Thursday, March 24, 2011

Going Solar. Some not so sunny concerns!

The solar panel people came around to give a quote and apart from the required financial outlay I’m not really any wiser about the whole thing.

I have a basic idea of the system. The panels on the roof will generate electricity which will be directed into the public supply grid and we will receive credit for the amount of energy generated. We are then charged for whatever power we use ourselves. If we use more than we generate we pay. If we generate more than we use we are paid.

Beyond that we are at the mercy of the panel supplier/installer. It seems most panels have a 25 year guarantee. But should there be problems in 10 or 20 years time – who do we contact? What if the supplier is no longer in business? How many businesses like this are still around after 20-25 years? While the guarantee gives the impression of security, they are dependant upon there being someone still around to honour it.

The current system also works under certain legal conditions established by the Government. Those conditions last until 2017. What comes after that? Will the whole thing be overturned, nullifying the benefit of having the panels? Maybe that’s not too important – supposedly the panels will pay for themselves within three or four years and anything after that will be a bonus.

At the moment I feel a bit pressured. There is a deadline to face. The generous rebates will be reduced in July. The installation will be more expensive after that date. Clearly I should have considered doing this earlier, when I’d have more time to weigh up the pros and cons of different suppliers.

Solar Panels by Vera Kratochvil

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Going Solar - hopefully!

We’re having our place assessed for solar panels today. Hopefully we’ll get a reasonable quote and be able to make the most of the Government rebates.

It’s taken too long for us to get around to considering the panels. This was mostly through ignorance. While the rebates have been available for some time (and have now unfortunately been reduced) for some reason I hadn’t even thought of getting them installed until recently.

When I first heard of people lobbying the Government for solar panel rebates, I thought they were referring to solar water heaters and not the generation of electricity so I didn’t see the need to take further interest.

Unfortunately my technical ignorance makes me susceptible to being exploited if the installers are lacking integrity, so I’m feeling uneasy about the whole thing. The recent situation with roofing insulation showed there are too many inexperienced and/or unscrupulous people around willing to take advantage of both homeowners and Government generosity.

Solar Panel by Petr Kratochvil

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Would Love to Keep Chooks, But…

One of the approaches to gardening that I find most appealing is permaculture. It seems to make total sense. Why work against the natural processes when you can be more productive working with them? At least in theory! I’ve never tried it so don’t know whether it would work for me. If there are any shortcomings with permaculture I would be the one to find them.

I’ve done a little reading on the topic to see whether I could use permaculture principles for my own garden, but have found that it seems more applicable to larger properties.
Yes I know how some people have transformed their ¼ acre blocks into permaculture paradises (see here ) but they didn’t have MY block to work with.

Unfortunately there are a couple of vital aspects of a permaculture property that I would find troublesome. One is installing some kind of a pond (Gloria even objects to having water in the bird bath, fearing its mosquito breeding potential). And the other is keeping chooks.

I would love to keep chooks but… and there are several reasons I hesitate…

1) Where would I put them?

2) I’d have to build a suitable enclosure and my DIY skills have never successfully stretched that far

3) The responsibility of keeping something alive! Its one thing to kill a lettuce through careless neglect, but an animal is something else.

4) Their potential to attract pests and vermin, which in turn have the potential to attract snakes.

5) We regularly go away for the weekend to visit family – how long can they (the chooks not the family) be left unattended while we are away?

6) We are not allowed to keep livestock on our block (a legal aspect of the property contract that we weren’t aware of until before purchasing the house) – which may or may not extend to poultry.

7) How would they cope with the frosts and -6 degree temperatures that we regularly get over winter? (And frosts can extend from mid autumn to late spring).

8) How would the neighbouring dogs react (we’re surrounded by them).

I’m sure a couple of chickens could provide many benefits, eggs, manure, pest control… but would those benefits outweigh the problems?

photo: Hen by Darren Hanlon

Time to Rethink

I think I saw the DVD Food Inc at the right time, when I was reconsidering what to do with my backyard. The film has reinvigorated my desire to turn it into something much more productive.

It is now almost 5 years since I started the garden and my approach has always been uncoordinated. I hoped something worthwhile would evolve as I tried a bit of this and a bit of that. My hopes haven't been very fruitful.

When we moved from out flat in Sydney I had three things in mind for our first garden. I wanted natives (especially Grevilleas), I wanted Roses, and I wanted to grow my own veggies.

I now have a promising native garden growing in the front of the house as well as a variety of Grevilleas near the fence at the back. Some of them weren’t placed very wisely and have grown much larger than I made allowance for, but at least they provide thick cover for birds and attract a variety of honey eaters.

Roses have been more of a struggle. They don’t cope too well with the weather extremes. We get a wonderful show of flowers for a week or so in spring and then they get knocked about by the heat, the rain or the wind. They have been a disappointment but I don’t want to give up on them.

The vegetable garden has given mixed results. At times we don’t seem to have enough room to grow what we want – and at other times we struggle to make use of the space we’ve got. We’ve also had a lot of failures; some things just don’t want to perform well.

Along with all of this I’ve tried to add a few flowering plants. While a few pockets of this ornamental part of the garden have been pleasing, we have far too many areas that haven’t worked.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the latest veggie season hadn’t been the best. At least the failures have given me the chance to clear up the veggie beds and start over again.

At the moment I have a bed of zucchinis, squash and pumpkins that are coming to their end. It will be ready for re-use in a few weeks.

The other three main beds were empty up to last weekend. One I have planted with garlic, taking up most of the room I had intended for onions. Another I plan to use for broccoli, which are the only brassicas that I’ve successfully grown.

The third has become a dumping ground for grass cuttings, leafy weeds and other organic material, along with an application of manure and blood and bone. I have now thickly sown broad beans on the top of it all and have covered the beans with some cheap potting mix. This third bed has become a no-dig project. When the beans have grown sufficiently I’ll either cut them down and mix them in, or I’ll flatten them and pile biscuits of straw on top.

Meanwhile I will be looking at the rest of the garden and thinking of how to reorganise it, to give more room for other edibles.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Food Inc.

On the weekend I watched the DVD Food Inc. This film looks at the way a few multi-nationals are increasing their control over food. It is essential viewing for anyone who has concern about the things they eat.

GM foods, cattle feedlots, the exploitation of farmers – are some of the topics examined. One of the more disturbing aspects is how these huge companies are able to use the legal system to strengthen their control – much of the time because they have the financial means to keep law suits going until their opposition is unable to defend themselves against charges.

One of the more shocking revelations is that it has been made more or less illegal for a farmer to save his own seed for future crops because most crops have been infected with patented, genetically modified material.

If a company pollutes a waterway that affects users down stream who is held accountable? Are the downstream users blamed? Are they made to pay the legal consequences of the acts of a company unable to prevent polluting agents from entering the waterways?

But if a multinational can’t prevent the spread of pollen from its genetically modified crops – if it can’t prevent the entry of its genetic material into neighbouring crops – guess who is made responsible? Clue: it is not the multi-national. The farmer pays the penalty, being unable to use any tainted seed because it contains patented genetic material that he didn’t want, didn’t ask for and would not have willingly introduced to his crop.

This is certainly one of those must-see films for anyone concerned about their food, where it comes from and who controls what food is available.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Surely next season HAS to be better!

We’ve just had the worst vegetable season since our move to the country almost five years ago. It’s the first time we haven’t needed to give away a surplus of zucchinis. We’ve barely had enough to keep ourselves going, even with the addition of three plants of button squash filling the shortfall.

Our butternut pumpkins have also been very disappointing. We’ll be lucky to get 10 pumpkins this year. In previous years we’ve always exceeded 50.

Tomatoes have never been much of a success at our place, so even the poor crop we got was a slight improvement, but it ought to have been much better. Gloria pulled up the last couple of plants yesterday.
And our corn was possibly left too late before being picked – it was very dry despite having more than ample water with the record summer rains.

Our main successes have been onions (even though they were down on previous years), garlic, beans (lazy housewife and purple king are still pickable) and several cucumbers (the most we’ve grown so far).

I now have three empty veggie beds. One has been enriched with homemade compost and several bags of cow manure. On another I’ve been throwing prunings and grass clippings. I’ll top that with straw when I get around to buying a bale or two and hopefully will make it into a decent no-dig garden. The future of the third bed is still to be decided.
The only bed still in use has the last of the zucchini, squash and pumpkins. With frosts not too far away the productivity of that bed is also close to an end. So soon I’ll have a totally blank canvas to start all over again.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bella Hardy, Songs Lost and Stolen

I received a Bella Hardy newsletter this morning about the release of a new album. Her first two CDs are among my favourites and I’ve been hoping this new one would be coming out soon.

The release date is in mid April and I’ve pre-ordered my copy. The first two were originally available through her personal website but I’ve had to order this one through Amazon. It seems like she is no longer handling her own album sales, which is hopefully a sign of increasing success.

I’ll miss the more personal approach of buying directly from her – such as being able to have the CD autographed, but the important thing is the opportunity for her music to become more accessible.

When I first heard about the new album my initial response was concern.
The title of the CD “Songs Lost and Stolen” made me think that the songs for her album had literally been “lost and stolen”. It wouldn’t have been the first time that a musician’s work had been lost to a thief.

For more information visit:

A single from the album has been released (her first) and can be heard here:


see my previous article: