Thursday, May 23, 2013

Netting Brassicas

In Perth these little critters can turn your much loved brassicas in to lace. In seasons passed I've totally given up on broccoli and caulie crops because of them. In other parts of the world where its cooler frosts kill the moths and people are advised to wait until its really winter to avoid them, but here we have them all autumn, winter and spring. Bastards. 

We've tried a few hippy solutions like leaving egg shells or bread ties on sticks to repel the moths to no effect. I've sprayed with Success before and it does work pretty well, but I've been keen to try a greener solution - that works! And here it is...netting them. I was so impressed with our apple netting last year, surely this will work to keep cabbage whites off the barrassicas. I used an old mozzie net that we never bother using and tied it up to the grape trellis. I weighed it down with bricks, but you could just as easily peg it.

It might look a bit strange but I really reckon it will work. The only problems I foresee is that:
1.  I may have been a bit late and there might already be eggs on the leaves that hatch in to hungry little caterpillars 
2. It might shade the plants too much. Even in winter Perth is pretty sunny so I'm hoping that it might just slow them down a little. 
3. I have to move the net to do any liquid fertilizing and (hopefully) to harvest my bountiful unblemished broccoli. 

But its worth a shot. We love broccoli!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Blue Boogers

Quincey loves Scitech so Ads dutifully took him there this last school holidays. They watched a slime making demo and, lucky for parents, the recipe is online! But here are the basics:

1. Dissolve 5 g Borax (approximately 2 level teaspoons) into 100 ml warm water
2. Dissolve 3 g Guar Gum (approximately 1 slightly heaped teaspoon) into 150 ml warm water
3. Add 1 tablespoon of glycerol/glycerine to the guar gum solution
4. Add 3 drops of food colouring to guar gum solution.
5. While stirring, slowly add borax solution to guar gum solution. You will only need to add 30 – 50 ml of the borax. Continue stirring until the solution thickens!
6. Experiment with different concentrations of borax and guar gum solution to get different sorts of sliminess

It's exactly the same stuff I used to purchase when our parents let me and my cousin loose at the shopping center on my school holidays: Ghost Busters slime. The kind of slime that feels wet and doesn't stick to your hands but will totally ruin carpet. 

Awesome! We love it!

We made up a batch for Quin and a batch for a birthday pressie and I thought to myself, this is something all children should enjoy. So I think Quincey's next birthday party will be a slime themed party and we can make some up for all the kiddos so they can go home with slime instead of a landfill starter kit lolly bag. It's cheap, easy to make, minimal packaging and rates super high on the gross out/fun factor. Until it gets into the carpet. But kids are only kids for a short time, nice carpet is for retirement not parenthood. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Going green: what's the payback?

Going 'green', or installing technologies which lower your footprint, is mostly done by people who are interested more in saving the planet than saving a dollar. This certainly applies to us. The perception for many is that being green is more costly, so I thought I'd show you how going green has lowered not only our ecological footprint but also our bills.

When we recently installed a grey water system it made me reflect on all the things we've done in the last five years. These include solar PV, rain water harvesting, solar hot water, cargo bikes and grey water. I added up the costs of the above and it came to $33,500, which is a lot of money. But how much will these technologies save us in the long run? Well, here are my best estimates:

system cost  savings per year payback (years)
PV $6,500 $600 10.8
solar hot water $3,500 $300 11.7
rain water $10,000 $100 100.0
grey water $4,500 $50 90.0
cargo bikes $9,000 $5,000 1.8
Totals $33,500 $6,050 5.5

There are some surprises in there and I'll explain each one.

First, PV. We have a 1.1 kW Kaneka thin film solar PV system. It generates more or less what we consume (4.5 kWh a day) and we feed in 75% of what we generate to the grid. We are lucky enough to qualify for a now defunct feed in tariff, which means we get paid 48 cents a kWh for power fed to the grid. This makes our bills around -$60 a year (credit) and our bill would be around $550 a year without PV, so we save around $600 a year. This means the system will pay itself off in about 11 years and after that we'll be saving money for another 15-30 years. This was obviously a good investment of $6,500.

Our solar hot system (a Solahart 180L thermosiphon system), cost $3,500 two and half years ago and it saves us around $300 on our gas bill. We boost a little bit between May and October, but this only costs us $20 a year in electricity. The payback time is very similar to PV.

Water is so cheap in WA that there is no way our rain water or grey water systems will ever pay for themselves. Both systems were quite expensive ($10,000 and $4,500 respectively). The 14,000L tank needed lots of digging and piping, new gutters etc to install and is piped into everything (whole house and retic). The Grey Flow system was less expensive and feeds a lawn and fruit trees.We harvest 70,000L of rain water a year and probably about 50,000L of grey water and you can see that the savings aren't great. However this isn't a big deal for us since we see these technologies as more of a society benefit than anything else. The more water we can generate the more water there will be in the dams and the less the need for desalination and ground water use (and the less power used to pump them around).

The bikes have almost paid for themselves already. How can that be I hear you say. Well thanks to the bikes we got rid of our second car, which cost us at least $5,000 a year to run. These are not your average bikes, they're both electric cargo bikes (one is a Bakfiets long, the other a retrofitted electric Workcycles Fr8). They're dutch and they'll probably last longer than me. They get us to work, to the beach, shopping, school runs and more.

So the payback time for all this is five and a half years, not bad eh? Obviously payback times will be different for everyone, depending on the costs and savings involved. However this shows quite clearly that going green can save you lots of money, especially if you invest in areas where you get the best bang for your buck.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Plastic free triumph

It's mandy season and Quincey is sucking them into his growing body by the kilo. I can't keep up with his appetite for them. I am spending my waking hours gathering up little piles of peel from all over the house - kitchen table, bathroom sink, bed (his and ours). 

I do love his fruit bat ways but trying to be plastic free and feed the family is challenging. A few days ago I was shopping at our little fruit and veg shop and feeling a little annoyed that all the best fruit (as in the cheapest, freshest, and best size for lunch boxes) are always in plastic. In this case really nasty net plastic. Imagine what that could do if set free in the ocean. 

But Being the fallible human that I am I thought, 'bugger it' and bought three bags of fruit. When I unpacked them at home I found that I could just untie the top and not rip the bag. So I kept them. Of course I had to go back to purchase more fruit today and I took my three plastic net bags back. I asked the fellow on the checkout if he would reuse the bags and he said he would. No probs. He even joked about giving me a 10 c discount! Wonderful! So I bought more mandies and just unpacked them on the counter but not in an agro, protesty way, in a cheerful, 'oh yes, there is too much plastic around' kind of way. So I get to purchase the best fruit, the shop gets to reuse their bags and I feel virtuous about  walking out of the shop without a scrap of new plastic (the bag in the picture is old and well loved!). And I make a new friend!