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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... 



Worm Almighty!

Worm%20Castings.jpg Worm castings are phenomenal soil improvers. The last couple of days we’ve spread out 500 litres of worm castings we bought from a local worm farmer (see Local Green Directory). We spread the castings around our fruit trees from the base of the trunk to well past the drip line.

To keep the castings nice and cool we mulched over them with the free horse manure we picked up from the stables just down the road at Kembla Grange. To get our soils really humming, we’ll spread this amount of castings out twice a year.


Water heated by the sun - for free!

Solarhart.jpgIt's so good having a hot shower knowing the water has been heated by the sun rather than a coal fired power station! Making the switch to solar hot water should cut our electricity bill by a massive 60% - electric hot water systems are real energy guzzlers. We went with a 300L Solarhart hot water system, and fully installed, after the rebates, it cost us around $1,800.

There's federal and state rebates to take advantage of at the moment, if you're switching from electric hot water - check out and for the details.


Building a Nursery

Nursery%20Construction.jpgPurple carrots, black Russian tomatoes, yellow zucchini – having a nursery to grow your own seedlings means you can grow wonderful heirloom varieties that are often hardier, easier to grow and far more exciting than conventional varieties available at a typical nursery retailers. It also means you can have seedlings that are vibrantly healthy and ready for planting right when you need them.

We just built our nursery out of recycled materials – the frame is made from old hardwood timber fence posts while the shelves are preloved ACR fencing. The nursery faces northeast to give them as much sun as possible. Sheeting on the south and west sides protects them from strong winter westerlies and southerly winds, while sheeting on the roof shields them from heavy rain and hail. We’ve also wired the north and east side to protect them from hungry cabbage white butterflies and birds. For those hot summer days, white shade cloth can be rolled out over the roof to keep them cool and stress free.

An automatic timer waters them at the end of each day with water from our water tanks. And the floor of the nursery slopes slightly so that water runs off into the water loving blueberry patch – brilliant!


Chemical Clean Out Day

A ‘chemical clean out’ day has been organised this Sunday, the 2nd of March at Kembla Grange Racecourse car park between 9am and 3:30pm, by the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change. You can properly dispose of all your household chemical nasties here for free – stuff like pesticides, herbicides, paints, batteries and CFL (florescent) light globes.

The previous house owners left some pesticides, paints and other nasties at our place. We did ask them to dispose of them – and they did by placing them in the usual domestic waste bin. The legacy we are leaving future generations with our huge garbage tips is bad enough, without making them toxic as well! So we pulled them out of the bin and have been waiting for this day! The racehorse car park is on the Princes Highway at Kembla Grange. There's also another one coming up at Bellambi Point Sports Field car park (Bott Drive entry), on Saturday the 31 May, between 9am and 3:30pm. Check out for more info.


Local Native Plants

Well you know where we’ll be this Friday morning – picking up more cheap local native plants at the ‘Greenplan’ sale at the Wollongong Botanic Garden Nursery. Most of the plants on our verge (the area between our front fence and the road) we picked up for a great price at the last ‘Greenplan’ sale day. The diverse range of trees, shrubs and grasses we planted out are thriving, and include blueberry ash, indigofera, native mints, and kangaroo grasses. This Friday we’ll pick up more bleeding hearts and acacias to plant throughout the garden as ‘support plants’, helping to improve the soil, create habitat and play a number of other important roles.

The Greenplan Leap Year Sale is on this Friday 29th February from 7:30am to 2:30pm. It’s only for Wollongong Council residents, so don’t forget to take a current rates notice along. And it’s a limit of 50 plants per property. Contact the nursery on 4225 2636 or for more details.


Ben Ricketts Environmental Preserve

When it’s time to recharge the gardening batteries, Ben Ricketts Environmental Preserve is the perfect local eco friendly place to enjoy some time away, in simple, fully equipped holiday cabins nestled in the Jamberoo rainforest. It’s only 40 minutes from Wollongong, and is owned by people who are dedicated to conserving local biodiversity. They’ve put a Voluntary Conservation Agreement on this special place, and organise regular bush regeneration days. And they have resident chickens, a veggie patch, a contented cow for company, and two curious goats who happily recycle your food scraps – banana peels are their favourite! For more info, see


Making the most of the Rain

Well the skies have opened, and we’ve received 173mm of rain in the past 24 hours, with more set to come. And there’s much we can do to make the most of it!

Water tanks are one obvious way, and other ways just as important for maximising water retention, and minimising run off are:

Swale%20capturing%20water%20after%20rain%20.jpg- Maximising surfaces that absorb water, like vegetated soil, and paths mulched with woodchips or made with stepping stones, and minimising hard surfaces like concrete that the water just runs off. We’re breaking our huge solid concrete driveway into pieces and using them to create beautiful mosaic paths that meander through the garden.

- Creating swales (shown left), which are trenches with mounds on the low side of a slope that hold water, slowing the flow, and maximising water absorption. We plant our water loving fruit trees in the mound, where they get lots of water and good drainage. Water loving plants like taro are happy in the trench of the swale.

- Planting fruit trees and sowing seeds just before, during or after good rain to give them the best start, which means less time spent watering

- Looking after our most important water storage device of all the soil! Good soil holds water incredibly well – see soil improving techniques.

Enjoy the rain and see water management for some more tips on making the most of it!



Mulch On!

Mulch%20On.jpg Ah the smell of fresh mulch….mulch works wonders in the garden, and few things add to the visual appeal of a garden like a fresh layer of mulch on the beds and paths. The massive 8 cubic metre pile of mulch that’s been taking up so much room you could hardly even make it to our front door the last few days just might have been a hint about our respect for mulch.

Wood chip mulch is brilliant to define paths and scatter lightly through the orchard to encourage fungi in the soils (fruit trees love fungi!). And once the mulch on the paths has broken down, its fantastic compost around the fruit trees. It’s great if you can get to know someone who works in a local tree lopping company and get locally sourced wood chips for free. Grass clippings are also an easily sourced free mulch for garden beds (dry them out first or they’ll become thick and clumpy). Mulch is great at keeping moisture in the soil, saving valuable water. It also provides habitat for little critters, adds valuable biomass as it breaks down and stops soil compaction…happy mulching!


Natural Floor Coverings

Rugs and matts made from woven paper, coconut husks (coir), jute (from jute plants, which require no or little pesticides or fertilisers), sisal (another plant requiring no or little pesticides or fertilisers)…it’s surprising and impressive how many options there are for natural floor coverings, and how fantastic they are! We just got a gorgeous colourful rug made sisal, woven paper and cotton – and it looks right at home on our lounge room floor. There's some inspiring ideas at


Sprouts – the Ultimate kitchen gardening

The ultimate in kitchen gardening and nutrition, sprouts are crammed full of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Sprouts%20in%20Jar.jpgAll they need is a bit of soaking, followed by a few rinses a day. A jar and a bit of netting or a sieve make good sprouts houses, and a spot like the kitchen dish rack is perfect to let them drain. Taking up little room, they’re the perfect greens for places were space is at a premium, like in apartments. And what other food can you harvest within days of starting to grow it?!

At the moment we’re enjoying fresh fenugreek, mung bean and lentils sprouts – they’re ideal for the first exploration into the world of sprouts.

Our sprouting bible is Isabell Shiphard’s ‘How can I grow and use sprouts as a living food? Be warned – Isabell’s extensive knowledge and infectious enthusiasm for sprouts, will have you running to the kitchen for a sprouting jar! Isabell’s website’s well worth checking out at Happy sprouting!


Rainwater Harvesting

Water%20Tank%20Manhole.jpg2008 is off to a flying start, with our two 9,000 litre water tanks plumbed up and ready for rain! Our wonderful rainwater is used for:

  • Efficiently watering and irrigating the food forest and veggie growing area

  • Washing clothes in the washing machine

The benefits of harvesting water in our backyard spread far beyond our back fence, being an important part of creating a healthier environment and community locally and even nationally - find out more in Making Every Drop Count.


Wishing you a Merry Green Christmas!

Santa’s changed his suit from red to green and has a sack full of sustainable ideas like:

  • Organising a ‘secret Santa/Khris Kringle’ with family and friends, and buying for the person who’s name’s pulled out of a hat
  • Growing a native rainforest tree in a pot to decorate as a Christmas tree - Bonewoods are great
  • Giving appropriate fruit trees and herbs to people (that’s ones that are suitable to Wollongong and that people want, so they will be looked after!)
  • Giving gift vouchers for activities people can enjoy, like movie tickets rather than things,
  • Giving presents that are: made from more sustainable or recycled materials, ethically or organically produced, minimally packaged, quality products that will last and be well used, memberships or gifts to organisations making positive social and environmental change, like the Australian Conservation Foundation, Oxfam etc
  • Making Christmas cards from recycled cardboard and pictures from old cards, magazines etc
  • Using the bright coloured pictures from old calendars as wrapping paper
  • Supporting local and organic food producers, and enjoying a yummy veggo Christmas dinner!
Enjoy the festive season!

Illawarra Organic Food Co-op!

Organic food Co-ops are a fantastic way to build community and support organic farmers and local food producers. They’re run collectively, with an emphasis on making sustainably grown, minimally packaged whole foods, available at affordable prices.

Exciting news for Wollongong is that an Illawarra Organic Food Co-op is now forming. The next working group will be held on Wednesday November 12, at the Thirroul Neighbourhood Centre between 6pm and 7pm. All with an interest in helping a fantastic food co-op come to life are welcome!


Fruits of the Forest

Davidson%20Plum-fruit%20trees.JPGMiracle fruit that makes sour things taste sweet, chocolate pudding fruit, juicy bright yellow babacos, ugnis that explode like a strawberry sherbet bomb…there’s a whole world of gorgeous fruits out there that you will never find at the supermarket!

Our suburban block is designed to grow over 120 organic fruit trees, shrubs and climbers. Of these 120 plants, 50 will be unique species, including native food plants.

Check out our fruit trees article and the 'Garden Design' for a mouthwatering summary!


Keeping it cool, keeping it hot

Summer’s almost upon us, and one of the easiest and most effective ways to help keep our homes cooler in summer and warmer in winter is to pop in some insulation in the roof, and in even the external walls, or under the floorboards if your place is above the ground.

We’ve been surprised at the difference it's made since we put insulation into our roof last month. And there’s rebates available at the moment too - the NSW state government will pay half the cost of installing your insulation, up to $300. Bring on summer!


Putting Nature Back Into The Nature Strip

What a fantastic day we had bringing life to our nature strip with the help of our wonderful neighbours! Like most other nature strips around, ours was just a strip of grass between the road and our front fence. But in just one day we transformed it into a beautiful space that welcomes people to our home, provides a great space for people to walk through, and will continue to grow as valuable habitat for local wildlife. And it will never need mowing! All we did was:

  • Spread some gypsum to break up the clay
  • Sheet mulch the area with newspaper to keep the grass out
  • Create a wide wood chip mulch path for passers by and the postwoman
  • Plant 50 native plants - mainly locally native grasses, shrubs and a few low growing trees that won’t hinder the powerlines (we got the plants cheap from Wollongong City Councils Greenplan nursery, on a sale day)
Verge-before.jpg Verge-during.jpg Verge-after.jpg

So many people have commented on how great it looks, and have said that they would love to do the same. So we’re looking forward to helping our neighbours through ‘nature strip working bees.’ Thanks again to our neighbours for helping us! Let’s bring life and beauty to all nature strips!



Lawn into Lunch

Lawns%20into%20Luncht.jpgWould you rather be able to get an amazingly fresh and tasty lunch from right outside your back step than have to drive down to the supermarket? Sounds good to us! We’re on a mission to transform our lawn into lunch.

Now most people would sensibility start small. But we decided to tackle the whole lawn in one day - about 600 square metres of it. So off we went with a turf cutter, cutting the grass and flipping it over in an attempt to kill that ever so vigorous kikuyu. Yes we almost killed ourselves in the process – turf cutters have a mind of their own, and lawn is not exactly the lightest thing to flip over!

But our future fruit trees will love us for replacing the kikuyu (which they really don’t like), with non invasive grasses like cow pea, millet, pintos peanut and clover (which they love). And we were able to keep with the organic nature of our place and not use any chemical weedkillers.

We baked the flipped over lawn for a week, spread a bit of top soil ontop, and sowed some soil improving seeds. The ever invasive kikuyu is trying to make a comeback, but we’re keeping ontop of it by hand weeding. And we’re looking forward to having the most luscious, organic supermarket in our own backyard!


Food For Thought

Here’s something that can be a bit hard to digest. Even if we have the most water and energy efficient house and use public transport, we can still be really big consumers of water, emit lots of greenhouse gases, and have an awfully large eco footprint (that’s the amount of land needed to support us). How can this be??? Well, it’s because of all the water, energy and land that’s needed to make all the goods and services we use. And surprisingly, its food we need to think about the most to have more sustainable lives.

In Wollongong we have a pretty big ecological footprint – 6.14 hectares of land are needed to support each one of us. If everyone lived like this we’d need another two or three planets! Would you believe that food is responsible for 43% of this ecological footprint, compared to personal transport at only 3.8%! And 26% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the food we eat, compared to the electricity we use in our homes, which contributes only 13.3%. What about water? Well food guzzles 44.7% of the water used to support our lifestyle, compared to household water use at 19.7%.


Wollongong's Household Eco-Footprint

It starts to make sense when you hear that it takes 20,000 litres of water to make one kilo of coffee, that Australia’s meat products industry emits 91 mega tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, and that so much of our food is produced far away, and comes to us packaged and often processed.

Luckily when it comes to food, what’s good for us and our community, is good for the planet too. We all know the story – fresh, whole foods, lots of veggie dishes, eating what’s in season, buying organic and fair trade and supporting local growers. And we can be so much more creative! Backyard food forests, school permaculture gardens, fruit trees in our streets and parks, food co-ops, sprouts on the window sill – it’s all about food. Sustainable living begins with your next bite!

For more information about how food affects your sustainable lifestyle, see


The Greenprint

The Greenprint is the landscape design for Happy Earth. It’s our vision, our dream, and what we’re working towards. It’s come about from all the ideas and experiences many wonderful people have inspired us with on our journey of sustainable living.

As sustainable food production is key to eco living, the heart of the design is – you guessed it – organic vegetable gardens and an abundance of fruit trees. But this design’s a bit different to most. You won’t find any rectangular rows of veggie beds here. What you will find is a vibrant forest of food that works with the house – so for example, water for the garden is harvested from the roof of the house, and the trees in the garden provide the house with cooling shade in summer, and warming sun in winter, as well as fuel for the woodfired combustion heater. Our garden also works with the gifts of nature – so it’s all about placing the right plants in the right places, according to the amount of sun, wind and moisture in that particular spot, and looking after the most wonderful and important workers – the millions of microbes in the soil. Check out our Garden Design article for more info.


Natural Floors

Floorboards are a fantastic flooring option. They're a natural material, low allergy and can be cleaned with a microfiber mop - no vacuuming needed! Natural oils are a great way to protect your floors and bring them to life. They're also much more people and eco friendly than synthetic finishes like polyurethane.

We just oiled our floors with ‘Livos Ardvos wood oil’ from the Natural Paint Place, which is a linseed based oil. We found it really easy to work with, and the floors have come up brilliantly. An added bonus with these natural oils is that you can spot repair any scratches. Check out flooring article for more info.