Thursday, December 26, 2013

Post Christmas 2013

Boxing day is here at last. Christmas was fun, but I like the calmness which comes after Boxing day too. On the big day though, we finally got to try the family's new Christmas inflatable pool.


I've never been a pool person, but every Christmas is a scorcher. I'd like to think if we ever lost power in summer and couldn't use the ceiling fans, I'd have a cooler place to take the kids. It's only 3m in diameter and nearly 80cms tall, but its the right size for us. It's just outside the kitchen window too, so I can easily supervise.

Golden cane palm

The box the pool came in said only 10 minutes to set-up, but it took David and I, two days just to build the level ground. We re-used old Windsor Blocks left from our retaining walls, and only had to buy a load of road base to fill. We even used leftover lino off-cuts from the house, as the pool liner. We ran a little too short, and used old chicken-feed bags to fill in the gaps. It all came together in the end!

Muesli licked the mouse and biffed the monkey

Christmas presents were the order of the day, and I'm happy to say all our selections incorporated a little recycling too. Even the cat got some new chew toys, compliments of our daughter. A lot of thought went into wrapping "Muesli's" gift, which goes to show how much Sarah loves our cat!

Hats off...

I got the most nifty gift from David - a hat and coat rack. I said I wouldn't mind something to hang our hats from in the entry way, and he found this lovely solution. I secretly think David wanted a place to hang his hats too!

Our little Christmas Elf

Peter got a lovely Santa suit from one of his Aunty's. He looked so cute, but we had to take it off by the afternoon, as it was a getting too warm for him. Our little elf has started crawling for Christmas too!

First Christmas together

This was Sarah's first Christmas with her little brother and I must say she handled the day, like a champ. She helped him where she could and didn't get jealous of his presents. But she did get the reward of swimming in the pool for most of the day! A big sister perk. Sorry little man, you'll have to wait until a grown-up will take you in.

I'm glad Sarah has an outside activity to keep her fit during the school holidays.

So all is well in our little household after Christmas. We had some of David's relative's over, with just over a week to prepare - which included installing a pool. But as always, working together proved we can do what we set our minds to. I'm looking forward to some R&R, maybe in the pool...

I hope you all had a great time over Christmas, with whomever you were fortunate to spend it with.

Monday, December 23, 2013

So close...

Can you feel it? Only two more days until Christmas!

Cryptic clue

Some presents are already unpacked and just waiting for Christmas day to arrive. I can already hear laughter outside, as the Elves get increasingly restless.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Countdown

Only three days till Christmas...

A very sore 24 hours has just gone by. Time is marching on, and the Elves are still insanely busy.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Out back

Yesterday, I showed some pretty pictures of the front verandah, but have you seen the view from out back?

It's demolition time and a whole lot of re-organising to do - but it's all for a good cause. More on that later. But yes, revel in our chaos before Christmas time. We have a lot of cleaning to do! Will we ever make it in time? Only four more days until Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Under the verandah

I was going to include some pictures in my last post, of my growing plant collection. For some reason the images weren't linking however, so I gave it a few days. Whatever Gremlin was in the works, it seems to be sorted now.

Our verandah is only 1.8 metres wide, but still enough room for plants and walking! They get a wee bit of early morning sun, and a lot of afternoon. Because it only lasts for about an hour though, it doesn't seem to cook them.

Before I came to understand how this space works with plants, it really just accumulated garden tools, wheelbarrows and whatever else we were too lazy to put away - mulch bales, bags of chicken feed, etc. But I knew one day, I wanted to have plants for the view out the window, but also to shield the bricks and windows from the heat of summer.

I guess you could call this my "zone zero" area, as its the closest to the house and visited constantly. We even grow the odd vegetable...

I use a small amount of homemade compost in my potting mix so I get more value from the bags of potting mixes I buy. Not surprisingly, we get volunteers popping up - like this tomato. They will never produce the kinds of yields from plants which get all day sun, but the few which do grow, are so tasty.

Here are some more volunteers from the compost heap, only Dave took these direct from the compost. He dug up the mature clod and placed them in an old broccoli box. We always have these boxes around, because Dave collects them from work with vegetable scraps for the chickens.  We sit it on the very edge of the verandah so it can get more sunlight. Don't know what we'll get from this lot, but it will be a surprise.

We also use the broccoli boxes (upturned) to raise plants up. Especially the seedlings which I want to get a little afternoon sun, but not as much as those mature plants in big clay pots. It also makes it easier on the back, when I have to inspect and water them.

Right next to these boxes are some old tree logs, which are handy for sitting on, or in this case, used to hold the seaweed feed and spray bottle. Very handy on the back, not having to lift from all the way on the ground. They're placed close to the seedlings, as I use the spray bottle every day, especially just before the sun hits them in the afternoon. I like to spritz the leaves to create humidity.

I couldn't leave without showing the intricate mud wasp nests. These can grow quite big as they add to it. Their nesting coincides not with the heat - but with the rain. As that is how they obtain their building material.

I don't mind sharing the verandah eaves with the mud wasps, as they control the spider population, which also likes to inhabit the eaves. Everyone who visits, never fails to mention we take the nests down, but I remove them only if they're in the way (ie: near the front door). I don't blame people for suggesting we remove them, as the verandah becomes quite a freeway of wasp activity. But as they're carrying clods of mud or paralysed spiders, they're not interested in attacking. They're just about the business of securing the next generation of wasps.

I've only been attacked once by a mud wasp, and that was when it decided to build a nest inside our mailbox. I stuck my hand in to collect the mail, and it stung me. The poor thing only wanted to get away though, as once it was in the clear, it flew away. Paper wasps are the ones you have to watch out for. They will sting you repeatedly if you're too close to their nest. Thankfully we don't get too many of those

I've also tried something new this year in plant selection for the front verandah. I've never tried planting fruit trees in pots because we always have the space to plant them in the ground. But I was looking for something with a lot of foliage cover and when I saw this Cherry Guava in the nursery, I thought, why not a fruit tree? I couldn't find a good reason not to try it.

As it's so close to the house too, we may stand a chance of actually eating some of the fruit before the native animals do. It's worth trying anyway.

I also got the chance to break up some old raspberry canes and potted them on separately. An old milk crate and recycled plastic tray (found in any second-hand shop) makes for a nice place to grow them out. These will go in the ground around autumn, we have a special place in mind - more on that later.

This area on my verandah is constantly changing though. There's something nurturing about having green foliage embrace your house, so I will always try to find something to fill the space. Hence, my search on the internet for planting ideas. I'd rather recycle stuff than buy brand new.

There are many advantages to keeping pot plants though - even on acreage. They help control the micro-climate round the house, and create habitat for other animals - I've noticed a resident green tree-frog living in my seedling trays, as it's often very moist there. I'm sure as my collection grows, I'll notice even more animals turning up.

What I love most about keeping pots on my verandah though, is they're just one step down from the front door. It's all kept on flat ground, I can control what I feed the plants and spot problems very quickly too. It's also a synch to raise things up to a level my back will appreciate.

There are a few more Christmas surprises attached to our verandah, but I will probably write about that after the big day. So much happening beforehand. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are enjoying your plants and having a festive season.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Clever green thumbs

So I've been doing a mad clean outside, in readiness for Christmas. Hello spiders and all manner of crawly things! I normally like to leave the spiders, as the mud-wasps are collecting them by the dozen at this time of year. They paralyze the helpless arachnids and seal 'em up in their mud nests, for their emerging larva to eat later on. Mmm, right?

Er, well, maybe not!

Anyway, I left all the higher up spiders and just cleared the webs around the ground (and windows) for my lovely plant collection, which seems to be multiplying. It was during this activity I got the idea for container planting. I normally use pots, but I started thinking innovation and unique design ideas. The kind of stuff which is quirky and frugal, rather than the veneer of brand-new. So hello Google, and all manner of pretty things at my fingertips!

Some of these ideas are way OUT THERE and utterly gorgeous in their ingenuity. I love old things. When they outlive their usefulness, just plant something beautiful in them...

Now you know what to do with broken watering cans and buckets laying around the yard. Lovely vertical planting idea too.

Don't let your spare tyre collection become a breeding ground for snakes. I can see a much friendlier lizard and frog habitat in there. They like warm spots to sun themselves, with foliage to cool or hide in. 

These boots were made for walking, and that's just what they'll of these days, these boots are gonna...okay, they've stopped walking and started sprouting blooms instead. It's a beautiful, if not rustic, planter. But 'Oy, the shoes I could plant!

Try these on for size. I've always thought I'd look great in a size 9 galoshes up a tree. No? Who knew gum boots were so fashionable, and very handy in the garden too, I hear.

It might not be sifting flour any more, but it has the perfect drainage holes for planting. As they're succulents too, they won't mind being neglected if you happen to forget to water.

I wish all my junk around the yard, would spontaneously bloom like these magnificent bicycles. Someone must really love those planter boxes to keep them in such good condition.

If you click on all the "source" buttons underneath the images, you will see a wealth of planter and re-purposing ideas too. Utterly amazing how junk can be made to be useful again.

Are you a clever green thumb?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

And just like that...

...the power went happened around 5pm as I was giving thought to what to cook for dinner. There was no storm, which would've had me filling sinks and a bath for kids in anticipation. Instead it just went out, and stayed that way until 10pm.

David gave his routine call in the afternoon to say hello from work, which thankfully had him bringing home some dinner for a hungry crew. I had butane gas to heat a kettle, which thankfully gave the baby his bottles too. But I suddenly realised how vulnerable we were with a baby now. We've had power go out before, but it's not really an issue when those who can eat from the pantry can help themselves. A baby which hasn't quite reached eating solids though (and very picky with the ones he will eat) it suddenly made that butane gas (and formula supply) look all the more essential.

It was a good reminder to stock up on more butane gas, candles, baby gear and start filling extra water bottles. David even suggested we do a random emergency weekend, where we switch off the power and see how well we are prepared.

As I drove Sarah to school this morning, I saw the work crews out trimming the branches around power lines. There were several trucks with cherry picker buckets to hoist the workmen up high. I guess its that time of year to consider the implications of safety and being prepared in case of an emergency.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A cut above the rest

When I first started taking cuttings from the plants here, I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when only three succeeded, out of the twenty-or-more cuttings I took. Rosemary was a hard plant to fail with though. I tried the next year and the year after that, with an array of different cuttings, but always with an equally dismal number of failures. It has taken about 4 years of consecutive failures (in total) to finally succeed in propagation.

In the first year, I think I managed to cook everything in the greenhouse when I tried to provide the heat required. The following year, I learned my lesson with heat and put the cuttings in a shade house instead, hoping the heat from summer would provide the temperature required. But I managed to drown the cuttings with water instead, as there was less heat in a shade house.

purchased plants (left) my cuttings (right)

I thought I nailed it the third year however, when I added more sand in the soil mixture to provide better drainage (ie: no roots rotting) but it turned out to be another grand failure. I was still nervous about applying direct sunlight for heat you see, so the perfect drainage did nothing for root development in the shade house either. I managed to keep the cuttings green for a really long time though.

I almost wasn't going to try again this year, but I am as stubborn as the proverbial drought! Not only have I managed to succeed with propagation (finally) but I learned quite a few lessons on the way.

First lesson: place cuttings where you will see them EVERY day. I have mine next to the front door and I move them to the front retaining wall, during the day, for the heat requirement.

Pots need to get hot, to encourage root development

I give them morning sun and bring them back under the front verandah after a few hours (depending how overcast it is or not). I also give them a spritz with water before they go out and after they come back in too. These changes every day, allows the heat and sun required for root development and photosynthesis, but it also stops the stems from drying to a crisp too.

Second lesson: combine easy to strike plants with more delicate cuttings in the same pot.

Acacia cutting (centre-left) in pot

The large leaves of this pelagonia, shade the small acacia cutting underneath. I can heat the pot in the sun to stimulate root development, without frying the delicate leaves of the acacia. When spritzed with water, the fuzzy pelagonia leafs keep a nice micro-climate for longer too. I've tried striking several of this particular acacia (the parent will die this year, so I'm desperate) and this is the only combination I've tried yet, where the leafs haven't shriveled and died after a few days.

Pigeon peas grown from seed

Third Lesson: move pots around as their needs change. I have several established plants, several cuttings just started, and those cuttings somewhere in between. I also have pots with seeds. I combine the different stages of development together, to either shelter or expose the individual pots. Some cuttings need more heat to stimulate root development or germinate seeds, so I expose them more. Other cuttings may look like their stems are getting too moist and that's another reason to expose that particular group more. But I never want too much exposure, so I place a few established pots with leaf canopy, to provide (some) protection.

Plant combinations

This particular technique for striking cuttings, is like a micro version of guild planting or food forests. It utilises the understory to provide the perfect growing environment for more delicate plants/cuttings to strike. You don't want them bunched up so thickly however, that you restrict air flow. So observe the balance daily, and switch pots around as they require it.

Fourth Lesson. Don't be impatient. Wait to see root development protruding from the bottom of the pot, before deciding to discard the plant or pulling it out to check.

Above is the root development I want to see, but you would be surprised by what the cutting actually looks like at the top...

Native peanut tree - semi deciduous

It's just a stick at the moment, but if you look closer, the tip is still green and waiting for leafs to emerge. All the energy is going into developing new roots. When its ready, the leaves will develop next. I've been impatient before though and pulled out cuttings I thought were dead - only to discover a delicate root system I just ripped out.

Among the years of failures however, there have been some remarkable successes stories too. Like this native sedge I managed to propagate from seed, after a visit to a public park.

It died back completely one year and believing it dead, I removed it from my propagation tubs. Where I put it though, a bunch of long grass grew around it - which probably provided the perfect environment for it to wait for the next lot of rains. The following year, I decided to clean up all the pots I'd left around the yard at various times, only to discover it had sprung up again. I plan to incorporate it near one of our swales, as it's a moisture loving grass.

Another amazing cutting came after the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, this year. David bought me some flowers from the local supermarket, which were selling them at half price to catch the last of the tourist trade.

Was about the size of the lower leaf when first planted
~ yes, the leaf right down the bottom

I had to cut the stems back to fit them in the vase, and decided to see if I could strike the off-cuts. I placed the hollow stems into some soil mixture and waited. Some of the leafs stayed green, some fell off but gradually the hollow stems began to break down. I pulled them from the soil mixture and discovered no roots had developed on the stems. Remarkably though, one of the tiny leafs developing above the node was sitting just on the soil surface. Of all those stems I planted, that one tiny leaf had roots developing. I didn't think it would live after I took it from the stem and planted it separately. But wasn't I wrong! I'm going to have a lovely purple/pink daisy in the near future.

Pineapple Sage - best ever native bee food
easy to strike too

I can finally see myself being able to plant the Dickens out of the land available here, because of the multiple plants I'm now able to propagate. I've been working years to be able to do it though. I guess it took me this long because I wanted to be able to utilise what I had, without the need to purchase hormone powder or special propagation mixes. This is mostly because I believe nature works when you get the balance right, but also because I never know if I'm going to be able to afford to buy those man-made solutions in the future.

I can say the four years of consecutive failures had very little to show as an immediate return, but has become a remarkable success for the long haul. But then that is how nature works too. The biggest yields are always returned, at the end of a long rung of consecutive mistakes. Evolution is that mistake which gets the balance completely right.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A little art

My mum came visiting this weekend, to share some art techniques she learned several years ago. It has to do with pictures which look like they're embossed metal. She had a few incomplete pictures she showed me the techniques on.

It wasn't long before I started experimenting with a mixture of material and metal collage. This is a picture for my daughter, because one of her favourite movies, is the animated movie: Owls of Ga'Hoole.

It's nowhere near finished yet, I just started experimenting, but it's a lot of fun with left over bits 'n pieces, which would otherwise find themselves in the rubbish.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Just a quick update on my bush orchard swales, dug recently. We received some rain so I was eager to check how the swales performed. The top swale above the native peanut tree, had the benefit of an overhanging tree branch, to collectively drip its water into the swale.

Upper swale

The lower swale underneath the same tree, collected water too. From both images I can tell it is definitely lower on one side, so the contour is not level. It is what I suspected as I was digging, but it was good to have it verified.

Lower swale

I would have dug deeper on the far side, except I had a few tree trunks that we chopped down getting in the way. I would have to chop away at them with an axe, which is not something I wanted to do. But I think these swales hold enough water, worth the exercise of digging them.

All that is left to do now is to mulch over the top and wait for the settling period. It will eventually even out on contour, when silt and debris fall into the lower spots.

There are more swales to be dug, but I'm happy with what I've done for now.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another mattock mission

Something has bothered me since the 2011 floods, and this picture should sum it up quite vividly...

The Queensland floods impacted our yard

The area around the clothesline was enveloped with water and shot off around the chicken coop. I suspect this would have happened regardless, as there was just too much water for it to escape down the spoon drains we had provided. But it did help me to reassess what I had done to this area, to create such a bottleneck in the first place.

Just completed

I did this little project back in 2008. I had a lot of these hard-scape suburban solutions in the forefront of my mind, since we'd only lived on our property for 12 months. I wanted an attractive, yet functional area in which to hang my laundry. It certainly made it easier to keep the weeds in their place, but it failed in so many other ways because of it's singular design purpose.

Blocks sitting on crushed rock

Building a concrete barrier, which I thought would delineated my feet from water by elevating it above the spoon drain, really just increased the chances of erosion when the force of water was added. I had thought ever since, a new design was required. Something which would not deny the path of the flow of water,  but encourage holding some water back for moisture after the rain had passed.

Clothesline, on the right

So I removed the cement blocks recently, and used my trusty old mattock to create a very shallow swale. David cut some long grass recently, so I was able to collect grass and weeds (with seed heads) to sprinkle over the bare soil. Why did I want to propagate those pesky weeds for? Well, that is the only way I have seen the grass improve on our land. Grass grown with weeds, does far better through our dry spring, than the bare patches of grass alone. When the summer rains arrive, the grass overtakes any weeds growing around them, but when its not active growing season for grass, the weeds provide some shade over the grass roots.

I've learned to accept weeds provide a great service in the scheme of things, and by cutting them along with the grass, it keeps them under control in the areas I need them to be.

Different camera angle, looking up hill

When it came to finishing the swale however, I discovered I ran out of soil to level out the drop, so I resorted to using some old prunings to create a silt collector. With each rain event, the water will pass through, but drop silt and hopefully level out the area for me. I know this strategy already works with a little bridge which is nearby.

 Simple but effective

We call it our little bridge, but it's really just a plank! Essential though, to help us cross the spoon drain in the wet. Believe it or not, there was a large gap under the plank formerly. Being an obstacle to water however, it has gradually trapped silt and filled in the gap underneath. We actually had to dig the plank out of the silt after the floods, but hopefully we won't see that kind of deluge for a while.

A sprinkling of straw

I also sprinkled some straw over the swale, and hopefully the seeds from it will sprout too. We then placed our grey-water sprinkler nearby, to help all the seeds germinate. Hopefully by the end of the growing season, we'll have a lovely grassed area, designed to hold larger volumes of water.

Waiting for grass to grow

It looks a lot different to how it use to. A lot of permaculture design projects, tend to look a lot worse before they start to look natural and blend into the environment, as they were meant to.

You can still see some concrete blocks on the far right, which create a step down to the clothesline. I plan to remove them as well, because I want to mow all around the house with a manual, push mower. Those blocks get in the way of a strong stride, which is required to keep the manual blades spinning fast enough to cut the grass.

It's funny how your priorities change when you change your environment. If I can get grass to grow here, I can keep the area around the house cooler, plus feed our guinea pigs and the visiting wildlife. If I'm getting kangaroos through my garden on a regular basis, it means I'm doing something right. And I figure if the kangaroos are happy with the environment here, there's a chance the humans will find it a nice place to live too.

Friday, October 18, 2013

PERMACULTURE & PEAK OIL: Beyond 'Sustainability'

Here is the link to an interview with David Holmgrem I mentioned earlier. It sets the scene for my analysis of people with mobility issues, looking for solutions utilising permaculture, in an energy decreasing future. The interview goes for 25 minutes.

While the interview itself doesn't specifically deal with people with mobility issues, it does discuss the design process of recognising the means to proceed forwards. There is an emphasis on close networks which effectively cut out the "middle man" in today's economic model. In nature, conserving energy is efficient, so when something isn't necessary, nature will simply evolve without it.

Ironically, limitation is something people with mobility or developmental issues, have to negotiate on a daily basis. Their struggle is in part due to the fact, in today's society we run at a pace which is unsustainable in nature. It would never set individuals within a species to run so uniquely by themselves, let alone at such a frantic pace. Tapping into fossil energy, makes that possible for our species today.

But as the future generations have to start negotiating without that concentrated form of energy, it is perhaps best to start with those in our society who are adept at living within their limitations. They can teach us a lot. Not too surprisingly however, the "Middle Man" in our economic model has captured the market on those with mobility issues too. It has found ways to charge money to take care of them. In a fossil energy depleted future however, no one will be able to afford what it costs and our society will have a lot of people stuck in a helpless situation.

Thankfully, there are examples of individuals within a species, encountering mobility issues in nature too. They aren't discarded, they are merely amalgamated into the species and even inter-species relationships of survival. Pods of dolphins and herds of buffalo, as a whole, band together around the young, the pregnant and those who are the weakest. The strongest hold the outside, while the weak are pushed into the centre - and this is how the group survives as a whole. Alone, they can be picked off but banded together, it takes a lot more energy to take them down.

This is why I find it surprising (although understandable, as we're still in the early stages) why the permaculture design process, has developed a system which doesn't include specific weakness of our own species, at its fundamental core. It recognises care of people, care of the earth and fair share, at the core of the other twelve permaculture principles, yet I struggle to find any working models today, which incorporate those with disabilities into that new permanent culture.

Perhaps this is part of natures evolutionary process within our species, as we transcend into an energy depleted future though? It makes sense to send the strong and physically capable in to break new ground first. They can then hold the outside, as we send our more physically challenged into the centre. But how then, will those relationships look? We don't want a repeat of history, where women, children and the elderly are treated as second class citizens, while the strongest are glorified and given the most rights.

Raising this subject today, is mostly about engaging the conversation - getting it out there into our thoughts. Because we've been fed by the economic middle men for so long, we've forgotten our responsibility to those who need the centre of our group the most. As a whole, in our new energy depleted future, we will need each other. This includes the most weakest. Because if we cannot take care of them, the strongest will be left to fight it out amongst each other. That is rarely an efficient use of energy and bodes poorly for survival of a species as a whole.

So contemplate if you haven't already been forced to, what your future would suddenly look like if a weak member (or a few) suddenly entered your life. What would you have to change, being more able-bodied, or perhaps used to a certain luxury of time to enjoy your leisure activities? Things would have to change, otherwise you risk endangering your own survival. This is what an energy depleted future will look like. We are going to have to change how we relate to others, in order to survive as a whole.

I notice in many of the permaculture models we have working well today, it concentrates on animals helping us to maintain a healthy environment, and potentially reducing our workload. Of course the emphasis is on "healthy" animals. This is great if you're consuming them, because they should be healthy to get the maximum benefit. But I'm concerned that we're placing too much emphasis on being capable 100% in our human counterparts too.

As we step down from fossil hungry, to a fossil reduced society, we're initially going to have an imbalance of slightly more incapable people. I don't mean those able-bodied people who never learned how to grow their own food, but rather, those billions of people who make up the statics of illnesses which are dominating our society today. We will need to find a respectable place for them.

If we don't start the conversation on that front, we'll be caught in a future where the economic middle man, suddenly drops the sick and incapable. What if they were one of your loved ones, or that of someone you knew? If you have abilities, shouldn't they be put to more use than simply putting food on your own table today?

I know every time I'm out in the garden, digging a swale or planting a tree, these activities count more than just for me. They will touch some other living creature in due course - be that flora, fauna or a generation of people I will never meet. And yet I don't talk about that. I talk about me, "doing" an activity. That's all well and good, but I'm starting to notice the absence of a bigger picture in my frame of reference. And I wonder if this is something we have to be aware of, in our future societies conversations. What we talk about the most, will be adopted as mainstream practice.

Having the notion of care of the earth, care of people and fair share is wonderful in theory, but we have to start practicing it, as if it means our very survival. Because sometime in the future, it will.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Outside of paradise

Country living

It's the ultimate dream - move to the country, keep a few animals and live closer to nature. There is nothing wrong with having a dream, it's just a little different when you have to actually live it! That's when you learn all the details you never knew existed before.

Enter our five acres we've affectionately dubbed, Gully Grove. This was our dream we chose to pursue, and it has given us so many opportunities we wouldn't have experienced in suburbia. But we did have to move further away from essential services, like hospitals, dentists and mechanics. It's manageable for us while we have our health, but it would be a different matter if one of us got seriously ill or needed a lot of specialist treatment.

I've been noticing a trend in many of the blogs and websites I read, which espouse a more simplified approach to living and ways to go about it. Very little is written from the perspective of those with health challenges or outright physical disabilities. And why would you write about it, if disability isn't something which has touched your life?

Wall building ~ 2008

One particular blog I read occasionally though, announced they were starting to write a book about a future with little of today's luxuries - they wrote things like medicine will become less available, but not to panic as there are ways of coping. As someone who requires daily artificial insulin, in order to live, I thought that statement about medicine a little naive. It does become a big deal when its not optional. It's not something you can address with finding substitutes in nature, making by hand or simply learning to do without.

I started to contemplate much of the thought-provoking material I like to read on a regular basis, and it suddenly dawned on me, how much of it presumes you are able-bodied. While I have my health, I can be empowered by reading such material. I can go about my property, digging swales, planting edibles and providing a more simple life for our family. What happens if you're not able bodied though?

I guess I'm wondering where the living simply material is, for those with health challenges? Or indeed, where is the material for anyone who has come a cropper with their life circumstances, which forces them to deviate from living simply.

Earthworks by hand

My reality on our five acres, is that it's a lot of hard work. I like the work, as it suits my driven nature. But given a different set of circumstances which didn't allow me to negotiate those available options today, what would I do in that diminished capacity? I would want to do something of equal merit, even if it did look enormously different!

If you know of any such material out there, please point me to it. I would love to read about a simple living future, where we include those with disabilities and diminished capacities. How will they participate in a diminished energy future?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Handmade swales

This time of year is traditionally the driest for our area. Winter is gone and Spring is warming the days nicely. Before our crucial summer storm season arrives however, we can have up to a month of hot, dry and windy conditions. It's terrible on the soil and we don't have extra water to go around. So the answer has to be swales...

Native peanut tree planted 2 years ago

I started to dig a long, shallow trench by hand yesterday, with a mattock and rake. While it's incredibly slow and hard work, there is little chance for mistakes to be made. I gently chisel away at the earth until a shelf is formed to catch the rainwater when it does arrive. It's the basic cut and fill principal, but the shape of the swale has to run exactly on contour, or it will drain water down hill again, rather than capture and hold it - which is what we're aiming for.

This is just the first swale I've dug for this area...I plan at least two more.

North facing slope receives full sun - picture taken in AM

Above, is what the slope looks like without swales. It gives perfect drainage, which means a lot of "constant" water is required to keep this area moist - not present at the moment. The poor plants I've been attempting to grow, always struggle during this period. With the implementation of regular swales down the slope however, it will prolong the natural irrigation it does receive with each rain event.

The swale plan is this..

Earthworks are carbon friendly, as they're dug by hand

It may take a while to dig by hand, but the best part is free labour with no associated fuel costs. Unless food counts - but I was planning on eating anyway. I've noticed the cut and fill on contour, makes for navigating the slopes a lot easier too. This will be very handy the older we get! David has already killed two domestic mowers in six years, cutting the grass on these unforgiving inclines. Hopefully we'll be able to put in more trees (this is our bush-tucker area) so the canopy shade will gradually out-compete the grass.

One of the complimentary ideas with swales is planting trees below them, so they'll be fed nutrients and watered from the swale above. It's kind of like an irrigation pipe made out of sculpted earth. No plastic hoses or extra water tanks required. That makes my bank account, much happier!

It just goes to show that even when you do have slopes, they can be tamed. Not only is it good for the owners, but it's also sensible land management - giving nature a helping hand along the way. All you need is some hand tools, a basic plan and a little (okay, a lot!) of sweat.