Monday, December 17, 2012


The garden is looking pretty amazing at the moment probably because we have had lots of November and December rain. Any rain is good rain in Perth. I'm grateful for this because its been a sad week of goodbyes. I am farewell fatigued. Two wonderful couples are leaving the community to live in other countries. We will miss them terribly. So when I feel sad I spend more time in the garden just indulging my senses. I wander around looking, rearranging mulch, touching things (I love stroking the bananas - it sounds pervy but they are so smooth!), smelling the apples, tasting the last of the boysenberries, listening to the chooks 'boooook' and scratch, feeling the sun on my neck and the sea breeze. There is so much to experience in a regular little garden like ours. The photos on this blog can't convey the sense of peace you can have by just hanging around in the garden. When I'm too sad or worried to be productive, the garden gently slows me down and gives my brain a rest.

Anyway while I'm wandering around gathering up my mojo, look at what the garden has produced for us:

These aren't your average backyard, tiny, fruit fly eaten sour apples, these are big, sweet and juicy and there are heaps of them! It's our first real apple crop and I'm so proud of Ads for growing them! He has pruned them properly and we netted them just as the flowers had finished pollination. They are unblemished! The net is tied around the trunk so they can fully sun ripen and then fall in to the net without bruising, oh yes, they are the bananas in the foreground :)

Our other fruit crops are pretty impressive too. We have just finished our amazing crop of boysenberries and  mulberries and started harvesting red flame grapes and our bananas.

Ads is so good at gardening I could, well...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Workcycles Fr8 eZee electric conversion part 2

Well I finally got round to finishing off the bike conversion. Last post I hadn't figured out how to conceal the battery, controller, etc from view to make it less pinchable and be able to charge the battery easily without the need to undo screws, etc. Well I found the solution and here's how it works:

The controller and battery go in the bottom of the crate. The controller is screwed down and the battery is nice and snug, wedged between bits of wood.

I bought a 2m XLR 3 pin extension lead to go from the battery charge point and cut off the female end. Then I asked a friend to weld this to a plate with a female socket. Here's the view from the back.

The plate is then screwed on to the back of my crate which allows me to recharge the battery without the need to remove the false floor covering the battery.

The final touch was a dust cover to keep dust and moisture out. It's a very snug fit which makes it hard to remove so I only put it on when riding in the rain (about twice a year in Perth!).

It works a treat. I can charge easily and the goodies in the crate are safe. I can't see anyone going to the bother of unscrewing 4 screws to get a 36V battery, but maybe when peak oil really hits I will look into further security measures.

I've been happily riding it around for months now but hadn't found a light set up I was happy with. After nearly getting cleaned up at a roundabout by a taxi a while ago with Quin on board I resolved to get a very bright front light.

My original thinking was to set up a bottle dynamo to avoid the need for changing/charging batteries, however I couldn't get one to fit. I bought a Nordlicht dynamo but due to the Magura hydraulic brakes and the bracket installed on the front left fork of the Fr8 it wouldn't fit. So then I tried it on the rear but it either interfered with the integral lock or would potentially be vulnerable to being knocked by Quin on the rear seat. So then I bought a left version of the dynamo but that didn't work either, even with 2 types of bracket. So I gave up on the dynamo idea. My next thought was rechargeable battery operated LED lights such as the Phillips Safe Ride. I looked at the price and the inconvenience of needing to charge them and decided against them.

Then I saw exactly what I wanted, a 36V light which runs off the eZee battery I already have on board and need to charge anyway. The best one I found was the 1,000 lumen 36V light sold by Glowworm in Sydney (it's listed as the L700 but now comes even brighter), paired with a Spanninga 36V rear light. The lights will reduce the assisted range of the bike at night but this doesn't bother me too much since I tend not to ride long distances at night anyway. Safety is the priority with lights in my view. This combination is great, but not cheap. The front light is $180, the rear $40, plus $11 postage. But I think my life and that of my son are worth a bit more than $231 so what the heck. Here's how I installed the lights:

Firstly I figured out the best position for the front light. The options were:

1) On the handle bars. No good, the light beam just hits the front box.
2) On the front forks. No good, the light sits on its side and the beam shines in the wrong direction, plus it looks silly.
3) On the front box. Good, it's highly visible to oncoming traffic and easy to install. Also looks wicked.

The bracket the light comes with is metal. First I attached a small piece of jarrah (local hardwood) to the front of the crate. I bent the bracket a bit to raise the light beam higher. Then I attached the bracket to the crate with a 1/4" threaded 60mm bolt, with a washer and locknut at the back which sit underneath the false floor of the crate. This makes it nice and sturdy and neat.

Underneath the crate I cable tied the cord for the light, this makes it easier for me to remove the light when needed.

When the false floor is replaced the nut, etc are not visible and cannot be tampered with.

With the front light installed I turned my attention to the rear light. The Spanninga has a pair of screws spaced 80mm apart which fit the Fr8 perfectly.

Then it was simply a question of running the cable from the rear light to the front light and attaching it with cable ties. How many cable ties are there on this bike? I'd say there would have to be at least 50, but most are surreptitious and not too ugly. My best cable route was down the rear rack, past the bottom bracket, up under the tube and into the crate. I asked for 2.35m of cable and this was plenty. Then it was just a question of plugging the input cable of the front light into the controller and then there was light!

The front light can easily be removed by unplugging it, which I will do when I leave the bike unattended in town. I'd rather not have a $180 light pinched that's for sure. I'm really happy with the setup, the front light is super bright and has 2 settings, bright and very bright. The rear light is tidy and functional. I was disappointed when I discovered that it wasn't possible to turn it off with the bike running, but when I heard that it uses less than 1W of power I wasn't too worried. It would take 500 hours to drain my battery with this light so it will hardly affect the range of the bike at all.

Lastly I put a universal drink bottle cage on. This model is great when there's nowhere to screw one on, which is the case with the Fr8.

Of course I've installed a bike computer, the Cateye Velo 8. It's a basic model, but does all I need it to. Most importantly I get the odometer figure to go into the transport spreadsheet.The Fr8 has 1,600km on it now and we are traveling 13km a day less by car compared to last year!

I was quite amused to see an ad for a new electric bike recently. It's called the Faraday Porteur and they market it as "The ultimate electric propelled utility bicycle", which is funny because personally I don't see a lot of utility in the design (see this great article on what makes most dutch bikes 'utility' bikes). It's also funny because I think I now own the ultimate electric propelled utility bicycle myself and it's not a  Porteur, it's a retrofitted Workcycles/eZee Fr8...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gardening Australia

We've been hoping to get on Gardening Australia for a while now and at last our dream came true. Josh Byrne visited the garden and we'll be on the show next year. We had a great day showing him around and it was good to get a few tips from an expert gardener.

For those who don't know Gardening Australia is a TV show broadcast nationally on ABC1. It has millions of viewers so we're quite chuffed to be on the show. Mostly we spoke about the productive trees, compost, the rain water tank and the blog. Here's the film crew: Brendan (producer), cameraman and sound man.

It felt a bit weird having a film crew over and being interviewed, but hopefully it will come out ok.

Josh seemed impressed with the composting and worm farm, the rain water harvesting, the bananas and fruit fly control on the apple trees. At the end we harvested a load of boysenberries which we'd been saving for the filming so Quin was pretty happy.

We'll let you know when it's broadcast, should be some time in March 2013.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

October 2012

It's been a crazy, busy, turbulent month so this is just a quickie I'm afraid.

kWh electricity generated (per day):       5.5
kWh electricity used (per day):                3.3
kWh gas used (per day):          2.4
L water used (per day):           718
Rainfall mm (4 weeks):                 24
Tank level (L):               500
km by car (per day):                28
km by cargo bike (per day):    15
Eggs laid (per day):                  4.5

Power has shifted into summer mode now, with much higher generation than consumption. The higher sun angle has also meant that we have no shading on the solar hot water panel, so we've haven't needed to boost the hot water at all and won't until next April/May. Gas usage is way down since the gas heater wasn't needed. It was a dry month so the retic has gone on. Consequently the tank level has dropped from 13,500 to 500L, which is effectively empty since the pump shuts off at around this level. Hopefully we'll get a bit more rain before the big dry stretch. A bad transport month, but sometimes when life goes a bit pear shaped it's just easier to drive. Chooks still going strong, not too much broodiness yet.

We got crazy crabs for Quin. We've created some great crabitat and they seem pretty happy, if a bit hermity.

Hasta la proxima.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

King Caulie

We just picked this cauliflower. It weighed in at 2.1 kilos!!!

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 4, 2012

September 2012

The new banana bunch looks a bit weird. The bananas are really thin and long, not like they were before. I'm beginning to think it's because I wrongly selected a water sucker instead of a sword sucker. Oh well, the learning curve continues.

The pickled olives are still too bitter, so I drained the brine and put them in some fresh, less salty water. We have 6 kilos so hopefully this will last us a while.

The apple trees look a bit ghostly out the kitchen window. That's because I've netted them to stop fruit flies getting at our crop. I'll report back on whether it works out.

The almond is netted too, but it's to keep parrots not insects out.

The broad beans have been great this year, but now they've come to an end. Many people dislike them, but I reckon they either have defective taste buds or they've never had fresh ones cooked well. My favourite way to cook them is to pick them when the beans are around 15mm in size and simply shallow fry them in olive oil for a few minutes. Super yum.

We just got our thousandth egg for the calendar year. This is the first time we've done this and there are still 3 months to go. The brown chooks have been a revelation, pumping out eggs like clockwork. The Australorps are laying again now, but two have just gone broody on us. The broody cage is back in action.

The worms in the Gedeye compost bin are going mental.

The leaf rich compost brew we did turned out really well. All the fruit and nut trees have had a big dose of compost, sheep poo and rock minerals which should help them put on new growth and fruit and see them through summer. The last compost brew we did has gone cold too quickly and won't be that great. We didn't get the critical mass of one cubic meter which you need to have sustained high temperatures. It's a good lesson not to do a brew unless you have enough material and time.

Amy took the yarn-bombed wooly wheelbarrow down to the Sustainability Fiesta. In the cargo bike naturally!

And Quin got his first Honours certificate at school (for joining in discussions enthusiastically and for his knowledge of dinosaurs).

Solar power generation has made a big jump in the last month and usage has dropped lots because we haven't needed to boost the hot water much this month. The gas fire has been off and gas usage is down. For the first time this year we actually exceeded our average rainfall, by about 20mm. This has meant that the retic has stayed off, the vegies are happy and the rain water tank is pretty much full.

kWh electricity generated (per day):       4.6
kWh electricity used (per day):                4.1
kWh gas used (per day):          5.3
L water used (per day):           268
Rainfall mm (4 weeks):                 108
Tank level (L):               13,500
km by car (per day):                34
km by cargo bike (per day):    19.5
Eggs laid (per day):                  5

Oh, and our old dog Porridge passed away at the grand old age of (approx) twenty. RIP Podgy girl...

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Wow, what a month. Just when I was speaking of how blogs can be untruthful because you just put the good stuff in, I had a bit of a melt down. So, what happened? Well around the middle of the month Quin and I both got the flu. It wasn't like any flu I'd had before, with serious fevers at night for a whole week, wierd nightmares/dreams, aches, running nose and feeling cold to the bone when I didn't have a fever. At the end of that week I had probably only slept about 14 hours and a funny thing happened. I felt overcome by a wave of sadness, which I think is my first episode of depression. It was awful and on top of this I couldn't sleep and felt really anxious. Amy helped me through. I had to go to the doctor and he gave me some sleeping pills. It was bliss to get my normal sleeping patterns back. He said that flu can release chemicals which affect your mood, but that there could also be other issues to deal with. Anyway, I won't go into too much detail, but I'm fit again and I think this has been a valuable lesson for me. I need to take care of myself more and there are changes I need to make in the way I live my life.

Quin's sixth birthday was a great day and cheered me up no end. The theme was Pokemon so we had a Pikachu cake and a pokeball pinata. We were a little rushed in getting organized so we didn't go all out and do home made hankies like last year, but we did put bamboo toothbrushes in the party bags along with the lollies (Amy wanted them to go in the pinata with the lollies but Quin did not!).

The garden looks great, with the almond tree in full bloom. This will need netting soon to keep the birds out.

I spotted our first ever Macadamia flowers. I'm pretty chuffed about this because I was considering pulling the tree out a while ago due to poor growth.

Caulies looking good.

The bikes had the month off due to sickness and the car got a work out..

Amy bought an iphone. I can't say that I'm impressed by this, being a luddite and all. The last laugh is on Amy, who gets pestered constantly by Quin who wants to play games on her phone. In one of my wierder flu dreams I dreamt that iphones were taking over the world and being used to brainwash people. People were turning into zombies due to stuff on their phone (Quin's really into zombies right now). But then I thought that maybe that's not too far from the truth. How long will it be until Google and Apple run the whole world anyway?

Power use is still too high. Of course I have have a sneaking suspicion the iphone can be blamed for this too (needs charging every day). The sluggish PV generation has started its gradual rise thankfully.

We had a decent month of rainfall at last. It was still 50mm off the August average and we're 150mm below average for the year. The tank is full though.

The chooks seem very perky, even the old Australorps have nice red combs and are starting to lay now.

We got the cloche going at last. It's a bit late for it, but it should get some seedlings going which we don't have any space for in the garden yet. Our cloche is just made with some clay pavers, two bits of wood and a thick pane of glass we got off the verge.

kWh electricity generated (per day):       3.2
kWh electricity used (per day):                6
kWh gas used (per day):          8.5
L water used (per day):           257
Rainfall mm (5 weeks):                 84
Tank level (L):               14,000
km by car (per day):                29
km by cargo bike (per day):    16.5
Eggs laid (per day):                  4.1

Sustainable September is upon us. We're not doing it this year, but if you can make it to Sustainable House Day you won't be disappointed. It's on this Sunday 9th and there should be a house open near you. We'll be hanging around Hulbert Street in Freo for the Sustainability Fiesta, September 22-23. I'll be doing a talk on cargo bikes at some stage.

Monday, August 27, 2012

July 2012

Since writing garden goings on I've decided to do a monthly post on all things sustainaburban and this is the first one. It's a summary of what's been going on at our place, not just in the garden. You tend to write blog posts on good, positive stuff, which can make blogs a bit untruthful I find. So this segment will try to document the good, the bad and the ugly.

This sure has been a dry July and it's definitely nothing to do with my drinking habits. The driest July on record, 23mm chasing an average of 175mm. Thankfully we had a full tank to start the month and we didn't get anywhere near empty. I've drawn some markers on the side of the tank to take some guess work out of judging the tank level, which I do by banging on the side of the tank.

Being dry means it's been cold at night too, so our gas use for heating is pretty high this month. Power use is up too due to boosting the solar hot water. I've just set the timer to boost for 45 minutes every day at 4pm. This is the best time to boost since it's at the peak of solar gain and takes the least time to get the water hot enough for showers, etc.

The chooks don't seem to miss a beat in the cold. We're still getting 3-4 eggs a day from our four brown chooks. The Australorps have laid two eggs in about 6 months! Amy got sick and I made her chicken soup, which made me think why didn't I slaughter one of our own?

The vege garden's looking great, with broad beans in full flower, lots of broccoli ready to eat. The peas have been awful this winter though, really struggling to get going and getting brown spots on the leaves before dying. We should start getting summer seeds in the cloche now, but haven't got around to it yet.

We haven't been doing many preserves, just a beer brew (Pilsener, great to brew in the cold). We ran out of preserved tomatoes last week and actually had to buy a tray of tinned ones for the first time in about two years!

We went to the Murchison and saw outback olympics, well just one sport really. They had a big polocross carnival with teams from all over WA. Polocross is an amazing cross between polo and Lacrosse. The riders and horses are so skillful and fast it's hard to believe. Amy's parents will be leaving the Murch soon so this might be our last visit for a while. Quin, Freda and I made it to the top of Errabiddy bluff. A great effort for the younguns, Quin was so excited he just about wet his dacks!

We saw the Big Old Bears EP launch at Mojo's and it was great. You can buy the CD here.

The 28's (Ringneck parrots) are getting jiggy with it, munyin cruel hard or mating depending on how you like it. They are in residence in the bird box up our big gum tree in the back garden and hopefully will have another brood this year. Here's a pic of the male standing guard in the never ending battle with arch enemies the Galah's.

The Fr8 has had a work out recently. I've been riding it to work 2-3 times a week, a 40km round trip. It's been great, it takes 45 minutes which is half an hour less than the bus (and 20 minutes more than the car). I can feel my legs getting stronger by the day.

Plastic Free July went pretty well. It made us think hard about trying to avoid single use plastic. Rather than just being a temporary thing, there are a few things we will keep on doing. We found a good hemp shampoo bar which we like so no more tubes of shampoo. Amy made a yummy dip called labneh, which is easy to make. Just drain your (homemade) yoghurt with a sieve and muslin cloth for a few hours. Then you can have it straight with crackers or mix in any herbs and spices you like. Amy loves her homemade deodorant, she says it's much more effective than the crystal ones you buy at the shop. We've been ordering takeaway food and asking to have it put in our own containers. Most are happy to do this if you turn up a bit earlier so they can put it straight in. We bought four metal straws, they're $4 each but should last Quin a few years. If we eat out we take them with us for kid's drinks.

Vital statistics:

kWh electricity generated (per day):       2.5
kWh electricity used (per day):                6.2
kWh gas used (per day):          10.2
L water used (per day):           297
Rainfall mm (4 weeks):                 23
Tank level (L):               9,000
km by car (per day):                22
km by cargo bike (per day):    21
Eggs laid (per day):                  3.8

Sorry this is so late, I've been very sick. Now I need to get on with August...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rain water harvesting year 3

We've had a pretty good year of rainfall, with 691mm. This is about the average for Perth these days. Last year we had 515mm, the year before 757mm. We harvested and used 77,000L of rain water with our 14,000L rain water tank, which is the most to date.

29% of our water use was rain water this year, which is way up on the 21% of the previous two years.The chart below shows the weekly figures for rainfall (right axis) and water consumption (left axis), with the proportions of tank water (green) and scheme water (red) used. Rainfall in September and November to January allowed us to harvest more in this period than in previous years. Also, the pump broke down less often this year, which always helps.

This next chart is a new one and shows the level of the tank (left axis) and weekly rainfall (right axis). As you would expect the tank is fairly full in winter (june-august) and still has water right through spring. Then as rainfall drops off the tank empties as we turn on the retic to water our vegies and productive trees. Through most of summer the tank was empty until the return of rain in April. Since then we've had water in the tank most of the time. In May we had a warm, dry spell and turned the retic back on. This emptied the tank, but soon after the tank refilled. This shows the value of having the tank plumbed into everything (house and garden) since we're using as much of the rain water when it's available. If we had a few appliances (eg toilet and washing machine) running on tank water and the rest on scheme as is common, then we wouldn't have used much of the water in May. When it rained again a lot of that rain water would have been lost to overflow. I estimate that we would use about half or a third the tank water we currently use if we only plumbed in a few appliances. This highlights the need for people to plumb tanks properly to maximise the benefits to themselves and the broader community.

Best of all, we cut our water usage by 100L a day this year. We did this despite adding yet more retic (out the front on our productive trees). I can't really explain this. It could just be that we had less dry spells when we needed to turn the retic on (about 70% of our water usage goes on the garden). 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July 2012: Garden goings on

I've been thinking recently that I haven't written about the garden much lately, so I'm going to try to post once a month on what's going on in the garden. I'll just grab the camera and walk around taking pictures of things which grab my attention. Hopefully over time you'll get to know the garden a bit more and see its ups and downs.

Winter is here and it's the best time for us to make compost. This is because we can get much more scraps from the vege shops and it's cooler and easier to do the hard yakka that turning compost is. My plan is to make compost every 5 weeks in the cooler months from now on. It will give me between 4-6 turns of the first batch before I need to leave it to rest and start turning the next batch. Then I'll have another 5 weeks to use up the mature lot before I do the next batch. This load is about a third dry leaves I raked up at work. It has halved in size after 5 days so it may end up being quite small, but the leaves will break down to quality humus with great water holding capacity.

This is Quin's patch. We had a nightmare with this patch (poor germination, pests) so we turned it over to Quin. He's done a great job, with flowers, spinach, peas, lettuce and brocoli all doing well.

Beets and lettuce, with onions and garlic in the background.

The apple trees still haven't lost their leaves and may not. Sabrina Hahn says rip all the leaves off if this happens, but I don't have the heart or energy. If you're wondering what all the string is for I'm training the trees. This involves spreading the branches to achieve the right angle and pruning to allow sun and air to penetrate the crown. I love it, it satisfies my need for control in a healthy way I think!

The broad beans are up. I love them, Amy's not so keen. Old inner tubes make good supports for these.

We have a decent crop of Valencia oranges which should ripen in a few months. Hopefully I can keep on top of the fruit fly this year.

This straggly looking vine is a boysenberry. I've got on top of a bad infestation of scale and this should bear beautiful berries in summer. Unlike our Loganberry which died last year, it unfortunately has really nasty thorns. On second thoughts maybe this is a good thing, I might be able to eat a few before Quin gets them all...

Many of the productive trees are bear branched now. This is the almond tree (beautiful branch structure don't you think?).

Banana disaster! Amy kept telling me we should start harvesting the bananas, but no I told her it was too cold for them to ripen. Then I looked under the bunch bag and saw that over half the bunch of 150 were over ripe and splitting. This will teach me to listen to my woman more often. We've given some away, frozen some and banana and chop chip cake is on the menu, yum.

There aren't many flowers out the front, but the ones that are there are stunning. Here's a Banksia menziesii and Hakea laurinia.


The luffas are finally ripe (ish). They would be a lot easier to peel if they were drier but we can't wait to pull down the vine to get some more light into the back of the house. I think we got about a dozen this year. Amy's put them in the sun oven to dry out a bit and the plan is to use them in soap and as sponges.

That's all for now folks.