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David –“Urban Farmer”

I decided to simplify my life about 5 years ago, having had a business career which has been quite successful, although I am certainly not wealthy in financial terms (nor poor).

This simplification included wanting to work mainly from home with minimal if any staff, and certainly no daily travel to an office – and using my extensive skills. This I was able to achieve by selecting the right business to suit my needs and personal desires and skills.

Part of the reason for all of this is a concern about peak oil, and also about having some level of self sufficiency, should adverse events occur – whatever they might be (if any). Another reason may also be that i always had some desire to be a farmer (of sorts), although i do not have any farming nor practical handyman skills nor the money to do so – and really don’t want to live in the country for any extended period of time.

My house is about 25 years old (my wife and I bought it about 20 years ago), and is typical of any medium type house in Kingsley on a 780 sqm block. It is located in what was originally a solar estate, although nothing meaningful ever eventuated out of that. I did not buy the house for it being located in a solar estate, however maybe there was something there subconsciously. It has a good aspect with plenty of sun, and is on a corner block which gives more options for growing things that a normal block, in my opinion. Once again, this did not feature in my decision making some 20 years ago.

The garden was typical of houses in this area of that era, with the usual palms and the like. About 5 years ago I decided to rip out the palms and change the garden, and work towards having an “edible garden”, such that everything in the garden had a purpose – being it fruit, herb, vegetable or whatever. The only exceptions are flowers to attract bees, which in most cases are not edible. This has been a long term process, with much learning along the way. One might call it an “urban farm”.

What I have now are the following fruit trees:

Orange, lemon, mangoes, lemonade, banana, mandarin, sapote, peach, plum, apricot, apple, mulberry, lime, grapes, nectarine, kiwi fruit, guavas, blue berries and dragon fruit.

All of these fruit trees have been selected such that they will grow and bear fruit in my area. This is particularly important to consider, and having a good nursery to get advice from is useful – plus reading a few books as well, and talking to others. Some of the trees are dwarf varieties, which still produce reasonable amounts of fruit for the space they take up. It takes some years for a tree to produce a reasonable amount of fruit, so this is a work in progress. So far, I have had a lovely feed of oranges, apples, peaches, grapes, mulberries, plums, blueberries and mangoes – when in season. Lots more to come I hope.

Small Mandarines

I have also included in the edible garden the following for cooking: Rosemary, kaffir lime, bay, lemon myrtle and a selection of herbs. Along the way, I have added the following to my “urban farm”. Each of the items below, I could write a story about on their own, for the benefits, reasons and pleasure they provide: Four chickens, two wormeries (these are huge commercial wormeries – not the plastic ones from Bunning’s), three water tanks (totalling 14,000 litres of water), aquaponics setup (1,000 litre tank with 1 grow bed, with about 20 good sized edible silver perch fish), several compost bins and a vegetable garden.

I also have a small swimming pool (maybe 30,000 litres) which I now divert water into from my guttering system. This could be a good source of water in the future, as it is basically an “urban dam”. It may need to be emptied, then refilled with chemical free water, however this is easily done. Another option is to have it as the basis of a huge aquaponics set up with hundreds of fish. This would be practical, but a bit of an exercise requiring “wife approval”.

Solar power has been ordered and is to be installed during July. It is a typical small 1.5kw system with a 3kw inverter. For those interested in doing this, it seems that government rebates apply to 1.5kw systems, so make sure you get a larger inverter for future expansion when solar panels become cheaper.

In all of this, I want my house to look “normal” and not out of place nor looking like a ramshackle farm, so everything has been done tastefully and reasonably colour coded.

So far as waste is concerned, the following occurs:

  • all food scraps and waste is given to the chickens (who provide eggs and manure, plus free weeding)
  • all newspapers and cardboard are given to the worms or the compost bins
  • all grass clippings go to the chickens or compost or the worms (in fact I get some grass clippings form a neighbour as well)
  • much water is now harvested rather than lost to drains

So now what I have – or rather still developing – is the best of both worlds: A house which produces some of its own food, and wastes virtually nothing. It all sounds very good on paper. However what I have learned is how dependant the urban person is on food from other areas. As an example, what would happen if the trucks stopped bringing food to your local shop? There might be enough food for about a week, at which time the shelves would be bare. The same applies to petrol. What if the electricity gets turned off or even the water? Interesting questions that few would have considered. Neither did the people in some of the countries which have had natural disaster in the last few years.

So now I produce food and things related to growing food, which gives me personal satisfaction and at the same time gives me some (but not much really) self sufficiency. An interesting exercise indeed – and a real awakening to the (non) sustainability of suburban living and the dependence on others!

If you are wanting to save money, then don’t do any of the above because there are no overall cost benefit or savings. It is (currently) far cheaper to buy your food and water and power, than it is to do it yourself. A fruit tree may cost $40, plus the cost of planting and maintaining it. It produces some fruits, however it is much cheaper to buy the fruit from the shop. The same applies to water tanks. It cost thousands of dollars to install and rig up water tanks, where as it costs virtually nothing if you get it from the tap. Solar power is another example, where the savings are really minimal for what it costs for the system. What does all this mean – well it is an interesting question?

  • Have I simplified my life – yes.
  • Do I feel better for it – yes.
  • Is there still a lot to do – yes.
  • Am I going to continue to do it – yes.

David

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