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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A Case For Investing in Solar Energy: East Coast Radio Interview

ECREast Coast Radio are running a wonderful series on sustainability and eco issues with Kerry Dell. It is aired on Wednesdays at 09:00 pm.  I was included to share our experiences around investing in Solar Energy.  My intention is to help people think about this investment in a broader context,  which includes the ROI!  Here is the link:

http://iono.fm/c/1612

 

 


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Earthbeat Now On DSTV 190

https://www.youtube.com/embed/O_m18Xu-bBM“>http://

The new season of Earthbeat has begun!  African followers can tune into Channel 190 every Wednesday at 8:25.  The line up is as follows (with the usual repeats):

THE LEGACY OF IAN PLAYER     14 Oct

THE LEGEND OF THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER 21 Oct

DURBAN A CITY WITH A GREEN VISION 28 Oct

MESSAGE FROM THE ANCESTORS 4 NOV

GREEN HOMES:  THE FUTURE IS NOW! 11 NOV  Featuring the Gorgeous Green House

FARMING WITH NATURE   18 NOV


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Owls Can Be Encouraged to Nest in Your Garden

Spotted Eagle-Owl,  B. africanus

Since we moved into the Gorgeous Green House we have been in thrall of the regular night time visits of a magnificent Spotted Eagle-Owl.  He/she loves to use the screen on the house as a perch to hunt from. Not surprising, as we have their favourite prey (small mammals, birds, insects, frogs, and reptiles) in abundance. A little research led us to learn that, although this owl is not threatened, and has become well adapted to human dominated environments, many still die from human actions.  Top of the list are poisons (usually given to rats), cars, and people who fear them or wish to use their body parts in traditional medicine.  We were instantly inspired to try and attract our visitor to bring his/her mate and start a family.  Although we are fortunate to have a number of large trees in our garden we thought it might increase our odds by setting up a nesting box.

Nesting box No. 1 on the roof garden

Nesting box No. 1 on the roof garden

That was over a year ago and there has been no interest at all!  Several wildlife experts have suggested that although the design is correct the position on the roof garden may be too exposed.  We had been so concerned about monkeys terrorizing the chicks (they are very destructive to other bird species in the garden) that we thought putting the box on top of a greased pole would be the business!  Apparently are fears are unfounded as most creatures that try to take an owl chick run the risk of being killed or injured by the highly protective parents.

Greg has been mulling over what to do with the left over bits of bamboo from the kitchen and decided to build nesting box no.2 and for it to be placed in a more sheltered position.

Stunning new work bench recycling the doors of the old house

Stunning new work bench recycling the doors of the old house

He has recently finished constructing the new work bench from the old doors in the house and has been itching for a project to break it in.

There are lots of plans on the internet we found ours here.  The result is quite spectacular!  Fingers crossed that we’ve got the location right this time (side of the house but still good visibility) and perhaps this posh version will attract a couple looking for a more high-end abode. Just in time, October is the last month for breeding!

Construction time less than 3 hours

Construction time less than 3 hours

Complete with weatherproof roof and installed on side of house

Complete with weatherproof roof and installed on side of house

This project took Greg less than 3 hours and we hope that you may feel inspired to make your own nesting boxes.  Alternatively if you are not DIY inclined check out your local resources, many cities/town have organisations that advice on owls that fly in your area and supply and assist people to get set up.


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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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South Africa’s wind and solar power busts major renewable energy myth

Solar and wind power

THIS SHOULD BE ON THE FRONT COVER OF EVERY NEWSPAPER!  As per previous post, we really don’t need to be spending billions on coal and nuclear power stations.

Re-blogged  from My Broabdand

Mainstream Renewable Power, a global wind and solar energy company, has released a research report which states that South Africa’s wind and solar power generation matches electricity demand in the country.

Mainstream analysed wind and solar resource data from 2013 for 18 wind and solar sites across South Africa.

The sites analysed represent a potential combined generation capacity of 42,000 megawatts – 30,000MW wind and 12,000MW solar.

The analysis set out to predict how much electricity the 18 sites could generate and at what times of the day.

The results showed that local wind and solar resources generate power at times of the day when it is needed.

The research further found that when wind and solar generation are combined, the net effect is a significant contribution to baseload power.

Mainstream’s CEO Eddie O’Connor said the initial analysis underpins the government’s commitment to renewable energy.

“Not only are wind and solar power cheaper than new fossil fuel generation here in South Africa, but when combined, they can make a significant contribution to baseload power at the time of day it is most needed,” he said.

The graph below shows the country’s wind and solar hourly generation profile, and the 2008 national demand profile.

Wind and solar power in South Africa

Busting a major renewable energy myth

Penny-Jane Cooke, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Africa, said this research is significant in busting a big renewable energy myth.

“This research effectively busts one of the biggest myths created by the anti-renewables lobby: that we require coal and nuclear generation to provide for baseload demand as renewable energy sources cannot meet this demand,” she said.

She said what is interesting about this research is that this phenomenon does not occur everywhere in the world.

“This means that South Africa is in a unique position to make the most of renewable energy.”

“Contrary to what has been argued about how renewable energy is not available when it is most needed, in South Africa the sun shines and the wind blows when electricity is most needed.”

“This should be enough of a reason to remove the barriers to renewable energy immediately – it’s not rocket science.”


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What is the Cost of Going Solar?

Solar geyser and panels on The Gorgeous Green House

Solar geyser and panels on The Gorgeous Green House

Government mandated power outages for South Africans are to be part of our lives for many years to come.  As we complain and our economy suffers  one might think that many people and organisations of reasonable means are installing solar systems.  This is not so.

Barriers to entry are certainly perceived high cost, but also general lack of knowledge of how these systems work.

One of the frequently asked questions about The Gorgeous Green House is ‘how much did your solar system cost’?

I’ve learned that if I answer the question directly people’s eyes tend to glaze over and they mentally check out of the conversation.  I wish to challenge people to think differently about the subject as it may lead to a different set of conclusions (and hopefully actions!).   So I now answer that question with the following questions:

  • Do you know what you are currently paying for electricity? (you would be surprised at how many  people can’t answer this question)
  • Do you know what increases are on the cards going forward?
  • Have you drawn up a spreadsheet to really get to grips with what you will be spending over the next few years?

We did this exercise, and based on our rather shocking, (but not unusual) $200.00 (aprox. R2000.00) per month electricity bill, we projected our forward costs based on the 12.2% increase that we experienced this year and the 25% increase that ESKOM are asking for. As we have installed, these costs are now savings.

This is what it looks like in South African Rands (divide by 10 for a rough conversion to American dollars):

Old (Non-eco) House Electricity Account:

Aprox 2 000.00 per month

  12.2 % Annual Increase Accumulative Saving 25% Annual Increase Accumulative Saving
2014 24 000.00   24 000.00  
2015 26 880.00 50 880.00 30 000.00 54 000.00
2016 30 105.56 80 985.56 37 500.00 91500.00
2017 33 337.48 114 323.04 46 875.00 138 375.00
2018 37 899.46 152 222.50 58 593.75 196 968.75
2019 42 523.19 194 745.69

Like us, you may be rather shocked at how much you will be spending on electricity over the next few years.  The reality is, however, that South African’s have benefited from relatively low rates compared to the rest of the world and on that score we have little to complain about.

Medupi Coal Station.  As unattractive as it is unhealthy.

Medupi Coal Station. As unattractive as it is unhealthy.

Our government’s solution to our energy crises is the building of even more filthy, polluting coal powered stations and extremely controversial nuclear stations.  The science shows us that with some political will and sensible interventions we can avoid these options with healthy, earth affirming renewable energy systems.  Starting at home seems like a good place to begin.

If you do you sums as above the next step would be to consult a reputable solar provider  for a quote.  You may be very surprised at the ROI time frame.  Ours will be somewhere between 4 and 5 years. If your quote to go ‘off grid’ is not possible, why not start smaller.  You can add to and expand your system very easily as your means allow.  In the meantime at least benefit from avoiding the incessant power failures!

We plan to be in our house for many years so relatively soon we will be scoring financially and using electricity in a way that serves our concern for the health of the planet!

In addition, we continue to lobby our authorities to implement systems to pay small scale electricity generators  for their excess electricity as this will offer further incentive to others to get on board. Watch this space!