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Hippie daze in the earth garden

We bought a block of dirt in the hills behind Goomboorian (Qld). By putt-putting away from Brisbane in our old Kombi we just knew that we were embarking on a self-sustainability adventure of beyond epic proportions. We had absolutely no idea how absolutely right we were about all that. It was a grand case of Hippie Daze in the Earth Garden.

Our to-be-lived-in-shed was made of mud brick. We cut an old water tank in half, filled it with lovely clayish muck from the creek, mixed it all about, and pressed out a beautiful stream of rectangular earth clods. Construction day was full of bonhomie, flagons of cheap red, and the odd toke or ten … then it rained heavily the next day. The shed had small eaves and since we didn’t realise that you had to stick straw as binding in with the mud – well, the shed promptly melted and the mud returned to where it had come from. The word ‘recycling’ has such a lovely ring to it don’t you think?

The solar hot water system was made of old black hose pipe. We rolled it in a coil on the ground, filled it up with water, bunged a cork in either end, and let the sun do what the sun does best. We stood around, as hippies do, with nothing but a bar of soap on and joyfully waited for a lovely warm and desperately needed rinse … and then the kookaburras arrived. They thought it was a rolled up red-bellied black snake and promptly punctured the crap out of it. Didn’t kill our hopes for the upgrading of the RET though.

We picked up an old slow-combustion fireplace from the tip. Mixed some ash with wet newspaper to form a paste and cleaned up the glass door. Stuck air conditioning duct tubing on top as a flue and stacked the whole beauty up with firewood and put it to the match … kamikaze type Possum promptly jumped out of a gum, fell down the flue, and stared out at us through the glass door. Fast combustion was quickly replacing slow combustion but it all turned out OK in the end. The possum pranced off muttering “I’m inclined to forgive you, after all there was no coal in there, you lot are obviously into renewables.”

The vege garden was a work of art. We planted the carrots and silver beet in a mandala pattern that would have brought a beam to the dials of the Monks at Chenrezig. Our permaculture street-cred was looking pretty good and we started to compose an article on ‘Hippies and Sustainable Lifestyles’ for Earth Garden Magazine … the killer hares in the area noticed that there was no fence around the veges and quickly razored the lot to the ground. We are not sure if there is a market for ‘organically-raised hares’. There was certainly no market for our article.

We put an old bicycle up in a sturdy frame and attached dynamos to the tyres and linked the whole whirring contraption to a couple of old Telstra batteries … the spinny things on the dynamos were rusted solid and though we pedalled like hell for hours on end – it soon became apparent that our efforts to go off-grid perhaps needed a tad further thought. Mind you, we now have thighs like tree trunks and can do the 100m in fifteen seconds flat.

It will come as no surprise to you to know that we are currently living in the Kombi, bathing in the creek, jumping up and down to keep warm, buying our veges, using the old bus’s battery to keep a light going, munching on Hare stew, and watching continual re-runs of Alice’s Restaurant and The Good Life on the portable DVD player to keep our spirits flying high … if the highness droops we have a couple of plants out the back to boost them right back up again.

So, never give up on your efforts to have as small a personal footprint on this earth as you can … since we are intrepid never say die hippie types we have just completed a course entitled ‘Sustainable Lifestyle and Power Generation Tips PLAN- B’. You can only get into that select course if you have managed to royally stuff up ‘PLAN-A’. The course tutors welcomed us with open arms and said that we were incredibly prime candidates. Wow – that was so nice of them.

Guess what? Tomorrow is a brand new day. And we are building a Mud Brick Shed!

 

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29 comments

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  1. brickbob

    Good article and good luck in the future.

  2. Kizhmet

    Loved reading this – smiled and chuckled all the way through. Thank you. Nothing is ever wasted if you take something from it and reuse it. Without doubt the experience from your first (and subsequent) efforts will prove fundamental to your ultimate success. Very best wishes in your future endeavors.

  3. Lee

    An enjoyable and amusing read. 🙂 I couldn’t cope with living in a Kombi, but I do like recycling as much as possible and living simply.

  4. sandrasearle

    I loved reading this too. All you have to do now is to make sure that you have a good supply of the straw that was missing the first time around & some drier weather to set the bricks so they won’t wash away. Love your sense of humour & optimism!

  5. Harquebus

    I am trying to grow veggies without the input of fertilizers and pesticides etc. and am only having limited success. A major obstacle is pests. It has made me realize just how hard it will be to feed the +7billion without fertilizers and pesticides which, are mostly produced in one way or another from fossil fuels.
    It will be impossible.

    A record breaking heat wave in Adelaide a couple of years ago completely destroyed all but one tomato plant.
    Good luck all.

    Keith
    I will be very interested in any successes that you might have.

    Cheers.

  6. gangey1959

    “And 11 fried-out Sons of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus”
    Oh for the days.
    As for fertiliser, use an out of date politician. they are easy to find, and full of the best shit……..

  7. townsvilleblog

    It is not easy to go renewable without a lot of money behind you sadly. I do hope your experimenting leads you to hot water and solar power, I wouldn’t know how to do what you are attempting to do but I do admire your tenacity.

  8. Morpheus Being

    Can relate entirely to your dilemma. I put up roof first, then did the mud, so I still have walls and windows. Cob is great fun working with – the grand kids love it. With roof up, proper solar hot water system (no booster needed), and could fit solar panels for powering lights and fridge.

    You should have read more of Earth Garden, old Mother Earth and Grass Roots as lot more, and absorbed the lessons.

    I have been trying to work out how to bottle/contain all the hot air and bullshit produced in Canberra. Who ever can, will make a fortune!

  9. keerti

    Harquebus the primary ingredient needed for growing vegies is lots of shit/ blood and bone (liberal doses!) Have a look at books on chicken tractors. Flood watering works best esp in dry Adelaide heat.

  10. Harquebus

    keerti

    I understand this. Anyone can grow veggies and such when all one has to do is drive to the local hardware store, purchase what is required and turn on a tap. I am trying to prepare myself for the day when this is not possible, like now in Greece.

    It takes about five years or more for soils to naturally recover. I am getting there. As for the heat, I have discovered that barriers, green and otherwise, seem to help a lot in a water stressed situation.

    Thanks for the advice. It is appreciated.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-07-29/complete-collapse-greece-reverts-barter-economy-first-time-nazi-occupation

  11. jimhaz

    Lovely turn of phrase and so very true blue Australian of the good kind in its attitude to problems.

  12. Lee

    Harquebus, are you confusing no fertiliser and no pesticide with organic? Organic farming does use both, although I agree, organic methods cannot feed the entire world population. But you can probably provide for your household by composting for fertiliser and improving soil structure, mulching to save water and companion planting to minimise the adverse effects of insects.

  13. guest

    It is not often we get to hear from the hip culture of the ’60s and ’70s. Perhaps it is a generational thing where the new generation rediscovers the inventions of past generations. Perhaps we will see The Whole Earth Catalogue reprinted and geodesic homes will spring up anew.

    Certainly more and more agricultural people are using organic methods of farming. We are looking more and more to renewable sources of energy. Technology is changing how we work so that the unemployed need to find alternative ways of surviving.

    But it is interesting to see that many of the old hipsters of the past ended up in CEO positions and wearing Italian suits.

    So I wondered if the author here was not taking the mickey out of the idea of the hip response, especially given the naivety with which he entered into the alternative project to begin with.

    It makes me wonder, too, about the naivety of the idea of turning the far north into the ‘Foodbowl of Asia’ when 60% of the Ord River scheme is now given over to the cultivation of sandalwood. And we have governments sanctioning the fracking of agricultural land so that it is now possible to burn a flame at the end of the water-bores. And the prospect of digging massive holes in our prime agricultural land because it seems there is nowhere else to find cheap coal. Just as oil companies are wading through the sticky tar sands of Alberta in search of oil,or going far out to sea and sinking bores kilometres into the ocean floor in search of oil. Have we become so desperate after just a couple of centuries of using the stuff?

    Are we, after all, with so much knowledge at our finger-tips, basically ignorant?

    I seem to remember some sayings from the ’60s and ’70s about how when the last tree is gone and there are no fish in the sea we will discover we can’t eat money. Or, wouldn’t it be good if the military had to hold a chook raffle to buy a bomber?

  14. Harquebus

    Lee
    Thanks for that. That is what I am attempting however, to start from scratch and without external input takes a long time. My first year was a total disaster. I have improved considerably since then and still have not achieved even 25% self sufficiency. So far, this is my best year and I hope to exceed this value.
    Those that have not started preparing are going to be caught short.
    Thanks to you also for your advice.

  15. Lee

    Harquebus, I moved house almost 12 months ago, to a residence with a garden that has been neglected for several years. It will take a long time to improve the soil. I purchased compost and potting soil for my vegetable garden to get it started, and I made wicking beds out of recycled materials to save on water and time spent watering. The bonus is weeds are rare and it is a comfortable working height. I’ve got two compost bins and my goal is to use that to refresh vegie garden soil as needed (and crop rotation). I’ll also use compost to improve the soil in the rest of the garden but that will take a lot longer due to the size of the garden. I have a worm farm and I find those little guys make fantastic fertiliser. We have hard rubbish collection in my neighbourhood next month so I’m looking forward to hopefully finding some materials that I can use in my vegie garden for beds and trellises.

  16. Harquebus

    Wicking beds. I had to look that one up.
    Thanks for the tip.

  17. Keith Davis

    Hi Everyone … thanks for your comments. Us old hippies (who steadfastly never degenerated into CEO positions and Italian suits) simply do not have the concept of ‘giving up’ attached to any strands of our DNA. Having totally not learnt any meaningful lessons from my past self-sufficiency attempts … ha … I’m now embarking on a mammoth project. I fully intend to craft a rustic medieval style table out of fallen over fence posts that proliferate around the old farm. There’ll be no nails in this one … it will be pegged together with wedges and a grand modicum of hope. Once completed I’ll test the sturdiness of construction by slamming down a couple of tankards of mead along the planks … if it survives all that, as well as the occasional burst of hippie carousing that happens around medieval furniture of any sort when the moon hits the right angle … I’ll use it as a platform to write ‘Hippie Daze in the Earth Garden Part 2’!

  18. Bronte ALLAN

    “Damned hippies”! Seriously, all the best for your future efforts at a self sustaining lifestyle, sounds like you had SOME fun so far!

  19. Dee

    @ Lee & Harquebus
    I am doing something similar. I find I learn from each failure and in the last few years have learnt which crops are worth growing and which aren’t. In the meantime, we gain the knowhow and improve the soil on our land. Slaters and snails are a problem in my area. There are some good tips available on the internet for controlling or at least reducing these. Yes, it would be impossible on a worldwide basis and that is a huge concern. IMHO we don’t know what the future holds, so its a good idea to hone these age-old skills while we still can. Still can’t grow straight carrots but working on it!

  20. Annie B

    So enjoyed your yarn and the efforts you went to — to be self sufficient out there in Goomboorian. …. Had a lot of giggles while reading it, and I love your style of writing.

    And best of good luck with your next ventures.

    Chooks ….. get a few, folks – – – with coops that are lockable at night. …… No roosters, just hens laying eggs ( they knock off work during autumn / winter for the most part, while moulting ), and they provide some of the best fertiliser imaginable. …. And the straw as it is woopsied on, and then changed for fresh stuff never goes to waste either – either around plants, or dug into the soil. ( never use chook woops on roses though ). ….

    All that, mixed with compost – where the worms come in by the dozens, to be nice and warm ( gee can that compost get hot to the touch !! ) … is superb for gardens. …. the most aged of dirt will respond to it, and grow vegies aplenty. ,…. and to keep vegie butterflies away, from laying eggs that become caterpillars that eat green vegies … make some fake slightly larger than life butterflies out of used plastic white milk containers, … put any small markings on them that you fancy, and it’s best to laminate them against weather.

    Attach them to bamboo sticks ( which are a dime a dozen ), or hang them from thin branches of whatever might be nearby, or spread them at intervals among the vegies. … Cabbage butterflies etc. won’t come near them. Apparently they are territorial ( ?? ) and respect other butterfly areas. 🙂 ….

    I can supply a link to this info if anyone wishes.

    p.s. Pure chook manure, can make superb liquid fertiliser when mixed with water ( not sure of the quantities ) … mix it, let it sit for a couple of days, stir and pour into the soil around the growing plants – but only when they have matured somewhat.

  21. Harquebus

    Annie B
    Thank you for that butterfly tip. I hadn’t heard that before.
    The link would be appreciated.
    Cheers.

  22. Annie B

    Harquebus –

    Two links to get you started on researching this. …. there are many more sites / information, thru Google.

    http://southburnettpermaculture.com/2013/07/21/cabbage-moth-control/

    Controlling Cabbage White Butterfly

    And the following gives a summary of it – even though the writer cannot vouch for it !! …. seems as though it is popular though. …. Would never hurt to try it – I am going to, next time I plant greens.

    http://citybugs.tamu.edu/2011/04/01/keeping-cabbage-whites-away/

    I am not at all sure about other butterflies / moths that attack vegetables. But diligent searching could turn up quite a few more types perhaps. … I haven’t gone that far yet.

    …..

    Have had success in keeping snails and slugs from plants, by two methods …. 1) loosely crushed egg shells which they don’t like slithering across – egg shells are sharp …. and 2) used coffee grounds around the base of vegetables and other precious plants in the garden. In fact I have used instant coffee as well, with some success. … I also sprinkle white pepper on leaves of vegies just getting started ( tomatoes, beans, zucchini etc. ) …. bugs don’t like the heat, so they get out of the garden. !!! 😉

    While I tend to get good vegies in my two vegie gardens, I am damned if I know how to grow vegetables in pots !! ??? It just does NOT happen for me, even though I mix up good potting mix, compost and chook woops in the tub. Ruddy possums and whatever ( ? ) eat stuff in pots, despite my efforts to protect new growths with wire – and heaven only knows what else happens. ! … What remains simply does not ‘take’…. Not even the plastic owls work around my pots !!! … Grrrr.

  23. Harquebus

    Thanks Annie B
    I really appreciate it. I have lots of eggshells.

    Another solution to snails and slugs which, I have not tried so I can not verify, is copper barriers. Apparently their slime causes a low electric current when they contact.

    Eggshells when dissolved in vinegar produce a solution that when added to tap water at 17ml/ltr, according to the literature, will neutralize fluoride and other nasties. I think I still have the link somewhere or will look for it again if you like. I have read that and again can not confirm, that fluoride causes calcification of some gland in the brain, I forget offhand which and is claimed to be a major cause of Alzheimers.
    I followed that claim up with the Alzheimers Association but, they wouldn’t confirm.
    I try not to drink straight tap water.

    Cheers.

  24. Annie B

    Thanks Harquebus …. some very interesting info. there.

    Will google ” vinegar and / or plus egg shells” and see what I can come up with. … Meanwhile, if you do find a link – would be much appreciated.

    Copper barriers sound good – I presume that would be copper wiring or conduit of some kind ? ( providing some ‘copper collectors’ don’t pinch it ).

    Wise move not to drink tap water. … I drink only boiled water ( although some nay sayers, believe it does nothing to dispel the chemicals in the water ) … so easy to detect the smell of chemicals in water out of the tap. … Running a bath, fills the bathroom with that chemical aroma – for a while.

    My late mother used a method ( have never checked it out, to my shame ) to purify tap water … > tap water > in dark glass [ wine ] bottle ( preferably green but not sure why !! ) > gauze over opening with rubber band to hold in place > leave standing in garden for a week or 10 days – … result ? … pure drinking water.

    There seem to be a myriad of ways of lessening the effects of chemicals in our food and water, these days. Can’t hurt to try a few more, I expect.

  25. Annie B

    p.s. … have found several sites now that describe the ‘recipe’ for eggshells in vinegar solution to de-fluoridise water.

    Fascinating. … Will try it and see.

  26. Annie B

    Harquebus …

    That is a very informative site – thank you for posting it.

    I have bookmarked it for further investigation ( to other links in the article ).

    I am kind of half way there, in helping my pineal gland ( I was pleased to discover ) ….

    Always good – and interesting – to read of alternative foods, and ways of living more naturally.

    Ta muchly …….

  27. Paddy Forsayeth

    Keith Davis: Try secret wedges for maximum strength. Cut a slot in the end of the dowel and insert partway a wedge. When the dowel is banged home the end of it is spread and will not come out, particularly if glued.
    Annie B; The chemical that you smell will be Hypochlorite. At the dilutions used in tap water it is harmless. As for fluoride it won’t disappear just by letting the water stand or boiling it. Incidentally we take in fluorides each day in tiny amounts. The body can certainly deal with fluoride because it is extremely soluble and any excess in the body is easily excreted.
    Keith Davis: I built a large mud brick home many years ago. The bricks were made using a Cinva Ram. The family made about 10000 bricks! The material I used was a clay base with a large amount of a local gravel in it. The gravel was composed of small round pellets of rock. When the bricks in the wall got rained on the surface of the bricks had the clay washed off leaving an exposed layer of the ‘shot’ gravel, which repelled most of the subsequent rain. Also because the Cinva ram compresses the clay I found there was no need to add straw or any other stuff.

  28. Annie B

    Thank you Paddy for that information …. lessens my recent concerns over fluoride. There are many pros and cons about it – all over the Net.

    And yes, come to think of it – the aroma from tap water, is indeed a bleach type of smell. Don’t know why I didn’t recognise it as such, have used bleach on everything – including floors washed where cats have resided ( they loved to rub their faces on the floor after diluted bleach cleaning ) … and it is considered totally safe for cats to be around. … In fact is the preferred cleaning fluid for cat areas.

    Interesting …… 🙂

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