Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cargo bike article in ReNew magazine. I'm published!

The latest issue of ReNew Magazine features an article by me on cargo bikes. It's great to be able to share the cargo bike love! Here it is:

If you've got any comments or questions fire away.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

End of year stats

Well, another year has come and gone. We'll be away for the next two months, so I thought I'd get this out before we left.

Gas and electricity use is up a tiny bit this year. I can't tell what the reason is, but it seems to be due to electricity use rather than gas. Since we've had solar hot water our gas use has dropped from 16kWh a day to between 8 and 9.5kWh.

The chooks are laying less, we're on course for 1,000 egss after 1,400 last year. One of our old Australorps died this year and the old girls are definitely laying less. It also seems that our Hi-lines are laying less. They are one year old now, so I'm a bit surprised at this.

Transport has been a winner this year. I've been riding the Fr8 to work three times a week most weeks. Our aim of halving our car kms from 2010 levels hasn't quite succeeded, but we're on course for 10,000kms this year which isn't too bad.

That's it for now. We're off to Europe to blow our carbon budget for the next few years! But this is the topic of another post...

Have a safe and sustainable Christmas.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Have reusables, will travel

So, we are off to visit family and friends in the UK and Europe in a few days. With blowing all that carbon (18.53 tonnes of carbon for which 111 trees need to be planted, to be precise), the least we can do is try to avoid some single use plastics while we are away.

I've been collecting and making a reusables for a while now but I've also made a few purchases to facilitate travel sans plastic. Most of which will fit in my snazzy new bum bag:

Among other things, I'll keep with me one emergency cloth pad, home made lip balm, a bamboo spork, my lucky Onya bag and a hanky.

Quin also has a new bum bag. He will carry with him his spork, bamboo straw (apparently essential), Onya water bottle, and a minifigure (also essential).

I'm banking on Ads to lug around our big water bottle, keep cups, containers, camera, map books and all the other heavy stuff. Bless him.

I've also given some thought to my toiletries. It's easy to have your home made stuff at home, but I do wonder how they will travel. Glass might break and my deodorant might melt! But I'll try anyway. I'm packing my home made hair treatment, toothpaste, washable make-up pads, deodorant, essential oils and a base oil and my toothbrush.  I've given up my contacts which came in disposable packaging and I'm contemplating going make-up free. I think it will work - we'll find out if our personal hygiene is up to scratch if people ask to move seats away from us on the plane!

Of course, there will be other regular bits like panadol, bandaids, colgate for Quincey etc, some things we can't avoid and I'm certain I will end up with bloody plastic straws at some stage, but we will give it our best shot - by the way, there are a few other good plastic free tips on the Plastic Free July website (just a little plug!)

So, we are just about ready to hit the road - wish us luck!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Beware aircon use this summer

We don't have aircon at home, but Amy's parents do. Amy's Dad diligently records their power readings once a week. Each year I input their PV data to show them how much power they generate and consume. They're pretty good, consuming between 6 and 9 kWh a day on average. Inputting the data this year I saw what I thought was a mistake, a reading that just couldn't possibly be right. Then I looked into it and saw a comment, "heat wave". This made me wonder and I checked with Neil. Yes indeed, the heat had been so bad in late December 2012 that the aircon was on 16 hours a day! Power consumption went through the roof, as you can see.

A whopping 48 kWh a day! Another heat wave in February saw jumps to 20kWh a day too. Now I'm not going to preach about the use of aircon, lots of people have it and that's fine. It's not my cuppa tea, but if you do use it then beware that it will cost you. 50kWh a day equates to $12, that's $85 a week more or less. It also obviously costs the planet in carbon emissions and it costs other power consumers too. At peak times the wholesale price of power goes through the roof, so the more that is used in these times pushes power prices up to everyone. So, here are some tips to minimse your use of aircon:

Turn it up. If you set the thermostat higher (say 23-25 C) you'll use much less power and you'll still be comfortable.

Go outside every now and again, you might just find that a lovely sea breeze is in and you can open up the house and turn off the aircon.

Do the flush. We do this all the time in summer. At night open up the house to let cool breezes in; first thing in the morning we shut up the house on hot days and close curtains, etc. This way we trap the cool air inside and stop heat getting in. Then open up the house when a breeze comes in and it's cooler outside than in.

External shade on east and west facing windows is essential in summer. This is the best and easiest way to stop your house becoming a green house!

Turn on ceiling fans, they use little power and can make rooms feel five degrees cooler than they actually are.

Good luck keeping cool this summer, here's hoping that we don't get too many heat waves...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Summer Fruit

I used to really hate summer in the garden. Everything just goes to seed and dies. It can be pretty depressing. Even though we haven't officially made it to summer yet it has already started here in Perth with a few hot days stressing the garden. We have well and truly eaten the last of our lettuce, celery, carrots, broad beans, sweet peas and barassicas. Any veggies left in the ground have pretty much bolted, all apart from a stoic kale plant a few beans and leaks.

But this is just a part of the cycle and I'm learning to embrace it. I've harvested a good stash of poppy seeds which Ads makes into his famous orange and poppy seed cake, and of course we need to keep what ever seeds we can for next year. We are just learning these skills and still find it hard to resist picking the best specimen for eating, rather than keeping it for seed.

But the truly fantastic bit of the garden at the moment is all our fruit!  We have just finished our apricots. This was our fist harvest of apricots and they were a little bit orgasmic. It was all quality, not quantity. We picked about 1.5 kgs, but they tasted like gold.

The apples have just started and are delicious and fruit fly free, all tucked up in their exclusion netting. And our mulberries have also just about finished. 

Ads made some delicious apple and mulberry leather - to be the subject of another post. Our boysenberries are just starting and we should have a good crop. But they are still too precious for making into leather. 

And no sooner have we eaten our last banana - see the empty stalk...

Than another flower appears! Its a near perfect cycle. We will be away in UK while these ones ripen, so hopefully we will come home to a big thick bunch of bananas.  

 I've just had a quick look at previous posts on Sustainaburbia and noticed a very similar post at this time last year with very similar photos. Maybe it's a little boring to read, but I can tell you that its exciting to experience. The love for a garden just grows as you see it go through its cycles each year and as we as gardeners grow too.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Love miles

I have this brilliant idea that no one else thinks is a brilliant idea. Here it is: you should only be allows to marry someone who lives within a 500 km radius of your birth place. I'm sure you can see the genius in this idea. But just in case it needs explaining...

The thing is that these days people travel so much. Its pretty much a right of passage to take a year off between high school and work/uni to pop over to the UK or South America, work, bum around a bit, have a blast, find yourself and meet the love of your life. This is a grave and terrible scenario because what happens next is that you move back to Australia settle down and have babies without the support of one set of grandparents, siblings and little cousins for the kids to play with. Said grandparents who live on the other side of the world of course feel pretty sad about missing out on seeing their own offspring, let alone their own grandchildren and then have to visit every second summer and on the summer they don't visit it is expected that you visit them. And if you don't, well, you have family that you barely know. Cousins grow up never having shared a Christmas day, Granny's don't know what size cloths to send, and siblings never get to just pop over for a cuppa and do the dishes for each other after sleepless nights with newborns. Its heartbreaking. I know this because Adam is English and we have family in England that we miss terribly.

We foolishly fell in love many many moons ago when I thought it romantic to shack up with a foreigner. I'm not entirely sure I could have helped falling in love, but had Adam never traveled to Australia we would have never met and I would be none the wiser. But he did travel, the rest is history. So we, like many others, find our selves in this position where we would love to visit England and have family visit here but, alas, the carbon.

Its serious, all this air travel and I don't like it. FIFO's don't just travel from Perth to Tom Price now, they come from New Zealand to Tom Price or Perth to South Africa. Kids fly over east ever school holidays to visit their Dads, and geez, do we love to holiday! Traveling overseas is so common - how can it be special if you go overseas twice a year? There is no 'trip of a lifetime' anymore, nowhere is new, everyone has been there before.

All that said, we are going back to England for Christmas this year. It has been about 6 years since our last visit and about 4 years since anyone has visited us so its due. Parents are getting older, babies have been born and teenagers are growing into adults. We are about to spew out some serious carbon. But we call them love miles and while we try to limit them, they are unavoidable.

Offsetting is not the answer to all of this but its a little something that is better than nothing - actually its not better than nothing, nothing is better, as in, not flying is better. Got that? Anyway, I offset our carbon emissions for the three of us for the flights to London and a few internal Europe flights too. According to Carbon Neutral we will produce 18.53 tonnes of carbon for which 111 trees need to be planted. It cost $416, which does seem a lot, but then, I nearly spent that much on a night out to see Beyonce (tickets, dinner, babysitter). I think a contributing to a safe environmental future is worth more than Beyonce - bless her.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to this trip of ours. We are going to exciting places that will be new for us and we will be renewing relationships with old friends and family.We just try for minimal air travel and where we do fly, we offset and we really look forward to it as a special, exciting time because it will be a while until we fly again.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

First Apricots

Today we ate our very first home grown Apricots. Tree ripened and fruit fly free. Delicious!

I know we always blog about how great exclusion netting is for fruit trees, but when you taste unadulterated, pure, sweet, juicy flesh of a home grown beauty like this, wah, I just want to tell everyone again! Its true that fruit flies are a huge problem in Perth, but netting seems to be the cure! And I think it looks beautiful - kind of bridal. 

It wont be a huge crop. Unfortunately we choose a double grafted tree and only one side seems to have a good crop - oh well. The other thing to understand is that with a double grafted tree the flowers come at different times, so in this case we had fruit forming and becoming susceptible to fruit fly on one half, while the other half was still in flower and needing pollination. So for a while we had to have only half the tree netted allowing pollinators on to the flowers and keeping fruit fly off the fruit. A bit of a fiddle and I would not ever plant a double grafted tree again, its one of those things you don't think about until you are faced with the situation! 

The other thing to report is that we should have a bumper crop of boysenberries this year - here they are dropping petals and green just at the moment...but just wait...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Another cargo bike post

Its nearly summer and that is when electric cargo bikes really come into their own! Getting down to the beach takes 15 mins in the bike and its so satisfying to cruise right by all the parked cars baking in the sun and park up under a tree. Although it can still get pretty hot in Perth and riding seems like the last thing you'd want to do, I reckon its much more pleasant to get some breeze and sunshine than sit in a stinking hot car, with a burning steering wheel and seat belts and whiny kids and air con that doesn't work for 10 mins, by which time you are nearly there. If your bike is electric its just like there is no head wind and no hills. We love it!

And another thing I've noticed with the Bakfits  there is a kind of black hole in the laws of physics where it seems that no matter how windy it is, or what skirt I'm wearing my skirt never flies up. True. See irrefutable scientific proof in the photo below:

We have had quite a few people come and test ride the cargo bike lately and what is exciting is that they are coming from far and wide - yup, it looks like cargo bikes are taking off in the burbs. Awesome! I love it when people come for a ride. We show them our three year old bike and how it still looks in really good nick and that we have had virtually no troubles with it. We tell them all the little tricks and things to be aware of. Its true that riding a cargo bike takes a little practice, but after you master it you will love it and feel free! 

One thing we like to show people is how we have set up our garage for ease of use. The bikes take pride of place (while the car is out in the elements). There is a plug hanging form the ceiling for recharging and plenty of room to quickly and easily get them out on the open road. There is no use having a bike if it is buried under a load of junk behind your car. 

So if you are interested in a test ride, let us know!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chokos and renos

Breaking news! We have little baby chokos! They are super cute, only about a centimeter long and the flowers are so delicate and beautiful.

The vine is growing well and seems to be loving all the grey water it gets. I'm so pleased!

We are just about to launch in to the dreaded renovations at home. We have removed this patio which, while it looks pretty nice and adequate in the photo, it was just not working for us.

It blocked all the northern light to the back of our house and it was open on all four sides, so everything got wet in winter. Our little house is only two bedrooms and it would be nice to have some extra living space and also another room for guests. Also we suspect Quincey, as he gets older, may need some extra space. So we are building a new pergola and also a little workshop (don't call it a studio or bedroom, we didn't get council approval for that!). The pergola will be high and have moving louvers with a clear roof so we can let in winter light and block out summer sun. The little room will have a kitchenette and an outdoor bathroom next to it. And we will lay decking too. Its all very exciting as we have been planning it for over two years! But at the moment the 'garden' looks like this; a little depressing as summer is coming and there is sand everywhere. But it has to get messy before it gets beautiful.

The veggie patch, fruit trees and chooks will be untouched, the lawn might cop a battering but that's fixable. We have had to move the grey water system which is a bummer, but again, we can just get it put back in in a better spot. 

So wish us luck!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Educating kids is not the answer

I have had to make a new label on our blog called 'Rants'. I wanted to call it 'nostril flaring rants by Amy that may use over generalizations and might offend people' but that would not fit on the label, so I'll stick with just 'Rants'. Ads is opposed to my publishing my rants because he doesn't want our blog to get all political. I promised him it wouldn't be political. But it wasn't a core promise.

This particular rant is about how I want to headbutt the next person who tells me that the solution is to 'educate the children' or 'it's up to the next generation'. This comment pisses me off for several reasons.

Firstly, how dare we stuff up the planet so badly, then expect our kids to clean it up. My Quincey can't even clean up his spilt milo, let alone the great pacific garbage patch. They are the children, we are the grown ups. We need to take responsibility now for our mess and try to leave them a planet that is not totally trashed.

Secondly, we don't have time. Just have a quick glance over the IPCC's latest report. We don't have 10 years to wait for our kids to enter the workplace, let alone 30 years for them to become CEOs and decision makers. That's what us grown ups are now and we need to use our positions to make the right decisions now.

Thirdly, I don't think it works - at least not alone. Ever tried to learn art from someone who can't draw or another language from someone who can only speak English - but has a book on how to do it? It's not very convincing is it? If we are to teach sustainability we need to walk the walk and talk the talk. The new Australian Curriculum now has 'Sustainability' as a 'cross curriculum priority'. To my mind, that implies that teachers should be taking some action towards sustainability in their own lives (demanding, hu?). These days it's totally unacceptable to see a teacher smoking because we value health and want to role model healthy behaviour to our kids, yet we try to teach sustainability while sucking out of a disposable coffee cup, walking by rubbish on the playing field, and printing worksheets by the rheem on virgin white paper. It's no wonder kids are experiencing increased mental health problems (controversial, hu?). In the classroom they are taught about climate change, the problems of non-renewable energy, waste, water and every other anxiety inducing problem we face and then told how wonderful it is to ride a bike, to limit air travel, turn off standbys, grow native gardens. But alas, what do children see around them? Grown ups who do the opposite. We've told the kiddos the world as we know it is ending soon and what do we grown ups do? Go to Bali.

I think my generation was one of the first to be taught about environmental issues at school. I distinctly remember being taught about the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy in about grade 7 (11 or 12 years old). Of course I panicked and went home and told my mum. Did she know about this? We are running out of fuel and the little we have left is stuffing up the atmosphere. Turns out she did know but had to do the grocery shopping right now and did I want to come with her. Yes, I did want to go with her but only if we rode our bikes. No, we couldn't ride because how would we get the groceries home? Well, I was stumped. After a time though, I concluded that the grown ups must have it all worked out because otherwise there would be panic in the streets and there wasn't. Now I am a grown up and I find that the grown ups don't have it worked out. Not even the ones like me who received environmental education as a kid. What are we doing? Well in WA we are mainly FIFOing in the resources sector.

I also hate the way we think that 'pester power' will actually work. Imagine this: traumatized kid comes home from school and tells his family to get solar panels, family can't afford this and are not particularly interested and just tell the child no. Child is left bemused and confused. Kids aren't (well, shouldn't be, in my opinion) the decision makers of the household. Adults are.

Okay, to tone down my rant, of course I believe we should teach sustainability in schools because it is essential to give kids skills and knowledge to help them make decisions and behave in a way that is kind to the earth. But for this to be effective they need to see it all around them in their parents, on telly, by politicians and by CEOs, not just teachers who are ticking a box. So we cannot put all our eggs in the 'education' basket, it's only one teeny tiny prong of the approach we need to take.

I love educating and inspiring adults at work with the Earth Carers program and hearing about the fantastic work that is done by the Living Smart gang. Adults have the world at their fingertips and can make changes immediately. I also love teaching kids about waste and sustainability, that's a part of my job too. I just hope that they are not being let down by adults.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A real winter (for a change)

Anyone who lives in Perth would know that we've had a lovely wet winter, just like they used to be. I've even caught myself thinking that I wish we'd have a few dry days to do the washing! Here's a chart of the rainfall on our block in the last four years and a bit.

Our rainfall year goes from mid July since we installed the rainwater tank at that time of year. As you can see we've got off to a great start to the year after a poor June (end of year 4). The tank has been full enough to supply all our needs since May 5th, which means we may be 'off grid' for about 30 weeks this year (a record for us).

It feels good not to be taking water from the grid, since Perth's dams are still only at 36% capacity despite all this rain. Streamflow has dropped from 400GL a year pre-1975 to around 100GL a year these days, which means the dams simply don't fill up now. Two thirds of Perth's water are from what I'd call unsustainable sources (desal 23% and groundwater 46%), so to be using rainwater (a truly sustainable resource) is great for us and the general community.  

Here's hoping that it keeps raining and the dams overflow...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A cure for dandruff

I've had dandruff for pretty much all of my adult life. It totally sux. I rarely wear black clothes because of flakes on my shoulders and I hate people touching my hair - a scalp massage is out of the question. I've generally tried to control it by going thorough phases of different treatments. I usually have about seven types of shampoo in the shower ranging from organic hippy stuff to hard core chemical stuff. All of these purchased remedies would work for a few weeks to a few months then gradually become less and less effective, so I'd start the rotation again through my selection of useless, expensive, highly packaged shampoos. Grrr. 

Then a beautiful hippy friend suggested doing nothing. So I tried a phase of no shampoo but using a random selection of oils (essential oils in carrier oils). And I hit on a cure...but unfortunately I didn't write it down and could not work out from the smell what the heck I put in it! Grrr again! 

So, I did some dedicated research on dandruff which took all of a couple of hours online and in my op shop aromatherapy books. 

I found that dandruff is kind of a mystery and there are lots of causes, but the most common theory is that it is fungal. Gross. Anyway, it was a good starting point. I researched base oils and found that coconut oil is anti-fungal. Good. Then I researched my essential oil collection and found that several were anti-fungal: patchouli, tea tree, sandalwood and orange.

I mixed up a potion and volia! A cure! My secret recipe (that I meticulously recorded) is:

20 drops patchouli
5 drops sandalwood
in 60 ml coconut oil

I just put a dob of it in my palm and let it melt (if its solid) then massage it into my scalp a few hours before I have a shower and then rise it out. I'm a little nervous to use shampoo again so, so far I've not bothered with that. But with short hair I can get away with it.

The results have been pretty amazing, and its been a couple of months. My dandruff is not 100% clear but it is now only a few flakes here and there not a total, permanent snow storm! And now I have a medical excuse for getting around smelling like a hippy. Perfect.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Garden update

Well, it's been a while hasn't it? We've come out of our winter slumber and the garden is looking great. We've had such a wet end to winter (370mm since mid July) and the garden is loving it.

The fruit trees are looking good. Here are some pics:

The almond tree has a good crop. Hopefully the spraying I did will stop the shothole fungus problem we had last year. Need to net soon to stop the birds too.

We have so many bananas I can't even count them, at least 250 I'd say. They are quite small but will be yummy I'm sure. I've borrowed a friend's Vacola dehydrator to dry some since we won't be able to eat them all fresh.

The macadamia is looking its best ever. Fingers crossed we get some nuts this year.

The strawberry guavas are huge this year, this one is the size of a table tennis ball! We have just a few through the cooler months with the main crop in summer. If you live in Perth I would definitely recommend them to grow, kids love them. This year I've been adding liquid feed Greendex (by Bass). This is an additive for alkaline soils to correct the pH. Our plant is surrounded by limestone walls and the leaves were yellow with green veins last year. The Greendex has solved this and the plant looks much healthier.

We have lots of tiny apricots right now. I need to put fruit fly net on ASAP because apricots are like heroin to fruit flies and they can get them when they're small. 

This year I'm trying a new netting technique, which has a frame of rigid black pipe. At the apex is a nut and bolt to hold it together and at each corner is a peg going into the ground. All I need to do now is throw the net over and weigh down the bottom edges, if I get around to it I may even put a door in with velcro. The main issue with this tree is that it's a double graft. This sounded like a good idea when we bought it (fruit over a longer period, different varieties) but I now realise it will make it much harder to net. One side needs netting now and the other needs to be left open to pollinators since it hasn't even flowered yet. This means I need to net half the tree and then the whole tree in another month or so. What a pain in the bum, don't buy double grafted stone fruit trees is the moral of this story.

The grape vine is shooting now to provide us with summer shade and some fruit to boot.

The boy in the bubble (mango) is going well. The greenhouse effect has buffered it from the wind and cold of winter, so it should be ready for a big surge when it warms up (I'll replace the plastic with shade cloth for summer).

The veges are growing well too. The broad beans are nearly ready to eat. Old bike inner tubes are the best way to support broad beans.

After a slow start the leeks are looking good too.

Last but not least the most exciting development. About six months ago I planted three groups of Quandong seeds. I thought they had rotted away because it had been so long since planting but now I have two beautiful little seedlings in the front garden.

 Here is the first to come up, it's about 2cm tall at two months.

And here is one that just popped up, you can actually see the seed on the soil surface if you look closely. I am so chuffed because it's very hard to buy seedlings and also hard to propagate. They are native parasitic plants which attach themselves to other plants to get nutrients (much like the related Sandalwood), so I have host plants nearby. I can't wait to get our first crop in five years or so, Quandongs make the best jam in the world, ever!