Sunday, September 15, 2019

Such a good day! Sustainable House Open Day 2019

We are recovering with a quiet day today, after welcoming 72 people through our place yesterday for Sustainable House Open Day.

There were 45 homes open here in WA, some purpose built and new with fabulous sustainable features. Many of them are 'south of the river'- a smaller number open here in the northern suburbs, which is one of the reasons we wanted to open our home, along with showing people what can be done with the kind of homes most of us live  in. 

We enjoyed sharing our home, and getting such positive feedback from people. Many came to look at the garden: just what can grow in a suburban backyard, how do you do it in our sandy Perth soils, what can I do to make my home more sustainable? There was talk of whether is it worth while to replace single pane windows with double glazing, and how big a solar array to buy. We discussed solar hot water, and if the 'tank runs out". 

A volunteer from the Electric Vehicle Association brought his car and parked it in our driveway -charging up from our domestic supply. It was a great feature, and he was a lovely guy- we ended up swapping marmalade and he gave us a dragon fruit plant! 

We prepared a pamphlet for people to take with them, called "Retrofitting a 1973 Suburban House"

1 Heating & Cooling

What we have done: 

A. Basic level of insulation in roof.

B. Shade-cloth Blinds on external side of  West-facing windows.

C. Pergolas and deciduous vines for shade on North and East (pictured above with winter sun coming in -in summer the vines cover the pergola and we get great shade ...and fruit!)

D. Water Tank also provides shade on west (as well as water storage)

E. Heat-block blinds and heavy fabric curtains for interior windows.

F. Ceiling fans in every room.

G. Outside kitchen to keep cooking heat from house.

H. Shaded screens on outdoor kitchen make a cooler alternative living space

I. Shade from trees.

Other possibilities being considered:

1. Pelmets over the curtain rails

2. Extra layer of insulation on top of ceiling

3. Insulated timber-frame cladding on front western wall (or should we paint in a light colour?)

4. Lift paving from front nature strip and replace with garden/vegetation

5. Seal the gaps – windows, doors, vents, exhaust-fan venting

6. DIY Double Glazing using Aluminium fly wire frame to seal door and toilet window.

2 Reduced Water Consumption

What we have done: 
A. No lawn.

B. Sub-surface drip-irrigation for garden

C. Water Tank – carries some winter rain into Summer.

D. Water-saving front-loader washing machine

E. Water-saving devices in bathroom renovations

a. Low capacity cisterns for toilets

b. Low flow shower heads

c. No bath

Other possibilities being considered:
1. Would eventually like to harvest grey water for loos and some gardening-council permissions required and are a barrier

2. Additional water storage tanks for the front garden

3 Renewable Energy & Reduced Consumption

What we have done: 

A. One car and we actively try to reduce kilometres in that car – using public transport as well.

B. 2.5kw Solar PVC system – which exports more energy than we use over many months. We bought this 7 years ago, so it has paid for itself now. Many people are putting in much bigger systems now, but our energy use is pretty low and we don't need more at the moment.

C. Solar hot water system  (Electric Boost on timer to use PVC power if available during winter)

D. Bigger windows in Kitchen and Bathrooms.

E. Solar Tubes – skylights – in lounge room. One visitor commented "you don't have any lights on here...our lights are always on!" 

F. LED globes into all old light fittings

G. Kitchen renovation included LED lighting, induction cooktop (replaced gas), energy efficient appliances

H. Growing food – preserving, freezing and drying to extend harvest. Eat locally!

Other possibilities being considered:

1. We probably need to eventually replace gas heating with R/C Air Conditioning -not in a hurry to do this.

2. Electricity storage batteries for Solar Power

3. Fully Electric car – or maybe a hybrid as a transition to fully electric.

4 Reducing Waste

What we have done: 

A. Composting Bins – four around the garden

B. Worm Farm and Worm Towers

C. Separating Waste Streams (batteries, bottle tops, crunchable plastics)

D. Refusing plastics where possible.

E. Re-purposed furniture – coffee table in lounge from Tip Shop for $25 plus a lot of work

F. Buying in bulk – refillable dispensers  for washing up liquid, conditioner, oil for cooking

G. Homemade Washing Powder – 2pts Lux Flakes + 1pt each Borax and Lectric Soda – 2 tbs/load for washing (front or top loader)

Urban Orchard

Our house is on a 600m2 block. The gardens around it are not large.

Here’s a bit of a check list of what we currently have in place:

Front garden:

quince, grapes, fennel,  onions

olive, mulberry, parsley nasturtiums

pomegranate, blueberries, rosemary avocado

lemon, goji berries, tomatoes basil

Side garden:

nectarine, kumquat, fennel, silverbeet,

mint, rhubarb, rocket, elderflower,

celery, tomatoes, onions, parsley,

curry leaf, spring onions, grapes, nasturtiums

Back garden:

grapefruit, tangelo, fig, lemon,

mandarin, lime, bay, kaffir lime,

peas, beans, dill, mint,

mizuna, rosemary, tomatoes, sage,

silverbeet, garlic, Vietnamese mint, thyme,

lemon grass, sorrel, warrigal greens, parsley,

borage, sweet potato, nasturtiums, broccoli,

We have not weighed our crops, but we use a lot in our daily diet – greens and herbs. We preserve the harvest in jams, chutneys, dried produce, and the freezer. We buy in produce at their seasonal peak when it is cheapest to make bottles of preserved fruit as well as jams. We share our harvest with friends, neighbours and the Buy Nothing Greenwood Facebook page.

It was a good day...and the place is looking pretty amazing just now! We are having a 'recovery day" today.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Counting down to Sustainable House Open Day!

I did it! I have finished mulching the whole garden, with three trailer loads of free mulch. 
This is an annual task, which we value for the way the mulch protects the soil and plants from excessive heat, helps keep the precious moisture in, and adds biomass to the soil. 

Mulch is also 'makeup for gardens' - and the garden in its spring finery is looking quite pretty. 

I am pleased the mulching is done, because spring is busy on its own anyway. I have seeds and seedlings to attend to, I have feeding to do, and the occasional clumping annual to thin out. These lovely cannas are in flower now. I donated one clump to a neighbour. 

The bottlebrush are in flower on our western boundary fence. This is a favourite tree for both birds and bees at the moment.

Apart from the wind and the rain, there is also the occasional hot day and that requires some extra watering. We are on water restrictions so we can't turn the reticulation on yet, but I have a water tank and a couple of watering cans, and can generally keep the water up to things so that they don't die.

Sap is rising everywhere: grapes, nectarines, mulberry, goji berries.

Blossom quickly follows. I am always worried about the strong winds which come at this time of the year, in case the blossom is blown away before the fruit is set, but so far we seem to be OK.

One casualty of the winds was the rather flimsy lid of one of the free compost bins we collected recently. It kept blowing away, and one night it did a proper job of it, and landed on the neighbour's driveway and got run over. Time for DH to get busy -making me a new one. I don't think this one is blowing away any time soon. It is made with some scraps of wood he had in his shed. He says it is very cool as "recycled chic" and I think it has a "junkadelic" kind of vibe. 

DH has also been in his shed this afternoon, sharpening my knives. I do appreciate this very much. My hands now have some pretty painful joints, so the ease with which a sharp knife cuts things is a wonderful improvement. I find a sharp knife is actually safer than a blunt one.

 We are just a week or so away from Sustainable House Open Day  In some EXCITING NEWS, an electric vehicle will be parked at our house for Sustainable House Open Day 2019! A volunteer member of the Electric Vehicles Association will be present to answer  people's questions for a couple of hours.

The other bit of excitement was that on a recent op shop trip, DH and I came home with this lovely picture for our bedroom. It turns out it is by a local artist, and is of a beach near us. I had been looking for a beach scene for some time, as we both love our beaches, but for some reason had no beach scenes in the house at all. The lovely thing about this is that it picks up the colours of my new quilt quite nicely, too. One the Open House Day is out of the way, we have plans to move into a redecorating mode in the bedroom, and this will inspire us on. We want to paint and we want to do some maintenance on the furniture. I am also looking out for a new set of drawers for clothes storage, if we can find some within our budget.

So that is a lot done this week, and we are on track in our preparations for Sustainable House Open Day.

Thanks for visiting. Comments from readers are always appreciated.

Monday, September 2, 2019

How to take a day off from retirement: Monday 2 September 2019

I love being retired. I try not to show off about it too much, because so many of my friends are still workers in the salt mines (poor things), but I love the freedom, the creativity, the flexibility. I am very self-directed, and always have quite a lot of things I want to do. I have some volunteer work and there is always the gardening and the housework and cooking.

Every now and again, though, you just need 'a day off"- change of routine, change of scenery.

DH and I saw the opportunity to do that last week on a day which was quite unusually warm for the end of winter. It was going to be 28C so we packed a picnic full of the leftover nice things from the Choir supper we had provided the night before: cheese, strawberries, cracker biscuits, cut vegetables and a feta dip.

We recently bought a year pass to the National Parks With our various discounts, this was quite a bargain, and will encourage us to visit scenic places nearby, as often as we can. This time we went north to a park that used to be 'way out in the bush' but is now being surrounded by suburbs: Yanchep National Park.

When I was a girl, we went there a LOT. It was a destination, a picnic spot and for my mum and dad, it had a pub where they could get a quiet drink on a long weekend! (Not much used to be open, in those days). 

DH and I walked around the lake and enjoyed the different scenery than the places we usually visit. I was delighted to spot this native orchid -it is quite small but exquisite. You have to keep your eyes open in the Australian bushland. (I might also have been scanning for snakes, but that is another story!)

The wattle is in bloom (hello hayfever!) and it is really pretty just now. Look at that blue sky!

Have you ever noticed that you feel calmer outside? It is easier to slow down, take your time and breathe outside. It is easier to take a long time over lunch, to enjoy a quiet talk with your nearest and dearest, and then to come home feeling refreshed.

Apart from this lovely day we are still getting quite a lot of rain, which is lovely. We are thinking of spring, however, and making plans for our Sustainable House Open Day, which is just 2 weeks away now. Just a bit of preparation and planning to come.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Living and loving it Monday 26 August 2019

Hello from Dora, who has found that the chair next to my desk gets wonderful morning sunshine and has a quilt over it, which of course is what a well-brought-up cat desires in her bedding! 

We have had some sunshine this week and lots of rain too. The 3000 litre water tank is finally full, and DH has put a bucket under it to catch the overflow! We were both greatly impressed with the Greening the Desert video of a permaculture set up in Jordan, on the same size block as ours. We are inspired to try to do a lot more with our resources, including water! Do watch this video! 

We had bok choy which we harvested leaves from and then let flower and set seed. These are the seeds. I have picked them and put them in paper bags (I got nearly a thousand paper bags free from a neighbour!) and they are drying. We want to grow more! As it is coming into cabbage moth season, we will need to provide a insect free tent for them to grow in. 

My main work in the garden has been to keep spreading the mulch. DH had to go to get some more! The Council here gives us vouchers for  some free trailer loads per year, -they recycle green waste from the city. Mulch is really a key to our garden: it feeds the soil and reduces evaporation. I have some tomato seedlings coming up, and have been encouraged by signs of life in the goji berry plants I repotted and put into the big free tubs we picked up a few weeks ago. Our deciduous trees are showing signs of leaf and bud growth.

I am a collector of cornucopia vases- the ones shaped like little horns. I found this one in an op shop. It is an Italian one and it cost me just $4. It is perfect for a single rose or two. This rose is a rambler we grow on the back fence It is always the first to come to flower, and has a lovely old fashioned perfume. 

You can see the back and a little of the front of a small table runner I made from scraps. 

Here it is on our new-to-us coffee table. This runner was a test run of a few new-to-me techniques in quilting. I wanted to use my new wedge template, I wanted to try adding the binding before I trimmed the runner  and I wanted to use a new binding tool to help me make the final join on the binding flat. It was a good exercise. 

If you are looking for a good inspiring read, see if you can find this one from your local library. I am loving it. 

The other thing I have been busy with have been a couple of community projects, including attending a rally to try to make a ban on fracking in WA. I find that action is a good antidote to depression at the state of the news of environmental problems around the world.

Thanks for reading. This blog is my journal and also a way of connecting with like minded people.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Island life -another weekend

DH took a turn on a duty roster on Wadjemup (also known as Rottnest Island) this past weekend. The roster provides cheap accommodation, and subsidised ferry ride for him. It was open for me to go for a relatively small price too, but I wasn't sure. It is winter here, and the 23 km stretch of water between Fremantle and the island is notorious for being rough even in summer! 

In the end I decided to brave it and booked my tickets a few days out...and watched as the forecast began inexorably to link our travel time with the onset of a huge wind and potential storm. Oh great! I bought some sea sickness pills and we had a wild ride, with the largish and fast ferry bumping it's way through the waves and swells. Up the wave we went---the boat was above the water---and then bang, down we plunged! 

We survived, remarkably well, and I felt (and still feel) very proud of myself for conquering my fears and doing it anyway! The weather was setting in for a big storm, so we took ourselves to the island store for a few groceries and snuggled in for a night of reading novels and eating pizza! 

The next morning, the storm had pretty much blown itself out. We ventured out for a walk to the closest lighthouse. It did rain again in the afternoon, but we were again snug in our little cabin.

Sunday was the day DH had duties, but they were over in time for us to take the island bus to the furthest part of the island, the West End called Cape Vlamingh. The colours in these pictures are not enhanced at all- this is as it looked on the day! 

The little Thompson Bay settlement is a meeting place for island visitors. On the Sunday we ate lunch in the pub, which was a nice treat.

The trip back on Monday was a delight -absolutely flat calm and sunny!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Wonderfully cheap and free: our score this week

This week's post is about some wonderfully free or cheap things we have achieved this week.

For some time I have been looking for a longer coffee table. My lounge room is a long and rectangular space, and the coffee table I had (from the op shop and painted up by DH) had been good but it was square and was really not long enough. I didn't want to squish the seating up around this table when I had such a lovely long room to expand into.

We looked and looked: new ones were not the right size and were expensive.Second hand shops didn't have anything we wanted. We looked at one we found online -second hand- but DH was not sure about it. He offered to make me a new coffee table, just the right size, but when he costed the purchase of new wood supplies, it was hundreds of dollars. I wondered if he could find a table at the tip shop which would provide the wood he needed. It would be a new use for something which otherwise would end up in the tip.We hitched the trailer on the back of the car and went along.

Our tip shop is a social enterprise. It is nicely run, well organised and friendly. We looked at a number of tables, but none of them were exactly what we thought we needed. There was one, though, hiding under 4 chairs stacked on top. It was a dark wooden extension table, and DH thought he might like to have a go at it. We paid $25 for it.

When we got  it home, DH started to get excited. He is pretty sure it was made here in WA of our lovely hardwood called Jarrah- this is the wood used for expensive furniture here in Western Australia. It has a wonderful red colour and plenty of pretty grain. He spent a while taking the extension rails off the table and removing the table top. Then he cut down the extension leaf and fitted it back as one entire table top. The legs were shortened to coffee table height and he used the bits cut off to add to the thickness of the legs.

LOTS and LOTS of sanding, then finishing with danish oil and wax.

This was a good project for DH in his retirement. It took quite a few hours, but his time is his own now! He had to spend some time thinking about how he could solve the various technical challenges along the way, and he has had a huge sense of achievement in finishing it.

We splurged on a couple of sets of stone coasters from Kmart in honour of our new table. We love it!

We hitched up the trailer again later in the week to pick up three half olive barrels which someone was giving away. Now, these olive barrels are great for big plants in the garden - and in the past I have paid $50 for a whole one to cut in half to make two pots. I have used them to pot up a goji berry plant I was given, which is getting one last chance to produce fruit. It has a new, sunnier spot along side the driveway. We have removed a number of suckers which were in the same pot. As they are deciduous  we aren't sure which ones want to grow, but we potted them up too. The other two olive pots are ready for the tomato glut I want to grow this spring/summer.

I have been spreading the free mulch we got a couple of weeks ago, and fertilising and weeding as I go. This is also a FREE WORKOUT, as was the lovely walk we had down at the beach yesterday.

I have a table runner which I have nearly finished. It is another free thing because it is made of left-overs from another project, including the wadding, the backing and the binding which I hope to finish this week.

We have had a lovely productive week.

Thanks for reading my blog all the way to the end of this post!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Retrosuburbia Conference in Fremantle

DH and I were excited to attend the Retrosuburbia Conference in Fremantle on Saturday 3rd August, even though it meant being on the local railway station at  8 am! We joined over 200 like minded people who wanted to hear the author of Retrosuburbia, David Holmgren (co-founder of Perrmaculture!) speak about this wonderful book. 

"RetroSuburbia is part manual and part manifesto. The book shows how Australian suburbs can be transformed to become productive and resilient in an energy descent future. It focuses on what can be done by an individual at the household level (rather than community or government levels)". 

.DH has heard me talking about the concepts and helped me put some of them into practice, but hasn't been able to attend a meeting. Now he is retired so off we went! DH was very impressed with the "Aussie Street" story that David presented.

If you click on the link below you will learn a lot more about this inspirational book.  

A great part of the day was given over to discussion groups on any topic at all which a group of people wanted to discuss together.

  • I learned from people who had established verge gardens (do you call them nature strips?) -what works and what problems might occur, especially with council regulations here in the city. I have been thinking about removing some of the brick paving we put down years ago, so I can plant native plants to encourage the wildlife around here.
  • There was a good discussion of bartering: how to do it, what sometimes goes wrong.
  • I attended a group which wanted to talk about rescuing building material from skip bins! 
  • DH went to a discussion on the humane management of bees. 

The lunches and morning tea were all brought by the participants. You can imagine that the fare was really wonderful and we were very well fed. A bunch of happy volunteers attended to help with the logistics. We were modelling the kind of community spirit which Retrosuburbia advocates!

We met a number of people from my side of Perth. Did you know that Perth is divided by the Swan River -and in our minds- as North and South? The city spreads a long way in both directions, so it was especially pleasing to finally identify the "Northern Permies" group.

Community was also big in another way this week around here. Our local Street Pantry was the part of a story on the needs of the community, on one of the local TV stations current affairs shows. The pantry shelves were a bit bare, so one of our admins put out a shout for more donations, and people turned up with donations in response. I went down with a basket, hoping to get in and out before the cameras arrived, but they TV crew turned up as I got there. I ended up being filmed putting donations on the shelves. Here are the shelves as of today: much less full than on TV. We have a lot of need in our communities for people who 'run out of money before they run out of month" and whatever comes in to the pantry goes out again pretty quickly. The way our Government has failed to heed the calls to #RaiseTheRate of Newstart is putting huge pressure on people who are already struggling.

Apart from all of these exciting things, I have been spreading mulch on my garden beds. This is quite a workout, and I have been feeling it a bit as I climb into bed.
DH has a wood project which he has been working on, and we hope to tell you about when it is finished in a week or so.
I have also been unpicking seams on the quilt blocks I have been given. I have decided on a setting, and will be gradually working on adding sashing strips to the quilt blocks.

So, I am off now to get into the kitchen and do some preparation for the week.

Thanks so much for stopping by and reading my blog post today!