About me

Back in the late ‘70s I packed up my new bride and set off for the wilds of…………….. Western Sydney! Well it was a little bit wild back then. The estate had no shops and no public transport but the housing and the loans were cheap and so we found ourselves on a 600 m2 block with an east-west facing, brick veneer, 3 bedroom house.

After many threats to head bush we are still here, concentrating on living as self sufficiently and sustainably as we can in the suburban environment. Here are some of the things we are up to –

We grow as much of our own veggies as we can organically using open pollinated seed, our own where we can. We make seed raising mix using worm castings, sand and cocopeat, once the seedlings are up we pot them on into newspaper pots and then plant them out when they are ready. I have developed a spreadsheet (see vegie plan) that follows a two weekly sow/pot on/plant out rotation. We have a small greenhouse that we use to raise seedlings and grow a bit of out of season stuff during winter. During summer we place shade cloth over the greenhouse and continue to use it to raise seedlings in.

I get in grass hay from a local supplier and let it get worked over by chooks and then use it as mulch. We have 14 beds, half are about 2 metres x 1 metre and half are 3 metres x 1 metre . We fertilise mainly using a chook tractor which is designed to sit directly over a veggie bed with some compost and comfrey extract also used. The chook tractor spends two weeks on each bed twice a year. The chook tractor has 2 or 3 chooks in it and we can get up to 3 eggs a day but we also have the “Retirement Village”, a shed where the non-productive chooks still do meaningful work by digging over the hay and turning it into mulch.

The chook tractor has recently been upgraded. While they were previously made out of timber, regardless of how well I painted them (the last one had 3 coats!) they all only lasted about 5 years. The latest design is made from aluminium angle, bought in for another project but not used, and I expect a much longer life from this one!

We also have fruit trees – a mandarin; lemon, lemonade and orange tree, half a dozen bananas in a banana circle, a mulberry tree, native plum, olive, feijoa and two lime trees (one Tahitian, one Kaffir) and more recently a couple of apples, a nectarine and macadamia nut. The apples, limes and macadamia are in the front yard in a fruit tree circle based around a worm tower. The fruit tree circle also has a dwarf lemon and a curry leaf tree.

We have six recycled steel bathtubs; one which we use as a fishpond but also grows water chestnuts and an similar plant called Arrow with decorative arrow shaped leaves. Another houses our worm farm which helps us process our veggie waste and provides castings to make the seed rasing mix with. Two are in the front yard as wicking beds growing insectary plants and pumpkins etc. and the final two are in the back yard treating our wastewater as a constructed wetland.

We have a grid connected 1 kW photovoltaic system that has been in since the start of 2009, but we have had a stand alone system in place for over 25 years. The system was originally based on a SolarexX44 BG photovoltaic panel, about 17 years ago I added a BP Solar Panel to the system which gives a peak output of about 2.5 amps and added a third solar panel, a Photowatt International PW 750 which on a good day can pump out 4 amps which about doubled my generation capacity.  It cost a bit at $600 but was the best cost per watt unit that I could afford. All of these units continue to pump electricity into my batteries whenever there is light shining on them, they require little maintenance, don’t annoy the neighbours and have no on-going costs associated with them. The latest addition has been 4 x 80 watt Solarex panels, donated by my brother a few years ago and I could charge up to 25 amps.

The 12VDC is stored in two battery banks of 4 x 220 amp hour 6 volt batteries, wired to give 440 amphours of storage in each bank. One bank powers the house lights and the other powers a 12 volt fridge which provides our main refrigeration in the house. Unfortunately the fridge does consume more than I thought so we bought a couple of 130 watt Sharp panels to power the fridge and allow more power back into the house system. The stand alone and the 1k watt back-to-the-grid system have reduced our electricity bill to almost nothing.

In 2016 we upgraded the system to the point where we are almost off grid. We now use nickel iron (NiFe) batteries, have a whole slew of new panels with many of the old panels referred to above being retired, a 3000watt inverter and manage the charging through a 50amp MPPT. Details of the new system are available here.

We also have a number of solar cookers including a solar oven which we can use to cook bread the year ‘round (it just takes a bit longer in winter.). Another type of solar cooker uses flat mirrors on a frame like a slice out of a parabolic dish to focus the sunlight on the bottom of a black painted stainless steel pot (good for frying and steaming). Due to the way we plant now we don’t produce a lot of excess veggies but we have a solar drier to process any excess we do get.

I have put together a rocket stove, which is used to cook with a wok and burns small twigs efficiently to produce plenty of heat for cooking. Small twigs are available for the taking in our area, they literally fall off the native trees in the parks and roadsides.

We have a over 10,000 litres of water storage – 2 x 2500 litre galvanised steel water tanks on the back of the garage and a newer plastic 5500 litre tank at the side of the house and a newer 500 litre water butt off one of the sheds. The larger tank is connected to a 12volt pump which provides water to a tap at the back of the house which we use to water the veggies.

To save water we have introduced various types of low tech super efficient irrigation such as buried pipe, deep pipe, ollas and leaky pipe irrigation, the details of each being available here. We have also put in two new systems for re-using greywater, the first chanelling water directly from our spa bath out into the repositioned banana circle and the second being a constructed wetland to purify water from the front loading washimg machine before running it onto fruit trees.

As part of our committment to our local community we have also installed a street library and community bench in the front of our house so that by passers can have a rest and read at the same time. Interestingly enough while we have so far had no books taken from the library we have had a few magically appear in it!

It is really an attitude more than anything else, looking at the reduce part of the trio of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” and have added "refuse" to the trio - refuse packaging and other stuff we don't need. We keep asking, “How can we do this ourselves, with what we have on hand?". It is a journey really and we are still working on how we can become more self reliant and sustainable and hold a "Directors" meeting every October to look at how we are travelling on the plan and what changes need to be made and what the priorites should be for the coming year which manifests themselves in the To Do List . We are aslo contributors to Permaculture Sydney West and  I have been voted in as the President for 2016 and 2017.

We open every year for sustainable house day and permaculture day and try and get the word out that more sustainable living in the city is not only possible, it’s fun!


Nev & Linda

15th July 2017

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