Monday, January 29, 2007

Wheatbag creation day this Sunday 5th Feb

Everyone who comes to live at my house gets taught how to make wheatbags, then gets addicted. They spend days making them for friends and family, to keep them warm and comforted through the winter.

You get some cotton material, a sixties skirt from the op shop is great. Fill it with wheat, and heat it five minutes in the microwave. Keep it on your lap as you study, or take it to bed with you.

It lets you heat yourself, not the air around you. You use five minutes microwave energy, instead of a whole night of heater energy. You don't get sleepy breathing in all that warm air.

I take a warm wheatbag and breakfast up to my balcony every morning through the winter. I took my Japanese textbook up there too, and stayed there studying for as long as it was cozy. Cocooned in another world. Wheatbags mean your investment in a balcony garden is one you can enjoy all year round. They are proof that you can reduce your energy usage not just by 10 percent, but by 10 times, if you get creative. Without sacrificing anything of value. Good Permaculture.

This Sunday Feb 4th, friends are gathering at my house to learn how to make wheatbags, make extra for me to sell at my 'Eden on your balcony' stall, and take a beautiful one home for free. Afternoon tea and new friendships, new inspiration all provided. Please come, but book first on
There will be a few more free workshop days - also Tuesday feb 6th. 0412-474-282

Friday, January 26, 2007

waterwise crazy idea - put the washing machine in the couryard

I decided - I can't keep on bucketing water to save my country - this is the 21st century. I made some calls - there is a 22 week waiting list to buy a tank, and they will sell me a pump to get my bathwater to the garden for $1,000. Its a terrace house, with plumbing hidden, which is why I had let myself give up earlier. Not any longer - those poor farmers. And letting my garden die won't help the environment - the garden, its bugs and microbes, they ARE the environment.

I called my creative friend Dominic over for a solution. "Hey, the washing machine IS a pump", he said. "Just put it outside".
Frank the wire artist did all the fixing and shifting, we found a cover, better detergent, and now everyone seems happy. Especially the hydrangeas.
We will think about winter when winter comes. A coiled black hose sitting in the sun sounds like it could be good. Who can help me with that?
The laundry is now the bulk organic food room. Bring your olive oil bottles to be filled when you visit. Dominic, you are brilliant.

Festival in Federation Square - Sustainable Living and Eden on your Balcony

The Permaculture 'Eden on your balcony' will be a fun, beautiful and alluring stall, introducing people to Urban Permaculture, and how it can fit into their lives right now, on their balconies.

We are creating the stall in the cubby-house spirit of having fun and impressing ourselves, but I hope to sell things too, get good balcony products out into the world.
I'm trying to find useful, beautiful, low-waste items to sell, so if you have any ideas, please let me know. Here are some things on the list:

Seeds for flowers
All about bugs: who are your garden helpers, and how to make the rest less troublesome. Book by the wonderful, 'out-there' ladybug lady Jane Davenport And more of Jane's goodies:

Windmills to keep your gardening spirits up on shady, windy, non-flowering balconies -
placed amongst the green

Fridge Magnet Pens

Useful and beautiful shopping bag

Something by Cecilia - I will have a go at getting Permaculture illustrations printed into cards.

wheatbags made from recycled dresses
The amazing wetpot system

The new testament:
by Permaculture co-orignator, David Holmgren

Sprouts are great permaculture - easy, daily supply of fresh greens & free entertainment, organic, no pests, always successful. You can do it for free in a jar veiled with ballerina skirt of tulle, but this European Biosnacky is beautiful like sculpture, and the humidity, everything is perfectly controlled. And so cutely named.

David Holmgrens 12 Permaculture Principles Fridge Magnet

I saw this in Tokyo last October, and was... blown away.
Beautiful, useful and virtuous. How permacultural.
I've asked if I can promote it. Imagine one whirring above your balcony

Slinky underwear?
Well, at least the doozy hanger for discreete balcony laundering.
By woodworker Hamish Hill

Other ideas are plants (but they don't seem easy to carry or manage, don't seem profitable?), Diggers organic Seed club subscriptions, my workshops, my wheelie bin and wormfarm art, mosquito nets or incense....clever hanging baskets. Wormfarms are probably too heavy, but I could try, I would love to. What else would be good?

Wheatbags. Wrong season, but they are so great. If you want to learn how to make them, join in a creation workshop

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What are your Favorite Balcony garden Gadgets? Wetpot watering, wormfarms and more

Desert low-technology, thousands of years old. Moist inside, crunchy outside. Water in the tank seeps through the unglazed pottery pot. Nothing for weeds on the surface. Sorry weeds.

I took an x-ray

Home-made worm farms for balcony garden composting

This one from kitty-litter box and seedling trays cost $20, and can be made to match your sofa.

Here are my wonderful wwoofers "Maccha", helping me put the handle on the worm farm lid (creative acts often require two people). My balcony is too sunny, this design has too much ventilation, so it dried out. I only noticed, because I caught them escaping. Poor Worms.

What is giving you ease and delight in your balcony garden? I would love to hear from you and your good ideas.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sydney Harbor balcony garden renovation

I arrived from Melbourne to Harbourside Sydney a few minutes before the midnight fireworks did their thing, filling us with awe. That moment I realized: in a cosmic sense, my life is as transiant, as insignificant as fireworks, and can be as spectacular, if I choose spectacular, If I provide the energy. Who would have thought the fireworks were going to continue the whole week. Friction, suspense, and the Spectacularly unexpected: thats what you get when two human beings have to put aside their usual ways of doing things to create something new. It only works if you are creating something alluring enough to persist in, like creating Eden.
The balcony is actually a rooftop on one of Old Sydney's oldest houses - a home with five flights of stairs, all as small as children's teeth - people were small in those days. So its vertical, like a castle tower.

Here are the reasons why this could be the worlds most successful balcony garden:
Bathroom: It is actually a rooftop, complete with bathroom. Go Bethsheeba! The owner visits here many times a day, so unlike a usual rooftop garden, it will be constantly noticed, needed, appreciated; constantly rewarding. A worthwhile investment

View: The harbor, passing ships and boats, sunsets. No cheap developments, no advertising. Impeccable.
Morton Bay Fig: This huge old tree provides shade for tropical plants, for enjoying a dappled a-fresco lunch, for keeping wormfarm worms happy. It gives shelter from strong wind and rain, yet as the sun crosses the sky, the north-facing wall is drenched in sunshine, perfect for a productive kitchen garden. Micro-climates allows an explosion of diverstiy in a tiny space. It does shade the garden in winter.

Creative Owner: A professional filmmaker and musician, he has a mind like lightning, maybe genius. He has a rarefied sensitivity to beauty, and a raging commitment to making a better world. He has a talent for planning, logistics, making things happen within budget. He doesn't like letting of doing things the way he has always done them, even if they aren't working Like all of us. But he very often DOES let go, do things that feel against the grain. It is like a miracle to see someone do that, and it has elicited the same in me.

Events: Melbourne Creators group, Tuesdays

Creator's Group participants thinking up things for a quirky, new culture" How do you make a wormfarm from a picknic basket?"
Edward de Bono's lateral thinking is a good start

Tuesday Permaculture Creators Group
Art meets Science, creativity happens.

Each week we have a new design principle, a new slideshow, a new homework project to show off or puzzle over together. Intimate and relaxed and inspiring, with afternoon teatime included.

Place: Japan Club room, Ross House, Flinders lane, city
(between Swanston and Elizabeth)
$40 for the month's sessions. Bookings required: 0412-474-282

Yoga teachers Multi-Function Lotus balcony by Maki June 2006

Birdie Balcony by Michiyo, May 2006

Kitty balcony by Maki April 2006

Tokyo architect's balcony garden creation

Moonlit balcony renovation November 2006

This balcony has everthing going for it.

To start with, the owner cooks and smokes - there will be fresh kitchen scraps for worm compost making, and lots of time spent in the company of whatever plants we plant. He has a practical, not just romantic reason to be growing herbs up there - he needs them.

With a nice park to view, and the owner, Minoru-san, working from home in a creative job, there will be plenty of excuses to spend daylight hours out there, inadvertantly watering and caring for things, enjoying and investing care and attention on its inhabitats. Needing a dose of inspriation.

Being a covered, north-facing balcony means all but the railing part will get shade from the high sun in summer, but will have low winter sun bathing the back wall in cozy sunbeams, a pleasant situation for living things.

What have we got here?

The timber pieces are free offcuts that will be layed on the concrete for a soft look. They have just been stained that pretty color with the dark liquid there, bitter persimmon juice, Kaki-shibu, which will act as a natural preservative.

The plastic bowl will be a first-draft pond - you don't need everything perfect (and expensive) at once. The charcoal is what the Japanese do to keep the water 'fresh'. I'm not sure how.

This design is by our friend Tomoko, who will be the balcony Godmother - a balcony garden needs at least one to be truly enchanting - someone to go to when things go wrong. Or beautifully right.

Every balcony project also needs a plan, or even multiple plans, something dreamier than the obvious, that promises to expand your life. Reality brings a halt to about half of them, but thats okay. Plans get ideas flowing.

The Bamboo stick clothesline is pegless - you 'dress' it like a doll with your clothes, through the armholes, etc. Why didn't I think of that?

Weekly futon-sunning is an essential function of a balcony. I didn't think of that either. We have futon bases instead, to stop humidity building up in futon beds, and cannot use the room for other functions during the day.

Maki, from my tuesday class always thrills us with her cute design. Here is her design for Minoru's balcony. You can see an actual version of that quirky mobile herb tower in Megans blog.

Megans Herb tower also functions as a worm-farm, with a holey huge jar seeping out the liquid fertiliser, and the whole lot slightly warming, not burning the soil as it decomposes.

We are hoping to find a reader who has succeeded in 'tapping into' the downpipe for water harvesting - please send us your story.

Coming back from the nursery with a trolly-full of these fragrant, flowering plants was the same feeling as when I came home from the hospital with mum and another of her new babies - proud and hopeful.

It is just occouring to me that there are no new joys in life. That we spend our adult life re-creating the childhood ones. Or is it just me?

We tried restraint with shopping, just getting enough for the 'bones' of the garden. Why...?

*'start small' is a permaculture principle. Succeed or fail on a small scale, then graduate to more.

*Get real. Freinds can bring seedlings and cuttings at a 'balcony warming' party. Then it will be a balcony with and extended family to care for it, be interested in it, visit it at holiday time, and praise the fruit and flowers when they come. Gardens with everything brought from a shop look like ..... a shop.

Here are some things we chose:

Yuzu, to make Japanese fragrant citrus dressing. Lemons are cheap in shops, but yuzu is rarer, special.

Chives, Basil, mint for mint tea are some of the useful herbs, and since winter is coming, they are in a basket that can be brought inside, behind the glass door.

He can eat the yellow marigold petals in salads. We gave up planting lettuces, etc, and planted bulbs instead. Spring will bring irises and hyacynth, and then we can start planting seeds. The worm farm will have a batch of delicious castings to pot things in by then, so we hope.

Balcony gardens look liked framed paintings if you restrict yourself to carefully-composed colors. Minoru selected blue and purple for all the flowers, brightened by some yellow. Here is Bourage, beautiful edible blue flowers for summer salads, floating in drinks.

Flowering onion is so beautiful too.
The third picture's flower was taken in Omotesando, its a lovely perinnial tree-like plant, I don't know the name, but enjoyed it everywhere. It may need bringing in from the worst winter wind though.

Design by Yvvone from Holland, another Tuesday Permaculture student. Those Dutch love gardening, and are great problem solvers, every one I have met. I want to go there in the spring, make Dutch gardens.

Photo by minoru, November 2006
In the gaps between the floorboards, we tucked chipbark and low groundcover plants.
Babies Tears for the shady places, and some with starlike blue flowers. If they survive, he can plant more in the spring. Fragarant Chamomile lawn would be beautiful and useful. Because the pots are small, they will need a lot of attention or they will dry and die. Even with a conscientious owner, I guess they have a 30% chance.

How is Minoru's balcony going?
Ask him Here
Its winter now, but hopefully things are holding out.
Please give Minoru encouragement and advice.
He has a new-born baby balcony garden.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Uplifting wheelie bins

Wheelie bins sit by my front door, greeting my guests.
Thats the way it is in inner-city terrace homes, without a side path.

They may as well greet us it nicely, I thought, so I illustrated them. 
Apotheosis with Possums is the title.

When researching for the pictures I wanted to draw, I had to get up early. I needed to see with my eyes how well the rubbish bins were treated by the collection machine. 

"What fun they are having!" was my realization. 
You know how your dad THROWS and catches you when you are little? 
Maybe the bins look forward to it all week, its a big dawn party we don't know about.

I did an apotheosis (going up to heaven) picture of exhuberantly flying bodies, in the Baroqe spririt.
Surely rubbish longs for redemption too.

The wire dragonflies are by the brilliant wire artist Frank Veldze, who I met through the lifesize wire dragon on his parked car. He found a way to make them light up at the push of a button (doorbell, actually) An under-lid old motorbike battery provides the energy.

Here's the creation story.

Bins can be dirty.

Which is fine, but...

maybe they also aspire to being more...illustrious.

So with my trusty Japanese markers,

100% recycled copy paper,

and a well-used tape mesure..

my bins don't recognize themselves.
And now I REALLY don't want to rubbish them

If you know of any organization that would like astonishing themed bins, contact me with your suggestions. 
My bins would so much love to go out into the world. 

People stop in their tracks when they see the worn-out and familiar looking so glamorous.  
It gives us yet another reason to be hopeful.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Reasons to love Permaculture

Our instinct tells us there is something life-giving about humans sharing life intimately with other living things. Permaculture design allows us to make this dream reality. As we learn the design skills to build beautiful balconies, we learn skills to design creative, productive lives.

Balcony and rooftop trees cool the buildings, clean the air. They provide beauty. The people who live and visit these apartments probably feel a special spirit in the place. They have something unique. There is a reason for neighbours to talk to and support each other.

Trees need food to thrive. Humans need a place to put their rubbish and waste. In Permaculture, the solution to the human problem is the same as the solution to the tree's problem. Permaculture is about making good connections, networks of interdependance. "The Problem is the Solution"

Design to expand your life.

My balcony garden is my favorite 'room' in the house. You don't have to 'own' a space to enjoy it: your room is as big as my view is big. I spend many hours a day here. I write in my diary, study Japanese, and spend quiet time thinking. I brush my hair and hang out my washing. My plants are models for my illustrations. They are also my teachers, helping me to understand how life really works.

"Get maximum yeild from minimum space"

Sometimes magazines, T.V. makes me feel 'you don't have enough. You aren't enough". Permaculture teaches me how to get maximum enjoyment from minimum resources. It lets me generate value in my life, instead of waiting or hoping to get rich enough to buy it.

Design for Interdependance

In my balcony garden, basil is planted with tomatoes. Not only are they delicious eaten together, they help each other grow. The bug that bothers the tomato plant doesn't like the smell of basil, so it goes and eats something else.

Chives like lots of nitrogen. Peas have friendly microbes on their roots that take nitrogen from the air in soil, and feed it to the Plants nearby. Peas and chives grown with each other are stronger and healthier than peas and chives that only grow with their own kind.

This is called 'Companion Planting'.

You can do it the rest of your life. It is difficult at first to make freinds with people who are older, or richer, or messier than us. But when we persist, and find a way, we can bring a lot to each others lives. Life becomes surprising.

Design to nourish
In modern Japan and Australia, kitchen scraps are collected by truck, taken far away. In Australia, buried along with all kinds of toxic waste, in Japan it is burnt.

All the fertility and nourishment we took from the soil is lost forever. In Japan, it is even sadder: Kitchen scraps are mostly water, and don't burn themselves. For every kilo of food, a kilo of fossil fuel is added and burnt, turned into greenhouse gas.

My kitchen scraps go into my wormfarm, where after a few weeks, it is turned into clean, lovely fertilizer for my garden. If you cut the food small so it doesn't rot, there is no smell, so it is possible to do on a balcony, if it is shady.

If you don't know worms, you might think they are ugly and scary. But it is us humans that go around turning beautiful nature into ugly waste. And we don't even enjoy doing it. Worms turn waste into something useful again, and they love doing it. I want to support them in their quiet, peaceful work.

Watering Design to keep plants alive

See the round pot, and long-necked green pots? They will be buried in my potplants, releasing water whenever it is needed.

This is thousand-year-old desert technology. Water was precious, and heavy to carry. The arabs didn't want to sprinkle it on the ground, where it would quickly evaporate. They buried unglazed, pourous pots in the ground, so the water would seep out directly to the roots of the plants. The surface would be completely dry, so even if weed seeds landed, they wouldn't grow and compete with the useful plants.

We fill the black tank with water, and gravity feeds it down, to constantly give just the right amount of water to the wetpots buried by the potplants. Here I am, putting one in my passionfruit vine. It will be so relieved. Even though it has a forgetful owner, it can have a stable, good life.