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Old 04-12-2007, 10:28 PM posted to aus.gardens
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Default Article in The Age about home gardens

Where to water
a.. Water restrictions should support community gardens and the backyard
vegie patch, says Ben Neil, CEO of Cultivating Community (above left with
gardener Sabri Kiziltam).
Photo: Simon Schluter
December 5, 2007

The inventor of permaculture is among those calling for backyard farmers to
be freed from water restrictions. Katherine Kizilos reports.

IN A drought year, during an era of climate change, what does it mean to be
a responsible gardener? Cactuses, paving and a sculpture near the barbecue?
Or an old-fashioned vegie patch, fruit trees, herbs and a compost bin in the

Some serious gardeners are now questioning the conventional wisdom that the
best way to save water at a time of low rainfall is to put a clamp on the
hose. While pushing the use of rainwater tanks and grey water, they also
argue that growing fruit and vegetables at home is, in the words of David
Holmgren, "the best thing you can be doing" for the environment.

Holmgren, with fellow Australian Bill Mollison, devised permaculture, a
design system for sustainable living and land use. He puts his ideas into
practice at his property, Melliodora, at Hepburn Springs, where a hectare of
land supports fruit and nut trees, vegetables, chooks, geese and two goats.
Although grains, some nuts and oil-producing plants are not in the mix, the
property allows for a fair degree of self-sufficiency - Holmgren says this
is also possible because he eats seasonally and does not rely on the "drip
feed from supermarkets". Water comes from dams and from taps connected to
town water. Holmgren says the smallholding uses about one-fifth of the water
"used by a market gardener or orchardist".

According to Holmgren, "if we planted out city farms and urban areas, we
could achieve a massive increase in (water) efficiency. No one is talking
about this ".

Holmgren also points out that farms tend to be open expanses and need more
water than a home garden, which is naturally more sheltered. In addition,
"farmers use overhead sprinklers which are inefficient". And many orchards
and market gardens are sited in sunny, warm places like Mildura, where the
rainfall is low, but where farmers achieve a market advantage by producing
fruit and vegetables slightly ahead of the season in colder, rainier

Holmgren has based his calculations on water use on a 2001 Australian Bureau
of Statistics study by Lenzen and Foran. The study estimated "the amount of
water needed throughout the whole economy to provide final consumers with $1
worth of various goods and services". It found that fruit and vegetables
required 103 litres per $1; beef products 381 litres and dairy 680 litres.

By contrast, Melliodora uses about 20 litres of water for every $1 of fruit
and vegetables produced, while the two goats that provide milk and cheese
consumed about two litres per $1 of value, or 1/300th of the amount used by
a dairy farm.

According to Lenzen and Foran's figures, commercially purchased food - not
including the food purchased in restaurants - accounts for about 48 per cent
of the water consumed by the average Sydney household. While the water that
comes out of the tap at home accounts for only 11 per cent of a household's
total water use.

For Holmgren, the data suggests that putting restrictions on watering
suburban gardens makes little sense. He knows that water restrictions are
necessary but proposes households be given a seasonal allocation of water,
with the decision of whether to use this in the spa or on the tomatoes left
to them. Under this system the price of water would "skyrocket if you
exceed" the allocation.

"There are good public policy reasons that home food production is
desirable," he says. "We need policies that at least don't impede this, even
if they don't actively support it."

Holmgren's ideas have been given a boost by a recent petition to the State
Government; hundreds of gardeners have asked for exemptions to the water
restrictions to allow them extra water for vegetables and herb plots.

In suburban Coburg, Pam Morgan is conducting an experiment. "I want to
explore how much food production I can get on a city block," she says.

For 22 years, Morgan managed the Collingwood Children's Farm and has visited
Havana to see how the Cubans increased the city's food production by 10
times in a decade. "Fifty per cent of their food is grown there now."

By cultivating land in the city, the Cubans were responding to embargoes
which slashed the amount of petroleum available to them to transport food;
urban farms reduce food miles. Morgan also wants to recycle her household's
biodegradable waste to create compost (commercial farms use petroleum-based
chemicals and fertilisers). She also hopes to save water by using grey water
and roof water.

Morgan argues that policy makers are approaching the water-shortage problem
"from a mechanistic perspective. Minimal water use in the garden and
drought-hardy plants. It ignores the issue of carbon recycling or organic
waste and also of returning nutrients to the land. We are wasting resources
from the city at the moment."

According to Clive Blazey, the founder of mail-order seed company The
Diggers Club, the "average person only needs about 60 square metres of space
to be self-sufficient in all the potatoes, all the vegetables and the fruit
that you wanted to grow. You wouldn't have big, massive apple trees or
anything. You would have espaliered trees, especially dwarf rootstock
varieties that wouldn't take up much space". He reckons the garden would
need "about 34,000 litres of water", which could be gathered from the roof,
or grey water.

Blazey is concerned that the present system of water restrictions does not
make allowances "for people on a low income who want to grow their own food"
and who might need help to divert grey water or set up a rainwater tank. And
he believes the role of suburban gardens in reducing greenhouse gases is not

He is irritated by the prevailing landscape aesthetic which advocates paving
gardens and planting cactus "so instead of burying carbon and doing
something useful you are stopping any organisms from growing under the
paving and you are using plants that have so little biomass they are
absolutely useless to you. What you need to be growing in your backyard is a
lot of green things. Trees and shrubs and plants and food plants and not
paving, concrete and bricks."

But the water restrictions fall hardest on community gardens, where
gardeners do not have the option of using grey water and where tank water,
if it exists, may not be sufficient for each plot holder's use. In addition,
the morning watering requirements can be difficult for gardeners who have to
travel further than the back veranda to visit their plot (while also being
less efficient than watering in the evening).

Ben Neil, chief executive of Cultivating Community, which looks after 21
community gardens - just under 800 individual plots - on Ministry of Housing
sites, says that when stage three water restrictions were introduced on
January 1, "we lost 20 to 25 per cent of our gardeners. There was this
initial feeling of 'how are we going to cope?' We lost quite a lot of

Since then, "some people have been quite ingenious," he says. "A resident on
the 17th floor has a pram and comes down with containers of water from the
shower." Neil is now talking to the State Government about installing more
rainwater tanks in community gardens, but he also believes policy makers
need to look at food-producing gardens and water restrictions in a different

"I believe that if local food and urban agriculture are not part of our
future, it will be very, very difficult for us to face the forthcoming
environmental challenges," he says. "We must have people growing food in the

By making life more difficult for gardeners, particularly community
gardeners, you are not merely depriving them of a recreational and social
opportunity, Neil argues. "If I don't grow my food next to where I live, I
will jump in my car and go to the supermarket and buy something that is
refrigerated, wrapped in plastic and that has a massive carbon footprint.

"It's a no-brainer. If I can't grow food close to where I live, what am I
going to do?"

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Old 05-12-2007, 02:23 AM posted to aus.gardens
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Default Article in The Age about home gardens

"Staycalm" wrote in message


For Holmgren, the data suggests that putting restrictions on watering
suburban gardens makes little sense. He knows that water restrictions are
necessary but proposes households be given a seasonal allocation of water,
with the decision of whether to use this in the spa or on the tomatoes left
to them. Under this system the price of water would "skyrocket if you
exceed" the allocation.


Very sensible. Which means it doesn't have a chance.


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Old 05-12-2007, 06:03 PM posted to aus.gardens
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Default Article in The Age about home gardens

there's been a call for this to happen for almost the last year that i
can recall, and being a gardener i would support any support home
growers can get.

but it will fail on a couple of grounds:

1.. common sense - because it makes common sense the regulator won't
be able to cope with it.

2.. and as the regulator can only cope with the 'lowest common
denominator', they won't be able to regulate it so it won't get off
the ground.

3.. before you know it the rose growers will be up in arms because
they aren't allowed to water their valuable roses.

the best long term fix for home growers is collect rain water in
sufficient amounts to allow you to water between rain periods.

On Wed, 5 Dec 2007 09:28:55 +1100, "Staycalm"
With peace and brightest of blessings,

len & bev

"Be Content With What You Have And
May You Find Serenity and Tranquillity In
A World That You May Not Understand."

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