Republic of Moreland

March 24, 2010

Practising what we preach

I’m conflicted about vege2go in Lygon Street, Brunswick. The food is okay, the prices are somewhat okay, the place is clean and pleasant. And the folk are very nice and they’re kiddy-friendly and all. But while they preach saving the earth, with Peter Singer sermons plastered over their walls, the place whifs of petrochemical excess. Not only are the chairs and tables plastic, but their smoothies and juices — even ‘eat-in’ versions — are served in plastic cups with plastic lids. Half the cutlery is disposable plastic, too. You may as well be eating at McDonald’s. And much of their produce is out of season, and so would’ve accrued lots of fossil-fuelled food miles. I’ve seen melon & berries in their winter fruit salad, for example. And the pantry stuff on their shelves is all imported.

And when the vege2go folk preach good nutrition, perhaps they might reconsider zapping their food in the microwave. Several studies show significant nutrient loss from food subject to microwaving. And perhaps they should reconsider selling the coloured lolly-water posing as health tonic.

Compare and contrast with Each Peach, just a few shops up. The folk there source local produce, would not at gunpoint even consider microwaving their food, and they sell home-made pantry goods. Their furniture and adornments are reused and recycled stuff. And their walls don’t preach saving the planet. They’re just doing it, in their own delicious way.

Perhaps vege2go just has more mainstream appeal, which is good. Different strokes, I suppose.

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April 29, 2009

Thrift and the single foodie

Filed under: environment,food,health,urban farming — Kath @ 6:54 pm

The Avenue has been blessed with a gorgeous little squdgey 3-month-old lassie who’s keeping me sleepless, lactating and honest. (But criminally neglectful of my poor chickens.) Having split with The Father Formerly Known As Bloke On The Av, I’m venturing into the dark depths of single parenthood (though TFFKABOTA still visits daily).

Life is good, but with property settlement, mortgages and all those other adventures, the prospect of losing my beautiful home has forced me to ruminate on ways to be thrifty.

But when it comes to food, price is WAY down my scale of priorities. Buggered if I’m going to start buying cardboard-flavoured mandarins from the US just cos they’re two bucks a kilo. So I’ve been considering how to get more crunch for my apple. (Sorry.)

I’m looking for thrifty ways with produce. Here are a few of my own:

  • My grandma used to save pineapple skins and boil them up. She’d simmer them for a couple of hours, strain them through cheesecloth, and make cordial or jelly with the syrup.
  • A friend once told me off for discarding the bottom bits of broccoli. I’ve now devised a recipe with them: toss them in a hot wok with macadamia oil, crushed macadamias, white pepper, sumac and lemon. You can throw in shredded nori and serve on soba noodles. YUM.
  • I HATE the seedless variety of watermelon — and not only because it tastes rank. It’s because the fat black seeds of the old variety are YUMMY, high in protein and vitamin E, and should be a delicacy. In fact they ARE a delicacy in Singapore, where they are the key ingredient* in the celebrated Mooncake.
  • And watermelon skins! LOVE ‘EM! Yep, the green bits. Crispy, juicy, full of vitamin A and gorgeous when sliced thinly and tossed into salads. I’ve done this a couple of times and no-one has noticed. I suppose they thought twas cucumber, unless they were being polite. Watermelon rinds can also be pickled, of course.

Anyhoo, I’m too goddam sleep-deprived to think of more, but would be SO thankful if I could find a use for green apple peels. See, I’ve been making a lot of Stephanie Alexander’s quick apple cake of late (but to make it really special, add lemon rind, sultanas and walnut), and the curly peel is now taking up acreage. It makes good compost and chook scraps, but it seems a shame not to make it into sumthin’.

__________________________

* though Wiki lists the paste from watermelon seeds as one of many optional ingredients: (五仁, wǔ rén): A filling consisting of 5 types of nuts and seeds, coarsely chopped and held together with maltosewalnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame, or almonds. syrup.

April 16, 2009

Coburg Urban Harvest

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

urban-harvest-general-20091

June 13, 2008

“Green” eggs show their true colours

Our chooks have gone off the lay for winter, and I find myself furious.

When it comes to buying eggs, ‘free range’ can of course mean anything from a vast grassy pasture to an undersized concrete run. And the wholesome-sounding ‘barn laid’ claim, which the RSPCA has — to its eternal shame — endorsed for a tidy sum, is a euphemism for those noisy, cruel, putrid concentration camps in which thousands of debeaked chickens compete for space.

To be on the safe side, I avoid those notorious Pace Farm eggs, and to go for certified organic. But just recently, I learned of ethical Green Eggs. My beloved, trusted Sugardough Bakery (left) in Lygon St uses, recommends and sells them, so I thought I’d give them a whirl. “You can’t get fresher than that,” is the Green Eggs motto, and the company has won many awards as an ethical, sustainable free-range enterprise.

But when broken into a bowl, these Green Eggs eggs collapsed into a slimy sludge. Their yolks were so pallid that when scrambled, they came out not so much yellow as a pale beige.

Our home-laid eggs, on the other hand, have yolks so rich they’re almost burnt orange in colour, and when scrambled, remain an intense sunflower yellow. Our home-laid eggs never collapse when broken: their whites hold together in a firm ring and their yolks sit upright and high.

I’m convinced this is partly because our chooks eat a good mix of high-protein unprocessed grains, but more importantly, they eat greens every day. Cabbage and lettuce leaves, grasses, weeds: whenever we go for a walk we come home with green bounty from Coburg’s nature strips.

Chooks need and love greens, and the greener your chooks’ diets, the richer their eggs’ yolks. All eggs aren’t equal when it comes to nutrient density. (And as Michael Pollan so elegantly puts it: “You are what you eat eats.”) None of the commercial brands seems to have decent-coloured yolk: a good indicator of chook health, as well as the nutritional composition of the egg. It seems no commercial egg farmer is giving chooks the greens they require — not, it would appear, even at the pastured ‘Green Eggs’ company.

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?)

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.

July 17, 2007

Permablitzing the suburbs

Filed under: environment,neighbours,urban farming — Kath @ 10:46 am

This is great!

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 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 23, 2007

Midnight mayhem in Moreland

Two nights ago I awoke to the sound of screaming.

No, I didn’t copy that from my grade 4 creative writing “opening lines” exercise. I actually did awake to the sound of screaming.

It was coming from my back yard. Out of sleep’s fug, it dawned on me that the alarming sounds were coming from the chook pen. I grabbed the torch and raced outside to hear the delicate tinkle of a cat-collar bell. My chickens were all out of the coop, clearly agitated.

I didn’t see the cat, but yesterday a tabby, wearing said bell, was casing the joint. I threw stones at it, as one does. But it kept returning all day, eventually terrorising the baby chooks. In broad daylight!

Despite my stone-throwing, word of larks at Number xx got around, and before long a tortoise-shell cat was stalking the back yard, And then you, spooky.

My chicken-coop, being of open plan (Eames era) design, is a drop-in facility for all class of creature. It’s not maximum security, but it looks like I’ll have to work on upgrading it today.

Unless anyone has suggestions as to how to keep them there kitties away. I’ve heard of pepper to deter dogs: is there any non-structural deterrent for cats?

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 2, 2007

Backyard experiment #2

Filed under: Backyard experiment,Birds,Coburg,urban farming — Kath @ 6:25 pm

Here’s something you probably didn’t know: if you have a broody chook, you can mail-order live eggs to stick under her. After they’re kept warm for 24 hours, they start to incubate. And after 21 days precisely (depending on what fowl you choose), they hatch! Cuuuute. (Stay away, Spooky and Kitty.) Gawd knows what I’ll do if they turn out male. (On second thoughts, S & K…)

I ordered some live eggs from Abundant Layers, one of the many live egg mail services. I wanted Rhode Island Reds, but they advised me that Isa Browns (cross between Reds and New Hampshires) are the best layers. So I ordered five Isa Brown eggs, figuring odds are at least two will be female. One of them arrived cracked, and had to be discarded. The remaining four went under broody Mrs Chooky (pictured, above).

Someone I spoke to a few days later said they’d had problems with Abundant Layer livestock, so I went and visited Deb from Book a Chook in Coburg. (I discussed Book a Chook in a previous post.) Deb gave me three live eggs from her Bantams, chickens I initially wasn’t too keen on, as they’re less productive and have smaller eggs. But hers are very, very nice birds. So I put those eggs under Mrs Chooky as well.

Twenty-one days passed since the Abundant Layer eggs were adopted. Then 22, 23, 24. None hatched, but I kept them under Mrs Chookie just in case. Then this morning, two of the three eggs from Book a Chook hatched (one chick is pictured next to proud adoptive mother, above). Little One was thrilled, and I’m a bit pleased, too. Out of curiosity, I cracked open the Abundant Layer eggs that had been kept so warm this past month. I wanted to see how much — if at all — the chicks had developed. When I cracked each one, it exploded disgusting liquid muck that smelled pure evil. (Just thought you might like to know.)

February 12, 2007

Backyard experiment


With Hydrocell, watered twice weekly


Without Hydrocell, watered twice weekly (more…)

February 10, 2007

Bird-busters wanted

Filed under: Birds,environment,gardens,urban farming — Kath @ 10:00 pm

I need advice. Since planting my vegies, putting in a couple of ponds and installing a seed-feeder for the chooks, my garden has become the bird hub of Coburg. By the hundreds the little shites are eating the chook-food, the tomatoes and the figs, and making a goddam mess of the garden with their carryings-on. They’re digging up my seedlings, tossing earth out of the beds and making my vegies and fruit trees root-bare. Little One and I made an alarming Mrs Scarecrow and mantled her in the chook pen, and they laughed at me. I tried hanging Little One’s sterner-looking Bert from the shed roof, no change. Someone suggested hanging CDs from the trees: a good call, as I’ve been pondering ways to deal with Bloke on The Avenue’s Skinny Puppy albums. But I tried suspending a few CDs, and while I think they’ve had marginal effect on blackbirds and sparrows, they’ve been ignored by the doves, crows and miner birds. I also fear they’ll scare off native songbirds. Help.

January 30, 2007

Livestocking in Cobes

Filed under: Brunswick,Coburg,urban farming,water — Kath @ 10:13 pm

When we were house-hunting a couple of years back, we looked at a house in Jones Street, Brunswick. It was advertised for a song, it looked neat enough from the outside, and our stomachs churned as we entered. It stank. Real bad. It was a mess. The estate agent — from Lewis — looked aptly embarrassed, poor fella. He didn’t even attempt to talk it up. For reasons we couldn’t discern, the house had two kitchens. They weren’t Kosher or Halal, let me tell you. One had a tap that didn’t so much drip as dribble stuff. Worse: the dank, sour-smelling concrete yard was overcrowded with pigeons, rabbits and flies, and no doubt rats—it was a vermin concentration camp. (more…)

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