When it rains, is stores!

As with most of my projects, the search for the right materials without resorting to a visit to the local hardware store results in some time passing before I have everything I need to finish a job.

Recently I was fortunate enough to get together the final bits and pieces (and a helping hand from my sister’s boyfriend) I needed to build a stand for my water tank and connect it to my shed.

I already had the tank and had given it a good rinse, bought second hand from a local. I’d been given a heavy duty plastic pallet which could handle the weight of a full tank of water. And recently I sourced some sleepers from the in-laws property, and some plumbing supplies from the local tip shop.

And alas, the tank is now set up and, after some decent rain, is full and being put to good use.

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The tank is set up from the ground so that my watering can can fit under the tap, and to also use gravity to force the water out at a reasonable rate without using a pump. The faucet has a hose connector attached to it to make for easy watering.

The bottom level of the stand is made up with the three sleepers making up the border, with sleepers screwed in inside the box to support the plastic pallet and the tank. The pallet is sitting on top of the enclosed bottom level sleepers, with another three sleepers screwed together to make a border around the pallet to keep it in place.

The resulting stand, I think, looks pretty good and a does a great job!

Plumbing the tank wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might. I pulled the down pipe which connects the gutters to the drain out and using some existing pipe elbows and some found at the tip shop, re-routed the rainwater out from behind the shed, along the side of the shed and into the inlet hole.

All it takes is some good measurements, and the simple understanding that water can’t run up – you can see from the pipe attached along the side of the shed that it is on a slight angle down to ensure that the water runs properly down into the tank.

Finally, I’ve added another pipe to the overflow outlet, which currently runs into a big old pot. The idea will be to find another container for this overflow to run into, possibly an old wheelie bin which can then be adapted with a tap to allow this to be used as a portable water source.

The project wasn’t as daunting as I thought it might be, and would encourage anyone to have a go at it. Even if it isn’t with recycled materials, hardware stores carry equipment to divert rainwater from downpipes so that it can stored and used when needed. And of course it adds a further degree of sustainability to your garden and, in my case, to my growing veggies. Even a small roof area can collect a usable amount of water.

I am blessed by the fact that the gutters installed on the shed roof are constructed in a way to stop leaves and other objects from flowing down into the downpipes. For a normal gutter, it would be best to put some shade cloth or other gauze like material to trap leaves and dirt from running into the tank.

Although I haven’t done it yet, I’m planning on adding something to the pipes to catch smaller object from falling into the tank, with the idea of being able to use the tank water (after testing it properly of course) as drinking water.

I’d love to hear any stories or suggestions from people who have done the same thing, or are planning on doing so.

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You say tomato, I grow tomato!

Welcome to the first article for the year.

Over the small break from work and blogging, I spent some more time than I usually find for digging up the garden and turning these evolving green thumbs a nicer shade of soil brown. I will post another article looking at all the activities I undertook, including digging a new patch and planting in pots (including an old washing machine cylinder).

But, the purpose of this post is one particular veggie I planted, the beloved tomato. Whether cooked as part of a hot breakfast, cold in a salad or between bread as part of a toasted sandwich, how could I not want to have a go at growing them?

I gathered some seedlings from friends and family, and had a collection of 10 of varying ages. The largest plants were planted at the southern end of the new veggie patch, so that they couldn’t block out the smaller plants. The same principle applies to all plants in a patch, as can be seen with the eggplants and capsicum plants I’ve put in with the tomatoes.

Like always, a well prepared soil with plenty of compost dug into it greatly enhances the prospect of a successful crop. Further, tomato plants start to droop pretty quickly in hot weather, even though they are a summer fruit, and a good watering at the time of planting and during their life is essential.

There are some extra tips with tomato growing. One, is that the plants need to be staked once they grow to height where they start to flop due to the weight they are carrying. The stakes don’t need to be anything special, I grabbed some long thing pieces of wood from the local tip shop (which the attendant thought was nothing but trash and refused to charge me for) and I’ve tied he plants to them using elastic from some old singlets and some old shoelaces.

The second tip is to pull off any branches that begin growing in the fork where two other branches already exists. This forces the plant to focus on growing the fruit, as opposed to growing more branches, and will see your crop grow immensely. The following two photos show what to look for:

Here is the branch growing in the fork….

And now its gone!

Some of the more mature plants started fruiting within 2 to 3 weeks from the time they were transferred into the garden using these two tips. The smaller plants are well established and have few small flowers, sure signs that there will be more to come.

Finally, in order to be truly sustainable, leave aside some tomatoes to take the seeds from which can then be planted the next spring/early summer for your next crop. To do this, cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Either using a sieve with running water or on a paper towel, remove the tomato flesh from around the seeds. The seeds need to be left for a couple of weeks to dry out. Once dried, simply store them (using old glass jars is great for storage so long as they are clean and dry) until needed.

Enjoy the process, learning is half the fun. If anyone has any comments or further tips, please feel free to comment.

Cheers.

Dig it up! The veggie patch bears more fruit

I was watering the veggie patch the other night, when I spotted the tops of a number of carrots in the line of seeds I had planted and which had been growing the quickest.

Eager as I have been lately to taste more of what I had grown after recently picking the peas I had grown, I started to pull up the carrots that were just showing their tops out of the soil.

One by one, the thick orange roots that supported the green foliage I had been feverishly watering for the last number of weeks came out of the ground. It is amazing that these had started from some of the tiniest seeds that I had grown.

There are still more carrots waiting to be pulled up which need some more time to grow.

Given that the shrubs that had grown from the potatoes that I had planted had mostly died off, bar one which continued to grow, I decided that it was time to see if the potatoes had flourished to the same extent that the carrots had. Unfortunately, only the potatoes growing as tubers to the longest lasting plant had grown to a decent size.

Although a little disappointing, trial and error is part of the fun. Next time, I’ll try planting the potatoes in a sunnier part of the patch to see if that will promote better growth.

Apart from the remaining carrots, only the brussels sprouts are left, and they need some tending to eradicate their growing attraction to some moths – but that will be part of another article looking at organic ways to deter pests.

If any gardeners out there have any suggestions or questions I’d be happy to hear from you!

Green Computing

Is there such a thing?

If the benchmark for being green is reducing consumption and waste, then probably not. Or at least it isn’t if you use anything that could be loosely classified as modern technology.

The breakneck speed with which computers and computer programming has developed and the consumerist fervour this is attached to purchasing the latest technology, now results in a pandemic-like effect of outdated technological products ending up as waste.

Added to this is the obvious increase in energy use to load and use this technology or recharge their batteries.

But, the expansion of the internet and, more particularly, the use of the internet to store and provide access to information, to allow people to publish themselves and to draw attention to issues that might otherwise fail to be publicised (unless you’re fortunate enough to own a printing press and have a worldwide distribution team), has played an integral part in advancing social causes.

And thus the paradox of the use of technology (which has a greater positive impact on social issues than, say, handing out flyers but which has a greater subsequent creation of waste and use of energy) to advance environmental interests arises.

The paradox is usually termed hypocritical and used to discredit the likes of those involved in the Occupy protests or any environmental protests, such as when such a protester is seen using an iPhone or any type of similar technology.

Given the significant advantages that come with technology and the positive environmental effects that it can have, throwing away your computer may have a greater negative environmental effect rather than a positive one, depending on the use to which you put it.

Assuming that you use technology to gain or disseminate positive social and environmental information, the challenge is greening your computing.

Reducing your computing energy use relates more to your power source, so switching to green energy is a great way to reduce your technological footprint.

But how to do away with waste when the computing power of technology doubles every 18 months to 2 years (Moore’s Law)?

For those who are in the market for a computer, look for computers that are easier to upgrade, particularly in relation to memory.

When your computer slows down after a period of use, look to clear out programs and saved items that you no longer use. All operating systems have their own tools to delete unused programs, to clean up temporary files and defragment the hard drive. Creating free space on the computer allows programs to operate much more efficiently. Also look at how many programs begin running automatically when your computer starts, as this is the cause of many frustrated users staring at their computer while it slowly goes through its start-up processes. A simple google search will show you how to do this on any operating system.

If you are looking for hardware, start at a swap fair. These markets are on most weekends in Melbourne (see here) and contain almost everything you might need. Alternatively, there are a number of retail suppliers of used hardware. Buying an external hard drive to hold all your photos, music and movies will significantly reduce the use of your computer memory and increase computer speed.

And if you you’ve upgraded your computer to the best of your ability, but still have problems with slow running programs, there is the option of trying a new operating system – for free.

Linux systems are open source operating systems for your computer that can be downloaded for free and installed on your computer. What is great about these is that there are a number of different organisations developing their own Linux-based system, and most don’t require the latest computer hardware.

For example, my 7-year-old laptop has an OpenSUSE operating system, which I downloaded and installed for free. I chose this operating system after using a few distribution questionnaires which informs you which system would work best on the system you have.

I downloaded and burnt the operating system which automatically does all the things that need to be done to get the system running, including partitioning the hard drive. Although it might take a bit of playing about to learn the new system, choosing the right system means the learning curve isn’t too steep.

What I also like is that by supporting open source software, you are reducing the reliance placed on the traditional companies like Apple and Microsoft, which control increasingly large percentages of the personal technology market which, in a capitalist driven, free-trade world economy, can never be to the advantage of the average person. 

Doing this isn’t as scary as it first sounds, and there is great assistance provided by the operating system providers.

Finally, if all this still doesn’t help save your beloved battling box of bytes, think carefully of how you dispose of it. If your computer still works well albeit it slower than what you like, or can’t support specific software you need to use, consider donating the computer to charity. There are some charities that can refurbish computer to be provided cheaply to those who would otherwise struggle to gain access to the information you freely access.

And who knows, from this the next activist might be born.

Portable, Recycled, Greenhouse!

This article also appears on the ACF Greenhome website.

There are a number of vegetables that, when grown from seed, need (or very much appreciate) a bit of a helping hand when germinating. The most recommended method is to plant your seeds into a seed bed until the plant sprouts, and then to transfer the seedling into your veggie patch.

A great advantage of doing this is that it enables a gardener to begin growing the next crop of veggies before harvesting the current crop, giving you a good head start for the next season.

The trouble with planting seeds earlier in the season is that it is usually too cold for the seeds to germinate. This is where a greenhouse comes into its own. By trapping the infrared heat produced when sunlight bounces back off the earth, the greenhouse creates the warmer climate (the greenhouse effect) to help these seeds germinate earlier.

If you’re stuck for room to build a full size greenhouse, or want to use the greenhouse only for seeds and not for growing any other plants, there are a number of alternatives that can be found both on the internet and in gardening books.

Like my other projects on this site, I’ve looked to build something using only materials that I’ve found or bought second hand. To this end, I found an old window, a wooden gate and a piece of discarded 4×2.

It took a bit of time to remove the palings from the gate (and remove a litany of nails) but once done, it didn’t take long to cut the pieces to size and fix the window to it. And the result is this:

As you can see, the window is mounted to the box on hinges so that the seed trays can be easily accessed for watering. The seed box isn’t too big or too heavy, so it can be moved from place to place or put away when not in use.

The window is on an angle when closed so that it can face north (depending on where you are located) and let in as much light as possible.

The only thing left to add is a handle for ease of use!

This is just an example of a really simple design, built with common tools and something that doesn’t take long to build, that you can use or adapt given the materials you find to help your practical, green action.

Please feel free to comment on this design or with any of your own thoughts or designs.

Dreaming of a Green Christmas?

Christmas.

There is so much to enjoy about this time. Time with family. Charity. Giving and sharing. A generally contagious spread of joy and cheer.

And there is the opposite side. Relentless consumerism.

For most people, the dread of christmas shopping is its ability to chew through spare time and chew through the wallet or purse.

But, as christmas presents become more and more sophisticated, and a santa sack is not big enough to contain all of Santa’s presents, the unforseen expense is the chewing through of resources in the production and transport of all these gifts.

I’m not old enough to tell stories of what it was like in the good ol’ days, when presents from santa consisted of a wood train made by a local craftsman, or other such stories.

But even a cursory investigation into the ever-expanding globalised world of trade will show the problems faced. When it makes sense (in terms of gross domestic product) for a company to source its materials in a country which is willing to provide the least resistance to the methods of extraction despite environmental concerns, ship the material to another country willing to allow its citizens to work for low wages and with little protection (nor appropriate environmental protections) and to then ship the product to numerous countries willing to reduce tariffs on imported goods for sale, it’s not hard to see how the increased demand for goods at this time of the year comes at a greater global expense than just your hard-earned.

This short analysis of globalised economies does not do justice to the intricacies of the current system, nor to all the costs associated with it.

Whilst products produced in an environmentally friendly way and with protection of workers in mind should be the popular choice in the purchase of new products, substituting goods for their more environmentally friendly alternative will create only small changes.

A change to lifestyles, not just at christmas but all year round, which reuses already manufactured products, and limits the attaining, or the desire to attain, newly manufactured products, must be the only way forward to overcome the environmental and social effects of the system we currently maintain.

Initiatives, such as Buy Nothing New Month and, more appropriate for this time of year, the Conservancy’s Green Gift Monday, are aimed at creating awareness and inspiring thoughtful consumerism. Avoiding unneccessary buying, choosing second-hand goods where possible or green alternatives where purchasing second-hand is not possible, provides a method that all people can use to improve their environmental footprint.

And, if you read testimonials from the people who have partaken in such challenges, the spare time and spare money resultant from these initiatives are great side-effects.

I encourage everyone to think about the energy input of each item they consider purchasing this christmas. Consider more carefully the people you are buying gifts for and whether there is a second-hand, even a collectible, gift that you could get them as a present. And show your support for the cause by signing the Conservancy’s Pledge to Give Green this Holiday Season.

Even substituting a few current shopping habits such as not buying things that aren’t needed, or looking for second-hand products instead of submitting to the ease of going to the shopping centre where something is needed but not needed urgently, if adopted by many people, will begin to change the current world trade system that is so detrimental to anything that does not contribute to the financial statements of the companies that produce all these products.

Sent to the Cat House? Make it a recycled one!

My wife some time ago desired to get a cat.

We ended up getting two of them.

Apart from the predictable concerns such as de-sexing, registering, getting collars with bells, vaccinations and all related phenomena which come with pet ownership, the issue of getting some sort of shelter for them to use also arose.

You don’t have to look too hard to find cat and dog houses for sale. Usually plastic or preassembled timber of unknown origin, it is easy to find yourself making a purchase without much thought.

Although it would take some time to do, I decided to try to make my own from recycled materials, particularly from found materials that would otherwise be destined for the tip.

And the magic of hard rubbish day and improperly discarded materials suddenly surrounded me.

Everywhere I looked, there I found useable materials on the side of the road.

And the (almost) end result is this:

The base of the cat house is a pallet with a particle board on top. The structure is some 4 by 2 wooden planks I pulled out of a rubbish skip, and was simply built by making two rectangles (which is partially viewable in the photo below of the cat house with the roof open) and screwing this to the pallet.

What appeared to be some type of skirting board found in the same skip was used for the walls, and some corrugated iron secured to a very basic angled structure made the roof.

The local tip shop had some old rubber-backed carpet squares that I used to line the floor and the inside of the walls, and which are all removable so they can be cleaned. Some hinges were used to attach the roof to the main structure so that it could be easily accessed.

Finally, some disused exterior paint was used to give the cat house some colour and to protect it from the elements.

Initially, I used the old fashioned manual saw to cut the materials to size. That was until I found a power saw being sold at a garage sale. This elderly man and his saw have their own history and now it has a new life (and has been used a number of times since).

A cordless drill was used for screw the materials together, an angle grinder (used quite cautiously) cut the roof to size, and a wood chisel created the grooves for the hinges to be attached in.

The only thing left to find? Some small diameter pipes. One of these will be cut in half and fixed to the side of the cat house as a gutter to collect water draining off the roof, which will force the water down another pipe to be used as a down pipe, and into a drinking bowl.

And, alas, an environmentally built, water saving cat house will soon be finalised!

This project has, and still is, taking some time to complete, purely due to the time taken to source the materials. But old pallets, discarded furniture, rubbish skips, are all great sources of materials that can used. It only takes a keen eye to find them!

I’d like to stress that ‘green’ pet ownership goes beyond the products you buy for it. As I said above, the cats have been de-sexed, registered, and have bells on their collars to reduce the likelihood they will attack wildlife. They are also locked in my shed each night as night time, for cats, is apparently the time when that are most likely to ‘hunt’ and cause damage to native, wild, fauna.