Planning, planting, & waiting for the harvest

While home improvements have limped along at the rate of our mortgage-handicapped savings accounts, the garden around our new home has flourished. Water-tanks are the main bit of hardscaping. However, we have also put in some Colourbond-and-rescued-cypress garden beds, constructed by a local up in Hurstbridge.


And I’ve saved the neighbour’s broken pavers, turning them into a garden path.


More importantly, I’ve been adding as many perennial edibles as I can. It started with turning an ivy-infested patch into a herb garden and ended with me feverishly researching every and any edible plant that might survive in Melbourne. Quandong, anyone?

The plants we have so far includes:

 …almond, apple, artichoke, asparagus, avocado, basil (perennial), beans (runner, and butter), blackberry (thornless), blueberries, cape gooseberry, caper bush, celery (wild), Chilean guava, chives, choko, cranberry, elderberry, fennel, fig, garlic, greenfeast peas, horseradish, kiwiberry, lemon verbena, lemon, lemongrass, lettuce, lime, marjoram, midyim berry, mint (Vietnamese fish, Vietnamese hot, common, and apple), native ginger, nectareze, onion (spring, Egyptian walking), orange, oregano, parsley (curly-leaf), passionfruit, pepino, pepperberry, pomegranate, potato, radishes, rhubarb, rosemary, sage (pineapple, common), salad burnett, samphire, strawberries (alpine and normal), summer squash, tea camellia, thyme, tomatoes…

 Most of these plants are nursery-bought*, a few have come from veggie-swaps. The fig is one of Dad’s strikings.

I’ve tried positioning plants based on their needs. For instance, the orange and the lime has been placed against a north-facing fence**, whilst the cranberry is partly shaded and receiving the occasional deluge from a downpipe. Working with nature, instead of against it, means less watering, fertilising, and need for pest-control. In other words, a garden that is less resource-hungry.

Years will pass before we bring in a decent harvest: the antithesis of today’s have-it-now culture. It’s definitely a bit of wishin’ and hopin’ in a My Best Friends’ WeddingVeggie Garden kind of way.

*Note to self: must learn how to strike cuttings, etc.

*We had to remove a unruly neighbours-be-gone hedge first. I’m looking forward to planting out the rest of our food hedge.

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Gutter talk

Painted mission-brown, and made from galvanised steel, our gutters probably came with the house in 1965. However, as much as I love mid-century modern, gutters that leave puddles of water in front of the back door for me to step in, instead of delivering said water into the water tanks, is not cool. They had to be replaced, and soon.

Cheap Geek and I opted for continuous guttering in Colourbond steel. It was a little bit more expensive than the traditional ‘stick-length’ guttering, but it meant less wastage on installation. We also requested wider-than-standard downpipes. Downpipes with a large diameter should be able to cope better with a future climate-change-related ‘increase in the number and intensity of extreme rainfall events’ (via CSIRO)*.

Colourbond downpipe

Wider-than-standard downpipes installed in anticipation of climate change related weather weirdness.

The gutters went up 2 weeks ago and there are no more leaks on the back porch! We also found out from Alan Cuthbertson, a Sustainable House Day 2015 host, that drying your clothes inside in winter is a dumb idea: wet clothes on a clothes horse is pretty much a primitive evaporative cooling system. Chris Woodford from ExplainThatStuff! whilst detailing the science behind drying clothes, notes

…no matter how you dry clothes, you have to put in energy from somewhere to evaporate the water. Dry things outside and that energy comes for free from the Sun and the wind. Dry things on indoor radiators and the energy comes from your stove, gas boiler, or heating system. The laws of physics tell us that you cannot dry clothes for free indoors: the energy has to come from somewhere.

Clothes in a laundry basketSo drying the clothes on a non-leaky porch should, in theory, help reduce our heating costs. New guttering FTW!

*Thankyou Michael Mobbs for highlighting the need to prepare for climate-change-related storm events.

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Going batty: what do you do with one too many insulation batts?

It’s been 2 months since the last post and we’re warming up into spring. Cheap Geek still has not finalised the last bit of roof insulation, though I’m pretty sure we’ve got too many Green Stuf batts. Cheap Geek plans on stowing these above the original layer of insulation, but one batt already has the privilege of being stuffed up our chimney.

According to, ‘heat energy goes up the chimney and large volumes of cold air are drawn into the room to replace it, creating cold draughts or removing heated air from nearby spaces.’ And with chimneys, not only does heated air get replaced by cold air, the resulting draught also makes you feel colder than it actually is.

Hence the need to put a bat(t) up the chimney:

Big Brown Bat perched on chimney by Cotinis

Image courtesy of Cotinis (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Cheap Geek measured up the chimney interior and trimmed the batt to size so that it would fit snugly without being squished*.  Once inserted, it blocked out most (if not all) draughts.

Before putting insulation in your chimney, make sure that it is hypoallergenic. Glass-wool batts, for instance, are not a good idea: they can shed irritant particles. Fires are also not a good idea whilst the insulation is in place.

There are purpose-designed products such as Chimney Sheep or Chimney Balloons that will keep the draughts out and the heat in but they’re nowhere near as fun as roping water bottles together whilst stylin’ in a beat up leather jacket and 80’s hairdo.


Image courtesy of

*Condensing an entire batt will compromise its ability to insulate.

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Winter has come: bring on the insulation

On Sunday, Melbournians woke up to the coldest morning in 18 years. Thanks to central heating, our Mustbethrifty House was toasty warm throughout the night.

However, if it weren’t for roof insulation, we would have shivered regardless of heating. I know this from our experience a couple of months back when Cheap Geek removed the loose fill insulation from our roof, after he suspected it of triggering off my allergies. It was autumn and the weather was still mild; we had the heating turned up and were huddled together on the couch, wrapped up in blankets.

Installing Green Stuf batts in the roofCheap Geek started laying down Green Stuf, a hypoallergenic* polyester batt. He installed insulation for half of the house**, then took a break for a couple of weeks before finishing off the rest. During those weeks, we noticed the change when moving from one part of the house to the other and the thermometer recorded differences of 0.5 to 1 degrees C.

Like most DIY jobs, the insulation is not 100% installed yet, but it’s enough to keep our heating in.

*While the Green Stuf is hypoallergenic and does not require protective equipment, Cheap Geek developed dermatitis on his arms and hands from coming into contact with residual loose fill. It’s best to wear a mask, gloves and a long-sleeved top when installing batts in the roof.

**No super special tools required: scissors, a couple of good camping lamps/torches and a trusty ladder…

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It’s time to save water (again)

According to the daily doom and gloom, an El Nino is here to stay. It’s time to start installing water-saving technologies if you haven’t done so already. At the Mustbethrifty House, we’re making the most of the last bit of rain by putting in rainwater tanks.

Plastic water tanks

The tanks are made from plastic. In terms of longevity and disposal, plastic tanks aren’t as environmentally friendly as stainless steel ones but they make the cost of the initial setup much more affordable. I’m hoping that by the time I need to replace my water tank, I’ll have a ‘good job that pays good money’ for good stainless steel water tanks (or a house in Sydney or whatever).

A plumber will be connecting the tanks to our toilet and laundry. According to Melbourne Water, using collected rainwater for toilet and laundry instead of/as well as the garden also helps protects local waterways from excess runoff:

If tank water is used for your garden alone, your tank will remain full and unused during the winter months when your garden does not require watering. With a full tank, your capacity to capture and store the regular winter rainfall and thus benefit the local waterway is significantly reduced.

By plumbing your rainwater tank to your toilet or laundry, your tank water is used consistently all year round allowing rainfall to refill the tank more often especially in winter. This ultimately reduces the volume of stormwater that is delivered to the stream and the quantity of pollutants that are washed with it.

We’re hoping the plumbing gets done before the Living Victorian Rebate Program ends, so that we can claim back a portion of the installation cost. :)

Gauge on water tankA water tank is a large economic investment that may not necessarily give much return in dollars and cents. We’re installing these babies more for feel-goodness with the hope that they will add value to our property.

If you want to save money as well as water, you’re better off replacing your showerhead and or toilet with more water-efficient models. The ATA reiterates this in their free report on the economics of water-saving technology and it is a fascinating read for the mustbethrifty. The economic argument for replacing showerheads/toilets is even more persuasive if you factor in the incentives/rebates that are still kicking around from state and local governments. But you’ll have to be quick to make the most of it: June 30 quick that is.

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It’s curtains

Last year, I mentioned double glazing as a way to keep the summer heat out and the winter heat in. A much more cost-effective option, however, is the use of curtains.

Curtains and blinds help prevent heat loss and gain by trapping a blanket of air next to the window. The best results come from ‘fabrics that insulate well, for example heavy fabrics or curtains with thermal lining or layers’ (via Your Energy Savings).

what improves energy efficiency for windows


The curtains we inherited from the previous owner were rubbish. They were sun-damaged, mismatched, and threadbare:

Threadbare curtains

Thanks to the power of Google, we were able to source some quality secondhand curtains. There’s a store called Johnny’s Furniture in Eumemmerring (Dandenong) which stock ex-hotel furniture. They sell piles of Sheridan/Mantra/Hilton cast-offs, so we were able to get matching curtains made from heavy, tightly woven fabric. Unlike a lot of the ready mades available from Ikea and fabric stores, these ex-hotel curtains were also lined.

NOKIA Lumia 800_002260They were a bit longer than what was needed, so Mum spent a few mornings furiously hemming away. Dad was also nice enough to replace the mismatched curtain rails with uniform tracks.

While we don’t have quantitative temperature comparisons*, we’re observing a difference in comfort levels. When the curtains are not closed in the afternoon, you can really feel the sun’s intensity in front of the west-facing window. Pull the curtain across and the heat/glare reduces noticeably.

For our north-facing windows, we’ve also had adjustable awnings** installed.

traditional awnings

We picked adjustable awnings that created good shade and suited the house’s mid-century architecture.

‘When a window is hit by direct sunlight, heat comes in and the window is a source of heat gain. When a window is in shade, heat from inside will leave, and the window becomes a source of heat loss’ (via ABC’s Carbon Cops). Therefore using awnings in summer reduces direct solar gain and encourages heat loss via transfer/convection. And according to Sustainability Victoria, our choice of thick, opaque fabric means better shade. Squee!

Next step is figuring out how to retrofit invisible pelmets (or something similar) to reduce heat loss/gain from thermal convection.

* I bought a couple of Oregon weather station monitors and Cheap Geek installed them around the house but so far we’ve only got flat batteries as a result. :(

**We chose adjustable awnings because we wanted to be able to harvest as much sunlight in winter, maximising direct solar gain.

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Renting chickens (because a mortgage is enough commitment already)

For the last four weeks, we have been hosting two chickens, Henrietta and Lily, from Book-a-Chook.

Pekin chickens

Pekin chickens, Henrietta and Lily, from Book-a-Chook

And like any new parent, I’ve been harping about them to everyone I meet: Henrietta is greedy, pecky, and sprints like an Olympic athlete, whilst Lily is the more cautious of the two and stays up past her bedtime. Most responses so far have been, ‘You can rent chickens?’ which is soon followed by ‘but why not just buy them?’

In the community, there persists a belief that chickens are mustbethrifty pets, since they give you free eggs, free fertiliser, free bug killer, and (occasionally) free chicken roast. And teenage chickens (8-10 week olds) only cost $30-40 each.

What most punters don’t consider is the cost of a fox-proof chicken coop (and run). There’s some cheap imports out there for a couple of hundred bucks, but they’re not very sturdy and you still need to wrap metres of mesh around them. Mesh, I’ve discovered, is surprisingly pricey.

Plus there’s the usual ongoing costs of feed, bedding, and veterinary treatments. And you have to be able to put them to bed at dusk, every frakking night. Buying chickens is a huge commitment.

Hence, Book-a-Chook is good for indecisives like me. It prevents people buying a flock of chickens as a whimsical Christmas present for the family before trying to get rid of both the chickens and the chicken-keeping paraphernalia on Gumtree a couple of months later. Okay, it’s not the cheapest exercise ($170 for 4 weeks, plus $100 delivery), but it helped confirm this particular life-choice. And Fleur, Book-a-Chook’s Chicken Whisperer, was great at guiding us through the process.

If only there was such a thing in the world called Book-a-Baby or Book-a-Dog.


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