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?