Category Archives: Info

The Berkeley compost layer cake

The Berkeley compost layer cake:

A guide to the biological engine in your backyard.

Some quick rules of compost:

  • Compost is Aerobic decomposition. The bacteria, fungus and microbes breaking down your compost require oxygen!
  • They also need nitrogen and carbon in the ratio of 1 part N to 30 parts C.
  • Compost must be kept moist. Not too damp or there won’t be enough oxygen and not too dry or the microbes will die.
  • Size matters. Bigger compost piles (over 1 cubic metre) will build up and retain much more heat, leading to more microbial activity, breaking down the pile much faster.

Get these right and your compost will smell lovely and break down quickly.

Guide to getting the ratios right:

  • A one to one ratio of dry “brown” high carbon material and moist “green” high nitrogen material will result in the desired 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio.
  • Layers make for a great consistency. It can be hard to make your pile completely homogenous so using alternating layers of high carbon and high nitrogen materials is a great compromise.
  • Particle size is important. Chopping, shredding or even grinding up larger pieces will give more surface area for the microbes to work on. Watch that smaller pieces do not clog up your compost though, as a good flow of oxygen is required.

Recipe for a Berkeley Layer Cake:

  • Start by laying out a square of straw 1m x 1m, and between 10 and 20 cm thick.
  • Add a layer of high nitrogen material such as manure, 5 to 10cm thick.
  • Add another layer of straw approximately 10 cm thick and wet the pile down.
  • Continue to add layers between 5 and 10 cm thick of alternating high nitrogen and high carbon materials while continuing to wet the pile.
  • When the pile is around 50 cm thick, place a stick in the middle of the pile to mark out the chimney. Continue to add layers around it.
  • When the pile is 1m thick, remove the stick to create the chimney and the first stage is complete.

Completing the cooking:

  • After about a week the compost will need turning.
  • Peel the outer layers away and pile them in the centre of where the new pile will be.
  • Fork the inner compost over on top of the least composted outer shell.
  • Create a new chimney and leave it for another week to completely compost.

WVO as fuel?


Free fuel, or less CO2, veggie oil’s not just for hippies!

Some people may have noticed a slight increase in fuel prices over the last few years. I’m pretty sure I remember a time when the Litres went up faster than the Dollars on the pump. And don’t get me started on the effect millions of cars have on our atmostphere. I’m sure i’m no longer alone in searching for an alternative.

So what else is there? I can’t afford a Prius! It’s not like too many car companies give you much choice when it comes to how your vehicle is powered. Usually a more fuel efficient engine, or perhaps a small diesel is the only “environmentally friendly” and “cheap” option available.

Or at least I thought so, until I started researching… You can actually convert your can to electric fairly cheaply now. Lead acid batteries are well proven technology and very recyclable, they’re heavy and relatively low powered, but they’ll get you from uni into town and back half a dozen times on a single charge, and if you convert it yourself you can do it for as little as $5000!

But alass, even that is out of my league. For starters I don’t have a car to convert. Even then, my car budget is more or less half of the whole conversion cost. So are there any cheaper options?

A bike and a buss pass will get you almost everywhere you need to go around town, but neither option is great for the shopping, let alone that load of horse poo you want for the garden. And I can’t say i’m the greatest fan of rain.. There must be something else…

Hoorah! There is! It’s cheap, it’s environmentally friendly and suprisingly easy.

I won’t bore you with the details, but basically a diesel engine is really tollerant of what fuel you can run it on, and believe it or not, veggie oil is suprisingly similar to diesel! It doesn’t even have to be good fresh oil, the old waste from the local fish and chip shop should be perfect.

Waste Veggie Oil (WVO) is vegetable oil which has been used for cooking then discarded. Every shop with a deep frier will go through dozens of litres of the stuff every week. Some of the shops return the used oil to their suppliers, but many have to pay to have it taken away and disposed of. You can see where this is headed…

With a few minor adjustments to the fuel system (mainly heating the fuel lines so the oil is nice and runny) and a little preparation of the oil (remove the water/acids and chunks of chip) you’ve just secured an almost endless supply of fuel for your vehicle. Environmentally friendly driving without paying for petrol? It seems to good to be true!

-No net carbon emissions – all the carbon comes from the vegetables which make the oil

-No petroleum – so many reasons this is good

-It’s practically free!!

So whether you’re a dirty hippy who hates petroleum or a 4×4 nut who spent all their money on a accessories and camping gear, keep an open mind. Do some research online, ask your local fish and chip shop what they do with their oil. Maybe there’s not enough WVO for every car to switch, but there’s a whole lot of deep fryers out there which haven’t been claimed yet!

– Chris

(ps the exhaust smells like chips)

Dragonflies as pest control in your garden.

Dragonflies are a useful insect for organic pest control in the garden as both larvae and adult dragonflies are voracious predators other insects. An adult dragonfly will pluck white cabbage butterflies and other flying insects out of the air and will lay its eggs in any established water body. A dragonfly larvae spend life under the water surface predating on mosquito wrigglers and other aquatic organisms until the next season when it will crawl out of the water and shed its adolescent form, taking to the air.

To attract dragonflies to your garden, establishing a pond is the only way to go (considering half of its life cycle is spent underwater). The pond should have a fair number of various aquatic organisms for the larvae to feed on, and any healthy pond will. If you’re only just establishing a pond it can take quite some time for a range of aquatic insects to populate the water by themselves. You can speed this process up by spiking your pond water with water from an already established and aged pond. Of course having an abundance of aquatic vegetation will only help as most aquatic insects require plants for food and shelter.

Adding a Frog Pond to your Garden

A pond in your garden can be very attractive whilst also providing habitat for native amphibians. The sound of frogs in your garden at night is very soothing, but the pond needs to be a reasonable distance from your house and your neighbour’s, as the frogs can be quite noisy at times.

It is usually good to choose the lowest part of the garden to ensure a natural setting and water flow but placement can be relatively flexible. Half shade is preferable, with plants around the pond for shelter. A pond that gets no sun will stagnate and lose its inhabitants quickly. Make sure you wait at least two weeks before adding frogs to ensure that the chlorine has evaporated.

To control mosquito larvae, get native Gudgeon from a fish hatchery or White Cloud Mountain Minnow from an aquarium shop. These fish will breed in your pond. Never introduce Plague Minnow (Gambusia) which is potentially a pest and will readily eat frog spawn instead of ‘mossie’ wrigglers. Should you have pets, such as Cats or Dogs, or if there are small children in around the area, you can create a damp area or plant a prickly ground cover to discourage damage to the pond or frogs.

Ponds are available from your local hardware shop, along with pumps and fountains for those with the money. Alternatively, you can make your own pond by scraping out a hollow and lining it with black UV-resistant PVC or EPDM butyl (which is more expensive). If you use this method make sure you weigh down the edges with rocks. Anything that holds water and wont leech toxins can be turned into a pond such as old bathtubs and plastic tubs. Use your imagination!

Your frogs will need to be able to get in and out of the pond freely. If what you’ve used for a pond has steep edges, make a ladder from a branch or pile rocks up at one end. Piling rocks and the occasional nice-looking log around your pond will provide extra places for your frogs to hide during the day.

There are a large number of attractive native aquatic plants available which your frogs will love you for. A great place to acquire such natives is ‘Trees In Newcastle’ (TIN).

http://www.angfa-nsw.org – List of Native Fish good for garden ponds. ‘frog-friendly’

www.aquablueseafoods.com.au/native.shtml – Good Native Freshwater Fish Hatchery (NSW)

www.treesinnewcastle.org.au – Excellent Local Native Nursery