All we ever do is have meetings

An alliance meeting in our kitchen
An alliance meeting in our kitchen

Setting up the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance (we’re still waiting for someone to come up with a better name….) is exciting, fun, stimulating, inspiring and reinvigorating for us old farmers, but mostly, it’s a lot of meetings!

On the phone, by Skype, in person, at offices in the city, here on the farm—we have been talking to a lot of people about this project over the last few weeks.

Meeting with Clare from Sorted4Business (in our kitchen) to work out the finer details of where all the alliance members will fit!
Meeting with Clare from Sorted4Business (in our kitchen) to work out the finer details of where all the alliance members will fit!

We’ve been going through a thorough process of interviewing and getting to know each of the applicants for the orchard lease, as we’re keen to choose the person who will be the best fit for the opportunity. We’ve had multiple meetings with other alliance members as they start to work through the detail of setting up or expanding their businesses. We’ve had regular meetings with our business consultant, Clare, to work through the many layers of complexity involved with our business development plan, we’ve met with professionals to get advice on various aspects of our plans, and had meetings with the funding body to report on our progress and discuss next steps. We almost don’t have time to farm any more!

We’ve also had some welcome interest from the media about what we’re doing, and are now starting to get inquiries from other farmers and farming groups interested in doing something similar on their farms. As part of our mission here is to develop a replicable model that can be implemented all around the country, we’re happy to share our progress so far, but all this talking is keeping us from our fruit trees!

Spring is such a crucial time of year in the orchard, when it’s more important than any other time of year to keep our eye on the ball so we can anticipate and respond to the weather to protect the trees while they’re flowering and the fruit is setting. If we stuff up now, we pay for it for the rest of the season!

gala blossom

So we’re feeling a little distracted by nurturing two completely different ‘babies’ at the moment—this year’s fruit crop, and our fledgling alliance. Both promise great things and deserve our full attention, but we can’t wait until we’ve steered them through these early, risky stages and can stand back a bit and take a breath!

Drip, drip, drip…

Maths isn’t my (Sas’) strong point. Start talking numbers to me and very quickly my eyes glaze over as my mind wanders to a ‘happy place’. This week however Mel and I had to force our brains through some serious mental rigours in order to nut out a plan for our irrigation system in the new patch. With the expert (and patient) guidance of Bill, the regional rep for Toro (an irrigation manufacturer) and lots of head scratching and number crunching, we have (hopefully) gotten to the bottom of some of our existing irrigation woes and worked out a more precise and efficient set up for the new beds.

There’s lots to take into account, like the pressure in the main lines, the flow rate of the water, what else is being watered on the property when we are also watering, how many lineal meters of drip line and how many litres per hour per meter they put out, which all determines how we work out the best set up….are your eyes glazed over yet?

Our next big step for spring (now that we’ve relocated the hot house out to the farm and set up an automatic watering system in it) is to start installing the new irrigation system. When that’s done, we will be able to plant out all our green spring babies from the hot house safely knowing all their thirsty needs will be met.

Last year we had real issues with all our crops not getting consistent and even watering. We had patchy germination on our direct seeded rows and patches of thriving and struggling crops. Now that Bill helped us troubleshoot what the possible issues are, we’re looking forward to a more productive summer. Fingers crossed.

Another element of the new irrigation plan that totally rocks our world is the inclusion of a fertigator. This is a simple device that operates without electricity but using pressure differentiation in the irrigation lines to mix liquid fertilisers into the irrigation lines when needed.  We will no longer have to administer Seasol and compost teas, watering can by watering can to every one of our rows, the fertigator will be able to pump our earthy concoctions through our irrigation lines while we weed! Amazing.

On other news…don’t forget we’ve got our Gung How Growers open day this Sunday 24th September from 10am to 12pm, with a tour scheduled for 11am. There will be cake and tea and scones and jam, seedlings for sale and a chance to pre-order your garlic plaits. No eftpos available so come with cashola. Hope to see you there.

Grow well…

Sas and Mel

Nutrition, open day, and more…

Well, don’t you love how nature runs by its own clock, not our boxed squares of dates? Spring has certainly begun to unfurl but with the hail, threats of snow, and icy winds you’d never think it!! We are watching with wonder the splendour of bulbs and flowers breaking through the grey skies! And brassicas happy with life as you can see…!!

Sas and I are busy out at the patch weeding before it gets out of control, but mostly turning our attentions to the new patch that we had made up and Yeoman ploughed in autumn, thanks to Dave Griffths.

We need to make sure the soil has as much as it needs, so when we put the plants in there, they have enough food to grow us delicious tomatoes and tasty eggplants, and corn, melons, lettuce, potatoes…the list goes on (but I’ll leave some as a surprise 🙂

Our soil is old, no wonder really, and its still got some structure, but not very many of the essential nutrients and minerals that the plants need. It takes time to build soil that holds these nutrients and getting it to a point of balance where they coexist on their own is our long-term plan and what we began in the first patch from day 1. And so it goes with this new piece of land too, but we don’t have as much time! So we have been researching the best ways to feed our soil with local, organic (or to standard) materials…this is tough!! (Steve Solomon’s book The Intelligent Gardener goes into way more detail!)

I (Mel) am most excited about installing some kind of fertigation system that we install at the main tap of our irrigation lines. Very basically it means we can administer liquid forms of goodness to the entire area with the turn of a tap, rather than by hand via a watering can. Hunter Harvest’s Kat is making us an appropriately strong dilution of her collected rabbit poo (very high in nitrogen) tea. The rabbits names are Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson, Norman, Jerry, Daria, and Quinn. They eat organic feed and sometimes our weeds and live an incredibly happy life.

​There’s also other activities brewing up here in Harcourt – of course one of the major ones is this! Please share it high and wide! (see picture below!)​

We are also trying to get ready for a bumper season by putting the call out for rubber bands! We don’t want to buy them as we can’t find any rubber sources that we ethically agree with and they take forever to break down…currently we’re using Mel’s Mum’s stash but it’s quickly running out! SO, we’re happy to take any you don’t use off your hands! We have set up a jar at ‘The Local’ as a collection point (thanks legends!), let the re-using, recycling begin…

Finally! Gung Hoe Growers are having an open day! Sunday, 24 September, 10 am-12 pm. We’re hoping there’ll be some blue skies we can sit under, share a cuppa and cake as we meet each other looking onto the patch and apricot blossoms! It will be your chance to pick up Chuffed perks, see your perks in action (not naughty, promise! we’ve painted our row signs!) and preorder garlic for Christmas as well as order T-shirts and grab any left over teatowels. WOW! Please click here for all the details.

Now that you’re fully informed, go outside and feel the fresh wind on your face and breathe deep.

Grow well, Mel & Sas x