Archive for the ‘Environmental’ Category

Spring update

September 4, 2009

Contrary to what the masses believe, Spring has been here for over a month now. The idea that somehow nature magically changes seasons on the September 1st is both daft and just plainly ethnocentric, reminiscent of the days when God was portrayed as a bearded, white, anglo-saxon-looking male. Obviously, someone forgot the plant world that Spring doesn’t come until September, as the following photos (taken in early August) will attend to.

Our first Duck eggs

Our first Duck eggs

Almost like clockwork, come the first week of spring, and Marbles and Bubbles laid their first eggs. Indeed, for the last 4 weeks, they have consistently laid an egg a day. Lovely! The last week however has seen production die off – possibly because of the cold? It was certainly useful for cooking, giving us a sensational ingredient to mix into mashed potato or soups to provide a rich flavour that is just divine!


Goji cuttings

Goji cuttings

We took a whole lot of cuttings off the Goji trees just as they started to shoot new growth. Hopefully, all these cuttings will strke, and we’ll have a good lot of Gojis to sell or give -away as gifts – a much sort-after plant for those in the Chinese Herbal Medicine profession.

The citrus garden

The citrus garden

The front section of the citrus garden was planted out with a bunch of new Brassica seedlings, as well as a few left-over calendula flowers. We also dug out the Dwarf Peach tree and put it into a large pot; in it’s place we planted what we thought was a Navelina Orange – which has turned out to be a Grapefruit. Let this be a lesson to those buying cheap fruit trees – there may well be a reason why they are on sale!

This patch looks like it will come together quite nicely this summer, especially since we think we have taken control of the rogue kikuyu situation….

The Brassica patch

The Brassica patch

This is the only vegie bed that has done well over the winter – albeit slowly. In here are some Kale, mini Cabbage, Silverbeet, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Red Shallots, and Swedes. The boxes have lettuce and mini Cabbage seedlings (freshly planted). This section is on the north of the house, so gets some nice sun in winter. The silverbeet was actually growing all along the front, however the possums helped themselves…. That’s a container of Snail Ale in the corner!

Rogue tomatoes

Rogue tomatoes

We’ve been getting self-seeded tomatoes coming up since late winter. This one turned up in a hanging pot which has strawberry seedlings in them.

Damned possums....

Damned possums....

This was my very successful patch of Sprouting Broccoli. As you can see however, just as it was about to fruit, the possums decided to help themselves to them – leaves and all, stripped bare. So, no broccoli this year whatsoever. That’s self-seeded cow-pea growing up behind them. This is related to Broad Bean, but is usually planted as a green manure (which it was the previous autumn-winter).

The first blossom of the year

The first blossom of the year

Almost like clock-work, every year the first week of August sees fruit trees around here go into blossom. This is the smaller of our two Nectarines.

This is quite encouraging, as this tree had a difficult first year, being planted in the wrong spot, and then transplanted. It didn’t really fruit last season – given that it is the first tree to blossom, then we expect it may fruit before its larger sibling next to it. Needless to say, the bees are loving our garden right now…

Which reminds me – watch BEE MOVIE, especially with your kids. Very funny and very relevent. Without bees, no pollenation, and no fertile plants, fruits, vegetables, flowers, etc. Therefore, no life. We need the bees, so lets encourage their presence in our suburbs, instead of looking to wipe them out with insecticides and lifeless suburban lawns.

Unexpected guests

Unexpected guests

These critters showed up on “Joy’s” Peach tree. Last year, it was the Plum tree that was attacked as it started its Spring blossom growth. Not sure if they are aphids (we always thought aphids were white), but can’t seem to identify them as anything else. Haven’t seen any ladybugs yet, but we expect them to show up any minute now…. The other day, the ducks were helping themselves to what they could reach; either way I think we have our organic pest control well under way.

The new additions to the family...

The new additions to the family...

And we have had kids…. Mama Cavy gave birth to four very small and very cute little guinea pigs. They’re sooooo cute…..

Right now, the cold-frame is full up with seed trays, all filled with punnets seeded with the new season’s growth:

  • Beetroot
  • Adzuki beans
  • Borlotti beans
  • Black turtle beans
  • Carrots, purple dragon
  • Tomatoes: Principe Borghese, Tigerella, Yellow Italian, and other Heirloom varieties (courtesy of Diggers)
  • Eggplant
  • Sunflowers, Russian
  • Zucchini: Lebanese and Italian Striato
  • Pumpkin: Butternut (we think)
  • Capsicum (we think)
  • Peas: golden-podded, and purple-podded
  • Broccoli (seed in punnets, as well as previous seedlings in ground)
  • Parsnip (planted in ground and in punnets)
  • Radish (planted in ground)
  • Amaranth (the leafy Greek stuff)
  • Kohl Rabi
  • Celery
  • Rosella (native Hibiscus, used for jam and champagne)
  • Potato (planted in ground)
  • Jerusalem Artichoke (planted in ground)

Now that we’re in September, there will be plenty more seeds being planted out, getting ready for a very productive and abundant summer.


Sustainable Garden Award

April 15, 2009


“…They said you’d never make it…”

A huge thank-you to the Whitehorse City Council who awarded us this honour. And a thank-you also to Neco for the prize of the gift voucher.

The level of excellence that I saw that night across the community was brilliant. It is inspiring to think that there are so many individuals, households, schools, community groups and businesses who are actively engaging with ideas of sustainability, environmental awareness, and ecological responsibility.

This council is clearly committed to moving forwards in respect to our collective contributions to making a difference. This is truly an example of the ‘grass-roots’ at work!


And really, this was not hard work. Our urban farm is not just about providing us with some vegies. It is about making less of an impact on the planet by reducing ‘food miles’. It’s about reducing, re-using, and recycling. And it’s about giving back something to Mother Earth.

For us, this is only the beginning. Our home has a long way to go before we are truly making less of an impact. Once the garden is truly established, the dwelling space needs attention: insulating the house from heat and cold, efficient and low-impact heating/cooling systems (using passive and active systems), water recycling, and so on.

It can all be done, and all within budget – it just takes a little brain-power and some time. Yes there are expensive hi-tech ways of doing things – but there are also lots of “lo-fi” ways. And herein lies the beauty of the internet…….

Volunteering at our Urbanfarm

January 4, 2009

Are you interested in volunteering at our Urban Farm?

We invite people genuinely interested in learning about sustainable living and organic farming through the Wwoof program or HelpX

If you would like to apply please use the contact details via these programs.

Please provide us with,

  • you full name,
  • why you want to visit at our home,
  • your hobbies/special interests,
  • when and how long you would like to stay,
  • previous experience,
  • your contact details,
  • your program ID number,

Please remember to put volunteer in the subject heading so your email does not end up in spam.

We will let you know via email or phone if we have a vacancy.

Wwoofa Work is 6 hour each day.

If you are visiting for a week, please plan to have two days off at the end of your stay.

Type of work can include,

  • gardening
  • cooking
  • cleaning
  • cleaning/feeding pets
  • home-repairs
  • volunteering at schools and community gardens

Joining in with all household and outside chores is expected.

We have a variety of different animals. We practice natural animal training, management and diet methods.

Finding Us

We are ½ an hour by car from the Melbourne CBD.

Tram from the city will take about 45 minutes, with a five minute walk from the tram stop to our home.


A double futon in our spare room. We provide all bedding and meals.


  • We can not accept Working Visa.. We are not in the right postcode area of Australia.
  • No smoking on our property or within view of our child.
  • No perfumes, sprays, chemical based products, we consider them dangerous to the environment and our health, we do not want them used or disposed of in our. Natural personal products only I.E. Biodegradable shampoo, soaps etc ..
  • We eat meat, are gluten free and we are on an limited income, we can not cater for special diets or fussy eaters.
  • You MUST have a sun hat, clothing and outdoor footwear suitable for dirty outside work.
  • We only accept visitors with Photo ID and with active membership to Wwoof or HelpX.
  • All visitors will need a police check from their country of origin. Australian visitors have an option of obtaining A Working with Children check, which is available for free for volunteers from Australia.

Let’s Get Hoppy

December 2, 2008
golden cluster hops in our garden

golden cluster hops in our garden

Hops are a wonderful plant to grow: as they are a bine (not to be confused with a vine), they grow up and up and across and around, and can provide a fantastic summer-time cover.

Like grapes, they are perfect for the patio or summer deck, where the thick foliage provides a cool, natural shade. In winter, the foliage dies back, allowing the sun to shine through.

And of course, for the home-brewer, the flower cones which bud out in late summer/autumn are one of the fundamental ingredients for beer. Hops provides the bitterness and aroma of beer, and also acts as a natural preservative for the malted barley wort. In old times, the bines were also cut and used for basket weaving.

Hops basically need full sun, water and nutrient, and something to climb up. They need a well-drained soil, that is basically acidic – it is the alpha acids that are sought after in the flowers, which provide their distictive flavours.

There are many different strains that have their own distinctive flavours and aromas. Legend has it that all strains are based upon the English Fuggles variety, which grew wild around England. And just like any bine/vine, these guys will run rampant given the right conditions. They could take over your garden, so perhaps they re best kept confined to a pot or some such vessel. I’m not aware that you can buy seed, but they grow extremely well from rhizomes, which are more-or-less easily available via searches online. Most decent Home-brew shops will also be able to point you in the right direction.

We’re baby-sitting a couple of bines for a friend this season: a golden cluster, and a cascade. Cascade are an American variety, and used in beers such as Mountain Goat’s Hightail Ale. It is particularly nice and earthy. I have used Golden Cluster in one of my earliest brews, but I don’t remember how they smelt or tasted (I used them in conjunction with another strain of hops). Both are in large pots.

As you can see from the photo above, the Golden Cluster is just placed on top of a bed we’re developing, and the bine is working its way up the Jade (money) tree. This is not proving to work that well, so I’ll be setting up some lines so they can work their way upwards easier. Once they  reach a certain height, they then like to spread out horizontally. This particular plant I hope to train along towards a north facing window to provide some shade in the heat of summer.

The other plant (Cascade) I have working its way up a trellis I set up out the front porch. Unfortunately, I don’t have the height here, so I I’m going to have to improvise somehow. Its also not copping the full daytime sun, but gets plenty of the morning light as its east-facing.

The ideal place would be a fence/trellis that gets a lot of sun, and obviously well-drained soil. I have heard that they tend to being quite invasive if planted (a bit like bamboo), so it depends on how much you value the rest of your garden. Oh, and did I mention they really like a lot of height…..?

Come winter, after you’ve picked the flower-cones, the foliage drops, and you cut the bines away and use them to make dream-catchers or baskets (etc). These are cut right down to the root, and the plant then lies dormant until the next spring. The dormant period is when you divide rhizomes to give to other home-brewing friends with gardens.

October 2008

October 6, 2008

Just had to post these photos.

This is a little over 12 months since starting our garden.

This is our front yard October 2008 ……….

And our old driveway at the start of the day …….

and after a lot of hard work ……

Spring 2008 wwoofers nature strip makeover.

October 6, 2008

I was going to write the story of our urban farm as it happen, step by step in order, but I just had to post what we have been able to achieve in the last week.

I have had two wonderful Wwoofers staying with us for a week and they have helped us to get so much work done.

The first job was getting rid of the nature strip lawn …….

I hate lawns ………. I see them as a huge waste of resources, they take fuel and machines to maintain, time, energy, can’t stand them.

I have been wanting to get rid of it since we moved in but had other more important tasks to focus on.

Our goal is to plant out the nature strip with native grasses and wild flowers but first that Kikuyu has to go.

just started

just started

First they used pick and shovels to remove the bulk of the grass, normally I would just mulch over grass but we needed to get below the concret edging so the cardboard and mulch stayed in place.

yippy we are half way

yippy we are half way

Many many wheel borrows of soil and grass are removed, then cardboard and newspaper is thickly laid.

last little bit

last little bit

now that's a nature strip

and here is the finished nature strip, we will start planting out native grasses Autumn 2009.

Sustainable Garden Edging

October 4, 2008

When I started looking at how to design our front yard, the saying of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle was important to me.

I thought about the issue of garden edging and how I would follow this principle whilst making raised garden beds.

I asked around sustainable gardening forums, my local permaculture group, family and friends to work out what I could use.

Someone (I can’t now remember who, but a big thank you) suggested logs. Lots of people cut down trees and since we are in the city fire wood use is fairly low, so this resource is left on the side of the road.

Every week we found a pile of logs, sitting waiting for a new home. Our car boot looked a little bit like a fire wood box but it did the job of carting our garden edging home.

This worked beautifully and we almost have our whole garden edged with a local waste product.

Edging our garden with local waste

Edging our garden with local waste

Here Chook Chook Chook…

October 4, 2008

What farm wouldn’t be complete without chooks.

They give us eggs, manure, recycle scraps, eat garden excesses and weeds.

We found a great little hen house on ebay, that was only a year old, complete with feeders. Moved it into our front yard, to become the centre piece of our urban farm.

Our hen house, centre place in our garden.

Our hen house, centre place in our garden.

When I lived in the bush we had a number of different varieties but my favorite was the Araucanas. These birds were feisty, tough little poultry that lay the most gorgeous blue eggs.

Even though I love these little birds they are not really suitable for the urban environment, they are incredibly talkative, flighty and hate being confined …… so what to get?

I thought I would find some little bantams, I have always love bantams, the mini chooks of the poultry world. Asking around some friends I found two point of lay Sussexs, a white and a beige.

Our Bantams

Our Bantams

The ‘girls’ settled in well and started laying tasty eggs within weeks of moving in.

our very first egg

our very first egg

But we had a few issues ……. they were noisy, just before sunrise they started calling out for breaky and kept up this demanding behaviour all day. They always had grain and water but they loved their kitchen scraps. This behaviour did not impress the neighbours and I waking up a dawn to go tend to the girls, didn’t impress me.

Also they kept going clucky. Different breeds of chooks lay a certain amount of eggs before the ‘mother’ instinct kicks in. Some breeds like silky bantams only lay about 12 eggs before they get the urge to sit on their eggs and raise some chicks, other like Iza Browns never have the need to raise young, so they will lay almost every day of the year.

With our Sussexs we got a month or so of eggs and then the girls would sit in the nest box, refusing to eat or drink, pecking us if we wanted the eggs and they would stop laying.

I thought it might be fun to take advantage of the cluckiness so I found someone who had a rooster running with their hens and got some fertilised eggs.

The girls sat, together and hatch two very cute little babies.

a little chick is born

a little chick is born

It was very special have my toddler watch a chick chip its way out of an egg, in her own front yard.

mother and baby

mother and baby

When the chicks were a few weeks old we decided that the Sussex bantams would be best living somewhere else, so a friend from East Gippsland bartered a few trays of herb seedlings for our chooks.

exploring the garden

exploring the garden

We decided to buy four High Line Browns, a breed very similar to Iza Browns. These hens a serious worker chooks, lay almost all year, are quiet, tame and their food to eggs conversion rate is very efficient.

Our High Line Browns have been fantastic, most days we get four eggs, enough that we can regularly give eggs away and we have no shortage of friends who are available to look after our chooks when we are away.

We have our chooks in a deep litter system, meaning that we put a layer of mulch like material on the base of their pen, we use either straw or tree mulch. We rack it out regularly, usually every week and put it around trees or into compost bins.

Chooks are a must for urban farms, even if you only get two, the value of a few eggs a day, weed and scrap recycling and the wonderful rich manure is a very valuable contribution to sustainability.

You can buy chook houses quite cheaply on ebay and friends have purchased hens of Abundant Layers in the Hills just outside of Melbourne.

Another place to check out is Backyard Poultry, an onine site all things chooks.

Go on, give chooks a go!

watering our urban farm

October 4, 2008

People started to stop and ask what I was doing as soon as I spent time out the front.

My first task was to spread out the mountain of mulch over our front lawn.

Neighbours would slow down as they approached, look out the corner of their eyes, trying not to outwardly stare. I would always say hi and if they stopped, walk over to introduce myself.

I would explain that I was creating a garden and the lawn needed to go. Some tried to be helpful “you do know you can get a spray to do that?’ or ‘that’s not going to work, it will grow through’ but most just nodded, a little surprised.

One women stopped by, looking rather stern, after she found out I was creating a garden she went on to inform me that WE have water restrictions in Melbourne so why would I even consider making a garden. I gently explained that I was installing water tanks, a grey water system and with the garden methods I used water usage would be less then a conventional garden. Well, not happy that I seem to have an answer for her, she went on to say “well you will be in trouble if it doesn’t rain’, to which I responded “we would all be in trouble if it didn’t rain, in fact we would all die”. It took a few moments for that to sink into her mind, then she was off!

Now I realise that I didn’t make a friend here but would I really want to have such a negative person tut tutting to me on a regular basis about my urban farm?

Like most environmentally aware gardeners we set up water collection, used grey water and put on lots of mulch.  We also used curved garden beds to catch run off, this also gave us an interesting garden layout and somewhere for children to run around and play hide and seek.

garden beds curve to catch rain fall run off from the south and rich run off from the hen house.

garden beds curve to catch rain fall run off from the south and rich run off from the hen house.

Other water wise methods included using wood chip mulch for our pathways to soak up water and to be usable composting areas. Once a year we dig out the paths, either putting the composted wood chips onto the garden or into compost bins and then refill the pathways with fresh wood chips.

We also have a pond made out of an old children’s plastic sand pit shell. This collects rain water, allows quick watering of thirsty plants, grows some beautiful water plants, offers local wildlife somewhere to drink and a home for some local frogs.

Our new pond

Our new pond

We are allowed to use mains water twice a week for two hours and we did use this options a few time last summer. We have underground soaker hoses in some garden beds that can be connected to mains water or in the future will be connected to a main water tank.

We found with just 1000litre of rain water storage and our grey water redirection that we got by last summer, this summer we will have a 4000 litre tank, 1200 litres storage in wheelie bin tanks and pickling drums, redirected washing machine, shower and our bucket in the kitchen sink catching the fresh water. I don’t think we will need to rely on mains water at all this year.

Worm Farms

October 4, 2008

Late Autumn

A few weeks after we moved into our home we bought a worm farm and two compost bins from ebay.

A friend from our local group of Permaculture Melbourne gave us the worms.

At this stage we didn’t have chickens so the worms were well feed and what they didn’t like went into the compost bins.

Worms usually like to eat anything that have once lived, except citrus and onions. Most people also give their worms paper but our paper went into the compost bins for some much needed carbon.

Our worms thrived, every week I would pour a watering can of rain water into their home, open up the tap and feed my plants with the wonderful worm wee that came out.

Every time we put a plant into the ground we put a handful of worms.

By spring our whole garden was moving with little red composting worms.