Little old man with big ideas

There used to be a little old man that lived at the top of my street. His front of house filled with home grown edibles. Every inch of space was filled with some sort of recyled object that in turn had been filled with soil and had something growing in it. Australia Post mail tubs housed capsicum plants lining his brick wall. His footpath grass not present but instead a lemon tree surrounded by a seasonal selection of leafy greens. Every space possible was used for something to grow in. Recycled rusty tin drums were home to chillis and a worn out old metal box his compost. Every time we would past he would be either tending his loved plants, basking in the sun with his head tilted on his verandah (the tiny space that was still free for 1 chair) or waiting by the footpath for someone to come past, so that he could chat to them.

A greek immigrant he had been in the country for 60 years he proudly told me one day. 94 years old, not a speck over 5 foot and he still loved to garden. With his clothing that didn’t look like it had had a wash for quite some time, gnarled old fingers that hadn’t been washed for quite some time as well and dentures that kept popping out of his mouth. He wasn’t the usual kind of neighbour that a lot of people had.

He liked to stop me, and offer water cress freshly plucked from the side of the footpath, and then happily munch on it, until his mouth gave up with trying to masticate the trying greenery with those popping dentures, then he would spit it out enthusiastically towards the general direction of his compost.

Now why am I telling you stories of an eccentric little old man? Because that little old man had big ideas. Simple ideas, that have pestered me ever since he voiced them to me. Why (as he pointed to the multi level apartments located near him) do they not have a communal garden in there? Why do they not have a simple lemon tree? Everyone could be using all the things that they grow within their small shared space. Even a little lemon tree makes a difference. We eat everything I grow. So simple…

Why indeed my little old man… Living in a big city, I see building happening all around me all the time. Quaint historic houses making way for multi story apartment blocks. Beautiful 3 bedroom houses with one bathroom, making way for 2/3 bedroom, 3 bathroom multiple level apartments. I understand the need for more accommodation in big cities, what I don’t understand is why these changes can’t be made more sustainable. Sure they don’t have to be using any recycled object within its path to be made into a growing pot. But surely these newly built places could accommodate a food growing area, that can be easily watered by nearby water tank, and then utilised by the people living there.

But who will look after it, we don’t have time?… Usually these big blocks, (or even smaller blocks of only 4) will have a body corporate or an outside designated company that organises all maintenance of the outside areas. This garden area could easily be maintained by the same people surely? Or a rotating roster of people within the complex that would be more than willing to look after the gardens. So many people would like to dig their fingers into dirt and don’t get the opportunities due to city living constraints.

But there isn’t room on the ground for these garden areas? We need carparking!… It doesn’t need to be on the ground, there is a perfectly good rooftops with ample sunlight just begging  for a little urban edible gardening. Roof top gardens can be easily built on flat roofs or a low pitch roof, and have many added benefits besides providing food to tennants.

Erd House (below) is located in Switzerland, not really a city living dwelling but still magnificent, and I wanted to sneak it in.

erd house by Swiss architect Peter Vetsch

In the pipelines there is also Sydney City Farm. Still waiting approval at this stage….

Simple things like these roof top gardens, or shared edible gardening spaces within apartment living could have such a dramatic and positive influence on our environment and city living peoples lives. So many countries and people have embraced this way of living around the world. It would be so wonderful though, to be able to walk around my neighbourhood and see more examples of this happening…

A good place to start if you are interested in more information is here.

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The best pet for small spaces…or big spaces

Living in a flat sometimes you can be a little restricted with sort of pets you can have. Constrained because of space, landlords, body corporate, prying childrens fingers. All sorts of reasons.

This pet ticks all those boxes though. It doesn’t need regular walks, doesn’t need a kitty litter tray, doesn’t hog the bed at night time, doesn’t chew furniture, doesn’t eat a lot, don’t need costly visits to the vet and doesn’t take much to set them up in their new home.

So what pet is that?

A worm.

Actually a lot of them.

Thousands of the little critters. A worm farm may not be the most interactive of pets, but they eat your compost, don’t take up much space and provide lots of wonderful solid (castings) and liquid fertilizer for your garden or pot plants. Sure you don’t get to play with them, stroke their tiny baldy heads, and their recipricle loving attention is a little wanting but they are still cute in their own hairless way. (And The Monkeys still want to poke and touch them as they would any other pet.)

The average household garbage is about 50% compostable. So instead of going to landfill it gets chewed up and turned into liquid gold by these little fellas.

10 top tips for worm farms

1/ Needs a cool well shaded spot to sit in (easy for a flat or balcony).

2/ You can buy a ready made worm farm (usually made out of recycled plastics) or you can easily make your own. (Try local councils for ready made ones as they quite often have them at cheaper prices, may deliver it and set up for free, and also run free worm farming courses.)

3/ They don’t like eating acidic foods such as onion/ garlics/ citrus fruits. Also no meat/ grains or dairy.

4/ Worm farms shouldn’t smell. There should be a lovely earthy smell, if it does get a bit pongy (stinky) then just stop feeding them for a few days, let them break down the food a bit more. Loosen the food and castings- so its easier for them to manouvre through.

5/ The smaller you chop the food, the easier they can break it down. Saying that, you can also just throw in your scraps, it just takes a while longer to break down.

6/ You can toss in all your vegetable and fruit scraps, but can also pop in ripped up newspaper, soggy egg cartons, hair, tea bags, vacuum dust…. you can do dog poo, but not advised on using the worm castings for your plants afterwards though.

7/ The worm wee can be used as a fertilizer mixed with water. 1 part wee to 9 parts water, and then just watered in to your plants. Your plants will love you for it.

8/ If you were a fishing kind a person= live bait!

9/ Worms like a nice moist environment. The water from the scraps is generally enough to keep things at a moist level during cooler months. However during hotter weather, a little extra added water may be needed intermittently. Some moist newspaper on top of the food scraps (or a hessian bag) acts as a blanket and keeps things at a stable temperature.

10/ After the initial start up, there is no ongoing costly maintenance. The worms continue to multiply (as long as they are fed) and you can’t have too many of the useful little critters.

alpaca wool

This is Diego. He’s an alpaca and lives with my mum. Alpacas are delightfully inquisitive creatures that originate from South America. He likes to watch people garden, snack on plants he shouldn’t and he also has the most wonderful soft wool.

This is Diego’s little mate Alfalfa, also provider of oh so soft wool. Shorn like a sheep, they produce quite a lot of wool from a yearly shearing.

Alfalfa’s wool spun and ready to be knitted.

Knitted into a warm soft hat for Monkey Boy.