Look after the earth and it will look after you.

I have been at my parents place for the last two days. And as always we have eaten very well from their land. How many kids get to go to their Pa I want to pick my own apple and then get into it for morning tea, or eat grapes picked 30 seconds before from the vine.

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We at the most beautiful carrot so sweet they tasted as if they had been drizzled with honey, fresh beans, potatoes, parsnips and pumpkin. The only part of our meal that was not from food feet rather than food miles was the chicken that my parents picked up at Aldi.

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They harvests rain water, grey water, composts, worm farms, integrated vegetable patches, herbs, orchards and all on his 2.5 acres. He hits the local zone 5 and gets excess deciduous tree mulch and animal manure from the people he knows.

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Wild harvests as they can.

Builds from recycled and reused objects raiding the local pallet pile before it gets burned.

They bottle, dry, salt, pickle and freeze produce.

He leaves fruit for native wild life and  today we saw multiple native species on his block, bees are everywhere as are other beneficial insects.

sunflower with bees

He raises pasture chicken for meat and eggs, ducks and some very happy looking sheep.

Keeps his own seeds and rarely if at all uses sprays.

Nothing gets wasted. This is how my parents have lived they eat well and pass on good values to their grandchildren. If you were to ask my father does he practice permaculture he would shake his head I just do what I do.

He has lawns, he has monoculture beds as well as the integrated ones and heaven help me if I ask him to keep those weeds I love to eat nope, they go to the chickens and sheep son. And you feed them to our grandkids …

I have heard from a number of permies that David Holmgren has often said that many people who think they are practicing permaculture are not and many who do not know what permaculture is are.

I am amazed at what they can grow and with so little. We are talking the biggest tubs of basil you have ever seen, kilos of fruit and berries any type of veggie you can imagine. Pretty much they put it in the ground it grows. They are blessed with great soil I will admit the rich red volcanic soil helps a lot but the main thing that helps is that my parents have worked on this land for the last 40 years. They have looked after it, mulched it fertilized it it you name it they have helped it.

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And now even though they are getting on, they and are healthy but slowing down a bit, the land looks after them producing all they could need and want.

We came home to Melbourne with enough grapes and apples to take to work and feed the kids for a week, carrots parsnips, beetroot, lemons, mint and a full sized shopping bag of fresh basil for me to make pesto tomorrow!

It certainly inspires me every time I go up there to get into my garden and make it better for my family.

There is something in this for us all. If you look after the little bit of earth you have in the same way my parents look after their patch we might all just get by.

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So you bought nothing new in October … Big Deal?

So we finished buy nothing new in October a few days ago and it was an interesting experience.

In some ways enlightening in a lot of ways quite scary.

Yes we ended up using our exemptions. Andrea got all her bee equipment and I ended up getting a roll of bird netting other than that there were a few items we purchased that fell out of the exemption but not many but they are listed below.

  • Plastic cups for the kids
  • New sandals for the kids for the hot weather we had
  • Potting mix for seedlings

I found it easy once I got into the rhythm of it and found that I actually enjoyed the way it made me sit back and think about things. I can be a bit (LOT) driven to get things done and sometimes rather than finding something I already have I will like most people rush forward to bunnings or another store to get the items to get the job done to rush around some more. I very quickly realized all that the time spent charging around to get the items was greater than the time saved and I got more done by not running off to buy things ‘to save time’.

One of the main examples of this was pots. October is a major seedling time in our part of the world leading into summer September/October is the busiest time for us. As I couldn’t buy any trays or pots this year I had to go looking and find the ones I had and find new ways to grow things.

When I went looking a just kept finding plastic pots, in the back yard, in my shed, under my house. I am not only setup for this year but next and onward. I also trialed using old toilet rolls and other small cardboard items as seedling posts which has worked out brilliantly and will be repeated every year. I may or may not have done these without the buy nothing new month but it brought it into clarity and made me try things.

Equally we have tended to buy a lot of plastic box’s to store stuff and use the cardboard box’s as either weed suppressant in the back yard or it goes into recycling. Using them to store things while cleaning up the spare room (read old storage room/son’s new room) has been good we have looked at the boxes now as a resource for reuse. And as we have bought nothing new these are from work or family or friends. We now look at boxes and go ‘ooh that is a good one for this or that’. I also stored things in boxes freeing up the plastic boxes for better uses.  It is quite ridiculous what we waste in this society and what can be reused.

While I enjoyed it and so did A. She found it a little harder particularly with the children but she admitted it was good to not go looking in shops for stuff. In time I think she would have got into the rhythm of second hand stores but at the end of the day the buy nothing new month is a short time we have enough that we don’t really need to buy things for a month in this rich society.

I have built both my garden shed and the chicken run out second hand materials found as hard waste. It took time as you are not working with standard materials and this will seem odd to many when you can just duck down to the store and buy a tin shed and put it up pretty quickly. In a lot of countries what I have built from is better than what many people have to build their homes.

I saw a show on a refugee camp and one of the things that really struck me was the bucket repairer.  A plastic bucket here in Australia cost me about 40 seconds of earning time. If they break most people here would just throw them out. But this guy reworked them and repaired them and kept parts to repair another. Given the embodied energy in the item yet again the third world through necessity is doing what the rest of us should be doing by default.

This is not for everyone and it will be a long time before most Australians are forced to do it by cost (and I hope we never really get there as by that stage the already dire situation for the guy repairing buckets is going to be terminal) but it is something we should be doing as we have the greatest impact on the planet through our profligate and stupidly wasteful ways.

Perhaps a better way for us in the first world is to use our wealth to purchase items that last longer and are more ethical and really show the value of that embodied energy and resources. We purchased handmade Italian leather boots some time ago. Yes they were expensive but they have lasted through our daughter and now our son and looking like they will last should the plan of a third come to fruition and then go to friends or family. Put your value into that embodied energy and allow those not so wealthy in the world to do what they need to do to get by.

At the end I was a bit surprised that we didn’t rush out and buy stuff. We didn’t seem to need to. Yes A. bought some clothes but that more to do with a giant growing baby and a wedding we had to attend than just shopping withdrawal symptoms.

So where to from here?

I enjoyed it and would like to do this for a quarter next time and see how it goes but it will require careful negotiation at the end of the day I am in a family and a relationship and forcing your own views on people is just being a zealot and that does not help change anything.

What I can do is to work on myself and fixing that up first. I am not sure if I will ever get to the point of my neighbor who would not spend by his own accounting more than 10% of his wage on new stuff and I will most certainly never ever get to the guy who repairs buckets but as I play peekaboo and chasey with my son in between writing this post I am reminded that is what I personally have many reasons to try.

The Olla Bed

About a year ago I built an Olla bed. For those of you not familiar olla are a low tech unglazed earthen ware containers used to provide water directly to the roots of a plant.

A much better article than I could ever write is found at

http://permaculturenews.org/2010/09/16/ollas-unglazed-clay-pots-for-garden-irrigation/

With summer just around the corner (despite the sudden cold snap) I thought I had better give a report on how it is doing.

My Olla are not so pretty being made of some old clay pipe I had access to and some pot bases. I Sanded them to remove any glaze and used silicon to bind it all together. Over the last summer they lasted really well requiring a single fill up of the three olla to last the week.

I also incorporated a mini worm farm into the bed that helps to keep up the worms in the beds and compost it.

As you can see the beds are thriving. Last summer almost all of our salad vegetables came from this one bath tub. I was sick and tired of plastic packets of salad vegetables costing me a fortune and going bad after about two days.

The bed requires very little work to keep the plants maintained and as you are feeding directly to the roots of the plant the amount of weeds has been very minimal. I have used seedlings for the most part planting them around the Olla and this seems to work best for me, the developed roots seem to find the water without much trouble. Direct seeds seem to go the way of the weeds and not do as well.

This year I will be adding some herbs and more leafy greens to the mix and seeing how much I can push the system and how long the reservoirs will last with the bed fully loaded.

In the next week or two I will drop a post on the build process I went through.

Pots for Plants.

I have been busy planting seeds again today. Two weeks ago I put together the mini hot house and it  is already paying dividends. So far the seedlings are doing well with about 10 of the 16 varieties of seeds I planted up and running and few more looking I am expecting to see come out soon.

Today I planted tatsoi, mibuna, corn salad and other greens, egg plants, capsicum, herbs and about half of the dozen types of heritage tomato seeds I was given. Nasturtium and some other flowers. I also prepared a new bed for planting and started to sort out the area for the heugan bed I am going to build.

The little urban block is going to be a buzzing hopefully this year. I am going to try to fill each of the micro climates I have and see what works and what does not. What we like and what we don’t.

One of the big issues for me obviously is getting enough trays for seedling. I will be honest I use a mix of my own compost and commercial organic potting mix for this and it is working well. I have purchased some seedling trays but I try to use up what I have to pot up things so that I don’t have to add to the weight on the world of plastic and waste and also keep the cost down.

Today I used some old toilet rolls which I have cut in two ways to see which works better, some milk cartons and as many of the old seedling trays I can find around the place from previous years.

As I said it feels good to use what would be waste or even recycled for a new use. We recycle where we can but at the end of the day reusing is a better of the four ‘R’s’

So go and see what you can find to plant in and plant as many types of seeds as you can swap them with your neighbour just get planting.

Oh and yes my neighbours will get a fair chunk of seedlings I have indeed over done it but hey that is ok.

Spring is here

Well spring is well and truly here. In the last week we have had some wild old weather her in Victoria to the point where I emptied out the new mini hot house of seeds in case it got knocked over.

But today well today was a spring day. Lovely warm and sunny. Mother Nature living it up. Trees are blossoming, bees are at the flowers, seeds I planted only last weekend are charging out of the growing mix already. The broad beans are 1.5 meters high and even the first of the self sown tomatoes is up and at it.

We have had a big weekend. We had considered going to a few houses today for sustainability day but we decided to work on our own place. Sometimes you need to seek inspiration sometimes you need to get stuff done.

We have started the spring clean of the house and are doing a permi/5s on the house. Over the last 3 years of having the kids we have allowed the place to get a bit out of hand as we get less and less space and this means that it has become less user friendly. This is now being addressed.

The primary focus for me apart from the house has been getting seeds in grow tray and garden beds, preparing beds and planting seedlings and tree’s. This is that short window where you can get the garden into shape for the growing season. So I am bit busy.

So far I have put a dozen types of plants in seed trays have another 6 – 7 to go and just ordered another 12 from green harvest so the back yard will be prolific. Not sure how many plants we have but I will do a stock take at some point of what we have in the garden.

The weekend was not all work yesterday and today we paused as the kids ran around in the back yard having a ball and have enjoyed some press pesto, as good a taste of spring as there can be.

I have tomorrow off from work and a bit to do a spare tank to setup and plumb in, logs to inoculate, blue stone to purchase and 2 meters of road base to be moved around for the base of retaining walls and other projects.

So off to bed I go and wish you all the best of the spring get out there and enjoy it.

A quick salad.

So Monday night is training night for me which means that A. has a standard meal of rice, tuna/salmon and salad for her and the kids (and me latter on).

Of late we have been lucky that we can use the garden for most of our salad items.

A quick five minute run around netted the salad below. A little extra virgin olive oil from a work mate who’s brother presses his own olives. Some vinegar and you have a nice meal.

So what did we have?

  • Baby Cos leaves
  • Nasturtium leaves
  • Nasturtium flowers
  • Celery leaves
  • Some strange Italian lettuce
  • A little bit of rocket
  • Spinach leaves
  • Heritage tomato’s

As I said not bad for 5 minutes work and pretty damn tasty. You do not need a huge garden to get this kind of harvest. A few pots to grow your herbs and salad vegetables. If you get nothing more than fresh herbs and salad a couple of times a week from this that will make a huge difference to your health, budget and the one of the billion tiny acts that will help the world. 

And of all these things which is my favourite? The nasturtium flowers of course. Colour, taste, health and beauty what more can you ask for in food.

Grow your own tree’s… maybe…

Yesterday I visited a friends place and he mentioned he had an unusual apple tree that no one could identify. I checked both this and his apricot tree and noted that neither was grafted and both grew true. The apple is an early eating apple and the apricot a mid season both gaps, I have in my tree harvest routine.

So rather than try to work it out I grabbed a bucket of cuttings from this and his old apricot tree along with some geraniums in a nice colour he had before I left.

So today while my parents in law visited I got to work and put together some cutting beds and cut up the material I had to propagate. I also setup a quick mini propagation house out of an old stryrophom box and old fridge shelf I had.

This is not the first time I have propagated items with cuttings, some with success some didn’t quite make it. At the end of the day I have some nice grape vines which where my first attempt. Proof that sometimes it is better lucky than smart. Second didn’t go so well … the third was some quinces and hazelnuts and they appear to have struck very well. This will be the fourth attempt.

Each time I have propagated more than I could ever use in my back yard.

So why do this. For one it is cheap and I get species that are not readily available. Don’t get me wrong I spend a lot of money on on the odd and wonderful in trees and plants so getting a tree for free is nice.

It fills a gap in my harvest schedule

Reciprocation is another reason, I have got several figs and other plants from people and it is nice to be able to offer them something in return. Swapping plants saves money and saves species.

The final reason is that for all I know this could be the only apple tree of its type in Melbourne and it is great to get it out there and keep it going as a species.

I also decided that the two ballerina apples down the side that have produced two apples in 4 years can have a second chance as a stock for some of this tree grafted on it. I have never done a graft before and the photo’s are my first attempt. Hey if you never try you can never fail. But you can also never get anything done, and I remember those poor grapes. Better lucky than smart.