Monday, November 28, 2011

Skeletal Australian soils: fertility & moisture

Australia has what are described as very old soils, with little fertility being added to them in any recent history. I am discovering the extremity of this at present with my new garden and the biggest challenge I am facing is keeping the moisture in. Without this essential ingredient I can't plant or plan any new plantings, as there won't be enough water to allow the plants to grow and take up the necessary nutrients that might be lurking in the soil.

I have planted one hybrid, showy eucalypt at the front gate and have found this plant is almost daily suffering from water stress despite now having been in the ground for nearly five weeks. The main stem isn't coping without support, the leaves have once started to die off and approximately three-quarters of the flower buds that I bought it with are starting to shrivel and die. Boo hoo hoo!

I have never had to deal with such poor soils. And it seems not only is it likely that my soils are particularly clayey but also they are extremely thin. In the future I will have to ensure that all dirt is mulched thoroughly to ensure they don't wash down the hill to the neighbour's yard and just leave me with rock, only open dirt up when I intend to plant things and ensure plants are well watered for a longer period than I am use to (potentially an irrigation system will need to be constructed to cope with water demands). And given that we are on rain water only this is a little daunting.

In regards to nutrients, I fear that my soils are particularly lacking and I will have to invest in some supplements. For the short term, a healthy dose of native plant fertiliser when establishing plants may do the trick, but I will have to look into a long-term solution. I also have to figure out if the soils you can build for things such as veggie patches are useful or toxic to native plants (which is what I plan on planting mostly).

So many more questions raised and certainly not enough answered! But the journey continues

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Guide to ethical supermarket shopping

I picked up this guide today from a local shop for $6. It is devised by the Ethical Consumer Group Inc ( They advertise the guide as a way to have an impact "with every dollar you spend".

The guide is larger than you are probably likely to carry around if you're just going to be popping into your store to get a litre of milk, but if you're doing your regular shopping and you're carrying a handbag it certainly wouldn't be a struggle to fit it in. You could then use it as a easy reference guide to compare products and make some informed choices whilst in the store. I think they also have a iPhone App.

All products listed in the guide have their production location listed (ie Australia or overseas), as well as providing a rating of the product based on things such as "areas of environmental and social impact, treatment of animals and accountable business practice." The guide also lists all the products in relevant categories, provides their names and their parent company's name.

I'll let you know if I find it useful once I try it out whilst shopping. Pin It

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Energy Conservation Communities

Energex and the Queensland government have a new strategy to reduce peak energy usage by the general residential community. The initiative is known by the name "Energy Conservation Communities". The concept behind it is to encourage heavy electricity usage to utilise their appliances in the non-peak times (outside 4pm to 8pm) or utilise the appliances in a manner that reduces the demand on the electricity grid during peak times.

The appliances this program are targeting are:

  • swimming pool pumps;
  • hot water systems; and
  • air-conditioners.

The Energy Conservation Communities website has additional information about the incentives and packages that you may be eligible for. Incentives include $600 in rewards relating to the management of your appliances aimed at reducing the energy usage during peak periods.

Have a look and see what benefits you might receive. Alternatively, do as I have done and register your interest in future programs that may be rolled out. Pin It

Monday, November 21, 2011

Do you know where your food comes from?

I have been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Wow, what a wake up call! This book has definitely opened my eyes to many issues within the current industrialised food system that I was not aware of.

The book is written based on the current American food system and I wonder how transferable the examples are to Australia, but definitely food for thought and still worth the read. It seems that much of the American food system is based on cheap corn, for example, and I don't know how much corn we produce here in Australia and whether it is as heavily subsidised as in America. Certainly products and ingredients that come from America and sold here in Australia will reflect the systems described in the book, but I don't know about our meat production and how heavily it relies on corn on its "raw" material or alternatively whether there is some other "raw" material (perhaps wheat) here in Australia that is just as heavily relied upon and subsidised as corn is described in the book.

One part of the book that left me gob-smacked, was Michael description of "organic beef". Due to marketing and my own pre-conceived ideas, my understanding was organic beef came from cattle roaming freely on green grassy pastures and spending an idyllic life as a cow should, until slaughtered and ending up on my plate, but Michael describes in the book that there is some organic beef (in America) that is now is produced in exactly the same way as traditional meat, being initially grass fed and then off to feedlot. The only difference being that the organic meat gets fed organic corn based food within the same feedlot situation and the cattle is not fed "enhanced" food that has antibiotics. The later, in fact, potentially results in less healthy animals, because of the likelihood of disease that results from being within a feedlot situation and being given food that isn't necessarily great for them. This completely did my head in! Have to check out how my local organic meat is produced now!

If you're not into reading, you catch watch the Food Inc dvd, it covers the topics described in Michael Pollan's book and shows Joel Salatin's farm, as an example of a non-industrialised food system working in America. 

Great read and fascinating watch! A definite read to peel back the layers of anonymity in our food systems.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Don't turn on the fan!

Now that it is warming up, our fans around the house have been regularly on attempting to cool us and the house. I heard something on a Doctor Karl Kruszelnicki podcast the other day that I thought was a useful tip to share with you all in relation to fans.

Basically, don't turn the fan on unless you're in the room. According to Dr Karl the fan doesn't cool the room whilst you're not in it. The function of the fan is to circulate the air across your skin, which in a hot environment where you have sweat or moisture on your skin, the breeze from the fan then cools you directly, thereby replicating the natural body cooling process (wind and sweat). 

So as an environmental measure, don't turn a fan on, unless you're in the room. This will mean that you will be cool and overall reduce your energy consumption and your electricity bill by not using an appliance in an inefficient and ineffective manner! 
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Keelbacks and cane toads

I have had a number of keelback snakes in my garden over the last few weeks as spring has warmed up. They are certainly on the move around my place!


Since identifying these snakes at my place as keelbacks (Tropidonopgis mairii), I have been interested to learn that this Australian, native snake species is in fact capable of eating cane toads, despite the toad's known toxicity to many Australian species. I believe this species' capacity to ingest cane toads is probably the reason they are calling my garden home! I certainly have a prevalence of cane toads.

According to a paper published by researchers from James Cook University, the keelbacks ability to tolerate moderate levels of the cane toad's toxin is a result of genetic history rather than a behavioural or physiological adaptation to cane toads since their arrival in Australia (Source). And it is likely still that keelbacks can be affected or overcome (die) as a result of ingesting too much toxin, potentially as a result of a particularly large, tasty cane toad. A case of eyes too big for their stomach, but with more fatal consequences.

If you're interested to know more about the keelback, DERM's website, as well as the Queensland Musuem's, provide some more overview information and interesting facts about this northern Australian snake species.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Clean energy future?

The Australian Senate yesterday passed the package of Clean Energy legislation to allow Australia move into a new phase of its history! This legislation is aimed at driving the production of non-renewable energy down and increase the amount of renewables or clean energy available to Australia in the future. The legislation will also attempt to cut emissions that Australia would have otherwise generated by 2020. And the biggest and most publicised component, is that there will be a price on carbon from the 1 July 2012. This will commence at $23 a tonne for the top 500 polluters in Australia.

I was recently interested to know that Brisbane City Council is one of these top 500, but from the information that I recently heard from their Mayor, they are well on their way to looking at alternative sources of energy and ways to improve their activities and how to reduce their "bill" as you might say.

What an environmental step forward our country made yesterday and I am pleased that the government stood up to big business. Pin It

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Do you want to breathe easy?

Well the simple answer! To improve your indoor air quality all you need to do is open the windows! Fresh air circulated through the house flushes out the toxins that accumulate from building materials and furnishings that are consistently locked up in your house and "off-gassing" into the confined building envelope.

Circulating fresh air through your home will improve your mood and your health! Amazing and so simple! Pin It

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Do you deserve a green star?

A number of projects, particularly commercial construction, have been rated in Australia, using a 'green star' rating system. This sounds good when someone tells you their project has rated six green stars, but what does it really mean?

The Green Star system is a system developed by the Green Building Council of Australia. It aims to rate environmental design and construction of buildings in Australia and is done in a voluntary, national and "comprehensive" manner. Within the Green Star rating tool there are nine categories. These are:

  • management
  • indoor environment quality
  • energy
  • transport
  • water
  • materials
  • land use and ecology
  • emissions
  • innovations
Each of these categories are then divided into credits and a project assessed against the objectives of the categories and awarded credits within each category. These credits are then assessed as a percentage score, with a Green Star weighting factor then applied to then determine the building's overall rating, being four, five or six Green Stars. Six Green Stars indicates that the building project is considered as demonstrating 'world leadership' in environmentally sustainable design and/or construction.

Further information about the Green Star rating system is available on the Green Building Council's website.

How useful this is is potentially questionable, but at least there are some questions being raised about the efficiencies that can be undertaken both during design and construction within a commercial building development and hopefully this then transfers through to the building occupants and they continue to "capitalise" on the green savings the building can generate for them! Pin It