We know it’s winter when…

We know it’s winter when…we stop rushing to harvest the salad as early as possible before the sun makes the delicate leaves wilt and instead we switch to harvesting it when our hands have warmed up enough to have the dexterity to pick it! We know it’s winter when we pack away all our veggie shade netting and pull out the frost cloth to protect our delicate green leaves from freezing. We know it’s a dry winter when the skin on our hands is as cracked and dry as the soil itself and when we are still watering the vegetables in July (we would normally stop in April)! And we know it’s winter when we can take a holiday.

Things never stop needing to be done on the farm, we harvest and sell vegetables every week of the year, but one of the beauties of being in a business partnership is that you can step away every now and then and know that everything will keep on ticking and being cared for while you’re away.

This time last year we were just starting to prepare the ‘new patch’ with a run over by Dave Griffiths and his Yeoman’s plough. We grew our first crops on that fresh ground in summer and are now almost finished getting everything for winter and spring in the ground. The first caulis and brocs are ready for harvest and we may actually even get some brussel sprouts this year!

This winter we’re putting in our first rhubarb and asparagus crowns, cape gooseberries, and globe artichokes, which is very exciting. The thought of permanent rows of perennial edibles warms my heart. We’re also starting to put in some edible wind and roo breaks to protect our patch—pomegranates, citrus, elder flowers, and maybe even an avocado or two.

With the help of our lovely vollies we have also planted loads of spring flowering bulbs like daffodils, jonquils, irises, freesias and ranunculus. Just coz they’re beautiful and just coz by the time spring comes we’re all really hanging out for those bursts of colour to remind us the soil is warming up!

Grow well

Sas

When farmers get help, magic happens…

We had the pleasure this week of speaking at a conference in Canberra about being part of the Farming Together (federal) funding program designed to encourage collaboration between farming groups.
We were speaking about setting up the co-op here on the farm, and our “succession + growth” model generated a lot of interest, because there’s a lot of farmers in the same situation as us, i.e., thinking about retirement or at least wanting to step back, but not wanting to sell the farm or stop it being productive.
Previous generations solved this problem by handing the farm down to the kids, and 3rd, 4th or even 5th generation family farms are not uncommon. But things are rapidly changing and it’s no longer a given that the next generation will come home on the farm. So, we’re hopeful that the model we’re creating will be of use to lots of other people.
The sort of innovation that we’re demonstrating here was very much the tone of the conference. We came away feeling totally inspired by the other farming groups we heard from, and brought lots of new ideas back to Harcourt with us. Here’s some of the highlights:
  • Braidwood Garlic Growers Co-op, who are helping more than 30 members make a living from their very small holdings by learning and marketing together.
  • King Island Beef Producers Benchmarking Group, who told the story of taking a field trip to another group of farmers who were already experienced in benchmarking, and being amazed to find they had totally overcome their fear of sharing their financial and production information with each other! They went on to develop the list of shared values (in the photo) that has led to increased profitability for the whole group.
  • The berry growers co-op (who are way bigger than we’ll ever be, but still had great ideas to learn from), who presented the financial analysis showing the value of investing in crop-protecting infrastructure.
We’re not in the business of being the mouthpiece for government, but this was a really good program. In just 1 year they fostered 224 co-ops, worked with 750 groups, and helped more than 28,500 primary producers.
Inspiring stuff, but behind the numbers is the fact that this program worked really well for us, the farmers.  We got into the program after an initial assessment (by phone) and were assigned a business consultant, and after that it was their job to understand what we needed and apply for the funding to deliver it. We got great service and the professional advice we needed to develop our co-op with a minimum of our time taken up with bureaucracy, leaving us time to actually work on our idea.
In accordance with the unfathomable way that government sometimes works, this effective, bloody good-value program didn’t get funded in the last budget, so we’d like to give a big thanks to the Farming Together team and the team of consultants who helped us, especially the indomitable Clare Fountain.

Carr’s Heritage Fruit Tree Nursery

Carr’s Heritage Fruit Tree Nursery

There’s a fresh patch of hoed ground in the Nursery. Merv fired the tractor up a few weeks back to start preparing the ground for our next rotation in the heritage nursery. We’ve been growing on the same two areas for a couple of years now and its time to rest the soil in that patch. With three distinct growing areas we can rotate year to year, making sure the resting soil gets some loving in the form of a green manure crop to revitalize the life in the soil.

Things definitely wind back a little in the nursery in winter.  The rush of the late summer budding is over and now is the time to collect and grow our rootstocks for the next year’s buds.  We’re collecting up apple, pear, peach and quince seeds to sow, and plum cuttings to ‘heel in’. We might even try some fig cuttings and another round of citrus seed.

Merv is still teaching me how to tell which buds have ‘taken’ (successfully struck). But I still look at the nearly naked trees in the nursery and cross my fingers that the budding we did in late summer will be successful because to my untrained eye I can’t believe they’ve really taken until I can see the new growth in Spring!

With Katie’s complex coding system involving coloured pipe cleaners, the three of us did some multi-bud experiments in late summer. We budded up to five different varieties of plum, apricot or both onto individual plum rootstocks. We don’t really know what they’ll do or how they’ll grow, but that’s the beauty of experimenting with fruit trees! If they work, each multi-budded tree will be able to cross-pollinate itself and reduce the amount of space needed to grow multiple varieties of fruit. Perfect for small backyards. Since plums are generally hardy and prolific they are great to experiment in this way with, not to mention you can bud apricots onto plum rootstock too!

The next flurry of activity will be to plant out all the seeds and cuttings. But for now we’re just getting ready for that.

Sas