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Journey towards sustainable living

Updated on December 17, 2011

How I started

I lived in Melbourne, Australia. Due to the drought, we lived under water restriction. The government put on a what seems to be endless campaign to make the public aware of the seriousness of the situation. So I decided to do my bit, like collecting the water from the rinse and spin cycle when I do the laundry and use it to flash the toilet. The target was 155 litre per day per person. We managed to use between 70-80 litre per day per person in my household.

This prompted me to start reading books on everything 'green' - organic gardening, permaculture, solar energy, wind turbine, rainwater harvesting, ethical shopping, eco-friendly house cleaning detergent, recycling. The list is endless. The information is really overwhelming, where do I start and I started to doubt if I really can make any progress towards living sustainably. This hub will outline what I hope you will be encouraged by my story.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a small step

What I learnt: Starts small and focus on one thing at a time.

One of the easiest first steps for me was to put a sign 'NO JUNK MAIL' on the mailbox. When I first did it, I was amazed how much paper I have saved.  Those catalogue used to take up quite a bit of my recycling bin.  My philosophy is this, we must reduce use of natural resources. I know paper can be recycled but did you know that they can only be recycled upto 8 times?

My next step was to buy toilet rolls made from recycled paper. Remember it is used only ONCE, why are we chopping tree to make toilet paper that is used only once? Even if the trees were planted in a sustainable way, I am sure there will be other uses for them (eg making office paper) where it will be recycled.

House Cleaning

I haven't bought any cleaning detergent for my house for over 1 year now. After reading those horror stories about toxic chemicals they put in laundry detergent and household cleaning products, I was determined to find alternative.

I was surprised that it's so easy to make it myself. For laundry detergent I used washing soda, pure soap and borax salt. There are a lot of different recipe available online. The one I used is this:

2 bar pure soap
1 cup of washing soda
1 cup of borax salt

Grate the soap and mix all the ingredient. I use 1 scoop per load (roughly 125 ml). I have even tested using the grey water from the laundry for the garden and it doesn't seem to hurt my plants.

For general household cleaning, I make my own garbage enzyme. Basic ingredient is:

300g fruit peel
100g brown sugar
1 litre tap water

Leave in a plastic container for fermentation to take place. It's ready for harvest after 3 months. The residual is used as fertiliser for my plants. I dilute the enzyme solution before use.  Some uses of the enzyme are:  wash the dishes, cleaning the floor, toilet, bathroom. I guess this is similar to those who use vinegar as general cleaning agent. Google 'garbage enzyme' and you will find lots of information on its uses.

Grow my own food

This came to me in the most unusual way. In the beginning, I just want to reduce my contribution to landfill. I put all organic waste from my kitchen into a container and just cover it up with some soil to stop the flies from having a party in my backyard. Then tomota plants started popping out of the compost pile, followed by pumpkin. So I decided to plant them in a 'proper' vegetable patch. After 'living off the compost' for a couple of years, I finally have my day of awakening. I decided to plan what I am planting instead of what's on offer by the compost. With no background in gardening, I started reading about compost and learn how to grow food organically. I am pleased to say nowadays I hardly buy lettuce. Some food that are growing in my backyard now include: cherry tomato, pumpkin, silverbeet, cucumber, different asian greens, lettuce, rocket, capsicum, chilli, eggplant, beans, rockmelon and watermelon. Tomato, capsicum and rockmelon were a 'gift' from my compost.

One year I have so many tomatoes (at least 50 kg over a few months) that I have to learn how to make my own tomato sauce. I now make my own chilli sauce as well.

We also have 3 nectarin trees that are producing fruit for the first time this year. Another 3 that would be producing fruits over the next 2 years. There are 2 mango trees that just came out of the compost. The bad news is the cold, frosty Melbourne winter will probably kill them.

I like to call myself 'accidental farmer'.


Now we are getting to do some harder stuff! I have my chicken now for 2 years. What motivated me to start on this project was the life of those poor caged chicken. My little girl was asking me to explain what 'caged hen eggs' meant on the egg carton. She was horrified to find out the truth.

It sounds like a lot of work looking after chicken based on books I read. Anyway I decided to give it a go. I was lucky to have a big backyard, so we bought a chicken coop for the chooks (that's what we called them in Australia) to sleep in at night as well as protecting them from fox. During the day, they have a big playground. My little girl actually built a seesaw with a brick and long piece of board. The chooks did walk up and down the seesaw for entertainment.

The bonus of having chooks is this: not only do they provide eggs, they do some gardening for us too. I moved them from one patch to another every few months. The chicken poo made the soil really rich and since they have been digging, it's really easy to prepare the patch for planting as well. I do have surplus eggs occasionally that I sell to friends.

There isn't that much work looking after chicken. I feed them in the morning, lock them up at night. I only clean the coop once every few months when there are too much poo in it. As we have a big area for the chooks, they don't spend much time in the coop so it doesn't really get filthy. I removed the poo and use as fertilizer for my garden.  To give the chooks some comfort, I put in some dried lawn clipping for them.

Another bonus for the enviroment, having eggs from the backyard meant no packaging required.   I crushed the egg shells and either put them in compost or feed them to the chooks.

What's next?

Bees of course! Due to change in weather, this year I don't find many bees in my backyard. As a result, I don't have as many eggplants as I like. The flowers are just NOT getting pollinated.  Time to have my own supply of honey.

Green house - so I can have vegetables in winter months as well.


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    • The Quiz Master profile image

      Warren 6 years ago from England

      There is a salt marsh, supposedly protected, near where I used to live. It is the only breeding site in Portugal for the globally endangered Ferruginous Duck and a favourite haunt for nesting Purple Swamp Hens, Purple Herons and Little Bitterns. Other herons are usually present, as well as Spoonbills and Greater Flamingos in nationally important numbers as are many waders and terns.

      The local council gave permission for a golf course to be built right along the edge of it. Every winter the marsh lake floods the golf course so the council bring in a JCB and block off the estuary that feeds the marsh from the sea until the lake runs dry.

      I could scream!

    • afps profile image

      afps 6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      You are so right about the government. The state government in my state is going to allow cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park. I think they will only stop when there is no vegetation left in the national park. They stopped it many years ago when they realised the damage grazing has done to the natural habitat. It's really sad we have idiots running the government.

    • The Quiz Master profile image

      Warren 6 years ago from England

      Unfortunately it's the fault of big corporations and the government being greedy that has screwed up most of the planet.

      It makes me so angry.

      Like the rain forest being chopped down at an alarming rate. Don't they know that's where we get our Oxygen from?

    • afps profile image

      afps 6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      I have a friend who has a dog and chicken living in harmony. Maybe it depends on the breed of dog. The chicken was running around the backyard and the dog doesn't seem to bother them. I plan to retire to the country one day (when my children finish school). Children these days have more compassion for the environment (thank God for that). My teenage boy just couldn't believe we have 'screwed up mother nature' for that long!

    • The Quiz Master profile image

      Warren 6 years ago from England

      Great advice, I moved into the countryside a few years back and have a lot of land now. The first thing I did was grow my own tomatoes. We ate tomato soup for months! I now have a herb garden and chilli plants. I've been saving seeds from everything we eat and I'm going to plant them this spring.

      I would love to get some chickens but I'm worried about my dogs getting in and causing havoc.

      I like your advice on cleaning detergent, gonna try that. And using the laundry water to flush the toilet is excellent, I'm definitely doing that one starting today.

      Everyone in the world really needs to get on this a.s.a.p because there won't be enough resources for people soon unless we all go green NOW.

    • afps profile image

      afps 6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Thank you Dennis and naturegirl7 for your kind and encouraging words.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      Your efforts toward sustainability are to be commended. If everyone does just a few things, it will make a difference in our environment.

    • Dennis Pace profile image

      Dennis Pace 6 years ago

      Accidental farmer, becomes professional organic food producer. congratulations ! what a great successful experience on how to become self reliant.. I also am going to get honey bees. Also want to get quail and turkeys. You have really inspired me.