Can you live sustainably in a capital city? Sure can.

April 07, 2017

Can you live sustainably in a capital city? Sure can.

A story about a Wellington couple doing everything they can to live sustainably, a little inspiration for those of us doing what we can, when we can but who would like to do more.

The bananas didn’t make it this year, but the corn is going strong. Mornington couple Ken and Anne Simpson have proved that real gardening, the kind that feeds a family, is possible in windy Wellington.

They have an abundant, sprawling 400sqm fruit, nut and vegetable garden on a slope that boasts apples, figs, plums, kiwifruit, gooseberries, cranberries, peaches and nectarines among the usual vegetables.

Out the front they’ve created self-generating bush with 50 different native species spread over a 400sqm slope. All this in a suburban setting just five minutes’ drive from the Wellington CBD.

“It provides food for us and the birds, fuel for the wood-burner, and nectar and pollen for bees. It is a constant source of interest, pleasure, surprises, and challenges,” Anne says.

Our capital city is not known for its easy climate, and Ken says it’s been experimentation that brought success.

They “liberated” the back lawn about 16 years ago and since then have been figuring out which way the wind hits it, which plants will protect each other, testing the limits and using the wisdom of companion planting to get things growing.

They’ve added a beehive, chickens (the poo is great fertiliser), compost heaps, worm farms – the backyard is teeming with life. Anne says she was initially inspired to grow their own organic food when she read about genetically modified food.

“We all actually ought to be doing this, so we thought ‘What can we do in a capital city?’, we needed to find out what was possible.”

One thing leads to another, says Anne, and the next thing you know you’ve got solar panels.

The couple’s efforts to be self-sufficient haven’t been limited to the garden – they’ve got a 1000-litre water tank, and solar panels which generate about 2800 kw a year.

They’ve tried to make their carbon footprint as small as possible – making their own green cleaning products, avoiding plastic packaging, and making their home more energy efficient.

They have a mechanical ventilation system which they say sorted condensation overnight, with it the mould.

They have insulation in the walls, ceiling and underfloor, secondary window glazing and have gradually changed their lights to LEDs.

Most recently they called in Sustainability Trust to upgrade their bathroom lights to LEDs and to fill in the gaps in the ceiling insulation which had been required with conventional downlights.

The investment Ken and Anne have made has paid off – their winter power bill now averages about $60 a month.

The Simpsons are shortly moving to Scotland to restart a life there, and are passing the home on to another family next month.

“I’ve learned lots,” says Anne. “We’ve started something here and hopefully we’ll start something else.”

For anyone inspired by what they’ve done, Anne says: “Just start with a little bit. Try it out and see what you can accomplish.

Do a bit of dreaming and be a bit inspired by things you read. Have a go at things you would like to do.”

And from Ken: “Get advice”.

Sustainability Trust offers advice on making homes more energy efficient and ways to live sustainably, so if you’ve been inspired, call us on 0508 78 78 24.

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