Sustainability in the Suburbs
Creating a more sustainable 'homestead' doesn't just happen in the country. Read how Mandy and her family have been trialling sustainable and self sufficient living practices, in their suburban home, in preparation for 'the Big Move' to a country property in the near future.
Mandy, what are your thoughts behind making these environmentally responsible changes in your home?
As our population continues to grow I feel it is vitally important for individual households to become more self sufficient to take the pressure off the environment. Everyone can do their bit, be it reducing water and energy use, growing a portion of the family food, composting and reducing household waste, recycling, reusing etc.
How do your children help you achieve this and what do they gain from it in terms of what they learn and become aware of?
For my boys this is just a way of life for them. We recycle and donate a lot of unused items as well as compost and own chickens and have a variety of fruit plants.
Do you extended family share your interest in living more sustainably?
Not really. I'm quite the black sheep of my family, so it is a bit disappointing that what we do and believe in, is not followed through in their households. But they do have rainwater tanks so that is a good step. The next step may be alternative energy?
Explain the environmentally friendly elements you have included in your home.
We have solar/gas hot water, solar panels, energy efficient globes and 9000 litres of rain water tanks. We have a toilet cistern with a sink in the top so that when you flush and the cistern fills up it comes out of a spout so that you can wash your hands without turning another tap on. We also have a ball valve in the shower head which switches the water off while you soap up and then you turn the ball valve to release the water to wash off. The water is still the same temperature because the taps haven't been touched.
What lifestyle changes have you implemented to live more sustainably?
When we stopped renting we were able to make all the changes that we have in our own home. We do still find new ways of improving things all the time. It is a continual learning curve.
Do you use natural or eco type cleaning and personal products etc?
I make our own air fresheners using essential oils and water in a water spray bottle and also our own soap. I use Planet Ark laundry powder, vinegar and eucalyptus oil for cleaning and Earth Choice brand for other cleaning. We also use recycled toilet paper.
What do you recycle?
We recycle everything we can. When my boys were younger I would recycle every type of item for their craft making projects and donate a lot of items to kindergarten. All our food scraps and garden waste either go on our compost/worm farm heap or are thrown in our 3rd veggie garden for the chickens to forage on. This garden has four healthy fruit trees and beautiful soil.
Clothing/linen etc, that has become too worn out to donate to charity is used as rags or lining for animal cages. Also (as with the majority of Councils) we have a yellow recycled bin. Freecycle and Free-n-Cheap are two good give-away internet sites which I have used a lot to donate items over the last few years.
Did you use cloth nappies when the boys were babies?
We used cloth nappies for both our boys and they lasted right through. Now they make the perfect cleaning rags. I did not like the idea of throwing away countless nappies everyday. People would argue with me about the extra water that you use to wash cloth nappies but my comeback was that we have numerous rainwater tanks to compensate for this.
What measures have you implemented to help create family food security eg growing food; drying food; baking; accessing local markets etc.
We do not grow many vegetables now as we are in the process of moving to our block, but we did have 3 large veggie gardens which did very nicely (except for the occasions when our big chickens would get in and gourmandise everything).
We have numerous fruit plants and access the Gawler market which provides us with enough fruit and vegetables to freeze and dehydrate. We bake a lot of goodies as well.
What are the 'family favourites' that you have grown?
Strawberries and lettuce are a huge hit in our house. I love it that when you grow your own food, the children can wander in the garden and eat whatever takes their interest. My boys also comment that home grown produce takes SOOOOO much better. More flavour.
Tell us about your chickens.
We started off with the large commercial chickens but as soon as we received two white rescued silky bantams that was it. We are hooked on bantams. Recently our last big red died and we have now 6 lovely different coloured silky bantams.
Bantams seem to have such a lovely nature and are by far less destructive than the larger chickens. I also find that although their eggs are slightly smaller they don't taste as fatty and contain the same size yolk.
Our bantams have a coop that they go into at night and by day have the run of the whole backyard. They are a very important part of our family.
What about composting?
I am a very lazy composter. I don't have the time (or interest) to turn over or layer a compost heap so I just throw everything in it and leave it to it. When the chicken coop is cleared out, in it goes, food scraps, garden wastes etc. In our 3rd veggie garden the freshest scraps are thrown for the chickens to feast on.
What do you use your rainwater for? What about grey water?
We have 9000 litres worth of rainwater tanks and we use them everything outside from watering our food plants and natives to filling up the turtle ponds to watering the animals. We also have a grey water hose that waters our native grass from the washing machine.
Anything else you wish to say?
It is never too late to start taking charge of your households' habits. Any change (be it watering by buckets instead of a hose or catching the water from the shower) will make a difference. From there you can make other small changes and before you know it you have reduced your impact on the environment quite substantially.