Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Going car-free, part 2

  So now we’ve gotten rid of the car, how on earth do we buy big bags of flour, animal feed etc?

  Food shopping-we don’t get much from the supermarket, so we don’t have to lug $300 worth of stuff home in one go. We can generally stack a weekly shop on the top two seats of the monster pram. The husband goes to the markets weekly for fruit/veg/honey etc, and he takes my bike, loads up the hobo milk crate, sticks a bag on each handlebar and teeters precariously home. He still says that it’s much easier than trying to find a park, then lugging all the purchases to the car. He can take the bike right to the stalls.

  Bulk foods-for us, this is only available in the next town, about 40kms away. Dragging huge bags of stuff home on the bus is not do-able. I have two options.


1-Impose on a friend, but in a very small way. I can ring up the store, order everything I want, and pay for it with my debit card. They will pack it all up in bags and boxes, then the next time a friend goes they pick it up for us. I hate asking for anything from anyone in general, but this is fine as the storefolk will even take it out to the car for them.

2-Organise a co-op, or bulk-buy. This is something i’m working on, simply because I can then get organic flours and grains (which are prohibitively difficult and expensive to get here right now) way under the retail price. And when you chomp through as much food as we seven gluttons do, it makes a big difference. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  Animal feed-15 chickens, a cat and two guinea pigs need more than scraps can provide.

1-Grow more. We have kale and lettuces mostly for the chooks. They’re also partial to fallen guavas, and as these are right next to the neighbours bedroom window, we pick these up and take them to the chooks rather than vice-versa. We’ve also been experimenting with blocking off part of their run and growing grains to about 20cm, then opening it back up for them to forage-it’s working very well. No transport necessary for this one. Except the grain home, but it grows exponentially.

DSCF7041 One of our New Hampshires indulging in wheatgrass. The kids scoffed it too.

2-Ask for delivery. I can get the organic, vegetarian chook feed we’ve been using delivered, but it’s $40 a bag. Eek. That’s just the local price though-I was getting mine for $32 from another town. So a better fix is…….

3-To ring up the company listed on the bag and discover they do co-op sales. So if I can sell between 20-50 bags, I can have it at $22 + freight a bag. Much better. I’m aiming for 50 to reduce freight-we’ll take at least 7 so shouldn’t be too hard. So if you know me, and you want to put in your order for organic chook feed, please do!

4-We also still swing by the dumpsters as often as we can. Two-day old bread is guaranteed (there’s normally at least five garbage bags full of it in one supermarket’s bin) and there’s usually yoghurt, milk or custard to mix it with, plus some fruit. Including bananas last week. Yes, they’re throwing out bananas at $10 a kilo-literally!

  The last problem was bales of mulch. But then the farmer said, yes, he delivers for $10. That is cheaper than it would be for us to pick them up from about 10kms away, all things considered. We don’t have to hook up the trailer, drive out there, load them up, do a tricky reverse through the mud, drive home and unload. They just arrive, like magic.

  And that brings me to possibly the biggest bonus of not owning a car-the time saved. Which doesn’t make much sense, don’t cars save you time? So many things that I would normally unthinkingly jump in the car to go and do i’ve stopped to think about instead, and come up with a better option. I’ve been ringing around rather than driving places to have a look, asking about delivery options, and tracking down companies to see if I can buy direct. It’s saving so much wasted time. And it seems to be saving me money, not costing me money.

  Which is the basis of my next post-how much money we’re saving.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I thought TV wasn’t a babysitter?


Going car-free, part 1-car alternatives

  Well, we have done it. The old bongo-van is sold and gone, and we are completely car free. The only transport we have is provided by leg-power, not petroleum. And it feels great. But that can probably be attributed to the fact that the bongo-van was old, decrepit, and had done far too much paddock bashing. As a result stuff was breaking everywhere and it was getting very stressful-the final straw was the husband driving through a watercourse we knew, which had been carved out very deeply by the January rains. Crash went the car as it bottomed out……….and half the exhaust fell off. Added to the loooong list of things-that-are-wrong-with-the-car, it was obvious the only sensible thing to do was to cash in the rego and sell it, which was over a month ago.

RIMG0022 Me in the poor old bongo-van-and this was normal everyday driving for a while!

  We tossed up buying another straight away, but decided against it. It’s an interesting challenge to go without, and it means the money we would use to buy another is saving interest on our mortgage, instead of depreciating in a hunk of metal. In saying that, I do like the security of knowing I could go out and buy a car tomorrow if something dire happened-I wouldn’t be so happy if I couldn’t buy one, full stop. Knowing it’s a choice makes all the difference.

  So, how do we get around?

  We knew the car was on it’s way out when we moved back to town, so we got a house that was well located. In regional Queensland this is of utmost importance-the public transport here is crap (says me, spoilt by jaunting around on Melbourne’s public transport for my teen years). So we have not yet caught a bus. Instead, we have plentiful bikes. These have all been found at the tip shop or op-shop, and are extremely old, but I think they’re groovy. Everyone else in town probably just thinks i’m a hobo. Especially with the milk crate on mine. There is a baby seat on one for Frosty, and we’re working out how to get a baby seat on another, for Shorty. For now, I ride slowly with Shorty and tow him (with baling twine, more proof of hobo-ness) when he gets tired. The girls can ride for miles without tiring, and love it. They’ve asked us not to buy a car again.

DSCF7589 My not-so-new wheels

  Otherwise, we walk. We have the monster pram, which comes in very handy for carting the boys, along with food shopping and a few tonnes of library books. The girls can also jump on top if they’re tired. I will have to tackle the public transport system to go to the next town for Shorty’s hearing test in a few weeks, but it all seems straightforward.

  Oh, and I stopped to talk to a friend at a bus stop a few days ago. I left when the bus arrived, and beat it to the centre of town, about 3kms away. With a 15kg Shorty behind me. It is seriously faster to ride our old, gear-free bikes than it is to catch a bus, or even drive most of the time. There’s no finding a park, we can dump the bike right next to the door of wherever we’re going. It’s only now that i’ve realised how seriously time-inefficent cars are, in distances of under about 5-10kms. Plus, the bike is free.

  If we want to go further afield, we can catch taxis, buses, trains or planes. We can hire a car (although, after getting one for free for two days and working out what we would have paid, it’s not really on our options list. If you have 5 or under to transport, and a Rent-a-Bomb nearby you could do it all the time).

  Next, i’ll post about getting things done-food shopping, big bags of animal feed etc, that you would think you “need” a car for.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I followed a pattern?

  So unlike me. But it wasn’t particularly painful-none of the vintage ones i’ve used have been so far. The modern ones, however, may as well be written in Swahili for the trouble they give me.

  Simplicity 6996, bought a bit bashed-up and stained on the outside but still good.Simplicity 6996

The result of #3, in an op-shop denim with IKEA fabric that’s been sitting in my cupboard for about four years. I did rescale the bodice for my skinny girls, but other than that resisted my natural urge to fiddle with it.




I’m toying with the idea of making another in chenille, but simply cannot bring myself to cut into my precious stash of bedspreads yet.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Making a bathtub garden

  Moving into a rental means gardening downsizes. There’s no point spending time and money on improving someone else’s soil, when the odds are we’ll move within a year. But small pots are so troublesome to look after, so I came up with this idea-now even our garden beds are transportable! We’ll just load them up onto the hire truck and take our soil and crops with us, and have no break in garden productivity. This one is based loosely on the wicking worm beds design, so it will suit us perfectly over winter here in Queensland. If you’re in a different climate you may want to do your drainage differently to suit. I know now I definitely need to cover them over summer-they dealt very badly with 100mL+ of rain in a day. Repeatedly.

  Here’s how to do it. (note: i’d been stockpiling fill for this one in it, hence the dirtiness-I had to dig it all out to do it)

  1. Find yourself a bathtub. Tip shops are a great place to start-ours charges $10 for a basic one, $15 with fittings.

  2. Give it a good scrub out, taking special care to clean and dry the plughole. Now, silicon a 20cm length of pipe (pvc, poly etc) into the plug, making sure it’s watertight. Slather it on. Leave to dry completely.

  3. Rubber band some flywire or nylon netting (something that won’t rot) over the opening of your pipe. This is your drainage outlet, and it is higher than the base to give you a water reservoir.

  4. Make your two watering pipes. These are anchored in the beds, allowing you to water straight to the bottom of the bath, minimising evaporation. The length of pipe you will need depends on your bath-one end needs to sit on the bottom while the other will protrude from the soil. Drill holes all around the base of your pipes, to about 20cm up.

  5. Fill your base with drainage material. Some people advocate rocks or sand, but they’re tiresome to clean out (which will need doing every few years). Sticks, unfit macadamias and poinciana pods from the backyard are a better option IMO-wood is a great water retainer, and they break down so sloooowly that nitrogen draw-down shouldn’t be a problem. Just keep it chunky.

  6. Anchor your watering pipes in their places, using some of your soil. I went to step 7 before remembering to take the photo, sorry.

  7. Throw a layer of mulch in-I used sugar cane, use whatever is available to you locally, that is weed-free. This gives it bulk and aeration. STOP worrying about nitrogen draw-down, i’ve got it under control here.

8. Now, add anything you’ve got in your garden that will give it nutrients. I’ve got  comfrey leaves and a couple of borage plants that keeled over and died in the floods. Plus a few banana peels that the kids threw in on their way past-it’s all organic material, right?

  9. Fill it up with growing medium! I think there’s some potting mix, cow manure and mushroom compost here, with a little dug-up garden soil to fill it up. Plus more of the icky macadamias, to save our bare feet. The food you get out of it will be equivalent to the quality of what you put in, so don’t be tempted to fill it up with crap-or you will eat crap.

  10. Mulch well, water thoroughly and let sit for a couple of weeks. Then plant, wait and dine!

  You could also build boxes for them out of timber from old pallets if they’re permanent, and paint them up nicely. You could use them around the edge of a patio, or instead of a rail along an edge in the garden. Grow herbs in them next to the BBQ, or right next to the back door…………

They’re pretty easy to look after, but here’s a few pointers.

-Like any plant in a container, they’ll need regular feeding. I throw on a few handfuls of mulch from the chook run when it’s getting sparse-this will not burn them in small amounts. Any mulch that will also feed it is great. We also have a slow-release organic fertiliser-make sure anything you buy is CERTIFIED organic. Organic is slapped on many, many garden products that aren’t ‘organic’ in the non-chemical means.

-Don’t let them get too wet. They do not drain quickly. That is the idea, so there’s plenty of moisture in dry times.

-Seedlings and seeds will need water from above until their roots hit the wet zone.

-They will probably need to be dug out and re-done periodically. I’ve had some going for 9 months and they’re fine, so I have no idea how often. It sounds like a crappy task so look after the soil in them and you should be able to drag it out to once every couple of years.

Just use good sense, follow basic container planting guidelines, and you should be fine.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What i’ve read, February 2011

A good month for reading!

The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan-Fantastically interesting. An evolutionary view of plants from the perspective of four plants, who have managed to manipulate us into planting more of them than ever would have existed in the wild. So who’s in charge-them or us?

Are We Listening to Our Children, Paolo Crepet-Overall, yet another book that rails against society for creating crap children, but fails to suggest removing them from the crap parts of society (ie chucking out the TV, homeschooling etc) as an easy solution. I’m not waiting around for school/advertising/food reform.

The 100-Mile Diet, Alisa Smith & JB MacKinnon-Easy on the brain cells and entertaining-if you want an introduction to food issues this is a good one to read. It won’t have you drowning in science-speak or completely freaked out, but it covers most of the main issues. The husband immediately wanted to try it, but I said no way. Our current vegetarian/wholefood/organic/Australian/no GM/frugal diet is limiting enough without adding MORE criteria. We can cut the remaining food miles with the extra garden space we’ve just added.

Wholefood for Children, Jude Blereau-I don’t think I can return this cookbook to the library. This is full of recipes that illustrate my ideal way of eating (minus the meat). I’m definitely going to search out and most likely buy one of her adult cookbooks. Yes, I read everything non-recipe, and most of the recipes too.

The Last Word, Jenny Chantry and Mike McKay-The sort of book that makes me realise I may as well be from another planet-compared to these baby-boomer retirees anyway.

Grass Roots 200 & 201-Love this mag.

Creative Homeschooling, Alan Whitehead-Not one i’d recommend to the beginning homeschooler, and way too much blather. It’s really hard to get to the substance of it, and it’s not particularly my style. However, I do like his approach to handling meddling authorities-basically obfuscation, pretending compliance and moving house if all else fails.

Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser-Can’t believe it took me so long to track this down and read it! It’s not an easy read but it’s very in-depth. More of the same food stuff really, with more coverage, especially of meatpacking conditions and disease. And I found out Elders is owned by ConAgra. I seem to find out we’re more American every day-why does no-one in control care? Oh, that’s right-a goldfish attention span combined with $$$$$.

New Internationalist #430-The kind of magazine I wish I understood everything in, and will once the kids are older.