Useful resources

Cleaning the gunk out of our water tanks

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It’s coming up on eight years since we installed our first 5000L water tank, put in during drought conditions. Since then we’ve added two more tanks as part of the renovation.

Over Christmas, when we had three dry months, our tanks dropped to nearly empty. They also started to stink, clearly the results of anaerobic decomposition of the plant material washed off our roof. Smelly water feeding into the washing machine, not good!

Our setup has first flush diverters, designed to capture the first lot of dirty water that flows into the gutter. They’re not magic, however, and gunk still gets in to the tanks, and builds up over time.

In the country, where households have to rely exclusively on their water tanks, it’s routine to get them cleaned out every while. I haven’t heard of it being done in the city, however. This might be because most of the tanks were put in at the same time as us, or later, and the problems are only now starting to emerge.

When we were out at a country show, we collected a business card from Leigh’s water tank cleaning, who we talked into dropping by our place when he happened to be heading into the city. We also talked to the Water Tank Cleaning Company who operate throughout Sydney (their website was down at the time of posting).

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Leigh, showing off his tank cleaning setup

Leigh was very friendly, the the process is surprisingly simple. It’s basically a hand-manoeuvred version of a pool cleaner, which is steered around the base of the tank where the gunk has accumulated.

This is the dark brown water flowing out, at force, from our tanks

It’s somewhat horrifying to see how much dark brown water gushes forth. No wonder our water filters kept getting clogged up, trying to deal with all that!

This is the view down into one of the tanks: the white area is the bit that’s been cleaned…

It’s a quick process, and within half an hour, our two main tanks were done. That should keep them going for a few years…

Weedy resources from the Department of Agriculture

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Whether you’re in the city or the country, you have to wage a constant war on weeds. Many are hard to kill, some are poisonous.

Others, however, are hard to identify. And if you don’t know what it is, how do you know whether to pull it out (and how)?

When down at the recent Small Farm Field Day, I visited the stand manned by the Department of Agriculture. They pointed me to an excellent phone app, called NSW WeedWise.

This contains a comprehensive collection of weeds, including photos and descriptions. It also indicates how serious a weed is, and whether you’re required to destroy it.

A lot of the weeds I already knew about, but I was pleased to learn about Moth vine. This looks quite like choko, and it’s growing on the back fence of the convent.

Far from being edible, however, it has sap that’s poisonous, and it spreads itself liberally when the seed pod bursts open.

Another day, another weed. Download the app from the Apple Store or Google Play.

One of the many weeds listed in the NSW WeedWise app.

Lewisham Library

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We first found out about street libraries after hearing about them on Bookish, comedian Jennifer Wong’s ABC iView series about books and reading. A street library is a painted box outside our house containing a selection of books. You can take a book, or leave a book; it’s up to you.

Lewisham Library
Lewisham Library

Given that many people stop outside our house to discuss the garden anyway, we figured having a street library would give people another reason to stop by. So we decided to create a street library and put it in our front garden.

We built our street library out of plywood, and added a couple of old slates on top of the roof to give it a cottage feel.

We also ordered a sticker from that tells the neighbourhood this is a registered street library. Every sticker is numbered so that each librarian can register their library on a map. There’s already several street libraries across the inner west.

We put a selection of books in the street library this morning, some come by when you’re in the area!

Lewisham street library

12 best edible wild plants of Australia

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The Weedy Connection have posted a great image listing the most common edible weeds in Australia.

(See the full size image.)

Fact sheet for our house

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We’ve had a number of tours visit our house, most recently, a group organised by Marrickville Council. While we haven’t done anything truly extraordinary, I know from personal experience that the most helpful thing can be sharing the little details, such as what materials to use, where to source supplies, or what contractors to use.

So to help with this, we provide visitors with a fact sheet (PDF), containing a summary of what we’ve done. Hopefully you’ll find it useful too!


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Before we began our house renovations, we had to pack up half our belongings so the back of the house could be demolished. We decided to get rid of a few things such as an old desk, dishwasher, light fittings, kitchen shelving and so on that we knew we wouldn’t use in the new extension.

We decided to sell items worth more than about $50 on eBay. Anything worth less than that didn’t seem worth the hassle (and the eBay fees) so we offered them for free on Freecycle.

Freecycle Sydney Central is a group for people in the Central, InnerWest and Eastern Suburbs of Sydney who have things they don’t need or want anymore and are looking for the item to be reused rather than thrown away. Don’t dump it or send it to landfill, give it away instead!

Nearly all the items we gave away on Freecycle were snapped up within 24 hours, so it’s a great way to get rid of things that are still useable that you don’t want any more. If that fails, there’s also a Vinnies box in Lewisham, it’s tucked between the junior school and the church on Thomas Street.

Understanding the sun

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The path of the summer sun past our solar panels

There are many situations when it’s useful to know the movements of the sun, which is why I was pleased to come across Built on top of Google Maps, you type in an address and a date, and it shows you the track of the sun, from sunrise to sunset.

For example, the screenshot above shows the sun’s path in summer, in relation to our solar panels on the roof. (The yellow line is sunrise, the orange line sunset.)

This type of information can be used in many ways:

  • Understanding the likely efficiency of any solar panels (providing a much better idea than the installers themselves are able to work out, in my experience).
  • Determining where to place gardens.
  • Impact of tall trees.
  • Planning house modifications and extensions.

It’s a simple tool, but a useful one.

Picking up our first Petersham food box

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This is what $20 gets you in a food box, all organic
This is what $20 gets you in a food box, all organic

Back when we were in Chippendale, we used to pickup a weekly food box containing locally-sourced fruit and vegetables, most organic. This worked very well for us, and the variation week-to-week spiced up our cooking. (See Food for the Future for details on the Chippendale food box.)

Now that we’re in Lewisham, driving to Chippo to pick up an environmentally-friendly food box seemed a bit crazy. Luckily we discovered that Jura Books on Parramatta Road in Petersham organise an organic food co-op. There are $10 and $20 food boxes, sourced from a local organic co-op, with a simple system for payment and pickup.

This is our first food box, and what a haul! As you can see above, there are plenty of shallots, carrots, broccoli, apples, oranges, limes, pumpkin, parsnip, and more. This should be more than enough to keep us going until next week, and then some!

We think these types of boxes are a great idea, and it’s definitely worth seeing whether there’s one available in your local area…

Grants for community gardens

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The Open Garden scheme has just announced details on their 2009 grants program for community gardens. This gives cash to community gardens across Australia that are of ” lasting benefit to the local and wider community” and are  “accessible to the public on a permanent or semi-permanent basis”.

I think it’s wonderful that there is money available for these gardens. At this point we’re pretty busy on our own private garden, so I don’t think we’ll be applying this year. 🙂

There are also plenty of good inner-West community gardens nearby (but you can’t have too many!).

Free local food (it’s legal … really!)

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A friend of mine, Trina, has a great blog called Greenfoot. Recently, Trina created a feral fruit tree map using Google maps which shows where fruit can be picked (legally) in her local area of Ryde.

I love this idea! We used to live in Chippendale, just around the corner from Myrtle Street. Myrtle Street is well-known for the produce plantings down the nature strip. All local residents of Chippendale are welcome to share – and are encouraged to maintain – the produce.

However, I don’t walk around our current neighbourhood of Lewisham enough, so I don’t know about places where I could pick  local fruit and other useful plants (however, there does happen to be a Bay tree outside our house that is a free-for-all!). If you know about local plants that can be shared — be they lemon myrtle (great in tea!), fruits, or other delicacies please share with us all by leaving a comment below!