What a handy machine…

As Sas and I sat in the brief moment of sunshine yesterday eating our lunch we made some decisions about tomatoes. It will only be a few more weeks of being quite laid back and not feeling nervous about the next 8 months to come.  I am grateful for the winter even though I get cold, I can take a break in my mind somewhat and bunker down and rest. After recuperating from rest my nature then feels restless and wants to run away on adventures…so committing (again) to small(er) adventures than going away for a few months on a walking trip through the Victorian alps and snowy mountain country – feels frustrating, but I hope to be at peace with it in a few weeks!
Sas and I have been reflecting this month about the fact that this year is the first we haven’t expanded.  Ever.  Each year until now we have doubled our production size every year. This means that each year whatever profit we have made goes directly into financing the next upsize. More watering infrastructure, more seedlings, bigger greenhouse, more seed trays, another fence, more shade/frost cloth, more soil inputs, more mulch, more poo, more time, more tools, more containers to wash/store/sell produce in.
This time last year we were digging up and preparing 1/4 acre ready for summer production. We are glad that this winter we haven’t done that and can see the benefit of better timing re: planting, head space, accounting time, succession numbers/rotations and planting and, yes, some moments to breathe.
We are aware however, of our need to invest and upskill. We are trying (trying!!) to become more efficient at what we do. After a year of thinking about it, we are pretty sure we are going to invest in a Pasquali 2-wheel walk-behind tractor. It will increase the amount we can do in the same amount of time. It will not compact the soil, but rather help us to incorporate organic matter (such as green manures, compost, rock dust) easier and quicker – thus helping rotations and soil health – which means more nutrient-rich food. Hurray!!
This will put us back almost $15,000…not a small sum. Well, for us it’s not! We are being cautious with this investment (and loan) but are pretty certain it will help us to be more financially viable, save our backs some and time too, and pay itself back via efficiency, thus better management and more production on the other end.
We have been speaking with Darren from Vin Rowe in Warragul and he is going to come up to Harcourt with a machine and all its different implements on Tuesday 21 August. If you or anyone you know is interested to join the demonstration and practical info session we would love you to join us. We have a few people already joining us and we say the more the merrier; we might even meet a few new peeps!! Please email gunghoegrowers@gmail.com to let us know you’re interested, and then when we know the exact time Darren will be up on the Tuesday, we can let you know. If you’re intrigued and have no idea what we’re on about you can see better here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gl_cOxfXzD4
Otherwise, I hope you are well and staying warm and healthy in mind, body and spirit and that the planets and this blood moon isn’t causing too much upheaval!!
Grow well and get in touch if you’re keen to check out a helpful machine and its bits!
Mel (and Sas)

The important work of becoming a fruit tree parent

Proud parents picking up new fruit trees

It’s tree pick-up week, and as people have been coming to the farm to collect their fruit trees the days have been full of conversations about their plans for their gardens and orchards, explaining different tree training systems and giving mini-pruning lessons, explaining the merits of different fruit varieties, and providing impromptu planting demos.

When they feel ready and armed with all the right info, we help them load up their trees and wave them off as they go home to get planting. It’s a little like sending new parents home with their babies, and as I imagine midwives must feel when they say goodbye to a young family, I’m simultaneously delighted to see them start their journey together, and slightly nervous about how they’ll manage, particularly if they’re first-time parents.

Trees waiting to be picked up and taken to their new homes

Of course, trees and babies are completely different cases, because babies are the most precious thing in the world and must be kept alive at all cost, but it doesn’t really matter if a tree dies from neglect or mistreatment, it’s just a few bucks down the drain and you start again, right?

Strictly speaking that’s true, but actually, there’s a little more at stake. You see, I know something more…I know what it feels like to nurture a fruit tree all the way through to maturity and harvest, and it’s almost indescribably satisfying.

Rhonda bravely pruning her brand new tree for the first time

It starts with planting it out in the right spot in the garden and giving it the first (terrifying) pruning.

Then you’re responsible for protecting it from pests that might damage it and making sure it has healthy soil and enough water.

You nervously watch it grow and then bloom, are awed by the miracle of pollination and seeing fading flowers falling off to reveal tiny fruit.

You protect the fruit from pests and diseases, and then … finally … harvest the most delicious fruit you’ve ever tasted in your life, because you grew it yourself.

Over years the trees grow, your skill grows, and your confidence that you can protect your precious crop against all the hazards and dangers that threaten it will grow too. And it needs to, because this is important work. You’re providing nutritious organic food for your family for the whole year, not just summer. You’re saving money in the family budget. You’re giving your kids irreplaceable memories of picking fruit straight from the tree. You need to get results every year, not just the years you’re “lucky”.

And when it works and you bring in the harvest, you feel on top of the world because you know you’ve joined the ranks of one of the most important groups in society—the food providers, those salt-of-the earth types who have the seemingly magical ability to coax delicious food from a little dirt, sunshine and hard work. You’re a farmer.

I know all this because this has been my journey over the last 20 years.  Yes, as with raising children, there’s pain along the way as you make mistakes and things go wrong, but I know the joy that lies ahead for you, and while admittedly it’s nowhere near as special as bringing a whole new human into the world, I’ve done that too so can say with the voice of experience that your fruit trees are not going to give you nearly as many sleepless nights!

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