Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A lesson in camouflage

Collecting the washing from the line just before yet more rain gave the kids a chance to explore "camouflage". 

Here is a moth as we found in on a piece of clothing.....

A quick look underneath revealed a pretty underside....

Here is a better look at the underside patterns...

And camouflaged again on a plant base...

We identified this moth as a Red-lined Geometrid.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Grassy box gum woodlands to end a year of work

I decided to spend the last day of work for the year out in the field... as the kids were already on school holidays they came too.  We went out on an excursion to an on-farm grassy box gum woodland - here are some photos from our day. I think the pictures speak for themselves.

We were exploring some of the wildflowers - spring is late here as we were at about 900m ASL.

Here's a Blue Pincushion - Brunonia australis.

The kids got into recording the plants they saw.....

Our youngest boy ended up with a list of over 15 local wildflowers for the day (as a botanist I got a rough list of 45 species so I think that's great effort for a seven year old)

This is a close up of the flowers of the Blue Devil - Eryngium ovinum

The Blue Devil - flowers in bud

The star-like arrangement of the flowers on the Blue Devil

The kids found lots of snake skins... there must be lots of shiny snakes getting around

Exploring animal habitats in a grassland - the kids found a small scorpion here.

 A Fringe Lily - Thysanotus tuberosus - I love the fringes on the edge of the petals in this species. 

All in all we all had a great morning out exploring nature and it was a great way to finish work for the year. 

Thanks John for being the caretaker of such a great grassy box gum woodland.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Harvesting summer berries

Last year we planted three types of bramble berries (raspberries, loganberries and boysenberries) in the back yard and we are now getting our first harvest - just a year on.

The kids cannot wait to get out and harvest a small container of berries each day.

It has been great to see the excitement the kids show at harvesting and eating foods from the backyard.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Making our straw bale gardens more permanent

When we started our summer tomatoes, squash and eggplant in straw bales it gave us a chance to see how the location of the gardens went with the paths the kids and dogs use in the back yard.  They have proven to be ideally located.... although one bed had to be moved a little to get it out from under the clothes line.

Here is our strawbale garden just after it was put in place..

With the locations settled on it was time to make the beds more permanent.... I took the chance to get the kids to assemble some raised garden beds after school... there has been no homework in the last week before summer holidays.

The beds were about the same size as two strawbales...so with minimal disturbance to the bales we now have two raised garden beds. 

With the new raised edges on the gardens the tomotoes and eggplant should have better protection from the dogs and soccer balls.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Local gifts for the kid's teachers

This year we are giving the kid's music and school teachers local produce as thank you gifts.

We have such a range in Orange - it's great. 

It is also a great way to make for a more sustainable Christmas

What are you doing to make for a more ethical and sustainable Christmas this year?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reviving old picture frames

We have a series of photos from our early hiking and travelling days in our hall - they are close to 20 years old and starting to show their age.  Dad had often remarked that we should update them and I hadn't really known what I could update them with - until Dad suggested some of the kid's artwork.

Being the end of year - school desks are being cleared out and artwork is coming home daily.  So we are selecting some of the kid's brightest and more colourful art pieces to replace our more tired photos in our hallway. 

The result is great....

and the kid's are so proud of their mini art gallery.

We will soon be sorting through the rest of the paintings and drawings to get a selection to wrap the Christmas presents in - this was a great hit last year.

PS - I have just included a "like" button on our blog- I have met many of you who read my blog through work but I rarely hear from you. Sometimes it would just be nice to know that you are reading and enjoying our blog.  So if you enjoyed reading please send us a :) by clicking the "I enjoyed ready your blog" button at the bottom of each post.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Home made Christmas Cards

We have decided to try to not to get caught up in all the commercialism of the festive season this year and make a more sustainable Christmas... here is another thing we have done.

Home made cards - photos printed from our 2010 family snaps and mounted on 100% post consumer recycled card (cut up manila folders as that was all we could find), decorated with more cut up recycled manila folders.  They will be posted out in 100% recycled envelopes.  They look great and we are going to have lots of fun choosing which card we will send to all of our family and friends.

Are you making your own cards?  Or maybe you are choosing where you buy yours from?  Make your choice of cards a more ethical and sustainable one .

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A special thankyou..

Got this hand painted treasure as a thanks for teaching this year.... Thanks B-L L and the rest of the class.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Starting to organise for a more sustainable Christmas

Thanks to Linda's post the other week on rustic soap making I have been making my own soap for the first time - and having fun doing it.  It should be just hard enough before Christmas.

Being new to soap making... and starting from scratch it was a bit like being in a science lab again...

weighing and measuring, stirring and mixing.. and watching for colour changes etc.

We poured some of our soap mix into milk cartons to set and found the kids modelling clay cutting wire a great help in slicing the soap into bars...


We used a variety of other plastic containers (eg yoghurt tubs) and silicon baking moulds to make a range of soap shapes.

We now have enough soap for us for next year as well as Christmas presents for friends and family - there is lemon grass scented soaps, lavender soaps and oatmeal soaps.  The best shaped soaps will go into a sustainability goodies bag I have planned for relatives for Christmas - oh there goes the surprise.

I would love to get some of the books Tricia referred to in her post on soap making using some garden weeds - maybe that can be a Christmas request. 

Sonya from Permaculture Pathways also has some great soap ideas for more inspiration and Gavin from the Greening of Gavin has put together a great soap making tutorial.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Starting to harvest the winter produce

I planted cabbages, broccoli and brussel sprouts over winter, but for most of winter they sat in the garden doing nothing.  With the warm spring weather lately they have taken off and I am finally harvesting some - which is finally making room in the garden for my summer crops such as corn and tomatoes. 

It has been part of our "permaculture home garden plan" to include many more perennial fruits and vegetables in our garden - a plan that looks like it is already starting to pay off as the garden looks fantastic this year.  I am excited about the developing berry crop we have - all our one year old loganberries, boysenberries and raspberries look like they are going to produce fantastic fruit.  We will have red and black currants soon as well and maybe even a few Chilean guavas and blueberries.  Lots of new fruits that we were not able to grow in Forbes because the climate was too hot.

We are still trying to work out the best time to plant things in our Orange garden - the seasons and growing seasons are so different from what we had at Forbes three years ago.

Going into winter this year I pickled hard boiled eggs for when the chooks went off the lay over winter...... that way we could have some eggs for salads or satay or the like.  But the chooks laid well all over winter and are in fact still laying well.  So we have an egg glut - I have started sharing eggs with the neighbours.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Can you be more green in a big city?

A recent article in New Scientist this week suggested  that in most cases you can be more green in big cities. 

In particular, for example, the carbon emissions of a New Yorker were 30% lower than the American  average.

In China the government is moving people into high density living in cities where they can do less environmental damage. It seems that a cities ability to concentrate people in a small area - rather than letting them spread out across a rural landscape can help reduce each individuals carbon footprint.

Dense urbanisation can also reduce your reliance on a car.  Quite obvious really - country people often commute longer distances daily and have less public transport options.
I wonder if Australia's cities are of high enough density to show these patterns?

I am not sure that a regional centre like Orange would show these trends?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quick and easy gardens

We had some lucerne hay left over from our permablitz the other week – so this is what I have done with it.

I laid down some newspaper and cardboard, put the hay bale down and watered it with seaweed and fish emulsions – then left it for about two weeks, watering the bales every couple of days.


After two weeks I made a little hole in the bales and put my hand in to test the temperature – this is important because the bales get very hot inside initially and you will have to wait for them to cool down.  Last year I measured the inside temperature as about 60oC - almost too hot to touch.

When the inside bale temperature has cooled so that it is luke warm rather than hot I simply dug a small hole in the bale, put in some good soil mix and then planted my seedling directly into the bale.

This year I am going to try basil in with the tomatoes, along with some other herbs like parley and dill and I may even try some lettuce.

Last year was my first year at trying this method of quick gardening - primarily becasue I ran out of room in our garden beds and it was a great success – below are the kids in March this year in front of our bale garden – we had two cherry tomato plants and a pumpkin growing in this single bale.  The bale garden produced the best yielding tomatoes and pumpkin – and rarely needed any additional watering.

The best thing is that when the plants stop producing you can use the well composted bale as mulch on the garden – no waste.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A morning at the community garden

Everything seems to be getting busy as the end of the year approaches - project deadlines, school presentations, music concerts and end of year work gatherings.  So it was nice to spend yesterday morning working, chatting and harvesting at the community garden at the Environmental Learning Facility at the Orange showgrounds.  The community garden is open to the public all the time and the working bees are on the morning of the second Saturday of the month - the same day as the local farmers markets.

There was lots of weeding to do.....

Some planting..... here we are planting corn, climbing beans and cucumber together in a "guild" - this combination of plants has been used extensively by native American groups in North America and is called the  "Three Sisters".  Some good material on guilds in permaculture can be found here and here and here.

And finally, some produce to take home... this rhubarb ended up as a rhubarb and apple cobbler...

What guilds or companion planting works best for you?  I would love to hear.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A snapshot of our fresh food miles

I have been less mobile over the last month while my leg injury heals and have been a little slacker in chasing down local fruit and vegies supplies and own garden is now only just waking after the Orange winter.  

I used the opportunity to just see just where my fruit and vegies in one shop came from.... it is only a calculation from farm (or closest guesstimate for some produce) to our house in a direct line - so does not include getting transported to market, then a warehouse before getting out to our local store.

So here is my list from earlier in the week (just from the fresh food shop)-

Tomatoes (NZ - 2200 km)
Kiwi fruit (NZ - 2200 km)
Bananas (Mackay QLD - 1350 km)
Free range pork (near Geelong Vic - 715 km)
Oranges (Griffith NSW - 305 km)
Pink Lady Apples (WA - 3050 km)
Asparagus (Koo Wee Rup, Vic - 650 km)
Mushrooms (Sydney, NSW - 163 km)
Mini Roma Tomatoes (Coldstream Vic - 590 km)
Red Capsicum (QLD - 800 km)
Zucchinis (Vic - 600 km)
Broccoli (Vic - 600 km)
Pineapple (QLD - 800 km)
Avocados (WA - 3050 km)
Beans (Kalbar QLD - 710 km)
Garlic (China - 9000 km)
Mangoes (Darwin NT - 3000 km)

All in all - the average distance fresh food came from (as the crow flies) was 1752 km!!!  Staggering I thought - considering it was likely to be a huge underestimate of actual miles / kilometres. 

That was inspiration enough for me to work harder at sourcing local produce.  Here is our "100 mile diet" area.  
Taste Orange has a good information page on the 100 mile diet for Orange including a 100 mile directory .
For more general discussions on Food Miles check these links out -

An article about where it all started.... The 100-mile Diet

Choice has put together a great article on the distance food travels to get to use - Food Miles - Why eat local?

CERES in Melbourne have also put out a great report on food miles, including the green house gas emissions - here is an extract -

"Data was collected to establish food miles and greenhouse gas emissions estimates for a typical food basket in Victoria. The total distance of the road transportation in the food basket was estimated at 21,073 kilometres (km), almost the same distance to travel around Australia’s coastline (25,760 km). The total distance for all transportation of the food basket was estimated at 70,803 km, equivalent to travelling nearly twice around the circumference of the Earth (40,072 km), or travelling around Australia's coastline three times.
The total greenhouse gas emissions estimate for all food trucks transporting all road-transported food items, over the total road transport distance, was 11, 327 tonnes (t) CO2–e. If all the food trucks were transporting all food items on the same day, the emissions from this one day of transportation (11, 327 t CO2–e), is equivalent to 2, 832 cars driving for one year." 
Check out the full report here.

We as a family will be looking more closely at all the food we purchase and will will be using these simple ideas for reducing our food miles...
  • Grow our own food where possible (being our third year in Orange our home garden is now starting to be productive)
  • Become more active members of the community garden at the ELF (Environmental Learning Facility) in Orange - the Orange Farmers Markets are nearby on the same morning (second Saturday of the month)
  • As a first stop - shop at local shops or directly from the wonderful orchards in the Orange area
  • Eat fruit and vegies that are in season - don't get cherries from the USA in mid winter because you can.
What do you do to reduce your food miles?

Have you ever worked out the food miles of the food you buy from shops?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Our permablitz

Continuing on from the Orange permaculture course we have started a Central West Permaculture Group and a permablitz at our house was our most recent event. Here is what we did...

I gathered materials..... native cypress mulch from a sawmill, some old railway sleeps, some mixed over sized rocks, 20 bales of lucerne hay and all the newspaper and cardboard I could find.

What we did - thanks to all the members from Central West Permaculture Group - we put out a layer of wet newspaper down and spread out lucerne hay under my fruit trees - then we put in some fruiting shrubs (gooseberries and black currants) and a couple of native Hardenbergia violoaceae (Happy Wanderer) plants to produce nitrogen in the food forest.

Before the sheet mulching (above)...... and now with a thick layer of lucerne straw (below)

On the other half of the front yard we constructed a dry creek bed with a shallow rock filled wetland at the end..... now I will have to propagate some local sedges, rushes and reeds to cover the banks and shallow waters to make a good frog habitat.

Digging the swale for the dry creek bed (above) and filling with rocks (below)

We also put down a layer of cardboard and newspaper under the many native trees and shrubs I have planted in the front yard and then covered the paper and cardboard with the cypress pine mulch...

What a reduction in lawn mowing.... only the nature strip out the front now ... and all that organic matter helping to build soil health and condition the soil.

All completed in four hours thanks to the help from some of the permaculture group members for the price a hot lunch - bargain hey.  Who's place is next?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Digital postcards and stories for Landcare

How simple can it be to share a story about Landcare in your area.... get a few words together (max about 70) a photo and you can make your own Landcare digital postcards.

Here is one that I have made for my Landcare district - Central Tablelands Landcare - which covers the Orange - Bathurst district of NSW.

We have also recorded some PlaceStories of our group activities in the "Central Tablelands Landcare" project,

Check out some of the other postcards and placestories being created by the Digital Landcare community...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Slashed feed-in tariff for solar power in NSW

Not sure if you heard the news..... but in NSW the gross feed in tariffs for solar power have just been reviewed and reduced from 60 cents to 20 cents a kilowatt hour!!

We have our solar array generating and feeding into the grid already so our 60 cents a kilowatt hour is locked in until 2016.... although I think there is a 300 megawatt cap.  However, if you were considering installing solar power but haven't signed an agreement yet you will be stuck with 20 cents per kilowatt hour - which for most will make the installation of solar panels an unappealing and non-viable choice.

A range of news articles have been published on the topic - here are some if you would like to read more.

Slashed feed-in tariff makes solar hot water even more attractive - Government - News - Southern Courier

New South Wales is slashing the gross feed-in tariff for its solar bonus scheme because it is costing too much - Sydney Morning Herald.

Power blame game heats up (TheAustralian Article)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Simple creative fun

We journeyed into Sydney last weekend to catch up at a work reunion... we are lucky enough to have an Auntie and Uncle in the Blue Mountains who looked after the kids while the adults travelled down to Cronulla for a ferry cruise.

I just wanted to share with you the creations the kids created with Uncle A... aren't they wonderful... no wonder the kids always want to visit Uncle A and Auntie C... we have a plane a bus and a racing car.

This of course is following on from our middle child's obsession about collecting things for next years Waste to Art competition run in our council area by Netwaste.  He has been carefully stockpiling all sorts of waste - from lolly wrappers to foil to bottle tops.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wild spring weather..

I had been really enjoying the onset of warmer spring weather over the last week or so..

The apples are blossuming...

The red currant fruit is setting...

And the fresh greens in the garden are finally starting to grow enough so that we can harvest them for meals..

And then came a few wild days... first came the rain and wind....

 Then the wind and snow...

The snow came late for the wildflowers in one of our local reserves... (Creamy Candlesticks - Stackhousia monogyna) 

Making the most of spring snow with some friends at the Pinnacle Picnic ground on the slopes of Mt Canobolas