News from the Mews – Sustainable Living Tips – July 2015

News from the Mews – Sustainable Living Tips – July 2015

News from the ‘Mews’ – July 2015

We’re in the thick of winter, particularly with this cold snap! I’ve just come back inside (to the cosy wood heater) after feeding my rainbow trout and collecting eggs from the chooks and it is bloody freezing – 8 degrees (to be exact), cold, windy and raining! The good news is all our water tanks are full and we’ve passed the ‘Winter Solstice’ so bring on the sunny Spring days I say! Here’s this months happenings and a few sustainable living tips too.

So, this was July 2015:

The colder temperatures have seen a slowing down in the growth of most crops and a few frosts have caused some minor damage, but all in all, everything is growing well. The white cabbage butterfly has finally vanished too!

We’ve picked our first lot of:

Δ  Celery

Δ  Beetroot

Δ  Bok choy

Δ  Lettuce (Yes, ‘Butter lettuce’ grows a treat in the cold weather!)

Δ  Spinach

Δ  Silverbeet

Δ  Rhubarb

Δ  Coriander

Δ   Basil (but it’s struggled with the cold weather even in the greenhouse.)

It is great to be eating fresh seasonal produce that we’ve grown in our own backyard. It gives a real sense of satisfaction, and it’s not hard to do!

The crops that are still maturing include: peas, cauliflower, broccoli, tuscan kale, leeks, cabbage and garlic.

red cabbage, sustainability tips, veggie garden        broccoli, winter gardening, veggie garden

An Aquaponics Update:

The aquaponics system has matured now and is really firing up. The rainbow trout are growing well and relishing the 10 degree water temperature in the tank. An early problem with iron deficiency has corrected now that the water pH is down to 6.8. The level of acidity in the water affects the availability of various nutrients to the plants.

My system was initially too alkaline (basic) and this caused an iron uptake problem. Iron is required by plants to produce the green ‘chlorophyll’ pigment and when there’s an iron deficiency the leaves turn pale and yellow, despite the leaf veins appearing green – have a look at the picture below as an indicator:

iron deficiency, plant iron deficient

Once the system matured (ie. all the nitrogen fixing bacteria became established), I really noticed that the plants grew at a very rapid rate, despite the cool temperatures. Bok choy, kale, rocket, parsley and lettuce are doing really well growing in scoria and powered by the fish waste products. A productive little ecosystem right in our back yard. Ain’t nature wonderful!

Check out pics and our (first!) little video of our Aquaponics system below:

aquaculture, garden beds, permaculture     aquaculture, permaculture, butter lettuce

Our Fruit tree additions:

We recently purchased some bare rooted fruit trees (from BGG Trees in Batesford, near Geelong, Victoria) to add to our existing stock.

Δ  A double grafted apple

Δ  A double grafted pear

Δ  A Red Haven peach

These will complement our apricot, lemons, lime, fig and feijoa trees.

The staff at BGG were very friendly and helpful and their range is fantastic. Highly recommended!

Looking forward to some tasty fresh fruits in the future as these trees mature.

Our Bees and Backyard Chooks:

Our bees are definitely keeping a low profile with the winter chill, but we do see them venture out of the hive whenever the sun decides to shine.

And, we’re still getting 1-2 eggs per day from our chooks while our Muscovy Duck has just started laying again. Her eggs are great to use when baking cakes, they’re rich in flavour!

Till next time,

Cheers and keep warm! Pete

After sharing our ‘self-sufficiency’ journey and a few sustainable living tips via ‘News from the Mews’ for a few months now, I’d love to see if you have any questions about Home Gardening or Permaculture that you’d like me to chat about here on the blog? 

News from the Mews – May 2015

News from the Mews – May 2015

News from the ‘Mews’ – May 2015

Winter is definitely on the way, we’ve just had our coldest overnight temperature of 1.5C, but we have also enjoyed some lovely sunny days too (sweet relief!) Today I’m sharing my adventures over the last month with a few sustainable living tips to inspire you as we navigate the winter months!

So, this was May 2015:

There has been quite a bit happening in May.

Δ Seeds planted in April have grown and been planted out into the garden beds where we expect nice crops of:

+  Broccoli

+  Cauliflower

+  Cabbages and lettuce

+  Peas

+  Beetroot

+  Kale

+  Celery

+  Carrots

+  Leeks, and

+  Onions

Δ I am getting into the routine of raising more seedlings every 3-4 weeks to extend the growing season and have a few ‘spares’ in case of extreme weather or bug attacks! We are still doing battle with the white Cabbage butterfly – I mentioned these guys in the April blog post here. These grubs have taken a liking to the bok choy in particular. They are masters of ‘green’ camouflage for sure, but I still seek and destroy (squish!) where I see evidence of them dining on our produce.

Δ The greenhouse has worked really well to provide a warm, humid environment for the seeds to germinate rapidly. I am also growing parsley, coriander and basil in pots in the greenhouse. You really can’t beat freshly picked herbs when cooking – the smell is phenomenal!

herb garden, organic herbs, fresh herbs

Δ Crops of beetroot, celery and spinach planted out in March are growing nicely and we look forward to harvesting the first produce soon.

Δ Our chooks are starting to lay again after their moulting ‘recess’ (they need some down time too – this varies for different breeds) and the eggs are as good as ever – big breakie anyone?!

organic eggs, backyard chickens, permaculture, sustainability

Δ On the 1st May we harvested our second batch of honey from our bee hive (5.5 kg of liquid ‘gold’) The hive is now packed down for winter and the girls have 8 full frames of honey to tide them over the coming colder months. They rarely venture out when it is cold and windy, but when the sun shines they are still quite active as seen below.

beehive, bee keeper, organic honey

The ‘Big News’ of May

My aquaponics system is now stocked with 35 fingerling Rainbow Trout (thanks to the guys at Ballarat Fish Hatchery). The Rainbows have been in the tank for 3 weeks now and are growing well. They are feisty little critters and almost leap out of the water at feeding time – it really is fun to watch!

Let’s give you a little summary of what aquaponics is and the system looks like at our property:

Raising aquatic animals (eg. fish) with hydroponics (ie. growing plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.

So in essence, the fish waste (ammonia rich) is converted by bacteria into nitrates which act as a food source to grow plants.

aquaponics, aquaponics sytem

The water tests are showing that the system is in balance and cycling well. I have added quite a few plants to the grow beds too. Some look a little ‘anaemic’ at the moment, but I am sure as the fish grow and the system matures, that it will go really well. I’ll keep you all posted.

Routine maintenance for my aquaponics system includes:

Δ  Clean the pump weekly

Δ  Carry out water tests

Δ  Check that the siphons are working (the siphons drain water back into the fish tank)

Δ  Feed the fish (twice a day at present)

So the focus this month really has been getting my aquaponics system to begin balancing. An aquaponics system is a great example of permaculture principles at work, where ‘waste’ from one system (the fish) is used to provide nutrients to the growing plants, all while using only 10% of the water used for normal soil based growing.  I’m enjoying exploring this new permaculture project and we can’t wait for our first aquaponics produce and fresh fish feast!

It’s also important to remember that winter is definitely not a hiatus in the garden – the seedlings I mentioned above are all ‘winter crops’ and will provide us with product for some hearty winter meals very soon. The honey we’ve just harvested is also a great one for winter too – think steaming porridge and big cups of tea with ‘from the hive’ honey! Grab some organic honey next farmer’s market visit, particularly if the colder weather has you battling with a sore throat!

Till next time, Pete.


So I’d love to know if you’re getting out in the garden? If you’ve got any winter gardening tips you’d like to share with us please get typing in the comments below!

News from the Mews – Sustainable Living Tips – April 2015

News from the Mews – Sustainable Living Tips – April 2015

News from the ‘Mews’ – April 2015

April has proved to be a transition month – some crops are coming to an end while I’ve been preparing for the winter crops. Today I’m sharing our second round of sustainable living tips (you can check out the first instalment here.)

We had above average rainfall to the end of April and all our water tanks are full, which is great. Daylight hours are significantly shorter and the sun is sitting much lower in the sky. I am not a huge fan of the dark skies and cold winds of winter, but the seasons need to change and we must learn to work with what we have. When it comes to the garden we can embrace different crop varieties that we can plant over the colder months. It is always better for us to eat what is available seasonally (despite the fact that the supermarkets can still provide us with tomatoes in winter… if we really want them!)

So, this was April 2015

Δ Summer crops (like tomatoes, beans and capsicums) are coming to an end.

Δ I have been prepping the veggie beds and planting seeds to stock up for our coming winter crops. This will include:

+ Peas

+ Lettuce

+ Cabbages

+ Broccoli

+ Leeks

+ Onions

+ Beetroot

+ And of course, heaps of silver beet and kale!

Δ In the greenhouse I’m growing these guys:

+ Coriander

+ Basil

+ Parsley

+ And believe it or not, we are still getting a few strawberries ripening in there too (bonus!)

Δ We were fortunate over the summer season to have had very few pests in the garden. But… there was a culprit – the White Cabbage Butterfly. These butterflies usually attack plants in the ‘Brassica family’ – think: cabbages, broccoli, kale etc. I even found a few eggs on the underside of seedlings that I was growing inside the greenhouse! The eggs were readily removed, but a few hatched into tiny grubs and I saw evidence of them dining on our kale and cabbage seedlings (cheeky things!). Check out my blog post on ‘Environmentally Friendly Pest Control‘ if you need an earth friendly approach to reducing pests in your own garden!

garden pests, white cabbage butterfly, pests

On the project side of things:

Δ We built a new wire fence (15 metres long) to keep our chooks out of the eastern side of the garden. They used to love getting in there, but were causing too much havoc with their scratching about and disrupting some immature plants. Sorry girls, access denied!

fencing, hand built fence, wire fence

Δ I also built some timber shelving inside the greenhouse to better utilise the available space.

greenhouse shelving, greenhouse gardening

Δ My aquaponics system is in the final stages of ‘cycling up’ (I’m still getting the nitrogen fixing bacteria established.) I’m hoping to stock it with Rainbow trout in the next couple of weeks.

Apart from the routine tasks such as checking the worm farm weekly (blog post on this coming soon!), turning over the compost heap (read about composting here), feeding the chooks, collecting eggs etc. it is really a time for the new crops to get established so we can enjoy the harvest of fresh veggies in the coming months. Hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of the sustainable living tips we’re putting into practice this month and getting a little earth inspiration!

Til next time!

Cheers, Pete


As the cooler months greet us, how are you connecting with the earth around you? Are you starting to cook hearty meals with fresh seasonal produce? It can be harder to embrace the great outdoors when it starts to cool down, so we’d love to hear your thoughts!

News from the Mews – Sustainable Living Tips – March 2015

News from the Mews – Sustainable Living Tips – March 2015

News from the ‘Mews’ – March 2015

It’s been a busy month on our new property just north of Geelong in Victoria, Australia. We live in a ‘Mews’ and I decided that my monthly wrap up will fittingly be called ‘News from the Mews.’ So here’s to the first instalment where I share our sustainable living tips each month.

I’ve previously introduced the concept of ‘Permaculture’ – you can read more about it here. In these monthly wrap ups I hope to show you how we’re using permaculture principles on our property to reap great rewards – think eggs, fresh veggies, savings through recycling.

So, this was March 2015

+ We set up the greenhouse and replaced our old corrugated iron water tank. I cut down the old tank to make 3 raised veggie garden beds and a compost area for the chooks to scratch around in. We want to re-use and recycle where possible.

recycle, recycling, water tank, sustainable living

+ I am also setting up our Aquaponics System. It’s made from two 1000 litre ICB containers. The grow beds are full of media (I chose to use washed 14mm scoria & grow stones – they’re made from recycled glass. Using the mix of scoria & grow stones keeps the cost down) and I am getting the ‘nitrogen cycle bacteria’ established before I add the fish (rainbow trout) and plant out the veggies. We’re very much looking forward to fresh fish and veggies from the system.

aquaculture tanks, sustainable living, auaculture

A quick walk around the veggie gardens sees:

+ The last of our tomatoes and beans. They cropped really well and the tomatoes were lovely & sweet.

+ Onions are also coming to a close.

+ Sweet Corn was phenomenal, best crop I’ve ever grown. Plenty of sweet, juicy cobs were enjoyed!

+ The capsicums were a bit of a disappointment; the bushes grew well, but fruit did not get much bigger than tennis ball size. Not sure why?

+ Plenty of zucchini, baby squash and strawberries!

+ Silverbeet and spinach also did well. I will continually plant silverbeet, as we enjoy it and it’s a great green supplement feed for the chooks – they love it.

+ We purchased some “Dine A Chook” (Australian made) feeders and drinkers for our chooks so we can go away for a few days and the girls still have fresh feed and water. The chooks are in various stages of moulting and their egg laying has slowed down – this is normal seasonal behaviour.

+ Our ‘Sproutwell’ greenhouse is up and running and I’m growing plenty from seed to eventually plant out into the veggie beds and Aquaponics system. It’s amazing how quickly things grow from seed in the warm & humid environment – it’s great to watch it unfold. I still have to build some tiered racks in the greenhouse to better utilise the space in there, as I want it to be productive over the coming winter months.

greenhouse, gardening, seedlings, sustainable living

+ Also, as you can see in the photo, the chooks have been put to work clearing out the finished veggie beds. Its a win-win situation –  they get to scratch around and eat whatever they like and they fertilise and cultivate the soil in preparation for the next crop. Thanks girls!

backyard chooks, backyards chickens, free range chickens

I’ll be wrapping up what’s been happening at our property each month to show you how we’re incorporating permaculture, beehives, aquaculture, backyard chooks and more. I’m hoping this shows you the wonderful benefits of connecting with the earth – whether it’s wonderful fresh produce on your plate, or time outside in the sun working on new projects. There are endless possibilities and you can make your time in the elements your own!

Till the next ‘News from the Mews’ wrap up – Pete

Did you get outside during March? Maybe you tended to your veggie garden, or your favourite flowers? Maybe you went hiking or bushwalking?