Remember how good fruit used to taste?

Do you have a childhood memory of eating fruit, ripe from the tree? Maybe at your grandma’s house or a house where you lived as a kid, or somewhere you visited in your summer holidays. Maybe your special fruit memory is a dish your Mum made every summer, or bottled apricots eaten in the middle of winter. After talking to literally thousands of people about fruit, we’ve heard so many of these stories that we know it’s almost a universal shared memory.

But these days, the common lament we hear is that “fruit just doesn’t taste like it used to”, or the variation “you can’t buy good fruit at a supermarket”.  People’s expectations of being able to buy fruit that tastes as good as their childhood memories is almost nil.

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That’s just one of the reasons why people are starting to grow their own in droves.

And now that they are starting to grow their own fruit, we get lots of questions from people about how do you tell when is the right time to pick fruit.

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Coincidentally, this is one of the biggest challenges of our job, and something we put a lot of energy and thought into. We’re always aiming to get fruit to our customers in absolutely perfect condition, just ready to eat, and ripe and delicious – and truthfully, those things can be very hard to achieve simultaneously.

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Home-picked fruit bowl

When you’re growing your own, you have the huge advantage of not having to get your fruit to market, and can afford to let the balance fall more on the side of ripening the fruit on the tree, and become more flavourful, juicy, sweet and delicious. If it has a few bruises from being over-ripe when you pick, it doesn’t really matter because you have no-one to please but yourself, and anyway, you’re probably going to eat it within a day or two.

But even in your home garden, knowing what you’re planning to do with the fruit you pick will help you decide when to pick it – and actually, this is quite an important part of getting the most out of your fruit trees.

Pick too green (before the fruit has reached maturity) and it won’t ripen off the tree, and may have only reached 50% of its potential size (and, by the way, will never taste very good).

Pick over-ripe and you risk bruising, much shorter storage time, a higher chance of post-harvest rots, and the fruit going floury. Plus over-ripe fruit rapidly starts losing its nutrient value after picking, and often doesn’t preserve as well.

So how do you tell the perfect time to pick each piece of fruit? This is actually quite a science, and there are many specific indicators and even tests you can do to really figure this out, and to further complicate things it can vary wildly between different types of fruit and even between different varieties.

However, there’s lots of simple indicators that will help you to get it right without getting too scientific about it – here’s our top 5 tips:

1. Judge whether a tree’s crop has reached maturity by whether at least one piece of fruit is definitely ripe – either because it’s fallen from the tree from ripeness, or judge by eating it (you need to sacrifice some fruit to make this decision).

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Fruit dropping on the ground is a sure sign that your crop is ripe- or soon will be!

2. Fruit colour is actually a very poor guide because fruit will often start to colour weeks or months before it’s ripe, so look instead at the background colour which will be persistently green until it starts to change to yellow, white or cream (depending on the fruit type) as the fruit ripens.

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Ripeness is not always about colour.

3. If birds are starting to get interested in the fruit, it’s a good sign that it will be ready soon (though annoyingly, some birds will attack fruit even when it’s still completely green, so use caution with this one).

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Bird damage is often a sign that fruit is ripe.

4. Taste! Again, this one involves sacrificing a piece of fruit to test, but is an excellent way to start linking the way a variety tastes with the way it looks at different stages of ripeness.

5. Our last (and most important) tip … start to make a note of when you pick each variety each year, and make a little note of whether you got it right or not!

 

 

 

 

Why do you do what you do?

Hi!

I’ve been loving the early mornings these last few weeks (once I get into the routine!). The stillness before you being to feel the day begin. A friend came out for an early morning coffee this week and we had a little walk around the patch, at the same time talking about ventures and ideas before the new day truly set in. They asked me why I wanted to do the patch and I kinda just rambled off my reason of wanting to provide accessible, REAL nutritious food to the people of the community.

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Then I began to explain how we are in the process of starting to organise our next little upscale this year, and with a bit more consistent quantity we will finally be able to sell to the people as well as local businesses.  Beginning very small with a handful of boxes combining other local growers and local producers (we ALL want to work cooperatively, not competitively).

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From that conversation I continued to ramble on about how Sas and I don’t believe the current food system can last for very long and that we wanted to our system to work without being completely reliant on fossil fuels and big machines and synthetic chemicals and fertilisers, which would produce a lot of food in the short term but kill the soil in the process.

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The conversation ended there but after we said goodbye my mind kept thinking about the underpinning values of why do I do what I do? I think the current system doesn’t value food for what it truly is. I want to grow food that is accessible and honest. Accessible to people like myself who don’t earn a lot of money, but deserve just as any other to eat food that not only tastes delicious and sustains them but also provides the body with what it truly needs. Not just food that looks pretty but is full of water and is tasteless. Honest as it’s grown with the land and with the seasons and pretty much our bare hands! The reality of working with the land has become apparent to me yet again this season. Everything is about a month behind and all we can do is roll with it…

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We want to nourish the land in which we work. It holds our entire race, we walk on it every day, it holds the trees which give us air which enable us to live…geez, if we don’t look after it what are we thinking? We want to leave the soil we work with better than when we started.

Connection. I know it can be an overused word, but it keeps hanging around! Now that the snakes have left us alone for a bit I’m working in bare feet before the heat of the day and I love it so much. Touching the earth with your bare skin, getting the dirt under your nails, watching the little seeds sprout their heads, being amazed at all the little lives that inhabit the flowers, the soil, the air…ah I could go on! It’s also very grounding I believe. In the world today everything is so instant. I love the fact that I simply tend and try to create the best situations I can for the plants that bear us their fruit. It doesn’t happen instantly and, to be honest, they’re the creatures of wonder! They do the growing! We just try our best to create the space. If we do a half-arsed job, it will produce half-arsed results—pretty pics are nice, but not my full reality. Growing food is being very present, not fluffing up the clouds.(sometimes I do get frustrated with timing though, it’s true!).

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So, connection with ourselves and the earth, but also with people. I’m so grateful that we are plonked right in the middle of Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens (MAFG). We are next to the apricots and the nursery, which Katie’s Dad and Sas look after. There’s other energy around, fingers crossed some more enterprises might join the property in the future too.  Its great! The connection we have when we deliver to people who are astounded by the quality and freshness of our humble produce is connection, and with our boxes we will have connection with even more people like ourselves who need to eat to survive. The connection thing is linked for me to community.

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Here is an interesting quote which resonates well with me:

“Agrarianism” refers to certain schools of thought and forms of life which regard farming and related vocations as exceptional in that farmers are independent, self-sufficient, and self-determining and work in step with nature, the local ecology, the seasons, etc. Independent yet attuned to their ecological setting, agrarian farmers think and act holistically. Working in and with nature, agrarian farmers view themselves as stewards of their ecological setting and who keep an eye on the environmental health of the area…The agrarian life is built on trust, neighbourliness, and cooperation, unlike the alienation and distrust of city life.

Dwelling in stable communities, rural agrarians nurture a sense of personal identity that is rooted in place and local history and color. Moreover,
Agrarianism regards tilling the soil, cultivating crops, raising livestock, producing food stuffs, etc., as transformative toils and virtueengendering
endeavors.

-Definition of “agriarianism” in the Springer Encyclopedia of Food and Agriculture Ethics

At the end of the day, I believe we will need to work together outside of the system that currently exists. We need to create our own systems which build resilient and empathetic communities. This is what Sas and I are endeavouring to do with our tiny wee patch in the supportive community in which we live in our little place in the world.

So cheers! And so here’s to creating our own realities as much as we are able!

Mel

P.S. Here is a link to an interesting article about post-capitalism that a fellow farmer shared this week. Thanks Joel from Future Feeders up in Northern NSW.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun

Wannabe an organic farmer?

Since we started sharing our farm with the Gung Hoe Growers and their market garden, we’ve suspected that there’s a groundswell of people out there who would love to do what we’re doing – running slightly too small (by commercial standards) organic farms for profit or love.

ggf-facebook-pageSo to test our theory, recently we wrote a post on our Facebook page inviting comments from people who want to be organic farmers or live a self-sustaining lifestyle, asking what’s stopping them? What are the biggest barriers that get in the way of people realising their goals and ‘living the dream’?

Well, what a massive response! We got an outpouring from many people who expressed in equal measure their passion and desire to be growing their own food, along with the frustration and disappointment of how hard it can be to make it work.

Here’s just a selection of what people had to say about…

unnamed-1…their dreams and aspirations:

  • to become semi self-sufficient and trade with others nearby
  • just for home use…I would like to be able to supply family
  • I want to set up an organic/permaculture veggie garden and orchard integrating traditional fruit and vegies as well as bush tucker foods
  • I want to start my own organic market garden, buying land and a house somewhere cheaper, I think I know what I need and have the funds to do it, I just need help with a business plan and would love a mentor. I know what to do, just need support. I love growing organic vegies!
  • It’s a dream to one day have a patch that we can live off sustainably
  • implementing food garden and chooks, animals
  • I want to make a living out of my farm – but I don’t know how

img3494…the biggest challenges and barriers:

  • lack of infrastructure
  • lack of machinery
  • lack of TIME
  • having to work full time to pay for the farm
  • knowing what you want to get out of it
  • knowing what you need to do to get the best return from your soil type
  • understanding how to use organic principles
  • the skills to be water wise and knowing how to improve an old, outdated, inefficient irrigation system
  • weed control
  • pest control
  • compost making
  • setting up networks for support and marketing
  • planning and working with what is there with progression plan
  • structure, fencing, water
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METADATA-START

…the questions people need answered:

  • what can we produce what there is a demand for?
  • how do we know if there will be a market for what we want to grow?
  • how to develop a small farm into a profit-generating enterprise?
  • how do I engage neighbours in productive conversation re spray drift and chemicals in waterways?
  • how do I improve soil as quickly as possible?

…and the wishlist of what people want or need to help them realise their dreams:

  • I need a business plan and a mentor
  • being able to read the wisdom of weeds
  • the money to buy the farm
  • designing farm layout (keyline principles)
  • I need a basic design

Wow. Basically, these guys wrote our life story. We have shared these dreams, asked those questions and felt frustration at all those barriers.

But when we look back over the last 20 years, we’re also incredibly lucky that the pathway that this farm has taken us on has answered so many of those questions. We’ve done courses, read books, had mentors, employed business consultants, done farm planning, done market research, established marketing supply chains and networks, learned to value and understand our weeds, and learned the wisdom of continuously working on improving our soil.

Not that we would ever claim to ‘know it all’ – far from it! After all this time, we’re still learning and evolving. But what we do have is many years of experience, lots of runs on the board, and the successful experiment of Mel and Sas starting a micro-farm at our place, which has opened our eyes to a whole new way of farming, where we can use our land, resources and experience to provide a pathway for a new generation of farmers and food growers.

And judging by the recent outpouring on Facebook, this is just the beginning!blog-2015-08-27-1