It doesn’t cost anything to give it a go!

Buds are starting to swell and seeds are beginning to germinate…a call to action in the heritage fruit tree nursery. Merv has been busy preparing the soil in the new nursery patch. Katie has been busy selling the last of the beautiful fruit trees that we grew before they come out of their winter sleep and need to be planted in the ground properly again. But now that our saved apple, quince, pear and peach seeds are starting to shoot, its all hands on deck.

This week we planted our cherry rootstock and acquired some compact apple rootstock varieties to experiment with. Along with grafting the cherries in September and budding the apples we’re hoping to experiment with creating a ‘stool bed’. Katie and I haven’t ever done a stool bed so we’re excited to learn this technique from Merv. A stool bed (from my limited understanding) is a way of trench layering a ‘mother plant’ in order to grow multiple root stock trees from a small number of ‘mothers’. This is important for cherry rootstock, which don’t grow readily from seed, and special varieties of rootstock, which you want to multiply true to type.


The plum cuttings are starting to ‘heel up’ (grow a heel/scab over them from which the roots will sprout) which means we’ll plant them out soon . The apple, peach and quince seeds are sprouting so we’ve begun to plant them out in rows. These we will grow up over summer and ‘bud’ in February with a number of different varieties for sale the following year.

We have also been cutting back the trees we budded last February, to the bud union. These trees (see pic) with different colored pipe cleaners are the plum rootstock we budded multiple varieties of plum and apricot onto. Another experiment, which so far seems to be going well…as long as we can keep track of which branch has which variety budded onto it!!

Soon it will be time to sow our green manure crop in the resting nursery patches and sow some more citrus seed in the hot house (yet another experiment). Most of the rootstock we grow, except for our experiments with cherries, citrus and small apple rootstock, we have grown ourselves. We either collect seed or take cuttings to create them, and like Merv always marvels, “it doesn’t cost you anything”! There is a lot of time and care that then goes into turning that seedling into a good fruiting tree, but Merv’s right, it doesn’t cost you anything to give it a go!

How do you share a farm?

Things have been changing around here (honestly, when are they ever not?) as we pin down the nuts and bolts of how this new farm sharing arrangement will work.

“D” day, when all our lessees officially started their new farming businesses (or in the case of the Gung Hoe Growers, renewed their lease) was 1 July, and while we’ve started building the new infrastructure that the new enterprises will need (funded by Regional Development Victoria), getting the leases in place with each enterprise has proven to be more detailed than we anticipated, so the leases haven’t actually been signed yet.

We reckon that’s a good thing. Each conversation has raised more points we hadn’t considered—about water, fences, sharing resources, who’s liable for what, who pays for infrastructure, the list goes on—and so we’ve had to get more legal advice on some points, and conversations are ongoing.

But we think it’s good to do the detailed thinking about these issues now, so everyone’s as clear as possible about what we’re all signing up for. We also reckon that getting strong leases and understandings in place now will pave the way to bring new enterprises into the co-op a bit more easily.

Meanwhile, Hugh and I have had to adjust to this new way of “being” on our farm. It’s a big transition from it being “our” farm where we got to decide everything, to remembering that it’s now a shared space where we have to consult with everyone else before we make decisions.

At the same time, we’ve also had to come to terms with the fact that we’re not really orchardists any more. I had to fill out my occupation on a form today, and had no idea what to put down—if I’m not an organic orchardist, what the hell am I? (I settled on “organic fruit-growing educator”—snappy, huh?).

Having just been to this year’s ANOO (Australian Network of Organic Orchardists) conference, we felt a bit like frauds at the beginning, but then we realised that we’ve retained management of our recently planted heritage apple orchard until it’s in production, so technically we ARE still orchardists.

The conference was a great treat as usual—both as a learning and a social experience—and we came back raving to the rest of the co-op of the importance of having a peer group of like-minded people facing the same issues with production, small business, and marketing as you. To a certain extent the co-op members will form that peer group for each other, but they’ll each face different issues and so will also get a lot of value out of connections with other similar organic growers.

The whole process has been full-on and has taken WAY more time and energy than we anticipated, but it hasn’t all been hard and there’s an amazing upside to sharing the farm. Every day, we get to watch and share as these wonderful and inspiring young people go about doing their farming businesses, innovating, sharing new ideas, dealing with issues as they come up and constantly learning.

I swear we’re feeling younger just having them around, and every now and then we sit back, take stock, and get glimpses of the future, and then we feel incredibly proud and hopeful about what we’re creating here in this beautiful little shared farm space.

What a handy machine…

As Sas and I sat in the brief moment of sunshine yesterday eating our lunch we made some decisions about tomatoes. It will only be a few more weeks of being quite laid back and not feeling nervous about the next 8 months to come.  I am grateful for the winter even though I get cold, I can take a break in my mind somewhat and bunker down and rest. After recuperating from rest my nature then feels restless and wants to run away on adventures…so committing (again) to small(er) adventures than going away for a few months on a walking trip through the Victorian alps and snowy mountain country – feels frustrating, but I hope to be at peace with it in a few weeks!
Sas and I have been reflecting this month about the fact that this year is the first we haven’t expanded.  Ever.  Each year until now we have doubled our production size every year. This means that each year whatever profit we have made goes directly into financing the next upsize. More watering infrastructure, more seedlings, bigger greenhouse, more seed trays, another fence, more shade/frost cloth, more soil inputs, more mulch, more poo, more time, more tools, more containers to wash/store/sell produce in.
This time last year we were digging up and preparing 1/4 acre ready for summer production. We are glad that this winter we haven’t done that and can see the benefit of better timing re: planting, head space, accounting time, succession numbers/rotations and planting and, yes, some moments to breathe.
We are aware however, of our need to invest and upskill. We are trying (trying!!) to become more efficient at what we do. After a year of thinking about it, we are pretty sure we are going to invest in a Pasquali 2-wheel walk-behind tractor. It will increase the amount we can do in the same amount of time. It will not compact the soil, but rather help us to incorporate organic matter (such as green manures, compost, rock dust) easier and quicker – thus helping rotations and soil health – which means more nutrient-rich food. Hurray!!
This will put us back almost $15,000…not a small sum. Well, for us it’s not! We are being cautious with this investment (and loan) but are pretty certain it will help us to be more financially viable, save our backs some and time too, and pay itself back via efficiency, thus better management and more production on the other end.
We have been speaking with Darren from Vin Rowe in Warragul and he is going to come up to Harcourt with a machine and all its different implements on Tuesday 21 August. If you or anyone you know is interested to join the demonstration and practical info session we would love you to join us. We have a few people already joining us and we say the more the merrier; we might even meet a few new peeps!! Please email gunghoegrowers@gmail.com to let us know you’re interested, and then when we know the exact time Darren will be up on the Tuesday, we can let you know. If you’re intrigued and have no idea what we’re on about you can see better here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gl_cOxfXzD4
Otherwise, I hope you are well and staying warm and healthy in mind, body and spirit and that the planets and this blood moon isn’t causing too much upheaval!!
Grow well and get in touch if you’re keen to check out a helpful machine and its bits!
Mel (and Sas)