Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

It’s raining…..

June 5, 2010

It may be a miserable and gloomy day ….. but the seedlings are loving this rain!

What a pity that all our tanks are full, as we could really stock up for the summer. I have heard the BoM are predicting a wet winter. Perhaps this also points to a particularly dry and hot summer next season?

Here’s a recipe I cooked up this morning:

I roughly chopped an onion and fried in pan at low flame. I then added chopped zucchini (maybe the last one for the season) and some mushrooms and a chopped spring onion, then seasoned with salt and pepper and oregano. After a few minutes, I added some fresh chopped spinach and olives; let that cook for a bit before adding the egg (3x eggs with a dash of milk, and salt). Turned off the flame, and put in the oven to cook at 180°C. When it looked ready, I brought it out and topped with fresh rocket leaves and sprinkles of grated pecorino cheese.

Serve on toast, with a freshly brewed cup of organic/fairtrade coffee…

We really are using the last of the autumn veg at the moment (except for pumpkins of course)…


While the cat’s away…

January 31, 2010

We haven’t been updating our blog for some time. Mainly because we haven’t been gardening.

However, it seems that these permaculture principles work, as the following photos will attest to. We haven’t been home since the start of December, and the garden has turned into a full-blown food forest!

Never been watered.....

Whilst we had family & friends (thanks folks) coming to feed the cat, there really was no watering or attention paid to this garden. Over the summer period, they harvested plenty of food, thus ensuring continued food production. Only 1/3 of the beds were watered with weeping hose, set to timers for the allowed watering periods (2 hours twice weekly).

The under-storey of the food forest

There is a theory/practice within permaculture of the food forest; the idea being you have a forest, but where everything is edible. And just like a ‘normal’ forest, the ecology is self-sustaining and self-regulating. The structure is also forest-like, with a canopy and under-storey. Well this is what we have inadvertantly created, and with minimal human intervention over throughout this season, nature has done its own thing.

The pond completely overgrown

In actual fact, there is a micro-climate situation occurring here. On one of the warmer days during Australia Day weekend, I noticed that this dense jungle like area was humid, just like in a forest; other parts of the garden felt completely different. This area was not watered at all. I imagine this also sheltered the house from heat also.

More food jungle

This area is the highest point in the garden – its also the most lush. Amazing what you can do with mulch, quality soil-nurturing techniques, and cramming those plants in. I was concerned that I hadn’t gotten much in to the garden over the spring – how wrong I was. The only planting I managed this season was just before and just after the crazy hot spell we had mid-spring. Other than some mulching and a shipment of soil, there was no work put into  the garden at all.

Pumpkins and Tomatoes - never got watered! (can't you tell....)

This zone was completely neglected throughout the entire period. I gave all the plants here a bucket of water each just before Christmas when we dropped in going between OG and EG. There are about a dozen tomato plants and 3 pumpkins. The parsley that grew self-seeded has gone to seed also. We’ll leave it be so that more parsley can grow wild. The pumpkins were also self-seeded. This bed was essentially made from the duck-muck (straw, etc) over the winter period. It is lush, rich, and highly moist. It is also our worm factory. In there somewhere is a compost bin…. and some Belladonna has crept in there also, which of course is pulled out and disposed of carefully (it is a poisonous nightshade weed!)

Another dense food forest area

Where's the house...?... or is it an ancient Mayan ruin?

No, that’s not a dope plant – its a Mexican Marigold. This is a standard permaculture companion plant. I have also deliberately left the remaining leeks and spring onions go to seed for collection (or self-seeding). This area under the two Nectarines were also heavily planted with Swiss Chard – we’ve left that seed too. The capsicums here are only now starting to fruit.

The food forest from the driveway; note the height of sunflowers and Jerusalem Artichoke

When I turned up returning from EG, I was amazed how over-grown everything was, irrespective of being ‘neglected’ over a 6-8 week period. A friend of ours turned up one day, and rang us that night to inform us that “our garden was ruined, that no one was looking after it…” On the contrary, it looked after itself. And there has been only one casualty – my Golden Cluster hops bine that was creeping up outside the bedroom window; it was in a pot and not watered – however the rhizome should still be ok for next season, as the plant hasn’t died, but I have lost all the flowers (bugger!)

Beginning to cut back the urban jungle

I didn’t quite get it in this shot, but the lawn chamomile we planted into the nature-strip has also taken off nicely. Even the small bed in front of the fence took off nicely – there are tomatoes and cucumbers, and plenty of other plants like Evening Primrose, Chinese Jute, and Chinese Bottle Gourd, as well as the ‘good bug’ plants that attract the predator insects.

The grape vine has thankfully done the job that the passionfruit vine used to - covering the fence.

We lost one of our passionfruit vines, but the grape vine that appeared randomly last season has taken over the job of providing fence cover – unfortunately, it also appears to want to take over the whole too! Can’t wait for that pergola…..

Fence pumpkinThis pumpkin began growing between the pickets – we’ve picked it, and its our first for the season, but there’s plenty more. Not sure of the variety, as the seeds were lying loose in the bottom of our seed box – here’s to random veg planting!

Admittedly there has been some rain this summer, and that probably helped alot. And the zucchinis, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are really only now fruiting, so we didn’t miss much. However, our lovely care-takers Damon, Marinella, and my mum (thanks heaps, folks) harvested plenty while we were gone. And this is the key, because if things aren’t picked then the plant stops producing.

I’m now getting ready to sow seeds for the next season (I am determined to grow a crop of Brussel Sprouts this year!), but whilst the first step is raising seedlings, I have no idea where I’m going to plant anything, because the place is so full of food!

See what happens when humans don’t intervene – a true case of wu wei wu “action through non-action”.

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.

Mini urban livestock, Quails

May 11, 2009

We have quail!

22july2009 188

After trying quail eggs from the local market and eating quail at a restaurant last year, I was convinced quail would be a great addition to our urban farm.

Quail eggs are very yummy. From my research quail eggs are higher in nutrient per gram then chicken eggs, have a higher yolk to white ratio and are very pretty, each one having slightly different combinations of white and browns spots and sploshes.

As far as cooking,

Fried Quail Eggs on Toast.

Crack four quail eggs into a cup.

Heat pan, low to medium heat.

A drizzle of olive oil

One egg ring, lightly rubbed in olive oil, placed in pan.

Pour all four quail eggs into egg ring.

When eggs are set to your liking, place on toast and enjoy!

Poached Quail Eggs with Avocado.

Have toast and fresh slices of avocado ready.

Crack one quail egg into a cup (we find espresso cups perfect for this use)

Set a medium size saucepan half filled with water on the stove.

Add a tablespoon of vinegar.

Bring to boil, turn down to a simmer.

Stir water to create a whirlpool.

Pour single quail egg into centre of whirlpool.

Use slotted spoon to remove when set.

Repeat process until you have enough eggs for each serve (I suggest three to four per person.

Below is a cake mix conbining quail and hen eggs.

22july2009 008

Care of Quail.

We are currently housing our five quail in a metal guinea pig hutch. The hutch is being used as a quail tractor, with us moving it around under our fruit trees.

UPDATE: Quail Towers has arrived! Hiding away in a shed at our East Gippsland home was a three storey chicken hatchery which I thought would be just perfect for keeping quail. The guinea pig hutch whilst great for tractoring the quail was not all the practical for getting access to the eggs, Quail Towers on the other hand is off the ground and I can easily see if there are eggs without opening the door or bending down. Photo’s coming soon.

We feed Game Bird Crumbles which cost around $24 per 20kg bag. We crush the crumbles in our grinder as quail that are under 16 weeks old find the crumbles a bit too large to eat.

I read somewhere that quail only eat 18 grams each a day, well our quail are eating three times that, maybe due to the cold weather or their age.

In regards to living quarters, quail are very quick to escape out partly open doors, select hutches or cages that will enable you access without fear of losing your new friends.

UPDATE We lost a quail, actually we lost 4 but found three within the day. A visitor didn’t shut the door properly and at some time during the day all but one quail flew out. Quail can definitely fly, we ended up using an old butterfly net attached to the broom stick. The last quail was seen flying over our neighbour’s house, never to be seen again. 😦

Eggs Production

Quail start laying somewhere around 6 – 8 weeks old, lay around 200 – 300 eggs each a year for about 2 – 3 years. Quail that are good for egg laying are not good mothers, like productive hens the mothering instinct has been selectively breed out, so if you want more quail, use a small bantam to hatch them out or an incubator.

We have also processed our surplus (too many males) and enjoyed Greek Style Oven baked quail. Friends came over to help with the task of plucking and preparing the birds for the table. We would like to aim to have at least one meal a month of quail from our own urban farm.

Interested in getting quail? Give Jeremy from Oakleigh a call 0411 048 707, he has stock available at very reasonable prices.

Enjoy your quail!

PS Just found this blog site, which includes info of hatching out quail, well worth a read!

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…….

Anyone feel like creating an urban farm?

April 15, 2009

Ever had the urge when looking at a discarded piece of land to create a food oasis? So often in our urban landscape, land considered unimportant, is forgotten behind some security fencing with only weeds (sometimes very tasty ones) being produced or as the unofficial local rubbish dump.

Here is a story about a rubbish dump turned into a evolving urban farm.

A short video of their journey

If anyone knows of land that could be turned into a urban farm in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, please let us know, I would LOVE to be involved in turning a forgotten piece of land into a thriving food oasis, that not only feeds locals but teaches them about how to produce their own food and live substantively!

A must visit site.

April 14, 2009

I Love This Site.

They have a slide show of what happened over their first year.

A wonderful oasis, makes me crave creating a food garden in at larger block of land.

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 ……