Farming in a changing climate…

Hello everyone and happy new year! Hard to believe another year has come and gone…
We are currently watering everything, giving it a long deep soak as tomorrow it’s meant to be 41° and quite windy. Who would believe that last week we had 22 mm of rain in 5 minutes and gusts of wind that lifted our greenhouse off its feet and bent star pickets that were firmly in the ground?  Welcome to climate change we say.  Last week Sas and I were preparing for a severe thunderstorm and so were deliberately pulling up onions and giving them the best storage. Nothing could have prepared us however for what felt like a mini cyclone. We were shielding the onions with our bodies and then realised the rain and wind and hail was coming from all directions—we had to laugh. Swore a fair bit and laughed again, the onions were soaked and the good old garlic was wet, again… GEEEEZUS!
The predictions for central Victoria in the next few decades are exactly this though—drier winters and extreme summer storms. So rains in a short downpour, none of that good soaking steady stuff.
A friend who works with very large-scale ‘conventional’ farmers was sharing with me that the changing climate has affected everyone. The farmers she works with used to spray 4 or maybe 5 times a year; now they spray almost every month due to the uncertainty (and I would argue plant/soil/microorganism health too) and extremity of the climate. We can never claim to ‘know’ the wild nature, but I’m sure most of us remember the consistent seasons and the weather that came with them.
It is important to know where we’re heading and know that is happening on a global level too, rather than feel that it is just us who get knocked side to side by the changing conditions.
We’ve also got plans to build very real storage to suit our needs better—storage that will outlast hurricanes and floods and droughts (ha – we can try right!?). So, resilience is the key we have come to build upon. Resilience as people, communities and looking after ourselves, each other and the planet.
We lost a bit over 1/3 of our garlic crop this year when all was said and done, which was not so bad for the amount of time we’ve spent moving, sorting, moving, shucking it, etc. etc., but for our seed next year we have selected only the bulbs that are whole and didn’t collect any mould. That is our beginning of saving not just the biggest but the hardiest—in the long run, this is what will last!
So, people! The garlic is finally ready for you and yours! It’s the last time we’ll write about it—this year the garlic is like GOLD! We’ve literally hand sorted each and every clove—yes clove, not bulb!
If you would like it for your kitchen and/or as a gift, we are selling it here :
Included in the price is your very own garlic storage and reuseable small hessian bag with our dirty hoe logo for 5 bucks. Woohoo!
There’s lots of stuff growing in the garden, and the increasingly early mornings give us space to breathe in and out with the earth at dawn and wonder at the miracle of how things just do what they do and grow…I’m sure there’s a parallel there somewhere 😉

Gung Hoe Growers

69 Danns Rd Harcourt

Victoria is back!

Hey Folks,

I’m back at Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens for a quick visit after leaving here just over 2 years ago, at the end of my internship. While I was doing my internship, I spent months observing the orchards for flowering and fruit set times, pruned the trees, thinned the fruit, spread compost, planted trees, made compost tea, fixed the irrigation, carried out some pest management, and slashed the grass around the orchards. Just about everything except eat lots of fruit!

I had to leave just at the beginning of the fruit season, when only a couple of the apricot varieties and one of the peach varieties, Anzac, were ripe and ready to be devoured. All of which were delicious, of course, but it’s such a treat to be able to enjoy some more of the multitude of varieties grown here at MAFG. Today I’ve eaten some Bebeco apricots, Briggs Red May white peaches and Stark Earlingo yellow peaches, all of which were so, so tasty. I’m feeling very content, fruit filled, and summery. If you can get yourself here for some Pick Your Own fun I would highly recommend it!

It’s such a pleasure to return to the farm, reconnect with Katie and Hugh and all the beautiful people that they have in their community, while enjoying such a gorgeous landscape. It feels like I never left, although I can see some changes around the place to remind me that time has passed. The garden we planted at the farm shop, just before the end of my internship, is flourishing. However, the tamarillo tree I planted might have grown just a little too much! Dear old Oscar, one of the farm dogs, has passed away after the best life a dog could hope for. Feeling a little sad that I didn’t get to give him one last cuddle.

But there are all kinds of exiting new ventures under way here, bringing in new life and energy. As always, Katie and Hugh are at the forefront of creative ways to farm and engage the community in food production, while providing new growers opportunities to get started. I’m feeling very inspired being back and dreaming of my own little micro-enterprise here on the farm.

Who knows what the future may bring, but I do know that I will always come home to MAFG whenever I have the chance. It’s an incredibly special place that has shaped me as a person and as a grower. I feel very blessed to have had the time I did here and look forward to a life-long connection with this place and the amazing people. Hope you are all enjoying some of the bountiful fruit from MAFG over this festive season.

Until next time, Victoria.

Three lucky breaks…

This time last week the weather bureau was making dire predictions about a once-in-a-generation rain event, saying there was going to be a massive storm and deluge that was going to be widespread across the state, but in particular heading right for us.

We’ve already been through a 1-in-100 year rain event in the 2010/11 floods when the wettest summer on record led to the demise of our cherry block. The trees died in front of our eyes, with a crop of fruit on them—it was a bad time for us.


So we were worried, and did everything we could to prepare. We picked any fruit that was close to being ripe, put everything away outside, cleaned gutters, closed windows, made sure the nets were well tied down, and then waited.

And then it kind of went around us!  Markets went ahead and were a bit wet, but mostly still fine. Customers still came, and we sold most of our fruit. And though we had about 35 mm in a few days, we’ve had minimal cracking damage on fruit, and very minor amounts of black spot and brown rot—two of the big fungal diseases that can result in major losses in organic orchards.

However, we know not everyone was so lucky, and our thoughts go out to all our farming buddies who copped it this time, particularly those in northeast Victoria and Gippsland. Whether a farmer has experienced losses due to this event will depend on lots of variables including what they grow, how much rain they got, and how it affected their crops, animals or land, but if you know a farmer, be aware they may have had a hard time recently, and ask how they’re doing.  We know from experience that it can take years to recover from such an event, both financially and emotionally. One of the most useful and practical things you can do to support your local farmers is to shop at an accredited farmers market, if you’re lucky enough to have one close to you.

Our luck continued later in the week when this happened…

This big old poplar tree probably succumbed to a combination of wet soil and high winds. Luckily our rain water tank broke its fall, so it didn’t land on the house, or a car, or any people. The rain water is now slowly leaking away and we’ll have to replace the tank, but that’s kind of a minor problem compared to losing a corner of the house. We were shuddering just thinking about what it would have entailed to get that fixed! Uuurgh…

And our third bit of good fortune? This guy arrived yesterday to start his internship with us.

Future farmer Ant Wilson, ready to start his new orchard traineeship
Future farmer Ant Wilson, ready to start his new orchard traineeship

We’d like to extend a very warm welcome to Ant as he starts his farming journey with us – first a 6-month internship, followed by his leasing the orchard business from us. Ant decided a while ago that he was going to be a farmer, and we’re really pleased that he’s taken up our offer to learn the organic fruit business and join the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance (HOFA).

Farming can be incredibly rewarding, but also very challenging at times; you need not only passion for your craft but also courage, determination and a fair bit of grit. It’s very satisfying to see the next generation of farmers like Ant (and the other young farmers who are joining HOFA) stepping up to start their own farming businesses. HOFA is our way of putting a succession plan in place so that we can not only guide and mentor young farmers into successful businesses but also gradually step back from the physical demands of farming.