Make Soil – Enrich the World

Dr Sandra Tuszynska, a Soil Restoration Microbiologist, digs the world of soil restoration. In this video she explains how bacteria and fungi consume nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus. And then tiny predators digest the bacteria and fungi and release the nutrients in a form that feeds plants. Good soil enriches the world and creates healthier plants that require less fertilizers. This of course, feeds the us all.

Dr Sandra Tuszynska tells us how to build the right conditions for diverse microbiology, create better worm farms and enjoy richer results.

Dr. Sandra Tuszynska – Soil Restoration Microbiologist explains the relationship between bacteria, fungi and predators which together, release nutrients that feed the world.

What Dr Sandra Tuszynska Tells Us

“My background is in Agricultural Science and I ended up majoring in microbiology because I knew that microbes can literally clean up the mess we’ve made you know pesticides and all kinds of chemical nasty stuff, oil spills. Once I found that out I was like – well agriculture is really actually riddled with with all kinds of chemical treatments that we apply to our soils and our animals and our plants, so what a wonderful way to get into this idea of using microbes to actually clean up the mess we’ve made (deleted and) and go back to the original way that it was designed to function.”

Bacteria feed, clean and heal the soil

Bacteria feed, clean and heal the soil. The same family of organisms that can clean polluted soils, also feeds the plants and provides them immunity.

Oxygen-based Microbiology Secret for Good Soil

“We want our plants to have oxygen-based microbiology around them so that they can create more oxygen and space for the roots to grow in. Because our plants are very much loving of oxygen. Even though they produce it in their leaves and we breathe it in. While they love the carbon we breathe out, they also need their roots to be in a very lovely,  friendly place for them. And that means oxygen needs to be present as well as moisture. And, as well as all their friends on their roots which are the fungi and the bacteria”. There are many benefits in working with these microbial systems and putting them back into our depleted soils.

Bacteria needs air as well as food from minerals and organic matter

Learn With Dr Sandra Tuszynska

Dr Sandra Tuszynska is running a course called soil restoration course. She says “I’m putting all these creatures and their superpowers into each lesson. There are units with several lessons each. They’re quite long and science-y and very meaty in terms of getting people to understand exactly how it all fits together and how it (the soil ecosystem) works. And then I show people how to actually create that for their soils. “

the soil restoration course by givingsoil@gmail.com

How to Boost Micro-Organism Diversity in Your Worm Farm

  1. Instead of simply feeding your food scraps to the worm farm, keep the bottom tap open so any leachates do not fester. This also prevents worms from drowning. You can catch the leachate and pour it onto plants nearby.
  2. Add more carbon. This includes egg shells, torn paper, hair and dog fur and leaf litter. This provides more nutrients and air.
  3. If you don’t have enough food scraps to feed to the worms, then feed them some weeds. Not too many as long as the pile doesn’t get too hot.
  4. Keep the farm moist enough to deter ants and other creatures.
  5. Drill a few tiny air holes into the top

Farm Your Own Microorganisms and Worms

Converting waste into good soil is something everyone of us can do. Create a simple worm farm with a tall, large, bucket with a lid or an old garbage bin. Some council contractors sell old bins. And often you can get large food-safe bins from cafes and restaurants. Recycled bins are much better for the environment and will have less freshly volatile plastics.

Simply drill a few small holes (3mm) in the bottom (for drainage). Add a couple of holes in the lid (for air). Add shredded or torn-up paper and food and enough water to keep it damp. Then, find add native worms.

finding compost worms in leaf litter

Support Our Native Worms

The worms usually sold for worm farms are the easiest worms to manage. But those of us who are skilled at raising worms, can have a go at supporting native worms instead.

Most people buy worms, but there are plenty of worms indigenous to your area, even desert areas have some worms. Research native compost worms because you don’t want to use earthworms. Look in the top layer of leaf litter of gardens. If you can’t find some compost worm, you can often buy Anisochaeta dorsalis worms in fish bait shops!

Getting started is easy and maintaining the system is almost as simple as putting the scraps in the landfill bin. Once the bucket is full, start another one. Eventually you can just tip it back into the garden.

grow your own soil solutions using food waste, worms, fungi and bacteria

Make Your Own Continuous-Flow System

Sandra strongly recommends that we do not disturb the rich mix of bacteria, fungi and worms. The worms don’t just eat the food, they eat the fungi and bacteria on the food. So try not to disturb this invisible microbiology. Simply leave the top 60cm undisturbed and harvest the content from below. This is achieved by either having access at the bottom of the system. In some systems, there is a grid to hold the bulk of the material and you scrape out from underneath this grid. Whereas, other systems, like the hungry bin, are more rate proof. The hungry bin has a funnel shape that compresses the bottom section that you harvest from. But the design needs extra security because the hatch has blown off ours too many times.

In truth, the cost to the environment is drastically reduced if you make a worm-farm in a tall (60cm+) recycled bin. Captain Matt shows how to make a continuous-flow wheelie worm bin.

Extreme Range Driving an Electric Vehicle

pride in local production

We drove our trusty short-range electric vehicle slowly over the dusty Hay plains. Along the long stretches where the radio crackles, the weeds tumble and the trucks roar past impatiently, we started doing the mathematics. We formulated a coping strategy to monitor our use and enable long range driving in our modest electric vehicle.

Our short-range electric vehicle did extreme range driving 3000kms in the countryside. We expected few surprises. After all, it was going to be just more of the same. We have driven interstate from Brisbane to Melbourne along the coast with little to tell. But in those journeys it was from one town to another, never across open countryside. As a result, this trip was nail biting. And when it wasn’t stressful it was…..rather dull. [And here’s a quick shout out to Waikerie hotel for accommodating us with a standard power point off their garden maintenance shed.]

Welcome to Range Anxiety

Recently, at a busy charging station in South Australia we met a lovely couple on a romantic escape. They had flown over from Western Australia, hired a car, and were looking forward to exploring the exclusive wineries for the weekend. But, when they went to pick up the car they accepted the offer of an upgrade to an electric car as potentially exciting. With very little instruction, they zoomed off. Suddenly, their fuel dial started dropping. When they got to their destination winery, the charger was broken. They didn’t know where other chargers were, or how to find them.

We’ve been driving our electric car for 2 years now. So, how did we get caught out?

The Best Coping Strategy for Range Anxiety

When your electric car is full of charge it displays an estimate. Let’s say it estimates 250kms. For extreme range driving outback, be sceptical. Simply halve that estimate. The estimate is about right if you plan to travel at 60kms/hr, on a flat road. As soon as you travel uphill, at speeds over 80kms or use air-conditioning, headlights, hazard lights or the windscreen wipers (depending on the type of vehicle), the estimate drops. Rapidly.

To feel secure, start the journey at a modest speed [80km/hr] until you are 100 kms from the next destination. Then keep the watching the estimate and only drive faster if you can keep the efficiency and maintain an estimate that is double of the distance to go.

trying to get a new charging station to work

Never assume the next charging station is going to work for you. Everything breaks when someone is using it. It could be your turn. So, we only book accommodation after getting our final charge. And we carry bedding and a tent, just in case everywhere is booked out. But don’t assume you will be welcome to charge. For example, Yass caravan park doesn’t have a policy to enable charging even if you pay for a powered site. Call before booking to get permission to charge.

The PROS

The main advantage of the electric vehicle is that it runs on a fuel that is nearly everywhere. Wherever people are, there is usually a power-point. Whereas diesel, petrol or indeed hydrogen isn’t everywhere, and mostly imported. An electric car can be charged overnight with a simple wall power point.

Every Community Benefits

Best of all, the main community benefit from electric cars is huge. An electric car saves money from leaving the country. Every drop of electric is generated in your own region/state whereas most countries import fossil fuels. According to Saul Griffiths, the money spent on charging an electric car is more likely to be spent locally than money spent on fossil fuels.

By rewiring our energy use, we save money as well as taking pressure of the environment.

The Short Term Downside

Short range electric vehicles have adequate range for urban living. When you turn ours on it claims to give you 280kms. But drive it with the air-conditioning running, and on rainy nights, that range estimate begins to drop, rapidly.

So for long distances you slow down to conserve energy. But, as you slow down to save energy, you begin to realise a timing issue. Because you can’t afford to arrive so late that you need headlights and heating. The trick for driving electric cars in a time of slowly emerging infrastructure is planning and flexibility.

The traffic behind you is doing a minimum of 110kms/hr, and you are slowing to 80kms an hour. You begin to feel vulnerable. Especially, as the sun is blaring across the horizon. You are crawling and the traffic behind can hardly see you in front of them. In the countryside there are no slow lanes.

The first time we rolled into the charging station with just 6% charge left, we started to question our expectations. Had we known then that our backup plan (see below) would not be fail-safe, we might have parked the car and caught the train.

The other downside currently, is we needed to take a longer route, in order to reach the next charger. The chargers are not yet there to serve the long distance short range driver. They are well positioned for locals, who do short trips out of major cities. And they are not being commissioned as quickly as the number of electric cars are being sold. You learn to sit and wait. A trip that normally takes 2 hours by petrol car, can take 4 or more by electric car. Allow time to queue for others to charge as well as time for your own charge.

Driving Slowly Is Tiring

It can be more tiring to drive slowly. You watch the meter drop and grip the steering wheel as the trucks swerve past. At night, you can’t rest until you have charged again. For this journey from Wollongong to Adelaide Hills we had to charge the car 4 times each day over 3 days. And each charge takes a minimum of 40 mins. Sometimes a charge takes a couple of hours on slow chargers.

You are always better off to ‘top up’ the charge than to pass a charger in the blind hope that the next charge will be available and working. Also, occasionally people plug in their car and walk off for dinner. You get to wait in the cold and dark until their belly is full.

The Failed Backup Plan

Our backup plan was, and has been on previous trips, to carry a simple cable, plug into a powered site at a caravan park. It takes about 10hours to charge as we sleep overnight in our tent, a cabin or motel within walking distance. On the final night of our journey, the caravan park was full, as were all the motels, and the powered sites.

Back up plan failed
no powered sites available

Most places received us with interest and support. A few told us they are waiting on charging stations to be installed. Many chargers only charge Tesla cars, yet Tesla cars often use the chargers that we need because they are cheaper. This inequity is slowly being addressed by government subsidies [a lot less than fossil fuel subsidies] and simple economic forces. For example, the NRMA will soon have an app that charges users.

Backlash

Surprisingly, some hotel and caravan park managers eyed the car with suspicion. Some hosts are apprehensive because the price of the electric car is high. Yet the price of a short range electric car and charging is equal to about 8 years of fossil fuel. Some managers see the electric car as capable of guzzling electricity. And to be fair, electricity prices right now are high. So, we try to cut costs by not using air-conditioning in our room or cabin and always offer to pay extra for the use of electricity. In fact, the cost of a charge overnight is about $7. Some hotels happily take the offered bonus, some don’t charge.

Hotels and Caravan parks need to develop a charging policy and
determine a reasonable fee for the service.

Education about how electric cars work and use electricity is the challenge. On a previous journey, our host accused the car of causing her microwave to burn out! So, we can’t assume everyone supports electric cars. Indeed, for some rural towns, it is only a few generations since their first light pole. This is a time of rapid change.

Your Turn to Drive

Driving an electric car is one of the few ways an individual can act to reject fossil fuels. Domestic demand for electric cars embarrass governments and force them to plan a cleaner future. “New research shows fossil fuel subsidies over the forward estimates have increased to a record breaking $57.1b, up from the $55.3b forecast in 2022.” In fact, our defence force could easily become world leaders in Electric vehicle technology.

Once again, we find brave families car pooling, going the slow road, and daring to make the switch. Individuals are driving change. Plan now to make your next car an electric car and help pioneer a better future.

Gift Economy Surprises

Giving can break expectations and enrich relationships. But best of all, the gift economy has the power to manifest system change.

Our presentation tackles the issues surrounding the art of giving.

Giving is system changing because it provides an opportunity to break expectations. Here is the chance to go above and beyond.

Gift Economy Unwraps a Fair Share

One of the principles of permaculture is to share surplus and distribute a fairer share of resources. The gift economy and volunteering are easy ways to give away surplus good and services. It is also a way to show support of others. Being supportive is an undervalued style of giving. By being kind and supportive you won’t get famous. But, help is delivered quickly when and where it is needed.

spoof on superman
Supporting others is a valuable gift

Traditional Gift Economies

Gift giving is a huge part of many cultures and economies. For instance, in Japan it is customary to give a gift to say you are sorry. Or to say welcome or thank you. In fact, it is traditional in Japan to remember the trading of gifts and services. A formal register often records who owes whom. And this register between families and neighbours is often kept for centuries.

In Australia, it is common to give money for a major event like a wedding or to use their bridal registry. But this monetary gift doesn’t explore our relationship with the receiver. In nearly all traditional giving situations we can’t give too much (for fear of making the receiver feel obligated). And we can’t give too little (for fear of looking mean).

But we can be assured that nearly everyone enjoys colourful memories and hearty food.

scratching a back – the gift economy

Gift Economy versus Monetary Economy

The gift economy uses gift giving and services instead of money. Terry Leahy talks about the gift economy as a pathway out of capitalism. So, let’s tackle the elephant in the room -money. Money separates us from our work. And this is evident when we’re buying something. We rarely ever ask “who made this?” Or “Who mined the materials?” Or, “who invented the software?” Yet marketers know that buyers care a lot about who branded the item.

Advertisers know that the look of the product creates an emotional response. And this response overrides many other factors such as the durability efficiency and price. And in all honesty, a car that ‘travels faster than human reaction time’ is not only unsustainable [because it is more likely to crash], it’s lethal. Although it runs on more environmental energy, the real environmental question is “can it sustain itself and sustain life?”

Forest of Tranquility

Money Disregards Environmental Justice

The monetary economy deals poorly with environmental Injustice issues. Yes, we have compensation and legal systems to repay losses. But the monetary system can’t afford to factor in these costs up front, before they happen. And there are a few companies who willingly incorporate environmental and safety quality systems. Only regulation and legal structures encourage us to buy from environmentally responsible quality manufacturers?

Greed is Not the Evil. The Problem is the System Without Ethics

The monetary market requires that companies buy goods cheaply and sell them at a higher price. Terry says “Greed is not the evil here”. Instead, the system is the problem because the monetary system sustains only companies with highest profits it weeds out those who can’t compete. At an individual level we can be ethical in our choices. This makes a difference if we buy direct from the producer because especially when we give feedback. But, as Terry Leahy points out, big companies that make decisions based on ethics, completely destabilise the monetary market.

Make time to serve who we love, not just who we have to - find your place in the gift economy
Make time to serve who we love, not just who we have to – find your place in the gift economy

Hidden Economic Power of Volunteers in Gift Economy

Carers and rescue teams who provide safety nets are nearly all volunteers. The vast collective of volunteers are integral to our recovery and resilience. One in three people in Australia volunteer their time. This is a huge contribution to our economy. Especially through increasing climate change disasters.

Give a Little or a Lot

In the gift economy you can produce as much as you like. There’s no motive to produce unnecessary stuff. And prestige comes from producing stuff that doesn’t damage the environment. Studies by social ecologists such as Terry Leahy revealed two-track thinking. 50 percent of people want a system change like a regulated green economy but only 15 of those people actually vote for it. Because, in the second track of our thinking we’re worrying about jobs, safety comfort and perhaps, even a luxurious retirement or staying in what we see as our normal life even though the planet is not capable of sustaining the normal.

education and child-care, valuable part of the gift economy
finding the wonder of worms

Dive In

Fortunately, the gift economy is the easiest economy to dip your toes into. If you want to have a go at making a change, this is easy. And it’s not going to cost you the earth. Look around and see what you can make, share or give away. And volunteer your time. In 1916, Lily Hardy Hammond wrote about Paying it Forward in her book called In the Garden of Delight . This means, instead of paying somebody back, you give something forward. So when you’re giving gifts of kindness and distributing your wealth on a regular basis you are enriching the world acts of kindness every day.

Making Your Home More Liveable

Many of us have suffered in a hot house or a cold house and now, there are designs for passive houses. Nick Radford and April Sampson-Kelly explore the ways to make existing homes more liveable and sustainable.

True Cost of a New Liveable Home

The way that we build today, in this privileged society, uses a high level of manufacturing. It’s really quite hard to achieve what we would call genuinely sustainable. There’s a cost – environmentally and financially. It’s difficult to wear the cost of building at the moment. The building industry is no longer about shelter. It’s driven by capitalism.

When we’re starting with our housing stock that is not well designed, not well built for passive solar, what can we do about that?

Nick reminds us, this system we have is not the one we must have. In a lot of European countries renters have much more security. They have very long leases that are really hard to break as a landlord. And it is worth upgrading the performance of your rental because you know it’s going to pay for itself.

Goldilocks

What’s the goldilocks recipe for a liveable home? We can get a good picture of climate sensible building from many traditional cultures. In cold climates are usually squat and they’re often rounded to reduce the effects of wind and for the ease of construction. And they have minimal airflow and high insulation. Whereas homes in the tropics are often elevated to shade the area below. They are tall and narrow. They have high ventilation and high airflow. The steep roof also helps to shed water. They have low insulation and low thermal mass. On the other hand, homes in the deserts traditionally are squat they have high thermal mass, often have a flat roof. So, you can sleep on it at night. And they have small windows to reduce the sun’s heat rays.

Keys to the modern climate responsible, liveable home

A liveable home needs to be warm, not too hot, not too cold, dry, light, a good amount of light to work with clean air and secure. It’s nice to feel cool in summer and warm in winter. This can be achieved without fossil fuels. To be cool we need to shade the area, be insulated from the sun’s rays and have air movement. That can be created by the shape of the building or by devices like fans. And we can use something called a heat sink. That is a block of thermal mass to absorb some of the heat.

With passive solar, the occupants actively modify the building throughout the seasons. Whereas in the passivehaus standard, the house design and materials respond.

The bear has personal insulation (fur) as well as an insulated cave home

How do we create warmth?

How do we make a space warm and liveable? We can use energy from nature but actually our bodies create a lot of warmth. So, if you are cold right now the fastest way to get warm is to insulate your body. Put some more clothing on. Also. we can reduce the amount of air movement. Because, we know when air moves it cools down. And we can insulate the building so the warmth is not lost. The buildings need to stay water tight. By being watertight we have more control over the temperature.

Insulation, thermal bridges and thermal mass
Termites build homes with Thermal Mass, good ventilation and natural materials
Termites build homes with Thermal Mass, good ventilation and natural materials

There are many creatures in this world that use insulation – like the bear in a cave, and the fur on its skin and the sheep with its wool. But when we look at the elephant – it uses its ears to cool down. It fans those gigantic ears to cool its body. But if it was in the snow then it would benefit from insulation on those ears because they would be very cold. The ears are like thermal bridges they move the heat from the elephant’s body out into the air. So, if you have a doorway or a window that has wood a wooden lintel right through from the inside to the outside that is a thermal bridge. When we cover the thermal bridge we’re reducing the heat loss or the heat transfer from outside.

Thermal mass is usually a bulky material like mud boulders. Or even water tanks, a brick floor or a wall can act as a thermal mass. In many ways it’s the opposite to insulation because insulation is usually light and airy using the trapped air to block the transfer of heat. However, wood can act as a thermal mass. But it can also act as insulation. Some homes, especially underground homes and cave homes, don’t need much thermal mass because the cave or the soil around it is the thermal mass. And we see evidence of ancient underground housing as well as many modern underground houses use the constant temperature of the earth.

Use Natural Energy for Liveable Spaces

One of the most important aspects of building a design is its orientation – the way it greets the sun. Thousands of years ago, Socrates noticed that when the homes are facing the sun the light can penetrate into the home. And if there’s a portico on the front that stops the hot summer sun from coming into the home. But in winter the sun can still get through underneath the portico or the porch. These were gracious, liveable homes.

Socrates suggested that we elevate this sunny side and lowered the sunless side to block out winter winds. It allows the sun to come in in winter but not in summer because it has shade control on the sunny side and not many windows if any on the sunless side. But it also has thermal mass on the floor to absorb some of the energy during the day and release it at night in winter.

Frank Lloyd Wright used the same principles but it incorporated a berm on the back of the home. In front was a large section of glass and overhanging is the roof it comes out sufficiently so it blocks the sun in summer.

April in a cozy earthship without any heating

Earth ships are very similar. Here I am in an earth ship in Taos New Mexico, United States and it is in the middle of winter. You can see some snow on the ground there was no heating for this house. And you can see the sun is coming through onto a small dividing wall which is a thermal mass dividing the area between the kitchen and the living room. And you can also see (a little bit further to the right and a little bit screened for privacy, I imagine), is a large thermal mass in the bathroom.

Socrates work became the start of solar passive design thinking, yet thousands of years later, modern buildings depend upon fossil fuels.

PassiveHaus sits tight and regulates

The passive housing standard doesn’t rely on sunlight but you can have the same treatment on the sunny side. You can have your windows. But they tend to have triple or double glazing on all the windows. Because the whole Passivhaus standard requires that it is super insulated, the thermal bridges are covered. And so, there’s very little chance of any exchange of energy – warmth from the inside to the out or vice versa. The colder your climate the more that passive housing suits. It’s useful also in a warmer climate that’s subject to heat waves.

The passive house is about really super heavy insulation and the ability to shut the building completely off the outside world. And then really carefully regulate the airflow – the temperature movement across the wall. So, we’re probably going to need more and more houses that are resistant to heat waves. I like that it measures the actual built performance because in Australia we’ve got this big gap between the theoretical performance and the stars that are awarded to a design compared to the the actual built performance. And it is quite hard to measure whether the house really stands up to the standard. And passive houses is very clear on what the standards are and how you measure them.

More liveable

There are a couple more things that make homes feel liveable. Being secure includes being fire safe and there is a standard for this. We need to determine if the building honestly meets the standard. Or make plans to escape. And chemical safety is a factor especially if the homes are surrounded by pollution or have lead paint or a long history of chemical use. For pest control in the building construction phase we can choose to use physical barriers like a termite mesh instead of chemicals. But this is tricky to retrofit on established buildings.

Liveable Spaces For Climate Security

Homes are more liveable when they provide other functions such as harvesting water, generating electricity, supporting indoor production by having sufficient natural light. And some buildings have really good outdoor spaces where we can work they provide windbreak, frost protection, some reflected light, some shade and of course the runoff water.

To design for the variation of the seasons and for climate change use the angles of the sun to set up shade. Add thermal mass or phase change materials within the home. Add insulation, especially between the roof and the ceiling in that cavity. Block thermal bridges such as window and door frames. Adjust the air flow. An increase in ventilation will be cooling. Whereas, when we block off rooms – divide the rooms – it makes them snug and warm. In summary, liveable buildings are warm. They’re not too hot and they’re not too cold. They’re dry. They have good natural light. They are safe and secure. And I hope this has given you lots of ideas on how to improve your home.