Tuesday, June 19, 2012

8 is enough!

 Meet our 2 new chooks, Myrtle and Pepper.  They are barred Plymouth rock chickens.  They arrived late Sunday afternoon, and 2 hours later, one of them was gone, assumed over a fence.  She must have been spooked by one of the other chooks giving her a hard time.  Liv & I put flyers in a few letterboxes in surrounding houses yesterday, and there was a phone call this morning- she was 3 houses down the road.  So she's now safely back with her friend who was looking a bit lonely (they tend to stay in their little groups of breeds).  And a wing has been clipped.  No more flying, Pepper!  They are a hefty bird, but beautiful to look at, and will lay eggs during winter.  These 2 are at point of lay, so there should be plentiful eggs soon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Snapshots of a long weekend

 We spent 3 nights in Trentham, Victoria over the Queen's Birthday long weekend, at the Earth Garden House.  The picture above is not the Earth Garden House, but their strawbale office that's also on the block.  Earth Garden is a quarterly magazine about sustainable living, having just celebrated it's 40th birthday.
 Trentham Falls
 Real life Amanita Muscaria toadstools!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Andrew's Green Star award

Andrew was presented with a Green Star Award at work this week, after submitting a report of what we do at our house and in our lives to live more sustainably.  He was a joint winner with 2 others from USA, with many runners up from around the world.  We're pretty proud of this achievement (and I consider myself a joint winner of this award!), it's great to be recognised for doing what we do.  The prize was a solar powered backpack that you can charge your laptop, mobile phone etc on, while you go for a walk in the sun.  The plaque is made from recycled green glass, and is very pretty (my favourite colour).  Here is the report that he submitted:

This is the story of my family and our green existence.  There are four of us 
in the family: my wife, my two young daughters and myself.  We live on a fairly 
typical surburban block in the state of Victoria, Australia.  The block is 680 
square metres in size, with a 3 bedroom 1950s single storey double brick house.  
We've been in the house now for almost 4 years and have made a number of changes 
to the house to make it more environmentally friendly, as well as changed our 
lifestyle to match.


Power is supplied by a grid-connected 2kW system, connected 18 months ago.  In 
that time, we've generated over 3MWh of solar energy, feeding more than two 
thirds of that back into the grid.  As almost all of Victoria's power is 
generated by brown coal power stations, pulling power from the grid is not 
something we want to do if we want to be environmentally aware.  By feeding our 
excess generated capacity back into the grid, we are in some ways helping our 
neighbours use renewable power.

Our daily usage is approximately 6kWh, about a third of the average home in the 
state (16-18kWh).  We use LED lighting on all our high-usage lights, and 
compact flourescents on the remainder.  Our broken TV was recently replaced by 
a LCD LED TV that uses very little power despite my children's obsession with 
daytime children's TV.  We use laptops as PCs; this substantially cut our power 
bill when we switched over to these.  Both PC and TV outlets are fitted with 
standby power switches that switch the devices off physically when not in use.  
This has also reduced our night time power bill considerably.  

The remaining offender is our refridgerator, inherited from my wife's 
grandparents.  It contributes about third of the power usage in the house.  
It is unlikely to be replaced before necessary as there are currently few 
models more efficient than this model that are available at present, and none 
at a reasonable price.

Heating and Cooling

Victoria is a temperate climate, with winter nights dropping to around 5 
degrees celsius at night and rarely colder than 10 degrees C in the day.  
Summer usually has about 3 days above 40 degrees Celsius, with temperatures 
averaging around 30 degrees for most of January and February.  As such, a 
'normal' brick veneer house typical to the area does not require a massive 
amount of heating over winter, but would get quite hot over summer and more 
than likely have air conditioning.

As our house is double brick, it has excellent insulating properties, and the 
internal rendered walls provide large amounts of thermal mass to the house.  
There is also in roof insulation to prevent heat loss and add thermal mass.  
This means that temperature variations in the house are minimised, and the 
house remains warm in winter and cool in summer.  It is fitted with a space 
heater, but no airconditioning.  As is typical for houses in Victoria, the 
primary heating source is natural gas.  The single heater is used only during 
the winter months (late April - September).

In the four years we've been at this house, the house has only once been 
intolerably hot, a period of 3 consecutive days above 45 degrees in 2009 that 
followed quickly after a period of 3 consecutive days above 43 degrees.  In 
this case, the house's thermal mass stood no chance and took some time to cool 
down again.  


Water security is a big issue in Australia.  Rainfall is not consistent across 
the continent, and Victoria can be quite a dry state despite its location.  As 
recently as 2 years ago, the city I live in was under Stage 4 water 
restrictions - essentially allowing you to drink and clean, with no other uses 
allowed, and with a daily usage target per household of 150 litres (40 gallons) 
and water storage levels below 20%.  At the time, we installed a 4500 litre 
water tank, which has been used to keep our garden watered from rainwater off 
our garage.  We just installed another three 2400 litre tanks fed by rainwater 
from the roof of the house, taking the total water storage capacity on site to 
almost 12,000 litres or 3200 gallons.  These will eventually be used for laundry 
and to flush toilets, as well as to maintain our productive gardens.

Our mains water supply is heated by a solar hot water system consisting of two 
evacuated tube panels connected to a gas-boost instant hot water system.  This 
replaced a regular gas-fired hot water heater, and resulted in a two-thirds 
reduction in our gas bill.  The gas boost system is rarely used, and the system 
retains sufficient heat overnight to keep my morning shower running on solar-heated water.


When we purchased the house, the garden was typical of the houses built by 
European migrants to the area in the 1950s.  There was a large expanse of lawn 
space, some fruit trees and a small vegetable patch.  The front of the house 
was lawn and flower beds.  We straight away planted out the vegetable patch and 
combined with the water restrictions and drought killing most of the lawn in 
the back yard, we elected to turn part of the area into a screened native plant 
garden. This provides a shady play area for the children. We also decided to 
build out some more garden beds for productive growing space.  We installed 
citrus and fruit trees (oranges, mandarin, avocado, cherry, stonefruits, pears 
and apples) as well as a row of olive trees to screen the shed off and provide 

We have recently decided to convert the front garden into productive space and 
have installed approximately 15 square metres of productive garden beds.  Our 
winter crops of garlic, carrots and brassicas are all growing well and will be 
ready for harvest later in the year.  These will be used by us to meet our own 
needs and to trade with friends for other produce we are not growing.  We are 
also experimenting with growing grain crops like wheat and later in the year, 
soy.  These are primarily used to condition the soil, but hopefully will also 
provide a harvest that can be used in our breadmaking.

At the rear of the garden, housed in their own large run are our three Isa 
Brown and 3 Aracauna chickens.  These chickens may soon be augmented by another 
two Plymouth Rock chickens.  Isa Brown chickens are bred to lay eggs, and we 
receive almost 20 eggs from the 3 chickens over the course of a week.  These 
are used by us where possible and traded or gifted when our fridge is fully 
stocked.  The additional chickens will provide a more suitably sized flock as 
well as teaching our children about where their favourite foods come from.  

Our local council zoning allows us to keep up to 12 chickens, but restricts or 
forbids other animals such as sheep or pigs.  Both animals are highly desired 
by my children for their 'farm' and were we allowed to, I daresay pester power 
would mean our backyard would include a sty and a sheep run.  We are currently 
investigating the effort required to maintain a bee hive, which is permitted 
 under local zoning, and will help with pollination of the garden and be a 
steady supply of honey.


My wife has take the lead in showing us how a sustainable lifestyle can be led.  
She handmakes children's clothing which is sold online around the world.  Her 
test pieces clothe our children, and reduce the amount of low-grade consumer 
clothing we purchase.  She makes her own bread, baking 2 loaves at a time which 
feed the family over several days.  She makes her own soap, simultaneously 
keeping us clean, reducing our consumption and providing soapy gifts for other 
family members.

We are a single car family and use the car primarily on weekends.  My wife 
does not have a driving license, so walks everywhere with children in tow, and 
the car is only used by me to visit the farflung places around our city on 
weekends.  I ride my bike to our local train station and catch public transport 
to the Red Hat office.  At our current rate, we fill the car with petrol about 
every 2-3 weeks.  Once the children no longer need child restraints, we will 
downsize the vehicle to a more economical and efficient vehicle.

What we have been able to do is to show our friends and neighbours that it is 
possible to live a low-impact, sustainable, green life without having a huge 
impact on our enjoyment and the quality of our life.  A little bit of effort 
and education can make a huge difference to the cost of running your home, as 
well as reducing your impact on the environment.  There is a real sense of 
achievement to prepare your breakfast using bread that is fresh baked and eggs 
that were inside the chicken not twenty minutes prior.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Out of the sweatshop

8 pairs of upcycled pants made over the weekend and this morning, to freshen up stock at Nurture by Nature Sustainable Living.  The pants I took in two weeks ago have been selling well, so it's time to take in some more.  I like to see them all together ready to go.  It's a bit of a dodgy photo, but it's pretty gloomy here today.