Baby pavement lettuces

I’m going back to working full-time hours. Hurrah! Money! More importantly, it’s work that really interests me (science!) and enables me to develop some really handy skills. But I will admit that I’m a bit worried that I will slip into old bad habits. That I’ll fall back onto the old conveniences, rather than the sustainable habits that I’ve had the luxury of extra time to experiment with and instil into daily life. On the other hand, a lot of the new habits have been much easier than I anticipated, some of them downright lazy. This includes leaving the lettuces in my garden go to seed, and I just found out that this lazy step is paying off! There is a whole new crop of baby lettuces peeping out from in-between our recycled brick pavers in the back yard. I counted 9 🙂

I’m sure that with no effort at all on my part these will soon be large enough to supplement a bean burrito or tasty salad. And without driving anywhere or using any packaging at all. In fact, seeing as they are growing in-between the pavers (rather than in dirt) they probably won’t even require washing. Easy sustainability win!

Garden gains and losses

Strangely perhaps, my efforts to grow some of our own produce were more successful when we lived in an apartment. Partly due to making really excellent soil by fermenting vegetable waste in a bokashi bin and then burying that nutrient source into wooden planter boxes. With full sun on a North facing balcony, those boxes were really high yielding.munched spinach

I thought it would be just as easy to grow food in our backyard, which came replete with raised veggie beds but they haven’t so far been as bountiful as the balcony planters. The soil in the raised beds is quite depleted, so I’m working to enrich it with as much home-made compost as I can. And then there are the pests. Up on the first floor balcony I didn’t have to worry about them much, but this weekend I found out that the local possums had struck again!

The spinach had been growing really nicely and I was starting to ponder what recipe to use the next harvest in but I was too slow. At least the possums don’t actually eat the whole plant and it should bounce back.

 

broadbeansproutWhen I went over to inspect the sad spinach I cheered up considerably when I noticed that my broad beans were sprouting. The possums seemed to leave these alone last winter, so perhaps the beans I planted around the spinach will protect it.

The strong winds we’ve been having have  been blowing my tomatillos off the plant before they are quite ripe. Or perhaps that means they are ripe enough?

And I dug out the chilli plant and potted it up to see if it will survive the winter indoors (we will get our first frost this week). I tried that with an eggplant last winter but it didn’t make it, so fingers crossed.

We’re certainly not feeding ourselves purely with home grown produce, but it’s still fun, even when you inadvertently end up feeding the local critters instead.

A bucket full of goodness

I love composting and I love (trying to) grow things. I love the idea that I can take kitchen waste material, transform it into great plant food, and perhaps even turn it into food for us. I buy the cheapest possible potting mix and usually amend that with compost to top up veggie garden beds, or grow things in pots. We’re at the end of autumn here so it’s a great time to grow some winter lettuces and other things, yet my compost is not ready. What to do? I realise that I can buy compost from the store (not as good as my own) or I can give the nutrient poor potting mix a real boost by mixing in some fertiliser. That’s when it occurred to me that rather than getting in the car and driving to the gardening store to buy a bag of sheep manure, I could forage much closer to home!

Autumn has thankfully brought us some rain so there is much more green grass around. We may even have to mow the lawn (I can’t remember when we did that last, at least a month ago). The kangaroos are loving it, and have been very bold and venturing into the suburbs to enjoy the sporting ovals and local parks.

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A damp little roo as the morning fog clears

Subsequently, there is plenty of fresh roo poo everywhere! It didn’t take too much work, but we did get the added benefit of a little bit of exercise while collecting a whole bucket from our local neighbourhood. Hubby and I perhaps roused some curiosity in other people out enjoying the parks (there were 3 simultaneous soccer matches going on down at the soccer field), but I was quite pleased that we were able to fill the whole bucket so easily.

I think roo poo is less rich than other manures, so I think it should be safe to just mix into the potting mix and use straight away. It will be fun to experiment with it anyhow.

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Rainy Day

I can’t remember when we last had a proper rainy day. When all we have to do is be at home and cosy, with soft rain falling outside all day long. It’s really lovely.
It’s especially appreciated because the weather has been drier than usual, so the garden really needs the water. We’ve also been working fairly hard (my husband in particular!), so it’s a great excuse to slow right down.

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The view outside right now, the Japanese maple got a little burnt over summer but still managed to put on some stunning autumn colour

I get a lot of pleasure from growing my own edibles but at the same time, I remember that my main motivation for growing them is attempts at a more sustainable life. Therefore, the garden hasn’t been very productive over summer, when it has been very dry (and I try to only use tank water). It’s also been warmer than normal, hence why the chilli plant and even some basil is still limping on in the otherwise bare veggie patch. I threw down some lettuce seeds and poked in some broad beans yesterday, so here’s hoping the rain will lead to speedy germination and lots of leafy greens in the near future.

rubus

 

It’s also great to see that my new planting of Rubus parvifolius (native raspberry!) is taking off, with new leaves emerging. I didn’t even know that Australian native raspberries were a thing. The best thing about this little bush with tasty fruit is that it can grow in the shady position in my garden where not much else would thrive. That should also make it a little more water-efficient (unlike the metal edged raised bed, which gets very hot and quickly dry). I’ve been trying to grow a few things in the shady garden bed underneath the larger trees, for a more visually appealing garden but also because undergrowth plants should help attract and protect the smaller native birds and lizards.

While the plants outside are enjoying a long drink, hubby has put on Indiana Jones for background noise and nostalgia while we potter around the house. I guess it may not seem like an exciting life to some, but these slow days really do contribute well to our sustainable life. I’ll cook up a lovely meal soon, using locally grown vegetables, dried chickpeas bought in bulk and always with an eye towards minimal packaging and waste.

I know that I’ve blogged about this before, but I also really love days like this to add to my ongoing art project that is my patched jeans. The current count is 7 patches. A friend asked me yesterday if I do it for fashion or to save money. I’m not sure that anyone would really see them as fashionable! And I do like the fact that they are saving me some money. This pair I bought for $7 second hand, and I’m certainly extending their life, but I also have my ‘good jeans‘, which I was happy to pay $200 for because they came from an ethical supplier. No, my reasons for patching up this old pair begun with sustainability, continue with comfort and the knowledge that the sewing calms my mind, and also the intriguing thought that perhaps one day they will consist entirely of patches. And I don’t think anyone else will have a pair quite the same!

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Tree week!

I’m a bit late to the party but it’s currently Canberra tree week. What could be more sustainable than trees? Here are some beauties that I saw on my mini mountain walk today:

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I’m not sure if the photo I took with my phone does them justice, but the almost silver bark really shone in the afternoon sun.

I’ll have to find out what species they are, I had a look on the Atlas of Living Australia and my closest guess after looking there would be the Brittle gum (Eucalyptus mannifera), but perhaps they are scribbly gums or something else?

In other local news Canberra now has a mattress recycling scheme! So Cool. The metal springs are recycled and the fabric components can be used to make carpet underlay and other things.

 

Loving my bike more and more

I’ve been bike commuting  (7.7 km each way) at least a few times a week for about the past year. I’d still say I’m pretty unfit, and can only manage small hills but I DO see a slight improvement. I got proper bike gloves for Christmas so that I can keep riding through the winter. Winter mornings here are often 0°C or lower even up until 9 or 10 am. This is very cold for Australia!! I have free parking at my workplace but I’m determined to stay on the bike for my own health and that of the environment and also my wallet.

Riding this week was extra enjoyable because someone had written inspirational mottos on the bike path with chalk! Stopping to take a photo of this was also a good excuse to sit at the nearby pond and eat my walnut and date muffin. A nice halfway break!

Other short interruptions to riding involved roadworks but that’s ok as these particular ones are to install better road crossings  for where the bike path goes over local streets*. I’m glad I live in bike friendly Canberra! I’m also glad that I’m a little more fit these days. It means that I am inspired to take a longer ride on the weekend, and enjoy some of the deciduous trees that are showing glorious autumn leaves here right now.

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*http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/act-budget-to-boost-bike-paths-and-cycle-infrastructure-20150527-ghata4.html

 

Recycling flexible plastics, and other new habits

Today I remembered to verify something I heard a while ago, something that could reduce the amount of waste I send to landfill even more. I know that a lot of supermarkets in Australia have recycling schemes for the plastic bags they hand out. I don’t think it’s widely known however, that it’s not just supermarket bags that you can return. All sorts of flexible plastic packaging can be recycled at the same time. All of the relevant information can be found here, in an article by Rachel Clemons, published on the Choice website (the highly regarded consumer advocate group here in Australia). Apologies to any international readers as this information is only relevant to Australia, but hopefully similar schemes exist wherever you are!

I’ve read a few blog posts and articles about ‘plastic free’ lifestyles or experiments and I love the idea and am a little bit in awe of those who can make it work. For myself (and hubby, who I convince to join me in my new eco-habits!), I’m not quite there yet. Even though I only work part time I’m still too lazy to make my own pasta for instance. So bags of pasta or corn chips, dried fruit, and plastic around boxes of tea bags, and yes even plastic wrapped herbs or vegetables (as much as I’d like to avoid those) are the types of things that contribute the most to the ‘sent to landfill’ waste that we generate. We’ll continue to try and find alternatives to buying these plastic-packaged items but I’m expecting it to be a slow transition and that’s OK.

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Plastic from dates and tea

In my last post I mentioned that I’ve been a little unmotivated in general. It’s times like that when any new habits tend to fly out the window. Because I don’t like being a hypocrite, this creates problems. For example, this weekend we took the car out twice, once to a social event and then again to run an errand. This is not something that I’m proud of. It probably seems like such a little thing, but I could have ridden my bike on both of those outings. I’m a believer of ‘little things make a difference’ and that’s why I’m happy to recycle a plastic wrapper here and there. But sometimes the little measures get forgotten, and you take the car instead of the bike. While I’d like the habit of bike riding to be more ingrained, I’m not going to beat myself up that it’s not. Because while I’m feeling negative about using the car unnecessarily, I probably wouldn’t remember to look up the information on recycling my pasta wrappers.

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I’ll save up all the packaging in this perfect receptacle, the plastic ‘bag’ that came around a head of celery (from when I didn’t make it to the farmers market)

Changing lifestyles is often harder than we give credit for. So I’m happy to grab hold of those moments of inspiration and to remember that it will all slowly sink in and will feel natural and commonsense in the end. Stashing a few bits of flexible plastic in a new storage destination, I recalled that I had similarly set aside a few other pieces when I had first heard of the idea. So I’m already further ahead than I thought I was! And I’m sure that sometime in the near future, when another inspired moments hits, I’ll take a nice big collection of flexible plastics to the collection point, and I’ll take them on my bike 🙂

And because pictures of my trash are a little boring, here are some pelicans:
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Use everything twice!

One persons trash is another’s treasure. I have little collections of ‘rubbish’ all over our small house, although I have become much better at organising these collections. No longer do I throw random rubber (elastic) bands, twist ties, ribbons etc into drawers, now there is a dedicated jar full of each of these used but still useful items.

And it’s great when you get a chance to re-use them. The other weekend I packed up some gifts to send over to America. The gifts are wrapped in tissue paper (saved after purchasing a new shirt etc.), the box and packing peanuts were from online shopping, the gift tags were card from a craft project literally years ago.

packing peanuts

Occassionally, you  do have to throw some of it out though. I’ve set myself a rule of only collecting a ‘fruit box worth’ of glass jars, any more go straight into the recycling bin after use. Of course seeing all of the salsa jars piling up reminds me that I should just make my own tomato salsa! That’s another bonus of hanging onto all of this disposable packaging, it shows you just how much waste is being created. And it makes you think, and perhaps even changes some habits.

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I cheat a little on my own jar rule by ‘using them’ to store dry goods (which I could just keep in the plastic bags they come in)

 

Lazy sustainability

Sometimes sustainability is hard work, as mentioned in my last post. These days I put more effort into living sustainably by riding my bike rather than driving, preparing more meals from scratch, attempting to grow my own vegetables, composting etc., etc. And I know that these lifestyle measures don’t suit everyone. Our child-free lifestyle and the fact that I currently work part time means that it is easy for me to soak dried beans overnight, and then monitor them for a few hours while I write a blog post or clean the house, rather than just opening a tin of refried beans (mmm, bean burritos/quesadillas/nachos). I’m also lucky in that I enjoy chopping vegetables, so doing things the longer way, with a knife, means that we don’t need to clutter up the kitchen with fancy appliances. The modern conveniences do help in our often-too busy lives but it’s more STUFF, and usually using electricity too. So it often seems that it’s a question of convenience vs. sustainability.

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It’s not always though. A while back we pruned some branches in the garden, then we left them gathered in a pile in our driveway. We could have taken the whole lot to the mulch supplier, who takes your discarded green waste and turns it into mulch, but we were lazy instead and left the pile where it was for a few weeks. Seeing as it doesn’t rain often in Canberra the leaves on the branches quickly turned dry and brittle and fell from the branches and twigs. This was fantastic. We collect vegetable waste from a few friends to add to our compost bin and sometimes I need to go hunting for dry materials to add to the sloppy wet vegetable waste for the correct mixture. This time we just lifted the larger branches out of our discard pile and then scooped and swept up the valuable leaves. Something that was a large volume of waste material that had to be disposed of had ‘magically’ transformed into half waste, half valuable feedstock material and all because we were too lazy to haul the waste away.

It made me think of other lazy sustainable measures that I use:

  •  installing solar panels (not personally, there were professionals involved). These of course involve some effort to earn the money for the initial outlay but the best part is that they eventually pay themselves off (certainly in this quite sunny part of the world). These also contribute to guilt-free use of our big appliances. We now only run the dishwasher/clothes washing machine when the sun is shining.
  • Water wise plants in the garden. Our garden came already planted with plants that grow on little water. I’ve added some native plants that require little input, maybe just a little pruning to encourage flowering.
  • I don’t dry dishes. If the dishwasher hasn’t dried things adequately (plastic lunch boxes!) or if I’ve hand washed a bunch of stuff, it remains in the dish rack till dry enough to put away. Why bother using a tea (dish) towel just for it to get that damp smell and then need washing?
  • More and more these days I don’t wear bras. I’ve always hated bra shopping (I’m an A cup, and therefore lucky that I don’t really need bras except for sport), so wearing them less often means buying less, and less washing. Oh and it’s a million times more comfortable.
  • When I need some basil from the garden I pick a whole stalk, strip the large leaves from the bottom and then store any remaining in a glass of water. Result: an easy way to start a new plant that just needs to be poked back into the soil once strong roots have been produced. At the end of summer now, my veggie beds are full of little basil plants. I’m looking forward to pesto.
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Ready for planting

There are probably plenty of other little actions that I don’t do, out of pure laziness that come with a sustainability bonus (like washing the car very infrequently).

One thing that I put some mental energy into at least, is noticing all of the single serve items that are used in food service these days. I think I noticed it especially when I was living in the U.S.A., where for instance, you will be handed a serviette/paper napkin with just about any food or drink purchase (um no, I don’t need some paper to hold my can of drink thanks). It’s supposed to signify good service or something but there are often times when you are given a whole wad of disposable paper in a bag of takeout (or ‘takeaway’ in English). Last weekend here in Canberra we came across a stall operated by one of the major supermarket chains, handing out free chocolate samples. So I asked for a piece, less than a square and was handed it with yet another disposable serviette. This ‘fancy’ marketing trick, aiming to make a cheap piece of chocolate seem like some delicacy did not work on me. Instead the chocolate went straight into my mouth, barely touching the serviette, which therefore remained clean enough to be pocketed. I’ll use it later when I’m feeling lazy and need to clean up a spill.

 

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At least it won’t go straight into the bin

And straws! Back when I was in my twenties and spending too much time in bars it was the feminist in me that would be bugged by straws. Why is it that men are given mixed drinks without a plastic straw but it is assumed that a woman will want to demurely sip through a bit of disposable plastic? Not me, and luckily I’m not the only one. Check out the great work that The Last Straw are up to. Hopefully everyone can start being a bit more lazy with this kind of stuff and stop automatically handing out serviettes, straws, disposable cutlery etc. I’ll start putting some effort into refusing them!