Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Great Kilowatt Challenge

We are joining Gavin's Great Kilowatt Challenge - should be fun and an interesting follow up to our recently finished Energymark group.

Visit Gavin's blog for more info on reading you meters and recording your consumption data and working out your baseline power consumption.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Our wetland is filling in this week of rain

In a Permablitz on our front yard in October 2010 we constructed an ephemeral wetland (or dry creek bed) in our front yard native plant section.  The photos below shows how it has developed over the last year - I think it should be inspiration enough for anyone to make their own wetland - dry creek bed.  We are now waiting for the frogs to find our secret wetland and make it home.

Building the dry creekbed / wetland October 2010

After rain - November 2010

Putting native pine mulch up to the edge of the creek / wetland  April 2011

The wetland now after naturally filling with rain - November 2011

Have you ever been inspired to include a wetland in your home garden?

Friday, November 4, 2011

No foil or plastic wrap for two years now

When we moved to Orange nearly four years ago I stopped buying aluminium foil and plastic cling wrap.  It took nearly two years to use up the last of my rolls of each in the kitchen draw - but for about the last two years we have been aluminium foil and cling wrap free.  I get asked many questions as to how I do it.  So here are my strategies.

  • We have been using reusable sandwich wraps for packed lunches all this year - I have been very happy that the kids have not lost a single wrap over the year - even if I have to search for them in the school trouser's pocket or at the bottom of the school bag.  I find that these reusable wraps are great - I wipe them down with a cloth and tea towel daily and put them all through the washing machine at the end of the week. I have had Mum's from school ask about the warps the kids use - along with work colleagues commenting on Dad's wraps in his work lunchbox.
  • The kids lunchboxes are designed to be rubbish free as well.... having many little compartments that we can put unwrapped biscuits, cheese and fruit into.

  • When we have left overs from the evening meal I pack them directly into a lunchbox for Dad to take to work the next day or simply put a plate over the top of the bowl of leftovers before putting it into the fridge.
  • When we cook cakes for the kids school we use an old cereal box - cut to make a lid.

  • In the microwave (although we are doing without one at the moment as it is not working) - we use ceramic bowls with a plate on the top instead of using cling wrap.
  • The other day we cooked a fresh trout on the BBQ - wrapped in silverbeet from the garden instead of foil.  The dogs loved the fish infused silverbeet as an add-on to their evening meal.  

We have certainly adjusted quickly to not have aluminium foil or plastic cling wrap in the house - and that is now another aisle of the supermarket that we can avoid - which I find empowering.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Using old bath tubs to make wicking beds

At the Orange community garden working bee a weekend or two ago we constructed some bathtub wicking beds.  Over at Child's Play Permaculture there is a good article on wicking beds if you would like more information but here is a few snaps of what we did on the day.

Placing the bathtubs in position... we had to level the sites out a bit and sink the northern tub
in lower than the southern one. The idea being that the northern tub will shade
the side of the southern (back) bathtub and stop it from heating up too much.
Some old downpipe was recycled as the watering for the wicking bed.  Pipe ran flat along
the bottom of the bath and had slits cut to allow water to run out into the bottom of the bath.

After adding and wetting the wicking layer of straw we filled the baths
with some good garden soil.
Testing the wicking pipes.

Now for some seedlings - lettuce in the front bathtub.

Taller plants in the back tub (sweet corn at the moment - we might plant some
beans and cucumbers in here at the next working be).

Can't wait to see how they are coming along.... might have to visit for a quick peek on the weekend.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A trip to Sydney by train

In the last week of the school holidays we had to take our oldest boy down to Sydney to get braces on his teeth - his orthodontist's surgery was right in the heart of Sydney - near the State Library.  We took the opportunity to take the trip from Orange to Sydney and return via the train - the Countrylink XPT is a daily service from Dubbo to Sydney and return daily and although not ideal times for commuting it was a great way to plan for a few days exploring Sydney and the kids travelled for $2 return.

Lots of time for colouring... without getting travel sick.

Time for some puzzles... something we would not have been able to do in the car
The freedom that we and the kids experienced with no car for four days and a small backpack of essentials was great.  All this on top of the fact that the train takes the same time as a car to get to Sydney and you have no parking hassles in town once you get there and we got to have some quality time with the kids while travelling down because we were not driving.  It is certainly a trip that we will be trying again.

Here are some highlights from the trip.

 The Powerhouse Museum...

Slime making workshop

A snap shot of some startling statistics from the EcoLogic dipslay at the Powerhouse Museum (the numbers kept  changing as we watched)
The Darling Harbour area was also a highlight and a refreshing retreat from the hustle and bustle of the cities streets.
The water playground at Darling Harbour's Tumbalong Park kept the kids occupied for hours

The Chinese Garden of Friendship was a magic garden to visit

Bamboo forest - we would love to have a Bamboo Forest in our  yard

The kids enjoyed walking through the Royal Botanic Gardens

Looking at the Pitcher Plants

A Dragon's-blood Tree - just like out the Tashi stories the kids read

In the evening we walked home through Chinatown
Exploring Chinatown by night

All in all we had an intense couple of days in Sydney - but got time to relax on the train-trip back to Orange.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Medicinal herbs in our local park

Last weekend we had the opportunity to tag along with a tour of our local Cook Park looking at medicinal herbs and their uses.  The tour was part of the National Herbalists Association's National Herbal Medicine Week and was lead by local herbalist Angela Duncan.

We all certainly had fun walking along and exploring what was in our local park and learning more about what some of the uses of the herbs were.

Some plants that I would like to get into our home garden include Yarrow and Wormwood.  I learnt that the nerve toxin drug absinthe was made from Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum) but also that wormwoods have great anti-inflammatory properties - as well as being useful for repelling pests such as lice and intestinal worms around the chookpen. I feel that I have so much to learn about various uses of herbs - many of which are common in our everyday gardens such as rosemary and willows (the active ingredient of Asprin is based on the active ingredient in Willow Bark).  Of course, many of these herbal medicines need to be taken in tablet form under the guidance of qualified herbalists to ensure correct dosage and usages.

The kids also enjoyed some time in the park at Spring time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The kids made their own solar oven

In a workshop run as part of the Orange Sustainable Living Week this year we participated in a solar oven making workshop.

What fun we all had making our own solar oven, here are some photos of the whole process.

Our instructions were clearly set out on this display board...

Selecting two boxes to make our oven.
There had to be about a 5cm gap between the boxes.

The gap between the boxes was filled with scrunched up newspaper.

We painted the inside of the smaller box black.

We made a reflector out of on old corflute real estate sign covered in
aluminium foil and  added a glass lid.

We did not get to test the oven yesterday as it was cold and overcast all day..
but it was sunny today so we put it to the test in the sun today.

In just over half an hour our cardboard box oven reached 100oC -
so you may even be able to boil your water in it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My new wallet

I had been holding out for a while on purchasing a new wallet - my old wallet was falling apart and becoming non-functional.  After finally giving in the other day I went in search of a new wallet and this is what I found... produced from rubbish found in Indonesia with the money going back into the community to support environmental projects.

A card and note wallet made primarily from an inner tube

A wallet for coins and more cards made from a up-cycled dog food bag and SIM cards....

The dog food labelling inside the wallet

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sharing the load

Last Sunday we went out to a working bee at an orchard as part of our Central West Permaculture activities - the first for a while as we come out of another Orange winter.

It was almost too late to do much but this was an orchard in need of some care and pruning - and it's owner had recently lost her husband and was finding it all too overwhelming to look after.

Not sure how many trees we did - but everyone got on with the job.  We pruned apricots, plums, cherries, quinces, apple, medlars, persimmons, peaches, nectarines - and probably more types fruit trees that we could not identify.  The trees - although possibly not having large crops this year will certainly be bouncing back for the next year or two.  We trimmed out crowded branches and tidied up suckers from around the base of the the trees and generally made the trees so that we could reach the fruit when it does grow.

It was a great day and gave us a chance to chat and learn from each other and we are already planning a jam making / preserving day when the crops return.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Finding time in a busy spell

Work has dominated our time over the last month - so when I got the opportunity for some time with our littlest we went shopping at our local op shops. 

Here is what we found - some real treasures.

Some real girly clothes
Some lovely preloved boots
Testing the skirt and boots...

Our littlests "new" clothes and boots have been a great find - the boots have only rarely been taken off since we found them.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Enjoying the flexibility in making our own sourdough bread

A couple of months ago we started "growing" our own Sourdough starter to make our own bread - we were inspired by posts like this and after some internet and cookbook research we were ready to give sourdough a go.  We had never tried sourdough and the experience has been a real journey of discovery.  We had made our own bread, but had used cans of dried yeast, often packet bread mixes and a bread machine.

It took about three weeks to "brew" up our first sourdough starter batch - feeding it with a tablespoon of rainwater and unbleached flour each day.  At about two weeks we started seeing bubbles in our starter mix - we were now ready to try our first hand made sourdough bread.

The process of turning the starter into a loaf of bread takes up to two days and what we have enjoyed is realizing that the process is flexible.  So here is what we do.

We take the sourdough starter and mix in a cup of unbleached flour and a cup of water in a large bowl then leave it in a bowl on the kitchen bench overnight or until it is all frothy and bubbly. 

I save about a cup of this mix to be my new starter batch and then to the remaining ingredients in the bowl add:
  • about 3 cups of unbleached flour
  • 1/2 a cup or so of wholegrain bran
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of treacle
  • and water to make a dough (about 1 cup)
Mix ingredients to make a dough - adding more water if needed.  Knead the dough until well mixed and leave for half a day or overnight to rise.  After a quick knead we reshape into a loaf and put in a bread tin to rise in a warm place - on the kitchen window sill is working well over winter.

Once risen put the loaf into a cold oven - turn oven on to about 180oC and bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until browned on top and sounds hollow when tapped. The loaf below is one without the bran and treacle - so is a white sourdough.

The kids are really enjoying the whole breadmaking process - and because the bread is heavier than the standard bought bread we find that we all actually eat less bread - and we don't have all that plastic packaging that comes with standard supermarket bread.