Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: T = Tips for Tubs and Pots

Even though I have several garden beds downstairs, I am wanting to start a few vegetables in tubs so that I can move them around as the climate changes here. We do get frosts in winter but usually late in the season, and last year we did not get one, but I still want to be prepared for it - as well as that other f-word I hate (flood). I also thought some of you who rent or only have a small garden could find this information useful too.

I stumbled across this great image in my Facebook feed today which summarises all of the best things to grow in tubs:

Urban Organic Gardener

And here are a few tips gleaned from various gardening sites:

Apparently bigger containers or tubs are the best for growing vegetables. Small plants such as lettuce need a pot that’s at least 20-25cm (8-9″) deep and about 30cm (12″) wide, while more robust plants such as tomato and eggplant (aubergine) demand pots that are 30-40cm (12″-15″) deep and 40-50cm (15″-20″) wide. With larger vegetables and fruits, choose more compact varieties that don’t fill the pots so quickly. 

A lot of vegetables like full sun… but it’s good to select a spot that offers some protection in the hotter times of the day because pots dry out quickly. If you are limited for sunlight, say on a balcony, you can grow most leafy veg with as little as three hours direct sun a day. Fruiting plants however demand at least 5-6 hours to perform well.
And, because tubs and pots dry out quickly, it is important to start off with a good quality potting mix, and water every day when vegetables or fruit are growing. Also, keep them heavily mulched to reduce water evaporation.

I have my eye on some wicking beds which our Yandina Community gardens make up and sell for $20 each (complete with medium, soil, pipes). They have a water reservoir in the bottom which draws water up into the plants so you don't have to water them as often. Many people found them perfect during the drought we had here...and anything that saves water is a bonus. You can easily make them yourself as this post from Milkwood demonstrates. There is also great information, like the image below, and DIY instructions at Permaculture News.

Have you had any success growing edibles (besides herbs) in pots? I would love to hear your tips :)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: S = Sustainability

I have always lumped together the terms self-sufficiency and sustainability, as they are often written about in the same articles, or blogs, or websites that I read. So, for a long time sustainability was for me, about supporting oneself off the land...going off grid and becoming self sufficient so to speak. In searching for a true definition of sustainability I could understand my confusion as there are so many different views as to what this term actually means, and such a broad area that it encompasses. Apparently the most widely used definition of sustainability or sustainable development comes from the World Commission on Environment and Development and is outlined as: "forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

Image Source

So, sustainability is about more than just looking after our natural environment. It is also about considering the social and economic impact of what we do and how we do it. It is about considering the impacts of climate change, and taking steps to reduce our carbon or ecological order to sustain the world in which we live. Really important stuff which should not be ignored, right?
The NSW Government department of Environment and Heritage have summed up the core elements to be considered for a sustainable household, many of which we have discussed in this A-Z series.

1. Water Conservation 
Water is an essential part of life and maintaining a healthy environment. You can help save water by becoming more water wise.

2. Energy Conservation 
Spend less on your energy bills without compromising on comfort, by making your home more energy efficient.

3. Smarter Choice - appliances, products etc
The choices you make when buying products and appliances and the actions you take now, can help you to spend less on your energy bills, bring down your cost of living and reduce your impact on the environment.

4. Recycling and waste
The average NSW household spends nearly $1,000 each year on food they throw away. There’s many ways you can avoid, reduce, reuse and recycle waste.

5. Gardening
You don’t need a green thumb to garden sustainably. Find out how to create a healthy garden, reduce run-off, be waterwise and manage weeds.

6. Chemicals - move towards green cleaning
Modern homes contain many chemicals, which are often incorrectly disposed into landfill or sewerage. These chemicals can remain in the environment for a long time, polluting our waterways, plants, animals and human bodies.

7. Making green choices when buying or renovating
Buying or renovating a home is one of the biggest investments most people ever make. Find out how to make green choices and save money while making your home more comfortable.

I then became curious to know what our local council is doing about the sustainability issue, and was surprised to find a wealth of information on a dedicated website called Sustainable Gympie, which I never knew existed. There is a fantastic tool that you can use to calculate your ecological footprint and work out ways to save money be reducing your greenhouse gas emissions, amongst other things.

This graph indicates the size of your household's footprint and the impact your pledged and completed actions will have on reducing it. It also indicates what a sustainable footprint would be for your household i.e. based on the numbers of people in your household.

So, I think I am making a reasonably good effort to live a sustainable life, but there are still so many more things I could be doing...which I am working towards. I am off now to work out my ecological footprint and make a pledge.

Do you think about the future of our world and the impact we are having on it? What measures have you taken to ensure sustainability?

Monday, 21 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: R = Reduce, Re-use and Recycle

Living Greener is a great website which extolls the virtues of the Reduce, Re-use and Recycle campaign. It is an initiative to help reduce the amount of rubbish that ends up in landfill. I have not always been the best recycler but I am now consciously making an effort to reduce the amount of waste we have, and to properly re-use or recycle what I can. Recyclying not just about putting your plastics in the re-cycle bin...this process should start before you even buy something. Here is a summary of the three initiatives and what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint:


Many of the problems created by waste can be addressed by reducing the amount of waste we produce in the first place. Reducing waste includes rethinking what you buy and refusing things you don't need.
There are many ways to reduce the amount of waste you produce:

  • Reduce your use of single-use and disposable products where possible and choose alternatives which can be used again. For example, instead of buying bottled water on the run, take a bottle with you from home.
  • Opt for products with minimal packaging where possible.
  • Buy in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging you collect. This can also save you money.
  • Choose concentrated products or refillable containers.
  • Refuse plastic bags when you don't need them. Keep re-usable bags handy so you remember to take them to the shops. You can also use boxes or your own shopping trolley bag on wheels.
  • When you're buying fruit and vegetables, pop them straight into your trolley rather than plastic bags.
  • Save on plastic wraps and freezer bags in kitchen by using re-usable containers as much as possible.
  • If you don't read advertising mail, put a sign on your letterbox.
  • Plan your meals to use items before they go out of date. Compost your food scraps or use them in a worm farm.

  • When building or renovating, build only what you need and think carefully about your design. Good design can make existing space more usable or comfortable. Choose durable materials and finishes as they should last longer.


It's amazing how many things can have a second or even third life. If you can't re-use something, there may be someone else who can.

  • Give unwanted clothes, household items, furniture or appliances to family or friends, or donate them to charities.
  • Washed takeaway containers make good stackable containers for frozen food.
  • Wash glass jars and use them again to store food or things like buttons and nails. You can also give glass jars to friends or groups who make jams.

  • Use small plastic bags to wrap wet and smelly rubbish or to pick up after your pet.
  • See whether your trash could be treasure for someone else. For example, if your food scraps are going in the bin, there might be a gardener or someone with chickens who wants your organic waste.
  • If you're building or renovating, consider using recycled materials such as windows or floorboards—you can save money and add character at the same time.
  • I have a recycling station where I put all of my containers and jars etc until I find a use for them.


  • Use your recycle bins or contact your local council to find out what alternatives they offer, especially for larger or e-waste items.
  • Look for products that use recycled materials or are recyclable. This way you'll know that you're helping to keep useful materials and metals out of landfill.
  • Recycle unwanted plastic bags at your supermarket, or give them to charity stores who may use them, or you go even further and re-cycle all of your soft plastic waste in these redcycle bins located at various supermarkets.

So how do you recycle at home? Do you think about what you are buying and how it will impact on landfill? What sort of things do you re-use?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: Q = Quality of Life

When I first chose the word Quality I thought I would be talking about the quality of food or produce, but I have already covered that topic in great detail. I believe that by adopting a more simple life that I have improved my quality of life, which got me thinking...what exactly is Quality of Life? How do you define it? Surprisingly to me, there are worldwide studies and surveys on the quality of life and Australia has been ranked number 1 on the OECD's Better Life Index for the past two years. So, how do they determine the rankings?

Basically, the OECD use 11 topics to reflect what they have identified as essential to well-being in terms of material living conditions (housing, income, jobs) and quality of life (community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance). The following is a summary of the criteria or statistics used to provide the rankings:

1. Housing:
* Dwellings without basic facilities
* Housing Expenditure
* Rooms per person

2. Income
* Household net adjusted disposable income
* Household net financial wealth

3. Jobs
* Employment rate
* Job Security
* Long term unemployment rate
* Personal earnings

4. Community
* Quality of support network

5. Education
* Educational Attainment
* Student Skills
* Years in Education

6. Environment
* Air Pollution
* Water Quality

7. Civic Engagement
* Consultation on rule-making
* Voter Turnout

8. Health
* Life expectancy
* Self reported health

9. Life Satisfaction

10. Safety
* Assault rate
* Homicide rate

11. Work-life Balance
* Employees working very long hours
* Time devoted to leisure and personal care

I think the above criteria provides a pretty good statistical snapshot of what determines quality of life but obviously there is so much more to it than that. I notice they don't assess spirituality or even happiness - I met some amazingly happy people in Thailand whose 'quality' of life would be largely measured not by the material, but by the spiritual. If you want to know how you personally fare according to the Better Life Index, then you can complete a survey to create your own.

So, today's topic is merely informational to provide food for thought. I think it's obvious that I believe in seeking a quality life, and to look at the criteria above did give me a reminder of how lucky I am to be living where and how I do...but I think the main thing is, we need to make the best of what we have, no matter where we live.

Do you think you have a good quality of life? What do you think determines it?

Friday, 18 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: P = Permaculture

Permaculture is another of those buzz words that I didn't know a lot about until I started on my simple living journey. Basically the word means permanent culture..but what is that? As far as I can tell, Permaculture is a design system for sustainable living. It is about creating homes and communities that are productive and self reliant and that have minimal impact on the environment.

I am currently doing a free online Permaculture course at and the lecturer, who started off his career as a landscape gardener says that Permaculture is basically an extension of is edible landscaping.

"Permaculture design emphasizes patterns of landscape, function, and species assemblies. It determines where these elements should be placed so they can provide maximum benefit to the local environment. The central concept of permaculture is maximizing useful connections between components and synergy of the final design. The focus of permaculture, therefore, is not on each separate element, but rather on the relationships created among elements by the way they are placed together; the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts. Permaculture design therefore seeks to minimize waste, human labor, and energy input by building systems with maximal benefits between design elements to achieve a high level of synergy." Source

There is such a trend towards this concept that there is an International Permaculture Day coming up on the 4th May 2014. It is a day of celebration of permaculture through events and actions around the world. So, it must be important, right?

One of the founders of the concept of Permaculture is David Holmgren who identified Twelve Permaculture design principles in his book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. These are outlined in the diagram above and summarised below:
  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Wow, just how powerful (and logical) are those principles?  I am only scratching the surface of them and I am learning so much from Permaculture Noosa and Gympie Permaculture, the two groups I attend once a month. Last night at the Noosa meeting I listened to presentations on wicking (water saving) garden beds and heugel gardens (logs built up under the soil), and heard heaps of terms I had never heard of from a lady who spoke about her attendance at the International Permaculture Conference in Cuba last year. It is a fascinating topic, and one I want to investigate further.

What do you know of permaculture? Were you, or are you, bamboozled like me? If that's the case I hope I have made it a little clearer for you, and given you some avenues to research. I would love to hear your thoughts?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: O = Organic

For today's post I chose the word Organic because it is a word that crops up so many times a day, but I have been meaning to do more research on this topic for some time...and this challenge gives me the perfect opportunity to do so. Organic, in relation to food purchasing, generally means a steep increase in price, so I wanted to investigate what it actually means...and how I can ensure that what I am buying is actually organic.

Organic farming involves the production of high quality food and produce, without the use of artificial fertilisers, synthetic chemicals, genetically modified foods, growth promoters or hormones.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic farming emphasises the need to maintain appropriate land management and aims to ecologically achieve the balance between animal life, the natural environment and food crops. By purchasing or growing organic produce, therefore, you are getting the product in it's most natural form, such as my basket of goodies above.

My experience as an 'organic farmer' is a simple one. Basically, in preparing my soil I have not used any chemical fertilisers - only organic manure and my own compost. I use organic sugar cane mulch to inhibit weeds and retain moisture. When my produce is growing, I use worm juice, seaweed solution from my fish farm tanks or bokashi liquid as my fertiliser. And, when my plants are faced with pests, I still do not use any chemical sprays...I make my own homemade pesticide. So, I am therefore an organic gardener and know that what I am growing is chemical free.

So, how do I know what I am buying is organic? In Australia the way to ensure something is organic,  is to do your own intensive investigation or to seek and rely on a certification mark to confirm that it has been independently certified. This is not to state that uncertified products are not what they say they are. Some small businesses cannot justify the costs involved with certification but their products are organic. Also, just because a product has organic on the label does not mean it is truly organic.

Just as with 'low fat', 'reduced fat, and 'lite' categories of distinguishing food, there is a similar definition for organic produce in Australia:

All of the following products are permitted under the National Organic Standard in Australia:
  • 100% organic.
  • Organic (which means products have at least 95% of their ingredients derived from organic production methods).
  • Made with organic ingredients (at least 70% of ingredients derived from organic production methods).
  • Products containing less than 70% organic ingredients cannot use the term organic on the display panel, but can make reference to the ingredients being derived from organic production methods in the list of ingredients.
The Auatralian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) is responsible for the appointment of approved certifying organisations which are the ones below. Basically any organic produce with these labels has been certified by AQIS:

Logo of AUS-QUAL Pty Ltd

Logo of Australian Certified Organic

Logo of Bio-Dynamic Research Institute

NASAA Certified Organic (NCO)

Logo of NASAA Certified Organic

Logo of Organic Food Chain

Logo of Tasmanian Organic-dynamic Producers

So, in a nutshell it is all a little confusing and subjective, as I am sure it would be in most countries. Larger companies can 'buy' their certifications and I recall this happening with the Heart Foundation's 'tick' several years ago when McDonald's was stripped of the privilege to use it.

For me, I will grow what I can, shop at the markets from farmers I know are organic...and the rest, well I can't say that I can go totally organic because my income does not allow for it - some things are double the price, but I will be a little more conscious of what products claim to be organic.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you buy organic over non-organic?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: N = Natural Remedies

As a natural extension of the path that I am following, I have become increasingly fascinated with the use of herbal remedies. Common herbs were always something that I had associated with flavour, but I am beginning to learn that you don't need the fancy ones like Ginseng and Gingko Biloba in your garden to be reaping the health benefits. Here is a list of ten herbs or plants that I think should be grown in most gardens, with a short summary of what they can be used for:

1. Calendula

The calendula petals are antifungal and antiseptic. The most common use is to make a cream from the petals to relieve dry skin and irritations.

2. Coriander

Coriander is a powerful digestive aid and cleansing agent capable of removing heavy metals and toxic agents from the body.

3. Peppermint

Peppermint relieves digestive discomfort such as indigestion and nausea when brewed as a tea, and when used in a liniment and applied to the skin it can relieve muscle soreness.

4. Rosemary

Rosemary stimulates energy and optimism, and sharpens memory and concentration by bringing more oxygen to your brain - a natural alternative to caffeine.

5. Thyme

This herb also has antibacterial and antiseptic properties, so it is often used to relieve cold symptoms. It also relieves diarrhea and upset stomachs.

6. Lavender

Lavender is commonly used as a relaxant. It can be added to your bath to relieve stress, anxiety or insomnia, and can also be used in creams to treat sunburn and acne. 

7. Chamomile

Chamomile is used as a tea for treating colic, nervous stress, infections and stomach disorders.

8. Aloe Vera

I find this to be the most versatile home remedy to grow. I use the gel in smoothies as it has digestive qualities and is a diuretic. I also use it to relieve burns, sunburn and skin irritations.

9. Basil

I use this all the time but only recently found out it is good for healing cuts if applied topically. It is also good for stomach gas and lack of appetite (I never have that problem).

10. Sage

Apparently sage is good for skin and gum infections, digestion and menopause.

If you are looking for more detailed explanations of how to prepare the herbal remedies then I can certainly recommend Isabel Shipard's book "How Can I Use Herb's In My daily Life?"

Image Source

It is a beautiful reference book and extremely detailed. The brief information above was sourced from the internet (sources below) but Isabel will show you how to make the herbal teas and lotions. I was fortunate enough to visit Isabel's herb farm a few months ago and came away with so much information as well as unusual herbs such as this beautiful Brahmi which I use in smoothies (it is very bitter) to boost memory and concentration. It is so much cheaper than buying a bottle of tablets.

Do you make any herbal remedies or do you stick with what you can buy at the pharmacy? I would love to hear of anything you may have tried with success :)

Internet Sources

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