Archive for the ‘Self-sufficiency’ Category

At last…..

January 30, 2017

…..tomatoes and beans. My cup runneth over :


But wait….there’s more :


I love this self-sufficiency lark!

January update

February 3, 2016

It rained at last—48 mm in all—over the last four days of the month. Melbourne’s average for January is 47 mm, so a good result all round. Within a day all the tip growth on the native plants was showing fresh and green and the tomatoes, which I thought had been getting plenty of water, started to split their skins.

I’m getting plenty of tomatoes now, after a bad start when rats ate all the first lot of seedlings I put out (in one night!) and set me back a couple of weeks while I put down poison every night and watched and waited until it was no longer being taken. I found six dead rats and the chooks earned their keep by catching and killing another. I mixed the bait pellets with peanut butter, placed it on jar lids and hid these behind the line of wicking boxes and tubs which run alongside the base of the deck (which is where I’d planted the tomatoes). I put it out at dusk and removed any uneaten first thing in the morning. My only concern was birds eating it, but they couldn’t have entered the small space where it was hidden. I’d seen the rats running along there, so it was the best spot to put it. A good result and the next lot of seedlings I put out remained untouched.

Tomato harvest so far :


The cherries will be dried, the paste varieties frozen for winter casseroles and the rest eaten fresh and fried. Loving fried toms with my evening meal at the moment!

Recently I was gifted another second-hand bath from a relative who knows I collect them :


This makes three now. I use the first two to collect rainwater and grow azolla for the chooks. I need more growing space above ground, so I think I’ll use this one to grow veggies.

He also brought 3 bags of dried cow poo pats (they run beef cattle in Gippsland), so I’ll use those as a basis for the growing mix. That’s the black stuff in the bath.

I watered the cow pats to get them to absorb water and soften. I’ve covered them with all the organic material I can muster—mulched bracken, weeds, soft prunings, leaves, etc, and I’ve added some worms from the worm farm to let them break it all up. With any luck, I’ll have a whole new veggie bed to put my winter kale and broccoli in.

I would have liked to have made it into a wicking bed, but I wanted to get the material composting as quickly as possible and I didn’t want to spend time on the fiddly job of measuring and drilling drainage holes and getting it set up. Instead I’ve positioned it so the plughole end is higher than the other end, meaning that water won’t completely drain away, so a shallow, boggy layer will be maintained in the bottom. I can always stop up the plughole later and drill drainage holes to increase the depth of the boggy layer.

I’ve been growing New Zealand spinach for some years. It self-seeds readily and took over much of the bare ground around and under the fruit trees. I left it there because it was such a good ground cover, is green and lush through the winter and the rabbits don’t touch it. I pick the young leaf tips and steam them as a green :


But it’s shallow-rooted in the compacted soil there and doesn’t like to get dry, so with 3 months of below-average rainfall it died right back and became a tangle of dead stems. I decided to remove them as they were a tripping hazard and I knew it would regenerate from the thousands of seeds it had dropped, but when I got it all out I decided I liked the look of it better, walking wasn’t a hazard (especially not knowing if a snake was hidden under it!), so I’ve decided to keep it that way and not let it regenerate. I’ve raked all the litter up around the fruit trees as mulch, out to the drip line, which looks much nicer and makes it easier to add compost and wood ash and gives a cleared space for walking around them. I’ll just maintain a minimal layer of gum leaf mulch there to walk on and absorb the force of heavy rain. I’m still trying to find a ground cover to put under the fruit trees that the rabbits will leave alone. I don’t want to use Warrigal Greens again, because it grows so quickly and rampantly and will just take over again. I’d like to put comfrey there, but the rabbits demolished that too. Everything I like, they like.

I’ve had one zucchini from six plants and that was one I hand pollinated. When there were male flowers open, there were no females. Then when the females came along, the males didn’t show. They’re getting regular water and fertiliser, including extra potash and they’re varieties that have done well in the past. I’m really wondering if it’s worth growing them in future. It’s annoying, when others seem to have zucchini coming out of their ears.

I had a pepino growing in a wicking box on the deck for a couple of years. I pruned it back very hard, not really caring if it didn’t re-sprout and it didn’t. So I put another in a wicking box beside the chook run. It’s doing really well and there are some huge fruits forming (arrowed) :



When the pepino was still small, I planted a tomato at the edge of the box. It’s been overshadowed a bit (well squashed out of existence really), but not to be outdone, it’s produced a couple of huge fruits. From memory, it’s a Black Krim :


Always curious as to what that black thing is she’s pointing at us. Is it something to eat? :


The Girls have been laying continuously since March last year. I lost the second of the original three in that month so was down to one original and the three New Girls, who arrived in November 2014. Last year the four of them managed 339 eggs between them and I didn’t have to buy eggs at all over winter. Since Christmas only Bonny has been laying but I’m expecting her to stop any day. Who me? :


With four consecutive spring/summer months of well-below-average rainfall, I’m learning some valuable lessons about growing my food. The main one is to keep fruit trees small by regular pruning, or else buy plants grafted onto dwarf rootstock. Small plants means a small root area, so it’s easy to keep the water up to the plant in dry times. It’s also easy to get a net or shadecloth over the plant when it’s fruiting, or a scorching 40+ temperature is forecast.

This was bought as a dwarf nectarine. It’s been in the ground four years and is still only 80 cm high :


Mind you, it hasn’t had a lot of attention; it’s in sandy soil without much nutrient, but it’s behind a row of wicking boxes and tubs so probably receives some nutrient run-off from them and gets watered when I water them. In its first spring it produced flowers along every branch :


Because it was so small I didn’t allow it to set any fruit. The following year there were many fruit, so I thinned to just a few. As you can see the leaf growth has a compact weeping habit. The fruit was hidden under the leaves so I didn’t bother to net. Bad decision! The birds (or tall rabbits), got them all.  This year, as soon as it started to set fruit, I put a net over it. There weren’t many, but they were bigger than any of my other stone fruit and they ripened beautifully on the plant :


I’m giving it regular feeds and water now, to try and speed up its growth a bit. This winter I’m going to buy a couple more. It’s a variety with white flesh and I’d like one with yellow flesh if they’re available.

Oh, and the label said it would get to about a metre and a half tall and wide. Just right!

I finally got around to pruning my Red Delicious apple so I could get a net over it. It didn’t set as much fruit as in previous years (the pruning was a bit drastic), but I was determined not to let the parrots have it :


Only about two dozen apples in all but worth keeping for myself. I’ve been keeping the water up to it to swell the fruit and the rain helped, too. I tried one after taking the photo and it was crisp and crunchy and sweet enough that I can begin harvesting. I’m not a great apple eater, but I’ve set myself one a day :


So the second month of official summer has passed. My calendar follows the solstices and equinoxes, so my summer started on the December solstice and ends on the March equinox. I’m counting the days—48 to go. It’s not that I don’t like the warm weather, but being on a bush block in a designated bushfire zone, summer is always a worrying time.

Around the blogs

October 28, 2015

The Future of Suburban Food Bowls

A good post here from Green Gavin (if you don’t know him yet, you’re not paying attention), on the future of suburban food bowls. I’m linking to it here, because he mentions peak oil and I bet there are hundreds (no, thousands) of people who have never heard of it or given any thought to the consequences. And since Gavin gets many more readers than I do, I’m hoping a few more readers will be peak oil aware after reading his post.

How Unsustainable is Solar Power

Another excellent post from my good friend Mike at Damn the Matrix. Mike ‘gets’ it; one of the few people who do. Now, I love my solar panels, I really do (installed two years ago, haven’t paid an electricity bill yet and still in credit), but I know they won’t be the way of the future. At best they’ll help us transition from our energy-gorging years on fossil fuels to a lower energy future, but they still need energy from fossil fuels to manufacture and install and they still need resources which are declining globally. As one of the commenters explains, it is our lifestyles that are unsustainable and that’s what has to change. There’s no way an ever-expanding population can continue with its present way of life without fossil fuels. Those who think renewables are the way to go are in for a helluva shock.


City of Vancouver Food Strategy: What Feeds Us

March 14, 2015

Think I’ll move to Vancouver.

I’ll come back when Melbourne does something like this.

Another self-sufficiency audit

August 27, 2014

It’s been 3 years since I did my last audit on how much food I’m growing. I wrote about how I was going to do it here and wrote up the results 12 months later.

Last year, with the woefully hot summer weather we had, wasn’t a good year for self-sufficiency with me. In fact I’ve had the impression that I haven’t done as well as I’d like for the last couple of years. So it’s time to do another audit.

A new month and a new season start next week, so I’ll get going on September 1st and go for 12 months again. I hope it’ll be a good year. I need some feel-good vibes to keep me going.

New cooker…but not for the kitchen

July 5, 2014

Here ’tis:

cobb-cookerIt’s a Cobb Oven.

It’s a sort of mini barbecue cum camp cooker and has to be used outdoors.

I read about it at Around the Mulberry Tree blog and it caught my interest, because I’m looking to save on bottled gas.

The Cobb website is here.

I checked out the website and found that Ray’s Outdoors sell them. We have a store locally so I went and had a look. I liked what I saw but decided I’d go home and think about it a bit more.

Then a friend rang and said Ray’s were having a sale and the Cobb was available with $60 discount. That decided it. I went and bought one. I also got a couple of accessories—the griddle and the frying dish—they were on special, too.

When I got it home, I discovered that the mini pizza stone (diameter 26 cm), I’d bought some time ago and hadn’t used, fitted it exactly. Another bonus. I can cook pizza on it.

The only disappointment is that I can’t use wood to fuel it; it will only use BBQ heat beads in the heating grate, but they’re cheap enough and I will still make a rocket stove at some time in the future.

I’ll use it out on the deck. I’m waiting for a day without rain and freezing winds to try it out.

It’s all about resilience really. Permaculture design says that each function in a permaculture system should be provided by more than one element. So for cooking (a major function), I’ll have electricity, gas, the Cobb and a rocket stove. When electricity and gas fail, as fossil fuels start to run out, I’ll still have the other two. And when I can’t buy BBQ fuel any longer, the rocket stove and the fuel I can source from the property, will come into it’s own.



Damn & blast!!

May 29, 2014

Steve Marsh Loses His Case to be GM Free

I really thought he had a chance.

All the more reason for growing your own GM free food.

It makes me angry to think that his nasty, selfish neighbour has gotten away with it!



Firewood self-sufficiency

May 19, 2014

Here’s a useful post about firewood from Mike at Damn the Matrix.

When we built our house 15 years ago, we put in a wood heater. During all that time no firewood has been bought in. 80% of the property is remnant natural eucalypt forest. No living trees have ever been cut for firewood (and never will be, at least not in the remnant section). There are dead trees that could be cut and something is always falling down, be it whole trees, large branches or kindling-sized material.

I have huge supplies of useful kindling wood from twigs up to 2-3 inches in diameter. This lot’s 40 cm long and ready to go:


These bits are a metre long and need only to be cut into three. There are 5 piles like this:


This lot’s not even cut yet. The pile is taller than I am!:


I cut this by hand with a bow saw and use my relatively new toy, a battery-operated chainsaw, for the bigger stuff. It’s easy to use and weighs in at only 4 kg, about the same as a couple of 2-litre bottles of milk (and of course, the solar panels recharge the batteries):


The really big stuff is dealt with by a neighbour in a rear property and because I can’t handle it in my size heater, he gets to keep what he cuts up.

I’m planting out a woodlot at the rear of the property, consisting mainly (at the moment) of Black Sheokes (Allocasuarina littoralis). It’s a local species, so belongs to the ecosystem, and grows quickly. The intention is to cut these for firewood in the future. It burns really well. A similar, related species, Drooping Sheoke (Allocasuarina verticillata), used to grow all along the eastern side of Port Philip Bay, south-east of Melbourne. It was cut out very early during the settlement of Melbourne, to fuel the baker’s ovens in the growing city.

Sheokes planted in a group of three, with dandelions for company:


This is permaculture zone 4—a harvestable woodlot, so the dandelions are an acceptable food species here. I’ve also planted asparagus in this area and hope that the two species will naturalise under the sheokes. I may have some problems with the rabbits—they love dandelions, but so far haven’t bothered about asparagus.

I love it that I don’t need electricity for heating. As long as trees aren’t cut at a greater rate than they grow, wood is a sustainable resource.

I’m insourcing

March 5, 2014

Just a quickie to share this wonderful post from rabidlittlehippy. Insourcing is the new Me.

(What a great definition of permaculture!)

Growth is over

September 9, 2013

Most of the blogs in my feed reader are either peak oil blogs or self-sufficiency blogs. I guess I’ve been assuming that people who are working towards self-sufficiency know something about the coming energy decline and that’s why they’re doing it.  Trying to build resilience into their lives in the face of the collapse of industrial civilisation which will follow as the world runs out of oil energy.

I also assume that they also have some biological knowledge about how the world works; the fact that Earth is a finite system and that no organism can grow forever in a finite system, i.e. continuous growth is impossible. Sooner or later an organism whose numbers and consumption of resources is growing will be cut down by what is known is these circles as ‘overshoot and collapse’.

So I was disappointed to read in one of my feeds this morning (I won’t mention the blog, but the writer lives in Australia and not far from me, in fact), this comment on last Saturday’s federal election: “let’s hope everyone will get some confidence back and start generating some economic growth”.

It seemed like a serious comment and not tongue-in-cheek.

Growth is the last thing we need. Growth in human numbers, growth in the consumption of non-renewable resources (many critical ones, like oil and phosphorus, already becoming scarce), increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere, increase in pollution, loss of the biological diversity that keeps Earth’s temperature and chemistry in homeostasis; I could go on.

Maybe a dose of information via Richard Heinberg’s recent book The End of Growth is needed by this blogger.

Growth in human numbers is killing us and the planet. Growth is the last thing we need. Calling for continued growth is depressing enough when it comes from biologically ignorant politicians and business leaders.

I want something more encouraging and intelligent from the blogs I read. I’ve deleted that blog from my feed.