Welcome to winter!

Happy winter everybody!

Hope you’ve got the warm surrounding you, in the body, heart n soul. We have had a few heavyish frosts out in Harcourt this week and it took us a bit by surprise! We had such a grey autumn and winter last year, it didn’t get AS cold, just grey (I know what I’d prefer—give me the cold sunny blue sky daze any day) and so we were caught unawares. We went to pick on Wednesday and our little babies had been frozen and so there was only a few kilos of lettuce we could salvage rather than our normal 10 or so…damn!

It’s incredible the relationship we and our customers foster. It comes from both sides. I (Mel) usually deal with the orders for the people, shops, restaurants, and cafes, and it’s a hard message to send saying we can’t fulfill your order because it’s frozen. It might affect us for a few weeks, but we can’t be sure because this is new for us, again, or still, or something. So I sent it off nervously. The replies that came back swift as geese flying on a southern wind were more or less “oh no, so sorry to hear”.  Phew, sigh of relief and a breath of gratitude!

The face-to-face connection we have with the people who both buy and eat our food makes it all so worthwhile and helps us and them alike.  Along with tucking our green babies in with frost cloth each night, we are weeding again and seeing everything slow down with the cool soil and air and shift of season.

There’s 2 months of the year when it feels A-OK to take a holiday, and this is in June and July. One of us can run the patch without it being completely overwhelming with picking and seeding and planting and watering, etc. etc. So we’re booking it out! We are going to visit Rad Growers (oh yeah, this is what farmers do on their holidays—visit other farms), who is Erin in Albury; Brightside Produce (Emily and Michael) nestled in the Tallaganda State Forest 1.5 hours out of Canberra; and Liz Clay in Noojee. We are so excited to visit other systems and pick their brains for successes and failures, and lend our willing hands for a few days. It’s so sad, a local pioneer from these parts Rod May from Captain’s Creek Farm passed this week after an accident. He was a pioneer of community-supported agriculture in this area and held a lot of years of knowledge. RIP, Rod.

 

I think I can forget just how important and enlarging learning can be. I know this sounds silly as I write it, but so often I can get pretty set in my somewhat routine of my generally not so routine life and just keep walking along the same track. I was reminded when we went to an incredible workshop this week on fungus. It was in north Harcourt in a wee hall that doesn’t show up on maps. Alison Pouliot gave me a whole new framework of how to look at our ecosystems and the unseen magic that fungi do for our soil.

Alison’s mass of knowledge and enthusiasm reminded me that if we just take a side step off our everyday path and put even half a foot into new territory, it takes us out of our same same world, we can learn an awful bunch, and it gives us appreciation for all these other areas in life. And all those other people doing awesome stuff that we just have no idea about! I say this, yet I’ve realised as we’ve been booking farm visits and planning summers rotations and thinking about incorporating animals into our system and better tools and just how we can be smarter about what we do, it’s a bit nerve wracking for me to get out of our little bubble to visit others cos I’m so scared that we’re doing it all wrong. And badly wrong. I know we treat our soil right and all the basics, but we want to be smarter with our physical selves and planting techniques—all these things that make it easier and better for us and for our bank account and for the community, because we will have more quantity of delicious. However, as Sas says, that’s the whole point. And at least we’re learning…
Its also the 3rd year of ‘Deep Winter’ in July, a weekend gathering of small-scale farmers from all over Australia. We generally eat good food, listen and discuss issues that affect us, and my favourite: have real conversations about how do you do that. How are you going with this whole thing? The conversations and connections you have around the fire with people who are having a go at the same thing you are – ha! and no, I don’t just mean life.

The first one was held 2 years ago in Bullarto just down the road near Creswick, and from that we made connections with so many other young and older farmers from near and far. It’s invaluable that connection when you can feel quite isolated in your work. This year the gathering is up at Bangalow, in the Northern Rivers. I’m headed up with Tess who is currently looking at starting up a micro dairy around these parts—fingers crossed near us. Apart from meeting up with our fellow earth friends, we are on a bit of a mission you see…

It’s exciting times out here in Harcourt and I’ll let Katie and Hugh fill you in on the full state of things, but it seems as if the whole thing is stepping up again, to another level of this being our livelihood (which is what we want) and thank goodness that life is kind and gives it to us when we can handle it (whether you think you can or not is beside the point).

So, in conclusion, keep your own and others hearts warm and nourish the spirits, it’s important at this time of year. Take a side step out of your normal path to appreciate different learnings and knowledge of others, and realise that this expands and lightens your own world, even if it’s scary and you think it will show you everything you’re doing wrong.  That’s actually ok. Life is learning, if we allow it to be.

Cheers, Mel x

Walking on clouds

I feel like I start every blog with ‘it’s been a big week at the patch…’ but really, it has been a monumental one. Over the past few weeks we’ve been preparing for our next upscaling of production at the patch. Kenny (Sas’ dad) has generously spent a couple of days with us putting FiFi (the red Massey Ferguson tractor) to good use loosening the soil and spreading out a massive pile of old top soil that was in the middle of our new patch. We found (and successfully avoided) all the irrigation pipes and thanks to our recent soil test results were able to thoughtfully apply some organic inputs (dolomite and lime) to start to balance our pH and amend our specific nutrient deficiencies.

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A little while ago Darren, our lovely friend who spontaneously pops in from time to time, usually when we’re in the throes of a task that we would really love some extra hands to help with, said to us “Why don’t you get Dave Griffiths to form your new garden beds for you?”. Dave had recently formed up all the beds at Darren’s upcoming market garden and the pictures he showed us made our backs sing with joy.  Why hadn’t we thought of that before?

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We are so used to just knuckling down and grunting through the massive task of upscaling, and have spent (alongside many of our uncomplaining and wonderful friends) the last 2 years physically digging over and creating each new garden bed. The thought of doing this all over again to make our newest patch was daunting to say the least and it was like a lightbulb, no…fireworks, went off when Darren made that suggestion. Of course! When we started we had no cash to pay anyone to do the brawn with a machine, but now after a successful crowd funding campaign and productive summer, we can actually afford to pay someone for a few hours to do what would take us at least 12 months to do by hand!

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Meeting Dave has been wonderful. He’s a rare human who not only gets it, he does it! He understands deeply the lay of the land and the movements of moisture and nutrient through the soil. He knows how to treat soil gently and thoughtfully over time in order to increase its health and productivity rather than just going for the short-term fixes…and he has a Yeoman’s plough!

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Yeoman’s ploughs are rare as hens teeth and, as opposed to most ploughs and rippers which turn the soil over exposing and killing the fragile soil microbes whilst also creating compaction layers beneath the tines, Yeoman’s ploughs loosen and fluff up the soil at a much greater depth without turning it over whilst also breaking through the compaction layers that have been created within the soil in the past. They get oxygen into the soil and create a spaces within the soil that can absorb moisture much better.

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In a few hours Dave managed to rip our whole new patch with the  plough and form up all our new beds! Wow! Walking over the soil after he had ploughed I could really feel the difference. The soil under foot felt like a soft, fluffy, sponge…it was just like walking on clouds! The beds are long and gorgeous and run mostly on contour to slow the movement of water through the patch and hopefully increase the ability of the soil to absorb that water as it moves through the landscape.

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At the end of those few hours we all stood looking at a transformed space the same size as our existing patch, bare and ready for planning and planting. Its so exciting, and also quite overwhelming. Phew. Onwards.

Grow well

Sas and Mel

Yep, it’s a business!

Hello out there!
It was Castlemaine’s first frost this week – I almost couldn’t believe it! After our very late summer I didn’t realise but my brain is about 4 weeks behind the calendar month.
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As Sas shared last blog, garlic is a massive time keeper for us, and this year not only that. We had a friend come out and help plant and Sas and I were ready for a mega day (as it has been every other year…) but we were done by lunch! We didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves, and so as it was an amazing root day via the biodynamic moon planting calender, we planted bulbs – how glorious. And we got to weed a section that hasn’t been touched since our working bee a year and a half ago…the whole day felt calm and fun and productive. Awesome sauce!!
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During this turnover season episode in the year, we have been pleasantly finding that pleasantness more often than not. Something has happened, I guess we’re figuring out efficient systems and we’re more in managing the rotations and planting rather than building the bloody beds first…this is really exciting! After a couple of years of hard work work work work it’s nice to be surprised when it feels relatively easy (dont get me wrong though – there’s always a challenge – it’s just not digging right now!).
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This has made me quite excited about the second patch we’re starting to work on…Sas and her Dad are hitting it with force on Monday. It’s all starting to feel real – in a really great way. Not huge mega size, but a size that will feed our community through several different arms (green grocers, boxes, cafes/restaurants) and pay Sas and I accordingly as we up the quantities we can produce, thus feed you with!
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Business has stopped being a dirty word to me this last year and a bit- which is weird (the protestor in me wants to yell something obnoxious now…) but really freeing too. Sas and I knew we were gonna do a lot of hard yards without being paid much $ from growing food – especially in the first couple of years. And especially with not having much capital. You all know our reality of working other jobs in order to pay rent and see some music every now and then, but our aim for Gung Hoe is that it doesn’t stay that way. We’re looking forward to getting our financial info back at the end of this financial year to see what that side of it looks like on the cold hard screen… Bit nervous too really, but if we are serious about doing this (which we are) it needs to work as a viable business. Woah, there I said it. So yes, working in the soil, outside for 4 days a week is pretty beautiful, but it’s hard work too, and we’re still figuring it all out time wise, crop wise and business wise. Which is actually rad – cos if we have (sorry for using this word) a sustainable working business then we can continue to feed our community really great food. No fancy pants wanking about it – just plain, decent, healthy, accessible, delicious food.  That’s the plan.
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So now I’m off to plant peas and broadies (we’re a bit late – hope yours are already in) and one of my faves – raddicchio….yum!
Our best to you – hope you’re warm both in the heart and out there in the world.
Cheers – Mel x