow daisy, which hopefully will grow slowly otherwise it will take over; two punnets of carrots, like with the leeks I overcatered and should only have bought one punnet; and a pretty plant called hypoestes.

Joanne groaned when she saw I had bought more carrots, but the fact of the matter is her carrots are TINY and you could grow a million of them and still not have too many. So I think that is okay to have more carrots, plus, I wanted something that could grow up in the shape of an ‘M’ for Mitchell, and not taste gross like radishes.

Once Jenelle, Mitch and Shaun arrived Mitch invited me to come up to my garden and plant plants. So off we went. Unsurprisingly he had a fairly short attention span (he is 3), but he helped write the ‘M’, planted a few carrots, chose the spot for the daisy and helped plant it. After we had planted half the ‘M’ he got bored, so we went inside to wash our hand and play trains.

Later after they left I planted everything else, I had some trouble with the carrots as I didn’t want my whole garden full of only carrots. So I finished off the border on my first half, so now it is half leeks, half carrots, I also planted another clump in my second half and planted some where we pulled some out of Joanne’s side.

I also clumped dirt around the base of all my leeks, cos apparently you are supposed to do that. I haven’t done it so far, so I’m not sure how that will effect my poor leeks.
What else? Lots of watering and yeah, I tried to put some photos up on facebook, but facebook wasn’t cooperating, so there are only a couple, I hope to add some more when it decides to play ball.

My Garden Day 14

This is just a quick post to say that I finally planted that extra oregano that I bought with my original seedlings. The poor stuff was almost bursting the punnet, I actually had a lot of trouble pulling the plants apart because the root systems had grown so much. Fortunately I grew up watching Peter Cundall every friday night (I can smell fish and chips just thinking about it) and so I knew that I needed to tease the roots out (not be afraid to be rough with them) otherwise they wouldn’t grow down into the ground.
So I planted the oregano, which isn’t all that noteworthy except that it was kinda too hot to do it this afternoon (I didn’t want them to cook straight up), and so I had to do it when I got home from work, ie, after midnight. So I filled my watering can with leftover water and with my phone-torch in my mouth set about my business.
You can see in the below photos that the plants are all higgledy. This is not because it was dark, as you can see from the other side, I don’t like one thing to be all together, and so I tried to leave room inbetween for other types of plant. However the photos are a bit crooked cos it was dark and I couldn’t see what the shot was until after I took it.
Planting in the dark was good practice for if I ever decide to become a guerrilla gardener. 🙂 I think it would be easier if there were two people, and then one could hold the torch (flashlight). Holding it in my mouth wasn’t ideal.

A somewhat skewiff version of both sides – as you can see I have just watered. I will water it again tomorrow morning, and hopefully put some mulch down, in the morning if I have time, otherwise after church.

You can see my loverly higgledy-piggledy oregano here 🙂

This was an attempt to show the plant and the label, it took a number of goes and I thought this was probably the best one – you can’t really read the label at this low-res.

My Garden Day 9

I took a few pics this afternoon and then I went and watered the garden with some greywater.
Opa was digging up a garden bed that is next to the driveway because the driveway people are coming early tomorrow morning, around 7.45am. So after he took the plants out I started to dig some of the dirt up, I didn’t get very far along when I stopped, cos I thought I was just getting all weeds, plus the watering system was all in my way.
Later on I came out and Opa had removed the watering system and dug up a whole lot of dirt. We dumped it into the bed and mixed it over with the other dirt. There was too much in there, so we raked through it picking out the roots that had come through from the other garden. Then we shovelled some of the extra dirt out and sifted through the rest. I put some blood and bone in as well as some other stuff that Joanne told me to put in, I think it helps keep the soil moist.
After that I watered it all in using some leftover water from the watering can, I was going to leave it to see if it would rain, and Opa thought I should use illegal water, but I found the watering can and used that.

If you wanna see pics you have to go to facebook.

Garden – Day 2

Note: There are eight pics at the end of this post, future posts will not have so many.

I am now the proud owner of my own garden 🙂

Yesterday Opa and I went to Bunnings and bought some sleeper posts. I would have loved to have bought the actual old railway sleepers, but they were about five times as much. Then we went to a nursery and picked up some dirt as well as me going in and shopping for plants.
I bought Marigolds, chillis, leeks, cherry tomatoes, oregano and one of those dry daisy thingies (see end of post for pictures).

Opa built my garden as an extension of the existing veggie patch, but it is still quite distinct. We didn’t have enough dirt to fill the whole thing, so we halved it and planted one half. The good thing about this is that the second half will have the benefit of Joanne’s input.
She came home and said “did you put newspaper underneath the soil?” no. “did you mix any compost in?” no. “did you mix any potting mix in?” no, but we did put a layer of that good dirt that was in the wheelbarrow on top! She made a “well I don’t think it will work but we shall see” face and gave us her congratulations.
When I planted all the plants (all this was done before she got home) I didn’t want them to be all in sections, I wanted them to be all over the place. But when I started pulling seedlings out of their punnets I realised I had a heck of a lot of plants. Also, I thought I had 6 leeks, but then there was about 6 leeks in each clump, so I had around 36 leeks!! Yikes. The leeks could be planted closer together, so I decided to make a border of them, the border went around 2 sides, so that was good. I ended up leaving the oregano out, because it just didn’t fit. The cherry tomatoes are also all in one spot cos they need to be staked, I guess I could have put them about randomly, but I like the stakes that we have (as seen in the pics below) that join at the top and split out. But everything else got planted randomly. Which isn’t TOO exciting as ‘everything else’ was marigolds and two types of chilli.
Actually, in terms of staking I would like to try using concrete reinforcing wire a la Homegrown Evolution. None of the pictures show it too well, but in J&K’s established garden, the staking and growing things are all very esoteric.
So today I mulched the garden, and I intend to put some liquid fertiliser on it as well later on today.

For the second half of the garden we will put paper underneath and mix in some good stuff so that the soil will be totally awesome soil when it comes time to plant.
Oh, I also learnt that Joanne’s zucchinis are going to grow all over my garden, whoops!

Once again, Homegrown Evolution inspired me to buy chillis, I would also like to be tougher in the hot-stuff stakes.

I bought two different kinds, in case one was better or worse than the other. I didn’t want to put all my eggs in the one basket.

Leeks are awesome, and I was struggling to buy veggies that J&K aren’t already growing.

Marigolds are because I remember planting them in the veggie garden when I was a kid. And cos I don’t think that gardens should be divided into ‘only veggies’ and ‘only pretty stuff’.

I wanted to buy daisies, and this was the only one I saw that I liked the look of, not a regular daisy, but very cool nonetheless.

Here you can see the two halves of my garden and the corner of J&K’s garden.

I love this pic for the progression from soil to seedlings to ready-to-eat plants.

And this is after I put mulch on this morning.

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