What happens when a group of concerned locals come together to not only be heard but are also given the space to share ideas and formulate solutions? ACTION!! And that is exactly what is happening right now across our Shire.
The OzGREEN Resilient Communities Program has provided the opportunity for Bellingen Shire locals to create local solutions to our greatest threats. But possibly even more importantly, it has allowed for networking across groups, linking experts in their fields with the novice and the cross pollination of ideas.
Nick Radford of Ecoliving Design/Bellingen Permaculture (pictured above with OzGREEN’s North Bellingen Resilient Communities Facilitators Donna Sowman on left and Alison Heeley) has a wealth of environmental knowledge and an impressive list of qualifications to prove it. His passion to assist others to create efficient environmental solutions for an array of problems now stretches to opening up his own garden in Repton to educate others on the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of grey water diversion. For free mind you! “I don’t want any impediments to others being able to acquire the knowledge and skills to manage their own sites,” says Nick.
A group of Bellingen Shire locals, brought together through the OzGREEN program, spent Sunday afternoon roaming through Nick’s eco wonderland, enjoying the sensory delights that only a truly environmentally-balanced garden can provide, while absorbing Nick’s tips and advice on grey water diversion.
Interestingly, Nick’s transformation of the block in Repton from a weedy hill paddock to where we found ourselves on Sunday was only a three-year part-time project. “It does take some time in the initial set-up stages, but I really only spend about 20 hours a year in the food creation portion of this garden,” says Nick. The answer is WATER. More specifically- water collection, water recycling and water retention.
Since the droughts and bushfires of 2019 and the ongoing threats of climate change, the need to build our water resilience has never been greater. But what does that mean? “We need to reduce water usage, regenerate our water resources, have adequate water storage and learn to reuse,” says Sue Lennox, OzGREEN co-founder. This is exactly the approach Nick has utilised, with extraordinary results.
Interestingly, Nick’s property is connected to town water, however through the changes he has made to water collection, diversion and recycling, he no longer draws on the town’s water supply at all. Every centimeter of roof surface on the property now collects rainwater into a series of tanks. But what was most impressive was the fully government compliant grey water diversion system, feeding the gardens closest to the house, with any overflow being captured by a series of swales and water tolerant asparagus and reeds down the slope.
For those not well versed in the topic, grey water is wastewater from the sinks, showers and washing machines that hasn’t been mixed with any foecal matter. An exemption is kitchen sink water, which has a high level of fat and salts, making it undesirable for use as grey water in the garden. And of course, rinsing bleach, paints and even powered, high-salt level washing powders aren’t encouraged through a grey water diversion system.
However, the key point to come out of Nick’s demonstration was the need to deliver grey water to the garden underground. “Soil is a good treatment medium, loaded with bacteria made to deal with nutrients,” says Nick. “The grey water outlets into the garden should be covered by 100 mms of mulch or soil; shouldn’t be able to run into someone else’s property and shouldn’t be able to run into neighbouring water courses.” So hooking up a hose straight from your washing machine to water the garden isn’t advised and certainly isn’t Council compliant.
Nick carefully explained and demonstrated every element of his grey water diversion system, making it seem not only possible but also quite doable to the novice. Even maintenance of the system appeared simple and low fuss. He did stress that this is a grey water diversion system, rather than grey water treatment. Grey water treatment is permanent and must comply with strict government regulation, requiring Council approval. In the case of diversion, the system can be switched to another system (town water treatment or septic removal) if there is ever a problem, which can also occur if stronger detergents are being used or in the case of huge rain events, preventing excess water being delivered to the garden. Also of note, if a plumbing system is being converted, legally a plumber needs to be involved.
One rainwater downpipe feeds directly into a pond in which bush tucker plants and water-hungry Asian greens are growing, with the water overflow being strategically directed down the slope into the dense fruit forest. One quickly comes to realise that no water here is wasted, but due to clever design and water capture, there is also no water run-off. It is hard to believe that this lush bank was once a dry paddock requiring slashing.
“Just because you have a grey water diversion system in place doesn’t mean you will have unlimited water forever,” says Nick. He has adopted many strategies for retaining and reusing water many times in his bountiful garden. Scattered throughout are ‘compost worm towers’, into which Nick admits throwing anything and everything organic, including oranges, onions and even old jeans. The soil is rich, dense with organic matter and more importantly, able to retain water, covered with mulch in the form of woodchip and garden cuttings. Moveable shade cloths designed to protect younger plants during warmer months effectively reduce water needs. Highly combustible tree varieties are slowly being replaced by rainforest species, whereby differing canopy heights are strategically used to provide shade for younger delicate plants. Companion planting and a heavy mix of differing plant species negates the problem of pests and disease.
Nick is passionate and generous with his knowledge. Those in attendance were left with a sense of possibility and relief that even the average gardener could achieve these results. This is water resilience at the grassroots level, with the added benefits of complete self-sufficiency. We definitely have all the knowledge and skills right here in the Shire, as the OzGREEN Resilient Communities Program is uncovering.
For more information on OzGREEN Resilient Communities Program CLICK HERE
To organise an educational tour of Nick’s garden and grey water diversion contact: [email protected]
All photos credited Jay and the Trees Photography