It comes around so quick. Amidst the busy-ness of summer harvest time we somehow find time to kneel among our beautiful seedling root stock nursery and imagine the varieties they will one day be. It’s a little bit Frankenstein, a little bit God, to change the destiny of these wee trees and transform them into the varieties of juicy, tasty fruit we want them to be. But that’s how it works. If we let the trees that we’ve grown from seed or cutting grow to maturity, sure they will fruit, but the fruit will likely be small, not very tasty or both! In the case of citrus and plum seedlings, they will most likely be extremely spiky too!
That’s where summer budding comes in. By budding we can add one or more know varieties of fruit cultivar to the seedling rootstock. That’s where the Frankenstein thing comes in. You have to have a surgeon’s precision (and ideally over 50 year’s experience like Merv) to cut the fine incisions in the bark of the rootstock trunk (which by now is about the thickness of your index finger), just big enough for the bud to slide in and get taped on. Once the sap starts to flow and join the new bud onto the original rootstock tree then we have success, but if our cuts are a bit outta whack, the bud a bit big or dry, or the season too late then we have to wait again until spring to graft and try again.
February is the ideal time for budding. The rootstock trees are as big as they’re going to get (more or less) and the sap is still flowing, so happy unions between bud and tree can happen. Once the trees start to slow down for autumn and their winter hibernation, then the bark wont ‘lift’ anymore to receive a bud. This week, we (Merv, Katie and Sas) started our summer budding on the peaches. With freshly sharpened knives in hand we budded about 150 trees of all sorts of varieties of peach and nectarine. The rootstock trees we’ve grown from seed we saved out of last year’s bottling adventures. If the buds are successful, the trees should be ready to plant out in winter 2020.
It’s not the most glamorous or elegant activity, spending hours on your elbows and knees carefully slicing open small trees. But it is so incredibly interesting to see how the trees grow and learn about all the different varieties and experiment with different techniques, such as multi-buds on single trees. If we’re creating monsters, at least they’re edible monsters!!!
I go among trees and sit still. All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles on water. My tasks lie in their places where I left them, asleep like cattle. Then what is afraid of me comes My tasks lie in their places and lives a while in my sight. What it fears in me leaves me, and the fear of me leaves it. It sings, and I hear its song. Then what I am afraid of comes. I live for a while in its sight. What I fear in it leaves it, and the fear of it leaves me. It sings, and I hear its song. After days of labour, Mute in my consternations, I hear my song at last, and I sing it. As we sing, the day turns, the trees move.
— Wendell Berry
Hi out there! I hope you are having a moment’s breath and soaking up the rain we got yesterday and are enjoying the cool change like me (Mel). Whilst I was picking lettuce at dawn on Tuesday I had this whole blog written out in my mind. I love the meditative state I can find myself in whilst completing some tasks. The blog I’d composed was actually quite negative and there were tears forming if I allowed myself to go there. You see, Tuesday morning through to Tuesday afternoon is a big picking and packing day for us. We are currently providing 40-odd houses (affectionately named ‘boxies’ – they have committed to buying a small or large veg box off us for the summer season) with weekly veg and still up keeping a somewhat regular supply of salad, veg and edible flowers to local restaurants, cafes, caterers and occasionally sell bulk produce to a few green grocers in town too. So, Tuesdays we arrive at the farm 5.3 0am, put the coffee on the stove, the irrigation on, water the seedlings in the hardening-off area and after we write all the orders and divvy up which box gets what we set out to pick ‘n pack it all.
Usually by this time of year we are drowning in summer produce and are needing to pick every 2 days, and it was this that made the old eyes start to well. As I was picking the lettuce (which looked beautiful) all I could see around me was what I deemed as failure. The green tomatoes staring at us = failure; the basil just plumping up after being in the ground for 2 months = failure; the zuchs with a few fruit on them = failure; the cucamelons from Mexico that are meant to love drought are splattered with baby fruit a few mm long but not really what I’d call abundant picking = failure; the capsicums under their shade cloth with but a few fruit = failure; the eggplants showering again with flowers and bees but small fruit = failure; the corn with its wind-shrivelled leaves and flowers = failure; the beans with fried flowers from the wind = no beans = failure. A few successes but for the most part what I felt surrounded by was failure.
I walked back to the shed to splash water on the buckets of leaves I’d picked and put them in the coolroom when I ran into Sas who was bunching kale/silverbeet and restaurants’ herbs…mentioned the failure feeling to her and I was met with an unexpected response: ‘I know!! It’s all I can see…’. So it wasn’t just me being extra hormonal or something if Sas was experiencing it too. We had a quick chat about it and went back to picking our respective vegies. In our quick chat we had both identified the need to build not just eco-system and food resilience, but mental resilience. We are not strangers to the failure feelings (I’d even be so bold to say that everyone experiences them) and we are getting better at acknowledging them and identifying why we’re feeling that way and if it’s within our control or not. So Tuesday morning we both came to the fact that this season’s current challenge (as all seasons have at least one) has been the heat. And without wanting to bang on about it, the consequences of it are really tough! Next year we will be better prepared, plan for another hot season and no doubt we will have a wet, mouldy etc etc season and there will be more blogs about wet and mildew ha! (…or it could be just right and nature and us will nail it!). But in the meantime we have to just keep plodding on in the current reality. We get one shot at each season each year….
Another thing we acknowledged to ourselves were expectations. Our own expectations and what we think others’ expectations of us are. We want to provide everyone with what summer normally provides! For example, tomatoes big and small, yellow and black and red. But we aren’t doing that. We feel like we aren’t providing what we should be – thus we have failed and let people down and people will think we’re not trying hard enough, aren’t very good, won’t trust us with their stomachs again…etc etc. It’s a whole spiral when you start going down that tunnel. Which is so bloomin’ easy to do. Hence why we spoke about mental resilience instead.
We both finished the fragile leaves that need to be carefully picked and bunched before the sun’s rays get too hot by 9am and sat down for a coffee (yes, another one!) and breakfast with Tessa (the legend behind the microdairy) in the shed. We asked her about mental resilience and we spoke about it a bit more. Later that day when I was weighing and bagging up salad leaves for boxes and restaurants, Katie was packing fruit and so I also asked her about the failure feelings. I’m still yet to hear the gems of wisdom from her lived experience, but she spoke about the reality of that feeling being common with farmers. Her decade of farming in drought and seeing farmers commit suicide saw her build mental resilience I reckon – Katie I’m still gonna hunt down that conversation with you!
Again there was that affirmation that these feelings are very real. So I think I’m still left with pondering a bit of how to build that said mental resilience. I think we’re doing heaps better this year with that than any other year. Even though we’re very green (young/new) at farming we do have a few years under our belt now, simply to know that something always goes wrong, there’s always pests depending on the condition of the seasons and if we try hard enough we do remember that we are producing good food, to people and our community and that were getting better each year.
One of the reasons we wanted to do veggie boxes apart from it stemming from the value of wanting to offer affordable, locally grown, chemical free food to families in our community, was also to have direct contact with people who are eating the food! When we deliver to restaurants we have big smiles for the chefs who produce works of art with our produce – but we don’t get to sit at the table when customers eat the fresh salad leaves and the crisp, peppery watermelon radish…
Having direct contact and seeing stuff go home to houses has a lot of value for us. I think this year we have seen potentially the other side of this value in action too. This isn’t a cry for comments or anything like that – just a transparent slide from our side acknowledging the fact that we take it very seriously that people have committed to eating with us for a season. So I guess where my I’m left is with the reality of the season and our capacity is what it is. We work hard and do our best. And at the end of the day we laugh and cry and laugh, work in a stunning outdoor office surrounded by other beautiful hardworking souls farming and we love what we do…
And now, you can go back up to the top and read the Wendell Berry poem again and it might make more sense 🙂
Peace out, do some dance steps or jump around to thrash – whatever’s your fancy; and as Leunig would say, go pat a dog.
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.
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.