Gas heating, cooking to be phased out: Dutch government plans

 The use of gas to cook and for heating will be phased out in the Netherlands under the government’s new energy strategy up to 2050.
The Energieagenda policy document, published on Wednesday, states that gas firms will no longer be required to connect households to the gas supply and that no new gas infrastructure will be developed. Instead homes and offices will be heated by surplus heat generated by industry and waste incineration as well as from geothermal sources. Cooking will be done on electric hobs.
The Energieagenda is a follow up to the energy agreement reached in 2013 between the government, industry, lobby groups and unions. That agreement set out a programme to ensure 16% of Dutch energy requirements are met from sustainable sources by 2023.
Now, in order to meet the agreement reached in Paris last year, CO2 emissions must be reduced to almost zero by 2050, Kamp says. In an interview with the NRC, Kamp said that the shift to a gas-free society will happen gradually. Some seven million households are currently connected to the gas grid.
Other measures in the new plan involve phasing out the use of non-sustainable fuels in the transport sector, more investment in cycling and measures to boost solar and wind power generation by individual households. The plan also envisages that all new cars in the Netherlands will be powered by sustainable sources from 2035.
Cost estimates for the switch currently vary so much that the government has commissioned extra research to assess the financial implications of the plan. They will be published mid 2017.

Last month Amsterdam city council published a plan to rid the city of gas-fired cooking and central heating by 2050. Next year, the aim is to remove 10,000 housing corporation homes from the gas network, city alderman Abdeluheb Choho said. In addition, two new residential areas are already being built without links to the gas network.

The above article is re-posted from   where it appeared on Wednesday 7 December 2016

This is only one small demonstration of the lack of information available to the Australian population about what other countries are doing.  The Commonwealth and State governments make the most of this to try to convince us that what they are doing is in line with the rest of the world, when the reality is that we are one of the global laggards in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Australian coal mines as major employers?

We keep on hearing it – Australia needs coal mines, and more of them, in order to generate employment.

Here’s something to think about.

When Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest coal miner, sought bankruptcy protection in the US a little while ago there were ripples of concern in Australia over the possible loss of jobs from their coal mines here.

However the Federal Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg immediately reassured Australians that this was not a risk because of the importance of the local mines to the company.

“My primary concern is with the Australian operations of Peabody. They have 10 mines across Queensland and New South Wales, nearly 3,500 workers if you include the contractors and I spoke to the president of Peabody and they informed me that they will not be reducing their Australian workforce,” Frydenberg told the ABC.

“They have funding to continue with their Australian operations and they see their work in Australia as being core to their operations particularly the proximity their Australian mines have to key demand in Asia.”

So these aren’t tinpot little mines supplying local power plants, but part of the core of Peabody Energy’s operations supplying “key demand in Asia”.

Did you notice that these 10 key mines each employ an average of only 350 workers (including the associated contractors).

Apparently that’s not an unusual number.  The Glencore mine at Tahmoor in New South Wales is about to be closed, putting 350 people out of work.  Glencore produces coking coal (according to pro-mining lobbyists this is the key to the future of coal in Australia) and it also supplies overseas markets.

Just in passing, I wonder how many people are employed on average to deal with the environmental, climate change and human health impacts of just one of these coal mines.

In addition, it seems as if Frydenberg’s assurances about Peabody’s Australian mines might have been a bit of pre-election “voter calming” according to information now available from auditors Ernst and Young who drew attention to a note in the financial report “which details the principal conditions that raise doubt about the company’s and the consolidated entity’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

“As a result of these matters, there is significant uncertainty whether the company and/or the consolidated entity will continue as a going concern, and therefore whether they will realise their assets and extinguish their liabilities in the normal course of business and at the amounts stated in the financial report.”

Just how sustainable is Australia’s ongoing involvement in coal mining?

Coal Seam Gas and the Gatton Star Poll on Mining in the LVR

LVR Mining Poll in Gatton Star - results 13 NovWOW!  This is the score at 9.30pm on 13 November.  Three days ago, when I wrote the last post and pointed readers to the poll the ‘No’ vote was 84%.  Well done people.

If you know of anyone who might not have voted on this, please ask them to use this link to register their opposition to coal seam gas exploration or extraction in the Lockyer Valley Region:

Let’s keep these destructive activities out of the Lockyer Valley Region – not just the productive farmland in the valley bottoms, but the ridges and forested areas as well.  This industry is far too impacting to be allowed anywhere near our farms, homes, schools, businesses, or natural environment areas.

You can check on the latest poll figures here:

Gasfields in the Lockyer Valley? – Lockyer Valley Farmers Forum

Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, which contains a significant proportion of Australia’s vegetable crop capacity, is located within 100 kilometers of Brisbane. Known as Brisbane’s salad bowl and host to the seventh richest and most fertile soils in the world, the idea of industrial gasfields here is unimaginable.

Come along and learn how the Lockyer Valley can be protected from gasfield invasion. Share this with your friends and neighbours and bring them along too.


images.jpeg    Lockyer-Valley-1.jpg   lettuce_0.jpg

November 09, 2014 at 11am – 1pm
Ditchmen Drive
Grantham, QLD 4347
Google map and directions

A great information resource

In the process of researching for a post I’m planning on companion planting I came across a great information resource at the website of the University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture website.  They aren’t dealing solely with permaculture or organic farming, but much of the material is very relevant to those approaches.

I’ve edited the list of topics that their website links to, to make it a bit more relevant, but when you click on any one of the links below it will put you into their whole list of topics, so you can wander through it as you wish.

Companion Planting Compost Cover Crops
Crop Rotation Disease Management Fruit Production
Grower Resources High Tunnels Native Bees
Food Service Other UT info Pest Management
Seed Saving Soil Management Weed Management

Nicole Foss in Laidley, talking about threats and options

Went to the talk by Nicole Foss (the person behind The AutomaticEarth website) in Laidley on Saturday afternoon on the threats to Australia from the combination of excessive personal debt, over-leveraged banks, the approaching global limits to growth (including peak oil) and climate change.

This wasn’t some gloom-and-doom hand-wringing session.  Foss takes a solution-oriented approach and explored a range of choices available to people at the individual, family and community levels. She covered the alternatives, ranging across urban, rural, suburban retrofit, intentional community, eco-village – and summarised the advantages and disadvantages of each option. 

Along the way she offered Australia an outline of a “Plan-B”: stop basing the economy on feeding the Chinese demand for resources; stop trying to feed 60 million people (and destroying Australia’s soils in the process) instead focussing on food security for Australia into the long term; and replace the sense of complacency with a sense of urgency.

The talk was a logical follow-up to the presentation she gave at the Queensland Institute of Technology in early July, on her speaking tour with David Holmgren.

Nicole Foss, who sometimes writes under the name of ‘Stoneleigh’, is a Canadian sustainability, energy, and finance expert. She is best known for her works on her website, The Automatic Earth.  She was editor of the Oil Drum Canada website where she wrote on the connections between energy and finance.  She now lives in New Zealand.

The event was organised by SavourSoil Permaculture (a Laidley-based small business), and in my opinion made an important contribution to local understanding of the most significant issues facing us and the Earth and, most important, provided a window into the approaches we will need to adopt to ensure personal and community resilience. Thanks Michael, good to see people wiling to make such a contribution to the community.

Rafaele Joudry from Atamai Eco-Village in the north of New Zealand’s South Island (where Foss now lives) gave an overview of Atamai and its philosophy.

A DIY Compost Thermometer for under $30

I’ve just “upgraded” my compost thermometer.  Previously it consisted of a digital cable-probe thermometer taped to a length of reinforcing rod.  Simple, effective, and awkward to use, and risking breakage of the thermometer and the probe.


Overview of the new compost thermometer

The new model is made almost completely from bits and pieces lying around in the workshop, things from Reverse Garbage in Brisbane, or cheap “off the shelf” parts from plumbing supply shops, supermarkets, or eBay.  The shaft length is 880mm, plenty long enough for reaching into a 1 cu.m. or larger compost heap.

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Side view of the top of the thermometer showing the main components

The thermometer itself is housed in a plastic kitchen container from the local supermarket – cost about $2.  It’s held onto a short length of threaded 25mm PVC water pipe (cost about $3.50 for a 300mm length from Masters Hardware, and I’ve still got the remainder with a threaded end to use for another project) with a 25mm conduit saddle clamp (cost $0.65 from hardware). This screws into a threaded PVC “T” (from my plumbing spares box – cost maybe $2.50) that is closed off on the other side with a 25mm bung (also from my plumbing spares box and not really necessary).  The T joins the shaft via a 25mm nipple joiner (only used in order to achieve a join with the blue part of the shaft – cost maybe $2.00).  The internal diameter of the nipple didn’t quite match the blue part of the shaft, so I cut off a short section of rural polypipe (from a huge heap of off-cuts) and hit it with the heat gun to slip it over the blue shaft.  No glue needed.  The piece of blue PVC conduit came from Reverse Garbage in Brisbane (cost maybe $0.70 – Reverse Garbage is a fantastic place to browse.  I always come away with things I didn’t even know I needed until I saw them).

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Thermometer screen unit inserted into cut-out in the top of the case

The main thermometer unit with the digital screen on the front is made to be inserted into an instrument panel, so the black “flashing” around the screen is a few mm wider than the main housing, to hide the edges of the cut-out.  On each end of the main housing there is a “lug” which pops past the end of the cut-out to hold the unit in place. I carefully measured the main part of the thermometer housing and marked the outline onto the top of the case, then cut it out using a drill and a hacksaw blade.

Using this waterproof kitchen box helps to keep moisture and dirt from getting onto the back of the thermometer when using it around compost piles.

I got the thermometer from Jaycar in Brisbane years ago for $14.95.  They haven’t had them in stock for quite a while, but you can buy these on the internet or on eBay.  Make sure the cable length is long enough, and that there is an on/off switch (if you want one).  Good idea to check the range too, though the range we are interested in for compost-making is usually within the range of this type of thermometer.  Oven/barbecue thermometers are generally way overpriced and not easily adapted to something like this.

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Conduit saddle clamp holding the case to the short section of threaded pipe.

The case is held onto the threaded pipe with a 25mm saddle clamp made for clamping conduit or water pipe onto a wall. The short bolts I had in my “odd nuts & bolts” box needed large washers because of the large holes in the clamps.  On the other side I used large washers inside the case to spread the force so as not to crack the case.

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Mounting the case onto the pipe

Because the clamp isn’t tight around the pipe I put a Tek screw (wood thread, not metal) through a hole drilled in the base of the case and into the wall of the pipe.  This needed a largeish washer under the head of the Tek screw so that the pressure of tightening the screw didn’t crack the case.  The hole where the cable exits the case could be sealed with silicone, but I’d be wary of causing condensation inside the case.

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The back of the thermometer when it’s mounted in the lid of the case.

It’s really easy to pop the lid off the case to press the on/off button on the thermometer.  This prolongs the life of the battery, but I’ve had a couple of similar digital probe thermometers that don’t have on/off switches lying around for months, with the display constantly “on” and their batteries haven’t gone flat yet – you could always take the battery out between uses (store it in the case) if battery life is an issue.  Note the possibility of leaving the probe in the compost heap and recording the maximum and minimum temperatures over a period.

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It’s necessary to find a way to get the probe down the shaft of the thermometer

Depending on how you mount the thermometer case on top of the shaft there are many ways of getting the probe on its cable to the other end of the shaft.  I chose to drill a hole in the “T” above the shaft and drop the probe down there.  You need to make sure that if there are any joins in the shaft they do not stop the probe from passing.  I could have (and probably will) put some silicone over this hole – mostly so that if anything snags the cable it doesn’t transfer the strain to the cable-probe join.


The probe housing on the end of the shaft

The end of the shaft is a metal section that looks like it was once a short, snap-on leg for a piece of equipment (from Reverse Garbage).  The “snap-on” end is crimped to just the right size to fit into one of those disposable applicators that come with silicone tubes (or glue, or gap sealant, etc. etc.) for use in caulking guns.  I cut off the tip of the applicator so that the opening was just wide enough for the probe to be squeezed through, then filled the space behind it with wall panel glue, putting some around the end of the shaft to hold the applicator on.  In theory this should hold the probe securely in place when it is pushed into the compost heap.  I forgot that the glue I used needs contact with air to harden, and putting the applicator straight onto the shaft before the glue was dry meant that it dried very slowly.  I gave the probe a testing “wiggle” a few hours after I’d put the glue in, but the glue was far from dry so that there is now some movement in the probe.  Dumb!  That doesn’t really matter, since I’ve always used a length of conduit to make a hole in the compost heap to insert the probe, so I’ll just keep doing that.  The applicator was free, and the glue was already in the workshop.

It’s not shown in any photos, but I’ve found a bit of communication cable conduit that has just the right internal diameter to slip over the shaft, and fit firmly around the rural polypipe at the top.  This is longer than the shaft, so it protects the probe when the thermometer isn’t being used.

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The compost thermometer in use.


First reading!

The thermometer takes longer (1-1.5 minutes) to reach a steady reading than it did previously, probably because part of the probe is inside the end of the shaft.  This compost heap was reading 54 degC before I gave it its second turning yesterday (about two weeks after the heap was made).  It’s already back up to 46.2 degC, and might get into the 50s though it has already had a high temperature phase in the first week.  I’ll be happy if it sits in the 40+ range for a while.  You can see details of the making of this heap here.

So there it is.  A compost thermometer for less than $30, depending on how much you can make use of “found” and recycled items.

How does it compare to other compost thermometers?

First, it can measure compost temperature, probably at least as accurately as any other compost thermometer.

Second, with the digital thermometer I used it is possible to stick it in the heap, turn the readout on and leave it there for days or weeks, giving a constant reading of temperature as well as recording maximum and minimum temperatures (I haven’t tried this yet, but the function buttons are there on the back of the case).  I haven’t seen a commercial unit which has these functions.

Third it probably isn’t as robust as commercially available compost thermometers, but if it is treated carefully it should last well.  And, at this price I wouldn’t be too unhappy if I had to replace the thermometer unit or a part of the housing or shaft.  If I’d bought a commercial compost thermometer and it broke I’d be very unhappy because of what they cost.

And that brings me to the fourth consideration – cost.  You can get a compost thermometer in Australia from Agricultural Solutions for AUD$160.  A friend of mine bought one recently and he is happy with it, and I’d assume there are others out there for around the same price.

Until at least the middle of 2013 you used to be able to buy a compost thermometer from the Permaculture Research Institute (Geoff Lawton’s organisation) for AUD$294.72 via the online shop on the Permaculture News website.  However that unit no longer appears in the products listing.  It was built like a truck, with an analogue dial like an old fashioned oven thermometer and surrounded by a steel “wheel” grip, but functionally it was still a thermocouple in a shaft probe with a readout – that’s all.  I had some discussion via email with Craig Mackintosh (the PRI website editor) about the price/value issues with that unit, after he rejected a comment I’d submitted to a posting which promoted it and linked to their shop.  I’d described the unit I was using at the time (an early prototype of this one) and it’s very low cost, and in the email exchange Craig asserted that “There is no comparison between the two probes you’re speaking about.”  Well, no, at least not in terms of price.

So there are other units out there, and you can buy one of them off the shelf much easier than making a unit like the one described above, if that suits your available time and resources.  But the option does exist to make a fully functional compost thermometer for a very low cash outlay and at the same time recycle some resources.


Economic growth in a finite world – the stupidest oxymoron you could imagine

I’ve just finished reading Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, so I’m pretty ‘primed’ in terms of statements urging “economic growth” as the solution to the world’s economic ills.  One thing the book has made me realise is just how often we are bombarded with the mantra of economic growth, and how much it is seen by politicians, conservative economists and the media as the only way to achieve social, industrial and political goals.  And if you combine references to the need for economic growth with the media’s fascination with economic indicators such as GDP and stock market indices, it’s really clear that we are on an economic growth express train.

I’d always been of the view that targeting economic growth is the lazy policy option, believing that we can have a fair, effective and comfortable society without growth – it would just take a lot more brain-power than the average policy formulator is willing to apply.  However reading Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill’s book convinced me that a steady state economy is the only way forward, though I felt that there was little chance of there being any kind of mainstream movement toward this approach before it is too late.  How often do you even see or hear the term “steady state economy”?

Well, an article in today’s edition of The Conversation might indicate that we are going to hear about it a whole lot more in the near future.  It’s an important opening to a conversation that the world has to have now (and should have had long ago).  I hope it won’t spoil the story if I tell you the author’s conclusion: Climate stability demands nothing less than a wholesale economic shift – moving beyond growth and into a culture of consumption based on sufficiency. Or as Dietz and O’Neill say: Enough is Enough.  Read the book next.

Reblogged from The Conversation:

A newly released report called Better Growth, Better Climate draws the seductive conclusion that “we can create lasting economic growth while also tackling the immense risks of climate change”. But while…

Economic growth is incompatible with the rapid emissions reductions that are now necessary. AAP Image/David Crosling

A newly released report called Better Growth, Better Climate draws the seductive conclusion that “we can create lasting economic growth while also tackling the immense risks of climate change”.

But while the report, spearheaded by former Mexican president Felipe Calderón and UK climate economist Nicholas Stern, wisely points out the importance of efficiency improvements and renewable energy, it fails miserably to back up its core message.

The fact is that the world has a finite carbon budget, and we’ll blow that budget – sooner rather than later – if economic growth remains our objective.

Carbon budgets

The fundamental weakness of the new report can be shown by considering the implications of the world’s carbon budget, a notion that has entered the vocabulary of climate science in recent years. This concept refers to the maximum carbon emissions that can be released into the atmosphere if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.

Although the science underpinning the carbon budget is increasingly robust – and has been built into the modelling of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – scientists, politicians, and the broader public have been slow to recognise its radical socio-economic and political implications.

The unpalatable truth is that, for developed nations, continued economic growth as conventionally measured is incompatible with climate stability. Indeed, a safe climate requires that we now need a phase of planned economic contraction, or “degrowth”.

The prospect of deliberate economic contraction will strike most people as an outrageous proposition, but the numbers below speak for themselves. My research has focused on this need to power down our energy-intensive economy if we are to avoid blowing the carbon budget.

This does not simply mean producing and consuming more efficiently and shifting to renewable energy, necessary though these changes are. It also requires that we produce and consume less – a conclusion that few dare to utter. Fortunately, the extent of wasteful overconsumption in the developed nations means that degrowth can actually be in our own interests, if we manage the transition wisely.

Degrowth and the carbon budget

To set our carbon budget, we have to answer three initial questions:

  1. What temperature rise above pre-industrial levels should we be aiming to avoid?
  2. What risk of exceeding this temperature limit are we prepared to accept?
  3. How should the resulting global carbon budget be distributed between nations?

In order to unpack the economic implications of carbon budget analysis, I draw on the seminal work of climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, whose analyses are based on the following answers to the above questions.

1. Temperature

The world should aim to keep warming below 2C relative to pre-industrial levels. This threshold has been reaffirmed in recent international climate negotiations, including at Copenhagen and Cancun, so it represents an agreed goal.

Nevertheless, in recent years evidence has indicated that many ecosystems are more sensitive to increases in temperature than previously thought, meaning that 2C might not be a “safe” threshold after all. Many scientists, not to mention the small island states, argue that a 2C average rise in global temperature would be extremely dangerous, and that 1.5C or less would be more appropriate. Far from being a radical goal, 2C is actually a moderate one.

2. Risk

Because the future effects of further carbon emissions are complex, they can only be expressed in terms of probability. For the purposes of this analysis, we’ll aim for a carbon budget that gives us a 50% chance of avoiding 2C of warming. Given the dire consequences of exceeding the 2C threshold, the precautionary principle really demands a far higher probability of success than 50%, but let’s stick with this for now.

3. Distribution

Developing countries (known in UN climate negotiations as “Non-Annex 1 countries”) deserve a greater per-capita share of the global carbon budget, primarily because they are home to billions of people who still live in poverty and because these nations are less responsible for historic emissions.

Nevertheless, a stable climate calls for ambitious assumptions about when developing nations’ emissions should peak and begin to fall. Anderson and Bows assume that non-Annex 1 nations will peak in emissions by 2025 and then decarbonise at an unprecedented rate of 7% per year.

Such ambitious emissions cuts would also benefit developed (“Annex 1”) nations, because less of the global carbon budget would be consumed by the developing nations.

The carbon budget for the developed nations is calculated by subtracting the developing nations’ budget from the global budget. In order to keep to this budget, developed nations must reduce emissions by 8-10% each year in absolute terms (rather than per unit of economic productivity) over the coming decades. (For more detail on this calculation, see here.)

These numbers were formulated in 2011. Since then global greenhouse emissions have continued to increase, so these emissions-reduction targets should be regarded as a bare minimum.

The economics of cutting carbon

We can’t make such deep emissions cuts while still growing the economy. In his landmark 2006 review, UK economist Nicholas Stern calculated that decarbonisation of more than 3-4% is incompatible with economic growth. He noted that emissions reductions of more than 1% per year have historically been “associated with economic recession or upheaval”.

We can decarbonise our economic activity progressively by moving to renewable or low-carbon energy systems, and by producing goods and services in more energy-efficient ways. But this takes time – probably decades. Also, don’t forget that renewable energy systems themselves require energy to build.

We can’t cut emissions by 8-10% per year – as the carbon budget says we must – purely through energy efficiency and renewable power, especially if we expect to keep growing the economy while we do it. Significant emissions reductions will require us to use considerably less energy. And because energy use and economic activity are intimately related, less energy means less production and less consumption.

Beyond economic growth

It therefore follows that developed nations should immediately begin a strategy of planned economic contraction, with less energy and resource use. This “radical” conclusion follows logically from the moderate assumptions stated above, and it contradicts the widespread assurances that maintaining a safe climate is compatible with continued economic growth.

It is even harder to reconcile climate action with economic growth when you consider that the assumptions above are too moderate anyway. If we were to decide on limiting warming to 1.5C instead of 2C, with a higher chance of avoiding that threshold (say 80% or 90% instead of 50%), then that would render our carbon budget even smaller – or already used up.

Climate stability demands nothing less than a wholesale economic shift – moving beyond growth and into a culture of consumption based on sufficiency.

The conclusions drawn by the Better Growth, Better Climate report seem to suggest, however, that disciples of growth are still not ready to let go of their god. They will continue to insist blindly that we can “green” capitalism and grow ourselves out of our ecological crises.

Moving to a stable, post-growth economy is a complex, challenging and confronting prospect for many people. Success is unlikely, admittedly, but it is even more unlikely if we don’t have the courage to face the facts.

As thousands prepare to rally in New York and around the world ahead of next week’s United Nations climate summit, we need to challenge ourselves to transcend growth fetishism and see the world with fresh eyes.

Starting a batch of 18-day (more or less) compost

I just spent a morning putting together a batch of compost.  Four hours of solid work, from getting the green waste that is the basis if this batch to capping it off with a fluffy cap of straw.

The green waste came from a vegetable packing shed, where I had to line up with all the farm utes picking up a load of cattle feed (we’re in a drought, despite the reasonably good rain in the last couple of weeks).

Having heard figures of up to 40% of horticultural production being rejected because it does not meet supermarket specifications for colour, shape, size, etc., I had always imagined that there must be a huge amount of green waste going to landfill from packing sheds.  It isn’t true, at least not here in the Lockyer Valley.  Some of the big farms that have their own packing sheds also have their own cattle herds, and these get first call on the green waste.  The others generally make it available to the public, and from what I’ve seen very little or none goes to landfill.  The farmers are eager and grateful to have this source of animal feed.[*see additional note below]

When you think about it, these farm animals are eating better than those of us who shop at supermarkets.  Picking of the vegetables commences early in the morning, and the green waste starts coming out of the packing shed around 7.30am.  There might be a bit of waste from the previous afternoon in the first few bins, but from then on it is all stuff that has been picked on the same day – and goes straight from there to the farm or, in my case, straight to the composting organisms.  If you buy vegetables from the supermarket they have gone from the field to the packing shed, to the market or to the supermarket chain distribution centre, generally on the same day, and from there to the supermarket – you will be getting it two or three days after it was picked if you are lucky.

I have a friend who works in a packing shed who takes pride in the work she does to select, trim and pack the vegetables she works on.  When she sees the same vegetables in the local branch of the supermarket her shed supplies her feelings are frequently somewhere between outrage and insult because of the difference in quality she sees compared to when it left her hands.

Anyway, back to the green waste.  Lettuce and cauliflower trimmings today, with a bit of broccoli.  Two bins are tipped into my trailer by the forklift operator, and I quickly move aside to park and cover my load so others can be served.

Back home, reverse the trailer up to the compost production bins (not easy to do in the tight space between stockpiles of horse manure, poultry manure, chipped tree loppings, chip mulch from our firebreak clearing, and sand/silt from the drains on our two kilometres of access track, as well as the last batch of compost.  Set up the water pump and hoses and get out the tools.

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Starting the process

The first layer is already in the compost bin: about 20cm of chip mulch from a tree I had to cut out of the firebreak, covered by a layer of the coarse compost materials from the last batch.  It’s been lying there under a layer of straw for a week or two, and with the rain we’ve had the composting process in the chip mulch is probably well started.  A thick layer of green waste goes on top of that, then a layer of chipped tree loppings that has been stockpiled since last July and is just starting to get fungal strands through the lower parts of the heap.

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The mountain of chipped tree loppings from under the power lines. We shared it with one of our neighbours and still got eight trailer loads – a full day’s work to move it all.

I wet that layer thoroughly, before adding more green waste and then a layer of decomposing barley straw from a spoiled bale that I’d put behind the compost bin a while back.  That’s wetted down too.  More greenwaste and then a layer of months-old broiler droppings.  In truth, the broiler droppings were always more wood shavings than manure, with a good dash of spilled feed and water, but now they look decidedly woody.

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The growing compost heap, and the chipped tree loppings stockpile in the background

I’m kind of wary of broiler droppings because of the short time the birds are on it, leading to a poor ratio of wood to manure, and not much breaking down of the woody material before I get it.  This weathered stuff looks like 80% wood shavings, but I notice that a lot of the woody material is quite soft, and is in a matrix of very fine dark, damp material that might already be compost.  Nevertheless, if I was really intent on making 18-day compost I wouldn’t use broiler droppings, weathered or not.  But I’m not a great fan of the strict 18-day process.  In my experience after 18 days the result can look like compost, but it never smells like it – you know that rich, earthy, good-compost smell?  Doesn’t happen for me in 18 days, even when temperatures and moisture content are all perfectly aligned.  I wonder how often it happens for others.

What I have seen is that the longer an 18-day compost is left to “mature” the better it gets, with more life in it, and generally after three weeks or so of maturing it suddenly gets that earthy smell like forest litter.  From then on it just gets better still, and eventually (if I leave it long enough) has a network of fungal hyphae extending through it.  Not that I always leave it to the fungal stage, and at times I start harvesting the finest sieved component before it smells right, if I’m desperate to make some potting mix or a seedling bed.

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The last, partly used, batch of compost on the right – covered against the rain over the last few days

Back to today’s compost.  From there on it’s just a repetition of the same layers and watering, until the green waste load is used up and the compost bin is full.  Then it’s topped off with a thick layer of fluffed up barley straw (to keep it the sun off it while allowing air circulation) and I get out an old tarp to leave beside the bin in case I see heavy rain coming.

Just to make me feel good I measure the dimensions of the heap and take a final photo.  Volume of the heap: 2.28 cubic metres.  That will drop quickly in the next couple of weeks as the heap settles and water is driven out of the lettuce and cauliflower waste, but it should produce at least 1.5 cubic metres of good compost.

DSCF4692_compost-final heap_small

The finished compost heap

Finally I make a note of the date and give the heap a code on the whiteboard in the workshop, where I will record the temperature of the heap from time to time.  What I want to see is that it gets into the 50-65 degC range for at least a few days, and that it doesn’t go into the 75+ degC region for more than a short period, otherwise I’ll have to turn the heap at that stage to drop the temperature.  Then, once it has done about a week in the 50-65 range I’ll turn it when it’s convenient.  After that, once it drops to around 40 degC (not lower) I’ll turn in every few days to a week, making adjustments to water content and the time between turnings to try to keep it above 40 for two or three weeks.  After that I’ll make sure the last turning has moved it to a place where it won’t be in the way of the next batch or other work, and just keep an eye on it’s progress and of course, the smell.

By the way, do you see the fork in the last photo?  That’s a manure fork, with four tines rather than the three in a pitch (hay) fork.  The tines in the manure fork are closer together, and they are fatter as well as having a bend (or a significant curve) so it’s easier to push them under things on the ground.  Pitchforks are all very well for throwing sheaves of hay onto haystacks, but I find that they don’t pick up the shorter, looser material like compost ingredients or manure very well.  And they’ve (finally) started to become available in Southeast Queensland – at Mitre10 and Trade Tools if you’re looking for one.

* More thoughts on waste in the vegetable production system:

It’s difficult to get a good idea of the level of real wastage in the fruit and vegetable production system.  A Bush Telegraph episode on ABC Radio National on 14 July gave a figure of “$10 billion worth of food” wasted annually by “Australians”, but this isn’t broken down beyond “food”.  Later in the same article they quote figures of “between 20 and 40 per cent of fruit and vegetables grown” being rejected before they reach the shops “because they don’t meet supermarkets’ high cosmetic standards and specifications”.  However I suspect that there are different rates for fruit and vegetables going to landfill.  For example, any fruit with large seeds (avocados) would be unsuitable for stock food, for instance, as are whole potatoes, because of the risk of choking.  Apart from what is diverted to stock food at the farm or packing shed, some of the “unsuitable” fruit and veg goes to charities for distribution to low income families.

What I’m not sure about is whether fruit and vegetables grown under contract to the big supermarkets is prohibited from being sold as a condition of contract.  I’ve heard this said, but haven’t been able to find any evidence one way or the other.  It would be interesting to know.

It would also be very interesting to see a detailed breakdown of the different destinations for rejected fruit and veges.

Nicole Foss and a Powerful Owl in the one evening!!

Just two quick bits of news.

First, Nicole Foss was on ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas earlier today.  I missed it but downloaded the mp3 of her talk – and it seems to be pretty close to the presentation she gave on her Australian tour with David Holmgren in July.  I gave my impressions of their Brisbane talks here.  It’s long (54 minutes) but the mp3 file downloads quickly, even on satellite broadband, and it’s definitely worth hearing, so set yourself up with a comfortable chair and a mug/glass of your favourite beverage and get ready to be informed by one of the best speakers I’ve heard.

The other news is that as I was coming in from the office tonight, just before 10.00pm, there was a male Powerful Owl calling from somewhere up behind the workshop.  You can find good recordings of their calls here.  This is the first Powerful Owl I have heard here in about four or five years.  In fact they were regulars during the drought, and seemed to move away once we started getting good rain.  The first sign we had of their presence was early in the drought, when we kept finding the tails of Sugar Gliders on the ground in the bush.  Sugar Gliders seem to be a favourite food of this species and they discard the tail because it isn’t much but bone and fur.  We’ve only seen a Powerful Owl here once, when it was sitting calling on a horizontal branch about 15 metres from where the house is now.  What a sight!!  The first thing that hits you is the size of the bird; these guys are really tall.  Then you see the feet, which look rather similar in their size and proportions to a man’s hand.  Let’s hope this one stays around.  I’ll be listening for it, and for a female call to signify that it has found a mate.

The resident Southern Boobooks (Mopokes) in a stand of Budgeroos just down in the gully kept calling while the Powerful Owl was calling – I’d have expected they might have been a bit intimidated by the sheer volume of the Powerful Owl’s call.