Sorry for the long gap between posts.  Sometimes life gets a bit too busy, and sometimes I’d just rather do physical things that make a difference to our level of sustainability than sit down and write a blog post.

This will be a short one, just to point you to an article that I find inspiring.  It’s by someone with the unlikely name of Shepherd Bliss and for some reason reading it really lifted my spirits.  It’s about learning from the community of the land

Here’s an example of what he says:

I farm with nature in mind, rather than against it. Permaculture is a helpful design system for this kind of agriculture. It teaches placing cardboard, burlap bags and newspapers around the berries, on top of which I put composted manure. This fertilizes, reduces weeds, and keeps moisture in the ground, as well as builds soil. The Earth does not want to be bare, so when factory farms strip it with chemical herbicides, it throws up a new covering, called “weeds.”

The boysenberries with which I share this land are the under-story within a forest. That diversity provides beauty and protects my main crop from pests, as well as providing fallen leaves for mulch. The redwoods, oaks and other tall trees draw moisture from the atmosphere onto the farm. I put large, flexible used flour bags as bedding for chickens, which catch their manure. I then put those manure-enriched bags around the berries and add other compost.

You can see more at: http://transitionvoice.com/2011/06/learning-from-the-community-of-the-land

What’s behind the major weakness in governance in Australia? And why does it matter?

The following is reblogged from today’s issue of The Conversation.  It describes the major governance factor preventing good decision-making that would lead to sustainable use of Australia’s resources – at all levels, from local government right through to national.

It is affecting our economy, our environment, our quality of life, and our individual finances – and it is destroying the future for our children and grandchildren.  Yet the tools that we need to change the situation are now available.  This should be the major election issue, but it isn’t even on the radar for either of the major parties or the majority of the minor parties.

A more sustainable Australia: measuring success

By Carl Obst, University of Melbourne and John Wiseman, University of Melbourne

A more sustainable Australia. As the 2013 election campaign continues, we’ve asked academics to look at some of the long-term issues affecting Australia – the issues that will shape our future.

How successful is Australia? You’d think we’d have a fairly easy answer to that – you could get it by looking at our gross domestic product, or GDP. But over the years we’ve gained a number of other success indicators, from health and wellbeing, to the environment, and they often tell a different story.

In 1968, US senator Robert Kennedy observed that GDP “measures everything … except that which makes life worthwhile”. These days not many experts believe GDP is enough to measure whether a country is succeeding.

It’s obvious that we should be using a winder range of progress measures. The real question is why we still struggle to bring those measures into decision making. Why don’t we take it for granted that all decisions must balance economic, social and environmental factors as a matter of course?

Why do we struggle?

People have a collective lack of willingness to think long term, beyond five to ten years. This is the normal state of humanity – we dislike change. This approach works well when external conditions pose no obvious threat. But this means we can end up like the frog in hot water, which doesn’t realise the water is warming until it’s too late.

We tend to assume that whatever is the case now will remain the same. This leaves us in a difficult position when some of the things we depend on, such as functioning environments and societies, gradually deteriorate.

Another problem is that these problems are collective, rather than individual. This means that when resources are used by everyone – such as ocean fisheries, or the atmosphere – self-interest always wins out and the resources suffers. This, known as the tragedy of the commons, continues to be a major problem for global resources.

We also fear things we believe are complex. Our approach to complexity is to divide it up: we find it easier to consider economic, environmental and social aspects independently. We can become quite expert in each one. But we lose the ability to consider all factors simultaneously. It makes it difficult for leaders to make balanced decision when these aspects have all become separated.

Reinforcing this separation, we have developed information that does not support balanced, integrated decision making. For example, over the past 50-60 years economic information has had a significantly larger weight in decision making, notwithstanding the significant increase in the amount of social and scientific data over the same time period.

Combined with the tendency to short attention spans, this leads to more weight being placed on information about current activity (such as income and consumption) rather than longer term drivers of change such as the condition of public infrastructure, the environment and social capital. We have information on the condition of these assets but it tends to not be integrated or organised in a meaningful way. That makes it hard to use it efficiently in standard analytical and related frameworks – let alone broader public debate.

The consistent recording of trends over time provides information to assess past decisions, correct mistakes and visualise the future. In the wonderful words of Abraham Lincoln, “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how do to it”.

Developing the habit of recording past events in a structured and widely disseminated fashion also has the significant side effect of reducing apparent complexity. There is nothing simple about the economic system or the measure of GDP that we use to reflect its performance. But we are now attuned to it and thus, as a collective, see the economy through a different lens to the one we use for environmental or social issues.

How do we adapt our point of view?

One solution would be to change human nature. This is likely to be a tough ask. A more practical approach is to record trends in economic, environmental and social factors, on which we can base decision in the future.

Fortunately, new frameworks for this sort of data collection are being implemented in Australia and globally. In 2012 the United Nations statistics group adopted an international statistical standard: the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA). It integrates environmental data (such as flows of water, energy, waste, and emissions and stocks of natural resources) with the standard measures of economic activity.

This SEEA provides an information base for other indicators, such as resource efficiency and sustainable consumption, and inclusive and comprehensive wealth. It could also be used in standard analytical tools such as economic modeling and cost benefit analysis.

Further research has shown the potential to integrate ecological information with standard economic accounting. In particular, we need to consider environmental and economic data for small areas (such as forests, farms, or wetlands).

This integration of environmental, economic and social information at local scales could drive changes in the way we consider decision making at national and international scales. At local scales we deal better with complexity, since there are fewer unknowns and we have a greater interest in thinking for the long term since the impact of decisions and choices affect us directly.

Australia has a small yet strong tradition in environmental-economic accounting and has been a leading country in the development of the SEEA and other measurement frameworks. This work should be encouraged, supported and more actively co-ordinated to build nationally accepted histories of our relationships with the environment.

We need a comprehensive and regular Australian land and ecosystem assessment program along the lines of the recently commenced UK National Ecosystem Assessment. This would first entail dividing Australia up into regions of different land and ecosystem types, such as forests, agricultural land, wetlands, and coastal zones.

Then, using a variety of indicators we would:

  • assess the quality and change in quality of those ecosystems
  • assess the type and quantity of ecosystem services (such as food, fibre, air and water purification, and recreation) provided by those ecosystems.

While there are a number of related initiatives in Australia, these need to be co-ordinated, regularised and resourced through institutions. Maybe then we can stop thinking about the short-term, and start thinking about the future.

Thanks to the Sustainable Australia Report 2013 for inspiring this series.

Carl Obst was the editor and lead author for the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) from 2010-2013 and continue to work on a consultancy basis for international organisations that are implementing the SEEA as an international standard.

John Wiseman is a Professorial Fellow with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI), University of Melbourne.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Inspiration for simple/different construction – the house of three tents

Check out this place:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toFBj9qBLQo

Sorry I can’t find a way to embed the video in this post (any suggestions welcome), but I think this place is pretty amazing.  No, not for the opulence of the setting and some of the furnishings, but for the vast array of building ideas that it sparks for me.

No need to buy the frame, it looks pretty simple to make. Even some non-structural pine framing from Bunnings would still be pretty cheap.  Add recycled windows from the secondhand timber yard.

No need to buy or make the tents, maybe old advertising banners would cover the frame equally well.

How about the pipe work on the deck.  Looks an awful lot like I could build the same with some steel fence pipe sections and fittings and some cage mesh from the hardware.

I love it when the videos show so much of the construction details.  This is definitely filed away in the “inspirational ideas” folder.

Can we have a sustainable Lockyer Valley without addressing climate change?

There’s plenty of time to get on top of climate change, right?

If we look at the priority the population gives to electing a government truly committed to doing something about climate change then it comes in at around 4th or 5th in their priorities.  On the other hand, observation of the political parties, both historically and in relation to their election promises, real action on climate change, likely to have significant effects within the necessary time frame, is hardly on the agenda.

I’m always heartened driving through the suburbs (whether in the capital cities or in small country towns) by the view of solar panels on roofs.  The proportion of houses with solar PV or solar hot water continues to increase, and this seems to me to be, at least in part, a visible statement of a commitment to do something concrete about reducing global warming.

However when I look at the generality of lifestyle and buying patterns of the average person, I don’t see any real recognition of the urgency for action, or of the scale of the action required.

Do we really understand the enormity of the changes that are happening?  Happening now, not some time in the future when climate change happens?  Yes, I know, climate change is happening now and has been happening for the last 50 years at least, but behaviour and the language used in talking about climate change suggests that it is still a way off in the future.

Well, here’s the reality:

The planet is building up heat at the equivalent of four Hiroshima bombs worth of energy every second. And 90% of that heat is going into the oceans.  Right now.  Not in ten years, or fifty years.  It’s happening now.

Scary stuff, and I would guess that some readers are going, “yeah, yeah, you’re just trying to scare us into taking action and it isn’t true”.  Read on (the following is extracted from an article by David Holmes in today’s issue of The Conversation):

“John Cook, a climate scientist based at University of Queensland teamed up with oceanographer John Church and several overseas scientists to make an astonishing calculation, which unfolds like this:

Ninety percent of the excess heat trapped in our atmosphere by greenhouse gases is actually absorbed by our oceans and ice. Without the oceans, that heat would be in our atmosphere. But because of the oceans, we can underestimate climate change.

Wikimedia/National Archives

The Cook team measured the amount of heat the oceans have absorbed in Joules. In terms of visualising warming, Joules are not very meaningful. So the team chose to convert ocean warming into a release of energy etched into the collective memory of the 20th century – the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

And the maths of this is quite disturbing. The equivalent of the heat released by 345,600 Hiroshima bombs is absorbed by the earth every day, or four bombs every second. Ninety per cent of the heat released by those bombs is going into the ocean.”

The full article is available here.

Back to the question in the title of this blog – can we have a sustainable Lockyer Valley without addressing climate change?  “Sustainable” that doesn’t include realistic and necessary actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not sustainable at all, but rather a short-term fix to make us feel more comfortable about the way we live.

Here’s an element of sustainability that should be a major election issue

Do you keep a three-month stockpile of food in your house, including a freezer with frozen foods, or perhaps you are a keen permaculture gardener with a well stocked backyard?  Is there a stockpile of petrol in the backyard (this might be illegal where you live)?

Do you depend on having an essential prescription filled by your local pharmacy when you run out?  If you had a sudden medical emergency, would you assume that you could receive immediate treatment in a hospital that was well stocked with pharmaceutical supplies?

According to a report  on Australia’s Liquid Fuel Security, prepared by Air Vice-Marshal John Blackburn (Retired) and released by the NRMA in February this year, if Australia’s oil supply was cut off:

  • dry goods could run out within nine days;
  • chilled and frozen goods could run out within seven days;
  • retail pharmacy supplies could run out within seven days;
  • hospital pharmacy supplies could run out within three days; and
  • fuel available to the public could run out within three days.

This is because Australia is one of the few developed nations that lacks a standard stockpile of fuel reserves.

The report highlights the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and fuel.

NRMA Motoring & Services Director Graham Blight said 85 per cent of Australia’s transport fuel comes from overseas crude oil or imported fuel.

This is a major sustainability issue, not just at the national level but also at the individual household level.  We can’t do much about the national issue, apart from raising it as a factor in the current election campaign.  However, at the household level it is one that we can prepare for.

If you haven’t got a large pantry (or even if you have) what about setting aside another cupboard – maybe clear some shelves in your linen cupboard, or get rid of the junk in those bottom drawers to make space – and set up a stock of dry goods, with each category arranged in use-by date.  You’d be surprised how far off the “best before” date is for a lot of dry and canned foods.  You can then rotate these into your pantry as needed and make a note on your shopping list to fill the gap in your stockpile the next time you go shopping.

How about starting a permaculture garden in the backyard; or joining a community garden; or asking if you can start a garden in that unused lot down the street.  And start growing staples first, not exotic herbs or fruits that you seldom eat.  That way you have a garden you not only can rely on in an emergency, but also one which makes an ongoing contribution to better nutrition.

Of course if you are in a suburban situation it is unlikely you will be able to grow significant quantities of a wide range of foods, but you might be able to link up with other gardeners to exchange excess produce of one type for something that you don’t grow.

From a permaculture principles point of view, the problem contains solutions – the fact that we have had a series of shortsighted national governments resulting in no liquid fuel reserves – contains the solutions to a whole lot of issues (emergency shortages, inadequate fresh foods in our diet, need for more outdoor exercise, not enough community linkages).  Addressing all of these through stockpiling, growing some of our own food, and establishing links within the community also increases resilience.

[Update Edit 9/8/13:]

For an idea of how little it can take to tip countries into an emergency situation based on the lack of liquid fossil fuels have a look at this report by Kathy McMahon in August 2006, on her blog Peak Oil Blues.  She provides a detailed account of the impact on the UK in 2000 when oil supplies were cut off by public action.  It all started when some French fishermen blockaded the English Channel as a protest against high fuel prices.  They were joined by truckers and farmers who were similarly angry about fuel prices and blockaded refineries and distribution centres throughout Europe.

England was possibly the most affected country and within nine days of the first protests:

  • Enormous lines appeared at gas stations as panic buying spread across the country on day 4;
  • Over half of Britain’s gas stations were closed by day 6, 90% by day 9;
  • Food stores experienced the same wave of panic buying, forcing supermarkets to close or impose rationing;
  • Hospitals suspended all but emergency care and began to run out of blood and essential supplies;
  • Mail delivery and public transportation operated on reduced schedules;
  • Heavy industries — auto manufacturers, steel plants, aerospace plants and the like — began planning immediate cutbacks, layoffs and closures as they ran short of fuel, parts, raw materials and workers who could get to work [quoted from: Transition Voice]

This summary gives only an indication of the nature and extent of the impact.  For a more nuanced description read Kathy McMahon’s material.

Reading her material should lead you to greatly expand the list of measures that you need to take to be ready for interruptions to the fossil fuel supply.  Such interruptions will not necessarily come about through the actions of terrorists, and certainly will occur well before the oil actually “runs out” (it never will, but the price will become prohibitive for all practical purposes).
In nine days, from 5 September to 14 September 2000, a small number of angry people brought one of the major developed economies to its knees.  This needs to be remembered when governments are considering their policies in relation to peak oil.  It is not safe to assume that people will “adapt” to rising fuel prices brought on by diminishing supplies.  As Kathy McMahon says:

“We are facing a life or death situation that creates both an intellectual and emotional strain. Even this brief look into the British Petrol Sedition tells an interlocking and devastating tale of what an oil shortage looks like. It tells a frightening tale of the power held in the hands of a small number of emotional, angry people who feel that their very livelihoods are being challenged by high oil prices and want their governments to do something about it.”

I am grateful to Tom Lewis at Transition Voice who re-posted from original article at The Daily Impact (which includes a podcast version), for bringing Kathy McMahon’s excellent article to my attention.  Her article is fully referenced, so it constitutes a rich vein of material on the topic.

Do we need to be paying high prices for unsustainable electricity?

Alex Wonhas (Director of Energy Flagship at CSIRO) has an article in today’s issue of The Conversation on options for Australia’s energy future.  Apart from the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid runaway climate change, high and increasing electricity prices should be a major driver for changing the way we generate and distribute energy.

As Wonhas points out:

Over the past five years electricity prices have risen more than 60%. This is due to a combination of factors, but upgrades of electricity networks are the main driver for the increases. At times, we as consumers chose to use this expensive infrastructure in an inefficient way. Network infrastructure worth $11 billion across the National Electricity Market is only used for an estimated 100 hours per year of peak demand.

Australia needs a pricing system for electricity that signals the true network costs to households and businesses. We also need to remove barriers to deploying solutions that can enhance energy productivity and reduce costs.

Many solutions already exist that could make our electricity system more efficient.

The full article is well worth reading.

Yams instead of potatoes?

Following on from yesterday’s post about the need to focus more on producing our staple foods, I just came across a couple of posts on Jerry Coleby-Williams’ blog about growing yams as a potato substitute.

You are probably aware of Jerry from his writing in Gardening Australia and The Organic Gardener magazines, or as the presenter for the national gardening program Gardening Australia for over twelve years.  Hanneke and I were lucky enough to be guides at his home “Bellis” in a Brisbane bayside suburb when he opened it to the public on Sustainable House Day a few years ago – we weren’t really “guides” (Jerry did that), our role was to greet people when they arrived and to keep them entertained until Jerry had completed the previous tour of the back garden.  It is amazing what we could find to say about even his front garden.  Jerry is an inspiring person and his backyard garden is one of the most prolific I have ever seen.

Jerry recommends yams because they are “adaptable, space and energy saving, productive and easy to store [and t]hey taste and cook like potato, but the starch is far more sustaining”.

He grows Winged Yam, Dioscorea alata, and Aerial Potato, D. bulbifera, and in his latest post on the subject reports a “low yield” this year for his Winged Yams of only17.2kg per square metre, instead of the 20 – 30 kg/sq. m. that he normally gets.  This compares to his average potato harvest of 3.5 kg/sq. m.

In another post he provides a lot more detail on the characteristics of each species, their cultivation, pests, storage, etc.

If you are thinking of growing the Aerial Potato, please take into account Jerry’s warnings on keeping them under control, and the comment on one of his postings from an ecologist on the Sunshine Coast about “escapes”

We are now on the lookout for both of these yams.  If you know of anyone in Southeast Queensland who has these available please let us know.

Producing the staples

What do you eat?  I don’t mean a literal list of all the different varieties of plant and meat that you consume, but rather the main elements of your diet – the staples, as they are traditionally known.  These are food “eaten routinely and in such quantities that it constitutes a dominant portion of a standard diet” (Wikipedia).

Here on Black Cockatoo Ridge we can divide our main food items into six groups, not all which are staples in the normal sense, but we eat them at least every week, if not daily.  In rough order of volume consumed they are:

  • starchy roots (potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin – I know it’s not a starchy root, but we often use it as a substitute);
  • grains/seeds (rice, beans, gluten free grains/seeds used as flour or in muesli – corn, rice, buckwheat, quinoa, chickpeas);
  • fruit (bananas, apples, melons, pawpaw, avocado);
  • meat (kangaroo, or when we can get a bulk order from a sustainably and humanely raised and slaughtered animal, beef, fish);
  • dairy products (milk and yoghurt);
  • leafy greens (pak choi, lettuce, broccoli); and
  • onion family (onions, garlic, spring onions).

Which of these do we produce ourselves?  Potatoes – very infrequently.  Sweet potatoes – just started harvesting our first (poor) crop.  Pumpkin – seasonal, and depends on whether the bandicoots and possums get to them first. Beans – seasonal, and I’m bad at succession planting, so the supply is intermittent. Pawpaw – we have one amazing tree that has kept us in pawpaws for the last few years. Garlic – seasonal, and not enough to last more than a few months.  Spring onions – constant supply using cut-and-come-again approach.  Pak choi – more or less continuous supply. Lettuce – very occasionally, due to pests and poor succession planting.

Given that our objective is to be as self-sufficient as possible, this is a pretty poor showing.  Not that this is by any means all we grow – the total list would probably be more than 30 species – but most could not form staple elements of our diet.  If we suddenly had to rely on our own production for our food supply we would probably be starving within a six months.  Even lasting that long would be mostly because we have a policy of keeping up to three months’ food supply on hand and this could be eked out with production from the garden.  That would give us a bit of a buffer during which we could try to ramp up our production of staples.  However given the work involved in bringing new garden areas into production and the need to find seed/breeding stock during a period when lots of other people were doing the same, it would be at best a precarious situation to be in.

How would you go if you suddenly found the supermarket shelves empty and unlikely to be re-supplied for an unknown period?

You don’t think that is a likely situation?  Supermarkets rely on a just-enough and just-in-time inventory system.  They generally have a 3-5 day stock of items on hand, and if there is an emergency situation the shelves will be cleared out of staples quicker than that.  If supplies cannot get through (roads blocked, fuel unavailable, civil unrest making roads untrafficable), then you could find yourself reliant on your own food stocks/production very suddenly and for a prolonged period.  Those of us who experienced the Lockyer Valley floods in 2011 will know what this feels like.

But for most of us, being self-sufficient in food isn’t mainly about emergency situations; it’s about having a supply of unadulterated food with a known history – e.g. no harmful chemicals, no exploitative or inhumane practices involved in its production, low food-miles to limit green-house gas emissions.

How does your garden stack up in terms of producing your staple foods, and how do you think you could improve the situation?

Permaculture Design Certificate

Sorry about another long gap in blog posts.  I just got back from doing a twelve-day Permaculture Design Certificate course in Kin Kin (on the Sunshine Coast between Noosa and Gympie) with Tom Kendall at Maungaraeeda, the permaculture centre that he and his wife Zaia run.  Fantastic experience.  After doing some research on available PDC courses (see below), I went to Maungaraeeda with high expectations – and they were exceeded.  Tom is a wonderful teacher, very warm, very knowledgeable, and very committed to ensuring his students get the most out of the course.

The course sessions are based on Bill Mollison’s book Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual  – Bill Mollison, one of the founders of permaculture, was one of Tom’s PDC teachers (the other was Geoff Lawton).  The sessions run for 72 hours over 12 days, and are given credibility by examples drawn from Tom’s long agricultural experience.  He grew up on an 11,000 acre wheat and sheep farm at Grasspatch, north of Esperance in Western Australia, which he took over after his father retired.  In 2000 he sold the farm and moved to the Sunshine Coast, where he bought the property that is now Maungaraeeda in 2005 and developed it as a permaculture-based operation

An outdoor class in the food forest

An outdoor class in the food forest.

Classroom sessions were frequently interrupted for practical activities, including several walks over the property while Tom explained specific permaculture features of the management.  It is a delightful setting, in a small valley just outside Kin Kin, with the house and food production areas down near the road, the grazing areas above that, and rainforest along the ridge-tops.

Tom in a fairly new food forest, surrounded by mostly support species.

Tom in a fairly new food forest, surrounded by mostly support species.

But Maungaraeeda isn’t just about Tom.  Zaia is in charge of Administration and Marketing, but in reality her role goes far further than that, and every aspect of the running of the place, from the first contact one has about enrolment to the mouth-watering meals, shows evidence of Zaia’s warmth and attention to detail.  From the moment I set up my tent on the lawns near the student dining area there was a strong feeling of “home”.

Tom and Zaia are supported by two long-term volunteers whose personalities and contribution to the running of the course added to the warm atmosphere.

Part of the kitchen garden at Maungaraeeda.

Part of the kitchen garden at Maungaraeeda.

And then there were the other students (there were nine of us in all). All I can say about them is that I think I had the extreme good fortune to find myself among a group of amazing individuals from whom I learned a lot, and whose company I still miss now, five days after the course ended.  We parted with promises of keeping in contact and setting up a “class wiki” to share our permaculture experiences and I really hope that happens.

The class and Tom, posing behind a fruit tree we planted and surrounded with about 30 "support" species.

The class and Tom, posing behind a fruit tree we planted and surrounded with about 30 “support” species.

There was a choice of accommodation – byo tent, a dormitory bus, or cabins.  I took my own tent, and even though it rained for part of the time, and was often pretty cold at night, it was really comfortable – particularly after they lent me a camping mattress to keep the ground chill out.

One of the lovely cabins, or you could bring your own tent.

One of the lovely cabins, or you could bring your own tent.

I promised above to comment on how I came to decide on doing the PDC with Tom.  In fact I had been thinking of doing a permaculture course for a while, and realised about six weeks ago that there would be a window in my commitments around late June/July, so I checked out the courses that were available and not too far away from Southeast Queensland.  The three I found were: the one taught by Tom; one led by Geoff Lawton (but presented by seven named instructors plus unspecified others) at Geoff Lawton’s Zaytuna Farm; and another at Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, also with multiple instructors.  Costs ranged from $1,230 to $2,585, with Tom’s falling in between.

After I’d looked at what information I could find about the three organisations and particularly the backgrounds of their instructors, there really wasn’t any option for me other than Tom’s course.  Courses with multiple instructors didn’t appeal at all.  Permaculture is a “package” and needs to be taught and understood as that, not as a series of topics.  Cost was an issue, but not nearly as much as value-for-money, and with Tom’s practical background and his very hands-on ongoing experience in setting up his own permaculture farm, plus the small class size (they limit classes to 15) the value was definitely there.

Did the course change my life?  Yes, and a lot more than I had expected – not in the sense of an epiphany or even a change of direction, but in giving me more confidence that I now have a good theoretical and practical grounding for achieving the goals we have set for our property; and the knowledge that I have someone I can turn to for advice in the future.  Not only that, but now, whenever I see any agricultural area, my brain immediately starts mapping out swales – I guess you could say that my “permaculture eyes” have been opened.

Now that's a swale - Tom has swales on his property ranging from this down to hand-dug swales through the kitchen garden

Now that’s a swale – Tom has swales on his property ranging from this down to hand-dug swales through the kitchen garden.

A couple of interesting web sites

In my meandering around the sustainable parts of cyberspace, from my seat near the fire on a damp and overcast day, I came across a couple of web sites that may be of interest.

The first was on urban farming.

MY HOME HARVEST copyAs the header says, My Home Harvest is about providing motivation and inspiration to the urban farmers of Australia.  But from what I’ve seen of the content it is going to inspire a wider range of people interested in sustainable food production that just urban farmers.

For example, the Expert Advice and FAQs tab currently leads to posts on:starting your own food swap; preserving kale, silverbeet and chard, a factsheet on edible weeds, and a pest-profile of the cabbage white butterfly.  There’s also a library of articles and resources, a range of discussions on the forum, and much more – including a diary of upcoming food, seed and produce swaps (ranging from Victoria to the Margaret River in WA.

This web site first launched as Swap Shuffle Share in January 2012 and the change to My Home Harvest was undertaken in April 2013 to better reflect the purpose of the project and to take into account the feedback received from members during the project’s first year of operation.  So it’s relatively new in this format and content is being developed and expanded all the time. Well worth registering to become a member and being involved in the journey.

The other interesting find was on the Liverpool City Council’s web site – two very good tutorials, one on composting and one on worm-farming.

TUTORIALS copyThe tutorials are arranged in a series of simple steps, with each step presenting fairly detailed information, but in a format that makes it easy to take in.  Whoever designed these on-line tutorials really knows their stuff in terms of designing instructional materials.