CSA – big thanks!

Gidday out there!

As I write this the correllas, galahs and cockatoos and cacophony of other birds, dogs, cows and who knows what else are banging around and the sun is on my face.  Its a perfect autumn day, the grass is growing and covering what was dust almost a month ago. The dust of green feels like a sigh of relief; and the ever hovering thought: ‘will it rain??’ diminishes slightly.  I am reminded just how quickly we can be turned to the present when it feels do-able, ok and not that it will all collapse and die if you don’t tend to it.  

This weather is also perfect planting out weather – we need to get everything we can in the ground before the earth cools down and hibernates for the winter.  We need everything to get its grow on NOW so we can harvest it throughout winter/spring. If we leave it too late the plants/ seedlings will sit there and not grow and take up precious space not doing anything…which might seem not such a worry but on our scale and with our intensiveness this is a factor we try to eliminate as much as possible.  If you can hear a thread of anxiety running through my words you’d be completely correct.  As much as I know we do as much as we can; and every year (remember we only get one crack a year at each season!) we improve – these windows of transition are still tricky for us to juggle! There’s days I feel in the flow and then there’s days I try so hard to get my head around it that I think I’m actually ridiculously unproductive which elevates any overwhelm I already have lurking in the background!! We have a massive to-do list that lives on a white board in the shed and is pretty much our brains combined into gung hoe…sometimes i find it helpful and at other times its just TOO MUCH! as pictured here 😉

Ah well…is life, no?  We’re never completely ‘all over it’ are we, and as I heard in a podcast interviewing Mary Oliver recently, she mentioned how important it is to leave space to accommodate chance… I do believe that if we so perfectly organise our lives there is no chance for the unknown and spontaneous, and indeed isn’t that what breathes life into our steps?

The magpies are swooping out of a big gum I sit and type under, they’re singing and uplifting the spirit.  As the seasons roll on by we see the transition – the garlic is all mulched its strong green leaves are poking out of its bed of straw…and in the same moment growth has slowed and it is harder to get the mass bulk we need for boxes, caterers, cafes and restaurants so there is a glimmer in the distance of Sas and me too slowing down.  We will finish our seasonal boxes in early June for a few months, (but still continue with wholesale) so we can bunker down with the season and take stock, regain energy needed for spring/summer/autumn.  We will start with the morning sun soon rather than meeting with the moon at the beginning and end of our days, yay!

As a celebration we are holding with Ant (from Tellurian Fruit Gardens) a casual farm tour and shared potluck dinner with members of our hybrid CSA box scheme on Saturday 8th June. We will be sending out invites to everyone who has eaten and travelled the seasons with us via the electronic mail – via mailchimp – so keep an eye out y’all – and often Mailchimp can go into junk or promotions folders – so please keep an eye out in these too, we don’t want anyone to think they haven’t been invited!!! There is a registration for the event (in the email you will receive!) so we can make sure we have enough seats, toilets, water and parking space so make sure you sign up if you’re intending on joining us 🙂


We are so grateful for those in our community who support us and what we’re aiming to do in building stronger, local food systems and building soil. We understand that it takes a certain amount of understanding and tweaking of what we mostly call ‘normal’ life to live in sync with the food we have available to us in each season as its so easy to not live this way.  So in celebration of you, and for for us to celebrate the earth and everything that comes from it, we would love to show you with a short tour where the food is grown and any questions you have, and then sit around a fire, or in the shed and do what people have done for millennia by celebrating with food, together. Pretty simple, but generally it’s what is the golden ticket we reckon. 

So with that, may you be enjoying these cooler days of green and red and brown and gold and be reminded of this wisdom so beautifully penned by Wendell Berry from his poem Rising : (bearing in mind man equals all peoples 🙂 

But if a man’s life 
continues in another man, 
then the flesh will rhyme 
its part in immortal song. 
By absence, he comes again. 

There is a kinship of the fields 
that gives to the living the breath 
of the dead. The earth 
opened in the spring, opens 
in all springs. Nameless, 
ancient, many lived, we reach 
through ages with the seed.

In peace, Mel (and Sas)

Creating water security in a changing climate

The pad for the new water tank
The pad for the new water tank

It doesn’t look very exciting, does it, but it is! It’s the pad for the new water tank we installed next to our shed as part of the ‘Hub’ infrastructure we’re building for the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op, funded by Agriculture Victoria’s Food Source Funding (for which we are very grateful).

The completed tank looks even better than we imagined, and is now steadily filling up.

Our shiny new water tankhy
Our shiny new water tank

Why are we talking about this, when the tank’s old news, and we have plenty of water at the moment?

Because one of the principles we absolutely rely on on the farm, and in our teaching, is that diversity = resilience. In the case of water, we advocate having as many different sources of water available as possible — and definitely more than one!

Hugh improving the irrigation system
Hugh improving the irrigation system

We’re bringing it up now because autumn and winter are good times to be thinking about how to increase your water security, and making improvements.

The pressure is mostly off from being busy with harvest, but the logistics of your irrigation system are still fresh in your mind from summer — how easy or hard it was to run, whether you had enough water to grow a full, healthy crop of fruit, how much your water cost (if anything), and how well your trees managed with the amount of water you gave them.

We rely on water from four different sources – the Coliban Water irrigation system, our dams, storage in the soil (ie rainfall) and tanks, but we know from past experience in the big drought that sometimes this isn’t enough, and so we’re always looking to add more resilience into the system.

Our large farm dam - which also gets used for recreation!
Our large farm dam – which also gets used for recreation!

For us, the main solutions are:

  • buying more water to give us more of a buffer if our allocation is reduced;
  • continuing to put in more roof catchment and tanks;
  • continuing to improve the water-holding capacity of our soil;
  • keyline planning and design for the farm, to improve water harvest and storage.

But of course your solutions to improving water security will probably be completely different.

They might include adding a tank, improving the efficiency of your irrigation system, improving the water-holding capacity of your soil, or installing a grey-water system.

This is a topic we’re passionate about, and have written three different short courses, plus an ebook on the topic, to help you improve your food growing resilience in a rapidly changing climate. It really is a topic none of us can avoid if we still want to be able to grow food in another 20, 30 or 50 years.

So if you’re planning to plant trees this year, or already have an established garden, now’s the time to either review how your irrigation system performed over summer, or plan to put a new system in.

We all need to be ready when (not if) the next drought (or flood) comes!

The big flood of 2011 breaking a dam wall
The big flood of 2011 breaking a dam wall

Have you planted a green manure crop this year?

A few weeks ago we recommended planting a green manure crop as one of the fastest and easiest ways to improve your soil before you plant fruit trees. This week we’re showing you what the crop should be looking like by by now, and what to look for.

A green manure is a fast-growing crop of (usually) annual plants, and it’s one of the quickest ways to improve soil fertility and add organic matter to your soil.

The last couple of times we’ve planted new orchards, we’ve first put in a green manure crop before we’ve planted the fruit trees because we’re always aiming to increase the biodiversity under our fruit trees—it’s one of the best ways we can provide the right habitat for useful insects that help us keep the pests under control.

Sas planting a green manure crop in the nursery
Sas planting a green manure crop in the nursery

This year we planted a green manure in the block where we’ll be planting the new nursery in winter. The seed mix included grasses, legumes (nitrogen fixers) and herbs – grasses to add bulk organic matter to the soil, the legumes to add nitrogen, and the herbs to add a diverse mix of nutrients. If you’re not sure what seed to choose, you can check out our recommended plant lists (and even some suppliers of organic seed, if you’re in Australia) in this short course.

We’re always aiming to increase the biodiversity in our soil – it’s one of the best ways we can provide healthy soil to grow trees, as well as habitat for useful insects that help us keep the pests under control.

The more diversity you can get into your garden, the healthier your fruit trees (and all your other plants) will be. And if you’re growing your own food, you definitely want that food to be as healthy and nutrient rich as possible.

Clover starting to grow
Clover starting to grow

It’s always a good sign to see lots of clover seedlings coming up. We particularly like having clover because it’s a nitrogen fixer (taking nitrogen from the air and putting it in the soil where the trees can use it).

Clover is quite spreading and so out-competes less useful weeds, and it self-seeds so it will persist in the orchard for years.

Experience has shown us that even though we plough green manure crops back into the soil before we plant the trees, plenty of clover seedlings will still come up, and over time it will gradually spread throughout the orchard floor.

A bean plant in the green manure crop starting to grow
A bean plant in the green manure crop starting to grow

Before we plant the new nursery in July, we’ll be turning the crop in. We use a rotary hoe, or the disc behind the tractor, but in a home garden you can either turn it in with a shovel, or just mow it and leave it on the soil – it’s not quite as good, but the worms will eventually take that lovely organic matter underground for you.

Getting ready to plant a new tree
Getting ready to plant a new tree

One of the unfortunate consequences of using large macinery like a disc is that disturbing the soil so comprehensively provides the perfect environment for opportunistic weeds such as capeweed (below).

Beautiful but unpopular capeweed
Beautiful but unpopular capeweed

We appreciate all our weeds, and even the much-despised capeweed has many fine qualities, but it’s not the plant we prefer to see in the orchard, as it tends to out-compete more useful plants, without conferring the benefits of a nitrogen-fixer.

Just one word of warning – if you are going to turn in your green manure crop, try to leave at least a couple of weeks between doing so and planting your trees, because the rotting green material can become quite hot as it breaks down, and you don’t want to burn the roots of your baby trees!

So in a classic case of “do what we say, not what we do”, here’s our top 4 tips for looking after your soil when you plant your fruit trees:

  1. Plant a green manure crop
  2. Turn it into the soil at the site where you are going to plant a tree, preferably a few weeks before you plant
  3. Disturb the soil as little as possible when planting the tree
  4. Re-seed the area with preferred understorey plants.