Gorgeous Green House

The Renovation Journey of a 1940’s ‘Traditional’ to 2015 ‘Contemporary, Green & Gorgeous’


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Gorgeous Green House Puzzle Complete!

puzzle 001When we embarked on this greening project (an eon ago!) we drew up a long list of goals. Some had to be abandoned early on (e.g. bio-digester prohibited by city by-laws), some exceeded all expectations (roof garden, eco-pool and vertical garden) and some are still a work in progress (pump issues for water harvesting…sigh).   The final item on the original list falls under the Urban Farming category.  I am so excited to report that the newest members of the family, and final list item, are our gorgeous, egg laying chickens.

This, however, is a cautionary tale and although it pains me to share it I do so in the hope that others will be able to avoid our mistakes and possibly secure encouragement from our successes.

My intuition to delay until all our ‘eggs were in a row’ (sorry, can’t resist) was correct.  The eggs in this instance related to appropriate housing and the assimilation of the birds with the dogs. We have two Dachshunds (originally bred for badger hunting) and one Rhodesian Ridgeback (bred for lion hunting).  I have no interest in owning chickens that are not properly free range but also had no intention of parting with my beloved dogs.  We were perhaps a little too casual about what would be involved in ensuring 100% free access to the garden for all parties concerned.

Lucy

Lucy

'Butter won't melt in my mouth' Georgie

‘Butter won’t melt in my mouth’ Georgie

Charlie

Charlie

We started off so well! My son Peter scoured the internet for chicken house designs and came up with this wonderful plan that provides a large covered resting place,with perch, in the event of bad weather (coop) with  smaller cosy laying box attached.  This would be located in a much larger chicken mesh run so the birds and dogs could be separate whilst they were getting to know each other.

chicken house 001

Son, with a little help from dad, had the house up in no time and with much happiness we went to collect three 20 week olds from friends who farm down the road.

coop with laying box en-suite

coop with laying box en-suite

Chickens were installed and we observed the dogs.  The Ridgeback gave them a sniff and wondered off as if to say ‘so what’.  The black daxie ran in to my arms in terror. Georgie our brown daxie licked her lips, panted and quivered incessantly.

Fenced Run with ladder to coop

Fenced Run with ladder to coop

Day 1, Georgie bit into a corner of the roof.  Day 2 she dug under the cage.  We reinforced and re-worked.  On the 6th night, when she was meant to be tucked up in bed she sneaked out and literally ate through the chicken mesh (the irony) and murdered 2 of our precious ‘girls’.

After much weeping and wailing and resolving to return the surviving Huxley to her original home, husband worked a massive reinforcement with weld mesh, and we girded ourselves for another try.  Petunia and Gertrude were brought home (the farming friends, generous with empathy, not just replacements) and I popped them into the run and went to make supper.

VERY BAD MOVE!!

If I had done my homework properly I would have learned that even chickens that have 8 square meters of space, when newbies enter their home, may attack.  We woke up the very next morning to a carotid punctured Gertrude and a smug looking Huxley.  Google later informed this very ashamed chicken parent, that a temporary second run should have been built alongside. This would enable them to peck and scratch each other safely through the mesh until the novelty wore off.   Noted for next time but the chickens were still not free ranging and Georgie was still salivating.

Heavily reinforced run

Heavily reinforced run

Friends and family admonished to abandon the idea of ‘free-range’ and take comfort from the commercial definition of free range.  (Smaller than our current run). This just made me feel more determined and I decided that whatever it took Georgie would learn to be nice to the chickens.

This is what it took.  Days 1 – 3 my office moved to a chair next to the chicken run.  Georgie was on lead, chickens were bravely stepping out. I was working/voice disciplining Georgie for lunges and whining.  Days 4 – 9 my office moved 10 meters away, Georgie off lead, but not out of sight, discipline continues.  Georgie is starting to get bored.  Days 10 – 21 office moves to veranda.  Chickens and daxie frequently out of sight (but not hearing).  Georgie eventually completely bored with the whole process and resumes her previous life of sun tanning and hunting moles and pigeons.  Chickens happy and FREE!DSC08259DSC08065

So it’s been a bit of a mission but worth every bit of it.  We are now a few months in and the excitement of running down to the chickens to collect eggs has not worn off. The eggs are getting richer and darker and more delicious.  The DSC08253chickens peck and scratch their way around the whole garden (and sometime inside the house!).

They come when called and enjoy having their backs stroked.  They are a complete delight and have truly brought another level of joy to the Gorgeous Green House family. I would absolutely encourage you to go for it if you are feeling inclined.

Even the science is supporting how good growing our own food is for us.  Apparently we are programmed with neural pathways to give us chemical rewards when we do so.  This, however, is an activity that generates more than little spurts of dopamine/oxytocin. Take a fresh warm egg from under the bottom of a beautiful healthy chicken and whilst it is still warm, crack into a pan of caramelizing butter and you’ll know exactly what I mean.  The final piece of our Gorgeous Green Puzzle is complete.  It feels good!

 

 


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House and Leisure, Sunday Times and Top Billing

This months House and Leisure feature the Gorgeous Green House in its ‘Sustainability Supplement’.  You’ll need to flip to the end to find us on p.162.  Glynis Horning has described our journey well.  Pity the photos that were selected don’t link in a cohesive way to the copy.  Not sure what sustainability/green message there is in our bed image and where is the eco pool, veggie garden, bee hive….?  (sigh, Sally took so many amazing photos).  However, the vertical and roof garden do look spectacular and hopefully that will draw people in.  (Scroll to end for image of vertical garden).
Sunday Times

This Sunday the Sunday Times are doing an ‘Eco’ feature. It will be interesting to so how they present our home and lifestyle.

Lastly, for followers outside of South Africa and those of you who may have missed the Top Billing TV coverage, here are the first 7 minutes of the show:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/t4iThlXZVzs“>http://

House and Leisure image


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Last Three Beetroot of the Season

DSC07888As I pull out the last three enormous and beautiful beetroot in the veggie garden I have pause to reflect on our first winter in the Gorgeous Green House. Spring is now upon us and it time to take stock of what has been fairly experimental but also haphazard time in the veggie garden.

The beetroot have obviously been a huge success but I didn’t plant anywhere near enough! Most of the carrots were planted outside the monkey cage as our cheekiest neighbors raid the obviously fruiting things like tomatoes and aubergine.  Not so, I came home one day to find 80% dug up and eaten (very messily too).  The survivors were transplanted inside the veggie cage.  They are very sweet and the funny shapes are very appealing. Know now for next time.

This bright and beautiful collection of organically grown produce is more than just a delicious supper.  The process of nurturing tiny seeds into this abundance brings such joy.  If you already grow food you know what I’m talking about!  If you don’t why not give it a try? Even if you don’t have a garden you could grow some herbs, lettuces or chilies in a pot for a sunny windowsill. I promise you, the potential for getting hooked is quite high.


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Gorgeous Green House Complete!!

Party House!

Perfect Party House!

This post is somewhat later than it should be but I have the best excuse!  We’ve been sharing this beautiful space with our overseas family (10 in all) for 6 weeks and have been incredibly busy chilling, having lots of fun and feasts and just joyfully hanging out.

A good test for a home is a lot of visitors for a protracted amount of time and I am thrilled to report that the GGH works beautifully. The kitchen and open space living area flows brilliantly and dozens of meals were seamlessly put together without bodies bumping into each other.

Thanks to our super efficient solar system we were blissfully unaware that Eskom (SA’s only power utility) gifted South Africans with numerous power outages during this time. We remained switched on, connected and cooking!

The natural swimming pool coped with the daily invasion of overheated, sunscreen coated humans and the fish, shrimp crabs, plants and birds seem no worse for wear for sharing ‘their’ space with us.

The large covered veranda is perfect for our African climate.  It coped with many for several big celebrations (including Christmas Day) and all meals were enjoyed al fresco. This has been our first chance to soak up the beautiful garden within which, to date, we’ve enjoyed whilst hard at labour rather than relaxation!

The veggie garden, although not properly planted as yet, provided an abundance of deliciousness and a foretelling of how are food lives will be in ‘normal’ mode.

In celebration of the finishing of the house I thought it would be fun to document the journey with ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘now’ images.  At the beginning of this journey I wrote on my ‘About’ page that part of OUR MISSION was to provide:

inspiration, information and motivation to others to follow suit.  We wish to de-bunk myths such as ‘green is ugly’…….

I also shared in one of my early posts:

Several years ago when I started talking about my dream of building a ‘green house’ a friend said “oh I saw one of those … a kind of hobbit house…really ugly”.  So the first misconception to clear up is that green design has nothing to do with the aesthetics of the house!  Whatever your taste (hobbit-like or otherwise) one can incorporate green design principles.  Essentially it means building in harmony with the natural environment and cooperating instead of fighting with the regional climate. 

Now we are at the end of the project (at least the building part) I do so hope that these images represent a realization of that early goal.  I look forward to your feedback.

Front View 'Before'

Front View ‘Before’

Front View During

Front View ‘During’

Front View 'Now'

Front View ‘Now’

Back View LHS 'Before'

Back View LHS ‘Before’

Back View LHS During

Back View LHS During

Back View LHS 'Now'

Back View LHS ‘Now’

 

Entertainment/barbecue Area 'Before'

Entertainment/barbecue Area ‘Before’

Entertainment/barbecue Area 'Now"

Entertainment/barbecue Area ‘Now”

Pool 'Before'

Pool ‘Before’

At the commence of the build the pool became a pond.

At the commence of the build the pool became a pond.

Reshaping The Pool Area

Reshaping The Pool Area

Constructing the Reed Beds to Filter the Pool

Constructing the Reed Beds to Filter the Pool

Finished result. A beautiful green and healthy place for us to play and relax for years to come.  Click HERE for more details.

Finished result. A beautiful green and healthy place for us to play and relax for years to come. Click HERE for more details.

Old Garage Wall

Old Garage Wall

Old Garage Wall Becomes Backdrop for Vertical Garden

Old Garage Wall Becomes Backdrop for Vertical Garden.  Click HERE for more information.

Mid Way Through Planting Process

Mid Way Through Planting Process

Planting Just Completed

Planting Just Completed

DSC02460

Old Garage Wall Today!

 

 

Old Roof Above Kitchen and Lounge

Old Roof Above Kitchen and Lounge

Flat roof replaces old pitched roof providing foundation for roof garden which is off the master bedroom.

Flat roof replaces old pitched roof providing foundation for roof garden which is off the master bedroom.

Layers of Geotextile (white) then Flow Cell mats.

Layers of Geotextile (white) then Flow Cell mats.

Early stages of planting

Early Stages of Planting

Roof Garden 'Now'

Roof Garden ‘Now’. Click HERE for more information

 

Outside Dinning Area Before

Outside Dinning Area ‘Before’

Outside Dinning Area 'Now'

Outside Dinning Area ‘Now’

Old Outbuilding with Lemon Tree foreground

Old Outbuilding with Lemon Tree foreground

New Veggie Garden with Lemon Tree Still Pride of Place

New Veggie Garden with Lemon Tree Still Pride of Place

 

 

Back View 'Before'

Back View ‘Before’

Back View 'Now'

Back View ‘Now’

Original Store Room and Washing Line Area

Original Store Room and Washing Line Area

Storeroom now a Granny Flat and Washline Screened off with Recycled Plastic Fence

Storeroom now a Granny Flat and Washline Screened off with Recycled Plastic Fence

Area Outside Kitchen 'Before'

Area Outside Kitchen ‘Before’

Outside Kitchen Area 'now'

Outside Kitchen Area ‘now’


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Gorgeous Green House Featured in Green Home Magazine

Cover Green home magWe are thrilled that our green message is being picked up by other publications.  Thank you Green Home Magazine for sharing our story.  They have shared an electronic version.  Click here  and go to p.12 to see what a wonderful job they have done!

Green home mag p.12


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Photo Update (part 2)

Pond at front door in.  This is a vitally important element  as it will be stocked with Tilapia fish whose waste will feed the plants on the vertical garden behind.

Pond at front door in. This is a vitally important element as it will be stocked with Tilapia fish whose waste will feed the plants on the vertical garden behind.

Master bathroom mosaic/tiling done in double shower. Very happy!

Master bathroom mosaic/tiling done in double shower. Very happy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The original outbuilding (now demolished) had huge concrete sink outside, presumable for doing laundry in.  It is now re-invented as the mint planter under the tap - perfect!

The original outbuilding (now demolished) had huge concrete sink outside, presumable for doing laundry in. It is now re-invented as the mint planter under the tap – perfect!

 

Solar geyser in!  Fantastic.  This is such an easy energy/money saver  (minimum 40% on your electricity bills) so a win all round.  Please visi

Solar geyser in! Fantastic. This is such an easy energy/money saver (minimum 40% on your electricity bills) so a win all round. Please visit this post to see why we didn’t go the heat pump route

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Induction geyser  in!  Visit this post if you are curious as to why and induction geyser when we have also installed a solar geyser.

Induction geyser in! Visit this post if you are curious as to why and induction geyser when we have also installed a solar geyser.

 

My first Knipfophia of Autumn.  Will it turn into a red hot poker?  Time will tell as I have no idea which one it is.

My first Knipfophia of Autumn. Will it turn into a red hot poker? Time will tell as I have no idea which one it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, another yellow beauty, not commonly found:  Agrolubioum tomentosum.

And finally, another yellow beauty, not commonly found: Agrolubioum tomentosum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, our enormous pit that will house the water harvesting system.  This HUGE project is so exciting and the technology so amazing it will get a post all of its own.  Suffice to say its 9m X 3m X 2.5m deep and has taken weeks to build.  Happy to report that not a grain off soil went off site, its it the roof garden and being spread around the property.  Watch this space!

And finally, our enormous pit that will house the water harvesting system. This HUGE project is so exciting and the technology so amazing it will get a post all of its own. Suffice to say its 9m X 3m X 2.5m deep and has taken weeks to build. Happy to report that not a grain off soil went off site, its it the roof garden and being spread around the property. Watch this space!


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Photo Update

With 5 working days to go until move in day, nerves are a little stretched.  One can’t help noticing that there is still no sign of any part of the kitchen, a toilet, tap, shower rose and one or two other rather important things that one gets used to. We must live in faith though that it will all come together and in the meantime this post will celebrate what has been happening at the Gorgeous Green House.

Owl House

Owl House

We are very excited to have installed the owl house.  You may think the design looks a little ‘open’ and are wondering why it is not in a tree.  We wish to attract Spotted Eagle Owls as we know they fly in our area and according to the experts they want to nest where they will have 360 degree clear views.  We’ve installed ours in the roof garden so we can lie in bed and watch all the action.  Just waiting for a broody pair to move in. Click here for designs for this and Barn Owl houses.  Very easy to make. I’ll allow the photos to tell the story of the updates.

First grenadilla flower.  Fruit next - yum!

First grenadilla flower. Fruit next – yum!

Re-cycling old doors. They are solid oregan so will be gorgeous when sanded down

Re-cycling old doors. They are solid Oregon so will be gorgeous when sanded down

Ditto recycling of doors for new braai (bargeque) cupboard

Ditto recycling of doors for new braai (bargeque) cupboard

Rockery constructed out of rocks and boulders on site.  White stuff to kill grass and weeds will be cut open for planted.

Rockery constructed out of rocks and boulders on site. White stuff to kill grass and weeds will be cut open for planting.

Another pathway.  It is so exciting to cut back the overgrown garden and discover these beautiful old stone walls.  By placing the path next to it and can be really appreciated.

Another pathway. It is so exciting to cut back the overgrown garden and discover these beautiful old stone walls. By placing the path next to it , it can be really appreciated.

New butternut on its way

New butternut on its way

 

Turraea floribunda being devoured by hungry caterpillars.  I'm guessing (hoping) its the Pseudaphelia apollonaris Apollo Moth as it is its larval food.

Turraea floribunda being devoured by hungry caterpillars. I’m guessing (hoping) its the Pseudaphelia apollonaris (Apollo Moth) as it is its larval food.

 

Tiling done in outbuilding bathroom. Happy here as well!

Tiling done in outbuilding bathroom. Very happy!

Clementine tree planted for my daughter.  Its here favourite fruit!

Clementine tree planted for my daughter. Its her favourite fruit!

Masses of brick paving was on site and we are re purposing it as flower bed edging.

Masses of brick paving was on site and we are re purposing it as flower bed edging.

Pool and reed beds in.  Just awaiting fibre-glass and we can fill and plant.  Can't wait.

Pool and reed beds in. Just awaiting fibre-glass and we can fill and plant. Can’t wait.

Dombeya tillacea

Dombeya tillacea

Deck infrastsructure going in. More to come on this as we are using a wonderful product made with re-cycled plastic.

Deck infrastsructure going in. More to come on this as we are using a wonderful product made with re-cycled plastic.

Garden dotted with these beautiful old walls, many in  dire state.

Garden dotted with these beautiful old walls, many in dire state.

Acquiring new skills, very pleased with my restoration work here!

Acquiring new skills, very pleased with my restoration work here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Vermiculture: gardener’s gold

I have developed quite an emotional attachment to my worms.  For good reason, they are truly amazing and greatly underappreciated creatures.

Gardeners Gold.  the result of vermiculture is the Rolls Royce of compost

Gardeners Gold. the result of vermiculture is the Rolls Royce of compost

If you haven’t yet discovered the joy of worm farming I urge you to give it a go. For the yet to be initiated:

Vermicompost is the product or process of composting using various worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and other earthworms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast. Wikipedia

Earthworms aerate, till and fertilize the soil, breaking down organic waste into plant-available forms, improving the soil structure and nutrient and water-holding qualities of soil.  darwin quoteCurrent farming practices that use chemical fertilizers, pesticides and over-tillage of the soil kills earthworms and other beneficial organisms, leading to poor soil fertility, loss of soil structure and soil erosion. At the same time, rotting organic waste dumped in landfills is polluting our underground water supply and releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming.

Earthworms eat organic waste and give us healthy soil and organic fertilizer in return. The knock on effect is healthy plant growth and food that is significantly more nutritious and delicious.  Farming/gardening without man-made chemicals enables us to avoid poisoning our soil, environment and bodies. This perfect partnership is easy and fun to develop on a smaller scale at home.

There are numerous commercial systems available but you really don’t need a hi-tech operation to get started so go with what your budget allows or make your own.  My

Worm Farm. Simple design.  Effective.

Worm Farm. Simple design. Effective.

son has designed this ingenious system which enables us to maintain the health of the farm and easily harvest the ‘gardener’s gold’.  These simple re-cycled plastic boxes are divided by a section that has holes cut into it.  One side of the box is filled with food until full.  At this point we begin filling the other side leaving the first side to break down further.  As the food disappears the worms will move into the food rich section leaving behind the easy to harvest worm castings which contain up to 100-million microbes per gram – up to 20 times more than ordinary soil!  Added to your garden, these microbes continue to break down organic matter into plant-available forms, thereby enabling plant roots to take up nutrients that would otherwise have stayed bound in the soil. These beneficial organisms also suppress the growth of pathogens, which means healthy soil and healthy plants.  In addition to harvesting the castings we catch the worm wee (leachate) which drips through a hole in the base. It makes a wonderfully nutritious tea when mixed with water.  Tea for plants that is :-).

Rat nibbled aeration patch

Rat nibbled aeration patch

My farms, however, we getting a bit to much attention from other wildlife in the garden.  I realised that the aeration patches had been gnawed through and at least one rat was feasting on my red wrigglers.  I’m all for ‘the cycle of life’ etc. but realised my population was taking to much of a knock.  It was time for some maintenance and harvesting anyway so I got stuck in.  The old aeration patches

Air vent repaired with rat proof metal mesh

Air vent repaired with rat proof metal mesh

were replaced with wired mesh, the harvestable sides were harvested, the worm filled sides set aside and the whole box was given a good clean.  Worms were returned with a note on top to advise other family members to now only feed on the one side (yes it is necessary in my family!). Worms are now safe from predators and I have buckets of gold to mix into my veggies boxes.

repaired and restored

repaired and restored

P.S.  I know many of you are very anxious to see images of the incredible vertical garden.  I ask you to bear with me a little longer.  The scaffolding will be coming down soon and then you will get a much better sense of this exciting project.  If you can’t wait to get started on your own VG but need some help, get hold of the plant wizard James Halle on james@halle.co.za.  

Beautiful organic harvest grown in gardeners gold fed soil

Beautiful organic harvest grown in gardeners gold fed soil


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Photo Update

The build seems to have accelerated, or maybe its just because we are starting to get to the best bits.  The most exciting installation, so far, is the vertical garden.  I’m going to be really mean though, and not show you a single picture yet because it is so magnificent, and the landscape artist James Halle is so talented, it has to have its very own post with lots of elaboration.  Watch this space!

Floating staircase

Floating staircase

The shuttering has come off the ‘floating’ staircase, and although this is not a green aspect of the build it is so beautiful I just need to show it off!

The interior painting has commenced.  There are loads of eco-friendly paints on the market these days.  They are much lower in volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which basically means toxic stuff our bodies don’t like.  Confirm this with your paint supplier though because you won’t automatically get a low

Low VOC paint primer

Low VOC paint primer

VOC paint as there are still mixed perceptions about its efficacy.  Rest assured, they are equally effective and no more expensive than traditional.

veggie box

Mesh lining veggie box

The veggie garden now has 3/5 veggie boxes installed.  We are using a plastic timber product. These recycled planks are now widely available.  They are 100% recycled plastic so get great green points.  We lined the base with chicken mesh too keep out the moles.  Galvanized rods secure the sides from bowing out. This stuff will last forever, looks attractive, is easy to install and cheaper than recycled brick options which we had considered

3/5 Veggies Boxes Installed

3/5 Veggies Boxes Installed

Trichocladus crinatus

Trichocladus crinatus

I was really excited to see my Trichocladus crinitus (Black Witch-hazel) in flower. This small indigenous tree is quite rare and the petal form delicate and unusual.

Insualation Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles

Insualation Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles

There are lots of eco-friendly options for insulation these days.  We’ve gone with a product made from recycled plastic bottles.  The recycled newspaper product was a close contender.  The team on site report that the green stuff is really great to work with as it doesn’t shed prickly bits like the more traditional pink products.

 

Off Shutter Concrete

Off Shutter Concrete

The off-shutter concrete wall has had its first of two buffs and polishes.  It looks fabulous. I love the industrial /contemporary aesthetic and the honesty of the material.  Its a great ‘hard’ contrast to the green abundance of the garden.  Very happy with how its turned out.

Erythrina humeana

Erythrina humeana

The Erythrina humeana (Dwarf Coral Tree) are exquisite at the moment.  A really showy splash of red at the bottom of the garden.    

The pool has a new rectangular shape and fits snugly into the space of the old.  The reed beds are almost complete. It’s going to be great fun planting them up.  I’ll be sharing much more information on how to install an eco pool.  Suffice to say at this stage that the plants will do all the filtering of the water and no harsh chemicals will be required.  The plants and water provide the foundation for the wetland eco-system and we look forward to the

New Rectangular shape to pool

New Rectangular shape to pool

Reed beds constructed

Reed beds constructed

bird, amphibian and insect life we will be attracting.

Next to the veggie garden we have two of the Baunia’s in flower at the same time.  Gorgeous!

Bauhinia natalensis

Bauhinia natalensis

Bauhinia tomentosa

Bauhinia tomentosa

The whirly gigs are on site. Prith and Eamonn are finding them quite amusing.  Definitely a first for them as they are usually found in industrial builds.  We are putting them in to draw and pull up the cool air that will pass over the pond outside and into the hallway.  The best way to reduce the need for air conditioning in this space.

Whirly gig

Whirly gig

So overall fantastic progress!  And still so many of the best bits to come:

  • Vertical Garden (as promised)
  • Roof Garden
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Eco Pool
  • Veggie garden
  • Chickens
  • Bees
  • Worm farming
  • Grey water recycling
  • Solar system
  • Induction geysers
  • plus…plus… plus


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Designer Compost Bays

Many think the subject of compost is about as exciting as watching grass grow. I’ve long been teased about my obsession with the stuff but noting the 1,397 books available on Amazon I know there is a community out there that are as passionate about  it  as I am.  For example, this is what Bette Midler has to say:

My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent,magical experience that let’s you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap.

I’ve struggled with compost ‘heaps’ in awkward spaces, then upgraded to bays in rickety fencing (now collapsing) so I’ve been determined to put in a more user-friendly system at the Gorgeous Green House. On the design wish list:

  • at least 3 bays for good rotation
  • sturdy construction
  • opening/gate front for easy turning over and removal

We have a lot of old paving to re-cycle on site so I asked my builder for a quote to build them with the bricks.  Phew, quite a lot more than expected.  Plan B was to ask a fencing company for a quote.  Also quite a lot more than anticipated. This led us tho thinking ‘how hard could it be to dig in a few poles and fence them in’.  We checked out the material costs (a fraction of the fencing company quote) and were further delighted to see the company makes gates that are super easy to install. The result is spectacular. I am thrilled as they will be really easy to use. I’ve had piles of leaves and weeds building up all over the garden so its been wonderful to get them into the correct place awaiting their final home in the veggie garden. Here is our  process:

Fencing stapled around the fram

Fencing stapled around the frame

Poles cemented in and the ready made gates attached

Poles cemented in and the ready made gates attached

Sticks into the bottom (for aeration)

Sticks into the bottom (for aeration)

Layers of 'brown' and 'green'.

Layers of ‘brown’ and ‘green’.


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Make Compost with Grass (only). Who Knew?

Conventional composting wisdom dictates that the best compost is a mixture of brown (leaves, twigs etc) and green (lawn weeds etc).

Leaves will also break down into wonderful compost though a bit more slowly.  I shared my leaf ‘cage’ idea in the post of 10 June but check out this guy and his ‘cage’ with grass only:


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Free Compost

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Leaves scrounged from my neighbours

As the Southern Hemisphere is moving into Winter, Autumn first provides her most important harvest:  fallen leaves.  Natures perfect cycle of replenishment to the soil and the provision of nourishment for all life in the ecosystem.  And what do we do with this abundant gift?  We sweep it up into plastic bags and send it off to land fill.  Come spring we drive to the garden center and buy compost in more plastic bags.

Where did we get this idea that leaves are unsightly and need to be done away with?  When you think about it for a minute it really makes no sense. I appreciate that leaves on hard surfaces are not a good idea so lets sweep them into the flower beds where the mulching provides moisture and nutrition through the harsher winter months.

Exquisite winter colour well nourished by compost

Exquisite winter colour well nourished by compost

Once you get excited about the difference it makes to your garden  (check out my winter colour!) you get quite greedy for the stuff.  I frequently stop on verges as I see people raking leaves into bags and ask them if I can have them.  I get a few strange looks (and comments) but most people are too flummoxed to say no!  hopefully I leave them with some food for thought.

Easy to make wire leaf cage

Easy to make wire leaf cage

I am currently just making a big pile with the leaves but if you prefer a slightly neat tidier approach I’ve also made this very simple cage out of wire fencing.

In a few months beautiful quality compost for free!


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Avaaz Helps Create Breathing Space for Our Bees

Bees worldwide are under threat.  Bee colonies are collapsing on a frightening scale. The main culprit that has emerged is a new type of insecticide which is a neurological toxin that affects information processing in the bee’s brain.  After a while they can’t navigate home.  Foraging bees die before they can get back to feed the babies or they pass it onto the babies and queen.  In SA we are now using these toxic insecticides even though they have been banned in Germany, France and England.

Bees pollinate two-thirds of all our food.  Their contribution to the SA citrus industry alone accounts for 1.6 million rand in value.  When scientists noticed that silently, they were dying at a terrifying rate, Avaaz swung in to action, and kept on swinging until they won. This week’s victory is the result of two years of flooding ministers with messages, organizing media-grabbing protests with beekeepers, funding opinion polls and much, much more.

As Einstein pointed out:

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

Bernie, the huge inflatable bee, helps deliver the 2.6m strong petition to Brussels

Some good news.  Avaaz’s activism has convinced the politicians in Europe to ban these lethal insecticides.  Vanessa Amaral-Rogers from the specialist conservation organisation Buglife, says:“It was a close vote, but thanks to a massive mobilisation by Avaaz members, beekeepers, and others, we won! I have no doubt that the floods of phone calls and emails to ministers, the actions in London, Brussels and Cologne, and the giant petition with 2.6 million signers made this result possible. Thank you Avaaz, and everyone who worked so hard to save bees!”

However, the EU ban is only in place for 2 years pending further review. In South Africa and across the world there’s lots of work to do to ensure sound science guides our farming and environmental policies. 

PS: Let’s keep this going — chip in to ensure we can launch rapid-fire, multi-tactic campaigns on the issues we all care about: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/bees_victory/?boAYgab&v=24668