Saturday, December 31, 2011

Riding to South Beach just like Oscar

Quin only got his training wheels off in October and he was fantastic at riding within a few days.

He had a love/hate relationship with his old bike. He totally loves riding and every waking moment we have to go and 'ride on the road'. He is particularly good at bombing down our little hill then doing long snakies on the road...but alas, all this joy had been tainted with the knowledge that his bike said...'Princess' and had purple flowers on it. We think his neighbour told him it said 'Princess'. He was devastated when he found out.

So for Christmas we got him a new bike. It came second hand from FERN, then we had it serviced and cleaned and put a new seat and flame grips on it. Now he has a boy bike that says 'Explosive'. Much better.

He is still a little wobbly on the new bike because he is about 2cm to short for it, but did this stop it did not! Quin insisted on riding all the way to South Beach which according to google maps is 4.1km. We only had to push the bike about 20m up a huge hill.

Quin is only 5 so we stay 100% on the footpaths and it works well for Ads to ride the cargo bike on the road to check side streets ahead of us and I ride behind Quin on the foot path. After some practice, Quin is getting better at following our instructions, you know the important ones like 'Stop, car coming!' and I think he is learning his left and right. But mainly I think his enthusiasm is due to seeing his friends and his family ride. Quin's little friend Oscar is a year older and has been riding to the beach for a while. Quin was so proud to say he rode all the way, 'Just like Oscar'.

And the other fantastic thing about the cargo bike is that it fits a kid, a bike and a beach bag for the trip home...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tweed Run 2011 and Freo Parade

The 2011 Fremantle Tweed Run was on recently, so we dressed up and went for a ride on the cargo bike. Here we are doing the dress rehearsal the day before...

We rode from Leighton Beach to Clancy's Fish Pub in Freo and listened to the cranking Big Old Bears, had some chips and ran around on the grass. 

It is my strong opinion that everyone should ride bikes and that the way to achieve this change is to ride bikes more often. In Freo we really don't need too many more cycle paths or bike racks or showers at the train station - don't get me wrong, I'd prefer this to more roads for cars, but more than just pictures of bikes on the side of the roads we need real live bikes on the roads! People on bikes makes drivers slow down and be aware way more than signs about it. And I know that seeing sustainable behaviour in friends has been crucial to me changing my behaviour. The tweed run is so fantastic for this, great job Dismantle! So get out and ride!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Big Old Bears

Amy and I have a new favourite band, Big Old Bears. I saw them play after The Tweed Run a few weeks ago, before Quin dragged me away. I liked them and then checked them out on line and loved their stuff. They play beautiful melodic music with folk/country influences and instruments like the banjo and mandolin. Think mellow Mumford and Sons, with a daughter. They are very cool!

Check out this beautiful acoustic song, Never Haunting Storm. What a gem, if I had a record label I would sign them up straight away.

And I can't believe I almost got in to a kind of video of theirs, The Streets of Fremantle. Some friends of ours are in it, we were actually at this event, must have got there too late...

Unfortunately they only have one EP out at the moment, which I got at 78's in Perth. Maybe you can get it on line somehow? I think a new record is in the pipeline though, so fingers crossed.

The greatest bit for us is that they are a local Perth band, so I'm looking forward to going to some of their gigs. I think they will be big, so maybe they'll be coming to your shores sometime soon. Check them out before you have to share them with 30,000 others.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


We've been having a few problems with our old bomb (an '88 Toyota Camry) for a while now. It ran really well for about 18 months and then I ran out of fuel once. I now know it's really bad to run out of fuel in an old car. Ever since then she hasn't been the same. She's been conking out all over the place and it's been quite nerve racking. It's not that great a feeling driving to work praying you'll get there without breaking down. Then Simes told me that it needed a new distributor, so I thought great and I got one and it made no difference! So when Quin left the lights on a few weeks ago after having a play in there, of course it didn't start. When I finally got it going again I took it for a spin to charge the battery and it conked out a few k's down the road. So I think the battery is dead (couldn't start it again) and the conking out issue is still there. Amy and I have been talking about whether we can live without a second car, so we took this opportunity to say bugger it let's lose the old bomb and see how we go (as permies say, try to turn a problem into a solution). It's really hard to cut your reliance on the car. We've tried and we know how hard it is. Below is a chart of the k's we have done for the last few years. We really haven't reduced our car use that much, even since getting the cargo bike. I think the best way is to go cold turkey, we can always buy another car but I don't think we will.

It's never really sat well with me to be a two car family, since I didn't even own a car until my late 20's. We both work about 20 kms from home, so it's a bit of a challenge to ride to work and drop off and pick up Quin from school without 2 cars. It's been a year since we got our electric cargo bike and that's been a great help, so we think we'll muddle through with the help from friends and relies. We're also going to buy a new dutch cargo bike, the Workcycles Fr8. It will look something like this (with a rear seat for Quin, plus panniers).

                      Photo source: Workcycles

Since riding our Bakfiets I don't think I could ride a bike not made in Holland and the Fr8 is a beauty. It's a smaller bike than the Bakfiets, with a modular design which allows many combinations of cargo/kid carrying. It still has some serious cargo carrying capacity (up to 250kg total). I was quite keen on getting a non-electric bike this time, but Amy is adamant that it should be powered. She thinks that way we will use it more often and be less reliant on the car. I really want a Fr8 so I'll go along with it I guess. It makes it rather complicated, since the bike needs a few modifications, but I think it will work out in the end. The theory is that the Fr8 will be more of a commuting bike, with the option of carrying Quin plus the shopping. The Bakfiets will still be useful for trips when we need more cargo space (eg putting Quin's bike in when he gets puffed out). Our aim is to take our average k's by car down by at least 10 a day and by bike up the same amount. I bet we can do it.

Cargone is the past participle of cargo by the way (I pinched it from this cargo bike courier).

The wrecker came today, so bye bye Camry. The family footprint keeps on shrinking...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

No chicks

21 days came and went with no "cheep cheep" sounds. We weren't too optimistic since the episode when Lacey got off the nest for a night. Today was day 22 and there were only two eggs left. The rest had either been smashed or eaten. So I took Lacey out and she seemed quite happy to get her freedom back. I took the eggs out and smashed them to see what was going on. They both popped with a loud bang and smelled awful. I was very sad to see two perfectly formed little chicks in there. I'm pretty sure they were both dead, they had a lot of yolk in with them and were pretty small. It looked like they had been going along nicely until she got off the eggs and didn't develop after that.

Where to now? We're tossing up whether to give it one more go or buy day old chicks. I'm tempted to give the eggs another go and put a roof over the broody area so the mother can't get out if startled. I just love the idea of the chicks having a Mum in there with them teaching them life skills and protecting them from the rest of the hens.

Summer is here I'm afraid. This is our least favourite season due to the extreme heat and lack of rainfall. It gets very hard to keep the garden productive in Perth over summer. We just had three days over 35C and the rains seem to have gone. Despite an 'average' winter of rainfall the dams are at 35%, which means if they drop 17% as they did last summer it won't be possible to take any more water from them. A cool change just came in thankfully and we'll get a week of cooler days.

On a lighter note the bananas are going well. We have about 8 hands with around 15 fruit each. They are still very small, but I'm hoping they'll get bigger soon. Even if they don't I'm sure they will taste infinitely better than  
the supermarket variety. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Quincey and I have two days a week at home together. Next year he will be in Pre School which is five days a week and we will only have weekends. Our home time is precious. Look what we did today!

Quincey says 'We have lots of dominos but not all.'

Monday, November 21, 2011

Solar hot water year 1

It's been a year now since we got a solar hot water system. As is my wont, I took weekly readings of our gas meter and set up a spreadsheet (gas-o-lean) to see what was happening. So here's the dirt: we cut our gas use by two thirds in one year! We also cut our gas bill from $470 to $200.

Our old hot water system was a 90L gas storage. It was fairly old and cladding the dunny wall would have been pretty hard with the tank in the way. So I looked in to the alternatives. Wood is a good sustainable option for combined heating and cooking and hot water, but it's not that easy or cheap to get wood in the city and we don't have much space for storing it. It also doesn't seem practical in Perth's hot climate, where lighting a fire in summer for a bit of hot water seems crazy. The next option we considered was instantaneous gas (IG). I'd been told that for low hot water users such as ourselves this might be best when taking into account the embodied energy aspect. This means that although more energy is used to heat water via IG than via solar, the larger embodied energy in solar systems can mean they are less sustainable than they appear (the energy used to manufacture solar systems takes a long time to be paid back by the solar generation). The last option we looked at was of course solar, which is a popular choice for many in one of the sunniest cities in the world. This seemed like an obvious choice for us since we run our house on PV power and because it's renewable. It drives me somewhat crazy when people almost talk of gas as renewable (just because it's cleaner than coal doesn't make it clean!). Solar just makes sense to me, you pays your money and you forget about it for 25 or so years. So despite some advice to the contrary we opted for solar.

You'll see in the photo above that we oriented the panel in landscape rather than the normal portrait fashion. This was because our roof has two pitches, with the upper two thirds steeper than the lower third. We wanted to get the panel at the steeper pitch because this maximises solar radiation in winter, which in Perth (as in most places) is when you get the least sunshine. The lower angle of the sun in winter means you need a steep pitch to get the most solar gain. In the end the panel bridged both pitches because the installers couldn't put the tank any closer to our PV panels. Unlike grid connect PV, where the main concern is generating the most power irrespective of time of year, solar hot water is all about getting the most heat out of the sun on the most days (since you can't store or feed the power elsewhere). This then minimises the amount you need to boost the hot water and maximises the efficiency of your system. In fact, if I were to build my own house I would consider having a roof at 25 degrees pitch for PV and a separate roof at 45 degrees for solar hot water.

Choosing solar was just the beginning. Would we go for a roof mounted tank or not, 180L or 320L, glycol panels or water, gas or electric boosting, stainless steel or ceramic tank, etc.

Roof mounting is a no brainer for me. Why would you want to defy gravity and use power to pump water from a tank on the ground to panels on the roof when you can use gravity to do all the work for you by mounting a tank on your roof? Roof mounted tanks (also known as thermosiphon systems) use less power and are more reliable (no pumps, etc to break down) so that's what we have. As the water in the panels heats up it rises into the tank, as the water in the tank cools it falls to the bottom and back into the panels.

We don't use much water, so my feeling was that 180L would be plenty and it turns out it is. I didn't appreciate it at the time we purchased, but having a 320L tank doesn't mean you have more hot water. It means you have more water at the same temperature as a 180L system, which isn't much help if you need to boost in winter (in fact you'll end up paying more for boosting a larger tank). This is because a 180L tank is installed with 1 solar panel and a 320L tank is installed with 2 solar panels, because it suits the tank size. Having 2 panels and a small tank would mean overkill for 9  months of the year and having 1 panel with a large tank would mean tepid water for 9 months of the year. So getting a larger tank means you have more water, not hotter water. As long as 180L is enough hot water, there is no point getting a larger system. Since we use 200-300L water a day in the house, this probably equates to about 100-150L at most of hot water and much less in summer (the hotter the water the more cold water it is mixed with to make it safe and usable).

The solar collectors are either filled with glycol or water. I don't understand this in too much detail, but we opted for glycol since they are more efficient and when they get to a certain temperature they shut off, whereas with water they can't shut off and the tank may need to purge (let off hot water) in summer, which is a waste of water. I had a look at evacuated tube technology, but my feeling is that it's mainly designed for cooler climates and that it wouldn't be worth the extra money in Perth.

The boosting system is an interesting one. Many people are advised to get IG as the boosting system for SHW (in fact you can't access some government rebates unless you gas boost), since gas is a more efficient way to boost than electricity. Modern IG systems are very efficient these days, partly because they don't have a pilot light burning 24/7, they have an electronic ignition which only lights up when you need it. Electric boosting works just like a kettle, there's an element in the tank which heats the water. We opted for electric boosting, partly due to cost ($1,500 less) and partly because I wanted to be in control of the boosting. I want to know when we've run out of solar hot water because then I can change my behaviour to suit the conditions. For instance I can skip a shower or wash the clothes on cold. With gas boosting you never know when you're on solar or gas because it just cuts in when the tank water reaches a certain temperature. This means you have no feedback loop from the hot water system and you can't change behaviour accordingly. This is a big deal for me, since cutting my emissions is the main reason I'm doing this. Also, I've worked out it costs me about $20 a year to boost. Let's say gas cost half this ($10) and IG systems last 15 years. This means IG saves me $150 over that time, but costs me $1,500 (a $1,350 loss). Doesn't seem too economical to me! The fact that I am sometimes inconvenienced because I have to wait 30 minutes for the booster to heat my water is not that big a deal.

Lastly we had to choose between stainless steel tanks and ceramic lined tanks. Ceramic lined tanks have a sacrificial anode in them which corrodes over time to protect the tank from impurities in the water. You need to replace these every 5 years and then the tank should last 25-30 years. Stainless steel tanks don't have an anode since they are supposedly rust proof. In reality even stainless steel has imperfections and sometimes can rust, in which case you need to replace the whole tank. We went for the ceramic type for peace of mind. I know I won't forget to get the anode checked and I just think the tank will last longer. The company we used are Solarhart, which is an Australian owned and manufactured product.

Here is a our weekly gas usage with and without solar.We use gas for heating, cooking and hot water. We use most in winter, mainly due to heating but also because water in the hot water tank cools more rapidly in winter.We cut our usage from 11.3 kWh a day to 3.7 kWh a day (by the way, if you're in WA and want to convert the units on your meter to kWh, multiply them by 11.3 (don't ask me why!)). This means that heating water used approximately two thirds of our gas (assuming our gas use for heating and cooking were similar in both years). We've had a solar oven for the last year but I don't think that would have reduced our gas use that much. If you're wondering about the weeks in summer in year 2 being as high as year 1, those were preserving weeks when we were using the gas hob for big batches of tomatoes and other fruit.

Converting to kWh is good because you can then calculate your combined gas and electricity use in the same units. I was interested to see this since our boosting with electricity would have bumped up our usage a bit. I estimate that we used roughly an extra 0.5 kWh of electricity a day for 22 weeks between May and September to  boost our hot water. Overall, we cut our power usage almost in half by getting SHW, from 15.6 to 8.2 kWh a day (see running average chart below). This is roughly half the consumption of low users stated by Living Smart for a family of 3 people in Perth, which means we use about a quarter of the 'average' family's consumption.

What about the economics? Our system cost us $3,500 after rebates. We made a saving of $290 on our bills in the first year, which comes to $270 after deducting boosting costs. Assuming gas price rises of 5% a year this means a payback time of 10 years for us. This means we should get 14-19 plus years of free hot water and savings of around $17,000 over 30 years ($13,500 after initial costs). Most people would pay off much more quickly though, with some high users paying off their costs in 3-4 years. Our combined electricity and gas bills should be between $0 and $50 for the next 9 years (this will increase when the electicity Feed in Tariff expires). I feel the $10,000 we invested in PV and SHW was money well spent, since we'll have very low bills for the next 25 years at least. In uncertain economic times this is a good thing. If the GFC Mark II comes sooner rather than later, I could lose my job but at least I  wouldn't have to worry about huge utility bills.

How far behind peak oil is peak gas? I'm not sure but I'm pretty confident it's a fair way until peak sun...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blooming bananas

It doesn't seem so long ago that we posted on the flower spike's emergence, but things are happening fast with our bananas. The flower stork shot up in the air and then promptly dived down towards the ground, at which I ran around panicking that the tree would fall over and we'd lose our babies. After some emailing and discussions we decided that we didn't need to prop the bunch yet since the trunk of our plant is so sturdy. Here is the latest shot.

The bunch is pretty big and smells beautiful and sweet. I had a peek today and here is the best bit.

I guess they are about 10cm long, with around 20 fruit in each bunch. I don't know how many hands we'll get, but I'm hoping we get at least 200 fingers (fruit) in all. I'm surprised that they're yellow, not green. Anyway, we'll let you know the ongoing progress.

Lacey seems to be doing a fairly good job of sitting on her eggs. One disappeared (I'm pretty sure she ate it), but apparently that's not too unusual. One day Amy found her off the nest, she had flown over the small fence and gone back into the laying boxes. We think she must have got a fright (rat?) and freaked out a bit. Amy put her straight back and we're hoping she wasn't off for too long and that the eggs are still viable. 8 days to go...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pregnant bananas

A few weeks ago Amy mentioned how the trunk of one of our banana plants was really thick at one point. It's been interesting seeing it swell and move up the trunk and pop out at the top.

I'm pretty sure this is the flower stalk coming up, which means we'll have fruit before too long. We're so excited, after all the work we've been through since the in vitro rearing (see here) in February 2010 and planting in September 2010. They've grown up to be big and strong now. One is bigger than the other, which is probably good since it means they won't both fruit at the same time.

Now I need to put more potash on at bell emergence and hope for the best. I'll keep you posted. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011


A few weeks ago we bought some fertile eggs to put under one of our broodies, Polly. Motherhood didn't seem to suit her unfortunately and it all turned out badly in the end. She broke a few eggs and pooed in the nest, then she broke a few more eggs, we cleaned up the mess but I think it was too late by then. In the end we went away for the weekend and when we came back she was off the nest and all the eggs were broken. We think maybe she's just too highly strung for the job, so she won't get another chance.

Oh well. We've selected a new broody and we think she'll be a great mum. It's Lacey, one of our Australorps. She is the most placid, beautiful little girl and she often gets broody. We put her in the separate chick nest before we bought the eggs and after a while she settled in. Then we bought another dozen eggs and she is happily sitting on them now. As soon as we put them under her she nuzzled them up close to her and she seems like a natural. Fingers crossed, we'll know in about 20 days.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How does your garden grow

We think Polly is a slightly neurotic mother to be. She's a good sitter but perhaps a bit too good. See, when she started sitting she didn't even get out of the nest to poo and her eggs got all dirty. She also broke one. But we cleaned out her nest and she got right back on. She worked out that she had to get out of the nest to feed and poo. Things were looking up...but then today she broke another egg! So again we cleaned out the nest and again she got right back on. Her due date is one week today. Fingers crossed!

Loads of sweet peas, salvias and still heaps of other flowers are in bloom. We still have lots of lettuce, parsley, beets, onions, beans, carrots, celery, spinach and a few sad looking cabbages and caulies which we should be greatful for (who cares if they are not prize winning, perfect, genetically modified, chemical doused things - they are good and wholesome and home grown! At least that's what I tell my boys!). The zuchs, squash, toms and basil are in and growing well.

This garlic is what we grew at Hilton Harvest! And we have more to harvest in our home garden.
And the most exciting news this week is that Quin has his training wheels off! He can even stand up on his pedals and yell 'Woooh!' as he zooms down the hill. Now we just have to try to make it to South Beach like his little friend Oscar. We are off the the Freo Family Bike Picnic tomorrow. We can fit Quin and his bike in our cargo bike. Perfect!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fruity yum yums

Fruity yum yums reminds me of birdy num nums, howdy partner and other silliness. And when I think of Peter Sellers and the brilliance of another of his films Being There, I can't help feeling sad about how he didn't get an Oscar for it (probably the greatest acting performance not to receive an Oscar). If you haven't seen go get it out. Anyway, I'm getting side tracked a bit so I'll get back on track.

Mid spring is mulberry season in Perth and the fruit is bountiful. It's one of the few berries that do well here since most need lower temps than we get, so it's something to look forward to. The season is fairly short (around 6 weeks) and this means that huge amounts of fruit are available in a short space of time. This can happen with many fruits and the challenge is to find ways to preserve it so it doesn't get wasted and so you can have fruit out of season, without the food miles and packaging, preservatives, etc that come with shop bought produce. Kids love most fruit fresh off the tree, but even they can't gorge themselves on it all.

This is where preserving comes into its own. There are loads of ways to preserve fruits (jam, cordial, chutney, preserving juice or fresh fruit in vacuum sealed jars, drying, freezing, etc.), but one method I hadn't tried until recently was making fruit leather. I saw a recipe which caught my fancy and have just been trying it out. It's yum.

The recipe is one of Pam Corbin's (or Pam jam as she's sometimes known) of River Cottage fame, in River Cottage Handbook No.2, Preserves. I don't think she'll sue me if I tell you the recipe. Mix 500 grams of fruit (could be any, recipe says blackberry, I used mulberry, my mum did figs) and the same amount of cooking apple (500g after peeling and coring) with the juice of 1 lemon.

Cook these gently in a saucepan until they're soft and pureed (20-50 mins).

Then rub them through a seive or mouli into a bowl. You should have about 700g of puree. Add 150 grams of honey and mix well.

Divide the puree between 2 baking trays (24 by 30cm, line with baking paper).

Put the trays in the oven and cook for 12-18 hours at a very low setting (60C or gas mark one eighth). I found I couldn't get my old oven that low, so in the end I turned it way down and left the door open a crack. This made it between 75-90C, which seemed to work for the 12 hours. 12 hours in the oven, won't that bankrupt me I hear you say. Don't worry, it used about 6 kW of gas which costs us around 60 cents. Peel the leather off the sheets, it should be soft and pliable and peel off easily. I was surprised at how easily it came off.

Voila, the leather is done! The first batch was a disaster (good for nowt but compost), but undeterred I tried again. I think the oven temp was too high and I left it for too long. I recommend putting it on around 8pm when you have the next day free, this way you can check it when you get up and either take it out or keep it going a while.

The second batch turned out beaut. Wrap it in greaseproof paper and store it in an airtight container, it should keep up to 5 months. Needless to say it's absolutely gorgeous. My taste is more more on the umami side, but I still love it. 

I'm just about to do my third batch, trying to get as much fruit off the neighbour's tree before it gets pruned. Many (crazy) people actually think of mulberries as a nuisance because of the stains it can cause. This is a real shame because it means so much is wasted, but it's also good in a way because you can harvest as much as you want even if you don't have your own tree.

It's the school hols right now, but when school starts again I'm betting that all the kids will be jealous of Quin's mulberry leather in his lunch box...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Our Daily Bread

It's taken me ages to get good at making my own bread. During my previous attempts I would try to convince myself that my hard, weapon like creations were just rustic and crusty. But actually if I swung it at an intruder I would have concussed him or her. No one liked it and we all secretly craved fluffy, white, bowel cancer bread from the shops. So I gave up and left my jar of sourdough leven to go pink and funky in the depths of my fridge. Actually it's still there. Don't tell Ads or I will have to clean it out. 

I'm always amazed at how susceptible I am to being inspired by wonderful people. In the case of sourdough breadmaking it took two; my work colleague who would often proudly (and rightly so) show me her beautiful bread at lunch time and another friend who gave me the practicalities of an actual recipe (!) and a fresh jar of leven. The recipe came from gnowfglins and the instructions were really good and clear. She also gave me a sourdough cracker recipe which is something I thought, like puff pastry, would be impossible to make but it turns out it's easy! 

Every week or so I feed up my leven, make my dough, let it rise over night (usually), then bake them the next day. I freeze one and eat the other. I love it. I love buying my 12.5kgs of organic flour at the local organic collective and feeding my leven and watching it bubble. I love smelling the leven every time I feed it. I still love taking the tea towel off the bowl after 8 hours and feeling happily surprised at how much it has risen. But the thing I love most of all is putting my fresh, organic, perfectly golden brown loafs in to an old plastic bag that I have used dozens of times before!

I have discovered one tip about getting a nice shape. I snip the slits with a pair of scissors. When I used a knife I could never get the slits deep enough and the bread would crack down the length of one side, but now they rise nice and evenly, as pictured above!

Here is my Vacola jar of leven. I like the recipe because it uses lots of leven and I don't waste any. I feel I can afford organic flour because good bought bread costs a bomb, but I must be saving heaps by making my own. Often I add seeds (home grown poppy is my fav!) and do half wholemeal half white which we all seem to like. 

Making good bread is one of those things that I just don't know why everyone isn't doing themselves. It's easy, cheap, really good for you, fun, environmentally streets ahead of the bought variety and makes your house smell homely. I feel like such a good housewife when I make bread. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Motherly Instincts

Tonight we put a dozen fertile eggs under Polly. She is our broodiest girl, viciously broody. She doesn't just peck you when you collect the eggs, she pecks and twists and has drawn blood more than once. I think she will be a very good and dedicated mum.

This is the first time we have tried to hatch our own chooks and its all very exciting! Adam made a little enclosure for Polly with a big dog kennel (off the verge) and a lawn mower grass catcher (also off the verge) for a nest. We made her little nest and dusted it with derris dust to keep off any mites. We went off to Oakford to collect the fertile eggs this afternoon - they are Isa Brown cross. When we got home we moved Polly from her normal nesting box to her new family home nesting box but she became a little unsettled and came off the nest. The lady we got the eggs off suggested we put a grate over the nesting box so she stays put, so we did that and she stayed (of course!) and tonight we put the eggs under her. She gave Ads a good peck so we think this is a good sign.

We want to increase and diversify our flock with Isa Brown type chooks, you know the boring looking little brown girls that just lay and lay even through winter. Our beautiful Australorps and Winedotts are indeed beautiful and lay well in spring through autumn but go off the lay in winter. I think we will all get a kick out of seeing chicks hatch under Polly and we think Polly will be in seventh heaven with her own little brood to love and protect. Keep your fingers crossed that Polly will prove us right about her character!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Good weeds

Like most people we have lots of weeds in our garden. Some of them are bad, like soursob and rye grass and many more I can't name. But some are good, which I guess means they're not technically weeds. Isn't it funny how the word weed is pejorative, as in someone is weedy. The reality is that weeds are the strongest since they don't need as much water, nutrients, etc. Here are a few of my favourites. Some are blow ins and some were introduced by us and keep coming back.

Warragal greens (New Zealand spinach). We got some seeds of this and it grew really well out the front with no watering. It's good for chook feed, as a live mulch which out competes soursob (a nasty weed) and as a spinach substitute if we don't have any. Also good for bulking up compost. It comes up from seed in winter and dies back in summer.

Nasturtiums. I can't remember if we planted them or not, but they thrive here. They can be used in salads, but we mainly use them as a compost feedstock. The flowers are beautiful and attract polinators.

Nettles are blow ins. They are one of what permaculturalists call 'dynamic accumulators'. These are plants with deep roots which can access nutrients that are unavailable to most other herbs and vegies. The nutrients are stored in the plants and we use them (and comfrey) in our compost. Care is needed with these stingers though, Amy is always asking me to pull them up but I can't bear to. I think the best thing to do is to plant/transplant into inaccessible spots.

Fat hen. I got some seeds from City Farm and since planting they have come up all over the place. This photo is of an old bed frame in the chook yard which has some fat hen under it. The chooks eat any leaves they can get at without killing the plants. A great chook feed plant.

Italian or flat leaf parsley. This comes up in winter and grows prolifically until mid summer. It's just great in cooking.

Marigolds. These are supposed to be pest repellant and they're also a good one to bring in pollinators.

Cape gooseberries. These are just yum, Quin has them straight off the bush and we sometimes get a few left over for salads.

Cos lettuce. Most lettuce will self seed if you let them, here's one happily growing in the paving. We've found cos are the hardiest and easiest to grow here in Perth.

Poppies. These are the old type (opium poppies). The flowers are beautiful and so is the grey foliage. We also harvest the seed to use in sourdough bread, cakes, biscuits and soap. If you're down on your luck you could even have a go at making your own heroin!

You'll no doubt have other species which do well in your backyard.  And as Jerry Coleby-Williams says, you shouldn't let plants dictate where they grow. If you get self sown plants in spots you don't want them just pull them out or transplant them. Just be careful not to introduce a plant into your area that could become a noxious weed. Your local agriculture department should have a list of these and you'll need to be especially careful if your property backs onto bush or a water course. 

Like mallees in the wheatbelt, weeds grow without TLC. They get by on rain and whatever nutrients they can get. If they can do the job of other plants which need more attention, just go with the flow. Why fight nature? Next time you go to pull something up that you don't recognise just wait a while. As the permies say, don't pull a weed until you've identified it. It could be a great asset in the garden...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bellyesta; the perfect combo

First of all, Adam is not taking over this blog. Right, on to pressing issues like bellydancing. 

I am passionate about two things in life, one is bellydancing and the other is environmental sustainability and for one glorious event a year, the two collide! Last weekend I danced with my very own wonderful troupe, Tribalive, at my very favourite festival, The Hulbert Street Sustainability Fiesta

In no particular order, here’s why I love them both…

Both are full of life: Tribalive consists of women who you could never control! They are vivacious, intelligent, opinionated and full of life and they make up a tribe that has its own life and direction. No-one is in control of Tribalive, it takes us all on a journey. The Fiesta bursts forth with life once a year. The street seethes with people, performers and passion. Hulbert Street, even in its seemingly dormant stage, is the heart of sustainability around here. As a side note, good compost is also seething with life; all kinds of microbes, invertebrates and bacteria.

Both are unhomogenized: Tribalive has only two born and bred Aussies, the rest are from goodness knows where. We are young and old, slim and curvy and all are beautiful. We are proudly unhomogenized. At the Fiesta you can purchase anything from cotton menstrual pads to solar panels. Take a ride in a cargo bike or a bath. Knit, meditate, dance, garden. But no TV; only things good for the soul. I also notice that my home made compost is not homogenized like Bunnings’ compost and I’m comfortable with that. There is too much homogeneity in the world.

Both give me inspiration: Tribalive inspire me to dance and do what I do best. What more could I ask? The Fiesta inspires all who walk there. What more could a community ask? Compost inspires me to garden.

Both give me hope: Bellydancing has helped me through many tough times. It takes me away from daily stresses and helps me just be in the moment. I can face busy weeks as long as it includes Tribalive! The Fiesta, well actually the people, networks, theory and sustainable life practices that make up the Fiesta give me hope in a future that is safe for me and my family. To see so many people so enthusiastically and joyously look towards sustainability together makes me want to dance! Compost gives me hope that the seeds I plant in it will make for my next bumper crop.

And so you can see why Tribalive has a special thing for the Fiesta, we love it dearly and fit right in. We think the Fiesta might love us just as much!

By the way, I managed to squeeze in a composting workshop between dancing, serving on the Hilton Harvest stall and exploring the Fiesta with Quin. I am also passionate about compost. 

Here we are at the Fiesta, and this is Quin meeting his new hero, Captain Clean-up. We cannot wait till next year!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cruel to be kind

After having said how good the chooks are going we have the first broody chook of spring. Lacy, one of our Australorps, has just gone broody. For those who don't know, broodiness is when a chook wants to sit on eggs and raise chicks. They have an urge to be a mum in other words. This is not good if you just want eggs, because broodies don't lay eggs they just sit on them. Usually they lay one and the other chooks quite happily add to the pile. If you have a rooster and want to raise more chooks then you can turn this to your advantage, but we don't have a rooster so all our eggs are infertile. So how do you debroodify a hen? There are a few ways to do it. Some say to dunk the chook under water for a few seconds, but that hasn't worked for us. The only way we have found to work is the broody box.

Here is Lacy in our broody box. The Broody box is a cage we got off the verge. It has a small door just big enough to squeeze our biggest girl Snowy in. It is raised up on bricks to get the wind up the broody's clacker, the opposite of what she wants (a warm, dark, secluded spot). The other features are water and food, which we wire in so the chook won't tip them over. A shady spot is good for summer, sunny for winter. Some people see this as a cruel way to treat a chook, but they're wrong. If you leave a broody chook to itself it will stay there for weeks and will lose weight, get dehydrated and will be vulnerable to disease and heat/cold stress. The first thing a broody will do when you put it in the box is take a big drink of water because it's parched.

The broody will stay in there for 3-5 days. Most of the time a chook will come straight out and be fine, sometimes a persistent broody will need another stretch of time to get over the cluckiness. So be cruel to be kind next time you have a broody, it should do the trick. Hopefully the eggs will keep flowing...