Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Wind Farms - The real story

Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services

The local campaign to support the proposed Cherry Tree Wind Farm has taken a step forward with the publishing and distribution of this flier that I put together with the help of Leigh Ewbank from Friends of the Earth and the team at BEAM. There will be a letterbox drop in the local area and the flier will also be distributed throughout the region.

The flier has been put together in response to the misinformation that is being regurgitated by local anti-wind groups. One of the latestet claims of which is that Wind Farms should not be placed in high risk fire areas as they can start fires. This comes after news of a grass fire near the turbine site a couple of weeks ago, which (from what I've heard) was caused by a lightening strike to a tree.

On investigation further I discovered that lightening strike is the main cause of bush fires. The Wind Energy Fact sheet produced by the NSW state government concludes that fire risk at wind farms is very low:
Wind farms can be struck by lightning, just like tall buildings, but they are equipped with comprehensive lightning protection systems that transfer high voltages and currents safely to the ground.
The fire risk is very low. The flammable parts are located high above the ground, away from vegetation and high voltage connections are underground.
Lightening would in fact be more likely to strike a turbine than a tree, reducing the risk of lightening causing a fire nearby.




Sunday, December 23, 2012

A well hidden tree house

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

I've been having fun transforming this 'weedy' tree into an adventure playground, a nice shady space for the kids to play in during summer. I built a platform a bit over a year ago, after prunning the tree heavily, the space evolves as the tree continues to grow. I experimented with bending the branches over to form a dome like space within the tree canopy, which would eventually grow leaves to hide the inhabitants. It has turned out better than I could have hoped.

Left to grow after heavy pruning last year, the young branches were tied down in winter to form a dome - shown here as a work in progress.

Inside, there is enough room for an adult to stand up and a few kids to cook up a storm.

Six months later, the canopy encloses the dome giving Kai and Sen a shady place to eat home grown carrots.

Sen and Kai watch the world go by from the tree house.

All aboard the treehouse! Sen uses a bicycle wheel to steer while Kai shares his observations with Mum.
  
The space is a big attraction for visiting kids. The 'clam' pool is filled nearby and is well shaded before the afternoon sun kicks in, a great relief for those really hot days. "Watch out below" is the call as the bucket is lowered using a pulley to the sandpit for refilling. The kids often cook dinner and make cups of tea for us in the treehouse using all sorts of wierd and wonderful ingredients. The chickens nearby get plenty of attention, the kids can watch them nest, collect eggs and make sure that they have plenty of food and water.


Our adventure playground with swing, tree house (now well hidden), spash pool and sand pit below. Chickens to the left.

In some related news I found out the name of the tree. I'm pretty sure it's a Box Elder, an invasive species here in Victoria (Australia). In investigation the uses for the tree I discovered that it can be tapped for maple syrup.
"Maple" syrup can also be made from the sap of boxelder, which technically is a maple (it belongs to the maple genus), but boxelder sap should not normally be combined with sap from other maples. Boxelder syrup can have a heavy, almost sorghum-like flavor that may be perceived as somewhat bitter compared to syrup made from other maples. Good boxelder syrup, however, is quite palatable, and is produced and marketed in parts of North America where other maples are not common. from Ohio State University
 This may lead to some more experimenting down the track. There are plenty of these trees in the area, none of which are being tapped.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Making a living, doing what I love

Principle 3: Obtain a yield

Dare I say it, my background is as a Graphic Artist in the advertising industry. I never really enjoyed working for agencies, I didn't find it very rewarding and sitting at the computer all day (and sometimes all night) was depressing and exhausting. I stopped working full-time back in 1996. Freelancing at agencies ceased when my son Kai was born, over 5 years ago now, though it died off almost completely a few years before that.

Cape Range National Park on the West Coast of Australia 1997 -  Echidna in foreground and 'Tang' (Kombi) behind

Back in 1996 my original plan was to spend a year on the road and find the ideal place to live. It was over 5 years by the time I returned. I worked a couple of times at agencies to keep me going, never more than a few months, living frugally from the Kombi the rest of the time. While working at a small agency in Perth I attended a 'Old Growth Forest Rally'. I remember that it was raining heavily, but the crowd was huge. I was moved by the experience and spoke to the organisers about how I could get involved. I put together some fliers and ads for the Wilderness Society and later went to visit the Lane Forest during one of the big actions. From there I went to Wattle Forest Camp to check out what was going on there.

Lane Forest protest, near Northcliffe, West Australia 1998
Wattle Protest Tree platform 30m up in a Karri tree - about an hours walk into the bush.


I wanted to check out the tree platform deep in the forest, it was an hours walk along logging tracks before we finally arrived a this breathtaking spot. There was a support crew near the base of the tree who told us about how this area was marked for clear-felling. We saw clear felled forest on the way in, nothing left standing, just death and destruction. We were told that tree sitters were needed now, and I volunteered. I ended up spending a week 30 metres up. It was an amazing experience, and a turning point in my life.

The main actions a the camp were less peaceful. Road blocks actions to stop trucks coming in was a regular part of the camp - lock-ons, road-dragons (old cars with people 'locked' into to the earth inside) and tri-pods were used - often together. Very confrontational approaches in an attempt to change the system. Angry local mobs, police and frustrated workers. I recognised similarities from when I got involved in the Anti-uranium campaign in Darwin a year earlier. I didn't like the approach of SAYING NO to things and confronting the system, I felt that we needed to SAY YES.

My interest in intentional community as an approach to live positively grew and I got my chance to try it out immediately after my stint in the Karri tree platform. I intended to stay at Carters Road Community at Margaret River for a couple of weeks as a WWOOFer, but ended up staying a couple of years. The community embraced the ethics of permaculture: care of the earth, care of people and fair share and practiced permaculture principles. Just what I was looking for.

Compost making workshop at Carters Road Community 1998

14 years later...

Since then I've been looking for ways to use the skills that I developed in advertising to promote what I believe in. I built the Permaculture Principles website in 2008 and helped produce the first Permaculture Calendar in 2009 with David Arnold. This year I took over the co-ordination of the calendar and now handle all aspects of it's production, marketing and distribution.

The calendar embraces the same values that I do, it's a part of me. The cover photo this year was taken by Jodie Lane, co-founder of Carters Road Community, now Fair Harvest Permaculture Venue (you can even see the tank stand in the background of both photos). Income from the calendar and website supports the work that I do in developing Abdallah House, and the Permaculture Principles website. I've committed to the ethic of Fair Share by giving 10% of the net return from the calendar to Permafund, a trust set up to distribute funds to worthy permaculture activities worldwide. It's not much of an income, but it's the beginning of something bigger.

Finally I can make a living from doing what I love and contribute to the world at the same time.


The Permaculture Calendar is available from PermaculturePrinciples.com



Saturday, November 24, 2012

Part-time schooling

Principle 1 : Observe and interact

We've been interested in Home Schooling for our 5yo son Kai but have been put off by the fact that we couldn't find any support networks locally. Every parent that I've spoken to who has expressed interest in home schooling have raised the same issues.

We don't feel ready to take on full time home schooling, but don't like the idea of sending Kai off to school five days a week (he doesn't either). We are stay at home parents and are flexible and willing to help our kids learn from home. We are not interested in creating school at home, I think that they would be better off at school if we were trying to do that - rather I see this as helping our kids learn  life skills according to their needs.

A friend of ours was taking one of her children to a nearby small country school part-time last year, and was telling us how the principal was open to this. Her child went full-time at the school this year, it was right for him. On hearing this we have explored further and discovered that having a curriculum for homeschooling is no longer necessary, which was previously a big stumbling block for many parents.

In order to be able to officially be a home schooler you need to register with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority. In the documentation it states "The VRQA will not assess the home schooling program at the point of initial registration or annually. The VRQA will not mandate a curriculum for home schooling nor will it be necessary for home schooling parents to follow a school schedule. The eight key learning areas form the broad framework for the homeschooling programs. The method of delivery will be at the discretion of parents, based on the needs of their child"
Requirements of instruction in home schooling:
It is a requirement of registration of a child for home schooling that the child must receive regular and efficient instruction that—
(a) taken as a whole, substantially addresses the following learning areas—
  1. The Arts;
  2. English;
  3. Health and Physical Education (including Sport);
  4. Languages other than English;
  5. Mathematics;
  6. Science;
  7. Studies of Society and Environment;
  8. Technology; and
(b) is consistent with the principles underlying the Act, being the principles and practice of Australian democracy, including a commitment to—
  1. elected Government;
  2. the rule of law;
  3. equal rights for all before the law;
  4. freedom of religion;
  5. freedom of speech and association;
  6. the values of openness and tolerance.
With regard to partial enrolment "Students registered for home schooling, and their parents, will be eligible to partially enrol at their neighbourhood Government school for specific activities as agreed by the school and parent." Principals have the discretion to decline enrolement where there are 'reasonable grounds' for doing so (such as class sizes).

It's interesting isn't it! So, we don't have to send our kids to school, we can teach them as we see appropriate (see above) and government schools are compelled to take on kids part-time.

Tallarook Primary School has been open to this, the other schools in our area seemed had not experienced this type of approach before, they seemed less appropriate for our needs. We thought that we would give it a go at TPS next year for a day or two a week and see how it went. We can always change if things don't go as planned.

In discussing this idea with other parents we have discovered that there is a lot of interest out there, and virtually noone knew that part-time schooling was possible. I've spoken with a number of parents about forming a local network of 'home schoolers', or as I would rather word it "home learners". Perhaps once a week we can get together at someone's place and work on a project? Fun and games ahead!

UPDATE (29/11/12): For more, check out this post by Melbourne woman Asphyxia, she's seeing a future that I do too and has been homeschooling for quite a few years.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Seymour Community Garden with Costa

Principle 11: Use edges and value the marginal

Article in the Seymour Telegraph 21st November 2012
I've had an interest in the development of the community garden in Seymour since participating in a  meeting which discussed the concept and possible locations at the community house a few years ago. While I've been supportive, I haven't been very much involved. My focus has been on building our home and gardens here.

I've watched with interest as Mark Padgett took on the project, originally as part of his Permaculture Diploma, working in collaboration with the Salvation Army. It certainly wouldn't have got as far as it has without the ongoing help of Greg, who kept the project moving when there was little interest or involvement from the wider community. While I don't know Rick, I hear that he has given the gardens a real push more recently and developed the Seymour Community Gardens website, which I was quite impressed by. Credit to the whole team, especially the volunteers who have transformed the wasteland behind the Salvos Op Shop into a beautiful space that brings local people together.

The gardens connect in well with the Salvos, with a large section dedicated to provide food for the kitchen that offers a community lunch for locals on Fridays, while another section make plots available for individuals or groups to manage themselves. The community lunches are well attended, with 50-100 people turning up each week. I see the gardens demonstrating, particularly those who rely on support from the Salvos, that you can provide for at least some of your own needs by growing food yourself. Here's an inviting way to do it.

Costa pours out a green smoothie made using green leafy vegies straight from the gardens with apple for sweetness and avocado
For those who don't know, Costa is the presenter of Gardening Australia on the ABC - and a poster boy for the permaculture movement here in Australia.  I haven't seen Costa on TV since his show on Channel 31, where (from memory) he wandered the backyard gardens of Coburg in the mid 90's - but I did watch a YouTube clip that he did recently on the ABC about Taranaki Farm.

In talking with him at the opening I was impressed by his passion in encouraging people to grow their own and his disgust of the industrial food system - bring permaculture to the people. He gave some great examples during his 45 minute presentation on making a 'green smoothie'. In his captivating 40 minute 'performance' before making the smoothie, he discussed how food is medicine and that growing your own food is the best medicine there is. Industrial food (which isn't really food), backed by the chemical industry, is making us sick with fertilisers, insecticides and GM crops, then keeping our heads just above water with pharmaceuticals.

He spoke of supermarketing. That's what supermarkets are really - super marketers. For example they have convinced many of us that paying $3 for a pumped up bag of chemically grown lettuce leaves picked days ago and sprayed with something to make them look fresh is a really good deal. But is it? You can buy a packet of organic seeds from places like Greenpatch for around the same price, that will feed you, your family and your neighbours for generations - just let a couple of the plants go to seed and spread them round. Look after them and you'll get super fresh, organic lettuce that will put a spark in your day, everyday. And it's much closer than the stupermarket, now that's convenience! Then Costa went on to make a green smoothie using lettuce along with other greens that I picked from the gardens.

Growing our own transforms us from dependant consumers to responsible producers.



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Finding balance in the wind

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate

A family visit to the wind farm near Dalesford in Feb 2012
I've been feeling uncomfortable with the division that has been emerging in our community about the proposed Cherry Tree Wind Farm. These tactics, employed by the Australian Landscape Guardians, have been used before to divide the local community and create angst. Who wants their community divided? I don't like it, and have been looking at what the two positions have in common.

The local newspaper, the Seymour Telegraph, has been publishing letters from both sides of the debate along with regular updates of how the planning application is progressing (or not) with Council / VCAT. The paper has provided an important outlet for the local community to express their opinion, but it tends to fuel more adversity. I've contributed a couple of letters recently - picking out elements of the 'anti-wind' letters that align with the 'pro-wind' letters:
Published 7th November in the Seymour Telegraph
Lee Stephenson raises an important point when she discussed the issue of reducing our consumption of energy to help address global warming in her letter to the editor (31/10/12). It's something that we can all do as individuals that will benefit our hip pocket and our environment.
Our family manages quite comfortably using 85% less electricity than a typical home in our area. Our 1.5kW solar PV system produces over twice the energy that we consume. We've been able to do this by making better use of the sun's energy, directly and indirectly.
Plants play an important part in how we reduce our dependence on external energy sources, providing us with food, mulch, compost, fuel, shade, building materials and habitat for wildlife (including our kids) - all at our doorstep. Plants are the most efficient converters of the sun's energy.
Rather than turning to "our scientists and great thinkers" to solve the worlds problems at some point in the future we should all do something to address these issues now, using existing technology and ideas (like permaculture). We need to do this here and now or, as Lee says, "we may well be doomed".
Let's reduce our dependence on polluting fossil fuels so that finding sustainable solutions isn't so challenging.
- Richard Telford, Seymour

Published 14th November in the Seymour Telegraph
As Peter Hill points out in his letter to the editor (Telegraph, November 7) most residents in the Whiteheads Creek and Trawool Valley "are in favour of all renewable energy sources as was evidenced at the special general meeting of council". Not only that, most (if not all) councillors voiced their support for renewable energy.
Consensus in the science community along with acknowledgement from council and residents alike, accept that climate change is real and is negatively affecting our environment. It's clear that we need to replace fossil fuel energy sources with renewables, and the sooner the better.
Climate change is everyones problem, it affects us all. What are we doing in our local area to address this issue? Are we expecting that other people, somewhere else, are going to do 'something' about it? What sort of sacrifices are we expecting 'them' to make for us?
If not here, then where? If not now, then when?
- Richard Telford, Seymour
I caught up with a friend recently, who does not support the Wind Farm, who asked me if BEAM (the local environment group that I am involved with) would be interested in hearing from a member of the local Landscape Guardians. I was surprised and quite excited by the prospect, not that I expect that we will resolve the issue, just that local people are prepared to sit down and listen to each other. Perhaps we can "acknowledge the profound differences and discover the common ground", as a BEAM member suggests.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Giant geodesic sphere from scrap

Principle 7: Design from patterns to details

The completed sphere made from scrap polypipe and recovered bolts
My friend Dylan spoke to me of making of making a sphere from polypipe, as a project for kids at the upcoming fete at his local primary school. He discovered the video below that explained how to do it, so we spent the day (my birthday) working on it. My best birthday yet!

We soon realised that the project was a bit beyond the abilities of a primary school student.


The key bits of information that we gleaned from this video was: using the soccer ball as a guide, the calculations for the lengths that we needed and the quantities of lengths.

A soccer ball (football) is made up of 20 hexagons and 12 polygons, all of the stitching is the same length. We called this length 'Normal' (N). The diameter of the sphere is about 5 x N. We wanted to make a 2m high sphere so N = 400mm. We needed 90 lengths of polypipe at 450mm, 25mm extra at each end to give us room to drill a hole. We wondered if we would need to include the star shapes within the polygons (P) and hexagons (H) as was done on the video clip for a large dome, so we thought that we would leave this for later. After all, the soccer ball didn't use them. We recorded the lengths of the 'stars' anyway, just in case.
N (400mm) x 90 lengths 20 hexagons and 12 polygons in a sphere on a soccer ball
6 triangles in a Hexagon, 5 in a Polygon.
H = 20 x 6 = 120. P = 12 x 5 = 60
P (400mm x 0.8696 = 348mm) x 60 lengths
H (400mm x 1.0224 = 409mm) x 120 lengths
Dylan cuts short lengths of discarded 25mm polypipe where it is kinked
A jig is set up to cut the polypipe to the correct length (N + 50mm = 400mm)
A jig is set up to drill a hole that is centred  and 25mm from the end of the pipe
Our jig for drilling the second hole of the polypipe at 400mm (N), with a coach bolt with it's top cut off to hold the pipe at one end.
Polygons and hexagons made up using the the soccer ball (football) as the guide
The construction got too complicated to work on the ground so we hung it up in a tree
The completed 'sphere', like a flat balloon without the triangle shapes for support
If we had thought about it more we would have realised that the sphere wouldn't hold it's shape without the triangle shape for support. A triangle is the most stable form, it holds its shape. So we needed to make up the stars to fill in the gaps.

We started with the hexagons, and with each one we added the sphere became more stable. It required some pressure to add 6 pieces of polypipe to a single bolt, which was fine when we were assembling the stars on the workbench. It was a much greater challenge when fixing them to the sphere. The joins needed to be on the ground so that we could stand on them, the job would be much easier with some sort of compression tool.

When calculating the length for the polygon stars I neglected to add the 50mm to our 348mm (P), so they were all too short. We continued with the H stars and found that the sphere held it's shape without the P stars, and also gave us access to the inside of the sphere. I'm sure that the sphere would be more stable with the extra support, but it's fine without it.

Six pieces of polypipe fixed together with a single bolt to make a six pointed 'star' -
Dylan fixing the first of 20 'stars' within the hexagons, each making 6 triangles that gives the sphere strength

The project took the entire day, and was quite exhausting. Great fun. We'd like to make another, using a home made tool to help compress the joins. Thinking about it we could probably use 3 pieces at twice the length (H) with a hole in the middle for the stars in the hexagons, which would make the job a bit easier. Amazing what you can make from bit's of other peoples waste, just for the fun of it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Build your own: consume less, live more

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

A couple of months ago I read an article by Michael Green in The Age. It spoke of a new target of 5kWh per person per day, the "Go 5" campaign. I was horrified. We used less than half that amount of electricity for a family of four!
In the article there was a link where you could find out how much energy was typically used by a household in the same area with the same number of residents. For our household it was 18.1 kWh per day on average over a year. That's less than the target! What's the point of setting such a target if most of us have already made it?
I wrote to Michael Green of my concerns and he replied with this:
The idea is that we can bring down overall consumption by establishing a norm that's slightly less than the mean (more like the median), by shifting the really high consumers. Still, it seems such an unambitious goal...
Michael checked out this blog and was interested in writing about our project. He interviewed me over the phone for about an hour and wrote the article below which was published in The Age on the 4th of November 2012. You can see the article with links on Michael's website.

 

It was great to have a well written article about our project, in such a high profile newspaper. The traffic on the blog has gone through the roof since it was published. I wonder if something else will come of it?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cleaning old beer bottles for brewing

Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services

Bottles like this, filthy on the inside, can be cleaned with a bit of effort and good technique
I've been home brewing beer off and on for more than 20 years. It was my first venture into fermenting and making my own anything. I used to turn up regularly to parties with a crate of homebrew. It's a financially rewarding pursuit, each bottle of beer costing about 70c to make, while they retail for $5 or more. The trick is to set yourself up right.

Cleaning bottles is the least fun part of the process by far. It's the type of job that you only want to do once. To avoid going through this process more than once make sure that you rinse the bottles a couple of times to ensure that they are clean after you've used them, and stack them away in a cupboard somewhere near where you bottle your beer.

The newer 750ml screwtop bottles can be used but are of poor quality. They are made to be recycled, not reused. The glass is thin and they often break. I use them, but dislike them. My favourite bottles are the old long necks, 750ml thick glass. By using bigger bottles you don't have to clean so many and are encouraged to drink with someone else. Nothing quite like sharing a bottle of beer! The old bottles (and even the new Coopers ones) are designed for reuse and are like gold for homebrewers like myself. I've collected old bottles from the side of the road, full of mud and gunk, and taken them home with the idea that I'd clean them one day. That day has come.


Large collection of old beer bottles being filled with water and left to soak
I started by gathering all my old bottles and cleaning the dirt and labels from the outside. Kai them helped me fill all of the bottle with water to soak - at least overnight before internal cleaning.

After tipping half of the water out I add small (5mm) rough edges stones to the bottle using a funnel. I give the bottle a good shake for a minute or so and then empty the bottle through a tea strainer to retain the stones for the next bottle. I find that this gets rid of the majority of caked on gunk that has stuck to the glass.
A small hand full of rough-edged stones, about 5mm in diameter, are added to the dirty bottle half-filled with water

After shaking the stones around in the bottle for a mintue or so I drain the water out through a large tea strainer into a container so I can reuse the stones for the next bottle

I add some clean water to the bottle and give it a bit of a final clean with a good quality bottle brush
The next step is to fill the bottle about a third with clean water and use a good quality bottle brush to a bit of a scrub. Tip out the water and hold the bottle up to the light to carefully inspect it. If you wouldn't drink out of it, give it another clean.

Clean bottles are then put into a crate, by the time the crate is full (12 bottles) I've had enough, and stack them into a cupboard in the shed. The cupboard is within arms reach of my bottling bench where I refill the bottles with freshly brewed beer (more about that later).

I carefully inspect the bottle to make sure it's clean (this is the same bottle as the first photo)

Clean bottles are stacked in a cupboard in the shed ready for bottling

Friday, October 26, 2012

Standing up for renewables

Principle 11: Use edges and value the marginal
The proverb for this principle "don't think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path" seemed appropriate for this post.

As a committee member of BEAM I helped write our submission to council with regards to the planning permit for the Cherry Tree Wind Farm. In our submission we raised some concerns that we felt needed to be addressed, but felt that, in balance "the overall benefits of the project outweigh the negative impacts", and were supportive of the proposal.

At a Special Council Meeting held last night, just 2 days before the conclusion of the council elections (held by postal vote), BEAM was invited along with other people who made submissions to present their case to council. The extraordinary meeting was called as Infigen (the developer) had put their case to VCAT because council had not made a decision on the development with the 60 day time period. I assume that council was forced by VCAT to take a position before the issue is presented to the tribunal early next month.

In the Agenda I discovered that there were 117 objections and just five letters of support. I heard that there were going to be over 40 presentations to council, each with a time limit of just three minutes. I suspected that BEAM would be the only ones who would be supportive of the development.

I helped prepare the speech and agreed to present it, being the only one in a position to do so. I had been concerned about presenting our position in front of a hostile crowd in the lead up to the meeting. Peter Lockyer was with me for support. I had never spoken in a formal setting such as this before and it wasn't until 36 negative presentations were made, many applauded before a group of well over a hundred supporters, that Mitchell Environment Advisory Committee (MSEAC) presented. In their speech they did not oppose the development and made suggestions on how to address some concerns about flora and fauna, which was detailed in their submission. This presentation was heckled briefly.

I was up next, and managed to read my presentation through without interruption or faltering, with just a few seconds to spare, to my own relief. My speech is reproduced below:
BEAM Mitchell Environment Group
Statement on Cherry Tree Wind Farm
Read to Mitchell Shire Council on 25th October 2012 
by Richard Telford, BEAM Publicity Officer

BEAM Mitchell Environment Group supports the development of wind farms in areas that have already been cleared of native vegetation and that have minimal overall impact on existing native flora and fauna.
We believe the Mitchell Shire Council should support the development of the Cherry Tree Wind Farm, in line with the vision for a sustainable future outlined in the recent Mitchell 2020 Community plan. The key Council vision statement, developed with community input, acknowledges both climate change and peak oil as significant challenges for our communities in the next decade and beyond.
Climate change will cause severe if not disastrous consequences for many people across the world, including Australia and here in Mitchell Shire. The evidence that this is caused by our use of fossil fuels is overwhelming. We have both moral and practical reasons to move away from a highly polluting coal industry towards renewable energy production.
Council’s role in responding to the challenges of climate change and peak oil is clearly articulated in the various sections of the Mitchell 2020 Community Plan. The role of council includes providing leadership and wisely using its planning powers.
Here is a key opportunity to provide leadership on a key challenge for our time, in line with the many shire residents who provided input to the development of this plan.
Renewable energy will come from a wide diversity of technologies that will balance the day-to-day variations in input from the sun, wind, tides etc. Wind power is one valuable source of renewable energy and is already a significant part of the mix of renewable energy sources across the world and in other parts of Australia. For example, in 2011-12, approximately one quarter of South Australia’s energy production was from wind power.
Any concerns about the location or building of wind farms should be considered alongside the benefits of reducing carbon emissions locally and compared with the negative impacts associated with fossil fuel power generation. We do not see why the bar for wind farms should be so much higher than for other developments.
We have some concerns in relation to the Cherry Tree Wind Farm, regarding the impact on native vegetation and wildlife, and these are fully outlined in our written submission. BEAM believes these issues can be adequately addressed within the planning permit process.
We feel that the benefits of the proposal outweigh the negative impacts, as it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a real need to transition to renewable energy sources, in response to declining resource availability and climate change. The wind farm appears to us to be well sited, is on already cleared land and we see opportunities to get good outcomes for the land and biodiversity of the area.
Immediately as I sat down a woman behind me asked me aggressively "Where do you live?", and the feeling in the room was hostile to say the least. A few more opposing presentations followed before the session ended. One man interjected and insisted that he be heard, which was denied (the session ran overtime), he later approached me and spoke told me in an unfriendly tone that I "didn't mention the people". Meanwhile two Infigen representatives were being abused by another woman. I got out of there and caught up the Infigen and MSEAC reps at a fish and chip shop for a drink to quench my dry throat, while we waited for the council meeting to be held soon after.

I watched four of the councilors present their positions on the development before walking out exasperated. All of them caved in to the pressure of the group before them, some were clearly supportive of wind energy, but "not in my backyard" (NIMBY). There was also an amazing conversion of councilors, along with objectors, to 'concern for wildlife' and a general support for renewables - people would just rather that it was somewhere else. Interesting how these people didn't listen to the ways in which issues regarding wildlife could be addressed by local, respected environmental representatives.

There was huge concern by local residents about possible health implications, I believe largely fed by the Australian Landscape Guardians and their relatives the Australian Environment Foundation and Waubra Foundation. I discovered an investigative article entitled "The ugly Landscape of the Guardians" about these groups recently that exposes them for who they really are. They have whipped up residents of the immediate area into a frenzy of worry, feeding on fears of the unknown. I believe that health fears are largely exaggerated, as Simon Chapman illustrates in his talk on ABC's Science Show: Curious distribution for wind turbine sickness.

I was asked why I supported the wind farm and have been thinking about it since. We (modern humans) depend heavily on energy for our way of life. I believe that 'we' are headed for a long period of energy descent, as the peaking of oil supplies and climate change events converge while economic conditions continue to deteriorate. We have a limited opportunity to use the currently available energy to build the infrastructure that can help glide us down the path towards a low energy future. The alternatives are not that attractive, collapse being one of them. For more about these "future scenarios" check out David Holmgren's essay of the same name. I see permaculture thinking as the only way out of the mess that we have created for ourselves.

I'm glad I stood up for what I believe in, even if I wasn't heard.

JUST IN: Have your say on the Renewable Energy Target that energy companies want to reduce. Let's set our own target.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Home grown popcorn

Principle 9: Use small and slow solutions

As an experiment in the garden a couple of years ago I planted some shop bought popcorn (from a bulk foods store) in the front yard. Most of it grew, but it wasn't much good for eating fresh, unless you picked it at just the right time. After it dried on the plant I gave most of it to the chickens. Then I got to thinking that I should try popping it. At first I didn't have much success, with not much of the corn popping. I think this has more to do with my technique than the corn itself, a technique that I have now perfected (the corn just burns if the pot isn't hot enough to pop it).
Our kids often have 'Corn Thins' as a snack, a commercial product made from popped corn. These are often buttered and painted with Vegemite. When you think of how much fat and salt is consumed with each one, popcorn with limited butter and salt is probably a healthier alternative.

Corn grown from shop bought popcorn seed, 2nd generation.
The following season I tried again, using the second generation corn seed. After the plants and cobs dried out I harvested them and stored them in the cool cupboard. When the kids call for a snack we thumb off the corn from a couple of cobs, heat a pot (gas on full) with a tablespoon or two of Rice Bran Oil until the oil is real hot. Then we tip in the corn and give the pot a bit of a wobble from time to time. It usually all pops within a minute or two - which the kids love to watch through the glass lid. I tip the popped corn into a large bowl, and then add a knob of butter into the hot pot. The heat from the pot is enough to melt the butter which is then tipped slowly over the corn. With a pinch or two of salt it's ready to eat, and the kids love it. Good for a family movie session too.


Dried popcorn cobs. Kernels are 'thumbed' off into a bowl in preparation for popping.

Two full cobs make a large bowl of popcorn, a great snack for the kids.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Curved reo used as trellis

Principle 12: Creatively Use and Respond to change

I've become a big fan of reinforcing mesh (reo) as trellis around the garden. When the mesh is curved it has strength to stand on it's own and support plants. With a small backyard we need to be creative in how we can use vertical space and provide other functions at the same time, like shade.

I've been thinking about how to best shade the decking in summer for quite a while. Peter had suggested sails - but there is a need to remove them during the cooler months, which often doesn't get done, reducing the advantages of passive solar design. I wanted to use deciduous fruiting plants instead, as they perform multiple functions and change with the seasons.
What put me off using mesh earlier on is that I felt that the space would become too enclosed and feel like a prison. Mesh does have an industrial feel to it. I got around this but using three strips of heavy duty reo, running wires between them which will eventually support grape vines. I'm going to play with the plants as they grow up the trellis, guiding them on their journey. In time it will look beautiful.

Gaps were left in between the trellis to allow for solar access (for solar oven) and a place to sit to enjoy the garden. The curve gives the reo (reinforcing mesh) strength.
8mm reo-trellis with 200mm squares inserted into holes in the gutter support beam

The base of the trellis had it's end cut off and pressed into the ground 200mm. It was then fixed to the decking for support. A Ruby Seedless table grape was planted at the base.

Three trellis sections with wires linking them cover the entire deck, which will eventually be covered in grape vines and an espaliered apple tree
I used three sheets of thinner mesh (5mm with 200mm squared) around the water tanks and in the netted orchard, with 2.4m star pickets at either end to hold the shape. The bottom row of the mesh was removed and ends pressed into the ground, the curve the top holds its shape pretty well. A gap of about 300mm between the tank and the mesh allows for picking / pruning access and should provide enough space (with maintenance) so that the tree does not rub the galvanised protective layer off the water tank. The water tank should provide a micro-climate that will benefit the fruit tree and can act as a support to help net the tree as the fruits ripen.
The mesh was snaked in the netted orchard / chookyard to give it strength and support. It also provides more growing space in a smaller area and with the different angles should help the fruit to ripen over a longer period. The small corrugated iron fence faces the sun and will provide an ideal space for espaliered fruit trees. I've planted a quince, with the thought that the chickens might leave it alone and a fig, just because I had one sitting around. Eventually I'll set up a grey water system to irrigate the trees.

Used around main water tank with grafted plum (on cherry plum stock) espaliered around the water tank which will help keep it cool during summer.

Reo-trellis curved around cellar / water tank with grafted plum being espaliered to proved shade. There is a 300mm gap to prevent the tree rubbing off the galvanised coating on the tank.
Snaking reo trellis in chook yard with beginnings of espaliered apple / plum / apple. Berries planted against trellis on far wall, fig and quince on short north facing (sunward) wall on the left. Rubble around base of plants to prevent chickens digging up roots.

UPDATE: 17th October

After a comment from an online guest I was inspired to fit corks to the ends of the reinforcing mesh, to head height - to reduce the change of injury. I'd had a shopping bag of corks hanging around since my days of living at Commonground, a venue where groups and residents don't mind a drink every now and then. Back in the old days... corks were used in wine bottles too, but I found that the larger champagne corks were better suited and I had enough for the job.
I held the corks in place with a vice and used a 7mm drill bit for the holes, making sure that I didn't go all the way through. With the mesh being 8mm the fit was tight enough that the cork shouldn't come off too easily.

Champagne corks added to the decking reo-trellis to reduce injury of potential sudden impact

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Roof top maintenance

Principle 6: Produce no waste

An important element to the principle of produce no waste is regular maintenance. Often maintenance is left too late and requires major work or replacement. If done on a timely basis it's not a big job at all.

The reason I went up onto the roof in the first place was to investigate a bird that was stuck in our chimney. On investigation I discovered that the the bird was stuck at the base of the chimney, not nesting at the top, which was my original thought. When I lifted the flue from the stove top two Indian Myna birds took off and flew about our living room, giving us all a bit of a fright. It had been over two years that we had moved in and this was the first time that this had occurred, I decided to leave the top of the flue uncovered figuring the chance of reoccurence slim.

When on the roof I noticed that the Solar PV Panels needed a clean, so I did so. I decided that this should be part of my 6 monthly maintenance regime, which includes termite inspections - made around the equinox each year.

Cleaning solar PV panels, you can see one in the middle that I missed
Cleaning flat plate solar hot water panels, the first time in two years.
 I'd known for a long time that I needed to do something about the lagging on the hot water system. I could see that the foam was deteriorating in the sun. On closer inspection I realised that is was much worse than I thought. This would take more than a coat of UV paint to maintain.

Lagging on our hot water system pipes was deteriorating from sun damage

Solar hot water system pipes left uncovered and exposed to the elements
Some underfloor insulation material left over would be suitable for the job of re-lagging the pipes. I used heavy duty tape to wrap it up, and painted the lot with acrylic paint, for UV protection. I'm hoping that this will last up to ten years, but will have to keep my eye on it.
I'd read in ReNew magazine about the wiring box for the heating element on the hot water tank being uninsulated. We are not using our heating element so I used some left over wool to fill the void and insulate the tank further. I also fitted the end covers that came with the system, helping to further protect the exposed pipework.

Left over underfloor insulation taped around water pipes to protect and further insulate

Pipes re-lagged. Small tank to the left is the expansion tank for the wetback (wood fired hot water heating).
The wiring box for the heating element of the hot water tank, which is unused, was filled with wool to insulate the tank.

End cover for water tank fitted, pipes re-lagged and painted for UV protection.
Just a day after having removed the birds from the flue we discovered another bird within the outer casing of the stove itself - it was probably there the whole time. It was stuck in the lower soot tray and took a bit of gentle persuasion to get out, alive but a well blackened blackbird. It did a great job off cleaning the soot out from around the firebox, but I decided to cover the flue with mesh to prevent further bird entries.

Wire over stove flue to prevent bird entry

Blog Archive