Thursday, May 31, 2012

Solar hot water system...bit of boosting!

Late last year we installed an evacuated tube solar hot water system. I have found the system we installed awesome to date!

Site-specific features of our system include:
  • having the system mounted on a north-facing rack. This ensures the system works to its maximum potential, particularly during the winter months.
  • a booster when the system doesn't achieve adequate heat through the roof mounted system. For our system we chose to have a mains electricity booster.
  • having my booster attached to an overnight tariff. 

The last couple of weeks have brought me some awareness to weather conditions that will challenge the solar component of my system. In the last two weeks we have had overcast weather, with occasional showers. In addition to this inclement weather, we are now entering winter where the sun is positioned further in the north in the sky during the day. All of these factors contribute to lower efficiency in all solar systems, when compared to these systems' performance during prime summer sun positions and certainly has resulted in some diminished performance of my system.

As a result of this cooler, wetter and gloomier weather the water tank that stores my hot water did not maintain a temperature much over 23 degrees. As a result, morning showers were a little cooler than one would consider comfortable and a little shorter than usual (good though for the water level in our rain water tank). But thanks to the boosting system, we flicked the switch and by the time we woke up the next morning we were back to a stable hot water tank temperature of 65 degrees.   

This one night of boosting was adequate and the next day I turned the booster off and the roof mounted tubes managed to kick into doing their job for the rest of the week due to some sunny weather.  Pin It

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Another cool book club

I have just bumped into the very technological savvy Royal Institution of Australia. This seems to be a powerful source of useful scientific information available to the general public and includes many fantastic resources, with many of them being online.

One of their fantastic initiatives is their book club. Unfortunately, I don't think this is online, but for those in Adelaide you can regularly go along to the Science Exchange to participate in these book club sessions. For those of us not in Adelaide, the RIAus website (past events) lists the books to be discussed each session and this provides us all an opportunity to seek out some great science reads.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Quote from Jim Hightower - a way forward

I just listened to an interview with Jim Hightower, a fomer Texan (USA) politician, and found some of his principles very interesting. Some of political positions would traditionally be considered opposed to my current political views. However, Jim proposes many sensible ideas and considers bringing people together by linking them with issues of commonality.

Here is one of Jim's quotes from the interview describing his political position. 

"...fairness, justice and opportunity...."

I certainly believe if all of our politicians framed their policies in this manner our communities and businesses would all be better off and there might be some holistic consideration of our environment. 

I say, bring forth sensible people in politics and positions of power.


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Sunday, May 27, 2012

More weeds in the yard!

Since we have been in our place nearly a year it was time to tackle some of the larger tasks we have been putting off. Chainsaw in hand, a number of umbrella trees and African Tulip trees were in our sights. These two species are weeds here in south-east Queensland. They are quickly spread throughout the environment by our lovely native birds, which eat their seeds and fly elsewhere poop out the seed and voila a new tree sprouts! Basically, these species have the ability to out-compete our native tree species, through quick establishment, prolific seeders and lots of helpful native birds assisting their movement. 

We removed three semi-mature African tulip trees and about five umbrella trees from the bottom of one of our paddocks. All we did was chop them off at the base and pile the top half of these trees in a big pile (will chip later). We will then monitor these stumps for re-growth and if required undertake some additional treatment (maybe salt).

Here are some piccies of these two offending weeds. 

African Tulip Tree

Umbrella Tree

In addition, to chain-sawing the trees out, I choose to remove a small patch (about 5m x 1.5m) of broad-leaf paspalum. This is a shade-tolerant, non-native, hardy grass species, which out-competes many of our native grasses. I employed the assistance of a fork and just loosened the soil around the base of each individual outcrop and removed them to the domestic waste bin once out of the ground. I did this action about three weeks ago and so far no new outcrops of this grass have sprung up in the area of 'treatment'. 

 Broad-leaf Paspalum
Hope these treatment options hold and with my revegetation money I will look to establish a bit of a native cover crop/midstorey to replace these weed species and provide some additional protection for my overstorey eucalypts.

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Friday, May 25, 2012


Recently I applied for funding to my local council as part of their Landholder Environment Grant initiative. The Council received hundreds of application and awarded over $300,000 in grants. The big activities in my proposal were weed management works and revegetation activities. 

Due to the number of applicants most proposals were not fully funded, which was the case for my application. However, I was successful in securing $650! Woo hoo! Council has specified this money is to be spent on 250 native species tubestock and 50 bales of straw mulch, as outlined in my proposal.

250 native tubestock won't go far in revegetating the southern paddock on my property, but I certainly consider that all contributions will go a long way to making things happen.

Last night, I have forwarded a species list to my local Bushcare nursery to request a stocking rate estimation for each of the species I have proposed and request what sort of timeframe they could supply these tubestock to me. Once this information is in hand, I will be able to plan my planting day!

So exciting! So as they say, you've got to be in it to win it and let the fun begin!

I will post photos as we go through the process and hopefully it will inspire you to either apply for a grant to undertake something you've been meaning to do at your place or alternatively just think about what native plantings would suit your block.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Koala....threatened in Australia

The Australian government has now listed the koala as a vulnerable species at the national level. This listing has specifically nominated populations of koalas in Queeensland, the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales as those requiring "government" protection. The koalas that live in these areas face threats from habitat destruction, vehicle strike and dogs as a result of urban expansion and the Commonwealth listing aims to address these threats.

What does this listing mean for most people? Nothing, actually. Where this legislation comes in, is when development is proposed in the areas where koalas are now considered threatened. If such, development has the potential to significantly impact on koalas, the proposal needs to forwarded to Commonwealth government for their consideration. 

Populations of koalas around the rest of Australia are not considered to be facing the same threats as those listed in the new Federal government decision. And in fact in some circumstances the koala is so prolific that they are actually creating environmental devastation in the areas in which they live. The koalas in the broader Australian continent are therefore not considered under this legislation.

My interest in this decision, is whether this listing will truly have an impact and bring about a reduction of the habitat loss in these listed areas. To date, Queensland's koala conservation legislation has had little on ground success in curbing the decline in koala populations, particularly in south-east Queensland. 
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This is where your plastic rubbish goes!

Please watch this film trailer! 
I don't know how people can't be moved by such things. 
This is the impact of our modern lifestyles.
Make a difference!
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Common questions about climate change answered

Many of us have asked questions about the science behind the causes and impacts of anthropogenic climate change. I just came across an informative source of information on the ABC website. The page is called "ask an expert > Climate change" and has many of the frequently asked questions answered by scientist working in the relevant fields at CSIRO and other recognised experts from here in Australia.

Kevin Hennessy (Climate Impact Group, CSIRO Atmospheric Research) provided an answer to one of the most common questions: how do we know the climate change we are experiencing is man-made rather than natural. Kevin's response is:

"Climate models driven by scenarios of greenhouse gas ans aerosol (small particle) emissions estimate a rise in temperature of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees by 2100 assuming no actions to reduce climate change. While this is comparable to previously occurring climate change, it is occurring at an unprecedented pace and the changes would affect a larger and less mobile population." (emphasis added). 

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Inspiration to "convert" your street

Here is a couple of ordinary Australian people that have changed life in their street (for the better). Maybe you'll get some inspiration from them too.

You Tube presents: Sustainability Street

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rosella cordial

After planting my rosella bush at the beginning of the year, I have been inundated with flowers/buds. The continuous development of flowers and the fact that I have only one bush, means that I never have had enough flowers/fruit to harvest all at once to cook with. However, rather than letting all these buds go to waste I have been collecting these lovely red buds as they reach "maturity" and placing them in the freezer. 

On Friday I finally decided that I had enough buds and associated requirements that I would try to make rosella cordial. Many people make rosella jam, but since I have never made jam before I thought cordial would be easier since there is no setting process required (which I have heard is quite difficult). 

So Friday afternoon the cook up began! I followed the Green Harvest rosella cordial recipe and below shows you how I went about it.
Extract the rosellas from the freezer

 Fill your largest saucepan with rosellas, until it is approximately 3/4 full. 
Cook/boil and then strain the pulp/buds off and keep liquid. 
(I put the pulp into my compost bin...don't want to waste these things)

 After you have added sugar to the liquid, let this dissolve and boiled for a little bit more 
you add a lot of lemon juice (thankfully my lemon tree is in full swing and I managed to 
retrieve 8 lemons from my tree to add to the mixture)

 Finished product! Tip of the day: don't let this boil over because it is a sweet, sticky syrup 
now and getting this off the floor is also a sticky business

 And here it is, my first batch of rosella cordial all bottled up!

Now my first taste of my rosella cordial! Yummy!

My batch made about three litres of cordial and apparently it will keep for up to a year. That is, if I have sterilised the bottles properly! So, I expect the above glass of rosella cordial will not be my last.
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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Biodiversity, life as we know it?

I am an ecologist (a person that studies native plants & animals in their local context and within the "living web of life") by trade and in recent months I have become disillusioned with the possible longevity of many of the species that occur naturally within my local urbanised environment and broadly in the Australian landscape.

The thirst of the current Australian population to satisfy their personal needs and wants sees little space for the appreciation of the natural environment and in turn the right for all species to inhabit this planet with us. It seems that if a species, no matter its relative importance, gets in the way of "progress", it is justifiable to decimate these individuals at the location of interest.

With the ongoing development and increasing global population, I see no stop to this progression or mantra. The human focus on the environment and how we will survive climate change, we will survive sea level rise, we will survive the economic downturn, shows little regard or consideration for other people or other species on the planet.

My hope is that all of us remember our childhoods and reflect on the enjoyment we got from playing in the mud, along with the slugs, bugs and other creepy crawlies. For those in a more country setting, enjoying the wallabies or kangaroos grazing in the paddocks as we attempted to surprise them in an early morning fog. Or just remember that all creatures great and small have a right to live on this planet just as much as you and I and we should have some consideration for their welfare as we approach these tough times.

Sure we want all the current seven billion people to survive on this planet and have the capacity to live with some prosperity. But we should also have the capability of bringing most of the species that live on this planet along with us. Perhaps some food for thought?

(Source: Amazing top 10)

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Compost - what I need to be doing!

Organic matter in your vegetable, fruit or flowering garden is an essential ingredient to keep your plants growing over the long term. Initial plantings directly into your garden quite often do well, but overtime your garden's minerals and nutrients become exhausted and the overall soil health diminishes. The addition of organic matter, particularly in the form of compost, is a welcome and worthwhile addition to any garden to allow the same successes over and over again.

With the addition of compost to your garden, you will increase the amount of nutrients available, increase the potential water availability, decrease the amount of nutrients made unavailable in traditional landfill, reduce greenhouse gases being generated unnecessarily in landfill, provides soil structure in your garden and increases soil microbial activity leading to healthier and more productive soils over time. 

(Source: Abi Homeschools)

In recent years, I have always had a compost bin and presently my bin is not being loved as much as it should.  I really haven't had a significant amount of time to dedicate to the established garden beds at my place and thus, I haven't been maintaining my compost with love and vigour. I do regularly add food scraps, occasionally brown "goods" (such as leaves and branches) and when I just happen to have some green waste (fresh leaves and grass clippings) in my hand as I walk passed these go in too. Another ingredient that I have added to my compost bin is a few bags of fresh horse manure. I just did this because my understanding is that it isn't great to add manure straight to the garden and horse manure also quite often contains a large of weed seeds and the composting process will kill some of these off.

Things I should be doing to my standard compost bin to allow it to be composting more effectively and in a shorter period of time, include:
  • aeration - I should be forking it over at least once a week (at present), to re-establish a bit of air flow and allow the breakdown process to become re-activated and mix the "ingredients" through each other;
  • checking the moisture levels - if it is too wet or dry, decomposition of materials will be significantly slowed;
  • getting a better balance between the ingredients - adding a significant larger proportion of brown goods over the green ones.
Once I have established a better routine for my compost, then it is likely that my compost bin will be more productive and the end product will be an ingredient that my garden will love in the long term.

So, what is stopping me from doing all this you may ask? Well, firstly time is a little against me at the moment, but I think the more important thing is that my compost bin is actually in quite an awkward location to access. As such, putting things into it is certainly a chore and attempting to do anything more than drop an occasional bucket of food scraps into it can in fact be quite dangerous (it is located on quite a steep hill on top of a small retaining wall). I think the re-location of my compost bin to a more appropriate location would re-engage me with my beneficial garden waste and overall inspire me to a new level of commitment to this nutrient recycling process in my garden.

Given that it is currently compost awareness week, maybe you can make a difference to your garden by re-engaging with your composting activities or establishing a new bin. Happy composting!

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Where to put your power points?

Having moved in our new home not too long ago and this coinciding with my increased passion for energy efficiency and sustainable home design, many "home renovation" ideas have been added to our family's "to do list".  One of our key considerations, is how we function with existing infrastructure in our house (one of the key "environmental" principle - reuse), or alternatively what we would need to do to the house to make our life easier or improved without creating a significant cost to the environment.

One of the things that should be considered, but may not seem so obvious to most people and surely should be towards the top of the list, is the location or placement of the humble power point or power outlet. Why, you might ask?

In the modern household, power points are typically low down, in the corners of rooms throughout the household or just generally tucked away. However, if you re-locate these to locations that are higher on the walls or just surrounding the "edges" of your furniture, you will be encouraged to turn off your appliances at the wall. Through this simple re-location, you have the potential to create significant environmental and energy savings in your home (particularly, if you live in a typical modern, western household).

The mere action of moving power points to more accessible and more prominent locations means you are more likely to turn them off (at the wall) when your appliance isn't in use and if you're really diligent even remove the appliance's plug from the power point. Why do you need to remove the appliance's plug from the wall as well? There is actually a small amount of current used by many modern appliances even when they are turned off at the wall but remain plugged in, quite often to run memory requirements or maintain batteries, etc. Therefore, the simple act of removing the plug to the appliance from the wall removes this energy requirement and save you money.  

All in all, the action of turning off appliances at the wall means you save electricity, money and  reduce the amount of greenhouse gases and "obviously" save the planet in the process. And all this is more likely to happen if you can see your power points and reach them.  

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Another overwhelming moment

This week I listened to Nicole Foss and her writing partner at my local permaculture meeting. It brought me to a point of concern, which quickly spiralled into a overwhelming feeling of no hope (for the environment).

My concern was raised because Nicole's position is that the future (and this is really in the short to medium term) is bleak! It is Nicole's thought that the global economy will spiral out of control in the next 10 years and result in no money/economy left to fund things that are considered fundamental to our modern lifestyle. According to Nicole, there will be no funds available for things such as future mining exploration, continuation of large-scale industry, maintenance of existing infrastructure (such as electricity grids, roads, etc) and that unemployment will be a norm.

This apparently will all occur in the next 10 years! Oh my goodness! My mortgage has another 29 years life on it and if I don't have a job, then how do I pay for my home?

During this question and answer session with Nicole I asked "is there any hope to avoid economic and environmental collapse"? The answer was, "no, for economic collapse, but environmental collapse will be slowed because people won't have money to undertake major environmentally devastating activities". Not exactly the positive glimmer that I was hoping to hear. I was thinking that maybe our society would wake up to itself before it is predicted to "implode", but apparently according to Nicole, we won't!

So, this sent me into a gloom and doom mood and gave me some realisation of how many people must feel when they receive many of these dooms-day environmental messages. Anyway, after a little bit of, 'then I may as well not try and stuff being good to the earth' attitude, I snapped out of it and realised we are all masters of our own destiny and I needed to pull up my socks, so to speak. I need to make myself more resilient if such scenarios are to eventuate. I also should not loose faith in people that have initiative, spark, drive and commitment to make the world a better place. We might still end up in the black hole, but I may as well go down fighting.

So, my outcome is, we should all encourage people that want to make a difference, share their knowledge and experiences, become educated, prepare yourself and your family for things that you consider will happen in the future and re-ignite community spirit in your area. Personally, I think this will make a difference to our attitudes, moods and ability to 'ride the storm'.   Pin It