Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Permaculture diary

I'm very excited. I picked up a copy of the 2009 Permaculture Diary from the local organic store the other day and it is wonderful.

The beautiful images and stories remind me that there are people across the world who think the same way as I do and are doing the same types of things we're doing right here.

From waterless composting toilets to permablitzes, it's a reflection of our life repeated over and over again.

The diary and a 2009 calendar are available from permacultureprinciples.com

I'm still on a high from the PDC (Permaculture Design Course) and there is another planned for January and another for May. We'll also work on fitting in a couple of weekend introduction courses and weekend practical permie courses too.

The tide is turning and there is increasing demand for home sustainability ideas and skills in the community. Yay!

Here at the Garden of Eatin' we are moving into the hot, humid, weedy time of year. Things get a little out of control with the pests and weeds but we accept that with the knowledge that we can get things in better order again next year in Autumn.

Time now for cucumbers (for pickling) and zucchini (for the BBQ) and corn. Brazilian spinach takes the place of lettuce as does mitsuba (Japanese parsley).

Chooks are going broody with the change in temperature and the rain will soon begin. As will the storm season.

We've still got a lot of things to do here. A header tank that can gravity feed water into the house in the event of a blackout. Our new PV panel system for the roof, perhaps accommodation for lodgers or wwoofers in the future. Or maybe for teaching... A solar system to support the fan in our composting toilet - also keeping future black outs in mind.

Not sure which direction to go with it all (teaching that is), but I'm just glad I have the tools of permaculture to at least give me choices and direction.

If you're interested in courses, workshops, what's on - check out www.seac.net.au for all the info on what's happening on the Sunshine Coast.

Keep working on preparing your home and connecting within your community too.

Here's some tips from David Holmgren...

August 2006 Sunshine Coast

Presentation - Regional sustainability in an energy descent future
Available on DVD via Holmgren Services website

 Network – for information and inspiration

 Start producing your own (food, goods, services)and support local producers

 Know your neighbours – establish bartering systems, LETS, PETS,

 Teach children how to grow their own food

 Reduce consumption

 If you have extra space, take in a lodger, share your place, (also has economic benefits for you)

 Share your car – car pool, organise a local group to share driving, make your trips count, do more than one thing on a trip

 Work around impediments

 Pay off your debts / work from home

 Retrofit your home and garden for the post peak oil future, not for the dollar value

Monday, October 20, 2008

Things are hotting up

Things are certainly changing in the world. The predicted economic crisis is now evident, climate change continues to be a major environment symptom of our fossil fuel use and has peak oil hit?

People are tightening their belts, diposal income is becoming a thing of the past, some people have already lost their jobs - laid off because of the rapidly changing economic situation.

Now, more than ever, we need to prepare - our homes, our backyards, our families and our communities. We also need to rapidly empower ourselves with the skills and knowledge to be secure and safe with our water and food supplies and household security - by this I mean looking after ourselves, being responsible for what we consume (food, energy, water), producing as much as we can ourselves (solar, water tanks, food), being self-reliant, not dependant consumers.

I've just finished co-teaching a Permaculture Design Course and there were a number of people there because of these issues. More courses are planned for January and next May.

Things are changing, lets make sure it changes for the better. Building community is so important now. Many people will be feeling disconnected and that isn't good. Starting a relocalisation group, talking to your neighbours, sharing food, resources etc.

Let's take some control of the future and plan now for what is really important and how you can contribute in your community.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Garden of Eatin'

We've been living in our place for three years now. It was an establishing organic farm when we moved here and it was about eight years old.

So, it's pretty established and we are retrofitting what is here. The citrus are in need of replacing - they don't last long here in the subtropics, so we are slowly doing that.

There were some permaculture ideas here when we arrived, but they too are in need of another wave of updates. For example, we need to replant the food forest, cull some trees that are threatening to fall over (wattles etc), and we need to plant out support plants such as pigeon pea.

We also seriously need to redesign the place to be much more permaculture. We need it to be zoned and we need to get into some relative location strategies.

We are also slowly seeing what it could be under our watch (as the current stewards of the land).

Defining what it is we want the garden to be has taken time. It's taken observation and noticing what is happening in the garden. How has it matured? What affects what out there? For example, tall trees and overplanting has lead to problems with fungal diseases in the citrus - time to cull plants to let air and sun in.

But what type of place do we have here? I've always found it hard to define.

Then I watched the DVD Think Global, Act Local. It's produced by Morag Gamble and Evan Raymond who live here on the Sunshine Coast. It features a lot of the options we have for sustaining our food supply in the future. School and community gardens, co-ops, food box systems, community supported agriculture, all those options we have available, but are underutilised and still treated like 'novelties' rather than real solutions.

Anyway, during the DVD they talk about a mixed traditional farm. This term really struck a chord with me. It showed a farm in the hinterland which supplies fruit and veg boxes to the community and through a local farmers' market. They also keep bees, bake bread, grow flowers and preserve their excess harvest.

How wonderful - this is what I want. This is what I want this place to be - The Garden of Eatin' - a mixed traditional farm with permaculture principles.

We already grow; vegies (a wide variety of European types during winter and subtropical/tropical perennial vegies throughout the year), fruit - needs some attention to increase yield and some trees are at a point of needing to be replaced, but great structure there.

We also grow herbs, coffee, flowers (edible ones at the moment and we do have some ornamental heliconias with spectacular flowers like the parrots beak).

Now, I have the idea of adding more animals to the system (hence increasing the 'mix' on our farm). We already have extensive worm farms (very viable useful animal stock to keep), we also have chooks for their eggs, manure, feathers and recycling qualities.

So, what's next? I think one of the most important animals to have in your system is the bee. So, I'm going to learning bee keeping. As pollinators, bees are second to none - there is no way we as humans could do what they do. Lose the bees and chances are you lose your food supply. They give us honey - honey is wonderful. It's medicinal, a great food supply and if you eat local honey, it can help reduce the effects of local pollen allergies - which is something I need.

I know a bee keeping who offered a while ago to mentor anyone interested in keeping bee, so I'll contact him and see how we can go about getting a hive here on our land.

The other animals I'd like to have at our place are goats. A lot more responsibility and they will be the largest animals we have here. But they are still smaller than cows, and goat's milk is excellent for cheesemaking.

So these are my plans. First the bees, then the goats...

Onward and upward for the Garden of Eatin'!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A local co-operative

I'm very excited about tonight. We are hosting the very first meeting of our town's first co-operative.

I have no idea how you go about starting a co-op, but I'm looking forward to learning.

It's exciting because it really demonstrates community working together, being cohesive, which is exactly what we need for a better future.

Living simply is one thing, but we do need community support and connection. As Bill Mollison says; it's not about self-sufficiency, it's about self-reliance.

Self-sufficiency to me means cutting yourself off from others, being an island. Trying and working so hard to fend for yourself you lose touch with the rest of the world.

Self-reliance on the other hand is about taking responsibility, but also sharing that responsibility. Not everyone needs to be an island, there are many things we can share.

I love the idea of a co-op because to me it is a symbol of community taking responsibility for it's own future. Of being brave enough to commit to an idea, and put time, energy and some $$ behind it.

I look forward to being part of the co-op from the very beginning, of learning valuable skills in developing collective ideas, group facilitation and no doubt some conflict resolutions skills too!

I'm also looking forward to doing my shift at the co-op and being part of this really exciting idea.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The end of the North Pole - Transition Town musings

Transition Town musings

The weather’s beautiful here today. Blue skies, birds are singing, cool in the shade, warm in the sun… a typical lazy Sunday, mushrooms and eggs from the garden for breakfast, orange juice freshly picked from the orchard, home grown coffee in the plunger…

Then I made the mistake of turning on the telly to news that the North Pole is expected to be gone in three years because climate change is happening much, much faster than anyone expected or predicted.

They stated it was expected to be gone in three years - that the climate change positive feedback loop is happening a lot faster than anyone ever expected once it starts it's unstoppable, we're paying the price for decade of fossil fuel burning in industry and in our own daily lives.

The north pole will probably be gone in three years...

Gone in three years...

three years.

After an inane comment about "where will Santa Claus live", they then had to leave that interview for exclusive shots of Greg Norman's ‘celebrity’ wedding - as you do.

Three years people.

I often feel like I'm in a Dr Who episode. The masses are brainwashed into believing everything is hunky dory and only a few of us can see the giant meteor heading straight for earth. Sad thing is there's no Dr to save the day.

I remember David Suzuki saying how he often feels like he's in a dream where he's in a car full of people who are all having fun and laughing and celebrating while speeding along and he can see the brick wall they're going to hit, but he can't make any noise or sound and no-one is taking any notice of him...

I've been ferreting away in my own time on peak oil and climate change planning for 18 months now and because of the work I've been doing with Janet Millington, the Sunshine Coast was recognised as Australia's first Transition Region and the first outside the UK last September.

TTs are really taking off - we were recognised through the work we're doing on a regional level - matching the council boundaries of governance. We are now working on getting individual towns up and running – towns like Eudlo where I live.

TT ideas are really taking off and this afternoon I have a documentary film crew from Japan coming to our place to film our garden and to interview me about Transition Towns.

Very exciting - I urge you to consider TT as a solution - it really is an excellent umbrella approach to all the problems and allows you to pick n choose where your personal and regional strengths and weaknesses are and work on them.

I've had someone ask me a year about what is "pink oil"! Yes, there is a long way to go, but I don't see any alternative. Just sitting there and letting it happen to me isn't an option.As Ian Lowe said (years ago now) doing nothing is no longer an option.

I've just had a visitor from Totnes in the UK come and stay with us for a while and we in Australia need to put TT Totnes in perspective particularly re the community engagement thing.I really don't think we are going to get 400 people to a town meeting as they do in Totnes, hopefully in the future, but not in this current climate (pun intended).

Totnes is a small pre industrial era village - 8000 people and walkable one end to the other in about 10 minutes. Most of the shops are independent and were on the alternative, enlightened, informed side of things to begin with. They have a lot of independent goods and services already represented in their town.

We have several challenges to face in Australia.

Most of our towns were built and expanded using and because of the cheap energy of the industrialised era (oil) - we are now therefore heavily reliant on extensive personal car use to get us about and to move things (food, goods and services - also known as the economy) about.

Our towns have been designed to bring people into them via extensive and expensive road systems - count the number of trucks on our highways. Our towns are not designed to take the places to the people like pre industrial towns were (and evolved into out of necessity).

So don't feel too bad if you don't get overwhelmed with enthusiastic helpers or you don't fill a town hall with people seriously concerned about peak oil or climate change - we don't here either - yet.

We are working with a very small group of dedicated people - our biggest assets are a good link with council and more importantly good people in the community (strategic planners, people who can see the big picture).

Taking this on will take a lot of time and energy, it will drain you and you'll feel like chucking it in more times than you can count.

You'll encounter many, many people who would love to help you but they are too busy. Too busy moving deck chairs on the Titanic it seems. This is coming, it's happening in our lifetime and we need to do something.

Keeping busy with 'stuff' is a distraction from the reality of what's happening to the planet and to your community, to your neighbourhood, to your household, to you.

But then you will encounter someone who really appreciates what you're doing, or you'll attract someone who is a really great help and you'll keep going because you can see - there is no alternative.

I don't have children myself, but when I look in children's faces I don't see that we have any choice but to make these tough decisions and radical changes to move from oil dependency to local resilience and to do it urgently and with war like precision. Just looking at them and saying "tough, you we're just born too late, we've blown it all" isn't good enough for me.

We had a wonderful resource. We had a cheap source of energy and what did we do? We used it to create meaningless rubbish just to use it up. We had energy and we used it to go round and round in circles in the ocean on a jetski. How very, very clever of us.

Tonight when you're doing your dishes at the sink, with your electric lights on, tv, heater perhaps - imagine looking out into your backyard and seeing 50 people pedalling 50 bikes to generate the energy your using up - it's a good analogy of just what a great resource oil was.

But, at least we are trying to plan energy descent - peak oil and climate change - we're not leaving it up to 'them'.

They won't help - they don't know what to do and they are too scared to stick their necks out because they'll get the chop at the next election.

But they are just as concerned as you are about this - just constrained by bureaucracy.You have power as a community member and as a consumer - you're not beholden to any party policy - instead you are beholden to your family's quality of life, community life, health, safety and security - we can apply the TT model here in Australia, we just need to make it fit our unique circumstances - recognise our strengths and use them to our advantage, know our vulnerabilities and act on them to make them more resilient to the oil and climate shocks set to come our way.

Someone needs to do something - it might as well be you.

This is happening on our watch.[steps off soapbox now] - thanks for reading this far...

A few thoughts on Transition Initiatives

A Transition Town is a town that does as much and provides as much as it can from it's local area, but no, it is definitely not cut off from others - quite the contrary.

A TT does a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) of its local region (however that is defined). It then works on developing the opportunities and strengths and protecting itself in its vulnerable areas.

The solutions are in the community and Transition Initiatives act as a catalyst to bring those ideas and solution to fruition.

I envisage our TTs here on the Coast growing as much food as we can locally, local doctors, nurses and a lot of alternative health people living and working in the community, local craftspeople who make a lot of the day to day things we need, local businesses and service providers, local economies, localised and decentralised education (like Cuba going from three universities to 50 purely because they needed to take the places to the people, not the other way round), local public space used creatively and functionally by the community.

People helping people more.

This is a transition phase - not the end product - we won't see that for a couple of generations I'd imagine. This is to wean us (very quickly) off our dependency and reliance on oil and fossil fuels.

It's the end of globalisation and we need to start to rebuild and rediscover localisation.

The other main role of TT is to develop trade options beyond the local areas. So, for example, here on the Sunny Coast we can swap subtropical fruit and veg, plus the grains we can grow here, and our unique crafts for others further south and north via our train line.

One project that a student of our Time for an Oil Change course was involved in was lobbying and planning for the setting of land aside for market towns based around train stations along the coast. Rail is one of the most effective ways to transport things around and we should be developing those points of rail contact now for future trade.

We must use remaining oil supplies responsibly and ethically to prepare for energy descent.

'Mega' anything is out (except mega-community action that is!). Mega dams, mega road and tunnel systems in cities won't be able to be maintained and will become unsafe and useless in the future. (Although the tunnels under Brisbane could grow some awesome mushrooms).

As a side note - it will be interesting to see how many contracts for 'mega' govt projects fail in the future (some have already), because contractors are not factoring in the rapid and unstoppable increase in the price of oil. Any contract agreed to today will be unable to meet costs due to rising fuels costs.

The idea of getting food from overseas, food that has tens of thousands of food miles attached will stop - the cost will make it so prohibitive.

We need local systems to pick up the slack and put nutritious, high quality, safe food on our tables.

Feeding the community will be the most important thing we can do right now - aside from providing clean safe drinking water and shelter.

If the population is worried about where their next meal is coming from or what they are going to feed their children - you have the makings of social chaos.

We need to act quickly and use successful models - eg Cuba, Totnes and places in Denmark I've heard of where a new development has a market garden/organic farm right in the heart of it. All the housing water and putrescible waste goes back into the farm - returning waste to the system and reusing it to grow food.

We need to get smart quick.

We have some remaining resources, but we have less and less time - the clock is ticking everyday we spend not doing something is a day of action wasted.

We need to stop buying crap, being distracted by celeb weddings, celeb rehab, the latest blockbuster, the latest handbag, the latest fashion and all that other rubbish and focus on what needs to be done.

We need to rebuild communities, retrofit existing ones and only create new intelligent ones that acknowledge and operate within the limitations of the earth's resources.

Given the force and speed with which climate change is also happening we must also seriously consider where all the coastal population is going to move to - within I'd suggest our lifetimes.

We must map when and where climate change will affect our land and not set up food production or population relocation in those areas.

TT is a very broad, big idea - as is energy descent action planning. But it is the type of big visionary framework we need at all levels of govt to make things happen.

The community MUST drive this. Within this large framework are real and important community and individual actions that can happen today.

I've got a meeting with Penny Wong's office (Fed Minister for climate change) in coming weeks I'll be talking to them about energy descent action planning, Transition Towns and the need for ACTION - we need to keep the pressure on the pollies, but also start doing this ourselves, take responsibility for our actions.and try having fun and enjoying our lives!

From the Transition Handbook

Started by Rob Hopkins and Ben Brangwyn in Totnes UK, Transition Initiatives is ‘an emerging and evolving approach to community-level sustainability.’

Transition Initiatives are based on four key assumptions;

1. That life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it’s better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise

2. That our settlements and communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the severe energy shocks that will accompany peak oil

3. That we have to act collectively, and we have to act now

4. That by unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and that recognise the biological limits of our planet

Transition Initiatives aim to act as catalysts for a community to explore and come up with its own answers.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The joy of composting

Ah composting... so easy to do, yet a mystery to many.

We have a few compost systems here on our 2 acres. We have the black bins (BMW brand with lots of holes in them, little doors on each side) and large three sided compost bins. We also have another system with four star pickets and chicken wire wrapped around it.

They all work and they all provide different types of organic matter for our garden.

The big systems are great for chunky prunings and large quantities of materials. They do need turning, which requires a strong back, but they can be left for months on end and you'll still have good quality material to put around fruit and nut trees. I find the end product of these systems doesn't break down as finely as the ones in the black bins, so it is more useful around trees where it can be left for six months to slowly break down even further.

These types of large systems need to be layered with carbon and nitrogen and some additives or activators will also accelerate the process.

We add large sticks throughout the layering process which can be pulled out later - these leaves tunnels in the compost that help aerate the system.

Carbon is material such as sawdust (make sure it doesn't contain any nasty chemicals and don't apply it too thickly - it will acts as a barrier to water and air), dry leaves, straw... things that are dry and crunchy

Nitrogen is material such as fresh cuttings, fresh manures, kitchen scraps

Lawn clippings are used as a nitrogen layer when fresh, as a carbon layer when the heats has gone out of them and they are dry and brown. Use them in thin layers - too thick and they will not allow air and water to pass through.

Permaculture design includes factoring in materials for composting. For example, here in the subtropics, we have a lot of Queensland Arrowroot growing - it is a great plant and one of its many uses is it needs to be cut down annually and it makes a great compost.

Gathering materials; take the time to gather all the materials you need to make a compost of one cubic metre. This gives you the critical mass to create the heat and process to start to break the materials down.

Gather what you have - these are the types of things we put in our compost
sawdust or straw out of the chook houses
mushroom tailings from a local mushroom farm
dry leaves
lawn clippings
kitchen scraps

Process the materials - cutting up the materials into small pieces, increasing the edge, breaking down the cellular 'skin' of the plants - all helps in allowing the microbes (who will be doing the work) to get to work quicker.

Cut up materials and keep them in their piles of carbon and nitrogen

Gather some activators - you need to 'activate' your compost - these means adding things to nitrogen layers that will really get the microbes active - worm castings, manure, humus, urine, Natrakelp, molasses - all these things will get your compost going.

Then make your compost - layer by layer - add an activator to the nitrogen layer, water down the carbon layers if they are too dry.

Include chunky cuttings to allow air flow

Build it all the way to the top - aim for that critical mass of one cubic metre - do it all in one hit - this will help your compost succeed.

Cover it up - that way you control the water going in - too much rain is no good and allowing it to dry out is no good either.

Keep adding to your compost over coming weeks - include your kitchen scraps and have top up days when you get the pile up to the top again using the same alternating layering system.

Keep some carbon on hand near your compost pile to put over kitchen scraps - this helps keep flies out of it and the smell down.

You should have beautiful humus in a few months.

Recommended books.
The Rodale Book of Composting
Organic Guide to Composting (Jack Allan)
Soil Food - Jackie French
Recycle your garden - Tim Marshall

Thursday, June 5, 2008

...and then the grubs came out!

A couple of days of heavy rain meant we couldn't get out in the garden as much as we usually do. We couldn't do our grub patrol - which consists of getting all the green fat juicy grubs off the brassicas, taking them over to the chook pens and saying "grubs up!" - and the chook then turn those little grubs into yummy yellow yoked eggs for us.

My back is also playing up which means bending is pretty painful and pretty much out of the question.

So the brassicas are looking a little chewed and sad. But they are only eating the leaves, so for plants like broccoli that doesn't bother us as much. We have had this problem before and with some vigilant grub patrols, (nice weather), and a weekly feed of Natrakelp, the plants come through and produce lovely broccoli heads for us.

The cabbages are a little harder to manage, but we accept that we will get the odd grub or two in our cabbage - we just check it carefully before we eat it!

Some people would turn their noses up at a grub in their dinner or crawling over their food, but I think they are great. They tell me the food is clean, safe and healthy. It's supporting life and things are LIVING on it. Some people want sterile lifeless food that looks perfect and shiny yet although it often tastes of nothing and is actually very poor quality, they don't complain, as long as it looks nice.

I've heard horror stories of supermarket spraying their 'fresh' produce displays with fly spray after the shops close to keep the cockroaches off them. Imagine that - we are a species will happily accept that, yet we baulk at a living grub on our food.

I know what I'd rather have. Grubs up everyone!

Oh! PS - it's still overcast - seems installing a solar hot water system is a sure fire guarantee to cause cloud cover and rain! Still we haven't had to use the booster, so it is doing a good job in less than perfect conditions. Viva la solar!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

...and then it started raining!

Well, our solar hot water system is working, but the weather isn't. We've had about 300mm of rain over the past couple of days - local flooding, roads cut etc. (By the way, we also had to put off the delivery and installation of a second rain water tank until the weather cleared up! Our timing is out of sync at the moment).

The garden coped pretty well with the heavy rain, with the excess water quickly evacuating off the land or into our dams.

These recent heavy rains demonstrated why (here in Queensland) we need to plan our gardens so that nutrients are stored in the bio mass of the plants, rather than the soil. Our soils suffer from leaching due to the huge amount of rain we get in short bursts and then we get the strong sunlight which causes oxidation! So mulching our soils and constantly adding organic matter (compost and worm castings) are vital.

We also have thick plantings of Queensland Arrowroot on the lowest points of our property, this means these plants can collect and store the nutrients that run down the hills and we can then harvest them and either; feed them to the chooks, feed them to the worms, use them in compost or as a mulch - returning those precious nutrients back into the soil. Permaculture in action! The lush thick leaves of the Qld arrowroot hold plenty of moisture and are one of those useful plants we all love.

Mulch also prevents splashback on the underside of the leaves of the plants, which could otherwise contribute to disease. Plus it eventually breaks down adding even more organic matter to our soil.

So, hopefully we'll have a couple of days of sun to get things washed and dried, to give the garden a rest and time to absorb all that rain (do you know that soil that is high in organic matter acts as a dam holding a huge amount of water?) , and generally recover before we get the next bout.

Just heard on the news that they are predicting June to be very wet. So hopefully that new tank will soon be full too!

A lovely gift from all that rain has been bountiful daily harvests of field mushrooms from our mushroom compost!

It does show us how we are so vulnerable to the weather when we grow our own food. Something lost on those who shop exclusively at supermarkets.

That's why this Thursday I'm voluteering to pack organic vegie boxes at a local food co-op - you never know when you might need them!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hot water from the sun

Well, we now have solar hot water... well almost, still heating off the booster at the moment because we needed to get the sparky back today to FIX IT!!

But soon we shall our water heated by the sun! Soon.

then we will get our photo voltaic system installed - yay!

and we have another rain water tank coming soon too...

getting ready, little by little.

In the past week I've also learnt how to make homemade lemon cordial and how to pickle our excess lebanese cucumbers. What a week it's been.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Anyone for coffee?

My husband has been busy feeding and mulching our 40 coffee plants (arabica variety) as they prepare their beans for us to harvest.

Processing your own coffee at home is achievable, it takes a lot of time, is very labour intensive, but we do a little every evening and there is nothing like drinking a cup of your own home grown organic coffee.

When the fruits are red we get out there and start picking them off. We only harvest enough to process that night. You have to move quickly with coffee.

We sit surrounded by buckets as we pop each red berry, put it one bucket (for the worm farm), and then we put the slimey beans (usually two per berry) into a bucket of water.

Any floaters are taken out and discarded. And the rest left to ferment for about 24 hours. Keep and eye on them, or more specifically keep your hands on them, as you need to feel the beans to see when the ferment process has finished.

The beans will go from being slimey to grainy - they'll feel like they are covered in sand.

Rinse them then and lay them out in the sun to dry - we use old flyscreen doors and windows from the dump. After a few days - depending on what the weather is doing - the husk will start to split. Then you have to sit (again) and remove all those husks.

Revealed will be a small grey/green bean with a flimsy papery covering. How put those beans out in the sun again (keep them dry though) until they go very hard. Bite one between your teeth to see how hard they are.

Your beans are now ready for roasting. You can store them at this point, or you can roast them and then store them.

We roast ours in the oven and our wood heater/baker's oven. Set it to high, put the beans on a tray and keep an eye on them. They will expand and get an oily sheen. The smell will give you a clue too. When they smell like roasted coffee beans, are plump and fat and shiny - they're done. Store them in a jar in the fridge and we mortar and pestle them as we need them for the plunger.

We have our special twice roasted blend. That's the one we get out of the oven, check and decide they need to go back in again for a while.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Small and slow solutions

"the bigger they are the harder they fall"
"slow and steady wins the race"

David Holmgren's Design Principle Number 9.

Today I'm thinking about all the small changes we've made in our lives to get to where we are today. A place where we are living better on less, much less.

Behavioural changes, attitidunal changes...

A few years ago we both worked full-time. I was in the corporate world, doing a masters degree, working unpaid overtime, trying for promotions, driving a flash convertible.

My husband was working shift work full time. We had a big house with a pool, all landscaped (none of it edible mind you!). We thought money was the answer - buy the things you need... boy were we wrong.

Now, we live on a quarter of what we earned then. The flash car's gone, 'traded' for a solar hot water service and a 1kw photo voltaic solar energy system.

We eat really, really well. We don't eat out much at all, very, very occasionally we have take away (usually only we've been out running around and haven't been home). The food we eat at home is better than what we can get in a restaurant, because we grew it and it has a story to tell, our hands have touched its seeds, its leaves, we've watered and cared for it - nurtured it and now it is nourishing us.

We spend a lot of time at home, we do this because we enjoy it.

Lots of other small changes are happening. We don't have a clothes dryer anymore, instead we have a solar clothes dryer (we like to call it a clothes line). Our low water, front loading, energy efficient washing machine water runs onto the garden and waters our bananas.

We shop a lot at op shops - especially for the clothes we wear when we are working in the garden and sometimes we find a surprise and score some great going out clothes too.

I take care of our clothes. They are repaired, kept in good order and I dry them in the shade - the sun here is very harsh and will shorten their lives. I'm proud to still be wearing t-shirts that are 20 years old.

All our purchases must be practical, useful, aesthetically pleasing and useful! An example is our wood heater. We needed a more efficient, more environmentally friendly heater than the old oil heater we had (which drew a lot of electricity). We went hunting for the perfect permaculture heater (multifunctional and useful!).

We found the Australian made Nectre brand and bought their baker's oven. It heats our home, it has an oven, it has a cook top and we could have got the water jacket option too (we didn't because we have the solar hot water system which makes more sense in this climate). It's cute and very aesthetically pleasing - just perfect for our little cabin. During winter when it is lit, we do all our cooking on it, including the roasting of our home grown organic coffee beans.

We move our bed into the lounge room in winter to take advantage of the warmth it generates and the ambience. Enough said there!

Back to our diet. I now wander around our abundant garden, basket in hand and harvest what's ripe and ready. Okay, that image is a bit dreamy and you also need to have secatuers on hand, and gloves and perhaps even a bucket to collect grubs for the chooks to eat.

But I do try to make the effort of collecting our food in a beautiful basket... I then plan our meals around what's available. Back this up with a good pantry stock of staples - all bought in bulk with neighbours and stored in cleaned labelled recycled jars - and you will always be able to put together a feast - great when people turn up unexpectedly.

Cars - we sold one and now get by with one car and one motorbike. It's a small car and fuel efficient (actually more efficient than the new hybrids coming out) so it has a place in our lives.

Recycling - we recycle a lot. Green and kitchen waste goes to the chooks, the worms and the compost. Jars are cleaned, scrubbed, labels removed and kept, plastic milk bottles are washed out and put in the recycle bin, same with tins.

We scour rubbish dumps for materials to make things.

We have a small home, and keep energy use to a minimum.

I'm trying to retrofit the inside of our home to permaculture principles. Especially our kitchen, I think the kitchen is the perfect place to practice this. Zoning, multiple function, catching and storing energy... sprouts grow in jars on the kitchen window sill, shelves are full of jars full of goodies, pots n pans are sorted...

A lot of changes have happened here and many more are still to come - it will always be a work in progress. But it's good to take stock and look back at how far you've come. To be grateful with what you have. To enjoy what you've got!


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Permablitz hits town

We just farwelled the last of our Permablitz helpers from our property.

Since early this morning a team of locals has been weeding, chopping, cutting, preparing, mulching and generally helping us get ahead of the game in the garden.

Our relocalisation group has regular working bees at member's houses helping each other get ready for the future by becoming more self-sufficient with our food supplies.

It's been great. Rather than everyone trying to do it all by themselves, a day with 10-15 people all chipping in and working hard makes a big difference.

This collective idea of relocalisation is taking a lovely form here in our town. We have the working bees, soon we'll have a seed saving co-operative and other ideas are beginning to come to fruition.

Now if someone is ordering mulch, they will take the time to phone around and see if anyone else wants some too. That way, we all get the benefits of reduced costs and it sparks everyone into action.

Other co-operative ideas we have going is a bulk buying scheme where one of our members who is a caterer orders extra dried goods, oils, honey, flour etc and we can all take our empty containers to her place for a re-fill.

Other ideas I hope to see one day here are things like bulk-buying - co-operative machinery purchases. Say we all buy one thing, but share it around.

I'd also like to see a community dairy and or goat herd here too.

I'm pretty exhausted after our big Permablitz day and I have an appointment with the lounge! We now have a huge pile of chopped up arrowroot we have to add to the compost heaps tomorrow and I need my rest.

Be wise, Relocalise!


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ready, set, grow!

Autumn is such a busy time in the subtropics. It's my spring cleaning time. The heat and humidity of summer is over and I feel energised by the cooler mornings and nights.

Growth in the garden has slowed (finally!) after all the rain we've had. Coming from Adelaide originally, we were always reluctant to cut anything back too hard in the garden, but here on the Sunshine Coast you really need to.

Lots of work underway - all overshadowed by an ongoing problem with the neighbours chooks and peafowl getting into our winter seedlings, but that' s in the hands of the local council officials.

Composting, harvesting worm castings, mulching, setting up new garden beds, running repairs to trellises etc etc.

We've planted potatoes, corn, cucumbers, and now we've secured a safe growing area while the neighbours and the council fight it out, broccoli, broccolini, cabbage and caulies will go in tomorrow.

Also inspired to put a little fun in the garden, statues, seats, local sculptures from the markets, those types of things.

Around the house, it's time to de cobweb the outside, tidy everything up, and start thinking about extensions, and more accommodation generally. Fixing up the other bedroom (we only have two) so we can have wwoofers and guests stay. We also need a propogation area, a fire pit for outdoor cooking, and sorting the deck out so it's more usable for us.

Great time of the year though, and when the bloody pests from next door get sorted out, it will all be good.

Looking forward to the first meal cooked on our heater/oven this winter. We bought a Nectre baker's oven last year and haven't regretted it!. It's a slow combustion heater, an oven, a cooktop and we could have added a water jacket too for hot water, but we're getting a solar hot water system so won't need it.

Baked spuds, soups, stews, lamb shanks on mashed spuds from the garden....


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Winter crops and favourite books

I've been waylaid with a minor flu, so been spending time indoors and catching up on some reading.

I've got out Robin Clayfield's Teaching Permaculture Creatively (I did the course in late 2006) and it's got me all fired up again about teaching permaculture, although there doesn't seem to be much interest in it from the community unfortunately.

I thought when things started to hit - as they seem to be now with reports of houses being repossessed, the economy going into a spiral, food and fuel prices they highest they've ever been - people would start looking for things like permaculture, but I think what will probably happen inititally at least, is much more chaotic than that.

I'm also reading Rob Hopkin's The Transition Handbook, which is a goldmine of information and well worth getting hold of.

As for the garden, my husband's doing a great job getting potatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers, lettuces etc in. The weather's perfect at the moment - a little rain overnight with mild 26 degree days. Autumn, winter and spring are definately the best times here on the Coast.

The only problem we have is with our neighbour's animals - their chooks, peafowl and horses keep eating our plants. It's unfortunately got to the point we'll have to go to the council to see what they can do. I've already called them and it's clearly their responsibility to keep their animals out of our place, so we'll see what happens.

Lots of composting being done, lots of garden beds being set up and lots of mulching. I love this time of year (except for the flu thing).


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ahoy there!

Time for some lifeboat building...

It's a term Richard Heinberg uses to describe part of the solution for peak oil. People preparing their own homes, gardens and communities for peak oil.

The main gist of the idea is a) to reduce consumption and b) to produce locally.

Producing locally doesn't mean just food production either, it also includes; energy, electricity, water, firewood, mulch, seeds, animal fodder... your list depends on what you have going on in your own backyard.

There is a lot we can all do in our own realms to help relieve the pressure on the bigger systems that are affecting and being affected by energy use and related climate change.

It's about moving from being a dependant consumer to a responsible producer. Moving away from big centralised systems to more local decentralised systems that are more robust and resilient to impact.

It's also a time to head out into the garden

So, machete in hand, we've started reclaiming the garden from the weeds, the summer growth and the pests... and it's time to start getting ready for our peak growing season.

Here in the subtropics winter is the best time to grow food, sunny days, not too much rain, minimal pest problems, and it's more pleasant being out in the garden - less humidity.

We will grow pumpkins, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, herbs and salad stuff over winter.

We'll also get ready for our coffee harvest in the middle of the year and we'll plant out lots of kale, spinach etc and enough for the chooks too.

It's important to remember to include all the mouths you have to feed, chooks, worms, goats etc in your planting planning.

Coming up to Autumn it's a real time of transition in the garden. It's cooler, egg production has slowed, some of the older chooks probably won't make it through winter, weed growth has slowed, leaves are changing colour, more shade in the garden...

It's also time for compost making and compost harvesting from last spring. We have so much good quality compost now and with the huge in ground worm farm working at maximum capacity, we've got humus coming out of our ears.

May/June is the best time here in this garden - it looks a treat. We've organised some tours of permaculture groups then.

Like most of Queensland, we've had a lot of rain this year already and the garden looks lush and green.

Plans for winter also include;
organising our solar hot water service
exploring PV panel options and prices
getting louvres and fly screens installed on the southern side of the house to allow more ventilation
building a propogation area
drying and preserving more food.

Last night we had pumpkin curry (pretty much all from the garden) and tonight we have spaghetti bolognaise - damn fine!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Our plans....

Firstly I guess my plans for this blog - this blog is about poweringdown and lifeboat building.

Poweringdown refers to using less power, less energy - most commonly applied to a whole region, or town or even a household I guess. Making all the changes necessary to cut back on energy use... and that doesn't just apply to electricity. It has to do with pretty much everything in our lives; food production, transportation and mobility, infrastructure, planning, land use, food supply networks, goods and services, education, health, communication, land stewardship, finances, economics, employment... everything. And it's all these things that form the framework for our lifeboat building...

Lifeboat has to do with an individual building their own lifeboat - their rescue package, their life saver. Preparing your home - looking at water, energy, waste management, what you buy, what you bring into your home. And I must say I still want comfort, quality and a good life! It's not about living in a cave, in the dark and eating raw meat.

Lifeboat building is also about preparing your garden - food production, permaculture, creating a food forest in your backyard, learning new skills, relearning old skills, sharing, knowing who your neighbours are, be part of your community, building resilience in your community. Knowing what to do and who to contact when you need them.

So, in a very small nutshell, that's powerdown and life boat building.

This blog will focus mainly on my home, my family, my garden and my community and the actions I'm taking to prepare for a future in which we not only survive, but thrive.

So our current situation is;
we have a small timber home on 2.25 acres in the hinterland of Queensland's Sunshine Coast. We have a composting toilet, we only use rainwater, my husband works part-time and I'm developing my own part-time work from home job.

We grow a lot of our own food; we have vegie patches, food forests, coffee plantation (arabica variety), chooks, worm farms, compost systems, etc etc etc.

We try to have one car between us - bit hard and my husband's had to buy a motorbike to commute to work. We buy only organic food and products.

Our plans include;
building a second dwelling on the property - a studio - I hope it will be able to be strawbale because I just love them, but at least hopefully some adobe feature walls internally.
converting our organic garden (we bought it as an established organic garden) into a permaculture garden (making it much more user-friendly, practical and LESS WORK!)
we have a solar hot water service on order
we plan to have a solar PV system in place by the end of the year
growing more and more food each year for ourselves
learning about dehydrating and preserving food
learning a lot more skills that will improve the quality of our lives

So, that's where we are at and a few dot points of ideas we have for the future. There are so many people doing the same type of thing - it's great.


Welcome to my blog...

well, more an online diary of what I'm up to and how we are personally preparing to live more sustainably, like so many other bloggers around the world.

I hope this becomes a record of what we're doing so I can look back on it and hopefully marvel at how far I come and how much we've achieved...

One of the main influences in my recent years has been Richard Heinberg's book - Powerdown, hence the name of this blog.

See you soon,