From cherries to apples….

07102007(002)Our cherry block used to be one of our favourite places on the farm – 1,000 trees producing beautiful lush cherries, year after year. It was hugely popular with the pick-your-own crowds from Melbourne, and was generally a nice place to be.

This all changed during the spring and summer of 2010/2011 when central Victoria received massive amounts of rain in October and December. Cherries hate wet roots, and even though the block is on a slope, the roots stayed wet enough for long enough to kill the entire block!2010 12 05_0611

This left us not only with a dead cherry block, but we also had to decide what to do with the 1,000 dead trees. That’s always one of the challenges of farming – adapting to the unexpected. In the intervening years we have replanted the cherries elsewhere on the farm, and decided to replace what was the cherry block with a heritage apple orchard. This has been a long process, and so finally this winter we’re at the stage of pulling out the old cherry trees to make way for planting the new apples next winter.

So, how do you get rid of 1,000 dead trees? We could have brought in a bulldozer to push the into a couple of big piles for burning (the usual practice when getting rid of an orchard), but as the trees had been dead for 4 years they were very brittle and there would have just been a mass of  broken branches and sticks everywhere, which we would have been picking up for the next 10 years. So in the last few weeks we’ve chainsawed all the limbs and burnt them (they were too old and dry to chip), and will now push the stumps out one by one, and pile them up for burning.


This will give us a nice clean block which we can work up in spring, plant a green manure crop to dig-in in autumn, and be ready to start planting on our new apple block next winter – phew! IMG_20150731_115535-500x281

Red-legged invaders…

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Have you ever seen black spots crawling all over your precious leafy greens? Particularly legumes with tender new shoots?  Did they have red legs? We’ve noticed these little creatures (red-legged earth mites) have taken a healthy liking to our peas…so much so that half the crop look shrivelled, brown, eaten down to the ground and deformed.

On doing research we found that nothing much deters the beasts. In fact, they love the cold, especially when its dry with no rain and capeweed.  Well that sucks, cause that’s exactly the kind of winter we’ve been having so far and one of our most abundant weeds! In an attempt to feel we were taking some kind of action other than squashing them (an impossible task with them numbered in their millions and they’re so tiny), we spoke nicely to them, shook some tendrils and even gave them some hose action hoping they would think it was rain…But to no avail, they refused to leave.  Their resilient natures are such that most things are ineffectual, even nasty chemicals. Time to whip out the big guns, no more nice Gung Hoe…
Nature cooperated and gave us 3 days of our first solid winter rain (late July?!) to help give them the boot and we backed it up by making a  witches brew full of wormwood, chilli, comfrey and compost tea. Surely enough to scare off the heftiest of vampires! Who knows what it’ll do, we might end up with Mexican mites in a mariachi band!, or chilli flavoured peas…wasabi even?! So with bated breath we sprayed it on each and every single pea…even the healthy ones, and we have a second dose ready. Hopefully our red-legged visitors might not appreciate such care to their existence and leave.
Our fingers are crossed, we’ll keep you posted…and if anyone has any other tips, let us know!
Cheers, Sas and Mel

Back to school…

I used to have a recurring nightmare of waking up and realising I’d slept through an exam, for which I’d done no study and upon which my future success depended. It’s a leftover from my uni days, and is so real that I’ve never been quite sure whether this actually happened sometime in my distant past. It seems unlikely, as the nightmare is about a maths exam and I can’t remember ever studying maths, however my student days are a little hazy due both to the vast passage of time that has elapsed, and the amount of alcohol consumed at the time! Whether or not it really happened, it’s a lingering image that colours my feelings about studying and exams.

Imagine my delight, then, when a box arrived by courier this week containing two massive folders of course work for the upcoming Company Directors Course in Canberra. Plus a case study I need to read and absorb before the course starts. Plus the registration details for the online “Interpreting Financial Statements” course, also to be done before the course starts. Oh, and then there’s the EXAM!

Delighted to be hitting the books again after a break of almost three decades!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m genuinely rapt to have the chance to do the Company Directors Course (which is part of the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award prize) and, to be honest, is one of the reasons I applied for the award in the first place.  I’m sure it will give me a new skill set that will no doubt make a difference in much of the work I already do in the community, as well as open new doors. I just hadn’t thought it would be quite so … big, and I certainly wasn’t counting on it involving an exam!

It’s not like I haven’t picked up a nonfiction book since I left uni – I last studied in 2012 when I did the Permaculture Cert IV. There was no exam, but a heap of course work, which of course I left until the last minute and then spent many a long midnight hour finishing by the deadline. Plus Hugh and I have done lots of short courses as part of our regular professional development for the farm, and I’m in the throes of finishing writing our 4th ebook about fruit growing (this one’s about pruning, and boy is THAT a big subject!). The difference is that the Company Directors Course feels serious!

I’m not a big fan of the whole “no pain, no gain” school of thought, but I’ve noticed since winning the award that I’ve spent quite a lot of time feeling vaguely uncomfortable, which I’ve recently realised is the feeling of being constantly stretched out of my comfort zone as I step into yet another new experience. When I look at those folders, I can hear the screws on my metaphorical rack being screwed another turn. Ouch!

On the upside, every single time I grab a new opportunity and let myself be stretched, the discomfort of anticipation inevitably gives way to the joy and relief of having jumped off a cliff (again), and thankfully finding that my wings still work!

I did eventually pass my science degree, so even if my recurring nightmare is based on an actual event, it clearly didn’t jeapordize my future success. In fact, though I obviously have a tendency to worry about things before they happen, I always seem to get where I’m aiming at in the end. I’m holding on to that thought as I head off to enjoy some light reading about company tax.

Wish me luck…

Week 17: In the last fortnight I’ve:

  • run two successful Facebook for Business workshops for farmers market stallholders
  • announced the first Facebook for Business webinar (now I just have to learn how to run a webinar!)
  • had a productive meeting with my mentor, the delightful Clare Fountain
  • registered for the Australian Institute of Company Directors course
  • had to reluctantly decline to be guest judge for a local “brew and bake” competition due to a diary clash (very disappointed about this one!)
  • attended a new local Women in Business group that led to lots of useful conversations, links, and opportunities.

My project, called “Growing Communities Around Farmers Markets” has been made possible by the RIRDC Rural Women’s Awards.