Here’s a wrap-up of the beginnings of our retrosuburbia experiment – our low-impact, household-based climate action.
We all moved into this house in the middle of last year and aim to move away from fossil fuels and our household’s reliance on external, planet-wrecking resources.
The first step for me was to build a little sleeping loft in the back shed. Even though the house has five bedrooms, they are all occupied with all the adult children Sharon and I have between us. I also want to ensure a measure of distance for some quiet and to keep my consumption of Sharon’s resources to a minimum – keeping my own footprint low (I have my small solar kit there, a bucket loo out the back and still use family cloths and old serviettes for toilet paper).
The little sleeping loft was constructed using materials we already had – off-cuts of timber from jobs at Sharon’s old place, nails and screws I’ve collected along the way, insulation gifted by a friend who had excess. I really enjoy sleeping in the shed. I can hear the dogs snoring sometimes (they have an old mattress on the floor), and I can sometimes hear wildlife sounds just outside. I can almost forget I’m in town and living on a busy road.
Then there’s the gardens.
Fortunately there were already two and a half raised beds in the backyard when we moved in. I’ve done some rearranging so that we now have four raised beds. There’s a new ‘chunnel’ (the chook tunnel) garden bed along the length of one fenceline and a food forest starting to hit its strides on the opposite fenceline. In the front yard, we inherited a rose garden. I’ve added some native trees on the fenceline to act as a visual barrier to the main road, but have walked away from this area for now as we are in a drought and I want to use our water on the food crops first. We are still on town water but have plans for water tanks to catch some of the rain water when it falls on the large roof.
We recently, finally (should have done it ages ago), started our compost bin for kitchen waste. It took a while for me to come up with the right system, because we need something that doesn’t take up much space and is quick and easy for other household members to use. The olive barrel seems like the best bet – it’s compact and I can roll it up and down the lawn to ‘turn the heap’ once it’s full. After drilling lots of little holes in it for air circulation, I taped up the big holes (it was going to be used as a small water tank in a previous life), and sat it near the back door. We are using shredded waste paper from Sharon’s office for the carbon component for now (at least until the leaves start dropping off the huge liquid amber tree at the front). So far, so good – easy to use and no major fly problems or funky smells. We have ‘retired’ the council’s green waste bin now, but I secretly have plans to use it for making compost too.
Sharon and her son, David, have come onboard with employing a wee bucket for nighttime use. Together, this equates to a very rich, reliable source of free liquid fertiliser. Every morning I water down the contents of our buckets and fertilise around the base of the fruit trees and other nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium-loving plants (almost everything), taking care not to use it directly on the leaves of our greens. Urine also contains a supply of all sorts of trace elements to enrich the soil and boost our vegies. In case you’re worried, it is also sterile and harmless when used fresh and watered in.
In other plant-based news, we’ve been eating more weeds (see the lovely purslane below), experimenting with growing and eating things other than the usual European vegetables (trying to find food crops that require less water and can handle the extremes in weather we’re starting to experience), and I’ve been very happily raising seedlings on my DIY seed-raising bench located directly outside my ‘bedroom’ door. I’m finally successfully growing most of our vegies from seed which is a lot cheaper and I get to share the extras with others ( you can get a lot of plants from one packet of seeds).
Although the gardens have been slow to start – with old, compacted soil and hot, dry weather – we are eating more and more of our own produce. Soon we will add chickens to the mix as well as rainwater tanks, solar hot water and maybe even a composting toilet out the back.
In an attempt to lower our household emissions we are changing behaviours. Examples include: cooking with the solar power during daylight hours as much as possible, using the air-con only when the sun is shining on the panels, collecting the rinse water from the washing machine to throw on the garden beds, buying a lot less new stuff (less stuff all round I think), including food brought in from faraway places, and our diet is more local, low-impact, and vegetable-rich than before. Most of the household are vegetarian or vegan thanks to my activist (vegan) daughter who has educated us in her very understated way.
Bike riding is a thing in our house now. I started using a bike a lot when I moved into town and was gifted a couple by my wonderfully resourceful parents – scored from their local tip shop. Sharon now uses one of these as her own and rides to work almost every day of the week. She loves the feeling of the wind in her hair, the sense of freedom, talking to people along the route and the thrill of subverting the system by getting out of her car! She derives enormous happiness from her actions aligning with her values. I am so relieved to have finally found a co-conspirator in this war on emissions and fossil fuels. Not one to mess about or hold back, she is really doing it!
Sharon is a wonderful friend and we collaborate well. Sharon gets the added company of a friend, someone to help out at home and grow food, and support in decarbonising her life. I get a family life again, a place to grow food without fear of flood or having to move on, and I can keep my footprint low while collaborating with others to help reduce theirs.
In a world needing radical change in the form of down-shifting (those of us living in developed countries), there is a growing need for collaborations of this kind. Some people want, or need, to have mortgages and careers, others don’t. Perhaps the meeting of these two paths can offer an antidote to this destructive system we currently live in.
Maybe, just maybe, we have stumbled upon part of the answer…