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How can you change a typical suburban house in Wollongong into a sustainable, healthy home and organic food garden?


Join us on an adventure to explore the possibilities... 

 


Friday
Aug222014

New water tank

It’s been dry around here until recently – unusually dry. A couple weekends ago we installed a new 5,000 litre watertank to complement our existing 9,000 litre water tank. What good timing it was as over the last week the heavens have opened!

We opted for a plastic tank, as they have a long lifespan in the slimline size. We were originally planning for a steel tank, but were advised in a slimline size they are liable to fail a lot earlier than plastic ones.

Our rainwater tanks are connected to one another, so if one tank fills the water flows into the other. The 9000 litre tank we’ve had for a number of years has been empty for a while recently. We’ve got a simple rain gauge in the garden, and we’ve estimated after only 80mm of rain, both tanks filled to the brim.

Over the last week we’ve gotten over 175mm of rain – a wonderful soaking for the soil and a great start to the spring growing season just around the corner! 

Wednesday
Jul022014

New Barnevelder Chooks

We were very excited recently to bring home three eight week old Barnevelders! They are the most gorgeous chooks, and very inquisitive.

We were keen for Barnevelder chooks on the recommendation from our good friends who recently purchased some for their own suburban backyard. This traditional breed originated in Holland, and is known for being hardy, quite and not-flighty, making them ideal for a suburban garden.    

It took us a while to track down a breeder, and we ended up finding one in Sydney through the website Gumtree.

They love being spoiled with freshly made porridge in the morning for breakfast, and enjoy fresh greens like chickweed in addition to their grain.

Following the recent sad loss of our silkie chickens to a fox, we will be keeping these girls safe inside their large predator proof house! 

Sunday
Jun152014

Bathing Birds

Over the six years since we’ve had a bird bath in our garden, we’ve spotted native Blue Fairy Wrens, Little Yellow Thornbills, Silver Eyes, New Holland Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebills, Currawongs and Willy Wag Tails enjoying a drink or a splash in there, as well as introduced Sparrows, Black Birds and Spotted Turtle Doves. Our elevated bird bath is in the backyard, edged by a path, pineapple sage and Atheron Raspberry patch. It’s in full view from the back of our house, providing lots of opportunities to see who’s visiting.

We’re excited to have just signed up to a new citizen’s science project called Bathing Birds. Starting from the 27th June, we will be doing some monitoring of who visits our bird bath and submitting the data for use in a research project looking at what birds visit bird baths. Check it out and sign up if you’re interested at http://www.bathingbirds.org.au.

Wednesday
Apr022014

Native Bees in the Garden

Native bees are all the buzz at the moment, with many gardeners like us keen to encourage them into yards to improve pollination of our fruit and veg. We also love doing anything in our little piece of suburbia that can improve biodiveristy and create habitat for native wildlife!

We often see a few sweet blue banded bees hanging around the purple salvia in our garden. They also love the perennial basil.    

The noisy Teddy Bear is one we usually hear before we see it! As well as humming loudly, it’s large in size, brightly coloured, and flies very erratically, making them a challenge to photograph!

So I was really excited this weekend to join in a presentation about ‘Native Bees of the Illawarra’  facilitated by Megan Halcroft from Bees Business and organised by Shellharbour City Council. Megan has wonderful knowledge about native bees, and a contagious enthusiasm for native bee conservation.

Megan explained there are 20,000 bee species worldwide, with over 1,600 species in Australia. In the Sydney, Blue Mountains and Illawarra area where we live there are about 200 different species. Only one of these 200 species, the Tetragonula carbonaria or sugar bag bee, is a ‘social’ bee, meaning it forms a hive and makes stores of honey like European Honey bees.

It’s these sugar bag bees that people can order hives of and look after in their garden. Tim Heard from http://www.sugarbag.net/ has been running some great workshops with some Councils and Milkwood Permaculture about this. In our climate Megan recommends people don't harvest honey from their sugrabag hives as they aren’t able to build up their stores as much as in warmer climates. One of our local schools put in a hive recently to help with pollination in their kitchen garden and teach children about native bees.  

All the other bees in our area are solitary, meaning they live out their lives alone, or semi-social, where some females share a nest together. Though many of these bees can sting, they are not at all aggressive, so you can feel safe having them around the garden and getting up close to take photos!    

I remember Megan showing us a video about how female solitary bees dehydrate nectar before mixing it with pollen to form a food for their young. This added an amazing insight to the below photo I took of a native bee in my yard – I think it’s a female bee dehydrating some nectar! 

There was lots of great ideas provided about what we can do in our gardens to create habitat for native bees. One was of course planting more flowers – particularly herbs like perennial basil, lavender and salvias. Bees also love things in the veggie patch going to flower, broccoli and parsley. Gardening organically as we do also really helps native bees.

 

The other fascinating idea that Megan spoke about for attracting solitary native bees was to create nests and ‘hotels’ that can provide homes for them. We’re really keen to give this a go sometime! Pictured above is a gorgeous native bee nest Megan made for resin bees by drilling holes into hardwood. Instructions on how to make one are on Megan’s Bee Business website. There’s also instructions on how to make some very sweet simple nests for native reed bees here

Megan has lots of other great info on her website at http://www.beesbusiness.com.au/. Another great website to check for native bee info is http://www.aussiebee.com.au/. There’s also a really awesome site where you can post sighting of your native bees and get comments from other people - http://www.bowerbird.org.au/projects/2/sightings. There’s so much still to be learned about our native bees, and sharing info about your sightings is one way to help build that knowledge bank!

Have you seen any native bees in your garden or done anything to help create habitat for them? 

Tuesday
Mar252014

Preserving Home-grown Olives 

I really get it now how people can become so passionate about olives. The trees are so graceful, so bountiful, and the fruits so incredibly malleable. There’s a certain magic in the way the fruits transform from being so bitter on the tree to so delightful and infused with whatever flavours they are processed and preserved with. 

This year we harvested eight kilos of olives off our six year old Manzanillo olive tree, and a kilo or so off our Kalamata olive tree. Our Manzanillo tree has been going so well, we recently planted two more on our nature strip.  

There so many different ways of processing olives on a small scale. After rinsing ours in water, we sterilised some 2 litre jars and made a solution of salty water that was salty enough to make an egg float (at least 10% salt). We then packed the olives into the jars, poured in the salty water and packed some slices of lemon on top to stop the olives from floating up to the top and potentially spoiling.  

We’re following the Milkwood style of processing them which is about letting time do the work and leaching out the bitterness, rather than us having to do more work and use more resources by changing the solution more frequently. We’ll check on them once a month to see how they’re going and they should be ready in 4-5 months. Then we can begin the fun of adding in other herbs and flavours. Milkwood has some more great info about small scale olive picking.

Have you ever pickled olives, or does your family have a traditional process they use? Do you have a favourite way to marinate your olives?

Sunday
Oct132013

Brewing Summer Citrus Blonde Ale

“It’s pretty good” is a tough compliment to get from one of our family members who is quite the alcoholic beverage beverages connoisseur –– but that was the nod of approval given to our recent batch of ‘summer citrus blonde’ we brewed up! We thought tasted pretty darned good too, much better than the other home brews we have done in the past.

We received a brew kit in the post from Adrian at http://brewsmith.com.au/ in exchange for a review on our website. We don’t usually do reviews in exchange for products, but hey who are we to say no to good homebrew beer? Brewing at home and reusing the same beer bottles can save a lot of carbon emissions compared to buying beer commercially. Plus it allows you a glimpse into the amazing world of fermenting!

The kit had most of the things we needed to make a dozen ‘summer citrus blonde’ beers, we just had to organise the beer bottles, caps, lemon peel and crushed coriander seeds. We really liked the funky glass brew bottle...

We sterilised the equipment and some empty beer bottles we collected, and then just followed the instructions and boiled up the mix including the fresh hops. It then fermented for about a week and a half…

Then we transferred it into bottles…

Then pulled out our nifty ‘capping’ device to put new lids onto the bottles, and let them sit for about a week before enjoying our tasty homebrew. You can watch some great how-to-videos of the whole process.

The only problem was the 12 drinks were enjoyed pretty quickly, so it would be great to have two fermenting bottles, or a bigger bottle so the rewards of our efforts could have been enjoyed for longer!

Do you have any experiences of tips about home brewing to share?

Tuesday
Sep102013

Q and A home renovation

Thanks so much to readers who commented on our home renovation post and asked some questions. As promised here is the Q and A post:

Q: Did you use the kunos for the kitchen bench, floor and window frames? Is it natural or tinted?

A: We used the linseed oil based kunos natural oil sealer on the blackbutt floor, cork floor and kitchen benchtop. We used the clear version. In the photo we are doing the very edge of the floor where it joins the glass sliding door. As the Cedar windows are exposed to a lot more elements outside, we used Sikkens Cetol HLS and Cetol Supernatural.

Q: Some outside comparison photos from your "back fell off the house" post would be wonderful. I'm trying to picture how you took a gable roof and (I'm assuming) made it into one long skillion, with the highest point facing north. I'm trying to place the new inside photos with the old outside ones.

 Here’s the back view of the original house, after the removal of the previous back deck that was installed in the 80’s by previous owners.

And here’s a pic now from the same perspective.

The new part is in an L shape. We left the original roof as it was, and build a ‘joining’ section between the original house and new rooms which feature a pitched roof. You can see this clearly from the side perspective below:

Q: Did you guys have to move out as the house was being remodeled? It looked like a lot of the interior was renovated.

A: We were able to keep the door you see in the picture of the original house on until the final stages of the renovation, which kept the building area quite separate and meant we were able to stay living in the house. There was only half a day here and there when we didn’t have water connected, and a week or so where we didn’t have a kitchen as we removed the existing kitchen and had the new one installed.

Q: I am engaging a sustainable architect to design our renovation coming in the next few months.. any hints or tips on what to do/what not to do? what to expect?

A: A few thoughts from our experience would be – find a sustainable architect whose work you like (visit some of the places they have worked on and speak to the owners if you can) and be open to their ideas but don’t feel like you have to go with all their suggestions. It’s a two way process to come up with the final design and they can modify the plans with your input. It you can, take your time and don’t be in a hurry to finalise the plans, as it’s nice to have the different ideas sit with you for a while before having to commit and finalise the design. We really enjoyed working with our architect – hope it’s a positive experience for you too!   

Q: I love the flooring! Is it cork? It looks so much like wooden floorboards. 

A: Upstairs in the kitchen and main living area we have used blackbutt flooring

Downstairs we’ve used cork in the bedroom, laundry and toilet. We used the Kunos linseed based oil to seal the timber and cork flooring. We love the look and feel of the cork and are so glad we were able to use this great sustainable flooring option.

Q: I'd love to know more about your grey water diversion/reuse? 

A: We reuse water from our washing machine and shower as greywater for the fruit trees in our backyard. We’re lucky that our backyard slopes down from the house, so we don’t need a pump to transfer the water. More about our greywater diversion system and links to government guidelines for greywater reuse is at http://www.happyearth.com.au/greywater/

Thursday
Aug152013

Yippee, home renovation completed!

It’s been over a year now since the 'back of our house fell off’ as we prepared for a major adventure in home renovations to recreate the back part of our 1950’s house. After all these months of seemingly endless hard work, things have finally wrapped up and we’re really enjoying our redesigned space!

The main sustainable features of our renovation include:

Solar passive design: Being mindful of using the sun to our advantage for heating and cooling, we’ve placed lots of windows with louvers on the north, and very few windows on the east and west side. We have large eves, and the windows feature a ‘low-e’ glazing, which means they have better insulation properties than standard windows.

Reverse block veneer construction: Using core-filled concrete blocks gives the building a great ‘thermal mass’ that combined with solar passive design, helps keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter. This is helped even more by the ‘reverse construction’ technique. The blocks are exposed on the inside of the building to soak up the winter sun, and insulated on the outside from the cold nights or hot summer sun. It’s usually the other way around with most building walls around here, where you see bricks on the outside and have insulation on the inside.  

Reuse and recycle: We've reused decking from the original back room for battening off the cladding in the new build, and the old kitchen cupboards have been re-used in the storeroom.  

Using local, sustainably harvested timber, FSC certified timber and cork flooring.

Using natural sealers and bio paints.

Greywater reuse: water from the washing machine and shower can be diverted to the garden.

A feature of our kitchen we just love is our built-in compost bucket under the sink!

We’re so grateful to our amazing architect Morgen Figgis from Barnacle Studio, Min Figgis for her artistic inspiration, our builder Matt Tyler from MRT Constructions, Tony Misfud from Coastwide Joinery and the many other tradies who were all key to making this build happen. We’re also so very thankful to our wonderful family and friends who chipped in many a hard working day and suggested great ideas that have helped create this beautiful new space.

Now we’re through on our adventure in renovating, we’re looking forward to spending more time gardening and blogging – so look out for more posts soon! If you’d like to hear more about any of the sustainability aspects of our renovation, let us know and we could potentially do another post just about that.

Thursday
May232013

Permablitz the Gong

Building no-dig veggie beds, creating a backyard pond, installing fencing, constructing a banana paw-paw pit, planting fruit trees and roofing the chicken house – it was amazing being part of a ‘Permablitz the Gong’ day at our friends place on the weekend. 

Permablitzes are backyard makeovers permaculture style. Before they happen the facilitators meet a few times with the garden owners to work out exactly what they want and help come up with a permaculture design for the yard. The word is then put out to the local community to come along and lend a hand in blitzing the backyard.

 

There was about 40 people at the ‘Permablitz the Gong’ get together on the weekend. With help and guidance from the fabulously skilled and wonderfully motivating ‘Permablitz the Gong’ organisers, everyone pitched in tasks they were interested in and gained a lot of skills and knowledge as they worked.  

A classic moment was the neighbour popping his head over the fence and his jaw dropping when he saw how many people were helping out with creating a food garden!

Our friends are just so thrilled with what was achieved, and feel it saved them 12 months of work themselves in the garden. It was also wonderfully inspiring for all involved to feel such a sense of community. People who may not have even met before came together to help create a permaculture garden which will help feed it’s owners long into the future.

For more about Permablitz the Gong, check out their website http://permablitzthegong.wordpress.com/. Permablitz Melbourne also has some great stuff happening and fantastic resources others can use to start permablitzes happening in their own neighbourhood.

Tuesday
Feb122013

Local Fruit and Veg Swap jump start event 

We’re really excited that this Sunday 17 Feb from 9am – 12 noon the ‘Waste Not Fruit and Veg’ swap is on again at the North Wollongong community garden.

We always loved popping along to the monthly fruit and veg swaps. There’s such a surprising variety of garden produce and garden goodies to share and swap –fruit, veg, eggs, seeds, seedlings, cuttings and even gardening magazines and books. It’s great to chat with other gardening enthusiasts about what’s been growing in their gardens too. Plus at this swap there will be yummy coffee and nibbles available and entertainment too!

This swap is a ‘jump start’ event after some ever-so-generous volunteers stepped back from years of volunteering to organise the monthly swap.

It’s such a credit to the people who volunteer their time to make these swaps happen, and to the community garden for hosting the event. At this jump start event there’ll be a discussion about volunteering for the ongoing functioning of the swap – a brilliant volunteering activity to be involved in! For more details check out http://thegardennorthgong.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/waste-not-swap-jump-start-17th-feb-2013.html

Saturday
Feb022013

Oh goodness, the vegie beds are bare!

Yes truth be told our vegie beds are not a pretty site at the moment. Between working so hard on our home renovation and learning to live with a new baby, our vegie beds have been totally neglected for months.

Everything has gone to seed.

And at times the poor beds have even been used as a work station for building. 

We miss our abundant vegie beds dearly. After years of growing virtually all of our own veg, it’s a real shock to our systems to be back buying all our fresh produce. Our cooking used to revolve around what came from our daily harvest basket. It was a lovely, rewarding way of growing, harvesting and eating in tune with the seasons.

This time away from vegie gardening has solidified our commitment to growing organic veg at home. Yes it takes time, yes it’s constant work, but food from the shops just isn’t anywhere near as fresh and healthy. We’re passionate about buying organic produce, but the availability of organic produce locally is certainly limited. Although in our region has a few places that sell fresh organic produce (check out our Illawarra Green Directory for details), we’re finding it a challenge to travel to these places regularly with a baby in tow.

Within a couple of months we should be through the last of the hard yards with the renovation and able to revitalise the vegie beds. Vegie beds are forgiving. They’ll welcome us back with welcoming arms. We can’t wait.

Tuesday
Jan152013

Green baby bottoms – using cloth nappies

Using cloth nappies has been a big learning curve for us in our adventure in urban sustainability over the last eleven months with our little bub. Reusable nappies have come a long way since the terry towelling nappies with plastic covers our parents used on us. These days there’s a mind boggling range of modern cloth nappy options out there. Kristin from Cloth My Bot has a good summary of the different options here.

From talking to other parents, it certainly does seem that different nappy styles suit different babies and the only way to find out what suits you and your bub best is to try different kinds. We’ve picked up different nappies that have been new and unused, or only used a couple of times, from the local second hand Baby and Kids markets and Baby Bazzar markets, and also from Ebay. Hiring a nappy pack with different styles is also a great option, like from Ecopatooties, an Illawarra business. A friend of mine has been really happy with her newborn nappy kit from Ecopatooties, and we wish we had hired newborn nappies for when our little one was just born. We’ve always used the adjustable ‘one-size fits from birth to toilet training nappies’, but really they were too big for our tiny girl when she was born, so there was lots of changing clothes as she frequently sprung a leak! 

We’ve been using mostly pocket nappies such as Bum Genius and Bum Cheeks. They have a waterproof cover and a cotton or bamboo insert that slips inside. They fit well, are easy to put on, and do look very cute! For night-time I find the Pea Pod nappies are really absorbent. We even have a reusable Charlie Banana swimmer nappy for trips to the pool.

Though we haven’t tried them, amongst the greenest of green nappies would probably be something like these gorgeous organic flat cotton Disana nappies with wool covers from Woollykins. Well even greener than that would be embracing Elimination Communication where you become so in tune with your baby you can take them to the toilet or put something under them when you know they are going to do something – but we haven’t tried that one either.  

We have about 25 nappies, and use about 6 or 7 a day. Dirty nappies are stored in a big bucket without any water (this is known as dry pailing) and then chucked in the washing machine on heavy duty cycle with ½ a cap of Ecostore washing liquid. We wash a load of nappies every second day. The bamboo inserts take much longer to dry than cotton inserts. Facing the inside of the nappies directly into the sun helps fade any stains. The way nappies are washed and dried has a lot to do with their overall eco footprint. Apart from three occasions, we’ve always line dried our nappies. Our washing machine is also powered by our own solar power system.   

We also use liners on the inside of our nappies. They draw the moisture away from bubs bottom quickly making them more comfortable, and they help protect the nappies from stains. Before our little one started on solid food at 6 months, we used homemade washable polar fleece liners by cutting rectangles of fleece to fit the nappies. Her poos were so little at that stage we just chucked the dirty liners straight in the dirty nappy bucket to be washed.

 

Once our gorgeous girl started on solid foods and her poos became more solid and volumous (and chunkily colourful with bits of food!), we started using biodegradable bamboo liners. They can be flushed down the loo, but as it’s best not to flush too many as they can clog the pipes, we only flush liners that have poo on them. The ones that only have wee, we wash with the nappies once, as we find they can be used twice before the start to fall apart. After they’ve been used twice only for wee, we pop them in the compost. 

We now use the polar fleece liners as reusable wipes, wetting them with water, or a gentle liquid soap if lots of cleaning up is required! 

It’s also handy to have a couple ‘wet-bags’ like this one featured on ‘Nappiness’, another Illawarra based cloth nappy business. They’re quite handy for storing wet nappies in when out and about. 

There’s no doubting that reusable nappies are more work than disposables. They’re also much cheaper than using disposables in the long run. But what motivates us is the thought of leaving between more than 5,000 dirty nappies sitting in landfill for our distant great great great great grandchildren’s world. No one really even knows how long it takes for nappies to break down in landfill. Even nappies made from biodegrable materials can’t break down in landfill as they’re deprived of moisture and oxygen and essentially mummified, so you’d have to compost them all at home to allow them to biodegrade. However, we’re totally non-judgemental about people’s nappy choices. We live in a very hectic world that is not easy for parents, you do what you have to do to survive! We also can’t imagine what it would be like to have two (or more!) little ones in nappies! 

Anyone else got any thoughts or tips on using reusable nappies? There’s some great comments on a different range of nappies at http://www.clothnappyreviews.com.au/.

Sunday
Oct282012

Spring in our suburban food forest garden

Oh spring is such a magic time in the garden!

There’s so much colour about even the chooks seem impressed...

 

Our fruit bowl is full of custard apples and cherimoyas...

And strawberries, mulberries, blueberries and native raspberries are a daily treat...

There’s so much for little hands to explore....

How is spring in your garden?

Monday
Sep102012

The back of the house fell off!

And we’re pretty happy about it! When we bought our 1950’s house 5 years ago, it had an extension on the back that was added in the 80’s by the previous owners. The extension had a huge amount of glass windows and doors facing north and no eaves. It made a fantastic greenhouse, but not a very comfortable space to be in, except during the day in the winter months. It also leaked in the rain, had no insulation, and the floor was essentially a deck, with large gaps between the boards. The stairs leading down to the garden were becoming really unsafe, and underneath the house was a tiny laundry you couldn’t really stand up straight in.

So we’ve been dreaming for years about rebuilding this area – and it’s started with the back of the house being dismantled!

We took apart the back of the house with much care, so as many materials as possible could be reused or recycled. It didn’t literally fall off – but it sure looks like it did!

In the new build we’ll be reusing the flooring, joists and bearers from the original extension. The metal and concrete from the area was taken to local recyclers. We were really pleased to only have a small amount of material that had to go to the local tip. We did have some asbestos though, which had to be carefully and painstakingly removed, sealed up and taken to a special waste facility, at the cost of $350 for a ute load.

To help us design the rebuild we’ve engaged local architect Morgen Figgis from Barnacle Studios. With his creativity and passion for sustainability, Morgen has helped us come up with a plan that we just love. The biggest changes will be moving the kitchen and our main living area to the new northern space, creating an outdoor deck and having a proper height laundry and storage areas underneath. We’ll feel so much more connected to the garden and the magical Illawarra escarpment in our new space!

Eco-friendly features of the new extension will include:

-          Solar passive design

-          Reverse block veneer construction

-          Low-e glazed windows

-          Use of recycled materials

-          Use of local sustainably hardwood timber and FSC certified timber

-          Natural sealers and paints

-          Water tanks connected to the new and old house  

Let the next chapter in our adventure in urban sustainability begin!

Sunday
Aug052012

Giveaway – City Permaculture v2 book (now closed)

From keeping bees on rooftops in Melbourne’s CBD to growing food plants in a bathtub in the backyard, Earth Garden’s new book City Permaculture volume 2 is packed with ideas and inspiration for growing food in the cities.

As we’re really passionate about growing delicious and uncommon fruit trees in the ‘burbs, we’ve contributed a story about doing just that.

We’ve got a copy of this great new book to share with one of our readers. To be in the draw to win just leave a comment on this post by the end of Saturday 18 August. Due to postage costs we’re limiting entry to people in Australia only (sorry overseas readers!). Only one comment per reader please, and we’ll randomly select a winner on Sunday 19 August – so be sure to check back in then!

19 August update – Wow, fantastic to see so keen beans put their hat in the ring for this giveaway. We used a random number generator to select the winner....and it’s Jayne, who commented ‘Have recently started my little window box, inspired by a kids' craft book! I love kids' books because they make everything so simple and possible. Would love your book to guide me into the adult world of permaculture!’ Congratulations Jayne! Thanks so much to everyone for showing your enthusiasm for this book – perhaps you could request your local library order a copy, that way lots of people could enjoy it!

Saturday
Jul142012

Adventures at the local poultry show

From monster roosters that looked like they were half eagle, to sweet bantams chooks with outrageous hairdos, chickens and ducks of all kinds were out and about today at the Dapto Poultry Club annual show.

The blue eggs of araucana chooks turned many heads...

As did the impressive ‘hats’ gracing some ducks...

 

What a fantastic glimpse into the amazing diversity of our feathered friends. We’ll definitely be heading back next year!

Sunday
Jun242012

Five year birthday celebrations and giveaway!

Goodness, this June marks five years since we embarked on our adventure in urban sustainability and set about transforming a typical house and lawn into a healthy, eco friendly home with a flourishing food garden.

And what an adventure it’s been! In the early days up went the solar panels and the solar hot water, and we got busy doing some green renovations with  non-toxic paint, natural floors, ceiling and wall insulation, rainwater tanks and greywater systems.

Then oh the dreaming for a delicious garden – it began! We spent about three months working out the landscape design, figuring out where each and every fruit tree and garden element would be best placed. Then with a vengeance we turf-cut the entire block in October 2007, flipped the lawn on its head and sowed green manure crops to improve the soil. Out went the swimming pool and in went the veggie patch. Our huge concrete driveway was ripped up to make way for a citrus grove, with the concrete painstakingly recycled into a mosaic style garden path that meanders through our food forest. Over time we’ve put in over 100 fruiting trees, shrubs and vines, over 50 different species with everything from avocado to white sapote.

Chickens have joined us, and we relocated a swarm of bees to make home in our top bar bee hive. After creating a garden pond, frogs quickly came to join our garden too.  

Our garden and home have woven themselves into our souls in even more magical ways – we celebrated our marriage in the veggie patch, and birthed our beautiful little girl right here at home.

Our local community has flourished in exciting ways over the last five years, with the passion and determination of many wonderful people. The Flame Tree Community Food Co-op and the ‘Waste-not fruit and veg swap’ were born, and community gardens are continuing to grow. Through the Illawarra Biodiversity and Local Food Strategy for Climate Change project, involving Wollongong, Kiama and Shellharbour councils with funding support from the NSW Environmental Trust, we helped create the Illawarra Edible Garden Guide and community fruit tree groves.  

We’ve put down roots in this little piece of paradise reclaimed, and in our community. We can’t wait to see what the next five years, and fifty years here will bring.

It’s been wonderful sharing our adventures with you through this website over the past half a decade, and we look forward to sharing many more years together.

For our fifth birthday celebrations we’re giving away a copy of the new ABC Organic Gardener Essential Guide, issue 5 which is all about creating a great food garden.  To be the lucky winner, just leave a comment on this post letting us know what you’d like to hear more about on this blog. We’ll randomly select the winner in two weeks on 8 July, so check back in then! Good luck!

8 July update - Thanks so much to everyone for all your lovely comments and fantastic suggestions for furture blog posts! It is this wonderful feedback that keeps us blogging away, and we'll try our best to post about the suggested topics down the track. The lucky randomly selected winner was "Mandy" - congratulations and we hope you enjoy the Organic Gardener Guide! 

Saturday
May262012

Planting community fruit tree groves

Imagine pockets of fruit trees dotting public parks in the suburbs, looked after by the local community, and there for all to enjoy and harvest. Well imagine no more! Exciting news is that Wollongong City Council, supported with funding from the NSW Environmental Trust through the Illawarra Biodiversity and Local Food Strategy for Climate Change project is creating three public fruit tree groves. The goal is for these sites to demonstrate how edible plants can be integrated into public land, and bring good food into our suburbs. We’ve played a key role in designing these food gardens, and have included a range of different trees from citrus, to macadamias, longans and avocados.

On Tuesday the first fruit tree grove was planted out in the park at the back of Unanderra Community Centre, with the help of interested community members. Wollongong Councils Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbury was on hand to help with the planting, and had much enthusiasm for the project, which was wonderful to see!

Community planting days will also be held in June to help create fruit tree groves at Guest Park in Fairy Meadow, and Bulli Park in Bulli. Later there will also be workshops about establishing and maintaining free trees, which will be free for Wollongong Council residents. So if you’re a local and would like to get involved, just call Vanessa John in the Environment team at Wollongong City Council on 4227 7111.

Has anyone else heard about other public fruit tree plantings happening around Oz? We’d love to hear about them!

Monday
May212012

Finger limes – tasty bush tucker

With fruits bursting with tiny pockets of limey goodness that look like caviar, finger limes are uniquely Australian and native to the coastal rainforests of south east Queensland and northern NSW. 

Our four year old finger lime shrub had a bumper crop this year, and has been dripping with the small, elongated fruits.

Finger limes can be used in similar ways to other limes, and are said to be good in jams and sauces and as an accompaniment to seafood. We’re just starting to experiment with using our finger limes, and made a nice banana and lime cake with them the other day. A friend of ours enjoys eating them fresh, though they’re a bit too tart for us that way! There are some good suggestions of how to use them at: 

 Have you ever tried finger limes? We'd love to hear any suggestions about how to use them! If you're interested in growing finger lime, check out our finger lime profile. 

Saturday
Apr282012

Permablitz the Gong – National Permaculture Day

We’ve learned so much from the ethics and principles of permaculture, and it’s really inspired the way we garden and live our lives as ‘sustainability in action.’ Next Sunday 6 May is International Permaculture Day, a day for celebrating permaculture with a blitz of permaculture activities and events! There’s a great website at http://www.permacultureday.info/ which has all the details about what’s happening across Oz.

Here in Wollongong, a group of local Permaculture enthusiasts (fondly known as ’permies’) will be using national permaculture day to launch ‘Permablitz the Gong.’ A permablitz is a sustainable garden makeover where a group of people (including at least one permaculture designer) create or add to gardens in backyards and nature strips, turning lawns into edible landscapes.  If participants come to three or so permablitzes they’re then eligible for one at their own house as the permablitz network is based on reciprocal volunteer support! This first Permablitz will be in West Wollongong, and all are welcome – check out  http://permablitzthegong.wordpress.com/    and  http://www.facebook.com/permablitzthegong for details!

Are you doing anything to celebrate National Permaculture Day?