Archive for the ‘appropriate technology’ Category

What’s wrong with renewable energy?

burning wind turbine

Ten things environmentalists need to know about renewable energy:

1.    Solar panels and wind turbines aren’t made out of nothing. They are made out of metals, plastics, chemicals. These products have been mined out of the ground, transported, processed, manufactured. Each stage leaves behind a trail of devastation: habitat destruction, water contamination, colonization, toxic waste, slave labour, greenhouse gas emissions, wars, and corporate profits. Renewables can never replace fossil fuel infrastructure, as they are entirely dependent on it for their existence.

2.    The majority of electricity that is generated by renewables is used in manufacturing, mining, and other industries that are destroying the planet. Even if the generation of electricity were harmless, the consumption certainly isn’t. Every electrical device, in the process of production, leaves behind the same trail of devastation. Living communities—forests, rivers, oceans—become dead commodities.

3.    The aim of converting from conventional power generation to renewables is to maintain the very system that is killing the living world, killing us all, at a rate of 200 species per day. Taking carbon emissions out of the equation doesn’t make it sustainable. This system needs to not be sustained, but stopped.

4.    Humans, and all living beings, get our energy from plants and animals. Only the industrial system needs electricity to survive, and food and habitat for everyone are being sacrificed to feed it. Farmland and forests are being taken over, not just by the infrastructure itself, but by the mines, processing and waste dumping that it entails. Ensuring energy security for industry requires undermining energy security for living beings (that’s us).

5.    Wind turbines and solar panels generate little, if any, net energy (energy returned on energy invested). The amount of energy used in the mining, manufacturing, research and development, transport, installation, maintenance and disposal of these technologies is almost as much—or in some cases more than—they ever produce. Renewables have been described as a laundering scheme: dirty energy goes in, clean energy comes out. (Although this is really beside the point, as no matter how much energy they generate, it doesn’t justify the destruction of the living world.)

6.    Renewable energy subsidies take taxpayer money and give it directly to corporations. Investing in renewables is highly profitable. General Electric, BP, Samsung, and Mitsubishi all profit from renewables, and invest these profits in their other business activities. When environmentalists accept the word of corporations on what is good for the environment, something has gone seriously wrong.

7.    More renewables doesn’t mean less conventional power, or less carbon emissions. It just means more power is being generated overall. Very few coal and gas plants have been taken off line as a result of renewables.

8.    Only 20% of energy used globally is in the form of electricity. The rest is oil and gas. Even if all the world’s electricity could be produced without carbon emissions (which it can’t), it would only reduce total emissions by 20%. And even that would have little impact, as the amount of energy being used globally is increasing exponentially.

9.    Solar panels and wind turbines last around 20-30 years, then need to be disposed of and replaced. The production process, of extracting, polluting, and exploiting, is not something that happens once, but is continuous and expanding.

10.    The emissions reductions that renewables intend to achieve could be easily accomplished by improving the efficiency of existing coal plants, at a much lower cost. This shows that the whole renewables industry is nothing but an exercise in profiteering with no benefits for anyone other than the investors.

Edit 27 June: Further Reading

Zehner, Ozzie, Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism

Approtech adventures

I made a pond fridge.  Here’s how to make a pond fridge: put food in the pond.  Put it in a sealed container first.  I used snap lock bags from mountain bread sheets.  Put a brick on it so it doesn’t float.  The meat and yogurt I got from a dumpster were still fresh a week later.  Who needs a refrigerator in winter?

I  made mini-greenhouses for seedlings, which also protect from insect attack.  Cut a plastic bottle in half, and cut of the base.  Place over newly planted seedlings.  Especially brassicas, as insects seem to like them best.  After a few weeks the seedlings should be grown-up enough to look after themselves, and the guards can be used for the next generation of youngsters.

Some new feathered friends moved in today.  I bought them from a shop, which feels like an odd way to start a friendship.  I brought them home on my bike, in a crate.  They didn’t enjoy the bike ride as much as I did, I guess cycling isn’t really their thing.  They don’t have names yet.

Clove House

I’ve lived at Clove House for the last two years.  The name comes from the street name, Clovelly Avenue, at Christies Beach.

Clove is a small asbestos house, close to the beach, covered in a beautiful vine.  The garden has developed over this time and changed with the seasons.

I’ve become quite attached to this house, and want to record my memories of being at home here.

Clove House, May 2009

The house is almost completely covered in a Boston Ivy vine.  The vine loses its leaves in winter, leaving the house naked.  For a few weeks in the autumn the leaves becomes bright red and purple, then drop to be transformed into mulch for the garden.

The shading and insulation value of the vine is impressive in the summer.  Last year, before the vine had made its way around to the north side of the house, my bedroom wall felt hot to touch (on the inside) when the sun was shining on the outside.  The room became too hot to want to go in there.

Since the vine has grown around, the sun doesn’t hit the wall, making the whole house much more comfortable.

Now I let the vine grow over the windows in the summer, to prevent the amplified heating effect of sun shining on windows.  I cut it back after the summer to let the sun in.

January 2011

The yard is filled with fruit trees, which were planted a few days after an investment from the economic stimulus package.  The 21 trees were chosen to suit the climate and give us a variety of fruit in different seasons throughout the year.  The trees also provide shade, beauty and habitat.  Slowly the fruitful forest is growing, and an ecosystem evolving.

The yard is 13m x 8m, and contains 21 fruit trees (with a few colonising the side nature strip)


This is a fabric quilt square I made for Friends of the Earth's Sustainable Food and Farming Quilt Project. It shows Clove House and all the food plants growing around it.

Cherry guava






Feijoa x 2

Grape x 3 varieties




White sapote


Goji berry

Pepino x 3



Pepino is the easiest to grow and most productive.  It’s a spreading vine, which can be a groundcover or directed up a trellis.  It has dark leaves which hide the fruit underneath.  The large white fruit have purple stripes, and taste like melon.  The most exciting part is that once you have a plant, you can share it with anyone by taking a cutting.  Pepino can be planted under trees, and used to fill any empty spots in the garden.  I’ve planted some on the side verge with the hope of it taking off down the street.

Early days. February 2009

When we arrived the only plants in the garden were an almond tree, the poplar round the side, and a few scraggly roses up the back.  The roses were quickly sent packing, and the whole yard covered over with cardboard and a thick layer of newspaper, to prevent grass from growing through, then compost, then straw.  A garden of all manner of leafy greens was quick to make itself at home.

The greens are blended every morning into green smoothies, which both nourish and give us an opportunity to explore the emerging forest that we have co-created.

March 2009

Composting materials and mulch for the trees and garden are gathered from around the neighbourhood.  I gather long grass from mown empty blocks, and ask the neighbours for lawn clippings.  The poplar tree and the Boston Ivy vine generously donate all their leaves in autumn, and then do it all over again the next year.

The garden grows. September 2009

For most of my time living at Clove House, I’ve shared it with two friends and three bantam chickens.

The chickens were named Ek, Doi and Teen (Bengali for one, two, three).  They were sadly lost to a fox, or maybe a cat, several months ago, and haven’t been replaced.

They gave us many hours of entertainment, recycled our food scraps into rich compost, and laid eggs which fed us many a pancake breakfast and omelette dinner.

The chickens occasionally made their way out of their run into the vegie patch, scratching up newly planted seedlings with the best of intentions.  The fence around their run improved slightly after each occassion.

There was one incident where they found themselves out of the yard entirely, and somewhere down the street.  This was on a windy night, during their phase of sleeping high in the almond tree.  A few wanted signs in the street: “have you seen our chickens?” soon returned them home.

They were gently encouraged, with a long stick, to sleep in their shed after this one.

Garden gone to seed. November 2010

When the clothesline broke and needed to be dug out from the middle of the yard, we were left with a large hole which became the obvious place for a pond.  A liner, a few water plants and tadpoles later, our pond was welcomed with a blessing ceremony of floating candles.

Now the pond edge has become a preferred home for edible weeds – mallow, fat hen and chickweed – which have grown so well that the pond is no longer visible.

I recently got hit by the idea of cooling beer in the pond in summer.  It’s quite effective on moderately warm days, although during heatwaves the water warms up so much that it’s not worth the effort.

Kelly checks on the tadpoles in the newly-dug pond, with the aid of a snorkel mask

On the west side of the house is a tall poplar tree, or something that looks like a poplar.  It shades the top and side of the house from the afternoon sun. Its one of the larger trees in the neighbourhood, and the house would be a whole lot hotter in the summer without it.  On hot days, I know that it will be cool under the poplar.

We’ve never got any almonds from the almond tree, as the birds always get in well before ripening time.  The birds are fun to have around, there’s lots of different ones and they move through with the seasons.  The dropped almond shells, leaves and bird droppings add to the organic matter to the soil.

Although the tree isn’t giving us almonds, it useful in lots of other ways.  It’s a needed shady place in the garden.

On the north side of the house there is no eave, which means the sun shines directly in the kitchen window.  Lovely in the winter, but hot and glary in summer.

A few wires have been strung across at eave-level, with the idea that the grape vine below will eventually grow along the wires to give a leafy summer shade, autumn colour, and winter sunlight.  The grapevine is a few years away from reaching this height, so in the meantime a bedsheet is pegged over the wires in the summer.   This makes a huge difference to the amount of light and heat coming in to the porch and kitchen in summer.

zeer pot refrigerator

Clove House chooses to live without a fridge.  Greens are kept alive in a dish of water.  A zeer pot, which is a home-made evaporative refrigerator made from terracotta pots, is used to store dairy products and leftovers.  The zeer pot took an hour to make and cost about $20 in materials.

A wire trolley in the kitchen stores fruit and veg. By having all this food visible we are always aware of what needs using, when food is getting low, and what’s ready to return to the earth via the compost bin.

The fruit and veg comes from various sources, gleaned from supermarket dumpsters and neighbourhood fruit trees, home grown, swapped, or donated by people who have excess, but never bought.

Kim and Dave with the spoils of a dumpster expedition

Seeing the trolley full of a variety of produce always gives me a good feeling about the effectiveness of this method of obtaining food, and seeing it getting low reminds me to give some attention to manifesting further sustenance.

The pantry was once a wine rack.  I bought it at an op-shop for $20.  Again all the food is visible, so nothing gets forgotten at the back of the cupboard for years.


One corner of the kitchen bench holds greens in a dish of water (lettuce, celery, broccoli, spinach, beetroot, leeks all keep well this way).  Also here are sprouting jars and sauerkraut fermenting.  All these things need to be checked regularly: sprouts need rinsing, greens need their water dish replenishing, sauerkraut needs squashing.

By keeping them right by the kitchen sink, but not in the way of anything, these tasks are easy to remember, don’t take much effort or thought, and I can enjoy the view from the kitchen window while I’m there.

Sauerkraut is a simple and convenient way to store excess vegies, especially in a refrigerator-free house.  All it needs is chopped up vegies (usually cabbage), salt, and a large jar to squash it into.  Keeps for several weeks, and adds nutrients to the food through the fermentation process.

broccoli, leeks and celery in a dish of water; lettuces; sprouts draining; sauerkraut squashing jar

We tend not to use the flush toilet, using instead a bucket in the bathroom to collect toilet waste which is then composted.  No smells, no water wasted, no cleaning required.  The compost that is produced after a few months decomposing is impressive.  I threw it round the base of a few fruit trees that were looking close to dead, and within a few days they became tropically lush and sprouted new shoots.  The compost has no smell or appearance of what it once was, it becomes rich black earth with the forest-after-rain smell that lets you know it’s doing the right thing.

compost bucket in the bathroom

Laundry water gets bucketed out to the fruit trees and veg patch.  Integrated clothes washing and garden watering.  Means I don’t have to remember to water.

I’d like to make better use of water around the house.  The gutter in the side street gathers all the  rain that falls on the street, and a small cut into the concrete would direct all this water onto the guerilla garden on the verge.  This garden tends to get forgotten through being beyond our back fence and out of sight.  It’s also under the almond tree, which doesn’t let much rain through.  A concrete cutter could sort this out in minutes.

The outlet pipes from the bathroom and laundry could easily be cut and redirected to water the trees, rather than wasted out to sewage.  An outdoor shower with the hose would be even easier.  I’m thinking to ask the uphill neighbours, who don’t have a garden, about directing their greywater onto our garden. Then I’d never need to water anything.

A rain tank collecting from the bike shed could be plumbed in to the house, and we’d never need mains water at all.

loungeroom window

The house is becoming its own ecosystem, with water, nutrients and human energy moving around in a way that feels natural and easy.  Nothing is an effort and little is wasted.

Get moving.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

So how do you get around without using money?  Try these:

Walk. The original.  No resources required, and if you’re tough you don’t even need shoes.  It’s the best way to observe what’s going on around you, be present, and stop and smell the roses.  And everything else as well, there’s no reason to limit yourself to roses.

Cycle. Bikes can be usually be obtained for free without to much asking around, since buying bikes and then never riding them is fairly common practice in modern Australian culture.  Cycling is another great way to be fully present in your surroundings, while getting exercise, an endorphin hit, a tan, fresh air, find useful and not so useful things on the side of the road, opportunities to stop and pick fruit (and reach high up fruit by standing on your bike), and it’s so much fun!  Beat the traffic, avoid road rage, make new friends while waiting for the lights to change, and experience the satisfaction of getting around completely under your own power.  Forget waiting for a taxi, asking people for a lift, or missing the last bus home.  Go around the block or around the world.  Did I mention it’s really fun?  I’ve cycled around New Zealand, Scotland and recently spent a month cycling Tasmania, camping in bushland and eating predominantly wild food that was growing along the roadsides.

With panniers or a trailer you can carry everything you own on a bicycle.  Even furniture removal is possible.  Check out Bike Moving Co-op on youtube.

Hitch-hike. Open yourself up to all manner of adventures.  Like a choose your own adventure story but sometimes the adventure chooses you.  Which can be fun or scary depending on how you look at it.

Ride a horse. With a horse-drawn caravan you get even more street cred in the free-adventurer scene.


Hitch a lift on a yacht. Occasionally yachtspeople are looking for extra crew or a cook for a voyage.  If you’re looking to go somewhere, ask around at a port or marina, and you might find yourself sailing away.

Jump a freight train. I haven’t heard of anyone doing this is Australia, but it’s fairly common in North America.

Share a ride. Backpackers hostels have noticeboards for people looking to share a car trip, and there are some ride-sharing websites that serve the same purpose.

Relocate campervans or hire cars. Hire companies need vehicles moved between cities, and will give you free hire if you can fit your journey into their time schedule.

Run a diesel vehicle on waste vegetable oil. Free fuel, and you’re reducing waste going to landfill.  People pay to have this stuff removed.  You can choose from fish & chip, donut or dim sum scented exhaust.

Localise. Reduce your need for transport by meeting all your needs in the local area.

Human powered.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

I am making a trailer for my bicycle out of bamboo, old bike wheels, steel plate and bolts.  The only tools needed are a drill and a vice.  And a measuring tape and probably a few other things.

photo: carry freedom

I feel a lot more independent being able to carry more stuff around and not be dependent on cars.  Lots of large tools and plants can be carried, bales of mulch, children…

I’m using the CarryFreedom design for my trailer (, which needs minimal tools, skills and money to build, and can carry quite a bit of weight.  I’ve seen homemade trailers built from wheelchairs, supermarket shelving, roadworks signs.  Probably anything with wheels could be converted – a trike, go kart, golf buggy, pram…

photo: Bicycle Victoria

I’ve done pretty well with only a pannier rack and panniers.  Keeping occy straps attached to the rack is always useful.  I’ve carried long bamboo poles strapped to the bike frame, pot plants and mulch in the panniers, large boxes of food on the rack, and I’ve even managed a banana lounge that I found in hard rubbish.

collecting mulch with a bicycle, panniers and a rake

A friend’s dad made a trailer to carry two kayaks, which clips to the seat post of a bike.  He’s better at welding and building skills than I am.

An easy option for a trailer is to strap a sacktruck or canvas shopping cart to a pannier rack.  When I brought home a hard-rubbish wheelie bin to make into a compost toilet, I strapped it to my pannier rack with an occy strap and towed it home.  I had fun amusing passers-by, and even had a truck driver inform me “excuse me, you’ve got a bin tangled up in your bike” as if it had somehow happened by accident and I hadn’t noticed.

Some other options for human-powered transport.

Christiania bikes and cargo bikes are a trike with two wheels at the front, with a large box between the handlebars that can hold several small children and much else besides.

Rickshaws can carry two or three passengers.  I’d like to start a rickshaw taxi business in Adelaide, it would be the perfect way to get around the city.  It’s happening in a few other Australian cities.  They could take business people to meetings, children to school, uni students on pub crawls, produce to market, and tourists to see the sights.

Options for cycling with children are a baby seat on the crossbar or rear rack, trailer, tag-along (it’s like the back half of a kids bike that attaches behind an adult’s bike), and tandem.

Long bikes can carry a passenger on the rear rack, and lots of gear in the panniers.  Good for camping or commuting, and carrying kids who have outgrown a tag-along.

A recumbent (it’s like an armchair on wheels) can be good for long rides on fairly flat roads.  Attaching a motor or battery to your bike can give you a boost up steep hills.

Bikes can be disassembled into parts, and the parts put together as new bikes.  With a welder you could invent all manner of human-powered machines.  If you want to get creative, try making yourself a tallbike, trike, sidecar, or chariot.  Check out The Fantastic Bicycles Book by Steven Lindblom for ideas and instructions.

Bike power can be used to drive a front-loading washing machine, a generator to power the TV, or a blender to make smoothies.  Gyms could harness the energy expended on exercise bikes and treadmills, and become power plants.

Getting in a car would be way too boring with all these cool options for making getting anywhere an adventure in itself.

Grow food.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

Growing your food gives you a sense of harmony with nature.  You become a part of the life cycle, planting seeds, nurturing plants, eating your own produce and saving seeds so the process can continue.  Your work yields tangible results, and you can be creative and learn as you go.  Your food is right there by the back door, there’s no need to go out for food.  You have access to a wide range of foods that aren’t available in shops.  There’s no infrastructure required.  Anyone can do it.

You don’t need to buy anything to grow food.  Everything you need is produced freely by nature, just look around.


collect from plants growing in friends and neighbours’ gardens, or around the neighbourhood.  Plants that grow well nearby are adapted to local conditions, so their seed will do better than from plants far away.  Plants give seeds away for free, and they really like it when you take some to plant somewhere else.  Local Seedsavers groups share seeds from each others’ gardens, and organise seed swap events.  If you come across a particularly tasty piece of fruit, grab a seed out and stick it in the ground somewhere.  Quite often it will germinate and you’ll have lovely shady tree and fruit for many years to come.  The Seed Savers’ Handbook by Michel and Jude Fanton has everything you need to know about harvesting, treating, storing and germinating seed from a large range of food plants.


Lots of plants grow from cuttings.  Just cut of a small branch, remove all the leaves apart from 3-5 at the top, and stick it in a cup of water for a few weeks until it produces a few roots, then stick it in the ground.

Other sources of plants: many fruit trees produce suckers from their roots, which can be dug up and replanted elsewhere.  Seedlings sprout up from under plants that have gone to seed, and can be transplanted.  Garden centres and nurseries may be prepared to give away plants that have outgrown their pots, and I’ve found punnets of seedlings in dumpsters.

Mulch and compost.

All plant and animal material can be composted.  Composting prevents valuable nutrients from going to landfill where they produce polluting methane gas, it creates amazing organic fertiliser, and connects you with the vital process of dead matter becoming new life.  Here’s a recipe: collect animal carcasses and manures, weeds, prunings, food scraps, lawn clippings and your own urine, mix together into a pile about a metre high, add water so it’s damp but not soaking, cover and leave for a couple of weeks.  Spread it around your garden beds, and add a bit when planting new seedlings and trees.  By doing this you are literally saving the earth.

The recipe can be adapted to whatever is around you, the more diversity the better.  When I was living in the desert the only organic matter available was roadkill kangaroos (lots of them), horse manure from the racecourse, and lawn clippings from the school oval.  At a house in the suburbs with very little garden, the compost was food scraps, seaweed and long grass that I had raked up from along the railway line, and brought home in my bike panniers.  That one needed lots of pee to get it going.  Animal manures definitely improve a compost.

Apartment dwellers can use bokashi composting or worm farms, which are both effective if the only organic matter you have is food scraps.  The resulting fertiliser can be given to a friend with a garden, who will thank you for it.

Mulch can be found wherever long grass is cut: roadsides, railway reserves, parks, empty blocks. Neighbours can give you lawn clippings and weeds.  Extra food scraps can be gathered from produce markets at closing time, fruit and veg shops, and supermarket dumpsters.

Animal manures: dog and cat manures are not recommended for compost that’s destined for a vegie garden, as they contain pathogens that can spread disease.  See composting toilet page for a way to recycle these manures.  Other manures can be found, well, wherever there are animals.  Racecourses, stables, shearing sheds, dairy farms, chicken farms.  In an urban setting, gather from pet animals such as rabbits and birds, and pigeon manure builds up under bridges.  Carcasses of birds, mice, and fish can be thrown in, as can meat scraps.

Potting mix is nothing more than sand and compost mixed together.  It’s really easy to make it yourself.

Tools are sometimes in hard rubbish, but they tend to be broken.  Some can be easily repaired, or might just need cleaning and sharpening.  Good quality tools are so much better than bad ones, so this is one thing that might be worth buying.  Secondhand tools are often at flea markets, salvage yards, garage sales and rural auctions.  Borrowing makes the most sense for tools that you use infrequently.  A small garden really only needs a hand trowel, secateurs and a bucket once it is established.  A shovel, rake and fork might be useful to build garden beds initially, depending on the condition of the site.  Being on good terms with the neighbours can lead to a tool-sharing arrangement, in which everyone has a small number of tools that everyone involved can make use of, so between the group there is a wide range of tools available.

Planting containers. Plastic pots are easy to find – look around or ask around.  Seedling trays are thrown out by nurseries, just ask and they’ll give them to you.  Other options are polystyrene boxes from fruit and veg shops, recycling crates that have been superseded by wheelie bins, bathtubs, and clam shells (the big green plastic ones that are in almost every backyard serving no useful purpose).  If you want to get creative try old boots, handbags, baskets, coconuts…

Land. You don’t need a big block of land to grow your own.  Food can be grown in pots on the windowsill, and sprouts in a jar on the dishrack.  If you’re after a bit more space, here’s a few options.

Share a backyard with a neighbour.  The design of our suburbs creates the problem for many people of a large block of land that they don’t have any use for, and it becomes a chore to maintain.  Lots of people would love to have someone else make use of their backyard space.

Community gardens. Have your own plot, meet other local people, and learn about all kinds of things.  Share your produce, your skills, your tools, and your day while building a self-reliant community.

Guerrilla gardening. Plenty of public space is unused – parks, verges, railway corridors, roadsides and those spaces that no-one ever notices.  Add some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and herbs that are adapted to the conditions, and let them grow to provide food for everyone.

Guerrilla grafting. There are plenty of ornamental trees around that are similar to fruit-bearing trees, and can be grafted onto.

Forest garden design. If we observe patterns in nature, and learn how a native forest functions, we can apply these patterns to the design of a food garden.  No work needs to be done to maintain a forest, as all the natural systems interact in a way that makes the whole thing self-maintaining.  If we choose food-producing plants that are suited to the climate, and design them into a forest ecosystem, we can create a garden that needs minimal human intervention, and can keep producing food for us for years to come.

Garden things to make.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

Be as creative as you like in designing your garden, and make some interesting and beautiful things to get it growing.

A compost bin from a broken wheelie bin.  Turn bin upside down and cut off the base with a hacksaw, which then becomes a lid.  A compost bin can be made with a 2m length of chicken wire formed into a circle, and held in place with a couple of stakes, or bays made with pallets and star pickets.

Bamboo tipi for climbing plants.  Shove three 2-3m lengths of bamboo or cane in the ground, forming a triangle about a metre wide, and tie them together at the top.  For climbing things like tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and ceylon spinach.  Cane shouldn’t be too hard to find around the neighbourhood, it often grows along creeks.  Bamboo is stronger, but not as common around Adelaide.  Bamboo can become invasive, so by harvesting from clumps that are growing on public land we can stop it from spreading, but also keep it as a renewable resource for everyone to use.

Worm farm. An insulated polystyrene box with a lid works well.  Poke a hole in one corner for the liquid to drain out, and place a container under the hole to collect the liquid fertiliser.  A put a couple of rocks inside to stop it from blowing over, and a rock on the lid.  Keep in a shady place.  At a previous house I’ve used a broken refrigerator lying on its back, with a hole drilled in a corner. A bathtub is good for large scale wormfarming.  Another creative worm farm idea I’ve seen (in a great book called Food Not Lawns) is a chest of drawers with holes drilled in the base of the drawers, for a three storey worm apartment.  I’ve seen wheelie bins made into wormfarms, they could be used for bokashi as well.  The infrastructure would be the same as for the composting toilet (see chapter on compost toilet).

Trellises. My garden has bamboo, pruned tree branches, bicycle wheels, and a broken clothesline leaning against fences and walls for climbing plants.  Other options are gates, bedheads, trampoline frame, and probably all manner of other things that can be found on hard rubbish day.  We’ve considered growing melons up a trellis and hanging each melon in a bra for extra support.  I got some large bras from an op-shop dumpster for the purpose.

Plant pots. Anything in your recycling bin.  Plastic bottles cut in half, milk and juice cartons, tins, or buckets for larger plants.  Plant labels can be cut from plastic bottles.

Organic liquid fertiliser can be made from free stuff around the neighbourhood.  All you need is a plastic bucket with a lid.  Restaurants, bakeries and takeaways are a good source of buckets with lids, they get products like sauce, yoghurt and mayonnaise in them and don’t reuse them.   Or if you want to make large batches, green waste bins can be put to good use. Fill the bucket/bin with whatever organic matter you can find:  weeds, seaweed, fish, bird manure (there’s always piles of pigeon manure under bridges, very easy to harvest), cow or horse manure, herbs like comfrey, nettle, yarrow or tansy.  Cover with water to fill the bucket and leave it sealed to ferment.  It can get stinky, but the smell disappears after a few weeks, which is probably a good time to put it out on the garden.  Your soil and plants will love it.

Rainwater collection. Wheelie bin (if it’s not for drinking) or pickle barrel.  Winebarrels sound like a good idea, but because the timber expands and contracts they don’t deal with changing water levels.

Pond. how about… the bottom half of a wheelie bin.  Or a bathtub. Or use a canvas banner as a lining for an in ground pond.

Cold frame. A mini-greenhouse for raising seedlings in winter and early spring.  It consists of nothing more than a sheet of glass or clear plastic above the seedling tray.  It can be used as a solar food dryer in the summer.

Shadehouse nursery. There’s always plenty of shadecloth to be found around the place, it doesn’t take much to make a structure to shade the summer seedlings.  Window screens and screen doors can also be adapted to this end.

Chookhouse. Be creative.  Use whatever’s around.  I’m sure you could work a wheelie bin into it somehow.

heelie bins aren’t the most attractive objects around, but with a bit of paint and inspiration they could become a lot more interesting and individual.


From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

There are plenty of ways to keep food for longer than a few days that don’t involve refrigeration or chemical preservatives.  Ferments, drying and bottling can be done at home.  Preserving makes food accessible out of season, and saves gluts from going to waste.

Fermenting is a way to make food more nutritious by adding live cultures that are beneficial to our internal ecology.  Fermented food also keeps for a long time without needing refrigeration.  Did you know that your food is digested not by your own body, but by the 2 kilograms of bacteria that live in your gut?  This is why it is important to eat a range of fermented foods after taking a course of antibiotics, as the drugs have killed off all the bacteria, which needs to be returned to a healthy balance so you can assimilate nutrients from food.

Fermented foods include miso, tempeh, sourdough bread, yoghurt, cheese, sauerkraut, soy sauce, vinegar, wine, beer and cider.  All of these things can be made at home fairly easily.  For more about fermented foods, check out Bill Mollison’s The Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition, and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.

An easy way to keep fruit for months is to dry it.  Dried fruit is sweeter, and easier to carry around than fresh fruit.  It’s great for cycling and walking, I always keep some in my bag to snack on.  A lot more tasty and nutritious than lollies, and all for free of course.  In Adelaide summers leaving sliced fruit out in the sun for a few days is all it takes.  Placing them under a sheet of glass speeds up the process.  In other seasons a solar or electric food dryer is necessary.  A solar dryer can be made at home, it’s a bit of work but worth the effort.  Any fruits or vegetables can be dried.  This is a simple way to deal with the summer glut of apricots, peaches, apples, and tomatoes, and the large quantities of bananas that find their way into dumpsters and then into my kitchen.

Pickles, jams, sauces and chutneys take a bit more effort, and generally require salt or sugar to preserve them.  Making grapes into wine, and apples into cider, can become a great party with a bunch of people working together on it, and of course leads to another party a little later to enjoy the results.


From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

There’s lots of old-school technology around that’s not any less useful because new hi-tech electrical versions have come along.  But since most people think it’s not useful, it’s probably easy to get hold of for free or cheap.  There must be so much of this stuff around, in sheds, attics, cupboards under the stairs and rusting on farms.  I’m talking about things like washboards, clothes wringers, chaff cutters, push mowers, scythes, ploughs, mills, wood stoves, carpet sweepers, Coolgardie safes, rowboats, hand pumps, windmills, candles, spinning wheels, foot-pedal sewing machines, crosscut saws, hand drills.  Playing and working with these implements can be really fun, and since they don’t make noise you can work with other people and carry on a conversation while working, which should be an integral aspect of any manual labour.  Through using hand tools you can learn how to use your body with optimal efficiency.  You develop physical strength, and can actually enjoy your work.  These are tools that we can co-operate with, unlike machinery which seems to have a mind of its own, which can make us feel like we are being controlled.  These tools can be fixed without too much equipment or expertise.  Some of them you could even make for yourself.

There’s plenty of other technologies that can be handmade from natural and recycled materials, without too much effort.

Rocket stove. A cooker made from used tins and fuelled with leaves and twigs.  It’s super-efficient because it is well insulated.  I use scraps of ceiling insulation that I find on building sites. See centrefold for instructions on how to build one.

rocket stove instructions

Zeer pot. A non-electrical refrigerator made from clay pots.  Instructions over the page.

Solar cooker. There’s a few ways of making this, all of which can be done easily with reclaimed materials.  The basic principle is to concentrate sunlight and trap heat.  It cooks food in a few hours on a sunny day.

Solar food dryer.

Biogas digester. Biogas is produced from the fermentation or anaerobic digestion of organic matter.  The gas can be used for heating or cooking.  The infrastructure required can be home-made, but the process needs tropical temperatures to work, so it’s not viable everywhere.

Haybox cooker. This one needs nothing more than a blanket.  Wrap it around a pot of dinner that’s been brought to boiling point, and it will continue to cook in its own heat insulated by the blanket.  A box of hay would serve the same purpose, hence the name.

Cool cupboard. This needs to be built in to a new house, as it requires a tunnel to be dug through the floor.  It’s a refrigerator that works by drawing cool air from under the ground, through the cupboard, and out the top.  There is an air inlet outside the house.


From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

You can make your own refrigerator for free, from stuff that you find in the rubbish, and it doesn’t need any electricity to run, just water.  It’s called a zeer pot, or a pot-in-pot refrigerator.  And it really works!  All you need is two clay pots, some sand, and a way to plug the hole in the base of the pot.

Here’s how to make it:

Get two terracotta pots, one needs to fit inside the other with about 1cm gap between.  They could be the same size with one slightly raised.  They need to be unglazed, unsealed terracotta, as the cooling happens by evaporation through the porous clay.  Pots can sometimes be found in hard rubbish, or by asking around.  If you’re really keen you could get hold of some clay and make them yourself.  Or if you’re not, try secondhand from a garage sale, flea market, salvage yard or tip shop.  They’re about $10 each from hardware stores.  Imported from Italy.

Next step: plug the holes in the base of the pots, so that water doesn’t drain out.  I did this with the lid of a PET bottle and sealed the edges with waterproof silicon sealant, but I’m sure there are other ways that are equally effective.  I tried to go low-tech and use clay, but it got soggy and fell apart.

Line the inside of the larger pot with sand, and place the smaller one inside.

Placing the pot in a tray is a good idea, as on hot days the cool water condenses on the outside of the pot and runs down the side.  This water is great to cool yourself in hot weather.

Top up the water in the sand layer every day so it stays damp, and cover the top with a towel.  Even when it’s over 40 degrees outside, the inside of the zeer pot is 15 degrees, so food keeps a lot longer than it would without refrigeration.  One catch: the evaporative process needs a dry climate to work effectively.  It wouldn’t do so well in a humid place.

Some more refrigeration tips.

Lots of things that are often kept in a refrigerator really don’t need to be.  Sauces, jams, miso, eggs and fruit keep perfectly well out of a refrigerator.  Many vegetables keep better in a dish of water.  This way they continue to be alive so are much more nutritious.  Celery, brocoli, leafy greens and beetroot keep really well this way.  Tomatoes, cucumber, zuchini are generally fine out of the refrigerator.

Of course all these things are much tastier and higher in nutrients if they are eaten directly from the plant.  I read somewhere that leafy greens lose 90% of their nutritional value within hours of being picked.  A great reason to eat weeds and grow your own food!