Republic of Moreland

January 16, 2007

New ways with water

Can you guess what these are? A hint: they’re not marital aids. They are in fact the one device. This device is very interesting in light of the argument that currrent water restrictions, which target individuals (residents), are systemically unfair.

As the argument goes, they’re unfair because the bulk of water usage comes from industry and agriculture. It’s an imperfect but strong argument.

The injustice doesn’t just lie in the disproportionate amount of water used in industrial processes (and car manufacturing is among the highest water consumers), but the riverloads of water that could be harvested from the roofs of industrial production plants.

Equally strong is the argument one commenter raised on another republic thread:

I do believe… productive vegetable and fruit gardens should be given a greater water allowance than simple ornamental flower beds. Watering lawns is already prohibited, so this should be the next step. By growing your own food, you’re saving agricultural irrigation, plus shipping, packing and storage costs. It’s a saving of resources all the way down the production line. By growing food at home, you’re SAVING resources, and that should be encouraged and rewarded by the state.

As an urban farmer, I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t think ornamental gardens are just a luxury, though. They’re soul food. But I do believe in challenging the distinction between ornamental and produce gardens. The edible estates movement, yet to take off in Australia, does this to some extent. So does the green roof, bushtops and vertical garden movements.

But yet to be acknowledged by our home improvement shows is that few things are as visually pleasing as a monocrop of cabbages, with different varieties in each bed or row. The tonal variation — icy green to deep purple — rivals any flower bed. Or a bed of zucchini plants in flower, or bok choy gone to seed.

I’m fortunate to be blessed with a big backyard, and ninety percent of my beds are fruit and veg. We’re getting to the stage of 90 per cent self-sufficiency in vegies; by next summer it’ll be closer to 100.

This means big water consumption (and we harvest rainwater as well), but even bigger — MUCH bigger — environmental savings, considering industrial agriculture water practices, freight fuel, packaging and other environmental costs. In Moreland, where a great many households grow their own produce, surely any residential restrictions should first make a household audit?

This would be difficult, I know. But residents are a soft target for regulation, simply because, unlike big industry, we don’t carry regulators in our pockets. That’s about to change, I hope. I’m involved with the Urban Agriculture Network, which I’m hoping can build enough momentum to be influential in this area.

The other issue of course is Morelanders’ other consumer habits. Beef production, as last weekend’s Sunday Age reminded us, takes hundreds of times as much water per kilo of protein than vegetable production. By reducing our meat consumption and consuming our own, home-grown protein (at my home, our protein also comes from our eggs, fresh chick peas and beans), surely our household deserves to earn a little more water? (Eating less meat also helps the ozone layer recover.) Surely there can be an urban system akin to carbon-trading? Precisely how this would work in practical terms, I can’t imagine: I don’t have that kind of brain. But I’d bet you, with its high Greens voting population, Moreland would have a high percentage of conscious consumers relative to other electorates.


Another thing urban folk can do is make water from air. You think I’m a crank? The current Urban Agriculture Network newsletter carries a story about a new device which does this. It’s the Sun2Water machine, pictured above:

This Sun2Water equipment, costing around A$1,500, is capable of capturing about 300 litres of water a day from humid air. Both it and improved harvesting of dew overnight are expected to be a major underpinning of the paradigm shift towards urban agriculture, aquaculture and aquaponics — especially in rooftop growing of food.

Neat, huh? The article reckons this unit, at $1500, is “able to produce 300 litres of potable water a day ad infinitum, for less than municipal supply cost from big dam infrastructure.” If local and state governments really wanted to individualise responsibility for water consumption, why not put (less) money where their mouths are, and supply new households with one of these devices? Make them somehow part of the ResiCode? (I understand there are others like these, although this one has the Australian patent.)

Another innovation I learned through the Network. A company called Fytogreen has made a product that, mixed with your soil, promotes “twice the green, half the water”. Being an organic type, I was very, very sus about this until a microbiologist explained it to me. Now I’m sold. (I promise you this ain’t no ad.) It’s not a nutrient or chemical additive, but a medium, made largely of proteins, and breaking down after 7 or so years into regular soil composition. Its microscopic ‘cells’ hold water and air (aerating the soil), and plant roots grow into them as they do the regular soil. Because its microscopic ‘cells’ only release water when roots ‘ask’ for it, you can plant thirsty plants alongside drought-tolerant plants without problems, provided they like the same soil type. And unlike coir (which I use now), it doesn’t slump or sink when dry or expand when wet: it maintains its size—great for rooftop gardeners. It’s called Hydrocell, and it’s enviro-friendly. Many large-scale council projects use it for lawns and trees, and some have reported that they no longer need to truck water and have saved the cost several times over. The company’s own field trials seem to support its claim of “Twice the green, half the water”. I’m experimenting with it in one bed starting next week, and I’ll do a control model, so I’ll keep you posted.

These kind of technologies, along with greywater and tank rebates, are what governments should be providing or subsidising, if they really want us to reduce our garden water consumption without complaint. These are the sorts of industries that, unlike car and coal companies, don’t have governments in their pockets, but should.



  1. “ninety percent of my beds are fruit and veg”

    You wouldn’t NEED these marital aids, then.

    Comment by Neighbourhood Pervert — January 16, 2007 @ 11:02 pm

  2. Heh.


    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — January 16, 2007 @ 11:29 pm

  3. Heh. Excellent post Girlie. I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing too, not least because I’ve spent the last week pushing back the weeds and trying to resuscitate my ailing herb and vegetable gardens (if I let the other half at the vege patch we end up with nothing but squash and I hate squash).

    I rang up about a solar system for the roof, which will cost $16,000 and pay for half our electricity. So it might take 30 years to break even. Gah! That’s with the rebate.

    Grey water recycling however starts at $50 for a simple diverter fitting and go up $1,000 or even to $11,000, depending on how many tanks and filter systems you go for and whether you are happy to risk Council’s Environmental Officers asking why your grey water is running over your lawn, and not being piped beneath the surface. Myself, I’d risk it, but then I grew up reusing water and lived happily off tank water for my whole childhood and JUST CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY PUBLIC WATER UTILITIES RECKON THEIR WATER IS PURER.


    Comment by Letters — January 16, 2007 @ 11:44 pm

  4. Apparently, Letters, councils – being the complaints-driven types – won’t check up on your greywater system unless someone whinges or there’s a serious health risk.

    We asked a green plumbing company if we could just put a pipe out to the vegie beds (you’re not supposed to put it on vegies). The plumber said: “I can’t do it, or I get a $5000 fine. But I can tell you how to do it, and you won’t.”.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — January 16, 2007 @ 11:54 pm

  5. Hey I really want to get some of that Hydrocell but the website only nominates a place in Langwarrin. Does anyone know a supplier closer (before I start ringing around).

    Comment by leonaardo — January 17, 2007 @ 9:40 am

  6. Nice post Girl — thanks; good info and reasonably argued. My intitial reaction is one which is perhaps a little despondent. I currently don’t have the time to tend to a vegie patch. My ‘ornamental’ garden — a small patch which I tend in a low intensity fashion, barely survives. There’s a few things that unravel from this for me: my garden (however tawdry) provides me some respite from other stresses (I love nature and it relaxes me) — I’m sure that’s not dissimilar to others appreciation of their personal green spaces. But how to do we tend these? I simply don’t have the time (altho will admit my life needs readjustment!).
    I was appalled by my neighbour who built over his small garden space to add three new rooms to his place … I couldn’t believe he’d lose his only green space for concrete and a better investment. Now there’s a small part of me that suggests that what he did (and i don’t know his motives) may have been quite reasonable. Perhaps he’s happy using the shared green spaces that our community gardens provide.
    Many of us, given the way the economy works and the way we can fall into overwork, don’t have the time to properly tend a garden — perhaps communal green spaces are one of the ways forward for all us. Well, either that, or perhaps a kinder solution would be live more simply, with more responsibility as to our individual footprint.

    Comment by Larson — January 17, 2007 @ 11:06 am

  7. On a slight diversion, more about space and vegetables than water usage, have a look at this article. (hope that link works!) It’s about a couple of guys who plant vegetable seeds all over Tokyo in unexpected public places, and in disused empty urban blocks.

    There’s a huge empty block behind my place that doesn’t look like it’s being developed any time soon. I wonde how long one could use the empty block as a sort of community farm before the owners came and kicked them off… It’d ne cool to just throw around a bunch of seeds for pumpkins or zucchinis and see what grew.

    Comment by Marty — January 17, 2007 @ 11:16 am

  8. GotA, any further info on the “Sun2Water” machine? $1500 isn’t too steep if it produced up to 300L per day. suppliment that with rainwater and your reliance on urban water is almost gone! (depending on how much water you use of course)

    Comment by Marty — January 17, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  9. 1. Leonaaardo – I’ve contacted the Fytogreen company and asked for a list of retailers in Melbourne. Will keep you posted.

    2. Larson — on that site is a low-maintenance vertical garden – just the thing to keep your neighbour happy in a small space. Yes, and it seems you need to get a life, smell the roses, work to live, not live to work, all that…

    3. Marty – terrific link: thank you! Very exciting stuff. (Heh! Random gardens as urban ‘vandalism’! Love it!) I will get more info about the Sun2Water machine from the Urban Agriculture Network (it’s linked on this site’s sidebar).

    I know precisely the block you’re talking of. I went there one day to do a bit of “pruning”. Got a few interesting weeds. Apparently that block, according the the bloke who lives on the west side of it, is due for (approved) development any day now (apparrently that street spent $10K campaigning to save the old house, without success). Only last week they caged it up so no more people could dump their crap there (and I loved trawling through that crap. Got some very nice timber garden edging out of it…)

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — January 17, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  10. Listening to RN today, a woman rang in to say she’s catching the water dripping out of her aircon and the presenter said he’s doing the same and gathering quite a lot of water for the garden. Neither could figure out where that water was coming from. Well obviously it’s condensation – moisture coming right out of the air, so I think the sun2water machine might be a smart innovation. Altho 1500 smackers is a lot…

    Comment by leonaardo — January 17, 2007 @ 8:14 pm

  11. I have to ask you, what’s all that wet stuff coming out of the sky today?


    Comment by Marty — January 19, 2007 @ 9:03 am

  12. It’s practice for election time.

    Comment by Neighbourhood Pervert — January 19, 2007 @ 9:50 am

  13. Here, Marty, is the Urban Agriculture Networkd’s news bulletin with the Sun2Water info in it:

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — January 21, 2007 @ 8:05 pm

  14. GotA, thanks, downloaded and archived.

    Comment by Marty — January 22, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  15. Leonaaardo – Just got the list of current Hydrocell retail suppliers from Fytogreen. They say they’re expanding all the time, so you could, I suppose, still ask your local nursery to get it in:

    9749 1688 All Green Nursery Hopper Crossing 130 Old Geelong Rd, Hoppers Crossing
    8369 6200 Water Pros Hoppers Crossing 9/428 Old Geelong Rd, Hoppers Crossing

    9850 5155 Mac McVie Bulleen 6 Manningham Rd East, Bulleen
    9744 3138 Sunbury Garden Supplies 63 Horne St, Sunbury
    9439 3355 Andy Eltham Gdn centre 431 Main Rd, Eltham

    9808 4067 Burwood Wave Irrigation 39-41 Huntingdale Rd, Burwood
    9752 2434 Darren Manna Gum Building & Garden Suppliers 1170 Burwood Hwy, upper Ferntree Gully

    9558 1060 Maurie Isman Suregro Unit 1 42-44 Garden Bvd, Dingley 9785 2626 Neil Trigger Peninsula Irrigation Fact. 3 9 Sir Laurance Dve Frankston
    9787 1116 Rob Stark Crittendens Mt eliza Way Mt Eliza
    9789 8266 John Morss Burdett’s Mc Clelland Dve Frankston
    9782 2728 Michael Hodges Western Port Hwy

    5439 3997 Sue Philips Bendigrow 443 Tannery Lane Strathfieldsaye
    5839 3997 Riverside Gardens, Shepparton Goulburn Vallet Hwy Shepparton
    5480 6665 Euchuca Sand & Soil 47 Sturt St, Echuca

    Here’s the Greening Australia field trial with Hydrocell:

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — January 22, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  16. For some reason, this thread is becoming particularly susceptible to spam. I’ve deleted around a dozen from this thread only this past week. So I’m closing comments: if you want to comment on anything within it, you can do so on ‘Backyard Experiment’.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — March 4, 2007 @ 7:37 pm

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