To keep the vampires away…

To keep the vampires away!

Garlic is an important marker for us Gung Hoes. It was the first crop we ever planted back in April 2015 when Mel and I first started leasing land off Katie and Hugh. It’s one of those optimistic crops. We plant it as the soil is cooling and the days are getting shorter, when the sweat and dust of summer is starting to settle and we can begin to breathe again. The winter and spring crops are tucked into their new beds (in theory) and we are hopeful for the season to come. The garlic gets planted and mulched and slowly it grows over the next 7 months. We water it and nurture it, take the weeds out so it can grow unimpeded. We hope that when we finally pull them up, they will have grown into perfectly pungent and gorgeous heads of garlic but until we pull them up, we don’t really know how its going.

This time last year when we pulled up the garlic, our hope was crushed. We lost almost two-thirds of our crop because of the wet season and what remained had bulb rot which meant that one or two cloves from each head were rotten! We salvaged and sold what we could but it was the first of a number of challenges that made for a very difficult summer for us.

Come April, ever hopeful again we planted our garlic. As usual we nurtured and cared for it for 7 long months. After consulting with our biodynamic expert friend, Janet from Newstead community garden, about the best day by the moon to harvest the garlic, we dug it up 2 weeks ago. The timing couldn’t have been better. The garlic had had almost 2 weeks of dry weather in the ground and for the first time ever, we dug it up on a blue sky day with no impending rain clouds! The game changer though was finally having a weatherproof drying shed to hang the garlic in to cure.

The timing of when to pull your garlic up is crucial. After 7 months of slow growth, there is a window of about 1–2 weeks when it’s ideal to harvest it. If you go too early, the garlic won’t have segmented into cloves; too late and the head begins to open up which means moisture, critters and dirt can get in and the garlic won’t last as long.

This year we nailed it! It is so perfect! Dark purple (thanks to the cool winter and iron-rich soil), perfectly plump and strong! We got it out just before the rain and have been curing it for 2 weeks in our shed, safe from the storms raging outside! That means Mel and Sas can sleep peacefully.

This time of year, every hour out in the patch counts. There’s beds to prepare, compost to add, seedlings to sow and plant and mulch and a small window of opportunity to do it all before its too bloody hot and everything shrivels. Amidst the spring rush, garlic makes us stop. Sit in the shade and shuck for a while. The other lovely thing about garlic is that it brings people together (unless of course you eat too much and then people may give you a bit of space!). After 2 weeks of our garlic curing, it was time to call in friends, put on a simple Gung Hoe feast and get shucking and bunching together. Many hands and all that…

We are so grateful to Deb, Cohen, Cara, Elle, Marty and Amanda for helping us shuck and plait those babies this year. So much laughter, joy and good vibes surrounded the garlic as we bunched it up. Hopefully that is infused into the food that gets made with it…

Our garlic crop also symbolises our own cycle of growing and learning as farmers. Each year we save the cream of our crop to be the next year’s seed garlic. We pick the biggest and most beautiful heads to plant, and over the years we’ve seen the consistency, hardiness and quality of our garlic improve as it adapts to our specific situation and we learn better how to care for it.

This year we are selling our garlic through the Open Food Network. An online platform that connects farmers with eaters; to order yours go to: https://openfoodnetwork.org.au/gunghoegrowers/shop

It will be available for pick up from the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op shop on Wednesday 12th and 19th December from 9am to 1pm or from the Wesley Hill Market in Castlemaine on Saturday the 22 December. We can also post garlic around Australia too but not to Tassie or W.A.

Our garlic is available as:

15 head plait- $30
30 head plait- $60

Grow and eat well!

Sas (and Mel)

Earwigs as pests

What can we say? When we get it wrong and don’t get the earwig tape on our trees early enough (or at all…) this is what can happen.

Earwigs just love soft fruit like cherries and apricots, and as you can see from this photo, will take up residence in numbers.

This is a problem that tends to be worse on young trees; on mature trees, we find that the ratio of earwigs to fruit is much lower, and we have a smaller ratio of damaged fruit – though of course, we’d prefer none!

Earwigs are a very common pest, and trying to get rid of them is basically impossible (though chooks do love them, which is a great reason to let your chickens browse under your fruit trees.

The lesson is, as with all pest and disease control, focus on the potential damage that can be done to your fruit rather than on the pest, and think about strategies that will stop them getting to the fruit, rather than wishing you could control the number of earwigs, which is basically impossible unless you adopt a “scorched earth” spray-and-kill strategy, which inevitably does more harm to the environment than good.

Find out more about organic pest control strategies here.

Welcome to summer

Have you started harvesting any fruit at your place? Depending on where you live, you might have apricots, cherries, peaches or even nectarines and plums ripe already. The season’s running about normal for us, so we’ve started picking apricots, white peaches and cherries already.

Switching into harvest mode means it’s time to start paying attention to a few different things, so this week we’re helping you to refocus your attention. It really is the key time of the season, because this is the bit where you convert all the hard work you’ve done the rest of the year into a yield.

The main yield (obviously) is fruit, but for commercial growers like us it’s also when we convert our work into the money that will sustain our family for the year. And even if you don’t sell your fruit, you may also convert some of it into other produce by swapping with friends and neighbours as part of a neighbourhood food swap, or goodwill by sharing it with family.

  1. Monitoring when the fruit is ripe and ready to pick: One of the guides we use on the farm is waiting until one or two pieces of fruit have fallen because of ripeness (but also, taste them!). Don’t pick your fruit too early, because it grows in size a lot in the last couple of weeks on the tree. Getting your picking time right is really an art, and one of the things that can take quite a lot of experience to learn. We recommend keeping a diary of picking dates and updating it each year, including notes about whether you got it right or not!
  2. Picking up any ripe fruit that has fallen onto the ground: this is one of the basic hygiene practices that can help to keep pests and diseases at bay, as many of them find their perfect habitat in fruit that is rotting on the ground.
  3. Picking and storing your fruit correctly: fruit should be picked when it’s mature, almost ripe (but not over-ripe), and carefully, to make sure there’s no picking injuries. It should never be left in the sun, and then it should be cooled as quickly as possible after picking.

Want more info? Find out more about how to pick fruit to be proud of here.