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.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sustainable, Simple, Slow Living Blogs

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate

Sustainable Suburbia: Striving for a lower impact lifestyle. Join the Sustainable Living Blogs Linky ListsClearly we are not the only people doing this type of thing. I recently discovered this 'linky list' which collects a whole host of blogs that are doing similar types of things as us. If you write a 'Sustainable, Simple, Slow Living Blog' then you might be interested in including your own on there too.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What's in a name?

Principle 10: Use and value diversity

I've been asked several times why I named our place Abdallah House. The simple answer is that the house is located on Abdallah Road, and I wanted a name for the house. But there is a bit more to it...

We are located in Seymour, in rural Victoria (Australia). Since settlement the town has a predominately Anglo past, and the name 'Abdallah' is quite unusual for this area. I was attracted to the name to challenge the stereotype of the town as being purely Anglo. Interestingly this is changing and there is a noticeable increase in migrants in the area with the controversial proposal for a mosque on the outskirts of Seymour recently approved by council.

I'm not sure why the road was named Abdallah, but I did discover that on of the early pastoral holdings in the region (from the 1850's), known as 'Glenlyon' was also known as 'Abdallah'. The area is located in the Highlands, about 30km east of Seymour. I suspect that our road was named after a property in the area. I am unsure as to why the pastoral holding was referred to as Abdallah, though I suspect that it has something to do with the Afghan cameleers who had first arrived in Australia not long before.

'Afghan cameleers in 1896' Source: State Library of South Australia B10486
During the early days of settlement the Afghan cameleers were pioneers in inland Australia. Camels were first introduced to South Australia in 1840 initially for exploring the interior of the country, and later for the camel trains that delivered goods to remote outposts. They proved to be far more suitable to the harsh climate than horses. The experienced cameleers came from the region around Afghanistan, being some of the first Muslims that naturalised in Australia. The 'Ghan' railway, that runs through the centre of Australia is named after them.

On my own exploration of the interior of Australia I was surprised to discover that many of the reliable waterholes have date palms that still survive, planted by the cameleers.

A kangaroo munching on dates in Milstream NP in 1997

On research into the origins of the word 'Abdallah' I found that the literal translation means "servant (also slave) of Allah", Allah being 'God', but in pre-Islamic Arabia, Allah was considered the creator of the world and giver of rain. I've also heard / read something about 'humbleness before god'.

While I am not a religious man I relate to my interpretation of the word, I feel that I have had to take on the 'Abdallah House' project - to demonstrate that we need to live in harmony with the earth and inspire others in the attempt to do so. While I do this for myself and my family, I am also doing this for the world as a whole - with humility before Gaia. I believe that we need to live in harmony with the earth and each other, and I use permaculture to inform and guide me in this pioneering journey.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mouthwatering watermelon

Principle 9: Use small and slow solutions

I was thinking about which principle to use to illustrate this, and decided on use small and slow solutions, I've been realising that home grown food is a fantastic example of this principle. It's also a good example of obtain a yield.

I was given a large watermelon last year by a friend that grew it at the Seymour Community Garden, it was so delicious that I keep some seeds. This year I raised some seedlings and planted a few of them out. One of them took off and eventually produced a single enormous watermelon. It was so big that Kai couldn't lift it (about 8kg).

Kai trying to lift our first watermelon, that came in at around 8kg
How did I know when to pick it? Well, I asked around and was told that I should pick it when 'you knock it and it sounds hollow'. I was also warned by another friend not to pick it too early, or too late. Hmmm... well I knocked it, it sounded hollow and I picked it. I was waiting for a time when we were visiting friends because we have no room in our tiny fridge to store it and I wanted to share the abundance. Fortunately, when I cut it open, it was perfect! Mmmm, so sweet - way better then anything that you'll find a t the stupermarket. Everyone loved it and it was finished off by the next day.

Enjoying the fruits of our efforts, perfectly juicy and sweet
Next year I think I might try some smaller melons too, it's a bit of a mission tackling a item like this.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Food Purchase analysis

Principle 4: Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

In 2011 we took on the 'Binimum' challenge, successfully only filling one recycle and one rubbish bin for the whole year.

In 2012 we set ourselves another challenge, to record how much we spend on food and drink for the year. We were curious as to how much we actually spend on food that we purchase at the supermarket (and elsewhere), with the idea that we could assess the information and look at where we could make improvements. We also were curious as to how much money we need to generate to live comfortably.


All of our receipts from 2012

The challenge was a bit of a nightmare actually, 100's of receipts to sort through. I went through the tedious process of recording the details into a ledger into various categories that made sense at the time. Sometimes it was difficult to remember where I categorized certain foods, like rice (processed or seeds?) or brewing concentrate (alcohol or processed?), so the results are not 100% accurate, and we may have missed some receipts - especially with regards to 'Going out'.

Some other things to note are that we did not include food or drink that we have grown, bartered or were given, as there was no money exchanged. Also, we did not factor in if we went to someones place for dinner, or they came over to our place - we figure that it balances out in the end (and it's too complex to work out). Here's the results:

Money Spent on Food and Drink in 2012


Q1Q2Q3Q4Totals
Eggs49.4532.5950.3344.00176.37
Dairy273.97203.47253.89308.041039.37
Meat91.37101.12173.50155.10521.09
Produce81.3361.06181.41167.68491.48
Processed429.19243.18502.46503.291678.12
Seeds50.40245.3352.52104.26452.51
Going out97.5076.800.0034.00208.30
Alcohol73.47153.88193.65482.54903.54
Sweets44.9827.4135.9475.73184.06
Totals1191.661144.841443.701874.645654.84

While $5655 seems like quite a lot of money, it works out to $15.50 per day, or $3.87 per person per day or $1.30 per person per meal, including drinks - not much at all. We purchase the best quality food that we can (often organic or biodynamic), so we eat really well. Many item purchases were fairly consistent throughout the year, the blowouts came when we bought food and drinks in bulk. Like bulk seeds in Q2 and alcohol in Q4. Other things to note that affected these results where that Kunie and our two boys were in Japan for one month in Q2.

Eggs: Since September 2012 we have been buying all of our eggs (free range) from a local supplier - $4 per dozen of eggs when available (fluctuates according to the seasons). We have 3 hens ourselves and could reduce this cost considerably by getting another 3.

Dairy: Since September 2012 we have been buying all of milk (raw goat) from a local supplier -
 $4 per litre of milk (4 litres a week). While this is relatively expensive, we believe that it's worth it. I was interested to see how much we spend on dairy compared to other foods, but that's not surprising since we can't really supply this ourselves. We also buy organic (where available) which can be quite a bit more expensive than conventional dairy.

Meat: We have been sourcing meat from local growers where we can, currently goat and pig. Also we try to get our sausages from a (very good) butcher in Avenel. Supermarket meat purchases is usually Kangaroo mince, free range (or organic if available) chicken or fish (incl tinned). We are toying with the idea of raising our own rabbits and yabbies for meat.

Produce: We grow nearly all of our vegies ourselves, with the main exceptions of potatoes (we grow some), mushrooms and ginger. Our own mushrooms would contribute a significant saving. We are beginning to grow quantities of fruit as new trees and new grafts mature, so this expense should reduce increasingly in coming years.

Processed: This is a big category and should probably have been broken down more. Significant purchases in pasta and dry biscuits could be reduced by making our own more often. Other items are trickier like coconut milk, tea, sugar, noodles and coffee. Saying that we grown our own herbal teas and roast our own burdock (gobo), chicory and dandelion for a hot drink (like coffee).

Seeds (nuts, wheat, rice and other grains): I separated this category with the thought that they were relatively unprocessed and could be purchased in bulk, sometimes from local suppliers. We make our own flour from bulk (sometimes local) wheat to make our own bread, pancakes (a regular), pasta (sometimes) and other baked goodies.

Going Out: I wasn't sure whether to include this or not, but I did. Perhaps these figure are not super accurate, as I'm sure that we've been out for fish and chips more than I recorded. Still, we've included what we could remember and it does indicate the we don't go out very often.

Alcohol: This is mainly wine and spirit purchases. I've also included most home brew kits that I purchased. The Q4 figure has blown out the total because of a cellar door wine sale that we went to where we spent $300, the vast majority of which we did not consume in 2012. In December I made my first batch of wine from Cherry Plums, which was a success - so this figure should reduce in time.

Sweets: This is things like chocolate, lollies and ice-cream. Perhaps non-essential, depending on who you ask. We generally avoid these types of foods.

So, was the exercise worth it? Well, now that it's over, yes. Probably wouldn't have been so bad if I'd done the book keeping more regularly, instead of letting all of the receipts pile up after Feb. The process certainly made me more aware of how much we still use the stupermarket, and how I would like to reduce that dependence over time. This year I'm going to get the garden cranking, and we will try to source bulk foods more locally. I really admire the work of David Holmgren and Su Dennett who have managed to avoid the stupermarket all together - a long term goal of mine too.

So, for 2013 we've set a new challenge - to record what we food grow, but more about that later.

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