Monday, February 28, 2011

Testing the powers of vinegar outdoors

It's been a while since I started using vinegar as a cleaner indoors in the kitchen and bathroom - and I am totally converted.  Vinegar is a great glass cleaner, helps remove those stubborn stains around the stove and on the kitchen bench.  Vinegar cleans our stainless steel appliances (fridge and dishwasher) - getting rid of those little kids fingerprints and leaving a clean streak free surface.

A few weeks ago I read a snippet somewhere that vinegar can be used as a weed spray outdoors. Having found uses for vinegar indoors I could not wait to trial vinegar in the outdoors.  Further research on the Internet brought up numerous articles on vinegar (or acetic acid) as a herbicide - read some here and here and here

So here is our home trial of vinegar as a herbicide and the results we have observed so far.

I filled a pressure spray pack with 2 litres of vinegar (just the cheap white vinegar) and added a small squirt of dishwashing liquid (to help get better leaf coverage) and went out to the front yard to trial my new herbicide on cat's ear,  paspalum, couch and dandelions (photos in this order).

The photos on the left show photos of the weeds at the time of spraying and the photos on the right are the same plants just 2 days after.

The results look promising.

Vinegar (or acetic acid the main chemical in vinegar) acts as a drying agent on the leaves of the plants.  You need to apply the vinegar on a warm sunny day to get the best effect (or the best drying out) - and the leafy plants like the dandelions showed signs of drying out almost immediately.  Even the grasses (paspalum and couch) are showing signs of being weakened.  Vinegar is a broad spectrum herbicide so you need to be careful with your spraying - spray only the plants you want to kill and do not spray on a windy day.  Vinegar is not as powerful as commercial broad spectrum herbicides- and you should expect to have to reapply your treatment several times.

I am inspired by my initial results and will keep repeating the vinegar applications on our next sunny day to keep weakening the weeds and hopefully eventually eliminate them from this section of our garden. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A week of solar cooking

Tricia and Heather have asked me to contribute to their soon to be published sun oven cook book. This has inspired me to cook a whole range of things in our solar oven this week - luckily it has been a mostly sunny week.

We started with baked squashes and golden nugget pumkins - picked from our garden.

Then had an Indian feast of dahl and a palek paneer (spinach and cheese) with rice.

We stewed some rhubarb from the back yard with some new season apples from a local orchard and topped half of it with a cobbler and the other half a baked custard mix.

In the oven now is a weekend batch of chocolate muffins for the kids.

If you have some recipes you would like to contribute to the upcoming solar oven cook book contact Tricia and Heather at .

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

No time to ride or walk?!?

It has been easy to get into the habit of convincing myself that when I am running late then I do not have time to ride or walk to drop our smallest at preschool or daycare.  Well excuses no more - because having sat back and worked out the time difference - it's nearly nothing!

I started thinking about this the other day when I drove down to pick up our littlest from preschool - I was happily lost in work on my computer at home when I looked up at the clock and it was time to be at preschool (we get charged more if we are more that 10 minutes late!).  Thinking I was short on time I grabbed the car keys and drove down. When I got there I could not find a car park within coo-ee of the gate so ended up parking and walking anyway.  Reflecting on this it would have been quicker had I just walked down in the first place!

Our littlest walking to preschool in winter last year.

Similarly, daycare for our littlest is a bit further away than her preschool, but I took note of the time it took to ride her down and for me to ride back and it is only 10 minutes longer than driving down - and I get exercise.   
Even in the depths of an Orange winter the boys enjoy riding down to pick our littlest up from daycare.

 So why do I drive? Bad habits I guess.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Soft drink bottle flowers at the community garden

On the weekend we spent time down at the ELF Community Garden making flower sculptures from soft drink bottles and harvesting this seasons potatoes.

Carefully cutting petals from a soft drink bottle.

We used a hole punch and some paper fasteners to attach the petals to the base of the flowers.

Then we put on a stem and some extra wire as decoration - the kids displaying their finished products.

There were too many kids wanting to make plastic drink bottle flowers so we did not get time to make these gorgeous saucepan lid - venetian blind flowers.  Hopefully we will have another workshop soon as I would love some of these in my home garden.

After we finished the flower sculptures we spent some time working in the community garden. Bandicooting for potatoes was a favourite for many of the kids.

The potato harvest.... it was mashed potato for tea tonight so that we can make the most of some lovely fresh potatoes.

Our next community garden working bee coincides with a day introduction to permaculture- we will be building wicking beds, no dig gardens and compost heaps.  We can't wait.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Setting up to catch the heat from our northern brick wall

Living in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales at over 900m in altitude presents some problems for growing a range of plants - here is the backyard in our first winter here about three years ago.  Yes that is snow.

Probably harder on the plants are our heavy frosts - last winter we lost all our lemons in one heavy frost - they all half froze on the tree.

To try to buffer some of our more sensitive plants from the cold we have lined up a row of pots against the north facing brick wall at the rear of the house.  I am hoping that the wall will absorb the warmth of the winter sun and help take the edge of the winter weather for the mandarin and passionfruit in particular.  In the future I would like to paint the wall a dark colour to help it absorb more heat.  In summer the wall is mostly shaded by the eave and the pots do not get too hot.

This was one of our microclimates we identified while studying the Permaculture Design Certificate last year.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A weed compost tea

A couple of weeks ago we did a big weed tidy up out in the front yard - we pulled up lots of couch and kikuyu - I did not want to put it in the compost heap because both these grasses are invasive and spread by runners and they don't die in the compost heap. 

So I put them into a spare wheelie bin we have here and filled it with water - covering the weeds.

That was about 2 weeks ago - we now have one batch of smelly weed compost tea or extract.

It is too strong to use undiluted..

But once diluted to tea strength it is a great fertilizer for the garden.

What a great way to get those nutrients and other goodies out of a weed - once we have used the liquid the grass should be well and truly dead and it can go onto the compost heap.

There are lots of links to compost teas and extract - check them out here and here and here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

First year of fruit on our plum tree

We planted our plum tree about two years ago.  Last year we had only one plum that fell off (or got knoocked off by a soccer ball?) before it rippened... this year marks our first plum harvest.

Collecting plums before the birds get to them.

Harvesting blood plums as the kids go back to school reminds me of our plum tree when I grew up - we harvested and bottled these plums about the time we went back to school.

Maybe we will have enough plums to bottle the extras in a couple of years.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Finally - a list of what we would like to achieve this coming year

We have been busy in holiday mode doing all sorts of fun things but as work and school routines return I have been finalising our "resolutions" for 2011.  Below I have listed 5 things we would like to achieve over the next year - among the more general goals of moving toward being more sustainable.

1.  SIMPLIFY THINGS - We have accumulated many things in and around our house which sometimes lead to a life more complicated than it should be - and more cleaning.  So this year our biggest resolution will be to make a start on the de-cluttering of our house and shed.  I would like to systematically go through our "stuff" this year and assess what we use and want, then get rid of the excess.

2.  HEALTH -  I would like to see us all get fitter. I have an aim to get my walking fitness back so that I can enjoy extended bushwalks and start back with overnight hikes. Maybe we could start to take the kids on overnight hikes - our oldest is certainly requesting it.

3.  ENERGY CONSUMPTION - I would like to assess where we can make reductions to our energy use - this year our focus will be on household power consumption. 

4.  HOUSEHOLD WASTE - I would like to focus on ways of reducing the plastic waste in our household.  We already use "re-usable" shopping bags most of the time - but we still generate a lot of other plastic waste.

5.  LOCAL, ORGANIC OR FREE RANGE MEAT.  Over the past year or two we have changed our shopping habits and have moved to including much more local and organic produce in our diet - this will continue.  With more options becoming available in the rural centre of Orange I would like to see if we can only buy local, organic or free range meat.

So here's a belated cheers to 2011. I am looking forward to another year of challenges.