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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... 

 


Sunday
Oct102010

Converts to Bokashi Composting

We’ve recently become enthusiastic fans of bokashi composting. If you’re wondering what on earth bokashi is, it’s a Japanese word that translates to something like “fermented, organic matter."  Bokashi composting is a style of composting where you put your food scraps in an air-tight bucket and sprinkle ‘bokashi mix’ over the top, repeating this layering process until the Bokashi bucket is full. The bokashi mix is a combination of natural ingredients enriched with helpful micro-organisms that ferment the food scraps - and stops them from going smelly in the bucket. For convenience the bucket is best kept in the kitchen – but our bucket below came outside for a photo opportunity!

You can often buy the bokashi mix (and the bins) from a local hardware store, or eco store. A 5 litre bag of mix lasts us about 3 or 4 months. We find it convenient to have a small bucket on the kitchen sink that we throw food scraps into during the day, and then just empty that bucket into the bokashi bucket at the end of each day and sprinkle a handful of bokashi mix on top.

After a few days or a week, you often start to get some ‘juice’ coming out of the bokashi bin if you open the ‘tap’ at the bottom. This can be used the same as ‘juice’ from worm casting, and diluted with water (about a capful to a 10 litres of water) and applied to plants as a healthy liquid fertiliser.

Once our bokashi bucket is full, we empty it into the compost bin, where it breaks down really quickly – within say a week or two. We find our food scraps which have been in the bokashi bin break down much quicker than just adding them straight to the compost bin, and it’s this fast break-down process that has us sold on bokashi. It means we get compost quicker than we would through our normal composting, and a fast break down of organic materials is good for the environment as slow composting can cause greenhouse gases such as methane. Of course a well managed compost bin can produce compost quite quickly, but with us both working full time and managing planting and harvesting from our garden, we do admit composting is one of our neglected tasks! For us Bokashi is a time saving solution, as it helps with the whole composting process.

You can make bokashi mix from scratch (a quick Google search reveals some good how-to guide) but again that takes a bit of time. Many people also bury their ‘bokashied’ food scraps in the ground, rather than in a compost bin. We find that bokashi composting has an advantage over worm farming as you can add materials that worms are normally a bit sensitive too such as onions and citrus peels (omnivores can even add meat scraps).

If anyone is interested in more about bokashi, G magazine has a good article at http://www.gmagazine.com.au/features/1991/compact-compost, and one of the commercial sellers of the bins has helpful info at http://www.bokashi.com.au

Sunday
Oct032010

September in our Suburban Food Forest Garden

With spring in the air, gorgeous new growth is springing from our grapes, figs, permissions, apricots and plums...

Some summer colour is going in...

Magical sunny mornings are enjoyed by the pond (joined by Freckles the echidna rescued from the op shop!)...

Luscious pods of broad beans are ripe for the picking...

As are cabbages, brussel sprouts, carrots and beetroots, and the bounty of bananas and papaws has begun...

What did September bring to your garden?

Wednesday
Sep222010

Making Festive Bunting Flags

What fabulous fun was had on the weekend making festive bunting flags for our upcoming special celebration in the veggie patch! Having not touched a sewing machine since high school, it was with the help of wonderful friends and family (thank you!!) that these fabulous bunting flags were made and crafting and sewing skills were built and shared. It all started with piles of gorgeous vintage fabrics (many were old bed sheets!) gleaned from op shops and stashes of cut offs tucked away cupboards, with a few special new prints and some 25mm bias binding...

Square and triangular templates were drawn (allowing an extra centimetre for the edging) and used to cut the fabric...a trick learnt was that doubling over the fabric allows you to cut double the amount of flags at once...

Once cut, the flags were pinned together with the backs of the material facing out. All the edges except the edge that fits into the bias binding (the ‘string’ that holds the flags together) were sewn together...it’s simple sewing and even I could do it as a complete amateur! You then turn the flags inside out, so they are ready for the next stage. Iron the flags and fold the bias binding in half and iron, so it forms a nice guide when sewing in the flags....then you can sew the flags in the middle of the binding leaving about 60cm at each end of the binding for tying up the finished bunting flags...

We were thrilled with the final result...and I’ve raided the local op shop to turn more old fabric and sheets into fabulous flags!

For more tips on making bunting flags check out:

http://rosalindgracedesigns.blogspot.com/2009/04/free-bunting-template-and-tutorial.html

http://cicadadaydream.blogspot.com/2010/01/tutorial-how-to-make-threaded-fabric.html

http://thelongestyear.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/02/birthday-linens-festive-bunting-tutorial.html

Sunday
Sep122010

Besotted with Bluey the Blue Tongue Lizard

Three years after starting to revegetate our suburban block and turn a barren wasteland of lawn into an abundant food forest and wildlife haven, a Blue Tongue lizard had taken up residence in our garden. And we couldn’t be more smitten!

He/She (aptly named Bluey) lives in the embankment next to the water tank, and spends the days soaking up the sun and traipsing through the undergrowth, eating snails, beetles and vegetation.  Like all blue tongues, Bluey has a gentle laid back nature, and it’s surprising how close they will let you get to them. You know you’re getting too close though when these lizards flick their blue tongue at you – which they do to scare away predators. Though many people pick up and handle blue tongues, it’s obviously quite stressful for them to be picked up by a ‘giant’ and they don’t appreciate not having their feet on the earth - so we enjoy just watching Bluey just be. Far from a stealth predator, Bluey makes much noise rustling through the shrubbery, letting us know where to turn our adoring gaze....

We’re really lucky here on the coast of Oz to have such large lizards make their homes in suburban gardens. There’s six species of blue tongue in Oz, and our mate Bluey is a common eastern blue tongue, who will hopefully live up to 20 or more years of age. Blue tongues have many threats in the suburbs though like cats, dogs, kookaburras and currawongs. And then there’s oil guzzling cars and lawns mowers to look out for, and people who put down poisons to kill snails and other pests without realising that they’re also killing our native wildlife that eats the poisoned pests...

In Sydney, Kuringai Council runs a Backyard Buddies program where they breed and release blue tongues into suitable backyards. For a very cute clip of two excited kids getting a blue tongue lizard released in their garden, check out http://www.abc.net.au/creaturefeatures/facts/ep2_petfacts.htm, and for more info about blue tongues and what you can do to encourage them to your garden see http://www.outback-australia-travel-secrets.com/blue-tongue-lizard.html.

Blue tongues are wonderful helpers in an organic garden as they love to eat snails and slugs – unless of course they’re too blissed out basking in the sun!

Sunday
Sep052010

July and August in our Suburban Food Forest Garden

With chilly, blowy days, July and August in our suburban food forest garden have seen our bananas and paw paws getting a battering....

Luckily the banana bunch can be saved and will ripen hanging in the warm back room of our house. As for the paw paws we’re not sure if the damage was from the wind or the birds, but it should recover fine....

The carrots went a bit crazy but taste just as wonderful....

Delicious snow peas are so crisp they rarely make it into the kitchen, being enjoyed in the garden in delight...

And the busyness of the birds tells us thankfully spring is here!

Saturday
Aug282010

Kohlrabi – The Space Ship Vegetable

Kohlrabi is a colourful newcomer to our garden and dinner plates. It certainly is an unusual looking vegetable, and we had to laugh when reading this humorous quote in Farmer Johns Cookbook from a person who received kohlrabi in a box of mixed veggies:

I totally freaked out last year when I pulled a ‘space ship’ (kohlrabi) out of the box. But it became the basis of some good eatin’.

Kohlrabi looks striking in the garden, as the colourful bulb grows above the ground.  

Kohlrabi is a member of the brassica family, like cabbages and broccoli. Both the bulb and leaves of the plant can be eaten. We enjoyed chopping up the bulb and steaming it along with potato to make a mashed potato-kohlrabi side dish – it brought a really nice flavour to the usual potato mash! We’ve also had it grated raw on a salad wrap, but it has a bit of a bite to it so you don’t need much fresh.

Kohlrabi looks so striking in the garden, and we quite enjoyed the taste of it when cooked, so this week at our local fresh food market we stocked up on a few more kohlrabi seedlings.

Anyone else tried growing and eating kohlrabi? We’d love to hear any ideas for recipes you have! A few suggestions can be found at http://vegbox-recipes.co.uk/ingredients/kohl-rabi, while more info about how to grow this colourful veggie can be found at http://www.annettemcfarlane.com/Stories/kohlrabi.

Sunday
Aug222010

The 2011 Permaculture Diary and Calendar and Organic Expo & Green Show

Full of fantastic inspiration for incorporating permaculture design principles into the year ahead, the 2011 Permaculture calendar and diary were released just this week. They feature inspiring stories of people from all around Oz who are working to create more sustainable, enjoyable and just futures. We were lucky enough to have Michelle Margolis, the enthusiastic force behind the permaculture diary, come for a tour of Wollongong earlier in the year. She even popped into visit us here at Happy Earth, and we’re honoured to be featured in both the diary and calendar!

Yesterday we had a train trip up to the Organic Expo and Green Show in Sydney, and were re-invigorated to see just how much the organic movement is growing. It was fabulous to see so many organic farmers talking about their wonderful, clean organic produce.  

Costa from Costa's Gardening Odyssey appeared as a special guest and presented the ‘dig for your dinner’ award to the school judged as growing an abundance of fresh produce. We were thrilled to see one of our local schools, Cringila Primary take out the winning ‘dig your dinner’ award! Big congratulations to all students and teachers involved!  You truly are leading the way with inspiring the next generation to ‘get growing!’

Sunday
Aug082010

Frogs, Wildlife and Integrated Pest Management with a Backyard Pond

We’ve been just amazed at how our small backyard pond has become such a haven for local wildlife since we installed it in our suburban garden last winter.  

Within months brown marsh frogs stumbled across it, and decided it would be a good place to start a family (if you look closely in the photo below, you can see a second frog on the back of the other, shrouded in their spawn). Peron’s tree frogs have moved in too, they’re a bit more elusive to photograph...

Dragonflies have also decided our pond is a good nursery for their young. One morning we were lucky enough to watch an incredible transformation, as about ten water-dwelling dragonfly nymphs crawled up the stems of the water chestnuts and slowly pulled themselves out of their shells to emerge as stunning dragonflies that flitted off in the wind...

Waterskinks love to warm themselves on the rocks around the pond...

And this morning an Eastern Spinebill dived into the pond for a refreshing Sunday morning dip...

All this wildlife in our garden brings us so much joy and entertainment. Attracting a diversity of wildlife is also important for us in implementing a holistic, integrated, approach to managing pests in an organic garden. If you’re thinking about installing a pond in your garden, now is the perfect time to get this garden task done before the hot summer months! For more info about ponds, check out our pond webpage.

Sunday
Aug012010

Building the Soil

Growing good food is all about growing good soil. Worm castings and mulch are gold in the world of soil building, and this week while we had some time off we got busy spreading a tonne of worm castings around the base of our fruit trees...


We dug up our mulch paths....

And spread this mulch, which had been decomposing for a year, on top of the worm castings around the fruit trees.  Then we ordered a big load of mulch (which in the winter here you can often get for free from local tree lopping companies – that’s what we did!)

And had a working bee with friends to spread the fresh mulch onto the paths – thanks again to our working bee buddies!

If you need some extra inspiration for getting out there and building your soils, check out the movie Dirt! like we did earlier this week! Happy soil building! 

Sunday
Jul252010

Soup and Food Night - Screening of Food Inc


Our fabulous local food co-op, the Flame Tree Community Food Co-op, is having a winter soup and film night on Sunday 15th August from 6-9pm at the Thirroul Community Centre and everyone is invited!

We really enjoy watching films that tell stories about where our food comes from, and the Food Inc documentary is an eye-opening look into the America's industrialized food system and its effect on our environment, health, economy and workers' rights. At the Flame Tree Soup and Film Night you can watch the film and be warmed by homemade soup for $15, or for $20 you can have a yummy dessert as well. Soup and music will be from 6-7pm, with the film running from 7-9pm. Bring your own bowl and cup to this lovely community event!

We buy all our organic staples in bulk from the Flame Tree Community Food co-op, like rice, lentils and dried fruit. It’s great to save on packaging by taking our own containers and bags, and the community vibe at the co-op makes it such an enjoyable shopping experience!  We’re pretty much self sufficient on fruit and veg, but for those people wanting organic fruit and veg, the food co-op also sources fruit and veg boxes.

Check out the co-ops website for more info – and if you’re in the Illawarra, we hope to see you at the film screening!

Saturday
Jul102010

A little story to share in celebration of Happy Earth’s 3rd birthday

This week marks three years since we first started our adventure in urban sustainability here at Happy Earth, turning a typical house and lawn into a healthy, efficient home and abundant food garden. It’s been an epic and rewarding adventure, made so much more rewarding by being able to share it with you! Being part of an on-line community of people passionate about growing good food, eating good food and enjoying all things good and simple in life has been so amazing for us – thank you to you all for being a part of this inspiring and uplifting community!

Recently the lovely Emily Duncan, a journalist student from the local univeristy, popped around to create a short audio visual film about our adventure in sustainability. She did such a fabulous job! See below for the finished product:

Sunday
Jul042010

A Touch of Frost

Waking to a glittering coat of frost over the veggie patch is a very rare thing indeed in our subtropical climate. But some exceptionally chilly overnight temperatures brought a touch of frost to our garden this week...

Luckily there was no damage to our trees, and only a few of our veggies took a turn for the worse. The new cheery tomato seedlings aren’t looking to happy, but hopefully they might hang in there...

And the leaves of our sweet potatoes which we use as a ground cover in the food forest look a bit worse for wear...

On the up side, a bit of a chill is good for stone fruit like apricots and plums, so maybe they will reward us extra well this coming summer!

Anyone else been touched by frost lately? If so, we hope it hasn’t done too much damage at your place!

Sunday
Jun272010

Top 5 Vegies to Grow at Home

If you could only grow five veggies at home, what would they be? Goodness that is a tough question for us! We grow 35 different veggies - artichoke, broad beans, bokchoy, green beans, Brussels sprouts, beetroot, broccoli, carrot, cabbage, capsicum, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, parsley, parsnip, potato, pumpkin, snow peas, spinach, silverbeet, spring onion, rocket, squash, spaghetti squash, sweet potato, tomatoes and zucchini.  Phew! So who would be in our top five and why? Drum roll please...

1) Cherry Tomatoes - They grow like weeds and fruit for us pretty much all year round. We’re still picking them fresh from the vine, and have young seedlings in now for early spring harvest! Unlike other tomatoes, they’re so hardy and very resistant to pests. We use them so much in the kitchen - in salads, soups and pastas, on wraps and pizzas. We’d be lost without them!

2) Zucchini – Again they grow like nothing else, and as such as have become used to having them in almost every dish over the summer! Zucchini are a new gardener’s best friend, giving instant reward for little effort. We like zucchini best in stir-fries, and grated raw onto salad wraps.

3) Potatoes – Home grown potatoes are just delicious and taste so much better than store brought varieties. Slow cooked home grown potato wedges covered in spices and olive oil are just to die for. With bumper crops, there’s not much more satisfying than digging up a potato patch...

 

4) Corn – Juicy, sweet and oh so tender, fresh corn straight from the cob doesn’t even need to be cooked! But lightly steamed and with some melted butter – divine! A patch of corn in the garden is such an impressive site to behold. If you have any member of the grass family on your block, let it be this!

5) Onions – We probably eat more onions than any other vegetable – they’re the base of almost every meal! Onions are impossible for us to buy organically around here, so growing our own is the perfect solution. Easy to grow and good at being stored for long periods, onions for us are a must, and we’ve just planted a whole bunch for harvesting in the summer.

What would be your top five veggies to grow and why?

Sunday
Jun202010

May and June in our Suburban Food Forest Garden

May and June have been full of gorgeous citrus, hearty pumpkins, and sweet passionfruit...

Glorious weekend breakfasts down by the frog pond...

Harvests of fresh ginger....

Handfuls of chillis...

And for our chooks - much fun having dirt baths!

Monday
Jun142010

Making Handmade Paper

Though making paper is a bit of an art and takes a full day of being crafty, seeing all your beautiful sheets of paper lined up to dry makes it well worth the effort! Handmade paper is just so special – and if you read our last post you’ll know why we’re making this batch! This weekend has been gorgeously sunny and calm - a perfect weekend for paper making, as it helps the sheets dry quickly.

The process started by ripping 60 sheets of green used A4 office paper into little pieces, soaking the pieces in hot water for an hour and then adding them slowly to an old blender...

Blending the paper into a pulp, adding scoops of the pulp to a large container of water, giving the mix a swish and then creating a sheet by dipping in a frame and screen...

Gently transferring the paper to a drying card...

Peeling the paper off the cards once dry and admiring the final product of 58 sheets of beautiful 100% recycled A3 paper!

I was lucky enough to be able to borrow two simple paper making kits from friends (thanks Kel and Alex!), which have the frame you need to make paper. You sometimes see these kits at op shops, garage sales or e-bay. You can also make your own frames. If you’re keen to make paper at home, libraries often have helpful ‘how to’ books, or a quick Google search will give you lots of ideas!

Sunday
Jun062010

We're Getting Married ... in the Veggie Patch!!!

This coming spring we’re getting married in our veggie patch, and would love to hear of any ideas you have for a nature-inspired, green wedding! In planning for our wedding to be a special, creative and eco-friendly celebration, so far our ideas are: 

  • To have a lunchtime wedding with the ceremony in the veggie patch and reception in our home and garden. Afterwards we’ll go camping with family and friends on the Shoalhaven River to extend the celebrations in typical Ally and Rich style (we love camping!)
  • Provide scrumptious in-season, organic vegetarian food from a fabulous local green caterer the Red Kitchen.  
  • Create invitations out of hand made recycled paper (we’ve made handmade paper before and it’s really fun and easy – watch out for a blog about this!)
  • Wear funky vintage clothing. Our wonderful crafty friend Annie is making a dress for Ally out of recycled vintage fabrics – see Annie’s blog for more details!
  • Encouraging guests to car pool
  • Find some simple wedding rings made out of recycled silver (preferably by a local artist – if you know of anyone who makes recycled silver rings, please forward us the details!)

We’d really love to hear of any other ideas you may have...

Friday
May282010

Thanks for the Eggs Silkies!

Our silkie chooks are on a roll with the egg laying at the moment. People often ask us how many eggs our two silkies lay, and we usually respond with “not a great deal, but they’re fabulous pets for the garden!” If you’re keeping chooks primarily for eggs, silkies probably won’t be your first pick of chicken breeds. But we love them because they’re irresistibly cute and fluffy, have great personalities (they’re really quite ditzy and very entertaining!), are easy to handle, good for kids to pick up and pat, and in a young garden they don’t cause too much damage. But having said that, they certainly do get stuck into scratching around the back garden – which is strategically sectioned off from the veggie patch of course! Along the edges of the mulch path is their favourite place to get digging – which means walking our mulch paths, you have to be careful not to twist an ankle in the pot holes dug by our two girls!



To be a bit more precise in answering the ‘how many eggs’ question, this year we’re keeping a tally of all the eggs our gorgeous silkies Gruma and Charma lay. So far they’ve laid 14 in January, 7 in February, 19 in March, 8 in April, and 20 already in May. Our girls are in their prime egg laying years, with Charma being two years old, and Gruma just a few months younger - if you read our post ‘Cock-a-doddle-oops-a-daisy’ you’ll know why the age difference! We’re not big egg eaters, so there is plenty of eggs for us to enjoy making veggie patties, pancakes and scrambled eggs every now and again. The yolk inside the eggs is such a gorgeous sunny yellow, full of much goodness – thanks girls! 

Sunday
May162010

Backyard Bananas

Lately we’ve raised many an eyebrow with our impressive bunches of homegrown bananas. Most people are really surprised to discover that bananas grow in Wollongong. In our subtropical frost free climate they can really thrive with a bit of care and strategic placement.

We grow mainly Cavendish bananas, which are the same kind you’ll find in the fruit market. Wollongong is not commercial banana growing country so there are no restrictions on growing bananas in your backyard like there are in areas of Queensland (see http://www2.dpi.qld.gov.au/horticulture/5201.html for details).

We planted our first bananas in December 2007...

And in just over two years, in March this year, we enjoyed our first crop of organic bananas. Compared to store bought bananas, our bananas were much sweeter and more yellow on the inside. The photo below shows a store bought banana on the left, and ours on the right - of course we have no bias here!

Off our first bunch of bananas we got about 150 bananas!  As well as sharing the banana love with family and friends, and making lots of banana cake, our freezer is full of trays of bananas, which are just divine when blended up in fruit smoothies.

Once established bananas will keep producing fruit forever (well for a really long time!), so we reckon they’re a must for every subtropical backyard.   Its no surprise that our best banana bunches at our place come from the ones that are getting fed our greywater and greenwaste from the vegie beds so keep this in mind if you are growing your own.

Monday
May102010

Love Food Hate Waste 

With 95% off our fresh produce coming from our suburban food forest garden and veggie patch, where always on the lookout for creative ideas on how to use and store whatever we have an abundance of. It’s quite a challenging art to create meals around whatever is in abundance, and prevent fresh produce from going to waste – if you’ve ever had 3 zucchini plants fruiting at once in the garden you’ll know what we mean!

Last week the new ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ website was launched in NSW, and it has some handy hints and tips about storing food and ideas for recipes. It also has some rather sobering stats about the amount of food that goes to waste in NSW from households alone – 800,000 tonnes of food a year, most of which could have been eaten. And this is to say nothing about the amount of food that supermarkets throw away...

The NSW website was inspired by a big Love Food Hate Waste campaign in the UK – and we must say we do find the UK website more useful and fun. It’s got a handy page where you can click on specific foods like bananas, eggs, or oranges, and access a range of recipes specific to that food. It’s also worth just checking out for the amusing way that the women on the page about using apples has a face that’s all shiny and round like a fresh apple, the guy on the potato page has a serious resemblance to this earthy vegetable, and the man on the lamb page is rather woolly looking!

Monday
Apr262010

April in our Suburban Food Forest Garden

 In a month full of sunshine and blissfully calm blue skies...

We’ve enjoyed a bounty of plump, sweet bananas...

Savoured the last of the corn and cherry tomatoes, and the first of the pumpkins ...

Warmed ourselves from the inside with the first of many soups to come over the cooler season...

Watched little seeds of coriander burst to life...

What was April about for you in your garden?

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