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.

flood-damaged-cherry-tree

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.

Rain, weather and this thing called life

In our funny white calender today is officially the beginning of summer! (Lots of cultures have way more than 4 seasons.) And I’m sitting here listening to dingoes howling (I live near the dingo farm) and waiting for the onslaught of the forecasted rain. I am not a weather reader, but I can be dubious about forecasts and try to take them seriously and with a grain of salt…if that’s even possible! We are meant to have lots of rain – a friend from Melbourne was saying that ‘the weather people’ were saying it was all of summer’s rain in one dump—eek! Here in central Victoria we don’t complain about the rain, except every few years when it floods, and then we think of our friends further north of the country and remember that we all have our own challenges. Mould, for example, and rotting is something we don’t struggle with a major lot here in Harcourt and Castlemaine!
Farmers are always depicted as whinging about the weather and, speaking for myself, it’s something that is a continuous rollercoaster.  It’s one of the reasons farming could be seen as an extreme sport (but probably never will)—its risky, even when you’re perfectly prepared (but surely there’s no such thing—human error and chance can happen to the most dilligently prepared).
I feel like Sas and I have breathed some of that risk and disappointment these last few weeks. We left the garlic in probably 1 week too long, it was a joint, conscious decision as it was hot and dry—1 more week wouldn’t hurt and the pressing issue was the tomatoes, eggplants, chillies, and caps. The time was right and if we leave it too late we won’t get fruit until the frosts come back! As we are up-scaling this season, everything carries with it a little more risk because we are investing more into everything. If that sounds weird, just imagine you are planting your backyard full of plants plus the next 3 down the street. Not only are you increasing numbers, you’re increasing probability that some will get knocked down by roos, eaten by rabbits, snapped by cockies. Also you need to buy triple the amount of stakes, and irrigation and figure out storage space and make sure you give all the babies love, not just the ones directly out of your back door. But you haven’t increased your time, because you aren’t able to do that until you harvest your increased number of plants… Am I making sense?
It’s all about scale.  The reason Sas and I have extended the patch is because we are aiming to find the right scale that works for us both financially and quality of life wise.
Ok – so back to our garlic pulling versus planting tomatoes choice. It was the right choice! We planted tomatoes and then the rains came a few weeks back. Perfect for newly planted seedlings that we are expecting a lot from this season. Not perfect for garlic that is already a wee bit overdue. Not to worry – we pulled them a few days after the rains in a hot week, they were beautiful! Massive thanks to Thea who not only helped plant the garlic back in April, she then harvested them with as full grown cloves too!
Because of the upsize (we actually did plant more garlic than last year because we skipped the Russian garlic this year), dry space with lots of air has been a bit tricky to find so the garlic can cure properly. Especially important once the garlic has begun to open inside their little cloves. Sas had the brainstorm of creating a hanging roof—brilliant! She silliconed the holes in the tin and we lay out the garlic we couldn’t fit elsewhere above our heads. Then it was hot and dry and some rain came that we didn’t foresee (this equals hot and steamy) and there’s nothing we could do but grit our teeth.  Upon bunching the garlic this week with our generous helpers — thanks Lydia, Elaine and Ingrid!! —we found that quite a few bulbs have been ruined.
Never fear, thanks to the quantity there’s still lots that will be good to go for xmas, it just feels a bit devastating when you’re in the space of growing more but you’re not equipped enough to deal with it. Probably a rookie error, probably also just what happens (and something that we as the new community of growers forming out here with the help of Katie and Hugh, are aiming to fix). Also garlic is a good, easy enough crop for us to grow out here in Harcourt. So I’m trying to not feel too ruined by it… and as I sit here listening to the rain on the roof gently falling I know it is good and that there ain’t much more I can do ‘cept breathe and be a good human to the earth and those around me, and keep trying my best at this thing called life.
Grow on and well,
Mel x

Summer is a’coming…

Hi all, and a pinch and a punch for the new month – we can hardly believe it!  I (mel) keep thinking we will stop having enough produce, but as the season has/is turning all the beauties keep swinging. Finally we picked broad beans in abundance and the sugar snap peas (named Frank) are delicious and sweet, and the green garlic is delicious, and our eyes are bulging at the onions swelling in the ground.
It’s nice really, cos everywhere else we look we see the plants bolted and flowering and all the jobs that we haven’t done yet staring us (beautifully colourful and buzzing with bees, mind you) in the face! We need to pull it all out (maybe this should have happened earlier, but its a hard line when its still pickable…) and bed prep for summer!!
Our main attentions are picking for our peeps on Wednesdays and then setting up the new patch. Hugh and Sas nutted out the irrigation this week – huzzah! and next week will see Sas and me weeding and bed prepping and laying irrigation for said new patch (it is real, I can assure you!).
We’ve been doing a fair bit of interviews and things lately and you’ll see some of our words coming out in the next issue of the ‘oak’ magazine, looking at rural women in business. It’s funny, and I guess flattering for us that people want to hear our stories. I’m looking forward to it, as it’s in print and there is no online version, I kinda dig that stuff.
We’ve also had the treat of talking about collaborating with Castlemaine tea ‘sun on leaf’ with some edible flowers and herbs that we grow…this week Hannah took some cornflowers to trial for her Earl Grey mix…(delicious by the way, look her up).
And in the meantime, Sas and I are warming ourselves up for long hot days…even though it feels like they’re not coming – by Jove I’m sure they will. The okra and zucchinis have popped their heads up in the hot house so we know it’s a comin…eeeek!
Have a restful and joyous weekend folks
Mel