Saving the environment

Railway passage garden going strong

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My guerrilla gardening alongside the railway passage
My guerrilla gardening alongside the railway passage

Back in 2014, I started planting alongside the pedestrian pathway that runs from Lewisham Station through to West St. There have been ups and downs, but I’m now up to 30 metres of garden, with a mix of small trees, bushes and ground covers (all natives).

And then I paused, as I’d been reported to the council for planting trees (shock horror!).

I ended up having a visit from the tree officer at Inner West Council, who turned out to be delightful. Not only did he approve of the work (his first question was: “are you going to do the rest?”), but he offered some free trees.

Council-planted native trees alongside the railway passage
Council-planted native trees alongside the railway passage

A month or so later, the council planted eight Lilly Pillies, plus a variety of other trees. This has doubled the length of the garden, to approximately 60 metres. Which is about half of the entire length of the passageway. Now we’re getting there!

I offered to mulch under the council trees, so I collected free cardboard boxes from the recycling bins at Pig and Pastry, plus free mulch from the Council. Two full ute loads of mulch later, I’m only half way. Phew! Still it’s good exercise, and there’s a palpable sense of progress now.

I’ll be at this for a few years yet, so say hi if you see me working away. And any volunteer help would be gratefully received!

Reworking our Aerobins

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One of our two Aerobins, alongside our worm farm
One of our two Aerobins, alongside our worm farm

At present, we have three Aerobins and one worm farm. The thing that makes the Aerobins special is the  patented lung ® or aeration core inside. This is a series of connected pieces that provides greater levels of circulation, and therefore faster decomposition.

The pieces of the Aerobin "lung", mangled through use.
The pieces of the Aerobin “lung”, mangled through use.

 

At least, that’s the theory. In practice, the pieces often get mangled when turning over the contents of the Aerobin, and several of my hat-like structures have been damaged beyond use. I know I’m not the only one to experience this.

A replacement aeration method, made of out 90mm pipe
A replacement aeration method, made of out 90mm pipe

Taking a suggestion from my dad, I emptied out each of the Aerobins, and removed the aeration core pieces. To replace this, I drilled holes in a length of 90mm polypipe, adding a cap on the end. (These are standard plumbing items that can be obtained from the nearest hardware or plumbing store.)

The result is a more robust source of air circulation, that should be resilient against day-to-day use. Touch wood, it should still give me the faster aerobic breakdown of compost.

The Aerobin refilled, with its new home-made air spike
The Aerobin refilled, with its new home-made air spike

Starting a new strip of guerrilla gardening alongside the railway line

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Bare earth and hardscrabble weeds, begging for transformation.
Bare earth and hardscrabble weeds, begging for transformation.

About six months ago I started planting natives beside Lewisham train station, taking the initiative where the council and railways hadn’t. That patch is growing well, although it’s constantly under threat from work vehicles which tend to drive down the pedestrian path.

So to diversify my risks, I’ve started guerrilla gardening the other end of the pedestrian way, where it meets West St. As can be seen from the photo above, it was hardly a delight for those walking by.

Having removed the grass and weeds, the soil is dug over and boosted with compost.
Having removed the grass and weeds, the soil is dug over and boosted with compost.

The starting point was to mattock over all the ground, breaking it up, and pulling out the grass and weeds. A full barrow-load of my best compost then went it to add some life back into the soil, along with a few handfuls of native-friendly fertiliser.

It's handy having a ute when it comes to collecting mulch!
It’s handy having a ute when it comes to collecting mulch!

Marrickville Council nursery kindly maintains a pile of mulch, for free use by locals. Now that I have a ute, I took full advantage 🙂 What wasn’t used on the new strip went to supplement the existing plantings.

A well-prepared strip of garden, ready for planting.
A well-prepared strip of garden, ready for planting.

The result is a new strip of guerrilla gardening ready to be planted. It’s also a great way to get some exercise, as it took a fair portion of a day to get everything done.

The start of a brand new native garden, for the enjoyment of all.
The start of a brand new native garden, for the enjoyment of all.

With a week of grey rainy days ahead (in contrast to the recent heat and humidity!), I got the first plants into the ground. Most of these were cuttings from my previous plantings, but I also added a few new things that I picked up at the council nursery. This included Indigofera Australis (native indigo) and Pomaderris Intermedia, both of which should grow into attractive mid-sized bushes.

Our mini green roof is getting greener

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Our mini green roof is finally, well, green.
Our mini green roof is finally, well, green.

Eighteen months ago we created a mini green roof over the far end of the chicken run. The main goal was to learn more about the practicalities of building a green roof, as adding a bit more visual interest to that corner of the garden.

It hasn’t been the easiest of journeys. Within a fortnight, the local possum ate our green roof down to the ground. The Australian weather was also punishing, even in this relatively shaded and protected spot.

The turning point was switching our planting strategy, narrowing down to two incredibly hardy plans: dianella and bracken fern. Both were transplanted from other areas of the garden, and they settled in quickly.

While it’s still got a little way to go, the photo above shows that the green roof is finally … green. Phew.

 

Completing the set: we now have solar hot water

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A shiny new set of 30 evacuated tubes on the roof
A shiny new set of 30 evacuated tubes on the roof

When the feed in tariff for solar electricity was put in place, we were one of the early movers, installing a 1.6kw solar PV system on our roof. With the limited space on our roof, we had to pick between solar electricity and solar hot water, and we chose the former.

Once we finished our renovation, however, we had 99m2 extra of flat roof to play with.

Nonetheless, we’d already purchased a super-efficient instantaneous gas system to replace our 1988-era electric hot water tank. We’d hardly be saving the environment if we threw that away, so solar hot water remained on the long-term to-do list.

With the likelihood of rising gas prices over the next few years, I recently looked back into solar hot water options.

What I discovered is that it was possible to reuse our instantaneous gas system as part of a solar hot water installation.

It’s simple really: the evacuated tubes on the roof heat up the water in a storage tank (shown below). The output of the tank goes through the instantaneous gas system. If the water is already hot, the gas system does nothing. If it’s only warm, it boosts it as required.

So no manual boosting or fiddling around, with a 100% guarantee of hot water.

We ended up purchasing a system with 30 evacuated tubes, plus a 300L storage tank. This is far in excess of what we need for two people, but with the roof partially shaded in winter, the extra tubes were chosen to ensure we take maximum advantage of the morning sun.

We’ll be getting back $1300 from the government for the STCs (solar credits).

On current gas prices, the payback period is 8-10 years, which isn’t great. But I’m expecting the gas prices to rise, which should seriously shorten the payback period.

Anyway, it’s good to complete the set of environment-saving technologies 🙂

PS. after 3+ months of no rain, we had 2 solid weeks of rain immediately after putting in the solar hot water. Not great for our solar generation, but good for the garden I guess 😉

The 300L tank gets squeezed into the side passage of the house.
The 300L tank gets squeezed into the side passage of the house, alongside the instantaneous gas system.

We’re opening our house for Sustainable House Day 2014

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SHD2014-logo

One of the best things about our eco efforts is the way it helps us connect with locals from across Lewisham, Leichhardt and beyond. We’ve had many conversations across the front fence, about our vege patch, the solar panels, bees and more.

This year, we’re opening the house for even more conversations, as part of Sustainable House Day 2014.

On Sunday September 14th, 10am – 4pm, you’re most welcome to drop in for a house tour, and an opportunity to connect up with other folks interested in urban sustainability. (Note: we’re only opening on the 14th, and we won’t be opening on the 7th.)

Our house will be up on the SHD website shortly, which will give you the address a few days before we open the house. In the meantime, add the 14th into your diary.

See you soon!

Saving the environment, one pavement at a time

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Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!
Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!

The photo above underscores what street trees often have to suffer through.

With the trunk surrounded by concrete on all sides, the results are lifted pavements for pedestrians, and too little water for the tree. Amazingly, some people call for the offending trees to be cut down, but there’s a better solution.

Why not give the trees more space?

Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.
Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.

Marrickville Council is one council pursuing this policy. When a pavement comes up for renewal as part of the regular maintenance (planned five years ahead), a bigger opening is left for trees.

This gives the trees more space, and allows more rain to absorb into the ground, rather than into the stormwater system. I imagine it also saves a small (but measurable) amount of concrete.

Residents can't wait to plant underneath their trees.
Residents can’t wait to plant underneath their trees.

Biodiversity is also increased when low plants, such as lomandras and dianellas, are planted around the base of the trees. With an even larger space, it becomes possible to establish a true verge garden.

Marrickville Council also goes beyond this. At the time of writing, the Sustainable Streets program enables residents to cut spaces out of their concrete verge for a small fee. If the majority of a street requests street gardens then the council will cut out the concrete, provide some extra soil, and even throw in some plants for free.

The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.
The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.

As a final note, this pavement work next to Petersham Park is another small but elegant example of the principle at work. Instead of re-laying the whole pavement with concrete, gravel was laid down for half the width. When I talked to the Council about this, they highlighted the benefits of less run-off, as well as providing more rain for the avenue of trees.

Councils have a big role to play in the sustainability of our local environment. If we can keep changing default policies to encompass environmental thinking, we’re well on our way to saving the planet!