Archive for ‘June, 2014’

Tool love: How To Replace A Shovel Handle

For a gardener, tools are the enabling and magical ‘Inspector Gadget’ extension of your body. They make things happen which wouldn’t otherwise, improve the outcomes of the job you’re working on to no ends and, when used properly, can reduce your long-term workload significantly. So we love our tools, no matter how modest or common, we love them.

Untitled-1Hannah with a collection of our modest but darn useful tools….. They actually look like they need a bit of a clean in this photo, hmmm. Excuse the ‘split’ effect on this image, it’s a scan from the local newspaper, The Mercury.

Take the humble shovel for example, our lives would be hard without it, really hard. Our shovels have moved a lot of soil, blue metal, sand and gravel – it scares me exactly how much but it’s somewhere in the tonnes. The shovel is actually a wonder of technology (as are all tools).  The steel for the blade has been mined as iron ore and combined with roughly equal parts coal to make a steel bar.  This bar has been stamped and pounded with 10 tonne metal presses to create its shape.  Following this they are dipped in a durable external grade paint.  This is then attached to a shaft that has been harvested from a forest, kiln dried and lathed to create its funky ergonomic shape.

Unfortunately this wonder of technology is not overly valued.  When you can buy a half decent shovel for $30 from your local hardware, it’s easy to throw it out and replace it with a new one when it breaks instead of spending time patching them up.

We try and fix everything we can, or get someone else to if it’s beyond us, to extend the life cycle and also because it makes sense to not throw out valuable resources. One of the more regular tool injuries that happen on our hillside is snapping the shovel handle, this usually happens from either old age or when we’re trying to do something we probably shouldn’t, i.e. move heavy, wet clay (cough cough). So in an ode to our glorious tools and how much we value them, here is a simple guide to how to replace a shovel handle.


 Our recent tool injury looked like this. 


Its worthwhile to check if the head is in good condition, this shovel is around 3 years old and still in pretty good nick.  Although there is a bit of dried cement on the blade – you should really take the time to clean tools properly after use, something which sometimes gets away from us…

You can see that there are two key ways the shovel head is being held on.

  1. There is a steel collar, in this case welded on to the shovel shaft
  2. There is a steel pin/nail that connects the shaft to the timber handle


The first task is to grind out the pin and the weld on the steel collar.


The next step is to remove the handle which can be a bit tricky as it’s usually pretty well stuck in place.  With a bit of luck, the remaining wooden shaft can be hammered out, you can see I gave this handle a fair bash with a hammer but it didn’t move an inch.


Enter the trusty power drill!  Starting with small drill bits, simply drill directly into the wooden shaft and gradually  move up to larger drill bit sizes.  Once it’s pretty much drilled out you can ‘gently’ bash/nudge the scraps out with a hammer.


Now the fun bit, inserting the new timber handle.  It is worthwhile checking as closely as you can before inserting the handle that it is the correct size and orientation (you don’t want the handle up side down), if correct, insert the handle. To drive the head onto the handle, hold the handle with the head in the air and bash down onto a sturdy wood block.

There isn’t a photo of this but it’s worthwhile dipping the handle in linseed oil prior to attaching the head.  This will help the head slide on and help preserve the timber.


Almost there…  The last bit is focused on locking the handle into place.

  1. Pre-drill a hole and drive a sturdy nail into the same location where the pin was previously located.
  2. Bash the collar back into position, it can now be held in place with a weld or a small dab of epoxy glue.


The finished product in all its glory amongst our fresh earthworks which weren’t done with our shovels, we got an excavator in for that job!

Some hot tips for looking after your new handle. Your new handle will last a lot longer if you…

  • Store it under cover, and
  • Oil it annually using Linseed or other oil based timber preservers, eg Livos oil, Tung oil

What now? Time to get digging!

 *Your blogger is Anton Vikstrom, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and a total renaissance man.


Leave a comment

Working with people is awesome… & sometimes really hard

Working with people is the hardest part of my work, it’s also the majority of it. I know it sounds awful and it might not be wise to put this in writing, but I have said (more than once) that if it wasn’t for people, ‘insert name of project’ would be perfect.

I don’t dislike people by any means, but we’re a diverse bunch us humans and some of us are especially unique – in both good and interesting ways. And of course, how we interact with people is often a reflection on ourselves, so please don’t think I sit up on my hill judging folk. I do believe that when you judge others, you’re judging yourself – I get that.

But people are hard work. Working with them meaningfully is hard work. You have to… well, really work at it – constantly.

And of course we all have our own baggage which we accumulate over life. Whether that’s trauma, anxiety, stupid political policies/laws imposed on us, mental illness, old age (and the mental fatigue that can come with it), sickness or stress, people can get way complicated.

A while ago, around 13 years ago to be exact, I had already developed a similar perspective to the one I’ve just outlined above. However, despite this somewhat ‘dark’ outlook on humans, I recognised that if we want a healthy future for our one and only Earth, if we want to develop strong, vibrant community cultures and if we want our children to be born into a world worth living in, then we need to cooperate with people to create this.

Around that same time, I stopped sitting in tree sits trying to help protect Tasmania’s old growth forests and started looking into this thing called Permaculture more. I liked the ethics – earth care, people care and fair share. In particular, people care caught my eye, head and heart. That’s we’re it’s at I thought to myself. My work and life needs to be focused on earth care and fair share BUT this shizzle will only happen if we actually work together to make it happen. We need to look after ourselves and one another, but we also need to collaborate and coordinate to create a world worth living in.

So yes, if it wasn’t for people, everything would be so much easier and straightforward. But we are here, and the good news is that we have everything we need to get this ‘living fairly’ business right.

And so, most of my work is people-centred, because I chose it to be so. I remind myself this on days when a brick wall is more receptive than some folk I have to communicate with.

And of course, the hard moments are all worth it when you get to have the golden times like these….

Refugee gardens

The Live and Learn project 2014: Working with refugee families, teaching them how to establish food gardens in a cold climate


The Australian City Farms & Community Garden Network’s national gathering, Food 4 Thought, (Hobart 2014) organising team

group photo   Students from our first Permaculture Design Course (2013). An absolute wonderful bunch of human beings this lot

1698143_orig2011, Uganda – working with Actionaid on a campaign to raise awareness about African small-hold women farmers


2010, Melbourne, Cultivating Community – The Composter’s Composium relay race


2010, Doing a worm farm workshop for a community garden while working with Cultivating Community


Felicity, one of the ace participants of The Compost Kings & Queens Project, Hobart 2013

I only take photos of the happy, celebratory moments so haven’t got any ‘hard moment’ photos to show you. It doesn’t bode well when you’re having a rough time with people to pull out your camera and say ‘hey, can you just hold that pose/crazy face expression you’re pulling right now’. So I show you the good times, because that’s what fuels me, inspires me and reminds me of the opportunities we have to do amazingly great, useful and fun things with our lives, for ourselves, each other and our one and only Earth.

Interesting Resources

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, Co-Director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.


Community Composting at its’ Best

A couple of years ago I spent two full and fun years working with Cultivating Community (Melbourne) who are one of Australia’s leading organisations in urban agriculture and community development. While there, I helped kick start what is now called Food Know How, a unique community composting program involving a range of partners and a whole lot of work. The motivation behind this program started with Yarra City Council conducting a waste audit where they discovered that 52.6% of their waste stream was pure food waste – yikes. You can imagine how much it costs to transport waste from Yarra (dense, inner city Melbourne) to the landfill site on the edge of the city (it’s in the millions). Finding ways to cut down on the amount of food waste going in the bin in the first place was put high on the agenda.

To get things rolling, Cultivating Community partnered with Yarra Council and started doing things like the Composter’s Composium, free composting workshops in parks and back lane ways and ran the Compost Mates pilot project. Compost Mates worked with two cafes and a handful of local residents to harvest their food waste to compost it in private compost and mini community compost hubs. It worked, however we needed to do it on a bigger scale to really make an impact.


Yours truly trialing out the early version of the bike cafe compost collection system. These detachable racks were designed to fit onto the standard bike rack and could easily be removed when not harvesting food scraps. 


The Composter’s Composium 2011: A free expo where around 200 people hung out in the local part, learned about everything compost, were serenaded by wonderful music and had heaps of fun.


The ‘Compost Off’, a relay race to see which team can make the best compost pile in the shortest amount of time. Costa was the judge and commentator and the participants included the local Mayor at the time. Bloody hilarious.

And so, Compost Mates morphed into Food Know How and a great team of people have been working to coordinate food scraps being captured in both residential compost systems (in people’s balconies and gardens) and establish a community composting hub at Collingwood Children’s Farm to process bulk cafe food waste.

In short, Cultivating Community committed themselves to:

  • Sign up 500 households and 32 cafes to participate
  • Support participants through regular interaction and visits to their home/business
  • Provide free technical advice on how to maintain a healthy compost, worm farm or Bokashi system
  • Run fun, interactive workshops and events on food waste avoidance and composting
  • Update our website with a suite of tools to help families and business owners reduce food waste in the kitchen.
  • Use cargo trikes to pick up unavoidable food waste from cafes and take them to compost hubs across the city, where we will be able to process the scraps and turn them into nutrient-rich compost
  • Throughout the program we will randomly select participants to assess how much food waste we’re diverting from landfill and will also ask people to complete short surveys, providing valuable feedback to the City of Yarra

nyshNysh modelling the current fancy and fantastic bikes used to collect food scraps from the 32 cafes


The compost hub is located at the Collingwood Children’s Farm where food scraps from local cafes is composted. Cultivating Community staff member, Kat Lavers, manages this process beautifully. Please note, the general public are not allowed to check out this space without prior arrangements.

2014-06-10 15.47.57The last bay in the line where the food scraps are unrecognisable and the good stuff (compost) is well on its’ way to maturing.

In addition to the large hot compost bays, this compost hub also features two large worm farms. When it comes to composting, worm farming has a lot of added benefits which you can read about here.



2014-06-10 15.49.36

Cultivating Community CEO (and all round legend), Michael Gourlay, showing me around the worm farms

2014-06-10 15.49.48

When we moved back to Tasmania in 2012, I had serious community composting withdrawals so worked with Hobart City Council and Sustainable Living Tasmania to do a small home-based compost project called Compost Kings and Queens. Over 6 months I worked with 30 households to teach them how to compost as much food waste as they could in their own homes. In this period we conducted strict data collection and managed to divert over 3.3 tonnes of food waste from landfill. Not bad at all. These type of decentralised waste management approaches are comparatively dirt cheap (compared to trucking waste across vast distances) and have so many happy social, environmental and economic outcomes it’s ridiculous.

CKQ DRAFT flyerMargaret Steadman and David Stephens, local sustainability wonders, being the compost king and queen

A snapshot of the Compost Kings and Queens evaluation looks something like this…

  • Recruited 30 households (71 adults and 31 children/teenagers) from the Hobart municipality
  • Diverted 3308.9 kg (3.3 tonnes) of food waste from landfill[1]
  • Prevented 5.2 tonnes Co2 -eq greenhouse gas emissions[2]
  • 92% of participants indicated they would continue composting all their food waste with their current compost system even if food waste kerbside collections were introduced.
  • 84% of participants believed that if their community were supplied with a compost system of their choice and thorough education and support, they would be open to having fortnightly rubbish collections [instead of weekly].
[1] 1 Liter of food scraps = approximately 0.66kg
[2] Food waste in kilograms x 1.6 = Co2 emissions if sent to landfill (National Greenhouse Accounts, July 2012)

Composting is a highly effective technique to process food waste (and other organic materials) in your own garden or balcony. Community composting is taking it up a level (or 10) and is more than just composting – it’s community development/social permaculture in action – it’s beautiful. It can be as simple as you and your neighbour getting together to share a compost bin, or it could be your whole community organising themselves to catch and store this precious nutrient-rich resource that is currently treated as waste. There is a shape and size to suit any context, you just need to start!


 *Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

1 Comment

Solar Systems & Power Use

One of the most irritating conversations around is the opinion that we need more coal and nuclear systems to supply the amount of energy required to maintain our desired standard of lifestyle. Firstly the desired lifestyle of McMansions, heated swimming pools etc is short-sited, unsustainable and unrealistic for the vast majority of our world. We can live incredibly well utilising this amazing thing called renewable energy (you might have heard of it) and a bit of common sense.

We’ve just got solar panels for our home. While we bought them last year (before the feed-in tariff changed) they’ve only just been installed last week. In fact they haven’t even been officially connected yet so aren’t even working – but don’t they look the part.


Our brand spanking new solar system has a pretty sweet view. This photo was actually taken at moon-rise so doesn’t look very sunny

What system did we get?

We got a 1.5 kilowatt system which most people think isn’t big enough, however it is if you use energy consciously and efficiently and have a small household (there’s only two of us). Our current energy use looks something like this…

2014-06-07 08.51.51

In Tasmania (and probably everywhere) you can find this graph on your power bill which shows your energy use compared with your own a year earlier and the standard energy use of others. You can see our energy use has gone down compared with this time last year – the main difference is that since then we’ve installed ceiling insulation and draft proofed the house. 

We actually know we can get it even lower than our current use as a decent portion consists of our electrical hot water/cooking stove system – more on that below.

Just a side note – if you’re considering getting solar panels, be sure to check the condition of your roof first. Ask yourself how old is it, is it starting to leak, or has it been painted with lead paint? Our roof was both old and had also been painted with lead paint (not good if you want to catch rain water), so we had to replace it which wasn’t cheap. But we installed it all ourselves with the help of Anton’s wonderfully crazy Swedish dad which kept the price down and the good times up.

While some believe that if you get solar panels you can leave your lights on all night because it’s ‘free sun’ energy we think different. Here’s a whirlwind tour on some of the basic things we do to keep our home and lives comfortable and energy use low.


We have an electric stove/oven which we inherited with the house – to keep energy use low we do three things.

1. We use the ‘hot box’ system which simply means we bring the pot of soup/stew/rice to the boil then turn the stove off and put it into a box (of any description) with blankets/cushions stuffed around it to keep the heat in. These days I don’t even bother with the box and just stick it in one of the corners of the couch and cover it with cushions which works perfectly. This is a brilliant system where you never burn anything and the food turns out perfectly. Love it.


These days we simply use blankets/pillows and our couch, but the image above shows how you can make an insulated, spunky hot box. Image from here.

2. We don’t have a stove top kettle because sometimes (a little too often) we’d forget about it and it’d just boil away, which I hated with a passion. So we now have a plug in, bench top kettle which works a lot better for us. This is a solution for absent mindfulness for both gas for electric stoves.


Our bench top kettle and our thermos which we put in any excess hot water to be used later

3. Thirdly, we invested in a quality stainless steel pressure cooker which was a bit of a revolution. No longer do we spend 5 hours cooking various pulses, instead we now pump them out in half and hour. Before getting the pressure cooker we had pretty much stopped eating chickpeas as they just took too long.


The previous owners put in two heat pumps and a new wood fire…. and no insulation – crazy we know. We do use of of one of the heat pumps irregularly when we get home late in Winter and it’s dark, really cold and we need warmth quick smart. Otherwise we use the wood fire which is superior in every way as we have access to local and ethical timber. We  make sure that only room/s we’re using are heated instead of the whole house and we’re not afraid to simply wear jumpers when we’re cold instead of insisting we should be able to wear bikinis in our lounge room.


So far we’ve managed to source all our fire wood from our own block or our neighbour’s bush. We’ll need to buy some timber in later this Winter, but we’re doing our best to harvest as much as we can locally first.

Insulation & Draft proofing

Our house is affectionately referred to as a timber shack, better suited for balmy north Queensland (i.e. the hot tropics) then our cool temperate climate. But we love it as it’s got particularly awesome sun access and windows facing north. When we arrived there was not one scrap of insulation so we quickly got busy insulating the ceiling as this is where most heat loss occurs (we’ll do the floor and some of the walls soon). We’ve also draft proofed our doors and windows which is the most basic and effective thing home owners or renters can do as it makes an immediate and significant difference.

2014-04-05 10.34.11

We took this photo while re-roofing our house showing the R4 Earthwool insulation which, by the way, has 0% wool in it.

Hot Water

The elephant in the room using up most of our energy is our electrical hot water system. One day (when this system dies) we’ll replace it with a solar hot water system, until then we can’t bring ourselves to throw out infrastructure which is working, so we’re making do with it for now. We’ve done some simple things like given the hot water system (which sits outside in the coldest corner of our block) an insulation ‘jumper’ so it doesn’t have to work so hard to heat up water all the time. We turned the thermostat down to around 60 degrees, any lower and this can encourage harmful bacteria to thrive and installed a water wise shower head. We also don’t shower every day (unless we’re covered in mud) as it’s usually unnecessary. On average we have 2 showers a week which is more than fine.




And after

Overall we estimate that we’ll be able to generate approximately 60/70% of our energy from our 1.5kw system. One day when we get solar hot water to replace our current electrical system, this will increase to close to 100%, in fact it’ll probably do all of it. We’re also aware things change, that one day we’ll have a kid, perhaps a even a house mate, therefore we may need to increase the size of the solar system. We’ll do so as needed, but hand in hand with living with some common sense guidelines as outlined above to keep the energy use low, while ensuring our quality of life is comfortable, enjoyable and abundant.

Interesting Resources

  • Beyond Zero Emmissions: The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan outlines a technically feasible and economically attractive way for Australia to transition to 100% renewable energy within ten years.
  • ‘Your Home’ has lots of information around energy issues for your home.
  • The Alternative Technology Association have a huge amount of knowledge and resources to help you choose the best energy systems for your home.
  • Sustainable Living Tasmania, a local NGO who can help you retrofit your home (rental or otherwise) to be as energy efficient as possible. They’ll also provide a stack of free advice and point you in the right direction for doing anything ‘sustainable’ with your home.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.



Molting Chickens

Molting chickens can look really bad and, as an animal carer/owner, can inspire feelings of guilt in that perhaps you’re not looking after your feathered friends well enough. So as the weather turns cold and our ladies stop laying, I’ve been doing some research to understand this process better and to help rid myself of unfounded guilt. Here’s what I’ve found.


Why do chickens molt?

Well firstly, it’s not just chickens, roosters also molt. There are a few reasons why it all happens including less daylight hours (as the days shorten in Winter), their laying cycle has finished (most chickens will take Winter off for a rest), or they’re experiencing some abnormal stress. The thing to remember is that molting is actually a regenerative process as they get a whole new coat of feathers which helps protect them from the elements and, apparently once they’ve molted, they’re more resistant to disease. So it’s a good, healthy thing – no matter how bad it looks.


What is actually happening?

Just like our teeth, the new feathers that are coming in will push the old ones out. Generally there’s a clear pattern in the order this happens with feathers dropping off the chook’s head and wings first, quickly followed by the rest of the body. Some birds will only loose small amounts of feathers and just look a bit scruffy, while others will drop all their feathers and look like a plucked chook – not a good look. When the new feathers do arrive, they’re called ‘pin feathers’


The ‘pin feathers’, their job is to hold the new feathers until they can break through

The Molting Experience

When molting, chickens can look a bit sick and sometimes lose weight, it’s important to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t actually GET sick. If they start to behave sluggish or irregular, this isn’t normal ‘molting behaviour’ and you should seek further advice. Other physical changes which can occur include their combs appearing more dull in colour and their eyes can get a bit droopy.

This is all very understandable when you realise that feathers are around 85% protein while eggs only 13%, so our feathered friends are putting a huge amount of energy into growing feathers. In the process they give up the egg laying and divert that energy into feather making – fair enough I say. For roosters, fertility usually lowers in this time. As some birds will loose a large amount (or all) their feathers, their exposed skin can get irritated and bright red due to increased contact with objects (straw, the ground etc) or other chickens pecking them. If other chickens/roosters are picking on certain chooks, make sure that no skin is damaged (and starts bleeding) as infection can occur. If bullying is going on you may need to separate some of them for a period of time.


Does their diet need to change when molting?

While your chickens are molting it’s nice to be able to feed them food with higher amounts of protein in them to help keep them healthy. You can buy pellets or grain mixes with higher percentages of protein for this time (around 20% protein content). Of course, if you’re able to give them fresh bugs, worms, black soldier flies this would be fantastic. Sunflower seeds are a big time favourite with our chooks – they can’t get enough of them, this season I’ll be upping their quota of these seeds, plus bugs and slugs.

2014-06-02 10.25

One of our ladies, ‘Scratch’

Our chickens haven’t started molting properly yet, however I know it’s coming soon as they’ve gone off the lay, their combs are looking rather dull and their eyes are a bit droopy. And don’t worry, Scratch does have two legs, she was just practicing some yoga moves during the photo shoot.


You can see the red, irritated bare skin on this bird. Simply keep an eye on it and make sure other chickens/rooster don’t pick on them.

Other useful things to know

To help prevent any unnecessary stress in the chicken’s lives, avoid bringing new birds into the flock if possible. This is a stressy process in the best of times, so definitely avoid it while molting. Another hot tip is that you should limit/eliminate handling your chooks as it’s painful for them when molting.


Photos are all gathered from various webpages from Backyard Chickens, except ‘Scratch’.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.