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...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Guilt free showers

Spring is a great time in WA, undoubtedly my favourite season. Here are some reasons:
The wild flowers are in full bloom in the garden and bush. WA's endemic flora is beautiful, hardy and diverse. I have fond memories of Amy and I travelling to exotic places like Enneaba and the Stirling Ranges in search of orchids and other floral wonders. We don't get out bush much these days, but it's in my mind that we should head to the hills for some wild flower spotting. Here are some pics from our travels. 

The vegie garden is healthy and productive. At the moment we're self sufficient in silverbeet, spinach, lettuce, broad beans, peas, brocoli, cabbage, celery, beetroots, oranges, potatoes, parsley, coriander and more. The retic's still off due to good rainfall. We're looking forward to asparagus, globe artichokes and garlic which are all coming soon. The summer veg are in, with tomatoes, zuchinni, squash and basil either in the ground or cloche.

Second crop of spuds                                          Celery, coriander, peas, calendulas, silverbeet, artichokes
The fruit trees are either in full bloom or fruiting. We have a decent crop of almonds, apples, figs and a bumper crop of strawberry guavas to look forward to. Our thoughts are turning to jam. The native quandong trees should have ripe fruit now. Last year we picked an eski full at a friend's place near Capel and made jam. If you haven't tasted quandong jam then you have something to look forward to, it's one of the best jams on the planet. The neighbourhood mulberry trees are loaded with free fruit which most people can't be bothered picking and are more than happy to let you have. I want to try Pam Jam's fruit leather this year for something different, with apples and mulberries.


Apple blossom, almonds and the transplanted fig tree.

The chooks are happy and healthy and most importantly laying eggs. They're not broody (yet) and we're getting 3 eggs a day from our five girls. We have recently been planning phasing in a new brood as the girls get old and less productive. Maybe they have caught wind of this and are frantically laying in order to delay their inevitable meeting with the local 'chook grim reaper' Tim Darby.

Another great thing about early spring is the guilt free shower (GFS). Dave, a friend of ours, told me about the GFS a while back and I didn't fully appreciate it until recently. Normally when we have a shower there are two things on our mind, water and power. If the source of these two are not sustainable a GFS is impossible for people who really care about sustainability. In other words, we can only have a GFS when the rain water tank is full and we have enough sun to heat our water. These two things overlapping is rare, which means that most of the time we either have short showers/shallow baths or we feel guilty about wasting our precious resources.

We recently replaced our gas storage system with a solar hot water system. We almost have a year's data for this, but you'll need to wait until November for the full report. We have had to boost our hot water with electricity over winter, which although it is from PV I would still prefer to be feeding back to the grid. In the last few weeks we have been able to get by without boosting on sunny days, so there is one half of the equation solved.

Unfortunately when the sun's shining it means it isn't raining, unless we're lucky enough to get rain overnight and sun in the day (THE perfect weather!). In WA the winter rains often switch off suddenly in spring and it's not unusual to go 6 months with little meaningful rainfall. So after a couple of months being fairly blase with our water use, this is the time of year when we start to think more carefully about turning the tap on. Even if the tank is full, we tend to be careful.

All this means that the overlap between having enough water and renewable power is brief, but it is now. We have had good rainfall this winter, the tank is full and there is more rain forecast. And we have had some lovely sunny spring days with plenty of solar hot water. I splash out on these days and have extremely decadent 5 minute showers, rather than the normal 3-4 minutes. Or I fill the bath nice and deep and splash about with Quin, the floor getting soaking around us. This brief interlude will not last long, but we will savour it while it's here.

We just had the Sustainability Fiesta this weekend, which means early to bed. It was great, we raised about $2,000 for Hilton Harvest and had a lovely time.

It just started raining and I can hear the sweet trickle of water through the gutters, we may squeeze in a few more GFS before the year's out...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sebadoh rock

Amy and I went to a gig a few days ago, something we do very rarely these days. We used to go lots, especially when we lived in the UK. These days it's a bit harder with Quin and the fact that many bands bypass Perth when they come to Oz doesn't help. We saw Sebadoh at the Rosemount and they were great. We bought a T shirt each and the band were selling them, so they signed our shirts and we had a chat. I spoke to Jason and Amy spoke to Lou, which is good because I love Lou so much I probably wouldn't have been able to say anything remotely intelligible.
A pic of Lou B at the Rosemount gig I got off the net

 1990's US indie rock is my favourite music, probably because the 90's were when I first got into music in my 20's. US is just better than UK for me, don't ask me why. From the time I first heard the Stone Roses I knew this was my thing (I know, they're from the UK!). My favourite bands of the era are the Pixies, Pavement, Nirvana, Elliott Smith and Sebadoh. Sebadoh formed after Lou Barlow left Dinosaur Jr around  1989. Their first few records are very lo-fi and hard to listen to at times because the band has 2 song writers (Lou plus Eric or later Jason) and Eric writes crazy, fast loud songs which suck. Thankfully Lou's greatness makes up for this, you just need to either program the CD or press skip every now and again. In 1992 Eric left (hooray!) and was replaced by Jason Lowenstein, who is a good songwriter. They released Bubble and Scrape in 93, which is the first album of theirs I bought and is still my favourite. When Nirvana hit and indie rock became big for a few years Sebadoh came close to breaking through into the mainstream, but never quite made it. In 2000 they split and Lou has done various stuff like Folk Implosion and solo stuff, some good some not so good, never with the Sebadoh magic.

Some (not all) of Sebadoh's songs are so achingly beautiful. I used to put them on mixed tapes and send them to Amy when we were apart. I think she was a bit surprised to hear how heavy the rest of their repertoire was!

 This is Jason at the Rosemount

It was great to see them play again and Jason said they may record another album soon, so fingers crossed. I used to think that rock was for young people and that bands shouldn't reform or keep going forever, but I've changed my mind now. Maybe that's because all my favourite music is being played by people over 40 now? Anyway, the gig was good , with Lou and Jason swapping instruments and lead singing every now and then. I drank too much (5 pints is binge drinking for me nowadays and I regretted it the next day). Amy wore her gig dress, which she has had since the age of 17 and still fits her! We had to leave at midnight as they were still playing because Amy was worried about our babysitter, not very rock n' roll but there you go.

These days my musical taste has widened somewhat (I even listen to some country, I love Gillian Welch), but I always go back to indie rock in the end. And yes, I realise that paying to see a band who have flown around the globe to get there isn't very sustainable but I don't care. Even us Sustainaburbers have to splurge every now and then...

Monday, September 12, 2011

We love Sustainable House Day

We had another great SHD yesterday, with about 110 sign ins, which we reckon equates to about 200 people. The weather was beautiful. How could you not enjoy a day when your house and garden look amazing and you get hundreds of compliments from absolute strangers, you make new connections in the community, you get affirmation that what you're doing is valued by people and you realise that people want to learn from you. It's a huge buzz to know that you can inspire people and teach them things that will make them and the community richer, more resilient and more sustainable. The talks were well received, with lots of interest in solar passive retrofitting and Amy's composting and worm talks.

Shani and Tim from Ecoburbia were there in the morning helping out and Shani's new kid Sunday (half of their milk supply) was a big hit of course!

The gardens were looking great thanks to some help from our friends. One of the great things about home opens is that it forces you to do jobs that would otherwise not get done. So we weeded the whole front garden, put cardboard down and put about 20 cubic metres of mulch down, plus we reapplied sawdust to the paths. The last time we did this was SHD 2009...

We also prettied up the place, for example:

The worm farm painted and yarn bombed the railing.

A succulent potted into a teapot.

My personal favourite, painting the compost slats. Each time we turn the compost a new message appears.

Some things worked out well, such as the orange tree loaded with ripe fruit and flowering and the nectarine tree in full bloom.

The grape vine was starting to leaf up in anticipation of another hot, dry Perth summer. It was good to demonstrate how to do some easy, cheap things like planting a deciduous vine to the north or shading an eastern window to make your house more comfortable.

Some things didn't quite go to plan, such as the sweet peas, poppies and everlastings being a week off flowering. I don't think it mattered that much though.

Here are some of my favourite moments from the day: meeting a mum with toddler in tow really interested in Living Smart (a 7 week crash course in sustainability, $20 all up) and frantically writing down info on where to get free sawdust and how to clad a west facing wall; meeting a young couple who just moved into the street (it's always good to meet the neighbours) and talking to a bunch of 20 somethings who were into everything, such as  preserves ("Wow, we'll have to look for some Vacola jars in the Quokka") and having a ride on the cargo bike. This gives me hope for the future.

We were also surprised by some things, like people saying how lucky we are to have good neighbours. We take this for granted, but we are truly lucky. A few years back a girl called Lily poked her head through the rickety fence wanting to play with Quin and now they're best mates. This is how a neighbourhood should work, but sadly they don't all seem to these days.

We've also become great friends with Lily's mum Sam (knitting guru to Amy), who often rides Quin to school or back in the cargo bike if we can't do it. A while ago we pulled some pickets off the fence, which serves a dual purpose. It allows easy access to the 'top paddock' and lets winter sunlight into a previously unproductive northern vegie bed.

Many people showed interest in Amy's dog poo composting system, so she'll do a post on it soon. Thanks to the volies on the day, Tim and Shani, Tribalivers Mary-Anne and Helen and Sam and Nathan.

We're already dreaming of next year. We went to the open garden of a celebrity gardener recently and it was great, but we can't help thinking ours is as good (and we're obviously not biased). We had a 9 year start on him, but we now have the confidence in our amateur gardening abilities to pass them on a bit. So the plan is to be part of the Open Garden Scheme next spring, which I think will be easier than SHD. We'll be able to focus more on the garden, without doing the whole house too. An added bonus will be charging money to raise funds for our community garden, Hilton Harvest.

And the everlastings will definitely be in full bloom...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sustainable House Day 2011

We’re really looking forward to Sustainable House Day 2011. We had a great time in 2009 and we’d like to show people what we’ve been up to since then. This year we’re doing some short talks (15 mins approx) throughout the day:

11am:              Adam on rain water harvesting (our system, data and tips)-front garden
Midday:            Amy on composting and worm farms-back garden
1pm:                Adam on using solar passive design principles to retro fit old homes- back garden
2pm:                Amy on composting and worm farms- back garden
3pm:                Adam on solar (PV and hot water). Economics, tips- back garden

Out the front we will have our electric cargo bike on display: ask us for a test ride!

Entry is free between 10 and 4 on Sunday September 11. Hope to see you there. Go to this link for our address (see Hamilton Hill house) and details of other houses open.