Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Digital drama

So I went looking for a replacement digital camera when our old one died. I spent several hours doing research on the internet to narrow down the type of camera I'd be interested in. The expedition paid off in the end, as I found the type of camera I wanted and several places I could buy one from. Easy right!

Then the drama of, "are you sure this is the one", set in?

There are two lines of thinking I carry whenever it comes to making decisions. There's what I want and then there's reality. Much of my initial research is done gathering information on what I want. When it comes to crunch time however, I find what I want, doesn't always align with reality.

I wanted a digital camera with better zoom capabilities...it's really that simple.

Better zoom means better close ups. Only the camera with better zoom capabilities I was looking at, wasn't very stream line. It was bulky and larger than the types of digital cameras I'm used to. This was not a fancy professional camera, it was very basic but it did have the capacity for 10 zoom.

My old digital camera was 3 zoom, which I'm not sure they make any more. It was the even, rectangular shape however, that made it easy to hold.

Old Canon Power Shot A410
~ deceased 2010 ~

The reality of putting the new camera in my pocket or taking it in the car however, meant more opportunities for accidents. It was an irregular shape with different places to click buttons. Given I wouldn't be the only one using the camera, I had to take other members of the family into consideration. I could just see our daughter's nearly eight-year old fingers, struggling to hold the camera and hit the shutter button at the same time.

A hundred dollars more expensive for the camera I wanted, and yet (in reality) it was probably twice as likely to get dropped. It was pretty simple to stick to the basic digital camera after that.

At the moment, I'm looking at a 4 zoom camera (4 optical, 4 digital - does that make it 8?) with all the standard features, basic digital cameras have. It's one of the cheapest ones I could find with a brand I trust. For me it's Canon. I don't have experience with other brands, but the Canon cameras I've used in the past have all been reliable. Especially when it comes to family on-the-go treatment.

New Cannon Power Shot A3100 IS
~ commissioned 2010 ~

By the way, I know there are better Canon cameras available, that are streamline and with exceptional zoom capacities too - but again, on a family budget with family treatment of a family camera; the reality is the extra money would again, be for naught. What we ended up with, was a pretty acceptable compromise. It's a budget consciencious camera with a reliable brand, which has a little better capacity for zoom. A little better capacity for zoom is still acceptable. I'm more than happy with that.

So you've seen a photo of our old camera and our new one, hopefully taken for the last time by my mobile phone. But I've yet to demonstrate what quality of pictures can actually be taken with the new camera. A suitable subject is probably one of the main reasons we have a digital camera - capturing what we do as a family.

Now witness the awesome power of a 4 zoom digital camera!


It's Mango Man Dave, demonstrating his awe at such a powerful zoom. Look at the exceptional detail it captures, as his eyes pop out of his head. All in focus too! Now do I know how to shop for a bargain or what?

Mango Man Dave is pleased, and so was our daughter...once she got the Mango's back!

By the way, if you're wondering what happened to our no spend year, I've got some thoughts to share on that next year. I wanted to talk about our experience, on the anniversary of our decision to start our no spend year. Even though it didn't all go to plan, we learned some interesting (and surprising) revelations along the way.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Plants are natures way of dealing with erosion and the various elements that are required to maintain an eco system. Without plants, there's nothing to feed the soil or retain moisture. What you end up with afterwards is sand - free draining, nutrient deficient, light weight soil erosion just waiting to happen. Which brings me to the title of this post, "Desertification".

Fancy word huh? Some may have heard about it before, but there's nothing like a good article to brush up on the theory. Which is why I want to share an interesting site I came across recently as I was doing some research for our property. Hitachi is a company I'm familar with that makes various consumer goods, but I didn't realise they had projects greening deserts too!

Horquin Desert Greening Project in China has obviously been edited to make for ease of viewing on the internet, but I also thought it was a healthy reminder that other parts of the world are experiencing desertification too. It was interesting to read one particular volunteer helping in the project, could remember grasslands where the desert is now and that was just 30 short years ago. That's six years less than my lifetime.

Rather than be scared about the reality of desertification though, I thought it was a good reminder that we all need to pay attention to how much we "green" and the benefits to people who get involved. In Australia, many of us just need to open our back door to see the effects of desertification. It's a terminal condition our continent has evolved into, simply because I think we didn't consider pulling out trees to graze animals or putting in another shopping mall to sell the meat, was going to do any harm. We didn't just stop the flow of water reaching those modified places though, we stopped the flow of fertility too.

On our own property, we come face to face with the reality of removing vegetation on deleted soils every day. Soil erosion from building our house is something we're still trying to amend after four years. We're having more success with each year, but I certainly appeciate anyone who's prepared to go tackle a desert to green! I especially loved some of the techniques they adopted on page 2 of the article. What a unique way of building contours on a sand dune!

Anyway, as an ode to desertification, I thought I'd leave images of our "not quite finished" front retaining wall project. It's in that transition period where you can still see the effects of soil erosion, before the garden grows in properly and we get that final 5% of the project done.

It's not quite there, but almost...

This is the left side of the 30 meter front retaining wall, all planted and mulched. There are a series of ramps and levels which makes site access on a slope, much easier. The plants at this stage are small, but have grown somewhat quickly this growing season. We have high hopes!

This is the right-hand section of our front retaining wall, with Hilltop chicken coop in the far distance. Not a lot of detail to observe, but gives the basic structure of the wall and ramps.

This is looking directly at the middle of the wall. There's a lower ramp which leads to the mezzanine level, and the unfinished area is where you can still see the red dirt.

A row of dianella plants at the bottom are designed to ancor the wall and catch any debris once they're established. We have incorporated some rock retained sections, and some salvaged timber: kept in place with metal stakes. This part of our retaining wall is the most exciting, as it's not as methodical as the manufactured Hanson blocks. It's a mixture of green and hardscaping which nature will mould and shape with the passing seasons.

While a lot of the hard manual labour has been completed on the wall itself, we have months (possibly years) of work to do on the top section of this very large wall. On the top sits a pond with attached swales to divert water run-off. I haven't shown a lot of pictures on the top, because its hardpan clay with a few patches we've improved for fruit trees planted up there. It will be the fenced-off area, for the chickens living in Hillstop to forage during the day.

Right now though, it's probably another 12 months of dirt shoveling as we're doing it all by hand.

A labour of love most definitely! From the first day we started here (note Dec 2008) it's taken about 2 years manual labour to reach this point. That's two summers, two winters, two springs and two autumns - and there's still more to do. For us, it's very much a labour of love because there's no money to be made from it. If anything, you're spending money, but the return is improved land via improved fertility in the soil, and reduced water flow - meaning it stays on the property rather than washing away.

The desertification we're seeing in our yard is something we want to change, it's something we're tackling and if I could encourage people to do one simple thing to save the planet, it would be to love the soil in your own backyard. Don't just build on it or save money by growing your own food on it - love it like a newborn baby. Do whatever it takes to feed that baby, because when it grows to maturity, it will feed an entire eco-system.

Your backyard (no matter how big or small - suburban or rural) all contributes to fertility.

I'll talk more specifically on feeding the soil in another post: by what seems to work here, what we recycle and things people wouldn't necessarily associate with healthy soil.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The usefulness of things

Nature knows best! Poppies are useful after they die;
by providing food for the soil and seeds, to plant later

My lapse in blogging has a particular catalyst. It started when a useful thing ceased being useful, and became an obsolete thing instead. Or to inject a noun into this story, my "digital camera" has died. I had my suspicions when the images were appearing washed out and the low-battery icon, kept appearing with rigorous monotony.

Okay, so it died, no biggy right. It can be replaced. Eventually. After I pay for the sump pump in my septic that died recently too; and the distributor coil in the car which caused the battery to expire. I don't know the damage of the pump yet (or plumbing fees) as I'm waiting for the invoice to arrive in the mail, but I'm still estimating at least a few grand to replace or repair the obsolete things.

I'm not complaining about the money, it's just when the useful things stop working, you have to adjust to life without those useful things.

I'm preparing in some aspects for further eventualities. Like the dishwasher - I've started washing by hand instead. I get to extend the life of the dishwasher as it's not working every day; but I also get weened off the convenience of a machine. Ultimately when it dies, as all electrical appliances seem to do, I will be better prepared to cope with the adjustment.

Things like digital cameras though, what is the alternative? It's not exactly viable to start downloading your brain to the computer instead. There are just some useful things, no substitutes can remedy. A digital camera allows me to document our progress with the property over the years - even seeing the faces of ourselves (and our bodies) changing with each season.

Although (brain ticking away here) I just remembered an old skill that has probably been long forgotten. Drawing. That's an alternative to a digital camera, yes?

Back before photography was invented, many tapestries and artworks told stories about times and places. I'd like to do some sketches perhaps one day, but for now I'm forced into using my mobile phone camera. Eeek! New program to download on the PC and new ways of doing things. For the love of all things electronic, I give you (that which I can) photographic evidence we are still alive and working in the garden...

We've been collecting rocks! This is hopefully going to result in a dry river creek bed, that will act as a spoon drain for rain run-off. We've got some non-invasive bamboo arriving soon, and a banana circle planned to integrate on the edges of the dry river creek bed.

We've been collecting large rocks too, and some old hardwood fence posts that aren't much good for fencing any more, but make great, small retaining walls. We're growing dianella plants to help hold the soil together at the bottom of the slope too.

And hey, we've been collecting old boots! Our old boots! Way past their prime in the foot-wearing department, but they will also make excellent pot plants when we get around to it. In the background is some of the felled trees we've been turning into retaining walls, while we get some plants growing above.

Another angle of our rural log wall. On the right (planted in the mulch) is a Japanese Maple with red leaves. A little further along is a Brazillian Cherry and down the back is a Brown Turkey Fig. We're planting alternate deciduous and evergreen shrubs, to allow for more sunlight during winter. This is also a walking ramp to the lower half of the garden.

Oh look, more rocks! And Dave got creative with spotted gum and wattle saplings, making a trellis for our cucumbers to ramble over. There's a small Black Mulberry tree growing in the background too. All that's required is a bit of hard yakka, an axe, hatchet plus a crow bar to dig the posts in. An existing tree (right) is being used as a post, rather than cutting it down. The natural canopy it has, also provides a bit of shade for this bed.

We threw in some corn, cucumbers, button squash and a hand full of chicken grains. After we eat the veg and the chickens eat the grains that sprout, we'll turn it all back into the soil.

While some of our man-made gadgets aren't always useful when they die, you've got to know that Nature set the standard - how best to utilise obsolete and useful things together.