A farm is a community…

I often stop for a moment when I’m out at work and mentally check in with who’s where and who’s doing what on the farm. Some days we can have up to 10 or more people working away quietly (or noisily)—some together, some alone—all industriously working towards the same goal—growing food.

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The Smith Family (big fans of our organic fruit) volunteering to help us plant cherry trees

Farms have traditionally always been communities, usually based around a family, or a group of families. It’s only as modern agriculture has dominated more and more that we’ve seen a shift away from family farms, and towards a corporate model of larger farms, more intensive farming, more machinery and less employees. Well, that’s not how we do things!

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Hugh and Daniel lumping compost

Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for running a farm as a business, and a profitable business at that. You can’t farm for passion alone (well you can, but not for long), and it’s important that farmers get paid a fair wage for their work.

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A Gung Hoe working bee, lots of vollies pitching in

But the soul of a farm comes from the people that work, and gather, and eat, and talk, and live their lives on and around it, and if you sacrifice that for the sake of more productivity and profit, you completely change the nature of the place. We believe you can have it all—productivity, profit, AND community. In fact, we’re wondering more and more whether focusing on community actually creates more productivity and profit!

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Hands-on (free workshop) mulching day, with Rhonda and friends

Since the Gung Hoe Growers started their business here on our farm, we’ve really appreciated the value of small farms and farmers working side by side, in the same space.

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Mel, Sas and Ellen building the Gung Hoe shed

Apart from all the ways we can and do directly contribute to each other’s businesses (like marketing and selling together, sharing resources, borrowing stuff, supplying each other with yummy food), there’s also a really important and kind of unexpected loveliness that’s flowed from just being here together.

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Fabulous working bee crew that helped us build the shop garden, having a well-earned rest

Today I looked around and noticed that Mel and Sas were working away in their patch harvesting garlic (with their dogs mucking around nearby with our dogs), Hugh was on the tractor mowing, I had a group of vollies in the apple orchard learning how to thin fruit at a “hands-on day” workshop, Daniel (my son) and Fidel (our work-placement student) were out checking the irrigation system, Dad was in the nursery looking after the trees, and Lucy (our fabulous part-time orchard worker) and our two German wwoofers—Anka and Annika—were out thinning plums.

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Anka, Annika & Fidel thinning plums

How’s that for community? Three generations, two businesses, 13 people, skills being learned (and passed on), friends being made, great conversations being had, lots of work being done, money being earned, and a whole lot of organic food being produced!

Gotta love modern farming! Cheers, Katie

Amping up the energy…

Well g’day out there, I’m wearing shorts finally and the sun is a shining! Sas and I have been busy planting (not just weeding) the summer goods – it feels so great to be turning the garden into a new chapter. As you know, we have been looking forward to this oncoming change – both in our lives and out at the patch.

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It’s been a busy few weeks. We’ve had lots of visitors and conversations and as the season amps up it seems that the energy is too (thank goodness). We did an interview with Katie Johnson through Melbourne Uni for “Wild Farmers”, a new podcast coming out soon, and shared bits of our story and learnings thus far. Then the next day we did a bit of filming for an upcoming venture in Castlemaine, and then we had about 30 permaculture design students from Very Edible Gardens visit us too!  This week we had a local food group meeting and had a local backyard grower come visit and shared her vision with us – bubble bubble toil and trouble, things are brewing.

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Sas and I were both pretty tired after showing people around and telling them about us (we don’t do that so much, see!) and it can be a bit of an exposure (as if you’ve written a book, or created an art piece, or a song) because we created it and we’re still figuring it out. Figuring out what works for us, how we work together, how we work with and respect the land, how to best look after ourselves whilst doing it all…we’re learning!  So being transparent about that can be a bit scary sometimes, but pretty bloody brilliant too. I ain’t never gonna proclaim to know it all…

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Sharing our space and having conversations with people who are excited and passionate reminds us we are not alone, and that we have done a lot more than we realise sometimes, sharing is good, we can learn from others and vice versa…we both want more of that!

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I’m feeling good about this season coming – we’re a bit more prepared and thanks to Chuffed we can get big amounts of organic inputs to feed our soil, to feed the plants, to grow them healthy and nutrient full, to sell them to our local peeps. It’s as simple and as tough as that. John delivered us some organic straw so we can mulch paths and preserve precious water.

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My body is getting stronger, my mind is healing from this year and also strengthening and we’re pulling out the garlic next week as the moon is right…these are all markers. As I picked borage flowers this week I thought, ‘I love my job,’ then as i picked over 12 kg of broad beans amongst the forest they are, I thought ‘how can we do this so it isn’t so bloody painful next year’.  To me, both of those sentiments are real, true and good.

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Hope you are keeping grounded and remembering that what we walk on every day supports us more than we know.

Yours,

Mel & Sas x

Orange blossom oil – a new venture

One of our Grow Great Fruit members is busily starting a venture harvesting orange blossom from trees on their property to distill to produce neroli, the beautiful scented orange blossom oil. Here’s her story of their first crack at it this season (and by the way, we’ve smelled the oil and it’s divine!).

Our first morning’s harvest of orange blossom from the orchard was on 19th Oct 2016. Each morning for 14 days we would take the ute up to the orchard and lay the harvest cloths under each tree.

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In all we picked over 350 kg of blossom over the 14 days. We estimate this to be around 50% of blossom available. If we had more pickers and a very efficient still we could process an estimated 600 kg of blossom from this orchard. But that is in the future.

From the orchard the blossom is transported back to the oil room to be sorted ready for distillation the next day. We have let the blossoms sit for 24 hrs as advised by distiller Guenther. Average 25 kg per day.

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The Harvest cloths are fantastic.

Pickers’ notes.  Socks with the toes cut out and used as forearm protection proved mighty good. The area between the wrist and the hand often gets scratched and this helped prevent the damage to the arms.

Long-sleeved shirts, sturdy boots and good thick gloves add further protection from being scratched and also from being bitten by mosquitoes and bugs. Face nets were used to keep bits of nature from falling onto the eyes and face.

Bees were well behaved and we were mindful not to get in their way.

We used yellow irrigation hoses to secure the harvest cloths down on windy days.

Digging sticks were the perfect length and shape to reach and tap the taller limbs so that ripe blossoms fell on the harvest cloths.

We note the need for opening up the trees for ease of access to the blossoms. Will undertake a pruning course and begin to prune trees to suit.

We also noted the need for being able to identify when a tree had been harvested. Will develop a form that shows each numbered tree so that we can comment as we harvest.

Harvesting after 11.30 am is not sensible here as the heat is building and the blossom seem to wilt a tad in the middle of the day. So early starts are the go.

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After the sorting, the blossoms are placed in the still in the water ready for hydro distillation. This is the first time that we have used the still with no column.

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Wood is collected each day for the firebox which is the source of heat. We noted the need for smaller pieces of wood that burn quickly so that we can maintain 100º C and create a good head of steam.

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Weighing the blossom now after the sorting and just prior to putting into still so that we get a more accurate account of blossom weight.

Cleaning the still became an issue. The separator, the condenser and the bowl all were cleaned with citric acid and came up a treat. This stopped the oil being darker than we wanted. I need to ensure that the still is cleaned thoroughly with citric acid between each different plant species being distilled. It is all a learning curve.

Overfilling the still with water, i.e. over 120 liters, led to a very long warm-up time. One day we started at 9.30 am with 160 liters of water and 30 kg of blossom and we did not get hydrosol coming out until 5.30 pm! This was the longest day and a great lesson in finding the balance of water to blossom.

Recommend 120 liters with 25–30 kg of blossom. Less than 20 kg of blossom only requires 100 litres.

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Applying the spelt flour paste.

In all we have produced 190 litres of Neroli hydrosol and 160 ml of Neroli essential oil. Our ratio will improve as we get more knowledgeable and intuitive about the distillation of Orange blossom flowers. Each plant has its own character when distilling. Citrus aurantium certainly is a heady aroma and is not easily coaxed out of the flower petals.

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By day 8 our team was satiated with Neroli qualities. We were too tired to go on so we had a day’s rest to enable us to smell nothing except the Australian bush.

We called it a Nerolized stupor.

So, all done and dusted until next October when the blossoms bloom for a few weeks and we begin the story once more. Great harvest and thanks to all. Now to find a good home for the lot.


If you’re interested in finding out more about buying neroli oil or hydrosol get in touch here, and we’ll pass on your contact details.