Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October Garden

The Echium looks wonderful, but I need to find out how to care for it after flowering.  There seem to be two schools: prune it hard, and prune it lightly.  Oh dear.

Thought it would be fun to try to grow a pineapple.

My passionfruit has started to grow.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ghastly Moments in Gardening V: Red in Beak and Claw

Yesterday, the boys came rushing in to tell me that there was a mouse in the chook food bucket.  The bucket was nearly empty and the poor mouse, not a very large one, was unable to jump out.  I roused on the boys for leaving the lid off overnight and took the bucket outside.

There we were as I tipped the bucket slowly sideways to let the mouse out: the Geek, the Twig, the Sprig and the chooks wandering near us.  The mouse finally leapt out and bolted between my husband's feet, looking for safety in the grass nearby.

But too late!  One of our chooks saw the movement and tore after it.  To my surprise, she was able to snatch the mouse up in her beak -- it shrieked! -- and then all the chooks were after her.  The poor mouse was dropped and snatched up several times before one of the girls triumphantly carried off the now-lifeless body to a corner of the back yard.

I had no idea chickens would attack an animal as big as a mouse!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Back Yard in Early Spring

A lot has happened, but not much in the back yard. Rain and family activities have cut my gardening back a trifle. Then I looked up and saw spring everywhere.

Remember those sweet little chickens?

They've grown up a bit! The chook at the front is laying. Note her fully-developed comb and wattles. The one at the back has not come into lay yet.

Our guinea pigs have decided on a feral lifestyle. They have spent most of the winter outside and DO NOT want to be caught!

I finally pruned the quince.

And after having no tomatoes last summer, the plants have decided to bear through winter instead.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Finding my Own Style

While wandering the blogosphere I came across a Personal Style Bootcamp by Fieldstone Hill (whose house I admired a while ago on Houzz).

The first step is to use words to describe what you'd like your home to be like, in terms of purpose, feel and look, with the aim of narrowing down to about five adjectives.  Here are mine:


(The author also suggests a "Don't buy word" to prevent yourself from buying things you really shouldn't!)

As we have a number of things to buy for our house, including some expensive items, I thought I'd better think about decorating for a bit. While I enjoy reading A Beach Cottage (that first picture), it's not my style, exactly. I love the same textures, but I need more colour in my life.  Besides, I'm a little further from the beach!

And I have a similar problem with Belgian Pearls: beautiful textures, but while those subtle tertiary tones are lovely under the soft Belgian light, our bright sunshine would turn it all to grey. We need stronger colours: acrylics, not washes, under our harsh light.

Dining Room

What I love:
cast iron
hammered metals
traditional materials and craftsmanship
a bit of industrial
Australian timbers
green glass
historical context

The Lettered Cottage traditional dining room
What I don't like:
hygienically clean
two-pack poly

Living Room eclectic

Colours I like:

blues, especially blue-greens
yellow, except yellow-browns
purple, but not mauve
greens, except olive-greens
ecru, but not beige
charcoal, but not black
soft whites and creams, but not pastels
peach and apricot, but not banana and orange

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ways and Products to Save Energy and CO2e

On Power
New South Wales' electricity supply is generated by black coal power stations. It has been calculated that
the average NSW home uses:

7,300 kWh of electricity a year,
which is derived from burning
3.7 tonnes of black coal, 
and causes
8 tonnes of carbon pollution

I've looked at old bills and think that our household used ~5400 kWh/yr before the renovation.

It makes sense to minimise our use of electricity and to use gas or solar energy in preference to coal-fired electricity. This post covers methods and products which reduce energy consumption; a later post will cover passive energy-efficiency measures which we have designed into the house.

Heating Water

Households use about a third of their energy to heat water.
We already have a solar water heater. It has an electric booster on a timer switch, which we have programmed to go on for two periods a day: 6-8am and 5-8pm (of course the power only runs when the thermostat requires it). This covers our showers and the washing up.
  I normally wash clothes in cold water, and try to use solar-heated water if I need warm -- that is, I run warm loads in the middle of the day.


Watts Per Equiv. 60w Bulb6060146
Lifespan (hours)100020001500030000

Unfortunately, I cannot remember where all the data for this table comes from; I collected it from various sources.  Lighting comprises only about 7% of household energy use, and I imagine that proportion is declining.  LED lighting is only just starting to make an impression; give it another ten years and we'll see it take over from compact fluorescents. We've used a number of LED light fittings and the rest are CFLs.
My favourite LEDs are the strips under my cabinets, which I use while cooking.  A lovely warm white light and definitely worth the price!


Heating Air

We have not yet installed  the gas heater which we think we might need in the family room.  This winter will be an interesting test of our passive measures! My Grandmas's draught snake now lies at our front door (that's it up the top).  We have also installed beautiful full-length lined curtains, with pelmets, on our family room doors and window. Glass is a very good conductor of heat and needs to be insulated.  Proper curtaining provides you with an air layer to buffer the room from the outside.  Double-glazing was simply too expensive.

Cooling Air

We have installed a fan in the family room. Sydney's summer humidity makes a fan the best option for a large space. We have retained an elderly air conditioner in our bedroom, but use it rarely.  Last summer was so mild that we didn't use the air con and barely used our new fan!

Refrigerating Food

Refrigeration accounts for about 14% of a household's power consumption. We have one fridge and I am considering buying a small chest freezer as my children's appetites get bigger.  One of the great hidden electricity users of Aussie households is that old, less efficient fridge, which is moved to the uninsulated garage, filled with beer and (often) left running, in case of an impromptu party. Apparently, 40% of freestanding Australian homes have a "beer fridge"!

Household Appliances and Entertainment Equipment (excluding refrigerator)

These are thought to account for about 27% of energy consumption, particularly if you don't turn them off at the mains. We chose our appliances by looking at Choice magazine for efficient products that suit our needs.

We now have a dishwasher, which I use once a day.  It heats its own water using mains electricity, which is a new cost.  My previous dishwasher still operates regularly; it's about 6' tall and needs a kiss to start, rather than a mains connection.  Our new grill and range hood are also electric, but we have a new gas oven and stove.

The washing machine is also new.  We bought relatively efficient appliances but a top-loader (which uses much more water and energy than a front-loader) is the only sensible option for a busy family with growing children.  As is customary amongst Aussies, I own a clothes dryer, but only use it during wet spells.

We have a number of computers but they all have LCD screens, as does the TV.  We have not yet replaced our defunct sound equipment.  Below is one of the unusual things I asked the builders for:

Most people's sound gear is plugged into a power point located inconveniently behind the equipment, so it's usually left on standby.  The black switch you see above will turn off the TV and sound equipment at the mains.   From the kitchen.  My children have not yet worked out the implications of this, but I am sure they will grasp it when they are teenagers.

Have you worked out any ways to reduce your power consumption?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Gardening Weather at Last!

Down the side of my driveway is a gap to the fence of no more than 15cm, as deep as the slab.  The gap had nothing in it at all except weeds, and I thought I had no soil to put in it until I remembered the unused planter box mix sitting in a heap near my Hill's hoist.  We weeded, then I barrowed the planter box mix to the driveway and the kids swept it into the gap.  When we were uncovering the mix, we found a nest of blue ants with their eggs.

At every fence-post, the Sprig planted Dietes grandiflora, which I had divided from a clump in the front garden.  The clumps are shallow-rooted in my clay soil but were very hard to dig out because the clump was a good half-metre across.  Dividing the clump took a while too as I hadn't tried it before.  Dietes is a great plant for Sydney, growing in a slow-spreading clump of strappy leaves to 60cm and requiring no attention whatever.  The flowers are of the iris type, with a purple 'cup' over a wide white 'saucer'.  Unfortunately, these wilt quickly when cut.

At the shady end of the long bed, the Sprig strewed forget-me-not seeds.  I popped in a Pelargonium where we will see it from our family-room window, then planted rooted segments of Coleus amboinicus up at the sunny end.  Near our pond garden, I found a baby Erigeron karvinskianus growing, and I've transplanted this to the driveway bed too.

The native violets I bought the other day (with the sweet peas and bugle flower) has gone under the little bracelet honey-myrtle by the pond.  The sweet peas are planted around two tetrapods in the herb bed.  I've also planted the blugle flower there.  I have a feeling it is Ajuga reptans 'Cavalier' rather than the Ajuga reptans purpurea on the label: the cultivars were mixed in together and mine has large purple leaves rather than small ones.  I thought the Ajuga would look good next to the Echium because of the contrast in foliage, and I do hope the bloom periods overlap:  the bugle flowers are the same shape and colour as the Echium's, just much smaller.

Ixia viridiflora are a turquoise colour with a purple-black central eye, so I thought they'd go well with my mallard-green pergola.  I've planted them around the bugle flower.  There are now half a dozen Allium 'Drumstick' bulbs at the back of the herb bed too. 

The peacock flower, Moarea aristata, has snow-white petals with a navy-blue stain at the base.  I thought they'd look nice near my rosemary (which has a deep blue flower) and marjoram.  At the other end of the bed, I have planted deep velvety purple Sparaxis so one day they will flower near a pineapple sage (not yet purchased).

Then I've started a row of 'Greenfeast' peas near my washing line and am soaking some snow peas for planting on one of my tetrapods in the herb bed.  The other tetrapods have sweet peas around them. The only harvest in prospect is of small tomatoes, but they are delicious!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

After the Rain

I popped into Bunnings the other day and grabbed a few little things to add to my garden:

Then it started to rain, which stopped me from planting them. By this morning we had an ankle-deep pond in the back yard, but the rain is still pouring down. I'm thinking about an ark.

There were a few moments of sunshine, however, so out I went to see what I could see.

Mysteriously, the tomatoes are starting to flower. In April!

I hope I get better results than I did with this Brandywine. Ugh!