Sunday, January 31, 2010

How to build a garden box part 2 (plus a part 1 progress report)

Back in December 09 I posted about one DIY method to make a garden box to keep opossums and brush turkeys out of your vege garden.

Despite being a little cluttered due to our enthusiasm to plant as much as possible in the space available, we now have spinach, chillies, broccoli and zucchini growing quite happily where 6 weeks ago there was bare dirt (check out the photos from the original post)

The chilli plants seem to have enjoyed the recent rain and are flowering and sprouting a lot of little chillies.

Making the wooden framed box with a lid in part one took a bit of work. Since it seems that the local brush turkeys aren't so interested in more mature plants we are also using more simplified protection for other plants.

For our sunflowers, we simply bent some chicken wire into a upside down "half-pipe".

Keeping it as free of other bought or non-degradable items as possible, we used some bits of bamboo bark that was lying around to wedge the chicken wire open

and then some large seed pods to hold it all down.

When the sunflowers grew taller, we simply cut holes for them to grow through. Easy.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Australian Government pledges minimum climate goal - Here's how to tell them its not enough

If you are angry that the government has announced it will only commit to its minimum greenhouse gas reduction target of 5% by 2020, then you could consider writing to Penny Wong and telling her it's not good enough.

Now to be completely fair the government has left its 5-25% reduction on the table. As opposed to a 5% target which will do next to nothing to slow global warming, a 25% reduction target by 2020 would be a positive step, showing leadership on climate change and in-step with what the Europeans and Japanese are doing.
However the government has put a number of conditions on a target higher than 5%, and even though some of these conditions appear to be being met, ie: targets from developing countries and other developed countries such as the Japanese (who are committing to a 25% reduction), the Australian target is still rock bottom.

As a rich country with sky high per-capita emissions, Australia has a moral duty to take the lead on this and not hide behind poorer countries, some of whom, like Brazil, are currently pledging more than we are.

So if you want to let the government know that pledging (next to) nothing is not a viable option, here's where to do it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's not just about us - climate change, mountain ecosystems and species extinction

Recently I went hiking in the mountains (see the photos). I got me to thinking, how will climate change affect ecosystems in spectacular and otherwise pristine part of the world such as this?

Quite a lot of science is being done to try to answer these questions. Generally the response is called "the escalator effect", as it gets hotter species move up the mountain. In a more temperate zone such as photographed, there is (luckily) room to move, but in tropical mountain areas (such as the rainforests of north queensland) mountain tops are already occupied meaning the only place for some species to go is extinct.

Changes in climate also affect things like rainfall, the start and end of growing seasons, the distributions of invasive species and pathogens, which can also stress species and ecosystems even if there is room to move. Faster moving species such as butterflies risk becoming separated from potentially slower moving trees and plants which form their natural ecosystem and food source.

While some species will adapt, the lack of suitable habitat, ecosystem disruption and also the sheer speed of the current global warming will see the extinction of many many species. In fact, this is already being observed and actually began decades ago. Predictions for the future suggest large numbers of species worldwide will be committed to extinction by 2050 due to the effects of climate change.

So remember, in trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, it's not just our own skins we're trying to save.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Australian Stingless Bees

There are at least 1,500 species of bee native to Australia. Some are solitary (i.e., don't live in communal hives) and a most species sting. The interesting ones if you want to keep your own bees in your back yard are the stingless social kind that make honey. The most common variety found in Southeast Queensland are trigona carbonaria. These bees look more like ants than like a European bee. In the wild, they live in holes in trees, and their habitat is steadily reducing as trees are cut down. They are however very adaptable, and have been found in dark spaces inside houses.

It's easy to keep these bees in your back yard, but don't expect anywhere near the honey yield that you'd get from European honey bees. A hive produces at most 1kg a year. The honey is much runnier than commercial honey (the bees obviously do not reduce the water content as much as their bigger relatives do), and is hard to buy commercially, and expensive. It's real bush tucker, and known as sugarbag among Aborigines.

Trigona carbonaria are effective pollinators, and are especially good on indigenous plants, such as macadamias. Different plants require different modes of pollination, so don't expect the same insect to be good for everything. Biodiversity as with so many other aspects of the environment is important. These bees will not frighten away other pollinators, since they are small and not aggressive.

The bees are much smaller than European honey bees, so they need a smaller hive. They store their honey in different structures than the well-known honey comb. The inside of the nest is laid down in a spiral shape, and the honey is stored in little spherical pots made of a mix of wax and resins the bees collect from plants. If the nest is big enough, they store the honey far from the brood area, where eggs hatch and develop into new bees. This is a good strategy to protect the brood area from predators, who would mainly be attracted to the honey. A good hive design has multiple levels, so the bees can isolate the honey far from the brood area. This makes it possible to remove the honey without disturbing most of the nest.

They also are quite different from honey bees in details of their behaviour. I haven't observed mine doing the well-studied bee dance so they presumably have a different approach to guiding others to food sources. Although they form swarms occasionally, this has nothing to do with starting a new hive. My view is that these swarms arise from rapid growth in the number of bees under good conditions, resulting in the hive sending bees out too fast. When they return, traffic backs up, like an airport in bad weather. After this happens a few times, they appear to learn to moderate the rate of sending foragers out so the backup doesn't happen any more. At its height, a swarm can extend several metres into the air. Rather than stinging (and subsequently dying) to defend themselves, they rely on weight of numbers. If you threaten the hive, they swarm all over you. They deal with invaders by gluing them down with the mix of wax and resin they use as a construction material, then dismember them.

You can buy a hive and get it shipped to your home. I bought mine from Russell and Janine Zabel, who have a long history of rescuing bees from felled trees.

Once the hive is well established, it can defend itself against most predators and parasites. Provided you put it in a reasonable place with some protection from the worst of the sun (the nest material can melt if it's too hot), the bees are the ideal pet. They do their own thing, and you can ignore them unless you want to watch them. Harvesting the honey is a lot easier than for stinging bees (though I have seen reports that wearing a little protection is useful, as the bees can be uncomfortable to deal with if large numbers swarm over you, as they would in defence of their home). They don't need any special food: their foraging range is about 500m, so as long as there are flowers in that radius, they will look after themselves. This is an ancient species: similar bees have been found preserved in amber 80-million years old, so they've out-survived the dinosaurs.

A bee can be distinguished from a fly by counting wings. Flies have 2 wings, bees have 4. A wasp is very similar to a bee, except it's not vegetarian. It's useful to know these things because many of the 1,500+ varieties of Australian bee don't form hives, and can easily be mistaken for a different kind of insect, if you (for example) see one disappearing into a small hole in a tree that is obviously not big enough to be a hive.

There is no reason not to keep these bees even if you have a very small yard. The hive is small, and the bees will find their own food if your garden is inadequate. You would not, however, buy them as a paying proposition. A complete kit including a hive with bees costs around $300. The best reason to have them is to provide a home for a species whose habitat is threatened for no better reason than that too many people can't see the value in nature. If at some time in the future, humanity comes to its collective senses, these little bees will happily return to their natural habitat.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Saying goodbye to single use plastic water bottles

Plastic water bottles come in for a lot of stick these days, but are fairly ubiquitous in our society as people have come to expect to have water on hand.
After-all it's a fair question to ask how necessary it is to buy spring/ filtered tap water/ branded tap water in the first place when you live in a first world country with safe water. While single use plastic bottles pretty much epitomize the silliness of our throw-away culture and despite recycling a lot of plastic still makes it way into the environment and end up in places like the great pacific garbage patch.
The final bottled product also carries the embodied emissions of manufacturing the bottle, sourcing/filtering the water, transport, chilling etc etc.
One way to reduce the impact of plastic bottle is to reuse them, which for a lot of bottles isn't what they are designed for and so you risk bacterial growth and potentially degradation of the bottle over time.

So what are the alternative options for those of us who like to have a drink bottle handy? Luckily options abound with varying degrees of usefulness

1) Use drinking fountains (ok in some cities, not so good away from them)
2) If it just sits on our desk at work, why not use a glass bottle.
3) Buy a proper reusable drink bottle that won't break, leak and leach and is recyclable. You could get a proper plastic drink bottle but make sure to avoid plastics #3 and #7 as they can leach toxins into the water. An increasing popular option is to buy a steel or aluminum bottle. Reputable brands of steel/aluminum bottles includes Sigg, Nathan, Klean Kanteen and Thermos. From the customers perspective these have the advantage that they last years, shouldn't contaminate the water and are just as useful hiking in the mountains as they are on your desk.

From an environmental perspective one metal bottle is obviously worse than one plastic bottle, so what's the break even number? I couldn't find a published life-cycle analysis comparing the two, but the New York Times had a piece last year which stated that for greenhouse gasses after your metal bottle has displaced 50 plastic bottles it's better for the climate and after it has displaced 500 plastic bottles it's better for the environment in all aspects (and that wasn't including the impact producing the water present in the plastic bottles). Given how long a metal bottle last (unless you lose it) it should eventually be better for the environment.

So, if you like drinking water and you like water bottles, consider getting a steel/aluminum one and say goodbye to plastic bottles.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mangoes, mangoes and more mangoes!

When we moved to our couple of acres last September, we were delighted to have 3 mature mango trees. We spent some time trying to work out how we would get nets over the tops to protect the fruit from the bats and birds when they began to ripen. 

Well, I have to say, we have been most happy to share our harvest with the bats and birds as you may have heard this has been a year for a bumper mango crop!

It has been quite a delight to be sitting on the deck having breakfast and watching the chickens eying off the cockatoos ( they are a big bird!) eating and wondering just how judicious it was to move closer? They obviously had  second thoughts and returned somewhat later! So there were the chickens ( lovely yellow yolks), the cockies, the rosellas, the king parrots and a couple of different  honey eaters all very well fed, as well as the bats at night.

In spite of that, we had mangoes, mangoes and more mangoes! Some were shared with friends and then I got busy. Firstly, Doone and I spent an afternoon bottling using the old Fowlers bottling kit and preserved over a dozen jars of luscious tasting mangoes. We had intended to build a solar drier to dry excess fruit but somehow time slipped by and we resorted to an air dehydrator which worked very well and it is not exorbitant in energy usage. We worked out it cost less than 60 cents for each drying load of 5 trays. Dried mango, yum! I had some young visitors who pronounced it 'delicious'.

Not being chutney or jam eaters, I looked for another avenue and found a recipe for Mango, Lemongrass and Ginger cordial, all of which I had growing. 
For those of you wanting to try it out, here is the recipe:
Mango, Lemongrass and Ginger Cordial
550gm  (about 3)  chopped very ripe mango
375gm                     sugar 
2 stalks lemon grass, bruised
5cm piece of ginger
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped ( I used liquid vanilla essence)
60ml lime juice to taste ( or lemon)

1. Combine all ingredients except lime juice in a large saucepan. Sir over medium heat until sugar dissolved. bring to boil and simmer until mango is pulpy. Strain through a fine sieve or muslin cloth. Discard solids. Add lime juice and bottle in a sterile bottle
The recipe says to store in fridge but I have made several batches and keeping them in a dark cupboard so will let you know how they store. 
Enjoy with mineral water or filtered water to taste.

As for the rest, well, our freezer is filling up with lots of frozen pulp which is just fabulous as a smoothie with chia added to keep our energy up through this hot weather!

Hope that helps you with some ideas for your surplus mangoes.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A deluge of upcoming events - and how to find out about them

With the year underway Transition Town events and other sustainability events are now appearing thick and fast, including Transition Town gatherings and information evenings, community grant information events, permaculture and sustainable living workshops and the list goes on.

Generally there are far to many events occurring to promote all of them on the blog, however a large number are listed on the Transition Town ning website (if you are new to this site, you need to create a login, which is easy, and then you can view the events calendar and list events too). Furthermore Sustainable Jamboree does a good job of listing Brisbane wide events on their website as well as in their newsletters.

As a bit of a taster for whats on, here are some of the upcoming events

Transition Brisbane gathering and screening of the "In Transition" movie
Sun 17th Jan, 10.15am
Brisbane City Square library (opposite the casino) in the community meeting room ground floor
After the movie there will be updates from various Transition groups, a Q/A and general open forum discussion etc.
The meeting room has a fridge, microwave, cutlery etc so bring some lunch if you want.

Community Grant information nights
19,20, and 21th of Jan
Information nights on the various BCC community grants. More info here on the BCC website

Friends of Oxley Common: Aust. Day BBQ and Cricket
Jan 26th 4-8pm
Location: Environment Centre, Oxley Creek Common
Sounds like good family fun.
More info on the Transition ning site (lots of info) or at Friend of Oxley Common Website (less info)

Permaculture and Sustainable Living workshops
Series in Feb/March 2010
Taught by Richard Neilsen and Simon Ross who are permaculture teachers from Northey Street City Farm.
Topic range from "Growing Healthy Vegies", "Keeping Chooks in Your Backyard", "Composting & Worm Farming", "Pests & Diseases", "Understanding Soil" etc.
More info on the Sustainable Jamboree website.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

TTKD January meeting - Guest speaker: Sustainability Educator & Consultant Howard Nielsen

The first Transition Kenmore meeting for 2010 will be on Jan 20th and feature Howard Nielsen from NAC consulting and the founder of Green Streets as our guest speaker.

Howard will address ways to bring sustainable practices into our daily lives as well as talking about GreenStreets. We have previously described Greenstreets on the blog so check out the link if you want some background, but basically it is a website for individuals and businesses that mixes social networking with a monthly carbon footprint calculator to encourage communities (not just individuals) to live more sustainability.

Howard's business NAC consulting focuses on helping to build sustainable businesses.
"Nielsen and Company believes that the world goes around a whole lot better when people have a significant level of control over their own lives. We also believe that people respond best when what they CAN do is tapped into rather than what they or others think they CAN'T do. This is why we focus on some of the sustainability building blocks that enable this to happen"

Don't miss this opportunity to learn some positive actions for a sustainable future!

Also since it is our first meeting for the year, we'd like to hear everyone's thoughts on what they would like to achieve this year as well as any thoughts on the plans for 2010 we have already.

Wed 20th 7:30pm: Uniting Church Hall
982 Moggill Rd Kenmore

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sustainable businesses in Brisbane part 1: Biome and their blog "Accidental Greenie"

Every once in a while it's good to give a hat tip to other websites and businesses promoting a sustainable lifestyle. So here's an interesting blog to read and related eco-business to consider supporting.

Tracey Bailey who founded the eco-store Biome, which operates both online and from two Brisbane locations has a blog called Accidental Greenie where she writes about various "eco" topics and also gives information on some of the products biome sells.

We have previously profiled the reusable Onya weight bags that can be bought from Biome but the store also offers a wide variety of other eco-products ranging from jewelery to stainless steel water bottles, school supplies to skin care products. So if you are in the market for some mineral makeup, a bamboo cosmetics brush or some reusable sandwich wrap for your childrens' school lunches, this is the place to go.
Biome has stores in Paddington (part of the Paddington Green Precinct) and the city, plus online (which means they deliver).
On their website Biome claims their city store is the Greenest retail store in Australia, containing, amongst other things, a floor made from recycled tyres. Which is certainly an innovative way of putting the three R's into practice.

I recommending checking out both the blog and the store.

Personally I'd like to promote and profile other businesses especially those in the Pullenvale area where we operate (but also in greater Brisbane) that are either selling eco-products/ promoting a sustainable lifestyle and/or conducting their business in a sustainable manner. The more promotion and therefore custom we can give them the better.

If anyone has any suggestions please get in touch, or feel free to write your own profile.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Permablitzing Kenmore - Part 3

Wow, what a boon this rain has been for the permablitz garden :) I'll let the pictures speak for themselves - note that the herbs are already being well harvested! The madagascan bean is thriving, as is the cassava. I've had a bit of trouble with my resident possum, she seems to REALLY like corn. I've planted another lot since the permablitz, but virtually as soon as it comes up she eats it. And she quite likes young tomato plants, although I've noticed that once they start to grow she leaves them alone. Obviously has a sweet tooth and likes the young pick. Bit of creative protection is needed I think....

Anyway, hopefully soon I'll have some pumpkins, melons or sweet potatoes to bring along and share. Feel free to drop by and have a look for yourselves if you're in the area :)

To see the progression from bare earth to productive garden, check out parts 1 and 2 of our series on Permablitzing Kenmore.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thoughts and plans for TTKD in 2010 - Your feedback is welcome

The start of a new year provides an opportunity to think about what Transition Town Kenmore can achieve in 2010 in the Pullenvale ward, and as part of the growing Transition Town Network around Brisbane.

We currently have plans for a bunch of new initiatives for the coming year but would like to hear ideas from everyone for ways to meet, actions to take, workshops to do and topics to learn about.
So, if you have an idea, request or thoughts on our current plans, please leave a comment.

Some of our thoughts to date for 2010 include;

Community dinners
Part of the Transition philosophy is community building and we understand that attending our midweek meeting can be difficult for some. So, we'd like to get everyone together on a semi-regular basis to meet, eat, get to know one another better and talk about how to kick on as a group.

After the success of the first permablitz we are keen to continue blitzing gardens on a monthly basis. The basic rule being that once you have attended three blitzes then you can put your own garden on the roster to be blitzed. We also like the idea of turning front gardens into mini "community gardens" where anyone can come past and grab some fresh produce. If you want to be part of the blitz group and are not already then email either Carol, or transitionkenmore[at]

TTKD sub-groups
It has been observed that the most effective Transition Town groups are those that have multiple subgroups working on different areas. The new year should see our packaging subgroup up and running again but we would like to see various members set up their own subgroups to take action on a specific area they are most passionate about.
An example would be a "local food" subgroup who would organise the permablitz's, try to progress a community garden and (if necessary) help members share round excess food from the growing number of permablitz's gardens, etc. Something to talk about at our first community dinner perhaps?

Meeting speakers and workshop topics
We plan to continue our monthly meetings during 2010 and run more workshops than in 2009, but we would like to hear from you about what topics you would like our meetings to cover.

Any thoughts or requests? If so, please leave a comment.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Making furniture from cardboard

Here at Transition Kenmore we like to promote the three R's: reduce, reuse, recycle. Plus extra ones such as repair. Making some of your own furniture is one way to put some these principles into practice.

It doesn't have to be complicated either, if you have cardboard, string, some cloth and a needle and thread (which should be most members of our community group) then you can make an attractive looking foot stool.
Hat tip to the creative geniuses in the family, my wife and her brother for showing us how it's done.

1) Take a bunch of old cardboard

2) Start cutting out identical sized pieces

3) Stack

4) Stabilise with cardboard retainer round outside, hold in place with string

5) For a bit of comfort, cover with dacron, sew up

6) Cover with fabric

7) Enjoy

So, sure you can just recycle your cardboard, but why not put it to use as something functional? Reusing some "waste" products and reducing the number of trips to Ikea.