Learning from Others – Michael Mobbs, Sydney, NSW

Living off-the-grid is still a bit of a part-time project for us.  Sure we’d LOVE to cut our power bills in our Blue Mountains home and would enjoy that accomplished feeling of collecting our own water and managing our own waste but so far it’s been too easy not too here as we can and do manage the bills (albeit reluctantly).  That’s where Fox Hill Hollow is a great motivator – we have no choice but to be off-the-grid and we are embracing that with both hands but slowly, because we don’t have to rush.  So it was with great interest that I found myself at the home of Michael Mobbs, a self-confessed lazy off-the-gridder (if there is such a term) and someone who is doing it all in the centre of Sydney in a terrace house!  Now if he can do it surely we all can!!!!

There was much to be excited about in this house, from the lithium ion battery solar inverter system (6 x 2 KWH storage which is enough for three days for this chap although a typical house uses 25-30 KWH/ day – I think we are more like that at our BM home….),  the LED lights throughout the house (better lighting, lower power) the home-made camphor laurel table and the simple but effective fridge cooling system (passive ventilation really).

Probably my favourite tip aside from the ventilated fridge was investing in a solar system that can go straight from the inverter to the appliance, bypassing the batteries.  Michael mentioned that every time the power goes to the battery then comes out again it reduces the battery life a little and avoiding that as much as possible really does increase the battery life – battery storage is the one expense remaining in the off-the-grid plan although prices are reducing dramatically.

The other part that wowed me was the fact that this chap has a garden that is smaller than my patio at home and yet here he keeps chickens, grows some food, treats his entire sewage AND stores all of the houses water needs!  It just proved to me that having heaps of space is so not necessary and that necessity is indeed the mother of all invention, that and laziness 🙂

michael-mobbs-house

Michael has written a couple of books on the subject of going off the grid and is a delightful and helpful fellow.  I’d love for him to come and have a look at our block and plans when we are up to that stage (which will be soon) but for now we’ve still got much prepping to do.

You can tour Michaels house most months for $30 per head 🙂 Bookings on the website. 

 

First Mow Of The Season & First Trip in the Ute!

So winter has been and gone leaving behind a very soggy Fox Hill Hollow and those brown trees.

The Ford Ranger was definitely a good call, we managed to fit the dogs, camping fridge, clothing and dry food supplies in the back without a problem and the dogs loved it in their cages (I’ll have to get a picture next time as I forgot!).

The only down side was that yes, we did get a bit bogged…..

I didn’t manage to get a picture of that either as I was out looking for native bees and counting the flowers – away with the fairies as usual.

Anyway the good side of getting bogged was the chance to meet the neighbours! As we are not out here all the time yet we don’t get to see the neighbours very often but as luck would have it they were in and were happy to help pull a new ute out of the mud.  I still can’t believe we did that but at least it’s now been christened.

mowing-and-brown-trees

A bit of slashing – just look at that ground cover!  We were contemplating sewing lots of stuff into this paddock just to get the soil carbon up but after such a boggy year it looks like nature has done the hard work for us!  We’ll have to run another soil test next year to see if there’s been any difference.

My concern though is the trees.  As you can see in the background of this picture our gum trees are looking a bit sad.  Since we’ve been here we’ve had two hard frosty winters, one with a substantial dump of snow and flooding rain – neither of which particularly suit these trees.  That said I’m going to just keep my fingers crossed that they muster up the energy to pull through.

november-5th-ute

Yep, we made it, we bogged it, we got it out again 🙂

At least it’s looking more like a ‘real’ farm ute now.

pioneer-species

One of my jobs on the land is to clear the sapling pines so that the native understory can grow. The first to rise has been this only I’m not sure I know what it is! My first thought was that it might be a member of the Cryptandra Species (Amara?) but then I remembered I’d seen this before and labelled it as Brachyloma Daphnoides.  Maybe I need a little help!

In any case they are both native and I’m hoping that those little white flowers will bring in the bees but for now I’m just happy that the pines are on the way out and the natives are coming back.

bees-in-a-flower

And what a delight this was to find!

I spotted something that looked like little legs poking out of this flower so uncurled it to reveal these beautiful little native bees inside!  I hope they forgive me for waking them up!  How rude.

These are males of the Lassioglossum species.

Soil Carbon Cowboys

One of the great things about our farm planning course is hearing stories from other farmers, like these for example.  Here two cattle farmers in the USA tell of how taking a different approach to grazing has resulted in healthier soil, stock and wallets!   Grassland diversity has brought back bees and other pollinators, cows are happy and healthier and the farmers are both enjoying their jobs and down-time more than ever before.

Before this course I did tend to have the image of a mono-culture factory farm when farming was mentioned but now I’m more likely to imagine an environmentally minded entrepreneur keen to try anything and everything new and ‘green’ to breathe life into their properties.

The future looks good!

SOIL CARBON COWBOYS from Peter Byck on Vimeo.

We are taking this to heart and researching ways to improve our paddock coverage with a view to increasing pollinators such as birds and native bees back onto the property. This should help us manage our erosion issues and improve the visual appeal of the land too!

How exciting.

Bring on the pollinators – more Bees please.

Bee keeping isn’t just a thing you do, it is a way of life or so we are discovering after spending a good bit of this week listening to Apiarists both on the phone and the radio.  We are interested in getting some bees to help us achieve our re-wilding goals and to also play a part in our Cosmetic workshops (honey, beeswax, propolis and royal jelly are all used in cosmetic products).  However, one doesn’t just ‘get’ bees…..

As luck would have it we recently stumbled across a local bee keeper keen to retire and sell his hives – all ten of them and while we are not yet sure if we could take on such a challenge the research and preparation has begun as we try to bridge the gap between complete ignorance and a-bit-of-an-idea.

First question to answer was ‘are we allergic to bees’ to which I was delighted to answer NO.  Bees must be one of the few things that I am NOT allergic too which is a blessing as this would be a foolish and potentially deadly endeavour if one of our family were.

The next big thing for us to consider is the matter of food.  Everything has to eat and while bees are quite capable of making their own food (honey) they can only do this if they have access to pollen.  I was somewhat dismayed to discover that pollen is in short supply out in the vicinity of this local bee keeper.  I always thought that lack of pollen was a city issue but no,  animal grazing land requires little in the way of trees, hedgerows and patches of pollen-rich vegetation – grass just doesn’t cut it – and as such the Cowra/ Blayney area is not as great for bees as I had imagined!  On top of that the area is prone to relatively long and cold winters which means the bees will spend more time in their hive eating their summer honey supply – the chap I spoke to hadn’t had any excess honey to sell for two years!

I really couldn’t tell you what if any pollen-filled treats our land holds at present, I certainly can’t recall seeing lots of blossom around but then again I wasn’t really looking for it last time we went out there.  The idea that we might be sentencing any bees we took on to a hungry death loomed over me and while I now know that we could feed them sugar syrup it just didn’t seem right!

We need bee food on our land.

A bit of googling led me to the Department of Primary Industry’s agnote data sheet – Honey & Pollen Flora Suitable for Planting in South-Eastern NSW and with that info I started to research the trees that would both work on our land (soil type, water availability etc) and would provide the bees with a good feed from Spring through Summer and into Autumn – no point thinking about winter blossoms as it would be too cold.

Pollen producing gum trees

Before we go any further we plan to conduct a proper ‘pre Bee’  survey of our land to see if we can at least offer them something.  Once we have established what we have we can then look further afield to see if what surrounds us is any better (bees can travel 2Km away from the hive to collect pollen).  Putting all of this information together plus finding out if our neighbours do or plan to keep bees will help us work out how many hives we could sustain – our block size could possibly sustain 4 out of the 10 that are on offer but this is only a theoretical assessment at this point.

Working on that will take a good couple of weeks and in the meantime we will also investigate training courses as well as pop in and meet the man with the bees for sale.  It is very exciting and motivating to think that we might one day be able to play host to our own family of pollinators but it is also daunting to consider the life-long learning journey we may be about to embark on.

We will only take on the bees if we can look after them properly so let’s hope we find (or can quickly plant them) some food!

The only problem then will be the hay fever that is sure to follow.

Pollen IS something that I’m allergic to.

Can’t have it all.

Amanda