24 November 2015

Our Permaculture Advent Calendar

One of our favourite family traditions is our activity advent calendar. For us, December is a time to celebrate, reflect and find moments in amongst the busy to be together and have fun. It's also a time to think about people around us and prepare our garden and home for long summer days. This year, we're shifting our focus to the permaculture ethics; earth care, people care and fair share - they're a perfect fit for the season. We thought we'd post our list here, just incase you feel like joining in too, or borrowing some inspiration. It's going to be a super fun few weeks!

Earth Care

1. Plant some seeds or plant a tree - A little gratitude for the earth and it's bounty.
2. Have a picnic dinner under a tree - Yay! Nature!
3. Compost! - move the compost heap, start a new one and nourish the soil around our plants for the new year.
4. Go rock pooling - A little animal observation and finding out what lives in our river.
5. Stargazing in the backyard - reminding us to pause and observe this wonderful universe we're part 
6. Plant a herb and weed foraging garden for the chooks, full of all the things they'll love.
7. Make some wildlife habitat - an insect hotel, frog pond or butterfly garden
8. Make a wreath using plants or recycled materials. - in the past we've used fabric scraps, coloured recycled paper or newspaper.

People Care 

9. Paint everyone's toenails - our favourite way to say "Yay! Summer!"
10. Send a Christmas card - send some love to your favourite people, far away.
11. Collect a Christmas tree - we usually forage a weedy roadside pine tree that we can mulch for the garden later.
12. Have a dance party in the lounge room - some crazy fun and lots of giggles. People care!
13. Go fruit picking - foraging or visit a fruit farm. 
4. Do some morning yoga - a sun salutation to start the day
15.  Make a gift for someone you love - handmade secret squirrel stuff!
16. Make some jam - preferably using our foraged fruit. These will make great gifts. Here's one we made earlier.

Fair Share

17. Donate a gift to the ABC Giving Tree - fair share for children less fortunate than our owlets.
18. Donate some food, money or time to a local animal shelter. - fair share for animals.
19. Give some handmade gifts to the neighbours - a chance to share our surplus, say thanks, hello and Merry Christmas!
20. Make a cake or a gingerbread house together - take turns and create something yum!
21. Celebrate Summer Solstice - a little gift and maybe a beach picnic?
22. Decorate the Christmas tree - with all our handmade ornaments.
23. Go looking at Christmas lights - community spirit and sparkly statements of christmas cheer. Good times!
24. Enjoy a Christmas movie together - a chance to relax, spend time together and share some laughs. And gingerbread!

Let us know if you join in too. We'd love to see what you get up to!

~ Lauren & Oberon. xx

30 October 2015

How to shape & care for a bolga basket

Possibly our most favourite things for going out and about are our bolga baskets. My mama basket travels everywhere with me. Part handbag, knitting basket, picnic basket, shopping basket, it's always on my arm when we leave the house. The owlets like theirs for carrying lunches, toys or art materials, or for collecting eggs or beach treasures. At home, they make pretty useful toy storage - we love that.

Bolga baskets are one of our favourite products in Spiral Garden too. Fair trade, handmade and compostable, they tick so many boxes for us. They're woven by hand from the elephant grass that grows in the flood plains of the White Volta, near Bolgatanga, in Northern Ghana. When they arrive though, they're a bit squashed from their journey. A bit flat and wonky, and this is how our customers receive them too… But one of our other favourite things about these gorgeous, round baskets, is that the new owner gets a chance to participate in moulding them just the way they like. It's quite a gentle, tactile process that we love… Here's how to do it:

Fill the sink (or bath for a big basket) with cold water. Hold your basket underwater for about one minute, leather handle and all.

Remove from water and start moulding it to the shape you like. You might like a rounded bottom, or something flatter. You might like your basket to be squat or elongated. It's totally up to you! A symmetrical basket will keep weight evenly distributed though so aim for that. This is a fun process for kids too.

Once you're happy, sit your basket in the sunshine. If it's a windy day, pop a rock inside so it doesn't blow away! Your basket should be dry and ready to use in about 30 minutes!

If you've had your basket in use for a while, it may start to look a little lived in (not unlike the baskets in the top picture. You can complete the process above to keep your basket in good shape anytime in the future. The leather handle will most likely stay well polished with regular use, but it can be cleaned and kept in good condition with some boot polish or leather conditioner - a good natural version we've heard of is lemon essential oil rubbed on with a soft cloth. Try not to carry super heavy loads in your basket because it can weaken it over time, but look after it and it'll be looking beautiful for years to come!

You can find Mama baskets and Small bolga baskets at Spiral Garden, here.

 ~ Lauren. xx

25 October 2015

Sustainably Challenged :: Waste Free

Last week we posted about the Sustainability Challenge we're taking part in. After a week full of reflection and research, this past (almost) two weeks, we've gone head on towards living a somewhat different life. The biggest challenge we set ourselves was to live waste free and although it has made us think LOTS, it hasn't been as difficult as we expected. And there have been some pretty awesome discoveries along the way.

What zero waste means to us

There are a few definitions out there of what zero waste means. For us, it means bringing nothing into our home that we can't consume, compost or repurpose. It means not contributing to landfill, or to giant floating islands of plastic. It means little to no recycling and refusing biodegradable plastics too.

Recycling can mean a portion of our waste is moved to local depots where it is sorted, often added back to landfill, or moved on and sold to companies who purchase and re-purpose it as a raw product. For plastics, this means a downgrade. So a milk bottle doesn't become a new milk bottle, it becomes something else and eventually ends up in our system as a single-use plastic item. That's a whole lot of plastic for the earth to digest. Biodegradable means the plastic breaks up into tiny particles, still floating around, polluting our water and soils.

So for us, this challenge means not being complacent about where our waste and recycling goes. It means thinking. Lots of thinking. And refusing what we can't put to good use. We want to take responsibility for everything we bring into our home.

But rather than focusing on the zero in the whole equation, the refusal, we're choosing to focus on what we can use, and how. Instead of asking is it landfill, or is it waste, we're asking "Is it compostable?" Earth is losing soil at a rapid rate, so anything we can do to help build it up is hugely valuable. Making choices that help us build up the soil in this little patch of land we're care-taking is important. And we've only scratched the surface.

Living without waste.

There are loads of simple choices everyone knows about, that we're making everyday. We're trying a little harder to remember them. Here's what we're doing:

Always carrying water bottles,
Remembering the shopping bags, stashing extras in our bags, pockets and car, just in case.
Shopping at bulk foods stores and taking our jars along.
Using lightweight cloth bags for produce.
Avoiding produce with stickers
Taking containers along to a butcher/fishmonger to place meat, poultry or fish in.

If we're caught short, paper bags are acceptable for us - we can compost them or use them for heat.
When eating out, taking our own chopsticks along and finding take away food available in paper or compostable packaging and bringing it home to compost.
Making our own toothpaste and cleaning products.
Using compostable, wooden toothbrushes and cleaning brushes.
Using cloth everything. From hankies, to family cloth (although guests have an ethical, recycled flushable toilet paper option!).
Knitting our own kitchen cloths. This one is made from an old t-shirt.
Composting everything we sweep up or vacuum. Compost heaps don't mind dust.
Remembering to compost the dog and cat poo in the special pet waste worm farm, rather than throw it out in a plastic bag into landfill - yuck!

Making our own pet food.
Making our own tea.
Getting our ferments happening again.
Getting our yoghurt and cheese making act together.
Using and making home made seaweed tea for the garden.
Learning more about the plants we grow and expanding our medicinal herb garden.
Re-evaluating the processes in our business.
Gardening more.
Sleeping better.

Things we've found challenging

Produce without stickers is hard to find! This is why growing our own is important.

Dairy is almost always packaged in plastic, foil, or coated cardboard. We're having to compromise by bringing home only what we can repurpose. We're allowing ourselves a maximum of 3L of fresh milk each week and repurposing the packaging to make things we can use in our garden, like seedling containers and plant tags. We have powdered organic milk as back-up too. Our dairy consumption has dropped dramatically, which is a good thing environmentally too as it takes about 1000L of water to make 1L of milk. When our beloved Elgaar dairy is back up and running in a few months, we'll be happily drinking ethically produced milk and using reusable glass instead.

Shop assistants may try to help, but not quite understand what we're doing here. Like the butcher who was happy to sell us a plastic-free chicken - once he'd removed it from the bag. Or the cheese seller who we suspect may have just removed the glad wrap, rather than cutting a fresh slice of parmesan for us. You need to be on the ball when shopping.

In Tasmania, we don't really have a one-stop shop where we can buy everything under one roof. We're travelling to the whole foods shop, the butcher, the farmer's market… We're using the car a little more and being conscious of fitting more into each car trip. We need to look into whether bike or bus travel are viable options for our whole family. At the moment, for a family of five, the car is coming out on top as the best use of energy, money and time.

Shopping in small whole foods shops with multiple children is challenging! We tend to all pile up on each other and cause traffic jams by the quinoa. We're thinking of frequenting a smaller shop with a garden where we can park the owlets for a moment while we shop. We're getting better each time we do it.

Carrying all the jars is pretty heavy and requires preparation. But once you've done it a few times, it gets easier.

Medicines, vitamins, bandaids, hardware, gardening products, postage products… even sustainable products like compostable tableware… are all wrapped in plastic. Even the food that we've bought at the whole foods shop has most likely been wrapped in plastic at some point. Our lives are so tangled up in it. So, we work harder to consume a diet that doesn't require supplementing or medicating. We take our own tableware along. We make our own and we find the very best alternatives we can, when we can. If we can't we're going to ask businesses to think about their practices and re-examine just as we are doing. Plastics and packaging create convenience that keeps a whole lot of industries in business, so  we can keep them accountable by asking them to change their practices, choosing alternatives or creating our own.

What are the benefits?

Traveling and frequenting different shops means we're engaging with our community a bit more. We're having conversations with real people and finding out more about where our food comes from. Which is a definite win.

We're more mindful of what comes into our home. There's no waste to deal with. We're saving time and life's getting simpler. Its feeding into other areas of our lives where we're thinking more minimally.

When we unpack the shopping, it's already in the jars we intend to keep it in for freshness, so we just pop it straight in the cupboard, fridge or on the bench. It saves time! Plus jars are kind of lovely food storage.

Food tends to be healthier. Even though we cooked mostly from scratch before and our diets haven't changed hugely, I'd say the way we value our food has changed and we're definitely focussed on the good stuff.

Shopping is more enjoyable. It's quicker. There are fewer choices and fewer decisions to make. There is no advertising or excess packaging to deal with. Once you've got it sussed, it saves you lots of time and it's generally more pleasant.

We thought shopping this way would be more expensive. We're still trying to tally all the exact sums on that, but so far it's not! We have managed to stick to budget and feed ourselves well. We've found there's actually savings to be made on certain items we've always bought. And we're not paying for packaging which makes up part of the cost of most pre-packaged foods. Awesome.

Our soils are improving! By focussing on what we can compost, we're staying mindful of things that feed and nourish the soils that nourish the plants that nourish us. Which may lead us to the final frontier of waste one day… humanure. Possibly the only way we can really, truly live waste free. Baby steps though, right? ;)

Where to from here? 

Well, before we began this challenge, we put all the items that came in non-refillable containers into lockdown. We were fortunate that it began at the end of a pay cycle, so the fridge and cupboards were absolutely empty, so much of our waste had already left the building. Things like shampoo bottles and tea bag packets remained unfinished. Things we could replace with a more ethical, compostable version. Now we've replaced them, and know it's easy enough to live without them, we'll phase them out completely.

So we'll be filling our rubbish and recycling bins one more time. We may even hire a small skip for some bits and pieces we really can't repurpose, sell or give away. Decisions we made earlier that we wouldn't make again now. And we'll be letting them go, learning and moving on. Now we know our version of zero-waste is totally achievable, and actually not as huge a leap as we first thought, we'll be continuing along this path from now on.

We'll be making changes to Spiral Garden, which remove the need for our customers to worry about this stuff, as much as we can. We'll be thinking about how Christmas and birthdays might look for our family over the next few months. We'll be composting and gardening and thinking about some of the other things we might change too, staying positive that every tiny change we make is a step in the right direction for our planet. It's all a bit of an adventure!

Here are some extra links you may like to look at: 
Zero Waste Home
Trash is for Tossers
The Story of Stuff
Put Down the Plastic

Have you ever given much thought to waste, or a zero-waste lifestyle? If you have any questions, we'd be happy to answer them. Have a gorgeous week, whatever adventures you're on! 

~Lauren. xx

16 October 2015

So you think you're sustainable?

A little while ago, I entered a competition I stumbled across on Facebook. It was a challenge set by Sustainable Living Tasmania, and a few other local organisations, to live as Sustainably as possible for a couple of weeks.  We had intended to make some big lifestyle changes this year, which well and truly fell by the wayside as life and winter happened. We got pretty slack...

So it was with some enthusiasm that we welcomed the news that we were finalists in the challenge. We won some awesome prizes to get us started and we're in the running for some pretty impressive window sash treatment for our old 1950's nest. Mostly we're just grateful for the motivation to get started doing something and the owlets are super pumped too!

When the energy assessors came to visit, and we understood what was in store for us, we figured the extra challenge here was that we were already living pretty sustainably. All our food was composted or fed to the chooks. We were pretty conscious about things. Surely there couldn't be much more we could do that would make a difference, could there? We knew we'd slackened off a bit, but we'd have to work extremely hard. So we set out to see.

We timed our showers and were surprised at just how many minutes (and litres!) we lost while daydreaming. On average 8 minutes, but up to 18, which translates to 180 litres in our shower. That's a whole lot of water going down the drain. We kept a rough food diary, which reflected how hurried our days had been and how convenience played a part in our consumption. We tallied all the waste we produced, both rubbish and recycling, and although people have told us the amount seems small to them for a family of five, to us it is far too much for one planet to consume, week after week. Don't you agree?

We'll be blogging and instagraming our findings and reflections over the next couple of weeks, as we find a way to make this work, not just for two weeks, but for life. We've got some pretty big goals and we'll be tackling things like reducing our energy consumption, producing zero waste, family cloth, composting, animal poo worm farms, using less water, and grey water. There's always room for improvement!

If you'd like to join the challenge, you can find it here. If you're in Tassie, you can take your challenge worksheet along to the Sustainable Living Festival and enter into the draw to win a solar hot water system - what we wouldn't give for one of those! Let us know how you go! 

~ Lauren. xx

29 September 2015

Our Garden Re-design :: Spiral vs Line

A few weeks ago, I looked out the kitchen window and said to Huz "I think we need to remove the spiral. We need straight beds if we're going to increase our yield". He shrugged and wasn't particularly fussed either way, a little sceptical about how much food we could actually get from our garden anyway. He'd never had much interest in growing veggies, despite his enthusiasm for everything else permaculture. Then a week later he spent the day diving into skills for growing food with Good Life Permaculture. He learnt everything from composting to market gardening, realised he already knew a bunch of stuff with his ecological background and years of gardening, and it all just clicked.  He decided it was all about two things: tools and straight lines.

Initially we chose a spiral shape for our vegetable garden in an attempt to slow the flow of nutrients, water and ourselves through the garden. We actively sought something whimsical that would take us out there and slow our own energy flow a bit, inviting us to linger. Knowing spirals to be pretty whimsical and therapeutic, it seemed perfect. An experiment in energy and growth and playfulness within a permaculture system.

The spiral worked really well for a while. We'd converted a large expanse of lawn to something productive. We'd managed to find a system of rotating guilds that flowed though the spiral with the seasons. It was pretty hippy-dippy ace. But it wasn't as productive as it could have been and the difficulty of integrating animals, particularly chooks, into the veggie garden bothered me. Plus a curved line can be harder to cultivate and a crop-rotation system in spiral format seriously messes with your head! Plus we'd managed to find that slowing of energy we craved, that space to daydream, around the edges of the veggie garden, in the food forest.

So right now, along with everything else in our lives it seems, we're going for a complete overhaul. Hundreds of convict bricks have been pulled up again and paths are being re-defined. We've begun the back (and arm!) breaking process of double-digging the soil as we create long, straight beds, slightly reminiscent of a French market garden.

It's the first time we've really dug a garden bed, always opting for raised beds in the past. But we're hoping to give ourselves just a little extra topsoil in our mega-heavy-clay-soil garden. We're observing and chatting about the history of certain patches of soil, what grew where and how and why the soil is the way it is. It's surprising the difference chooks can make to a small patch of heavy clay soil in just one month and how, even months later, you can tell that they've been there by the way the solid crumbles in your hands. We're thrilled that every little bit of effort we've put in so far has paid off. There are some seriously lush areas of topsoil there! We're so glad that our years as custodians of this particular patch of soil haven't been wasted, as slow as the progress seems to have been. It's also surprising how when you've lived somewhere for many years, you can still find remnants of those who've lived there before - old pipes, rusty pliers, broken teacups hidden beneath the soil. We're taking note and learning more as we go.

We're spending long days in the garden, working around the clock to make sure we get it going as soon as humanly possible. Each of us getting involved and taking a role into the construction of something we hope will help feed us and help the budget stretch a little further. We're buying way too many tomato plants at the RTBG fundraiser tomato sale. Huz is nerding out, planning crop rotations and putting his love of spreadsheets to good use. We're making sure we harvest the little bits we can from what's left from the winter garden, and feeling super excited to watch our spring garden evolve through future seasons.

How does your garden grow this spring? 
Have you ever created a garden you loved and dug it up to begin again?

Don't forget our next Seedlings Permaculture for Families e-course begins on October 1st - that's two days from now! A perfect time to dig deep and find your permie mojo. 

It's really important to us that Seedlings is accessible to as many people as possible. So before we begin, we're offering two full scholarships for this  round. If you, or someone you know, would like to join in but isn't in a position to afford it right now, please email us at hello@spiralgarden.com.au. We'd love to hear from you! 

Happy gardening! 

~ Lauren. xx

22 September 2015

Weekend Adventurers :: Sisters Beach

Never let it be said that we're not spontaneous… As Little Owlet's 9th birthday approached, in the depths of winter this year, so did a rather dreadful head cold. We'd planned a slumber party with some of Little Owlet's then dearest friends. It was to be her first proper party all of her own. But as the days drew nearer, so did the sniffles so we decided at the last moment to cancel the party, go with her next favourite option, save the birthday, pack up the car and head off to places unknown - North West Tasmania!


The last time Huz and I visited the north west was on our honeymoon. So it had been a while. We found a super lovely, affordable and comfy shack at the beautiful sleepy beach town, Sisters Beach. Leaving at lunchtime, car packed full of owlets and tissues, we arrived just before dark. Within moments we had the fire lit and hunkered in for what appeared to be one of the wettest weekends we've seen in a long time.


The next four days are a blur of long car drives, volcanic soil, impressive coastlines, amazing geology, sneezes, brain sponges, sideways rain, and rainbows. We spent hours pottering around Sisters Beach, looking at rock pools, shells, a cave and Little Owlet's namesake plant. We ventured to Table Cape lighthouse in squally winds and Rocky Cape National Park to see the beautiful colours and textures of the coastal heathland there.


On Little Owlet's birthday, we headed for a very quiet Stanley (Monday morning mid-winter is super quiet there!), to admire The Nut and have devonshire tea. Knowing Little Owlet's preference for all things old fashioned, we wandered through Highfield House, soaking up the incredible views and detailed stories of the house at its peak, while escaping the soaking rain.

Later that evening, we celebrated with cake, lego and hot chocolates. We mixed the cake by hand, with a fork, each taking it in turn to cream the butter and whip the icing. It was a slow and pretty much perfect birthday, all things considered. Lamenting our return home, we extended our stay an extra night allowing some space to flop and relax and take in things a little more slowly. We rested and enjoyed the modern, clutter-free space while the rain pelted down outside. I think it's the wettest holiday away we've spent anywhere. But it was refreshing and so much fun and very much needed. Even if we did all return home with the dreaded lurgy and a car full of tissues. Even if it did feel like everything was working against us. It felt like that was exactly where we needed to be.


Before we left we left Sisters Beach to come home, we ventured out on a small walk at the rocky end of the beach, to a place called Wet Cave, which was actually much drier than the area immediately outside it. But in Tasmania, rain often means rainbows so we were happy to see a beautiful one of those too before we headed home. We've vowed to return in warmer weather to explore some more of this beautiful part of the world. To breath in some of that cleanest air and see some of that amazing geology again, as well as all the treasures we missed! As small as it is, I don't think we'll ever tire of exploring the little corners and hidden nooks on this beautiful island. Each so different and breathtaking. Plenty of weekend adventures for many years to come!

Where have you been adventuring lately? 
Have you ever had perfectly imperfect rainy holiday? 

Happy adventuring!

~ Lauren. xx

21 September 2015

Unschool Monday :: What Happened Next

So we left you hanging there a bit, hey? Winter was long and difficult and rather awful. In the garden, we were unprepared for the repeated frosts that kept our plants from growing and providing much yield - it seemed to mirror everything else. Things got worse. It was ugly and heavy and heart breaking. The school forms were filled out with lumps in our throats and we very nearly did go ahead with Plan B. But we didn't.

It turns out we love what we do and the way we do it so much that the Owlets decided that school isn't the answer, for now. So we're putting some extra effort into keeping things bubbling along. Which is so much easier now that Spring is here. I don't think I've looked forward to a change of seasons so much in all my life! We've re-connected with some super lovely people who've brought so much positivity. Our connection with the Owlets has strengthened as they've appreciated our complete honesty and open arms. We've all learnt a whole lot.

Choosing to see a world full of opportunities, we've begun learning new skills, trying new things and redefining ourselves a bit. As good permies do, we're backing up our major functions. It's all a bit exciting and new again. We're working extra hard to hone the budget to accommodate a choir, and cello lessons - a long-time wish of Big Owlet's and just at the perfect time for Little Owlet, who has always adored music. We're trying our hands at making baskets and mosaics. We're visiting the Marine Discovery Centre, planning trips, hanging out at the beach…

We've been super lucky to have friends come to visit from the mainland, at just the right time, with children for Owlets to connect with. We've reached out to new friends. We've celebrated 10 years since we first arrived to build a life here. And our much-missed mainland family have booked in a couple of weeks down here for Christmas, which just feels like a huge hug.

We shook things up in our nest too, by moving ALL the furniture around and throwing out what we no longer need. And right now the garden is in a state of flux while we dig up our beautiful spiral to make way for some serious veggie production - part budgetary measure and part personal challenge. The Owlets are on board with that more than ever and we're reconnecting with the earth, the soil we're taking care of, and each other, as we move into our 11th year on this beautiful island. It's just about the biggest spring clean of our lives! The energy is good and positive and we continue on as unschoolers and life learners, as we always were.

Hugest thanks to the kind words and supportive shoulders that have been around these past few weeks. They've been so very needed and treasured. 

How's your spring shaping up? 
Have you been doing some spring cleaning?

Have a beautiful week!

~ Lauren. xx