A summer’s journey…with garlic

Well hello there!

I wonder how this finds you, at this time of year, in this upside down turn around season which feels like spring/summer/autumn all mixed into one unknown bag…

I hope it finds you breathing calmly and walking steadily. Or if steadily is too much, just walking is ok too.

Its taken me almost 10 months to be ok with the fact that the world has felt a bit much to handle and that it’s ok to just breathe. Breathe and take stock and not fall into the rush and craziness and sometimes very fast pace of this place and time in which we live.

Of course, as I’ve realised this, things at the patch have amped up which require the theory to be put to the test! Summer is taking its time to warm up here, but that just makes it seem that our turnover period is also dragging out like no end! This is a bit exhausting—I just want summer things to be in and growing! But they are growing! The lettuce is booming the eggplants are beefing up, the okra is still standing, and wee baby tomatoes that will be red I’m sure before xmas (here in central Vic that’s a total win!).

But that’s what happens isn’t it? Life rolls on and we can choose to sit and watch it, or move along at our own pace with its ebbs and flows. I am trying to keep my own pace so I don’t feel so overwhelmed that I burst and then slowly pool into a mess of a puddle, or pretend that I can keep up and all together and fizzle out, either with a large bang or a wee whimper, into an atmosphere of dust. Sounds dramatic but it’s really got to be a conscious decision—that and noticing the everpresent sweet things in life (cliche but true) such as Scallywag being a rocket dog keeping cool, and this nasturtium about to bloom amongst the tomatoes that looks like petrie from the Land Before Time.

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And so, as you read a few weeks ago, we harvested the garlic and now we’re selling the purple beauties along with our leftover chuffed teatowels!

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We had a huge amount of help for the garlic prep (Braz, Jessie, and Felix) and also to print the cloth (Jem & Betty!) and they all look beautiful!!!

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We’re currently selling the garlic and towels via an online pop-up shop here for a very limited amount of time! –

https://gung-hoe-growers.myshopify.com/

Oh! and if you’re interested in keeping in touch with our pop-up stalls, veggie boxes over summer, pictures, chuffed updates, etc, please sign up to our mail subscription here!
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We do hope that whatever your journey has been this year that it’s built you in a way that you could never realise until it happened. I’ve never thought of life as such a mystery until this year, and even with its inbuilt struggles and beauty, I’m grateful for it always revealing itself to me.

Make a little garden in your pocket.
Plant your cuffs with radishes and rocket.
Let a passion fruit crawl up your thigh.
Grow some oregano in your fly.

Make a steamy compost of your own fears.
Trickle irrigate your life with tears.
Let your troubled mind become a trellis.
Turn your heart into a summer palace.
-leunig

Stay breathing out there, and walking your walk.
We’ll see you in 2017

…Mel

The Five Things We Wish We’d Known When We Started Farming

When we started farming, we made (approximately) 10 million mistakes – still do! There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s how you learn, after all. But it would have been SO good to have been able to (i) avoid the worst ones; and (ii) speed up the process of learning so we got profitable, faster.

Here we are back in September 2003!
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Katie and her Merv (her Dad) planting a new orchard block.

We were lucky enough to have my Dad here to teach us the basics of fruit growing (and still do), and it would have been even slower without him. He’s taught us heaps about the technical aspects of fruit growing, irrigation, grafting and growing our own trees – amongst many other things. I guess he was our first mentor and teacher.

But we’ve had to forge our own way with organic growing, which involves a completely different understanding of nearly every aspect of fruit growing, as well as developing a new way of marketing using farmers markets and social media.

With the benefit of hindsight, if we could have waved a magic wand and got what we needed right at the start, here’s our list of the…

The Top Five Things We Wish We’d Known When We Started Farming

  1. How important soil is
    Who knew? We’d kind of heard of soil before we started farming, but we thought it was just something that held the trees upright. The moment we realised that our soil is a living organism (and that pretty much the whole health of our farm depends on soil biology) was a beautiful day. It’s just a pity it came about 8 years after we’d started farming!
  2. How to control pests and diseases organically
    goldrich-apricots-treeLike soil, we’d kinda heard of biodiversity, but thought it had something to do with looking after native bush. We had no notion of our farm as being part of the landscape, or that biodiversity and working with nature is absolutely key to naturally controlling pests and diseases. We’ve also learned a suite of really useful tricks and techniques for protecting our crops from all the things that want to eat them, and that would have been pretty useful info in advance as well!
  3. Farming is risky
    We learned this the hard way, after many difficult years, crop losses and painful lessons. If only we’d known at the beginning how incredibly risky this business is, we would have built a more resilient business from the start. Then all those calamities (drought, torn netting, flood, bird plagues, disease outbreaks…) would have been expected and planned for, rather than being really depressing and painful body blows.
  4. How to be profitable
    Like many others, at the beginning we had our heads in the clouds and were full of the warm fuzzy visions of ‘living the dream’. Knowing what we know now, we would have put more time into the planning process so we could have got things right at the beginning to ensure our profitability (e.g., scale of the farm, alternative income streams, how to put a value on our time etc).
  5. The importance of having a mentor
    There are many different types of mentors, business consultants, advisers etc., and we’ve worked with lots of them over the last 8 years or so (and always will)! It’s been so incredibly useful to work with someone who can see our business from the outside, take us through essential processes like business planning, and tell us all the things we didn’t even know we needed to know! Through mentoring we’ve established our vision, values and goals, got the right technical info, implemented a business growth plan and set up the right business structures. It’s sort of like having a compass to guide your business in the right direction—and without it, it’s very easy to get lost!

Now that we know what we need to know, we know we’ll always need to know more!

Cheers, Katie

Pulling garlic

I love the rhythm of farming. It’s a slow beat and one that you don’t just hear but you feel with all your senses. The sound of the birds changing shift in spring and the calls of their baby birds for food, the sounds of frogs slowly fading back to a chorus of cicadas as the soil dries up and the days get warmer. The smell of wattle in the air that gives way to fruit tree blossom as winter passes over to spring. The sun slowly waking earlier and earlier and the feeling of the hot northerlies on your skin and dust up your nose signalling that summer is really here. These are all part of the rhythm that helps us know when we need to bust a move and when we can just tip-toe through the broad bean patch checking everyone’s ok!

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Last week the rhythm of the patch shifted up a notch as we observed our garlic, the weather patterns, and the moon cycle to work out the best day to harvest it. Too early and the bulbs won’t be fully formed, too late and they will be starting to split open and not store very long, too wet and we risk them going mouldy as we cure them, and too dry and we won’t be able to plait the stems! According to the biodynamic calendar, the best time for harvesting garlic to ensure long-term storage is in the sign of Leo. Leo only crops up once a month for 2–3 days, so November 21–23 was our only option. Its not great to harvest garlic when the soil is still wet or it’s raining. You really want the ground to be dry enough that the soil falls off as you pull the garlic out, not sticking to the bulbs. The weather  report was looking pretty dismal but we were hoping by Wednesday the rain would have cleared.

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The day dawned a bit grey but there were just enough patches of sun between the drizzle and wind to help partially dry the bulbs as we pulled them up and bundled them off into the shed. We saved our best bulbs last year for seed and it certainly paid off as this year’s garlic bulbs are beautiful!! Big, purple and strong, we’re so excited to get them out into the community! Mel has strung them all up to dry from our beautiful new shed’s ceiling, and next week we’ll be plaiting them up into year and half-year sized plaits to sell.

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Garlic is one of the markers of how long we’ve been growing on this patch. Last year it was the first thing we planted in our first three beds that we made and now, 18 months later, we’re harvesting our second crop, saved from that first lot we planted. Hopefully we’ve learnt a few things along the way. We’ve certainly still got a lot to learn! Keep you’re eyes out on Facebook as we’ll be selling the garlic there in the coming weeks.

Grow well.

Sas and Mel

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