marrickville

Making our own seeded mustard

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It was with some anticipation that I picked up a copy of the Cornersmith recipe book. Not only a local Marrickville cafe, but one renowned for pickles and preserves.

My first project out of the book was making our own seeded mustard, which turned out to be delightfully simple (as well as delightfully tasty!).

Mustard seeds and honey plus vinegar  = seeded mustard
Mustard seeds, honey plus vinegar = seeded mustard

The starting point is generous pile of whole mustard seeds (yellow and brown), which can be obtained very cheaply from your local Chinese or Indian supermarket. To this is added honey (our own, of course!), plus vinegar, and some extra flavourings.

Ground mustard seeds, plus the seeds that are left whole for texture
Ground mustard seeds, plus the seeds that are left whole for texture

The majority of the mustard seeds are ground down to a paste, using a coffee grinder. The whole seeds are then added back in for texture.

Once everything is combined with the vinegar, it’s left in the fridge for a month, allowing the flavours to infuse together. Then into jars.

The result is every bit as good as the store-bought, for a fraction of the price.

Five jars of home-made seeded mustard
Five jars of home-made seeded mustard
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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!

Joining Marrickville Council’s Environment Committee

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Early this year, I volunteered to join Marrickville Council’s Environment Committee, which meets quarterly. I was one of a large number of new members, and there’s a wide range of very interesting people on the Committee. One is a local cafe owner, several are street gardners, and we have at least one environmental researcher.

We’ve had our first meeting with the new members, and it was interesting (if not exciting — it is a Committee after all!). The main topic that was discussed was the results of a recent tree audit commissioned by the Council. Many figures were shared about the type, size, nature and health of trees across the local government area.

One of my takeaways from the meeting was the idea of the “urban forest”. It’s a simple yet powerful phase, encompassing the idea that the trees as a whole make up a “forest” across the area. This leads naturally to discussions about increasing canopy coverage and biodiversity.

(City of Sydney, for example, has announced a target of 25% canopy coverage across its area, in part to mitigate the urban heat island effect.)

I’ll share other interesting tidbits as they come up on this blog…

Becoming a sustainable water ambassador

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The sustainable water ambassador poster

When we put in our water tank early last year, we received a rebate from Marrickville Council, which was much appreciated. This also started a dialogue with the water folks at the Council.

As a result of this, I agreed to become a “Sustainable Water Ambassador”, and the details on this have just gone live.

There are details on the overall programme, as well as the poster (PDF) showcasing what we’ve done.

So far this hasn’t involved doing much, although we were one of the stops on a local tour of water sustainable houses. I’ve also been invited to be a member of a Council working party on sustainability, which should be interesting.

Water sustainable urban development: tour through Marrickville

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I spent an enjoyable morning today, visiting local houses who are saving water in interesting ways, as well as looking at some “rain gardens” in the street. (Our house was also the last stop on the tour, showing off what we’d done in the garden.)

The Water Sustainable Urban Development (WSUD) tour was organised by the “water revolution” staff at Marrickville Council. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised. It was hard to tell who were more passionate, the householders installing the water tanks, or the folks on the tour!

A few highlights:

A pair of 5,000 litre water tanks
A pair of 5,000 litre water tanks

The first stop was Graeme’s house in Marrickville. This showcases a significant project (8 months in length) to install a pair of 5,000L water tanks at the bottom of their large, and heavily sloping, garden. The tanks were then plumbed into the house, for absolutely everything other than drinking water. The cost was actually pretty reasonable, and the duration of the work was I think due to Graeme doing a lot of the work himself, presumably on weekends.

Pressure accumulator tank
Pressure accumulator tank

Something I hadn’t seen before was the pressure accumulator tank. About the size of a gas bottle, this holds water at pressure. This means that if a small amount of water is required in the house (washing hands, etc), the water is drawn from this holding tank, without the pump having to come on. This reduces the electricity required, and presumably helps to prolong the life of the pump. I’ll definitely have to look into this for our house.

Hill Street rain garden
Hill Street rain garden

The Hill Street rain garden was extremely interesting. This takes the normal storm water that runs of the street, and passes it through this mini wetland. The goal is not to store the water, but to filter it through the plants, which are grown on top of several layers of sub-surface material.

Where the gutter is diverted into the rain garden
Where the gutter is diverted into the rain garden

The end result is cleaner water going into the waterways, with a lot of the sediment, rubbish and nitrogen stripped out. I think it also makes for an interesting take on street-side gardens. Would love to see more of these go in throughout the Inner West.

Communal garden in the laneway
Communal garden in the laneway

John Caley, who ran the water course I attended some months back, had a house that certainly met expectations. Plenty of careful design of water tanks, and a nice use of water off next door’s roof (with their permission!). What took my fancy, however, was their lovely little communal garden in the small laneway beside the house. Plenty of produce to share amongst the neighbouring houses.

A small garden, lush and verdant
A small garden, lush and verdant

Mike and Jen’s house had everything that an inner-city greenie would want. Water tanks, careful management of water runoff, and chooks. Oh, and a nice vegetable garden squeezed into their small back garden.

Thanks to Maggie for organising the day! Visit the Marrickville Council water pages to find out more on future events, and how to get involved.

Inner west community gardens

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Path through the Marrickville Food Forrest
Path through the Marrickville Food Forrest

There are a number of community gardens in the Inner West of Sydney (and many more beyond). These provide a great opportunity for those with small gardens (or no gardens!) to grow their own vegetables, herbs and fruit.

Today we visited the Marrickville Food Forrest, located on Addison Road, in the Addison Road Centre (ARC). As is typical, it is squeezed into an unused plot of land behind some buildings, but thriving nonetheless.

It makes me appreciate how lucky we are here. We have easily 5 to 6 times the space of a typical community garden plot, with plenty of sun, and room for growth. Now the pressure is on to really make it thrive!

Over the next few months we’ll try to drop into more of these gardens, to get further inspiration on what (and how) to grow. There is also the potential to join up with a Seed Savers group, to swap seeds (we have plenty left over).

These are the gardens on our list for the Inner West:

Further information: