Friday, August 29, 2008

Upon Simplicity

Scrub Oak has been pondering why simple living is "so darn difficult". I think it's... because it is! Simple living isn't brainless living; that's what we're leaving behind. In fact, I would define Simple Living as a lifestyle based on making choices in favour of sustainability. And that means questioning our assumptions, the hardest form of thinking, along with the hard grind of keeping ourselves informed. It's the mindfulness that makes it difficult, the sudden rethinking of all the old ways all at once. But how can we move forward when we get stuck?

I think the first step is one from permaculture: design by analysis. You start by listing the characteristics of components of a system. An honest assessment of who we are and where we are is important. As one of our assets is money available, I think a look at the budget is essential. But there are other resources, particularly your time and your emotional resources. Is there a possible activity or goal that doesn't fit with the money, time or energy you have available? Then it's off the list. I have poor fine-motor skills and not much time. Sewing my own clothes isn't on my list of aspirations! But I love gardening and cooking, so I do have a vegetable garden.

The other part of design by analysis is putting various components together so that you have a system that works efficiently. I haven't baked bread for ages, but I love doing it, and I have a little more time now that I am no longer spending it at the physiotherapist's.... and our preferred commercial bread has just hit $5 a loaf. Baking my own bread has just reappeared on the agenda.

Another permie idea which can help is the notion of making the least change for the greatest possible effect. Think of small, meaningful changes, not grand gestures. In Flylady terms, take baby steps. Treat life with the patience and care you take with early tomato seedlings, and then see what a harvest you get.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sydney Golden Wattle

Let misers hoard and hide their gold;
Here there is treasure-trove untold,
In yellow blossom, mass on mass
Spread out for wayfarers who pass
With hearts to feel, and eyes to see
How lovely is the wattle tree.

The Wattle Tree, Dora Wilcox

This is my Sydney Golden Wattle (Acacia longifolia); the cylindrical
flower-heads are about 4cm long. We tend to think of wattles as having round flower-heads, but this isn't always the case. My tree has a shrubby habit and is about 3m tall. They'll grow to 8m but, like most acacias, aren't long-lived. Unlike my other wattles, this species has large leaves (actually phyllodes, but I'll leave that to the botanists to discuss). It is only lightly scented, but to me the smell has an undertone of rotting vegetation. I'm glad it's right up the back and that its scent is overpowered by that of the Fringe Wattle! This is one I won't be growing again. The next one I try will be our national flower, A. pycnantha.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Parramatta Wattle

As promised, here is another of my wattle trees in flower. It is Acacia parramattensis, the Parramatta Wattle. When I bought it, the tag said that it would grow to five metres high. That's great, I thought; I need something to protect the house from westerly sun, but not something that will grow tall enough to obstruct our electrical wires. And it's a native of Western Sydney, too!

See where the wires are?

Oh well, at least it keeps the summer sun off the garden.

I'd guess the tree is about 8m tall. It is only after you've been a victim that you hear that nurseries can be a bit "imaginative" in describing the potential heights of plants. In some cases, this is not their fault: some Australian species vary considerably in height depending on growing conditions. The Royal Botanical Gardens says the Parramatta Wattle will reach 6m. I would guess that they grew it on Sydney sandstone, perhaps in the harbourside gardens, and that it does not really enjoy those conditions. The Australian National Botanic Gardens puts the height at 16m! If this much variation in height is possible, why not give the range on the label?

All my wattle flowers have held on well this year. We've had some cold, rainy weather, and it seems to have lengthened the flowering period. Last year, this tree was only in flower for two weeks before old-gold confetti littered the ground. This year, it's been about a month, and the flowers are only starting to fall.

This brings me to a garden mystery. As I said, I have two Parramatta Wattles. Only this one is in flower. The other is not even in bud. All I can think of is that the second one is growing against a garden shed, giving it a cool root run. Perhaps it doesn't know it's almost Spring. As the temperature outside is currently about 12 C, but the apparent temperature is 6 C, I'm not sure that I'm ready to believe in Spring yet, either.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Composting Confluence

I found an interesting pair of posts today. Rhonda Jean, as I mentioned, has been discussing composting, and was horrified to discover that one of her readers:
  • is not allowed to capture rainwater (a state law)
  • is not allowed to have a clothesline (Home Owners' Association by-law)
  • is not allowed to have chickens (ditto)
Indeed the poor lady is supposed to have her landscaping vetted by the HOA. Rhonda Jean's reaction is pretty much the same as mine. I'm particularly intrigued that Colorado doesn't allow the capture of rainwater from hard surfaces like roofs. After all, that water will enter the stormwater system (I assume) rather than being absorbed by the land, and therefore cause flooding.

It is even more remarkable that citizens of the Land of the Free would voluntarily sign up to the intrusive impositions of HOAs, yet they do. I would consider it a gross impertinence for my neighbours to interfere in quiet, private backyard matters such as my washing. How is it any business of theirs?

But oh, it's a different matter when the elected government tells people what to do! San Francisco wants to bring in mandatory recycling -- and that's government interference! No matter that proper separation of rubbish lowers the costs of disposal as well as protecting the environment. It's intrusion. Yet what the HOA decrees isn't? With considerably less justification?

I must say the San Francisco legislation does seem rather ham-fisted. I think my council's solution involves more carrot and less stick -- most Sydney councils would have a similar system. In my municipality, we are issued one 120-litre (32 US gallons) rubbish bin, which is emptied weekly. Excess rubbish removal must be ordered and paid for. The recycling bin is 240 litres (64 US gallons) and is emptied fortnightly -- it takes paper, steel tins, aluminium cans, glass and recyclable plastics. The identical green waste bin (for garden refuse) is emptied on the alternate fortnight. If the garbos notice improperly sorted waste, they will refuse to empty the bin -- it's then the householder's responsibility to fix it up. There is no need to turn the garbos into the eco-police, but there is a reasonable incentive to sort rubbish properly and minimise landfill waste.

Friday, August 1, 2008

No Piles Here!

Or at least, not often. Rhonda Jean at Down To Earth has posted some very useful information about how to make compost. Now that I have chooks as well as guinea pigs, I don't tend to build compost heaps. Why is this?

Firstly, our lawn clippings are left to dry and used as bedding for our guinea pigs. The guinea pigs will eat some weeds adn grasses, so they are fed them directly. Used piggie bedding goes into the chook dome (or run); it may still contain things that the chooks will eat, like stray seeds. Other green waste, like radish tops and weeds the piggies won't eat, are thrown straight in to the chooks as well. The chooks eat some material, then scratch all the stuff around and poo on it, turning it into compost in situ. When I move the chook dome on, I can plant straight in to a luscious composty mixture, and I don't need to shovel anything anywhere.

Not only do I avoid moving manure about, I don't dig my garden beds very often either. I have had problems with my back this year, following a car accident, and this method has proved a blessing to me. It would suit anyone whose back really isn't up to heavy garden work.

It is true that you can never have too much compost. I keep most organic material on my property, apart from the usual things like rose prunings and noxious weeds. If the piggies don't eat something, the chooks probably will. We have a large lawn area with plenty of kikuyu, which needs frequent cutting in warm weather... yet I still never seem to have enough compost. Ah, compost, a gardener's brown gold!