Friday, 24 October 2014

Planning a Patch of Paradise

We've pretty much transformed our backyard from a sandy, weedy, monoculture of couch grass with the only feature being an asbestos shed to a, ahem, pretty cool space in the three years that we've lived here.

I am quite excited about our new, and most likely final, patch in the garden.  It fills a space between the raised veggie beds and the espaliered olive trees:

You can see from the picture above that we've laid out some pavers to mark the edge of the new (round!) bed.  I initially scraped out the lines in the dirt with my foot to make sure there was about a metre gap between surrounding vegetation and structures.  I also made sure to keep existing pathways open.  Mr Fix It used yellow marking spray to draw out the circular shape and used leftover pavers to mark it out more permanently:

As you can see from the photo above we have purchased a half wine barrel for this spot.  We bought it secondhand off the Wine Barrel Man for $75 on Gumtree.  I kind of planned the new bed around (pardon the bad pun!) the half wine barrel.  We bought the half wine barrel a few weeks ago.  Mr Fix It has sealed it with a varnish (I'm not sure what kind) to help it last longer in the elements.  

We haven't decided exactly what is going to go into the half wine barrel but I was thinking of transplanting our lime tree (you can see it to the right behind the wine barrel against the fence) since it has never given us a lime in the 4 years that we have had it (unless you count a 1 cm one that it managed to grow about 3 weeks ago).  The lime tree was in a pot for about two years and then we planted it in its current location.  It gets a lot of sunlight but it is close to the olives and next to where we were trying to grow a native hedge (that has not worked as well as we expected) and I suspect it needs a bit more space.

The reason we have spurred into action with the round garden bed this week is that a lovely old neighbour from up the street was replanting and sub dividing his Bird of Paradise, which had been in the ground for about 5 years.  He offered us a couple of segments (stem and root) and we thought that the round bed would be the perfect place for it.  I think the strappy leaves from the Bird of Paradise make a nice contrast to the olives espaliered behind.  It has also created a nice name for the bed, "Paradise Patch".

When our neighbour brought the segments over in a hessian bag Turtle was sleeping so we left them out the front, making sure that they stayed moist.  We followed strict instructions from our neighbour for planting the segments a few days later (at night since we had such a busy weekend, dedicated I know!).  Mr Fix It dug a hole about 50 cm deep, making sure it was wide and deeper than the roots of the stems.  Then the stems were planted about 5 cm deeper than they were originally (you could tell from the dirt line on the stems).  The hole was filled slowly with layers of existing soil (Bassendean sand) mixed with 50% compost to enhance it's water and nutrient holding capability.  Each layer was about 10 cm deep and then watered in so that the moisture was consistent throughout the hole.  You can see that we have mulched with pea straw on the surface to keep the moisture in.  Hopefully this little bird likes it's new Paradise Patch.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Striving for a Minimalist Baby Birthday

Our baby little girl (Turtle) turned 1 this week. While it has been a proud and somewhat nostalgic period of celebration this event brings to the fore all of the stresses associated with living in a small house.  Mainly because our loved ones want to shower our gorgeous baby with gifts.

Celebrating Turtle's first birthday.  I'm such a proud (and somewhat emotional) mum.
Most of our family live interstate and so that helped to reduce the amount of presents that we received.  It is a difficult thing to want (and need) to reduce the amount of stuff your baby gets.  I am still figuring out the best way to clearly and politely request no presents, or if presents are considered a must, then to request that they are secondhand.

Clearly I don't want Turtle to miss out on the fun of playing with a range of toys but realistically we can only fit so many things into our small home!  There is also the fact that she is often most happy playing with my thongs (flip flops), door stops and tea towels.

So I bet you're wondering what kind of presents we got and if we managed to think of a few eco-friendly alternative gifts?  Here are the main things we received:

1. A wishbone flip ride on rocker.  This is a gorgeous bike that flips into a rocker, made from reforested birch plywood.  I have no idea what reforested means but my mum said it was sustainable and I think that helped her to decide to buy it.  It is likely to last for a long time and Turtle should get heaps of use out of it.  This is the biggest present we received and it, sadly, is being stored out under the patio because we don't have space inside.
2. Five sets of new summer outfits and a couple of fairy outfits (very cute!) from family
3. A lovely array of children's books, including "Whose Bottom?" from our fantastic friends
4. A couple of teddy bears, one from our lovely elderly neighbours up the street and a native echidna from Granddad who was able to share the special day with us
5. A zoo membership for myself from my dad and for Mr Fix It from his mum so that we can take Turtle to the zoo (I can't wait to take her for her first visit!)
6.  Mr Fix It and I joined a toy library for Turtle's present so she has endless toys to borrow
7. A wooden puzzle and really cool bubbles that last for ages and stick to things (I also got these for the babies in our mum's group)
8. A huge bag of secondhand lego Duplo, which has been a huge hit! Thanks again Granddad and Kathy
9.  A hooded owl towel from my bestie which is going to be very cute on Turtle
10. A secondhand toy camera from Grandma, which she found at a market in the U.S on holiday
11. A bottle of rum (which I presume is for Mr Fix It and I although neither of us usually drink it)!

So as you can see there is definitely room for improvement here in terms of achieving Minimalism.  We did open a bank account for people to deposit money instead of giving gifts just after Turtle was born.  I need to make that known well before the Christmas season starts.  Then if Turtle really wants toys they can come out of her bank account.  Best of all we can buy those things secondhand.  Then we can donate, resell or regift as appropriate to keep things in use as they are outgrown.

I think its important to remember that the best gift Turtle can receive is to spend time with family.  Dedicated time is the most valuable gift of all.

Do you also get stresses about loved ones wanting to shower your kids with gifts?

It is hard when in our society consumerism is akin to religion and buying presents is considered a measure of your love.  I'd love to hear your ideas for low waste birthday gifts.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

My favourite Veggie Burgers

I discovered this veggie burger recipe awhile ago when I wanted to start cooking more with lentils.  It is AMAZING! I won't share the recipe here since I found it at Veggie Num Num's website. You can look at the recipe by following this link.

The reason I wanted to share this recipe is because it is so delicious.  When I cook it I use green lentils and they cook up to look brown and have a similar texture to a beef patty.  This means even the most devoted carnivore is likely to be satisfied.  I highly recommend making burgers with cheese, salad, beetroot and sauces (we use mayonnaise and tomato sauce).

It is quite simple to cook but I have had some trouble getting the consistency right.  I wasn't draining the lentils enough (or remembering to fish out the garlic after they cooked) and so it initially took me forever to get the consistency right.  I had to add cups of plain flour, rather than the 1-2 tablespoons as instructed, or it would be really sloppy.

Having said that I always end up adding more flour than that (this time I added 4 tablespoons and that's the least I've ever added).  My tip would be that if the lentils aren't sticking together add more flour until you see the egg and flour mix become a whitish paste.  Obviously don't go too crazy though or it will taste floury.  Add the flour in small amounts.

I love the texture that the fresh bread (I just tear it into little pieces) gives the burgers too. My 11 month old girl (aka "turtle") loved them.  She loves her meat so its nice to have a healthy vegetarian option to mix things up a little.  We have just started to get tomatoes and lettuce in our weekly seasonal organic veggie box so this feels like a fun meal change as summer approaches.

Are you enjoying some new dishes too as the weather heats up?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Do it for the Walruses

I made the mistake of turning on the news this morning thinking it would help me to ease into the day. Boy was I wrong! About 35,000 walruses have beached themselves on an Alaskan shore due to melting arctic sea ice, an impact of human enhanced global warming.

I was devastated to see images of the walruses.  To think that these animals have been forced onto land because there is no arctic sea ice for them to rest upon.  This makes them much more vulnerable to predators and to crushing from stampedes if predators or aircraft come too close.

Mass beachings of the walruses began in the late 1990's.  This one seems to be the biggest to date.  Ice sheets are valuable habitat for walruses to rest between feeding dives, as birthing sites and for nursing young.  

The area of arctic ice mass has reduced to 5.02 million square kilometers at is minimum in September this year.  This is 1.61 million square kilometers higher than the 2012 'record minimum' recorded since satellite images started being taken to measure changes in the sea ice.  It is 1.20 million square kilometers lower than the 'average minimum melting' recorded between 1981 to 2010 (source: nsidc).  Human enhanced global warming is responsible for the increased melting.

So as I looked around the kitchen feeling sad and wishing, ok somewhat idealistically, that I could do something to help my husband (Mr Fixit) turned on the coffee machine and I realised how helpless I felt.  We are surrounded by electricity.  However, I realised that this is the perfect reminder of why I want to reduce my electricity use and help others to do the same.  Please see below a few electricity saving tips.  Do it for the walruses.

Tip 1: Use our natural energy source - the sun.  Turn lights out during the day and open blinds and doors.  I'm going to try and use no artificial lighting in the daytime, especially during summer.

Tip 2: If you have a PV solar power system at your home then use the power as it is being made.  This might reduce your financial gain but using power at night is not being environmentally friendly.  You are still using coal fired power if you mainly use power at night but feed the grid solar during the day.  Try to do electricity using activities in the daytime, directly sourcing your solar on site and reducing your reliance on dirty fossil fuels supplying the grid when your solar stops working (i.e. when the sun goes down).  If you don't have solar (we don't) then consider buying Green Power from your utility provider.  This makes them source the amount of power you use from renewable generators such as solar or wind.

Tip 3.  Turn off ALL of your power when you go out.  Find a way to make it easy.  There are different designs to help you make it easy such as the Ecoswitch or else work out where your main appliances are and turn them off.  As you finish using them or when you go out/to bed.  General estimates are that 10% of household power use can be saved just by turning off appliances that are normally left on standby.  In my house that's about $15 a month.

Tip 4. Reduce car travel.  Walk, scoot, or ride for local trips.  Enjoy the slower pace and fresh air.  We've been walking our dogs to the local shops lately, it gives them their daily walk and we get to pick up our last minute items, a win all around.

Tip 5.  Think local when buying food and shopping.  The more locally products are made the less distance they have travelled.  This reduces the fuel required to transport them.  It's simple but easy to forget when you're in a rush.  I do my best to only buy WA dairy and fruit and vegetables.

I would love to hear your energy saving tips or any reasons why you might find it hard to the the 5 tips I have suggested above.  It might not stop the ice melting now but hopefully it will stop it from getting much worse.