Republic of Moreland

April 16, 2009

Coburg Urban Harvest

Filed under: Coburg,gardening,neighbours,notices,urban farming — Kath @ 3:52 pm

urban-harvest-general-20091

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March 10, 2008

The FLY!

Filed under: environment,food,gardening,urban farming — Faithh @ 5:21 pm

Should I be worried? Can I take precautions? Do fruit fly like quince?

The news that a backyard in Ascot Vale has been quarantined after the discovery of fruit-fly has me in a small, but still significant, panic. How many backyards between that one and mine, and how many contain fruit? I’m guessing, not many, and all of them, respectively.

My grandparents lived near the NSW border and so I grew up spending a large part of the summer holidays parked on the side of the road while grandma force-fed us fruit prior to us being inspected at the fruit-fly post. Apparently this was because the alternative, throwing the fruit into the bin provided, would be ‘wasting it’. Should we be setting set up a Checkpoint Charlie at Puckle St? Destroying our fruit? Checking it? I’m off to do some research, what does fruit fly look like and what should we be doing? (Of course I could have done that before I posted but that would go against the spirit of the internet now wouldn’t it?)

February 14, 2008

Local and or general

I’ve decided to try and incorporate more indigenous plants in my plans for the garden. This started off as a way to encourage local frogs into our pond and grew from there. It’s not that I plan to get rid of everything else, just to inform myself about what the indigenous possibilities might be. Towards this I was planning on going to a talk on indigenous plants of Moreland at Coburg library recently.

Alas, like most good intentions it was lost somewhere between the coffee breaks and urgent internet-browsing. Luckily Ceres has a range of plants indigenous to Merri Creek and surounding areas and recently I discovered (only in the virtual sense so far) the Victorian Indigenous Nurseries Cooperative (VINC) at Fairfield which looks like it would be worth a real-life visit. The Keelbundora Indigenous Nursery at Latrobe Uni also looks very interesting.

This morning however while indulging in the sort of internet-surfing that meant I missed the original talk in the first place, I found Gardening with Indigenous Plants in Moreland, a 16 page booklet produced for Moreland City Council by Merri Creek management committee with an extensive list of plants and trees complete with illustrations.

Armed with this and the Moreland Nature Strip Beautification Guidelines how can I go wrong?

January 6, 2008

The vegetable-domestic complex

Thanks, Max Franc, for telling me to get off my arse and do another post. Following Marty’s great comment about his concrete patch turned native and vegie garden, here are some before and after snaps of my own.

Like Marty’s, our garden has a very different microclimate to what it had a year ago. These pics don’t show my beloved urban crops, but on the roof you can see my plastic planter boxes with lightweight medium and pumpkins planted within.

But these pics are old — now the pumpkin crop is covering a great expanse of rooftop. Their superb soft green solar panels are harvesting sunlight and turning it into sweet cellulose, while cooling our house. Joy. The most inexpensive solar-panel-carbon-uptake-insulating-beautifiers ever. I’m hoping the Moreland City Council will get cranky with me for breaching some by-law by having pumpkins on my roof. If this happens, I’ll bludgeon them with the green roof policies of Toronto and Germany, where there is now a whopping 14 per cent of green roof coverage in urban centres, thanks to policy incentive. That’s right: more than one in ten buildings there have some rooftop vegetation!

A world expert on green roofs, Germany’s Professor Manfred Köhler, is coming to Melbourne soon to give talks about green roof policy and practicalities. Come along and see him! There will be many green roof experts there.

I’ll put some current photos up of my rooftop crop soon.

December 7, 2007

Happiness

Filed under: gardening,urban farming — Kath @ 10:41 am

is the first ripe tomato of the season.

November 7, 2007

Green roofs on sheds

Filed under: Backyard experiment,environment,gardening,urban farming — Kath @ 11:33 am

Green Roofs Australia reports that this rooftop garden cost around $35 per square metre to install. This is because the plants are hardy herbs and sedums, which don’t require watering (so no expensive roof irrigation).

A couple of months ago I put a green roof on the chook shed, which has a corrugated iron roof. I put down dam lining, and an old wadding doona for filtration. Most green roofs would require better filtration than this (carpet underlay is good), but since the water runoff from my chook shed goes straight into the garden, nutrient-rich runoff isn’t a problem.

Next, I put compost, and I (quite literally) threw a few sedums on top. The borders are old fence posts. I have photographed the start of my green chook roof, and I’ll
put up before and after pics in a few months, as well as pics of my (house) rooftop pumpkin crop.

June 5, 2007

The grass is always greener

Filed under: Brunswick,Coburg,environment,food,gardening,gardens,mischief,neighbours — Faithh @ 11:11 am

As promised, oh so long ago, I took some photos of revegetated nature strips I’ve stumbled across (sometimes literally). There are actually a lot more than I was expecting, once I started looking for them, so I’ve created a spot for them on flickr. This also means others will also be able to upload any photos they have that they think are worth sharing. If you go to http://www.flickr.com/groups/republicofmoreland/ you can see the ones I’ve uploaded, upload your own, and also start other topics relevant to the greater Republic of Moreland. Of course what we really need is some photos of guerilla planting in action!

What I can show you right now is my own first tentative steps in nature strip revegetation. Our street doesn’t actually have nature strips, just some holes in the asphalt where the council planted trees several years ago. Discussions with the neighbours reveal that almost every tree without exception was trashed by, well, they got a bit vague at this point, but it finally came out that it would have been by their sons and friends. The sons are now older and I think even they would look down their noses at tree trashing these days. One neighbour has planted an olive and donated one to me so I have supplemented it with some grasses from my front garden. I plan to imperceptibly extend the boundaries of my ‘nature strip’ until the breadth of our house has been ‘greened’ without anyone having really noticed it. I’ve also promised another neighbour that if she provides a tree I will plant it and then provide all the grasses she needs from my garden. If you are interested in Moreland’s Naturestrip Beautification Guidelines (!) you can download them from here.
its a beginning

May 25, 2007

How Exxon-Mobil and the Howard government meddled with my backyard

Filed under: Backyard experiment,gardening,gardens,politics,urban farming — Kath @ 10:40 am

Somehow I doubt the Howard government’s $23 million advertising blitz to try and persuade Australians that the government is tackling global warming is going to wash with my apple tree. Without losing its leaves, it has started blossoming. That’s right: my apple tree thinks it’s spring.

Pictured above is a branch from my plum tree, against this morning’s newspaper. That’s right: it’s started blossoming, too! Despite the carbon lobbyists’ campaigns, it too thinks it’s spring. It’ll get a rude shock when winter finally does arrive, and all that energy will be wasted. I wonder if it will fruit at all. I wonder when I can take cuttings to graft, since the plants’ hormones are so out of whack.

Just as I was gearing up to the miserable end of my summer vegie patch, just as I contemplated building a hothouse, I get a whole new bumper crop of tomatoes. In autumn. It’s almost mid-year, almost winter, and I’m still picking summer produce. I’ve still got lettuces, broccholi and beans in force.

I should be overjoyed, of course. With climate change, as The Age reported this morning, autumn is the new spring. With record temperature rises:

Normally flowering in the hottest months of summer, they are blooming with profusion right now.

Experts say temperature changes are reducing the difference between seasons, sending many plant varieties into a spin.

Melbourne is heading for a record warm May as the average maximum temperature hovers at 20 degrees, significantly higher than the historic monthly average of 16.7 degrees.

We can expect to enjoy longer vegie seasons with global warming. But we can expect the downside, too: extreme weather and very confused plants. The warmer weather is also bringing unseasonal fungi and insects into our backyards. Just last week I cut a budding citrus-wasp nest out of my lime tree. They’re suppossed to happen around September.

My nectarine tree hasn’t even started losing its leaves. My nashi tree, peach tree and grape vines haven’t lost theirs.

I’m really interested in how these weather patterns are affecting back yards, so I’d be grateful if anyone visiting would record their experiences in the comments.

May 13, 2007

Revegetating our nature strips

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  • Revegetated nature strip in Rennie Street, Coburg.

Fanged if I can figure why urban councils don’t encourage nature-strip vegetation (other than lawn and maybe a single tree). After all, it’s in their best interests.

The Age reports that “big leafy trees can often add more value to a house than an expensive renovation”, and that “Real estate agents agree that a good streetscape can add 30 per cent to the price of a property.”

There’s nothing to suggest this isn’t true of understory vegetation too. The Age also reports that

Houses in and around Separation Street, Northcote, used to overlook a municipal tip until the council transformed the site into All Nations Park, he says. Not surprisingly, values soared.

“Property values went up overnight by 20 to 30 per cent,” Mr Valentic says.

The reason is obvious. As Michael Pollan has written, it seems we’re hard-wired to enjoy a pastoral sensibility that lies in that comfort zone between nature and culture. (Where in that zone your comfort range falls is probably cultural and generational: my elderly Italian neighbours on one side and my middle-age Lebanese neighbours on the other prioritise pavers, stones and cement over living landscape.)

In light of current urban planning values, lawns are as outmoded as the Cyprus hedge.

  • most residents use fossil fuel to mow lawns
  • lawns are high-maintenance
  • exotic lawn grasses seed competitive weeds on our creek banks
  • you get better stormwater and weed management from a bush garden than a strip of lawn

There are some very inspirational native nature-strips around Westgarth, and some orchard strips as well. I was intrigued by a link provided by Marty in his comment about an earlier post on urban farming. He linked to a site discussing the philosophy and practice of guerrilla gardening (or ‘green graffiti’). I’m scheming a bit of guerrilla gardening myself. My Loquat tree spawned hundreds of baby trees this summer, and I’m nursing them to replanting stage. I’m going to target specific bare nature-strip sites around Coburg and plant them at the end of winter. Hopefully people will leave them to grow and fruit, so Coburg can enjoy the Victory garden philosophy. I shall document my endeavours: watch this space.

May 10, 2007

Green roofs could make more land in Moreland

This is what I’d like to see more of in residential Moreland:

And, in our light industrial areas, this:

A brand new gallery of photographs of green roofs from around the world is on the Green Roofs for Healthy Australian Cities website. Just follow the links to the photo gallery.

May 3, 2007

Another reason the State should support home vegie patches

Oh, Bettina, Bettina. In your plagiarised article, syndicated in newspapers Australia-wide, you claimed that organic food was more dangerous than factory-farmed food. There are too many outright lies in this copied-and-pasted industry spin article to unpack here, but they have been adequately discredited elsewhere.

But you got me thinking about the ongoing lobbying efforts to discredit organic food — even in our suburban vegie patches. Recently, our own Melbourne Times printed some typesetting claiming the answer for home vegie gardeners could be genetically modified crops.

“Efforts to grow drought-resistant crops,” typed Kirsten Alexander, “could extend to the garden… Once crops have been created to cope with drought there’s surely an opportunity to offer genetically modified, drought-tolerant plants to the gardening public.”

This is WAY unlikely, Kirsten. For a start, no such GM commercial crops exist, or have been field-trialled. And repeatedly, industry and independent polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Australians don’t want GM. And a poll by the South Australian Farmers’ Federation revealed 80 per cent of farmers didn’t want it, either, and supported a moratorium on it. There’s no reason to suppose we urban farmers will feel any differently.

And the rhetoric of drought-tolerance coming from industry isn’t matched by peer-review studies. The promises of (patented, monopoly-owned) GM crops — lower yields, drought tolerance, pesticide tolerance, save the third world — look good, but are simply not backed by evidence.

Back to sexologist-turned-industry-lobbyist Bettina’s campaign. I’m reading Michael Pollan’s magnificent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Did I mention that this book is stupendous? Part history, part gastronomy, part biology and politics and philosophy and intrigue, it’s so elegantly researched and written that even those not interested in food production would love it, I swear. It reads as a giant literary essay, and as Penelope Hobhouse said, it’s “as compelling as a detective thriller.” Buy this book: it’s peerless. Really. (If you want examples of Michael Pollan’s writings, they’re here.)

Something I’m learning about from this book is how the by-products of war became integral in industrialised agriculture. In particular, the introduction of petroleum-nitrogen fertilisers meant farmers no longer had to rotate their crops (for example, with legumes, which fix nitrogen in the soil, or livestock, whose poo also adds nitrogen). Using nitrogen fertilizers derived from fossil-fuels, farmers could now plant monocrops repeatedly in the one space:

Liberated from the old biological constraints, the farm could now be managed on industrial principles, as a factory transforming inputs of raw material–chemical fertilizer–into outputs of corn. Since the farm no longer needs to generate and conserve its own fertility by maintaining a diversity of species, synthetic fertilizer opens the way to monoculture, allowing the farmer to bring the factory’s economics of scale and the mechanical efficiency to nature.

… From the standpoint of industrial efficiency, it’s too bad we can’t simply drink petroleum directly, because there’s a lot less energy in a bushel of corn (measured in calories) than there is in the half-gallon of oil required to produce it. Ecologically, this is a fabulously expensive way to produce food…

Put another way, he writes, “it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food.” The traditional farm, on the other hand, “produced more than two calories of food energy for every calorie of energy invested.”

More than this. Nitrogen fertilizers decrease our food’s nutrient content. Graham Harvey has documented the ways nitrogen fertilisers don’t stimulate nutrient density, but they do cause excess growth of sappy tissue within plant cell walls. Repeated studies show animals and plants fed chemical fertilisers are lower in the essential vitamins and minerals than organically-fed animals and organically-grown food. Although Bettina’s plagiarised article reckons the opposite.

We home gardeners, even those who buy our fertilizer from Bunnings, tend not to pullute river systems with petroleum fertilizer run-off. And we use far less water and energy to make our food.

Even if you do believe Bettina’s claims that organic food isn’t tastier (it is), and isn’t more nutritious (empirical studies show it is), for these reasons alone we should be encouraged by the state to grow the stuff. If the State is really interested in sustainability and public health, that is. And there’s no better place to grow it than in our fertile, intensive backyards, where we can use much less water and energy than broadacre farmers.

April 16, 2007

Backyard experiment #3: cheap green roof

I’ve started a garden on my rooftop: a very simple and cheap one. I picked up some large rectangular plastic containers from the hardware ($12 each) and drilled holes in the bottom. I chucked them on the north-facing lean-to roof and then lay Hydrocell in the bottom of the containers and cow poo (from Andrew’s Stock Feed in Sydney Rd) and soil up the sides. Inside the north side of the containers, where the sun hits the black plastic, I put more Hydrocell to act as an insulator. Then I planted a fruit vine in each: passionfruit and kiwi-fruit. I’ll lay some lightweight weldmesh on the roof at some stage: by summer I’m hoping the roof will be a facade of green. Not just beautiful, but a great thermal insulator, and good for the city environment, too, as it reduces the heat-island effect. I shouldn’t need to water them over winter, and the hydrocell should allow for minimal watering in other seasons. Fingers crossed.

That’s not my green roof pictured above: that’s a living wall. You can find out much more about living walls and green roofs in Australia by joining Green Roofs for Healthy Australian Cities. One of its board members, the lovely Sidonie Carpenter (who took this picture), is on a travelling fellowship to study green roofs and living walls around SE Asia and north America. Here are some of her pics:

Getty Centre, LA

Botanic Gardens, Singapore:

School of Art and Design, Singapore:

You can see more of Sidonie’s pics here, and find out more about Green Roofs in Australia here.

March 15, 2007

Coburg lanes get a pasting

Filed under: Brunswick,Coburg,food,gardening,health,neighbours,recipes — Kath @ 9:50 am

Having moved house this year, we don’t have a quince tree. But we harvested far more quinces from Coburg’s laneways than we ever managed to grow on our bug-infested Brunswick tree. This is just part of our harvest from an afternoon walk, during which we collected apples, pears and quinces. There were also grapes, lemons and figs overhanging the lane, and remnants of hundreds of plums gone to waste. Coburg lanes are like Victory gardens.

I was determined this year to avoid quince paste recipes. Most are so goddamn convoluted. Aside from the tedious peeling and coring and processing and straining, there’s the relentless stirring. All that for a lump of paste from two dozen quinces. No wonder the stuff costs forty to sixty bucks per kg, depending on whether you go to the Vic Market or DJ’s food hall. (As an aside, I’m boycotting DJ’s because of their corporate thuggery towards the Australia Institute. Arseholes.)

I like the recipes that tell you to chuck in pips, cores ‘n’ all. And instead of stirring for hours, after stirring for about half an hour, I let the paste thing happen over a couple of days. You spread it onto trays and put it first in the oven on low heat, during which time you repeatedly mesh the crust that forms into the rest of the sludge. Then, when it starts resembling soft paste, you put it in the hot sun under a tea-towel and do same. Stephanie Alexander writes of one chef who puts the sludge on a tray in the back window of the car until it goes lovely and leathery.

After that, it’s divine quince paste with soft white cheese. Mmm… paste.

February 12, 2007

Backyard experiment


With Hydrocell, watered twice weekly


Without Hydrocell, watered twice weekly (more…)

January 28, 2007

Why Moreland Council should invest in groofs

I had the good fortune recently to meet an urban planning graduate from RMIT, Ben Nicholson. I had the further good fortune to read his elegant thesis about Melbourne’s ‘groofs’. Urban rooftop gardens reduce our environmental footprint in so many ways, but more than that, they’re bringing new ecologies, aesthetics and social behaviours into cities. They’re even reducing urban management problems. And they’re profitable! Not so much in Melbourne: we’re woefuly behind the rest of the world in the green roofs movement. (more…)

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. (more…)

January 6, 2007

Dobbing on our neighbours

Filed under: art,crime,environment,gardening,neighbours,politics,water — Kath @ 12:07 am

Tough-on-crime serial dobber Bane of Malakas just emailed me. He alerted me to a blog on the site of a happening Melbourne music magazine, Mess+Noise. There, PaulsGrandfather writes:

“It is not anyone’s ‘right’ to water their concrete driveways. Or to take 20 minute showers. Or to hose down their windows.”

Hear, hear — naturally. Same, of course, with big urban 4WDs. Toorak tractors should be outlawed, for sure, and we should treat the ‘rights’ rhetoric coming from the motoring community car lobby with the tar-and-feathering it deserves. It’s no-one’s ‘right’ to warm the planet for the sake of Big Ego. But listen up: here’s PaulsGrandfather’s answer to water-crime: (more…)

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