Monday, 20 June 2011

How to make everything yourself - online low-tech resources

Make everything yourself illustration

Originally posted on the superb Low Tech Magazine© Kris De Decker
Energy Bulletin pointed us to the website of Practical Action (previously known as the Schumacher Centre for Technology & Development), an online resource devoted to low-technology solutions for developing countries. The site hosts many manuals that can also be of interest for low-tech DIYers in the developed world. They cover energy, agriculture, food processing, construction and manufacturing, just to name some important categories. 

Image souce:

We would like to add to this the impressive online library put together by software engineer Alex Weir. The 900 documents listed here (13 gigabytes in total) are not as well organised and presented as those of Practical Action, but there is a wealth of information that is not found anywhere else. The library is also hosted here (without search engine).

Image souce:

Other interesting online resources that offer manuals and instructions are Appropedia, Howtopedia and Open Source Ecology. These are all wiki's, so you can cooperate. The Centre for Alternative technologies has many interesting manuals, too, but the majority of those are not for free.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

What the world is worth

I came across this phenomenal and inspiring talk by Pavan Sukhdev, speaking at Centre for Policy Development, hosted at Sydney Opera House. The video is available online at vimeo.

Although a long video - 40 minutes talk by Pavan, followed by 25 minutes of discussion - it is by far the most powerful critical discussion I have seen or heard in a long time. If nothing else, make time to watch this, its a life changing experience!

Information from the vimeo site:
Environmental damage is already costing us trillions a year, according to Pavan Sukhdev, head of the UN Green Economy Initiative. Sukhdev applies numbers to things that nature does for free - like purifying drinking water, supplying food and fuel, protecting coasts from storms, and generally keeping humans alive and healthy.

The cost of the global financial crisis stunned the world, with an estimated $862 billion in direct government bailouts alone. After years of running down our natural capital, are we getting close to an environmental version of the credit crunch?

Climate change has been grabbing most of the headlines in recent years, but we are now up against many environmental limits at once. Sukhdev looks at what this tells us about the limitations of our economic system and how it needs to change. The pioneering economist (who also works for Deutsche Bank) describes what the global economy would look like with nature on the balance sheet - and what that means for Australia.

His talk was presented by the Centre for Policy Development at the Sydney Opera House. Afterwards, Pavan Sukhdev joined a panel consisting of leading business people, climate change advocates and scientists.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Mislabeling of Fish

In a recent New York Times article, scientists aiming their gene sequencers at commercial seafood are discovering rampant labeling fraud in supermarket coolers and restaurant tables: cheap fish is often substituted for expensive fillets, and overfished species are passed off as fish whose numbers are plentiful.

Recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available - which means you could be feeding your family mislabeled, unsustainable fish.

We have the right to know where the fish we eat comes from, what kind it is, when and how it was caught and if it was farmed. With technology available today, we should be able to trace our meals from boat to plate. If companies are able to bypass honest and legal labelling laws, what else might they be fabricating?

The FDA has the power to enforce better labeling, increase inspections, and improve seafood safety. To help stop this loophole follow this link and tell the FDA that you only want safe, legal and honestly labeled seafood on your plate.

Monday, 30 May 2011

How to Harvest Rainwater

Original images © Water Gate Magazine

If 30 inches of rainfall a year is 816,000 gallons per acre, the equivalent falling on an area of 1000 square feet would be 15,000. Thats the average square footage of the roof area in a typical family home (based on a 25 foot x 40 foot suburban roof). When one considers that, for many this valuable resource runs straight off the roof, down the drainpipe, and flows off the property into city sewers and drainage systems.

What a waste of such a valuable resource! Whether simply a landowner, or avid gardener, water is a valuable resource, to be considered in any garden design plan. Capturing and storing water for re-use, as well as introducing methods in the garden to slow the flow of water and reduce the amount lost into the drainage systems is a relatively easy task. As individuals, it is our responsibility, for the community, and even the planet to make small changes, where possible, to respect and extend this valuable commodity.

The easiest way to store water is in the soil and in plants. This may seem absurd, but by increasing the organic matter in the soil, as well as developing good soil structure, the soil can begin to work with the garden, holding valuable water for longer. This in turn acts as a sieve, which allows water to sink through the soil, filtering as it goes, and providing nutrient rich water for the plants in your garden. Creating a rain garden helps to slow down this water flow, allowing it to sink into the garden rather than running off your property and into the city sewers.

This beautiful little guide in Garden Gate Magazine illustrates how to make your own rain water harvester. There's money literally falling from the skies every time it rains. Here's how you can harvest your share.

Creating a rainwater collecting and storage system is simple. (We'll show you where to buy barrels and how to build your own.) And every time you use it to replace expensive, chemically treated city water in your garden, you're saving money.

Best of all, this collection system is right over your head. The three elements of any rainwater harvester are the collection area, the transportation system and the storage facility.

Anywhere falling rain doesn't soak in to the ground, the runoff can be collected. So if you have a roof, you have a collection area.

Determining how much water your roof collects can involve lots of complex calculations. But all you really need to do is figure how much water your garden will need and if your roof can collect that much. The gardener who's going to irrigate a large vegetable patch in the desert Southwest will need a lot more water than the one dousing a few container plants on a patio in the Midwest.
The rule of thumb is the average 25 foot by 40 foot home roof sheds about 600 gallons of water in an hour of moderate rainfall, around 1 inch. If you have two downspouts, they'll each divert about 300 gallons of water toward the barrel under them. The more barrels you have, the more of this water you can collect. The gutters and downspouts along the edges of your roof are the water transportation system of your rainwater harvester.

The gutters and downspouts along the edges of your roof are the water transportation system of your rainwater harvester.

Material — Gutters and downspouts can be made from aluminum or plastic. It's the size, not the material that's important.

Size — Gutters and downspouts have to be large enough to carry the water running off the roof. Most home gutters come 5 or 6 inches wide. 3-inch-diameter downspouts attach to the 5-inch gutters; 4-inch downspouts go on 6-inch gutters.

For roof collection areas up to 1000 square feet, a 5-inch gutter and 3-inch downspout are large enough to carry the water. Larger roofs' collection areas should have the larger size gutters and downspouts.

Filters — Be sure there are some kind of screens, such as the one in the illustration, to keep leaves and other debris from clogging the downspouts. In areas where mosquitos are a problem, use a fine-mesh, aluminum window screen to keep the insects away from the standing water in the barrel.

Now we come to the heart of the rainwater harvesting system: Storing the rainwater you collect for use in dry times.

Barrels — There are several great water storage barrels available from specialty garden online catalogs.

Or you can build your own using Garden Gate's plan for constructing a rain barrel.

Placement — Whether you make barrels or buy them, they need to be placed properly.

Locate barrels under a downspout that's also close to the thirstiest parts of your garden.

Dig out a 4-inch-deep area the length and width of the cinder block base. Fill the area with 1/4-inch pea gravel. This makes a base to help you level the cinder blocks and drain away water to keep your foundation dry.

The higher you can raise the barrels, the better the water pressure will be. Raising the barrels up also gets the spigot higher off the ground so you can get a watering can under it.

Capacity — Of course, you can only store the total gallons of water your rain barrels hold times the number of them you have.

Still, the system in the illustration, using three, standard 55-gallon drums, has 165 gallons of water ready and waiting to give the garden a drink when other supplies might not be available.

The more water you can store, the better. Short lengths of hose can be attached to individual barrels to link them together and boost the capacity of your system. And they can be added over time as you see how much water your garden needs.

Overflow — During heavy rains, there may be some overflow from the barrels. The 4-inch layer of gravel under the cinder blocks, as in the illustration, will divert this water away from your foundation. Or you can install an overflow port near the top of the barrel and attach a hose to divert excess water out to the garden.

An excellent online resource for DIY water harvesting projects and examples can be found at build it solar.

rain garden

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Permaculture Landscape Design

image © permaculture association

Permaculture is a wonderful way of living. One that champions an ethical framework, in which their is close observation of how nature works, and an ecological design process that learns from the natural world and works with it to propogate a suatainable lifestyle. Ultimately, working with nature to make a better world for all. By observing the natural world we can see a set of principles at work. Permaculture design uses these principles to develop integrated systems that provide for our needs of food, shelter, energy and community in ways that are healthy and efficient. We can use permaculture design methods to improve the quality and productivity of our individual lives, our society and our environment. These principles have a far reaching impact and may be applied to the areas of creativity and collaboration in many walks of life.

This unique combination is then used to support the creation of sustainable, agriculturally productive, non-polluting and healthy settlements. In many places this means adapting our existing settlements. In other cases it can mean starting from scratch. Both offer interesting challenges and opportunities.

The word 'permaculture' comes from 'permanent agriculture' and 'permanent culture' - it is about living lightly on the planet, and making sure that we can sustain human activities for many generations to come, in harmony with nature. Permanence is not about everything staying the same. Its about stability, about deepening soils and cleaner water, thriving communities in self-reliant regions, biodiverse agriculture and social justice, peace and abundance.

Design methods are used in conjunction with permaculture principles and ethics to create an overall pattern or plan of action.

Neatly summed up as "Earth care, people care, fair shares", the permaculture ethics give purpose to our work, and connect us with the many millions of others who are also working towards a fairer, healthier and more harmonious human culture.

Permaculture seeks to divide these resources fairly amongst people, animals and plants alike, not forgetting future generations who will need food, water and shelter just as much as we do now. Its 'one planet living'.

More info from the Permaculture Association

Monday, 23 May 2011


Landshare is the brain child of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, yes the Fish Fight guy and the River Cottage Garden guy! Hugh’s Landshare project connects growers looking for land, with people who have land to share. People can get together to find land, swap advice, create networks and join the growing revolution. So if you are looking for people who have a passion for home-grown food, and connecting that passion with those who have land to share, this is the match made in heavens garden! Since its launch through River Cottage in 2009 it has grown into a thriving community of more than 55,000 growers, sharers and helpers.

It’s for people who:
Want to grow veg but don’t have anywhere to do it
Have a spare bit of land they’re prepared to share
Can help in some way – from sharing knowledge and lending tools to helping out on the plot itself
Support the idea of freeing up more land for growing
Are already growing and want to join in the community

Interested? Registar here.

Interesting information on the Landshare site includes the 'Lets Grow' option.

LetsGrow is for keen growers looking for an allotment. If you can’t wait to start growing but haven’t yet found your perfect plot in the Landshare listings, you might want to set up a LetsGrow group. In most areas, if six people get together to request land then their council is obliged to provide them with an allotment.

LetsGrow allows you to form a group of six in your council area, and generate a pro forma letter to send to your local councilor.

Click here to set up your LetsGrow group.