Friday, 7 December 2012

Garden Map

I used ancient technology married with new to make a  garden map. First came Google Earth, which gave me a birds eye view and the outline of the block, which I then put on a transparency and used an overhead projector to project it against a wall and traced it onto a large sheet of card. Then a scanner to get it back onto the computer complete with tree names and garden bed plantings.

I'm trying to find an easy way for quick reference and to show the history of where what has been planted where for rotation purposes. We discovered that this section of the property is about a third of the block, the rest is paddock and it's an almost perfect wedge out of the pie.

There are heaps of programs online to plan your garden, does anyone use them, have any preferences?

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A call for best community projects and initiatives

Some of you may know I coordinate a community centre, the southern most centre in Australia actually. It's always a challenge and there always seems so much more to do than there is time for. I'm always keen to find new ways to engage the community.

We've run Medieval Mayhem four times and it's now a community owned project and thankfully I don't have to run around in Maid Marion gear every year. We have the Dog House, a community workshop, an alternative energy group (brand spankin' new), hopefully we may get to convert a petrol vehicle to electric and heaps more. has some of what we do listed. To be honest I haven't updated it in many months, since then we've been running the mobile phone apps training, a film project with youth documenting the importance of Year 11 and 12 (high schools don't have Year 11 and 12 in Tassie, which means some of our rural kids are travelling 4 hours a day to attend college in Hobart), and about to launch a horticulture training project.

I'm currently working on writing up 250 great ways to engage with your community. I'm half way there. Anyone have a favourite project, event or idea of something that have done, or have seen that they're happy to share?


We're always trying to find truly environmental ways of cleaning and I saw these and had to have a go.  They smell. They smell unpleasantly. I'll have to add a few drops of something essential to the water to try and offset this. Apparently they go in a little calico bag (four or so of them) and then into the front loader detergent spot and will last three or four washes. I've yet to have a go.

In Queensland, and now here, I grow soapwort, we've used it to wash our hair, but never in the wash, I always thought my clothes would come out with a tinge of green, but maybe I should try again.

They're $20 a bag, and no, they don't grow in Tasmania, so they will be a once only experiment.Anyone used soapnuts before?

Best darn little chook house in town!

The mudbrick chook house I built is now a tool shed. The four doors leading onto four different garden beds has been in use for the past three years and the ground needs a rest.

So the chooks are now in what we commonly refer to as the pig snot paddock. The pigs first started off in there and someone told us that there's an enzyme in pig snot that encourages soil bacteria and great growth. Not sure if it's true, but the paddock now has a name.

We needed a new chook pen.  Enter, Trevor, king of the chook pen design and installation. With bits of this and nothing purpose bought he tacked it all together, insulated the walls and ceiling, ma-jiggered this, ma-jiggered that, and now here it is.

The first night we had to wait till the chooks were sleeping out in the paddock and nab, grab and throw them inside. They've got the idea now and have happily adopted their new home.

There were two roosters. But one didn't make the transfer. They've been fighting and generally going at it spur and beak for too long.

Instead Trev and I wait for Caleb to bring a friend over, we hand them the machete, tell them to make it quick and as stressless as possible and we'll make them a nice chicken stew. The young, it seems, are less concerned about the sanctity of life than us oldies.  Though it doesn't make them any more inclined towards gutting and plucking.

Passion for fruit

One of the things we miss from Queensland is the abundant sprawling, crawling, hang off your every word if they could passionfruit vines. I've planted four or five since coming to Tasmania, but the graft always died over winter and the rotten root stock would take over and threaten to become an environmental weed. It also took a while to realise that they weren't much pleased by our highly acidic soils and a tweek or two to the pH was in order.

I'd almost given up when I came across the black Norfolk which wasn't a graft.  It was planted in the greenhouse where it is now  producing not just flowers but wee fruits too.

Passionfruit butter - here we come! Or is that counting my passionfruits before they hatch?

Thursday, 8 November 2012


I've started a new blog, though it's more the start of a communication, a request for stories and ideas around how it is some people have come to the point where they fail to feel, care or do anything beyond  that which is in their own personal interest.

DILLIGAF - Does it look like I give a Fuck. It's a popular and recognisable acronym for a state of being.  Personally IGAF and I want to investigate how it is others can come to the conclusion not to.

This is an invitation to explore the concept with me

Broad around the bean

There's something satisfying about your vegetables growing up. These broad beans have almost outgrown their grower. First feed already on the table. Wondering if we might have a go at making a flour from this year.

Season for Raspberries

Trev thinks I finally caved in about buying a deep freeze so he could store pigs in it. Really I want to be eating raspberries all year round. Jam is fine, but I'm not into eating toast, so my raspberry intake plummets out of season.

We have 3 rows approximately 15 metres long. It's going to be a lot of raspberries. They're currently flowering and it's frightening being inside as the bees dive bomb the white netting by the thousand. Definitely have my mouth closed when I'm in there.

Trev's been working on repairing the netted enclosure for a while. The raspberries were growing through the sides and we needed to put in extra wires to hold the sides out. Go your hardest blackbirds, I think we've got your number!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Trev's Olives

We had a community olive pick this year. A member of the community had 60 olive trees in full production but was not intending picking or processing them. Would the community like to come have a go?

Well, um, yes! Ours are still very young and the ducks decided they like them too and ate every last leaf, the poor things are struggling back and the ducks are looking ridiculously healthy (and ripe for the pot).

Over 30 of us descended one Saturday morning and Trev and I alone left with about 20 kilos of olives. We gave away half of these along with a recipe on how to preserve them. The rest we split with a sharp knife while drinking wine and nattering with friends who were, likewise, splitting theirs.

The process involves lots of soaking in brine for 24 hours before replacing the brine with a new batch and repeating this process for 8 days. This draws out the bitterness and preserves them. Trev has bottles and bottles of them and is eating them at much the same pace.


Soapmaking only happens a couple of times a year. I think to make it only once but I tend to hand it out freely. This is lemon scented soap using a local organic essential oil.

I like to colour them and this is a plant based annatto seed colourant. We usually use it to colour cheese, but it works well for soap too.

I have lots of books on soap making but in the end I tend to just drop into Australian Soapmaker. They have a great calculator that you feed in the oils you propose to use and it calculates the amount of caustic soda, water (though I replace the water with goats milk) and essential oils.

While it could potentially be a dangerous sport, donning safety glasses, long sleeves and rubber gloves and having a clean, clear work space, no children and everything I need at hand it's easy. Kind of like making a super large batch of fudge.

The first time I made soap I just stirred it by hand (for an hour and a half) till I achieved what they call trace -  when you dribble it over the surface of the soap mix sits proud. The second time I used an egg beater (electric) and acheived it in 20 mins. The trick is not to get it to saponify too quickly, but also not to fall asleep over it either.

I use a shallow plastic tray about 50 centimetres by 25 for each batch. This was last weeks, this weeks is organic vanilla and cinnamon oil. I'll plonk in real cinnamon to give it a brownish colour. But first I'll take out a litre or so  of white soap first, put the vanilla oil in that and  mix it back in to make it  multicoloured like this batch.

Once cut up it will take a few months to cure.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The kind of bed that if you make it you don't have to lie in it

Every year we struggle at spring time to get control of the garden beds. We've planted green manure crops and while they're great there is a wonderful profusion of weeds along with it. This year, aware that my shoulders and neck can no longer handle being on the end of hoe or grubber, we decided to try do things a bit differently.

We have an enormous high quality black tarp we'd bought to cover up strawbales. We chopped it into three 10 metre long  4 metre wide strips. Whippersnipped the green manure crops and laid the tarps over top.

One of the big problems is the occasional 120km an hour wind we get around here, so lots of bricks are required to keep them on the ground and not 50 miles away. But the effort's been well worth it.

We lifted this tarp a week or so ago and the ground had eaten all the green manure crop without even having to dig it in.  A great sign of microbial activity. No weeds, still nice and  moist, lush and loamy and ready for potatoes.

Trev's dug four shallow ditches, lined them with a compost material he's made from our chicken poop, placed a thin layer of soil over that and then the potatoes.  This is one of the first years we've had to buy potatoes (a 10kg bag), ours liked the warmer climate in the house and made great efforts to grow legs and come join us in the lounge room. 

Definately have to find somewhere cooler this year.

The Rhubarb Cure

Every year, despite valiant efforts, our peaches and nectarines  get leaf curl and as such have been severely 'curl-tailed'.  The apricots planted at the same time are now massive and highly productive, while the peaches lag behind.

This year Trevor took on the job confident that he would beat the fungal affliction. But, sadly, failed. (though there was some degree of schadenfreude on my behalf.)

Each year after several all over doses of either copper hydroxide, lime sulphur or copper sulphate mixes, which, while not strictly organic, is still better than what shop bought fruit is sprayed in - and especially  if it results in managing to grow our own fruit. 

Despite our efforts we've failed to eliminate leaf curl. I go around with a bucket and pinch off the leaves and buds affected and burn them. It helps control it, but obviously doesn't do the tree a lot of good, especially as it can mean having to strip the whole thing back.

My title is a tad bit premature as it only appears that I have found a cure. I could still be proved wrong on this. But the organic rhubarb leaf spray seems to have done the trick. I've always known they're strongly anti-fungal and even though all the books say once you've got  leaf curl give up till next year, I decided to give it a go. First I stripped off  affected leaf material and burnt it.

The Recipe

500grams of rhubarb leaves boiled in 2 litres of water for 20 minutes and strained through muslin.

Add a teaspoon of soap (that's been dissolved in a cup of water), and then add another 2 litres of water and spray it over the tree, leaves, bark, the lot making sure to get complete coverage.

It's a good idea to check the weather forecast first and chose a time where you're going to have at least 24 hours without rain.

It's over a week later and I've had to hunt hard to find a leaf showing leaf curl to photograph.

I'm planning on continuing this regime for the next three or four weeks (once a week). Anyone  have a sure-fire cure for leaf curl?

 An added bonus ... rhubarb and vanilla custard :)

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Mice with Wings

Trev's had enough of the sparrows.  Apart from nesting in the eaves and making a mess (which we tolerate for native species) they outcompete small native bird species, eat the chook food, peck holes in our vegie greens, eat raspberries, pull out seeds and even small seedlings and we have hundreds and hundreds of them. And in the past years they've been the vector for strains of salmonella that has passed from birds to other species.

They're non-native having been introduced in 1862 (though one would assume that their descendants should be able to claim nationality by now?)
Trev looked up traps and found this plan. The guy who build it claims to have wiped out his sparrow population with no by catch.  We're not interested in wiping them out, only reducing their numbers in order to allow native birds to co-habitate. The trap doesn't kill them, only catches.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Almond Blossom

I took this photo a few weeks back, they've now small almond fruits which look much like peaches. Not surprising as they are close relatives. This is the first time the trees have flowered, (they're four years old) I can't wait to harvest the first nuts. Perhaps I shouldn't count my almonds before they've hatched.

I've been reading up about medieval times of late (research for a new book called Jiva) and I discovered that 75% of the population were directly involved in food production, the same proportion of people in modern day Cuba since they've had their Special Period (enforced peak oil due to the breakdown in relationship between Russia and due to US sanctions).

I suspect, no I predict, it will be a proportion that will be adopted across the world  as oil availability decreases. I also suspect that food as a commodity will once again be valued and our farmers revered. They're the mob that keep us from starvation.

Interesting... but not what I set out to say. In medieval times a common drink was almond milk.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Sparrow's Grass

Spring has sprung! The Sparrow's Grass has ris'! Spring is wonderful for all sorts of reasons, but there's nothing quite like the morning you go out and notice that the asparagus has noticed it too. This will be our first year of really good spears. It's taken four years to get to this point with mostly sprue spears (the thin ones), not that they taste bad either. But more bang for your buck with these fat fellows. Asparagus used to be belong to the Liliaceae family, but this split into two, the Amaryllidaceae  (onion family) and the Asparagaceae.

It's easy to grow, and once established it should keep producing for around 30 years. It's high in potassium, low in sodium, high in fibre and packed with mineral goodies, selenium, phosphorus, iron, copper, manganese, chromium as well as vitamins  A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid.

The interesting thing about asparagus is that it makes pretty much everyone's pee smell terrible, but that only 20% of us are lucky enough to be able to smell it. I can't.

The ABC have put out a fact sheet about growing asparagus. Also known colloquially as Sparrow's Grass, though around here it's slug tucker if we're not careful.ABC Gardening Fact Sheet

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Save the Tarkine!

I'm at risk of overloading this site with petitions, but this one is close to home and my heart...

Located in Tasmania, the Tarkine Region is Australia’s largest temperate rainforest and it is in danger of being destroyed due to open-cut mining. This action will not only destroy the ecology of this important section of the world, but it will also endanger the Tasmanian Devil.

The Tarkine Region enjoyed relative safety from mankind’s destruction while under the protection of the emergency national heritage listing, but this listing expired 2 years ago and now mining companies are eager to deplete the area of its rich resources.

Proponents are citing teetering economic conditions as justification for new mining. But the devastation such a move would create will be permanent and detrimental to the planet. The need to protect this rainforest and all of its living creatures and waterways cannot be overstated.

Please tell Environment Minister Tony Burke to save the Tarkine by keeping miners out!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Why do people go to the beach?

Is it to suck in the extra ozone and slow down their beating hearts? Is it to walk briskly with their dog and get some exercise, to swim, to sunbathe, to flash off their tanned limbs?

Apart from the first on the list our family go for other reasons also, to select appropriate sized pieces of driftwood to turn into chunky, probably won't even work fly screens, and fill feed bags with kelp and seaweed to rot down in buckets for months and use to feed plants. Oh, and there probably was a bit of stand back and remark on just how beautiful it is where we live. These beaches are 10- 15 minutes away.

Seaweed should never be harvested directly from the sea. Only the stuff that gets washed up. Seaweed is common in the cooler sea waters due to their higher nutrient levels.  Seaweed is full of phosphorus, potassium, calcium and nitrogen.  It doesn't remain fresh for long as it is full of bacteria that will rapidly break it down.  Once it's packed into bags you slog down the beach past all the curious dogs carting their reluctant owners, and seagulls going, 'what the...' by the time you're nearly back to the car you're no longer carring the bags you're dragging them and your arms are two inches longer. (I make it sound like I have personal experience, but I was the one with the bags of driftwood, Trev's the true slogger.)

Once home it needs a good wash to remove the salt and sand, which is very alkaline.  In the past we've used it as mulch, particularly on asparagus, which responds well.  And of the three bags we collected two will probably be added to the compost heap. However the third is going to be part of an experiment. Can we make our own liquid seaweed emulsion?  We make comfrey compost tea, so why not seaweed? 

We discovered an added and unexpected bonus. Once washed off the goats and sheep attacked the pile of seaweed with their teeth. We give them a kelp supplement, but this seems a healthier way to go.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Buy a brick for a bear

Be a brick and buy one for a bear - I just did. Upsets the hell out of me seeing what we, as humans, do. $10 bucks a brick...

There are 25 bears to rescue, mostly from Romania, the conditions they live in are pitiful.

If you can't buy a brick and you're a facebooker, maybe a good thing to share.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Environment as Religion

I've always enjoyed responding when asked, 'Are you religious?' that I believe in disbelief.
Humans have a long history of adopting varyious beliefs,then factions, then forming armies and going about trying to wipe each other out. Nothing's changed. We haven't evolved, grown up, changed. We're still hard at it. 

Once an idea has been formed human nature steps in and we feel the need to form rules, dogma, rules, and an almost competitive nature to our belief and then, no matter what the original concept, it all falls apart. Perhaps better not to name something up right from the word go.

Costa Georgiadis (stolen without any permission from ABC)
However, having said that  more and more often I meet up with evangelistic environmentalists who, when I listen to them, appear to be almost religious in their belief. (I've met Costa Georgiadis - if that man's not a disciple of an environmental God then no one is) And why not? Without the environment we wouldn't exist, we are made from accumulated materials derived from earth, and we return to it when we die. It provides us with food, succour, in fact it provides us with the ability to live lives of Kings.  However unwisely. We've become the greedy child who always wants more. 

Yet we choose to worship in shopping malls and supermarkets and travel in vehicles from which we are safely contained from the environment, only a distant witness to our asphalt nations.

If this was a parent/child relationship we'd be keeping the environment up all night and breast feeding till well past our teens. I won't even draw the comparison on where we defecate in this picture. It's not pretty.

Like any good parent at times it's good to allow our children to learn from the consequences of their actions, to sit back and wait and hope we learn from banging our thumb with a hammer, touching a hot stove or overusing resources and feeding back systemic poisons into a finely balanced system.

So here we are, on the brink, or already falling, about to wake up and realise that our deference to the great God Environment has been less than ideal. We've behaved poorly and it's now time to clean up the mess. If we can. The an environment 'God' certainly can, but it's going to take millions of years to do so, with or without us.
The environment as God isn't a new concept.

Pantheism: The belief that all things are aspects of a single god or spirituality, and that this god cannot be separated from the physical world. Pantheists believe that nature should be experienced with awe, and generally reject the idea of a personal God separate from the natural world.
Nature, the greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
So how do we worship the Great God of  Environment?

We take our children to its church, under the great vault of its sky, we teach them to revere it, to understand what we can of its workings, how it sustains us, the ways in which we support it in doing so. We do what we can at home, but we also fight for it, whether that's with the pen (letters, petitions), or by our actions (consumer abstinence of products right through to active demonstrations).
The only 'rules' to this religion are share resources fairly and equitably and to a level that sustains us and the earth without spoiling us and doing it as a shared quest.

Saturday, 28 July 2012


I've just discovered a place where you can 'publish' your writing (along with millions of others). You can download it onto mobile phones etc as a facebook app - or online.

Last night (when yet again I found sleep to be an elusive beast) I took it for a test drive and uploaded a short story I've written. Its about a prostitute that decides to leave the game. It's R for restricted (so be warned, it uses explicit language and is not for the faint of heart), it's about 1500 words - and if it's as cold and a rainy a day where you are as it is here... Gold might be worth a read.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Caleb's Peak Oil Presentation

I have Caleb's permission to share a powerpoint presentation he made when he was 9. He managed to succintly sum up what the issue is and what we can do about it in only a few words and a few slides. Everytime I come across it I get that rush of, gee willikins I have a wonderful child. But please don't tell him that I will be not only blocked from facebook I will have my block knocked off.

He's 14 now and I've discovered how excruciatingly embarrassing I am as a parent. My only consolation is Trev is just as embarrassing. Who'd have known?

Monday, 9 July 2012

The 200th post

I've had a flurry of posts in the past weeks - now the deafening silence.
Considering part of my day time job is consulting with the community on a regular basis I should extend it to my blogging life and ask you why you read or subscribe to this particular blog?

Is it reading philosophical/environmental raves (rants)? Recipes? Sustainable building? Sustainable living in general? Because Trev and Cal are as cute as buttons (oh, how Caleb would hate that).

What would you like to read more of?  What would you like less of?

Friday, 29 June 2012

Eco Worrier Series - Falling off the Edge of the World

Individually we can live anywhere from zero to about 120 years of age, then we die; it’s a biological certainty everywhere except in the annals of science fiction.  As a species we also have a use by date.  Scientists provide murky prophecies by dissecting the entrails of our environment, from the microbes of disease to the pH level of our seas and the health of our atmosphere.

Some days it seems we’re leaning hard on the kill switch, as though by some subconscious collective desire we’re keen to get on with our extinction phase.   Against all genetic reasoning I’ve kind of got to like the idea that we end.  I can console myself that I’m not alone in this. We’ve always had a fascination with the end of the world, and looking back at popular culture it’s interesting to note the change in plot lines, from the alien fearing days of the Day of the Triffids and War the of the Worlds, to man-made post apocalyptic scenarios such as Mad Max, through to the growing popularity of environmental disasters with such movies as Waterworld and The Day after Tomorrow, and the BBC TV series, Outcasts.
It’s a theme littered throughout literature too. The four horsemen of the apocalypse, death, war, famine and pestilence have always been waiting in the wings. I like Pratchett and Gaiman’s concept in Good Omens of the four sidling into society and providing us with the means to our own end, like calorie-less food, till we all, by personal choice, gorge ourselves to  emaciation.  It’s clear - while they court us with death we groom their horses.  There are few options for extinction that do not require our assistance.    
But it wasn’t till I’d read The World Without Us by Alan Weisman that I started to seriously consider an earth without humans.  Weisman posits that, for whatever reason, we no longer exist, and explores what would happen to the earth from an hour later through to millions of years – and it seemed, at least at first, that nature can grind us down fairly quickly, that our traces would be, if not wiped up with a wash cloth, obliterated by time and those all powerful microbes. Towards the end of the book it seemed as if it was one of those cleaning jobs that once tackled one realises the item in question may no longer be of an aesthetic or practical value and it would be easier to throw it away, start again. 

But nature has less of a throw away approach and eventually our damage will be undone.  Though until such time as a plastic chewing microbe evolves polymers will be one of our most lasting mementos.
Will we go out with a whimper or a bang? The disaster movies proliferating prefer the CGI excitement of the bang theory - it makes for better ratings.  Though I suspect our descendants will eke out a marginal existence for centuries till they’re no longer viable.  Inevitably our reign will be over.  It will take millions of years for other species to evolve and rule the earth. I wonder if they will find us in peat bogs and disturbed cemeteries. What will they think of us?  Will they sift through our bones looking for clues or will they chew on them? 
There are days I wax lyrical on human extinction, but most times I cling feverishly to the hope that the environment we live in can survive our excesses, and that we can reduce them to the point it can do so on a long term basis and that our descendants will laugh at our naivety as we do at our ancestors’ fears of falling off the edge of the world.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Eco Worrier Series - Carbon Natural

Carbon fixation is a scientific process. But it’s not the kind of fixation I’m talking about. If carbon had been white it might have had a chance, but its colour coded for evil, an insidious atom that proliferates at our every action. It’s the second most plentiful element in our bodies at 18.5% of our mass. It’s popular in the universe, being the fourth most abundant element behind hydrogen, helium and oxygen. If it’s an evil, then it’s a necessary one. We wouldn’t exist without it. It comes in different forms or allotropes from diamonds, which we revere, to dioxide, which we, increasingly, don’t. And in all likelihood the text you are now reading is created by specifically arranged blobs of it, and it’s a lot of these combinations of carbon in our reading matter that has us all fired up on the atom with the highest melting point of all the elements. 

It’s the 810 gigatonnes and climbing in our atmosphere that causes the atmos-fear. Carbon is a stable atom, but the amount of it in our atmosphere is de-stablising its ability to control our climate.  We can’t even exhale without it; my eco-worrier paranoia comes to the fore, cringes and wonders - should I cut down on breathing? 

The average person inhales around 25,000 times a day filtering 10,000 litres of air for oxygen and producing approx 900 grams of CO2, more if physically active. With over 6 billion of us that’s close to 6 trillion tonnes of CO2 a day.  Seems like one of those figures meant to restrain your desire to sigh and instead consider draconian population control. But don’t hold your breath! What we are exhaling is fast cycle CO2 - it was absorbed by eating plants and animals that ate plants.  Emitting this CO2 doesn’t make any difference to atmospheric levels as it would have decomposed and re-entered the environment within a short time period anyway. So breathe easy. 

It’s become a much maligned substance, but, like our decision to consider guns evil (when it’s the person using them), or that money is evil (when it’s the love of it), carbon is the scapegoat side effect of our lifestyle.   

Carbon is naturally sequestered in coal, oil, and organic matter over millions of years and we’ve become adept at extracting it. We have a myriad of techniques devised to access the stored energy to do everything from increase the carbon value in our toast (by burning it) to converting it into plastic boxes plugged into fossil fuel based energy sources  used to exchange electronic information, sometimes all day, in the thermostatically controlled atmosphere of a home or office. 

We are so inventive with the stuff, we drop it below –78.5o and use it to make dry ice to augment  nightclub atmosphere in which we toss back drinks livened up with little bubbles made of the same stuff. There seems to be no end to the things we can do with two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom. 

It’s difficult to visualize 391ppm of carbon suspended in the atmosphere. The problem is it’s invisible to the eye and odourless and unless you have a Photo acoustic Field Gas-Monitor handy you can only measure its effects by the number of magazine articles and news bulletins the subject generates.  

However, when we drive to work and flick switches on electrical appliances we can visualise our contribution to the carbon equation by understanding that on average, for every litre of petrol we burn, 2.4 kilos of CO2 is created and this pollutes 10,500 litres of fresh air. Every kilowatt hour of coal produced electricity creates approximately 1 kilogram of CO2.  An average household uses 15 kWh a day, polluting 65,000 litres of air. 

For the eco-worrier, when it comes to the carbon cycle, the best advice is to get on yours and don’t be frightened to exhale!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Confessions of an Eco-worrier

Radio broadcasts, news segments, blogs, emails, newspaper headlines, books, casual conversations, any of these can promote an eco-panic attack.  There are many contributors to these attacks; the issues of over-population, deforestation, profligate resource use, acid seas, oil spills, loss of biodiversity, toxic food processes, soil salinity, water shortages and peak oil – that’s if we can see beyond that great mushroom cloud of global warming. Not sure if it was the length of that sentence that has me breathless or if I’m suffering an eco-panic attack.

The problems are overwhelming. With commitment we could (probably) solve them. But we don’t. It’s like watching a tsunami approach from under a beach umbrella and remarking on its size while sucking on a pina colada. It’s like closing your eyes while driving down a winding hill. It’s like rolling every morsel of commonsense ever known into a ball and sitting it in a dusty corner of a museum to await labelling.

Eco Worrier symptoms are; an obsession with knowing and understanding everything that’s happening on a global scale; reading scary books that read like sci-fi novels of gloom, doom, despair and the end of the world as we know it, (and we don’t feel fine); watching movies, many of them the earnest preachings of movie stars turned environmentalist evangelists, and that fist of fear tightens. This is no longer just the preserve of the side of the road loony holding the ‘end of the world is nigh’ sign.  This is mainstream. It’s flashed in front of us constantly; CO2, global warming, sea level rise. This feeds our fears, but we’re so darn busy feeding our families and paying the rent we can’t commit nearly enough time to doing everything that’s becoming mandatory – changing our own personal world 360 degrees.  This increases the desire to do more, yet the fear and guilt do not enliven us – they paralyse. We become spectators at the arena of environmental destruction. We don’t want to watch, but not to is too great an indulgence and so we open our eyes, and do everything we can; read those scary books, change those bloody light bulbs; install the insulation; but we know, deep inside, it isn’t enough.

So this eco-worrier, having resolved to do something more, looks outside and sees the flotilla of modern society on the rivers of no change. While I can’t see the carbon atoms accumulating I know they are there.  I see their birth as I drive impatiently behind logging trucks lugging themselves up steep slopes as they deliver the combined tree life of thousands of years to its ultimate destination as toilet paper and the print out of the email I received last week on the ten stupidest road signs I’ve ever seen.

I’ve decided to do my bit, no matter how small, only to step outside and it seems so very few others are.  The panic rises, what does my incalculably small contribution mean?  Is it meaningless? Is all this eco-worrier business without point? Am I squandering my hard earned on solar panels when I could fly to Bali in winter and relax? But it’s too late; it requires some serious abstinence of thought and conscience to do so. No matter how hard I push down the guilt it has floatation devices and keeps bobbing back up. This annoys me. Here I am, trapped in the eco-worrier cycle with no way to get off. I am now a thwarted, frustrated, angry participant in this global experiment in energy extravagance. And I still haven’t done much more than change my light bulbs.

If this sounds familiar, you  might just be a fellow eco-worrier, one of a growing demographic.
In the end I’ve come to the conclusion that...

I can’t afford to feel overwhelmed, nor guilty, I don’t need perfect knowledge, a lot of money, heaps of time. All that does is compound the problem and stops me from doing what I can.
My actions will not save the world, that should never have been my goal. It’s about doing the things that are within my power to do, that’s all I can. I don’t think of it as an obligation, I think of it as an adventure.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

So why don't we throw in the trowel?

The alternative to home sustainability is no longer possible. I have no romantic ideals about over consumerism and rampant resource use. I could not tolerate living a life without understanding that it has energy constraints.  I cannot with any degree of composure eat meat seven days a week or create enough rubbish to choke a river or two. I want to do the right thing and if that means eating more zucchini than I’d like. Then we all will J

Our family’s personal contribution to saving the world won’t amount to much. But we are doing what we can. And sustainability at home, even stripped of its romantic overpackaging is still pretty good. We might have to spend time spreading poo, carting around mulch and pruning, but the taste of a real, dribble juice down your chin apricot for those few weeks we get to eat them are worth it. If it means we have a glut of them and I spend ten consecutive nights preserving them on a wood fired stove. I know it’s not romantic, but I do enjoy pulling them out of the pantry in the middle of winter and feeling thankful for our previous efforts. Sustainability at home has its own rewards but I don’t need rose coloured glasses and lyrical phrases to clog up the truth of it all.  And I certainly will never need to put a nappy on a bloody chook. I hope you don’t either.

I also hope you enjoyed that series of raves.
I think somewhere I can dig out a rave or two of being an eco-worrier - interested in having your inbox subjected to more?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Myth Ten : Organic shmanic!

There are days I wish I’d never done all that agonising research about soil microbes, and nutrient run off. There are days that reaching for a bottle of quick fix for every weed and pest known and shamelessly spraying it everywhere sounds a darn sight better than hand picking 28 spotted ladybirds, and squishing snails by moonlight. 
Trev - Save me from straw!

Someone once told me that there’s something weird about having your friends over for dinner (play hide the zucchini on the plate), providing them with a glass of your best vintage elderflower champagne before handing them a wooden mallet we called exsnailaburs and a torch and telling them that before they get dessert they need to take their ex-snailabur into the garden and whack the hell out of every passing snail.  The snails had got to plague proportions by that stage. They’d even got into my letterbox and partially eaten my first royalty cheque.  How much easier would it be to spread piles of innocent looking, commercially available and cheap as chips, pellets. 

Squishing pear and cherry slugs while thinking on which pest I hate most is not conducive to the romantic image of sustainability, of all those butterfly filled gardens. Because darn the butterflies, if you’ve done your research you know every butterfly starts as a caterpillar.  Let me pull off their wings, I love you, I love you NOT! 

I tried an experiment in organic weed death. It involved expensive bottles of pine oil, which kind of worked, but when you worked out the cost, I’d better off paying someone to pull them for me. I tried cider vinegar, and it was relatively successful but same story. I’ve tried pouring boiling water, torching them, and various other assassinations but in the end in an organic garden nothing beats blisters.

So there, you have my ten most unpopular misconceptions on sustainability at home. I’ve missed a lot. Climbing on the roof in thunderstorms to make sure your  tank gets filled.  Discovering your son has swapped all his home grown nutrient rich organic school lunches for Uncle Toby’s Roll ups. It’s endless. But we’re still doing it. We fall off the wagon every now and then. Sometimes I forget my glasses when I’m in the chocolate aisle and the ├ęclairs trapped behind a mountain of plastic are deemed psychologically worth it. But for the most part we are good. Not perfect. Never perfect. But we are pretty good. So if those nappied chooks have got me this far in my rant, in my sustainability at home crisis, why am I not throwing in my trowel?
Tomorrow: Why we haven't thrown in the trowel... and why it's all worth it!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Myth Nine: Everyone understands the need to get sustainable.

Myth Nine: Everyone understands the need to get sustainable.

I’ll never forget standing at the local school with a group of 4WDriving city mum’s who were admiring their French nail polish jobs  while I hid my dirt rimmed jobs behind my back. One of them was complaining about what to give the kids for breakfast and named a number of processed off the shelf options. Me, being naturally stupid, laughed and said,

‘Yeah well, if we want peanut butter on our toast I have to think about it three months in advance, gotta grow it before we can eat it’.

Caleb's self made Lego tool to stop me feeding him pumpkin
There was a deathly silence, a shuffling of feet, a rolling of eyes and a nearly audible internal dialogue from each of the mothers, something along the line of ‘whacko!’

I’m not saying they’re wrong, but being driven to be as sustainable as possible in the highest 4WD owning town in Australia was not a great conversation starter seven years ago.

I used to bike Caleb to school on my tip shop bought bike and he’s sit on the back and pretend to shoot 4WD all the way to school. Some of them thought he was waving and even waved back.

I tried to barter my chook eggs for other staples in the neighbourhood but one neighbour wouldn’t eat our eggs because the yolks were too orange and, ew, my nappiless chooks had touched the ground. She much preferred to know they lived in cages, well away from dirt.

I felt alone. But then I often felt my aloneness just as  keenly when I met up with other sustainable folk – because I realised that it was a competition, and that the only way to win is to trample someone else’s attempts at sustainability at home.  I hate to say it, but someone is always greener than you.  It’s not a competition people, it’s a complementation.

Myth Ten : Organic shmanic!
and after that... why it's all worth it!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Myth Eight: It's a Cornucopia of Produce

Myth Eight: It’s a Cornucopia of produce

Quite frankly there are always far too many Zucchini’s – and never enough watermelons. Yet they come from the same family.   I want to know why? Living seasonally is a great concept, but what about the hungry months of spring when it’s old and hoary potatoes, limp carrots and mouldy cabbage?

Myth busted: living seasonally and out of the garden is difficult and your culinary skills are often challenged by the repetitive nature of your main ingredients.
You can always try giving it away.  I’ll never forget offering a neighbour excess zucchini, he swore at me. I won’t repeat the exact words, but the nature of it was pretty much on the level of, ‘not on your nelly’ and he leapt a fence to safety.  He makes himself very scarce around peak zucchini season every year. 
I‘ve discovered that giving them away is a successful strategy in warding off less favoured neighbours. I have more  strategies to deal with zucchini, planting less never seems to be one of them. Why do punnets of zucchini come in nothing less than 6? I find opening the back door and throwing them to the pigs works for a while, but after that they start looking at you funny and I worry about them pushing through a fence. Cooking zucchini up with a 50% ratio of something more interesting and putting it in a jar can reduce their numbers.  My favourite one though is going out early in the morning and picking the female flowers , stuffing them full of fetta cheese and chilly and deep frying them in a light batter.  
The truth is growing your own is managing the glut while craving mangoes and other delicacies that won’t survive a frost.
Tomorrow: Myth Nine - Everyone understands the need to get sustainable.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Myth Seven :Your kids will love it!

Generally speaking they’d much prefer a meal that comes with a free toy than the dinner that took you six months to prepare. From seed to saliva. A great concept only it just doesn’t make them salivate, and they certainly have no romantic illusions about weeding, feeding, and picking up poo berries? Caleb did this for me once. He wore gloves, a face mask and still dry retched around the paddock till I caved in.  I didn’t even ask him to pick up the sloppy ones. When he was a child he enjoyed throwing mandarins at me while I gardened. He also didn’t mind eating them, or nibbling at snow peas while they were still on the vine. Throwing the odd insect into the chook pen to watch the chook scrum, great sport, and baby animals are great.  I thought it would help him understand where his food from, perhaps even respect what got on his plate a little more. It certainly taught him the origins of his food. The day I saw him licking his lips when he saw his pet sheep running around the paddock made me realise we’d succeeded so spectacularly in doing this that we’d also failed. He has a policy around meat eating, you only eat it after it’s stopped being cute.

The thing that really gets to me is he’s content to spend long periods of time on a computer playing lame games like Farmville, where he raises virtual reality crops but has zero interest in the real thing.  In the end you have a narrow window of opportunity, somewhere around 3 or 4 years of age in which growing raspberries and picking them is fun. After that they tell you that you’ve taken all of the fun and taste out of raspberries by insisting they help you pick ten kilos of them.

The truth, raspberries and strawberries come in punnets in supermarkets for a reason, Doh!

Tomorrow: Myth Eight: It’s a Cornucopia of produce

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The True Nature of Sustainability - Myth Six

Myth Six: Pests are easy to deal with organically half the time all you need to do is arm yourself with a spray bottle of one teaspoon of oil, a bit of soap and some warm water.

Slug guns were not inventing to kill slugs with. But I want one that is. Slugs are able to annihilate acres of seedlings in half the time two goats and a marauding sheep can.  Then there’s the pear and cherry slug which can successfully skeletonise small trees, and even if you get the cherries to fruition you’ve got Turdus Merula, an apt a name as I’ve ever heard for what we commonly refer to as the blackbird.
The cabbage moths and butterflies, the slow cancer of those brassica hearts. Aphids, scale, parrots, mice, sparrows, the devils and quolls who swipe those nappiless chooks right from their perch, the lice, the worms, the ticks… it goes on. Please refer to Myths 1,2,3. By the time you’ve figured it out the damage is done.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The True Nature of Sustainability@home - Myth Five - it doesn't take much time

Myth five - It doesn’t take much time. An hour or so pottering in the garden.

Tell that to my blisters.  Mention that to that long lost friend, the lazy weekend.

Some people do this kind of thing for a living - they get paid for it, then they go home and they rest. I’m not sure what this looks like anymore. The last time I did the sleep in, lie around and watch movies and read books thing was fifteen years ago. Instead  we bludgeon ourselves up at the crack of dawn to feed pigs, ducks, chooks, dogs, goats (and milk them too), then it’s all the usual things like picking poo berries for the garden. This involves gloves, several buckets and a good stooping action to pick up a variety of animal dung to compost. Chopping wood for the wood fired stove that heats our water and cooks our food and keeps us warm. Digging, pruning, weeding, watering, sowing, harvesting, fencing, building, repairing, preserving or just plain persevering.  Then there’s the animals - from  pulling them out of the birth canal to burying them and all the shearing, hoof trimming, feeding, worming and nurturing in between. Then if you’re lucky you get to eat breakfast.
Sustainability at home is a big commitment.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The True Nature of Sustainability@home - Myth Four

Myth Four : Water is a naturally occurring garden and household commodity.

There are only two types of water, not enough and too much. We call water the biggest single limiting factor of gardening.  I also call it lots of other things when it’s rained so hard and for so long my trees get root rot and dis-assemble before my eyes and my seedlings float on the surface of small streams. But I have strategies do deal with too much, it’s harder when it comes in the form of not enough. Not enough happens every year. You can install every water reading gadget you like in your water tanks, but nothing increases the likelihood of getting more unless of course you resort to bringing in truckloads of the chlorinated stuff to contaminate your tank with. You can go in for brief and I mean very brief approximations of the rainfall phenomena in your shower every day.  But then I’ve been caught looking at my broccoli seedlings and deciding which comes first, my personal hygiene or their green and tender lives. 

It only takes a few unwatered days of blistering sun and your garden suffers growers droop. There’s little you can do about rainlessness. You can conserve water, provide thick layers of mulch (and don’t the slugs just love that.) and a multitude of other things you spent nights up researching (please refer to  Myth  three), but in the end not enough is not enough. So while it’s generally a naturally occurring phenomena the amounts it falls in often falls short of requirements.
 Myth five Tomorrow - It doesn’t take much time. An hour or so pottering in the garden.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The true Nature of Sustainability@home - Myth Three - Sustainability is Easy

Myth three - Sustainability is easy.

No one tells you need a science degree to understand that substance weeds so love to grow in or the signs and symptoms of boron deficiencies and nitrogen overloads and the complex relationship between pH and nutrient availability. Then there’s knowing how to prune for fruit, and deal with a myriad of invasive insect pests more intent than you on eating fresh.

That’s before you get into the house and start organising your life into kWh of power and relative efficiencies of every appliance  and then try change the rest of the families usage patterns, perhaps even going so far as to plot them on graphs to show trends and stick them to your new energy efficient fridge.

Next, learn to read the label on every shampoo, laundry powder, toothpaste, soap, deodorant and use your honorary degree in chemistry to sort out the good from the bad. Of course, you could just do it the easy way and make your own.

Sustainability at home isn’t just about what’s  going on at home, it’s what you bring home. Have you got time to educate yourself? Walking down the aisle... it’s always been seen as a big commitment, and it’s no less important when shopping.  But due to the overpopulation situation in today’s world, we need to be aware of the ramifications of our spending.  There’s much to consider as we trawl the shelves, how’s the quality? Is it fresh? What about reading the label, are there preservatives, colours, additives I don’t want my family to eat?

Then there’s the fat and sugar content, the calories, and the impact on the environment. Is the product genetically modified? How do I feel about that?  And pesticides, herbicides use? How many food miles has it clocked up? How has it been packaged?   How do I safely dispose of it, has its production resulted in soil and water degradation or deforestation?  What about the ethical considerations; has the grower been paid a fair price for it; have animals suffered?

The supermarket is a landmine of choices that can overwhelm the best of us.  And I didn’t even get to the big two, can I afford it, and even if it passes all the tests, will my family eat it?

There’s always something new to learn, often directly conflicting what I’ve learnt previously. Keeping up with the latest information gets to be a fulltime commitment.

Then of course our family decided to build sustainably. A straw bale house.  We spent years  getting our heads around the alternatives to using PVC (not many, why would you, are you crazy, and at eight times the cost why bother?) But we did it anyway.  What paints? Hmmm, make your own out of home made goats cheese, lime and naturally occurring clay pigments, never again. You want to have windows and doors made from local timbers, what’s usually a two year full time course and five year apprenticeship, learn in six weeks and build your own (Trev that is).  You want Tasmanian tiles, they don’t exist, learn how to diamond polish small amounts of cement and broken glass for twenty three consecutive weekends!

Then I made the mistake of trying to do the right thing and dye my hair with henna, a herbal concoction with the least amount of environmental impact. It said on the packet my hair would be blonde, but after I scraped off the cowpad of crud on my head it was Ronald McDonald orange. I had to wear a scarf to the hairdresser and tell her to take it back to only a couple of millimetres.  But the good thing about it was it inspired me to write another book.  A bit of a departure from everything I’ve written previously. It’s best described as being an Australian version of Janet Evanovich’s books. Comedy, the laugh out loud kind. The whole time I wrote it I giggled and chortled. Seems most people when the read it chuckle and guffaw too. The problem came when I got to the end and realised that I’d like to publish it, and that I love a book you hold in your hand, but that I couldn’t possibly condone tree’s being chopped down, the toxic bleaching process, the petroleum based inks.  So, typically, and quite obsessively I suppose. I decided to do it myself, and do it the right way. It took two years and lots more research to get it to the bookshops.  It’s carbon offset, printed on recycled paper using vegetable inks, elemental chlorine free. And it’s fun. It’s a great  example of a sustainable way of publishing and the books not even about the environment.  But it wasn’t easy. Why can’t I just go with doing things the easy way? 

Because Sustainability is  a big commitment and it’s not always easy.
Tomorrow: Myth Four  - Water is a naturally occurring garden and household commodity.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The True Nature of Sustainability@home Part II - Gardening

Myth two - Gardening is easy – sow the seeds in a row, watch em grow.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Well I’ve been tempted to take mine out into the garden and suck the weeds up. Those nice neat cultivated rows full of perfect vegetables  you see in Beatrix Potter’s gardens are simply not achievable.  Not in my backyard.  The old saying, one year’s seeding is seven years weeding. Did anyone ever do the maths on our property?  No one weeded for at least ten years, and for each of those years it’s another seven, I’m looking at well beyond my own lifespan to get it back into manageable proportions.

One of my favourite pass times while weeding is to think about which weed I hate most, to prioritise my hit list. It’s not a pass time I ever get sick of, I’m not sure that life is long enough to sufficiently hate yarrow.

The thing is I’m never able to give up on my romantic ideal of this perfect garden and for small spaces in time I even manage to achieve it, then it’s a couple of weekends in a row doing something other than pulling weeds and it’s out of control and the only thing left to do is slink past the conquered rows or set fire to them.

Keeping on top of your garden is not easy.

Tomorrow - Myth three - Sustainability is easy.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The true nature of sustainability@home

Sustainability at home.  The idea of this is based on a romantic ideal, the return to a better world, one  rooted in the soil, living enriched lives with our children who chase chooks and gather eggs while we pick apples for a good old fashioned home baked pie. Roll out those neat ordered rows of vegies like custom made wallpaper of our sustainability dreams. Yeah, right.

Until recently  I’ve had just a few, small, relatively short lived crisis’s of sustainability faith, but then I chanced upon an advertisement  and it changed me.

The advertisement’s for a scheme where you can rent a chook and a portable chook pen  to set up in your backyard. So far, so good. It’s the rest of the ad that had me reeling. Now you’ve rented your chook, you’ll need a chook leash, you know, to take it for a walk. Hmmm, that’s weird and contrary to the nature of the average chook. Can’t imagine they’ll take to that in a hurry. But it’s the next part that had me.  We all know that chooks are famous for pooping.  To avoid the embarrassment of a gloopy poopy you can purchase chook nappies. It was right there in black and white, chook nappies. That’s when I realised that this whole concept of sustainability at home had simply got out of hand. I know people want to make a living, and they’re great at coming up with ingenious ways to reduce our water use while creating an income, and for the most part these are commendable.  But the chook nappy - it opened my eyes. I am no longer the same person because of the chook nappy. The chook nappy is crappy.  To mix my birds, it’s the canary in the cage, the feathered aviarian that tells us that things are not well in the mainstream, backyard push for a sustainable lifestyle.

So I figure this is a great opportunity to address this issue. Usually I write about my family’s adventure in backyard sustainability, where we challenged ourselves to go six months  without spending a dollar on food, power, water, fuel or basically anything but pay the mortgage, rates, insurances while living on a suburban block.  We did that in Queensland in 2005. We did bizarre things like grow our own toilet paper, eat garden snails, kept a goat in the backyard and even went without chocolate.  We wrote about it in the book Living the Good Life,   it details the ups and down’s of the six months, lots of recipes and facts, a row of raves designed to enlighten and enliven, even maybe make you laugh. It doesn’t romanticise sustainability and there’s not one chook nappy involved.

Instead I’m writing about the Ten popular misconceptions of a sustainable lifestyle.

Myth One - Everyone loves animals, it’s great to raise your own.

Animals bust down fences, fly over them, poke holes in them with their heads, they lean on them, they dig under them, they can lift gates off hinges, and snap 6 inch batten screws.  All because they love the things that we love to eat, and with half a chance they will scratch them out of the ground, and annihilate them in less time than it takes you to grab your pitchfork. Repeatedly.

Anyone who thinks those nice white fluffy  sheep are peaceful creatures should see mine. They’re noisy, insistent, greedy, they’re forever sorting out their pecking order with the goats. You can hear it while you’re in the garden.  The kind of thud you feel through your feet the same time you do your ears. The goats ate the blackberries. Our block was so overgrown that several cars were later found  buried deep in them.  Kind of a house sale bonus –the cars are now gone, and so are the blackberries. The goats ate the blackberries, but not the cars.  Which was great, but they’ve also  ring barked my sugar maples. One goat, let’s call her Peg, is so smart she can open gates and take the lids off buckets. She did this recently. Apart from having a big feed herself, she let all the sheep in too and they almost ate themselves to death. Pegs smart.  But the pigs weren’t about to be outdone.  They must have witnessed this transgression and decided on one of their own. You’ve  got to respect them for their ability to upend a battery on the wrong side of the electric fence and break out. Being shorter in nature, they didn’t even bother with trying to outwit the latch, a pig, let’s call her Browny, stuck her nose under the shed door and, well now it kind of hangs there a sad and buckled testament to our failed understanding of a pigs strength.

Pigs are not delicate creatures. When  Browny got into the shed she too wanted to remove the feed bin lids. So she trampled them till their poor buckled sides gave and the bucket lids popped off. She scoffed sufficient food to feed several tribes of starving Africans in five minutes.  Pigs are amazing animals, they tell you they plough your paddock for you, and they do. But you have to put a formidable amount of food into their tank for them to keep up the good work.  They also turned me into someone out of a hill billy movie. Because I can now soo-eeee! like the best of them. And when they coming running downhill towards you at great speed you worry about your kneecaps.

Our nappiless chooks, are past masters at seedling removal. And I’ll never forget the time I put them in the paddock with all my lovely tall sunflowers and looked out to see them like jumping beans, leaping up and pecking out the hearts. And you don’t want to get me started on about ducks.  I have ducks that have a 90% to 10% fart to duck ratio. It’s outrageous and while I’m ducking for cover I can’t help thinking of all the methane production.

Animals are not easy.

Tomorrow: Myth two - Gardening is easy – sow the seeds in a row, watch em grow.