On yer bike

Chris's bike at its new home, my house I scored a bike. Chris has gone to Canada for seven months to work and he left his bike in my loving care. While Chris is in Vancouver (via Perth, via Warwick, Qld) he’s going to be my North American blog correspondent. Chris aka Dr Jones is a real doc. You won’t be able to ask him what ails you, but he could sequence your DNA.

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A new (old) fridge and a cat looking for a home

my old fridge with the removal man, my dad My grandma recently moved into a nursing home and her house is being emptied ready to be rented. I scored her fridge (only owed by one elderly lady). It has a separate fridge compartment and freezer, which my old fridge didn’t. You had to open the fridge door to get to the freezer, so it wasn’t as efficient as a fridge with them separate. I had to defrost the old freezer more often than I would like. Also if you let the ice build up too much around the freezer compartment (which I had a tendency to do) you couldn’t close the fridge door, which meant it had to be defrosted right that moment.

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Birthdays and Earthworms

In my family, August is the birthday month. My mum, my two brothers and I all have our birthdays in August. This means I’ve recently been trying to figure out presents that aren’t a waste of money or resources. I used to buy “gift shop” presents for my friends and family. Fortunately I realised a present that just sits there and doesn’t get used is a waste of money and resources.

Echeveria growing in my garden These days I’m more careful with my present choices. I make sure I think about what the person would like, and more importantly, make use of. Often I resort to chocolate or plants (or variations on these). I grow a lot of succulents in my garden and they easily strike roots from broken off parts. Sometimes a nicely potted succulent makes a very pretty (and long lasting – no watering needed) present.

I like baking cakes and a birthday cake always goes down well. Most people I know like cake, even if only one slice. Last year I baked a birthday cake for my friend Geoff. I hadn’t known him very long and just assumed it would make a good present. He was very happy that I’d baked him a cake, even though he didn’t like eating cake. His housemate does like cake and was also very pleased I’d baked it. This made me happy because his housemate was Michael, my boyfriend. The real reason I baked Geoff a cake was so I could see Mike, who wasn’t my boyfriend back then.

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Could I be beautiful without petroleum?

Like Alina, the Closet Environmentalist, I have a love for potions, lotions and products that supposedly make me beautiful. Unlike Alina, I’m only now trying to wean myself away from them.

This started when I began to look at where my lotions were made. Spain, Thailand, Italy and the US made for a multicultural bunch, but also a lot of resources and carbon emissions to bring them to me. I started looking for products made in Australia, and searching for those tiny words, made me notice the ingredient lists full of petroleum derivatives (mineral oil, paraffin, propylene glycol), parabens, phthalates, etc. Then it occurred to me that so many different moisturisers (face, hand, night, body, and in times past foot lotion) are just a bit excessive.

I went to my local health food and organic shops and found quite a selection. The most eye-catching, because of the pretty floral packaging, was Avalon Organics, but it’s made in the US, so I had to stick with the boringly packaged Australian made ones. I chose Natural Instinct.

  • Made with plant oils and organic herbs
  • no Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (although Treehugger tells me SLS isn’t such a problem)
  • no animal products or testing
  • no harmful chemicals
  • no artificial whatevers

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Correcting Earthworms and more Composting tips

After writing about earthworms and composting the other week, I read Composting: from organic waste to black gold by Victoria Heywood (Penguin, 2005) and found out I got some things wrong. I thought I’d better correct my mistakes.

I’ve always thought that composting and vermiculture were completely different. I knew in the back of my mind they were both recycling organic matter and thus both composting, but I still thought worm farming was somehow lower on the composting ladder. It may have to do with reading books about composting in a heap, in which earthworms were only one aspect of the process. I’ve now realised they are both equally composting, just different methods to come to the same conclusion. This view may have coloured my statement,

Although Vanessa at Green as a Thistle blogged about making a composting unit, it’s actually a worm farm.

Vanessa probably doesn’t even know my blog exists, but if you happen to read her thoughts as well as mine, I am trying not to be a compost snob. If you read further you will discover I’m not even doing my composting right. I probably should just bury myself in the compost heap right now!

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That warm fuzzy feeling

Shawn at Kowai and Vanessa at Green as a Thistle were talking about their philanthropy, so I thought I’d join in. And thank you Shawn for adding me to your blogroll :)

I wonder if the only reason I give money is to get that warm, fuzzy feeling and feel good about myself. I suppose the only reason we do anything is to make ourselves feel good, whether it’s giving someone something or eating chocolate.

When I turned 18 I got a large amount of money from my (great) Aunt Mary. She died when I was a kid and the money was in trust for my brothers, cousin and I until we turned 18. I felt guilty that I was receiving so much money through an accident of birth when there were people in the world who had nothing. So I started donating to various organizations, not just conservation but also social justice and poverty-lessening ones. I got the habit from my mum. When I was little I would watch her filling in the forms and put the stamps on the envelops (ooh licking stamps!). I was amazed she had so much money, back then I got 20c for pocket money.

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Getting Rid of Bugs

I have difficulty with insects and other critters eating the plants I grow. Greenpa doesn’t use any pesticides or herbicides on his crops and my mum tells me to just grow more than I need and then I can share with the critters, but I don’t have much room. So I try to kill the bugs without too many toxic chemicals.

marigolds in the vegie garden at the local school I like the idea of companion planting and I have a book called Companion Planting by Brenda Little (Reed, 1982). I’ve heard that it isn’t scientifically proven, but the book is so pretty that I do what it says. Maybe if I believe enough it’ll work. One thing the book says is plant marigolds with everything, so I do. The school near my house has a vegetable garden and they have marigolds in all the beds so it’s not just me. The flowers look so pretty among the green vegetable plants. Continue reading

This is the Way We Wash the Clothes

front loading washing machine Last year I bought a washing machine for the first time. For years I’d gone to my parent’s to do my washing. I bought a front-loading washing machine which uses less water than a top-loading washing machine (even though it takes a longer time to wash). I chose one that was more energy efficient and so had lower carbon emissions. A front loader is more expensive, but I’d saved up enough money and the Western Australian state government provides cash rebates for the purchase of certain water efficient products, like front-loading washing machines.

Even though I have solar water heating, I use cold water for my washing. Older washing machines had a hose from the hot and the cold taps, but newer products have only one hose from the cold tap and if you choose a hot wash the water is heated in the machine. I think this is a wasteful use of resources because many houses heat water with gas or solar power. If I have stains on clothes I have to soak and scrub them (with a bar of pure soap) before putting them in the machine.

label from washing detergent. Complies with agreed Phosphorous Standard I would like to use a detergent which has no added phosphorous, but I’ve only found one. When I tried it the washing wasn’t as thorough and the clothes didn’t feel as nice. Michael said his towel felt like cardboard. So I’ve gone back to an ordinary detergent. The package has a label that says: “Complies with agreed Phosphorous Standard,” but they all say that.

I run the grey water onto my garden through a hose, but not onto the indigenous plants because they’re very sensitive to phosphorous. You can buy 10m grey water hoses from supermarkets and hardware stores. I have mostly paving out the back, so I bought two hoses, joined them together and ran them under the house to the front garden. (This was easy because of the foot high cavity under my older house.) Before I got the hose I would fill buckets and carry them out the front. This didn’t last for long, because it was too much like hard work.

I dry my washing in the sun. To achieve this I plan my washing around when it’s sunny (this is more difficult in winter, when there’s often clothes hanging all around the house). Washing on sunny days is pretty easy if you live in Perth or the desert. Living pretty much any another place in the world, you might have more difficulty. My brother lives in tropical Darwin in the Northern Territory and it may be hard to function without a clothes dryer there (although I’m sure some people do).


A spider’s work is never done

I like spiders, because I don’t like flies and the spiders kill them for me. My neighbour doesn’t feel the same way. He has the greenest and most environmentally un-friendly lawn in the street. He spends an awful lot of time, effort, money, water and chemicals on achieving this. Despite this, we still talk over the fence about our gardens and life in general.

the witch’s hat on my back paving But to get back to spiders, last year I discovered a redback spider living in the witch’s hat on my back paving. The witch’s hat has a base like a flower and my name stencilled on it, so it’s a centre piece of my back paving decor. When it started doubling as a spider lair and nursery it became so much more special to me. The spider felt so safe and satisfied food-wise that she laid an egg sack. Every so often I would look down the hole in the top of the witches hat at her, but we didn’t interact much more than that.

A while after this, my next-door neighbour told me how he had just had a redback plague in his garden. He asked me if I’d problems with spiders. I never have problems with spiders (how could I when I like them?) and I told him this. It was only later that I wondered if the chemical war he waged was against the children of “my” redback. Are these deaths my fault? I hope mother redback and at least some of her brood missed the massacre.

Obviously some people don’t think as highly of redbacks as I do. Their venom is poisonous to people, but you won’t necessarily die if bitten, it just hurts and it’s recommended you see a doctor. My dad (who’s a doctor) told me that a baby would die if bitten, so I guess it depends on the size of your body. Michael told me of a man who was bitten twenty times by a redback while he was in bed and he died. I subsequently found from the Courier Mail newspaper of 11 July 2001 that the man didn’t die, he just went through an awful lot of antivenene. I wondered why you would let yourself be bitten that many times but Michael reminded me that when you’re in bed you’re often asleep.

Redback spiders don’t like houses, they like dark, secret corners to set up their web. Wood-piles, a collection of empty plant pots, the back shed, are their homes of choice. I guess the inside of a neon orange witch’s hat is dark enough.

a Black House Spider admiring his reflection in the bath tub the Black House Spider after his removal to the garden I have a lot of “pet” spiders in the garden, but I don’t particularly like finding spiders in my house. When I was little I hated seeing spiders inside. The most likely spider house guest is a huntsman spider and they’re pretty scary when you’re little. Now I’m all grown-up, when I find a spider inside I’ll just take it outside. I’m not game enough to use my hands, I slide a piece of paper under it and if it’s a huntsman, removal is better achieved with a broom. But I don’t often find them inside; the garden must be too good a hunting ground.

this year’s spider nursery in the witch’s hat (not a redback spider). The egg sack is easier to see than the spider, but she's there This year a different spider has taken up residence down the witch’s hat. In the gap between the rear-view mirror of my car and its housing there’s a spider. I regularly remove the web from the mirror, but I’ve only seen the spider once or twice, but I think she’s a Black House Spider. When she first took up residence I thought that driving around with a spider couldn’t be too good for her (and I do drive my car, it’s not a wreck), so I tried to get her out. I once even hosed the gap with water when I washed my car. Next time I got in my car, there was another web over the mirror – I guess she liked having a spa in his house.

Between two poles of the car port, another spider has taken up residence. We discovered this by walking into her huge web coming home at night. A few times of this and we learnt to walk around the other way. Michael said she’s a Garden Orb Weaver. Every night she spins her web and by the next night it’s gone and has to be spun again. Every morning the rising sun shines through the web and it looks amazing. One morning I dragged Michael outside to see the web by saying, “Come outside and look at this – its amazing.” He went against his will, complaining of the cold and on seeing it, said, “Who cares?” He’s just grumpy when he first gets up.


How far did dinner travel?

Eating locally produced food is important and I try to, but don’t always eat as locally as I’d like. Emerging Tar Heel Leaders discussed eating locally after The New York Times featured an article the other week. A comment to his blog post mentions the Slow Food movement that’s been going since 1989.

Slow Food is good, clean and fair food…We consider ourselves co-producers, not consumers.

I grow my own seasonal vegies, despite the smallness of my garden (I want a paddock) and my tendency to be the lazyst gardener. Beans and tomatoes (interspersed with marigolds) take over in summer, peas in winter – I’ll have to plant them soon. Lettuce and carrots any time (with our climate) but there’s periods when the last lot have gone to seed and the next lot haven’t produced yet. And my carrots are miniature; Michael likes this because he agrees with his Dutch grandmother who calls our shop-bought carrots horse food. Recent bok choy was reasonably successful, but Michael planted these seeds that I thought were so old they couldn’t still be viable. A few weeks ago I planted some cabbage seeds, and after the bok choy I thought the old cabbage seeds would be fine, not so. The spinach I planted at the same time are tiny shoots, so I have to make sure the snails don’t snack on them! Herbs are a success of mine, mainly parsley and basil and the basil does feed the snails as well as me. If only I ate succulents, there are too many of them! Sunflower, my dad’s gardening handiwork

The verdure of my dad’s garden, avec twenty-eight parrot snacking on a sunflower. Or is it all just green to you? When thinking of gardening, I compare myself to my gardening mentor, my dad. He’s been gardening for as long as I can remember and he has a large amount of space in his suburban garden, dedicated to veggies and herbs. He is also a lot less lazy than me. Perhaps I shouldn’t be comparing myself, but rather aspiring towards his gardening achievements as a long term goal. In terms of space, I used to live with Josephine, Brendon and Garreth and one Christmas Josephine and Garreth fenced off a good amount in our huge back sand pit (because of dogs running and digging everywhere) for a veggie garden for me to grub in. It was the best present ever and we grew lots of tasty treats. I subsequently discovered how much Baxter and Khori (the dogs) loved to gnaw on carrots.

I try to buy seasonal fruit and vegies, and also produce from Australia rather than other countries. I shop at a chain supermarket (which I know is evil, evil, evil) and they mark fresh produce with the country of origin. Of course Australian veggies can travel a huge distance, but buying things in-season kind-of helps, although I could try harder. Michael likes asparagus – what’s his problem? :) He cooks it wrapped in prosciutto. Until a couple of weeks ago the asparagus sign in the shop said it was grown in Australia, but then it started coming from Peru. As much as I love Peru (those mountains!), Michael’s missing his asparagus – time to plant some seeds!

I also try to buy fresh foods, rather than packaged because that saves a lot of resources. I’m a lot better at this than I used to be, but I still like to chuck some packaged piece of plastic in the microwave. Why do I have no taste?

And meat? I know it’s truly evil to eat meat. So many more resources are used in the production of meat than plants and I’ve recently been reading about the greenhouse emissions of livestock (Russell, Geoff 2006, “An inconvenient global imperative” Dissent, no.22, pp.40-42). But does a cow really fart more than Michael? I keep telling him to save his methane for outside, but he refuses.

Riddle (with apologies to Geoff Russell): What if everyone in China starting eating as much beef as we do? Would there be an epidemic of reality TV weight flaunting or would it be so much worse?
Answer: We should decrease our meat eating and replace it with rice & beans (or a locally suitable substitute) like the majority of the world’s population.

Seeing as I refuse to be a good citizen, I should keep and slaughter my own animals. First of all, there’s my tendency to name everything in sight, trees included. I’ve heard slaughtering Lucy the Lamb can be problematic, but I’ve had a few pets euthanaised over the years. Ok so this is always traumatic and their graves or ashes surround me – maybe it wouldn’t work. I do want chickens. I don’t like chicken meat, but I love eggs. I could live on eggs and after Josephine and Brendon moved to the south western Australian town of Denmark they got chooks out the back. I’m so jealous.

Kyah, one of the culprits in the back-paddock cat-fest The other problem is my current lack of great outdoors. There is a paddock (with room for a donkey) out the back. Unfortunately “my” paddock does not belong to me, despite the number of cats who sleep in my house using it for their territory and fights with every neighbourhood cat. My dad suggested it wouldn’t be a good idea to plant trees there because I might get a bit upset when the owner removed them. Livestock would be easier to move than a tree.

That covers keeping, onto slaughter. I’m squeamish about cutting up raw meat, does this bode ill for my slaughterhouse skills? Luckily Michael handles meat cutting duties and seeing as he’s worked in an abattoir (and the stories he tells are not repeatable) I do have that covered. One out of three isn’t so good tho.