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

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

The Patch in Winter

As I write this I’m listening to MainFM (Castlemaine’s local radio 94.9FM) – josh Meadows’ show – ‘it’s a jangle out there’, scally wag (the dog) is snoring beside me and I’m warming up some milk atop the wood fire stove top ready to whisk into cocoa… I’m really happy to be writing the blog this week (I forgot it was my turn last week and Katie saved my butt!) as I’ve been pondering lots of things lately.  This always happens when the seasons allow us to slow down a notch.  It’s just the way – shorter days mean less work hours for the likes of us (hurray!), and when there’s weeding to be done you have space to listen to all the thoughts that have been whizzing around that you haven’t had a chance to say hello to yet.

Even though the mornings are colder and I hesitate under the covers for longer than I should, there’s a warmness that is glowing out at Harcourt this last little while.  If we get there before the sun peeps its fingers over the mountains we get to watch the sunrise with Tess too, as shes there before us now milking her cow.  So we can have a cuppa and start the day all together.  Sooner or later Ant, or Katie or Hugh will arrive up to the shed and do what they need to do (packing has almost finished) then the whir of the pruning machine will slowly come into your ears from down in the apricots – Lucy is tackling the trees with pruning full of skill and love.  The dogs are a little gang now and will run around in their mucky ways (they all enjoy eating calf poo, together, gross).  If it’s a Tuesday, we will have had a cuppa with Cohen who rides out before school starts for a few hours of farm time. (legend!). Then a lil bit later, after a more reasonable get out of bed time, Marty and Cara and whoever else is joining us for half a day of volunteer time arrive ready to dive in to what jobs we’re working on that day.

Sas and I have always stood by our decision to not chase people after they’ve said they want to come out to the patch.  We know people want to, but lives are busy, and we are always here – that doesn’t change!  So if people want to come then they can.  Marty, Cara and Cohen have brought so much to our farming day.  They are the perfect example of why we don’t chase people.  They are interested and keen and it’s their own motivation that keeps them coming  (and we give ’em food too, maybe that’s it!).  The longer they stay, the more they learn.  It’s a beautiful and fair exchange.  It’s also been an eye opener to me (Katie always says it and I brush her off) that I DO know stuff and that there are definitely reasons why Sas and I do what we do.  It’s been good getting back into the head space of being clear with instructions and having jobs for us all to do.  The energy and enthusiasm they bring is truly heart warming to us and to Gung Hoe in general.  One of Sas and I’s intentions with Harcourt is that it is eventually a working educational space…having these guys out in the fields with us is like having a very informal window into our dream.

And wait, I haven’t even gotten to lunch! Sharing food is becoming a more regular occurence now, always on a Tuesday, someone cooks a big pot of something and we all bring things to chip in so we can sit down and hang out over a delicious feast (mostly grown at H’arcourt yay!).  Its funny how such a simple act can bring so much relief and rest and reassurance of your fellow human kind (i,e. laughter – we must laugh people!)

Anyone who knows me will know how much I value shared meals and big feasts and little picnics and basically bringing people together over a shared experience of food.  I know this warms Sassa’s heart too, so seeing it become a wee tradition out here is the best.

And because food comes from the earth and that is what essentially we are committing to restoring, this quote is very apt, and I love Wendell, so any chance really…

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

 – Wendell Berry

WIth the collective out here in Harcourt we are tackling some big things.  Big policy things.  Framework things.  Idea things.  And I can get a little overwhelmed sometimes feeling like it’s all a bit big!  And then put on top of that we are still trying to figure out this small-business thing, plus the balance of it with our own individual selves and lives.  Ha, it generally brings me to tears.  Not in a bad way just a whelmed way.  But having shared cuppas; people sharing the care of the land with us and learning how to then go and take care of their own little patch down the way; and eating together makes it all feel manageable again, and real.

And as I cower under the blankets in the mornings, I’m thinking more and more: how lucky I am.  When I get up I get to drive through the bush where I live which I love, past our swimming hole, the res, as see the fog gently lifting to kiss the rising light, go on back roads through vineyards where cows are grazing, ending up at our little place in this big world.  Where as Cohen says, thanks to the mount we see two sunrises each day.  Pretty great office.

And where the little people, like us, like those who currently join us and have already joined us (Tess and Ant and more to come I’m sure!).  We are creating our own adventures of learning and living in a conscious way.  As Emily Says from Brightside Produce just outside of Canberra: “Like many small business owners we’re not there yet. We have hairy moments where we hold our breath and hope the card doesn’t decline and where we dig deep into our creativity to jump the seemingly unending stream of hurdles.  This life is not romantic (who needs that shit?) but it is a deeply satisfying adventure and the only way I feel I can be in the world. During the winter I think about all of this…”

Finally, I’ll leave you with another quote that I saw from Chirons Gardens (an orchard in Robertson, NSW).  Pi didn’t say it, but she shared it and it tugged on me something strong.

Hope that you’re cosy and whatever adventure – career or personal – you’re currently on, you have your wide eyes on and are able to dive in.

Cheers Mel (and Sas)

“As farmers, we’d do well to lose the paradigm of ‘feeding the world’. If I feed my family, friends and community, I consider my job done…”