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What do we mean by ‘sustainable’?

The dictionary provides lots of different definitions of this term. The meaning I am going to adopt is ” to supply with food and drink, or the necessities of life, as persons”. While this doesn’t match the meaning adopted by other authorities such as the United Nations, I think it defines my approach to sustainable living better.

While many businesses and organisations debate sustainability and how to define it, and the definition of “triple bottom line”, I am getting on with my approach to being sustainable living in providing food, shelter and energy to meet my life’s requirements.

Beyond the basic necessities (food, clothing and shelter) for sustaining our physical life, how much money and other possessions do we really need? These questions are often not investigated and pondered upon, but we spend our lives trading our time and skills for money. A life that is free and meaningful does not need the latest fashion or gadgets or expensive overseas holidays or the latest model car. Working long hours really doesn’t allow the time we need to look after our spiritual needs and for time to spend with family and friends – the things that make for an enjoyable life. Being rich is a state of mind, not a bank balance figure.

I’m not saying that money is not important – it is, up to a certain level. Once our basic needs are met, pursuing more money distracts us from the important things in life. It’s easy to become entangled in a consumerist society, and to think that consumerism provides freedom. Consumerism is destroying the very planet that we live on. Everything we consume is provided by our planet, and ultimately is returned back to it. Climate change and disappearing ecosystems are the indicators of our over consumption. How much longer can we persist with our consuming patterns before we go beyond the point of no return? Some scientists already think that we have gone beyond the tipping point with our production of carbon dioxide induced climate change. We need to remember past climatic climaxes that mean that all humans have come from an estimated 600 breeding pairs of homo sapiens. Is this going to happen again?

So what can we do? Are there alternatives? Much research is occurring in this area. Already research has shown that we are past peak oil production, but we are still not embracing renewable energy sources at the rate we should be. We are also at or past peak water consumption, with many countries populations experiencing water stress i.e. less water than they require each day to maintain a healthy life.

I think that we all have a responsibility to minimise our use of resources. Sure, I still have a phone, TV and many other ‘things’, but I am constantly reducing the ‘stuff’ that I have. I am building my own home from timber sourced from local native forests in a sustainable way, I have solar power with a backup diesel generator, a solar hot water system, chooks, and will soon add some cattle, as well as aquaponics providing fish and vegetables and an orchard (replanted this year, as most of our trees died off during the drought).

I am not self-sufficient by any means, but I am slowly requiring less resource inputs from

Twisted Savonius Wind Turbine
Twisted Savonius Wind Turbine

outside of my property. We use about 20l of diesel per month to cover our power requirements from the backup generator each month. When it is overcast, solar cells do not work very well, and I only have enough battery capacity for about 3 days. I will be making some vertical wind turbines to reduce our diesel requirements.

We harvest all of our water from rain – some stored in dams for the gardens, orchard and aquaponics (doesn’t use very much), with household water for drinking, washing, cooking and showering coming from a 27,500 litre tank. Once I have the verandahs on the house completed, I intend to install a 250,000 litre tank to store the water from a combined catchment of 350 square metres. Each millimetre of rain provides 1 litre of water per square metre of roof area (350 square metres by 660 mm = 231,000).

Future posts are going to expand on what we can do and what I am doing in particular to reduce my impact on the planet’s resources.



Extra Nutrients for Aquaponics

I started off my aquaponics with Seasol fertilizer. I currently don’t have any fish in the system, as I have not been able to source any (the hatcheries are all sold out). I’ve been running on a pure source of ammonia, checking levels daily.

Some of the newly emerging leaves have yellow edges. Normally the waste from the fish provides the ammonia and other nutrients required. Sometimes potassium and iron can be lacking, which can result in leaf yellowing.

Some web sites suggest adding a few rusty nails along with seaweed extract. I have added the seaweed extract, as well as some iron chelate mixture. This has solved the problem.

My Gardening

When we first moved to this property, I tried to garden using traditional methods i.e. growing plants in soil. Not very successful. I could not keep water up to the plants. The annual rainfall here is 600mm, but we have 2.5m annual evaporation, so their is a large water deficiency.

I then tried raised garden beds with building plastic underneath to try and stop the tree roots stealing the water. Much better production, but after a couple of years, the roots worked their way into the beds.

I tried growing in containers, but that meant watering at least once per day. I tried hydroponics, but was not happy dumping the water every so often due to the build up of salts and minerals. Aquaculture did not produce the food we needed, and obtaining a licence is an expensive exercise.

While working in Alice Springs, we stayed on a property where the owner had made use of old bath tubs and a lined garden pond to create an aquaponics system. He had about 200 silver perch fingerlings in the pond and an old spa bath, with about 20 old bath tubs. The production of vegetables was amazing.

I started reading and learning all I could about this system of plant production, as I thought that it might solve many of the issues that I have here. We are on a similar latitude to Alice Springs, and have a similar climate, with frosts over winter and hot days during summer, and raining whenever it happens (no real set pattern).