Posts filed under 'Gardening'

Sustainable Illawarra Super Challenge

We have signed up for the Sustainable Illawarra Super Challenge, and Monday night was the official launch of the programme.

The idea is for 120 households across the Illawarra to spend the next 12 months moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Sustainable Illawarra provides participants with information, workshops, guidance and resources (as well as some nice discounts and freebies from local businesses!) to help them achieve the goals they’ve set for themselves. In return, Sustainable Illawarra will learn what the issues are for local families, and they’ll also get some stories and case studies they can use in getting the message out to the wider community.

To keep track of what our family is doing and how far we’ve come, we’ve set up a new blog: Feel free to have a read, leave some comments, and send us suggestions!

November 6th, 2008

Wicking Beds

NOTE: I have moved this post to my other blog,, as it fits in better with that blog’s theme of suburban sustainability. For futher updates check out Wicking Beds – Water Efficient Gardening.

A wicking garden bed uses a waterproof container or layer below the soil surface to form an underground reservoir of water. There is enough soil above the reservoir so that the plants don’t get “wet feet”. Plant roots then draw up this sub-surface water via capillary action.

Because they are watered from below, wicking beds lose very little water to evaporation. They are reportedly extremely water-efficient, and so are very well suited to low-rainfall areas (isn’t that most of Australia?!). You can also leave them for a week or two without any watering, and your plants will be fine.

This page aims to collect links to information on wicking beds:

Wicking boxes are an adaptation of the wicking bed design to container gardening. Here are some links:

3 comments September 8th, 2008

Magic In The Garden

What I love most about this photo is that Sarah actually disappeared into her bedroom to get dressed for gardening, and this is what she came out in. Click to embiggen.

1 comment September 7th, 2008

Growing Mushrooms From Mushroom Compost

In July I took my trailer up to the mushroom farm to get a load of mushroom compost. It was $2.60/bag, and I got 16 bags for $40. I was really just thinking of using it on the garden as a mulch layer at that stage.

When I got home, though, I realised there were actually a lot of mushrooms on top of the bags. I picked them off and put them in the fridge. I wasn’t really ready to use the bags just yet, so I thought I’d put them under the house and see if any more mushrooms might sprout.

And sprout they did!

I kept a tally of how much mushrooms I got from the bags. All weights are after trimming stems for use:

  • 25-07-2008: picked approx 750g of mushrooms off the top of the compost bags after picking them up in the trailer
  • 28-07-2008: picked 150 g (total 900 g)
  • 30-07-2008: picked 235 g (total 1.135 kg)
  • 31-07-2008: picked 348 g (total 1.483 kg)
  • 02-08-2008: picked 482 g (total 1.965 kg)
  • 03-08-2008: picked 649 g (total 2.614 kg)
  • 04-08-2008: picked 1703 g (total 4.317 kg)
  • 05-08-2008: picked 699 g (total 5.016 kg)
  • 06-08-2008: picked 841 g (total 5.857 kg)
  • 07-08-2008: picked 442 g (total 6.299 kg)
  • 08-08-2008: picked 177 g (total 6.476 kg)
  • 09-08-2008: picked 660 g (total 7.136 kg)
  • 10-08-2008: picked 326 g (total 7.462 kg)
  • 14-08-2008: picked 348 g (total 7.810 kg)
  • 16-08-2008: picked 407 g (total 8.217 kg)
  • 17-08-2008: picked 369 g (total 8.586 kg)
  • 20-08-2008: picked 510 g (total 9.096 kg)
  • 21-08-2008: picked 540 g (total 9.636 kg)
  • 23-08-2008: picked 415 g (total 10.051 kg)
  • 24-08-2008: picked 275 g (total 10.326 kg)
  • 30-08-2008: picked 206 g (total 10.532 kg)

The mushroom compost bags are now starting to be overrun by some kind of fluffy white fungus. It’s killing the mushrooms, so I think that’s pretty much the end of the harvest. Time to get the bags out from under the house and into the compost heap.

So, 10.5 kg of mushrooms plus 16 bags of compost for the garden. Not bad for $40!

2 comments September 6th, 2008

Soil Blockers

Note: Updated and expanded versions of the information in this post are available at my other site,

Soil blocker toolI recently bought a soil blocker from Peddler’s Wagon with some birthday money. It was way cheaper to get it sent from the US than to buy it in Australia – like 40% cheaper. Aussie sellers need to learn to be less of a rip-off now that we have access to a world-wide market.

By the way, the Peddler’s Wagon people are great to deal with. Highly recommended. You can read more about their Little Homestead In The City, where they’re growing 6000+ lbs of food per year on 1/10th of an acre of land. Incredible!

It’s been a few weeks, but today I finally got around to making up some blocks.

But first, some resources for making soil blocks:

Using the above recipes as guidance, I made up a mix from what I had lying around in the garage and yard. I used:

  • 2 compressed coir bricks, expanded in 10 L water (made ~20 L volume)
  • 5 L worm castings from the worm farm
  • 10 L sieved compost from my compost heap
  • 5 L clean sharp sand
  • 2 handfuls of garden lime
  • 2 handfuls of rock dust

I mixed it all up thoroughly in the wheelbarrow, adding water to keep the mix nice and moist. It really needs to be fairly wet to form nice blocks.

Then you just plunge the block maker into the mix and squeeze the blocks out. I laid the blocks out on wooden boards in potting trays.

From these quantities I got 88 blocks, and I only used slightly more than half of the soil mix. I’ve put the rest in a container to make up some more blocks next week.

Later tonight I’ll plant out some seeds into the blocks. I’m not sure yet what will go in!

September 4th, 2008

The Chicken Ark

An updated version of this post is available over on my suburban green living blog, Green Change: Chicken Ark Plans

When thinking about a coop for our chickens to live in, we wanted something practical, non-permanent, and space-efficient. Looking around the net, the ‘chicken ark’ or ‘chicken tractor’ concept seemed the best for our needs.

To get some idea of the number of variations on the basic chicken tractor, check out this chicken tractor gallery.

There are heaps of resources for building chicken arks:

There are commercial options, too:

Of course, none of these were exactly what we wanted :-). There were lots of good ideas, though, and we got a good sense of the features we wanted in our own ark. After a few nights spent researching and sketching, measuring and planning, we came up with our final design.

To be continued…

3 comments August 3rd, 2008

The Good Podcast

It might sound daggy, but lately I’ve been watching the old BBC series The Good Life (a friend at work lent me the DVDs). Megan thinks I’m getting old.

You’ve got to admit, though, that there’s something about Barbara Good (Felicity Kendal). It never sat right with me that that Tom guy wound up with her!

Watch a few clips at the BBC site to refresh your memory, and then listen to Emma over at The Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast. Is that awesome or what?! Same subject, same voice, same accent, same vocal mannerisms – I could listen to her all day. And there are seventy-odd back issues for me to work through! I wish I lived further from work so I had a longer commute.

July 31st, 2008

Garden Visitors


Cockatoos descend upon the sunflower patch most days around dusk to gorge on the seeds. I don’t mind — I plant sunflowers to attract birds anyway, but it annoys me when they stray and eat the green tomatoes and green passionfruit. The kookaburra usually visits in the morning, eats a few worms or a small lizard, and then takes off again.

8 Jan 2002 10 Jan 2002

The first photo below is a female bower bird — the male is an iridescent midnight blue, and we don’t see him very often. I’ll add a photo if I ever get one! The sparrows eat insects around the vegie patch. The only plants they seem to touch are the sunflowers.

10 Jan 2002 10 Jan 2002

January 10th, 2002

Tumbling Compost Bin

I’ve been wanting to buy one of those commercial tumbling compost bins for a long time now, but they cost over $300 bought new. You’d have to make truckloads of compost for that price to be worthwhile! Time for some miserly cunning.

When buying bales of lucerne from the feed store at Albion Park Rail, I noticed they had a few large PVC drums lying around. I asked if they were for sale, and got one for $25. They also had smaller ones (about a third this size) for $20 – they’d be good for making comfrey tea or liquid manure. Getting it into the boot of my hatch-back was not easy – these things are about the size of a 44 gallon drum, and I already had two bales of hay in there.

Once home, I drilled a few holes in the drum to let air in and water out, then filled it with leaves, manure, grass clippings and garden prunings. I also chucked in a few handfuls of comfrey, a dash of blood and bone, and a shovel of fresh compost to seed the bacteria and micro-organisms. Every morning I roll it around the yard to mix up the contents, check it’s not too dry inside, and then leave it to stand in the sun. If it works like a normal tumbling compost bin (and I see no reason it shouldn’t!), I should have nice compost within a month or two.

9 Dec 2001 9 Dec 2001 9 Dec 2001 13 Dec 2001

The nice thing about this compost bin is its portability. You just roll it to where you want to use the compost, screw the lid off, and empty it out. It’s the same when filling it with weeds or prunings – it comes to the job with you.

The bin was filled on 9-12-2001. I’ll post more photos as the compost breaks down, to give you an idea how quickly it works.

One thing to note – if you’re going to use a drum like this to make compost, check what it’s been used for first. This one was an old olive barrel, and had more recently been used to store horse feed. You definitely don’t want to make compost in something that once held chemicals, oil or some other noxious substance.

December 11th, 2001

Vegetable Garden

I began building the new vegie patch on 16-9-2001. Railway sleepers are bloody heavy – don’t start a garden like this with a pregnant wife who can’t help!

16 Sept 2001

By 17-10-2001 (hey, nothing works fast in our house!), the retaining walls were set up. I laid a thick layer of newspapers over the grass, then arranged biscuits of lucerne hay on top. In the top bed, I planted pea, corn and sunflower seeds in handfuls of compost.

17 Oct 2001 17 Oct 2001

This is what the sunflowers looked like on 26-11-2001:

26 Nov 2001

On 9-12-2001 we covered the whole back section of the yard with a thick layer of newspaper (hose it down to stop it blowing around), and then spread lucerne hay over the top. That’s another 30 or 40 square metres of lawn I no longer need to mow.

9 Dec 2001

December 11th, 2001

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