Spring has sprung in the patch

Happy change of season and daylight hours out there!

Hope this finds you reawakening as one does when the light gets longer and the air begins to blush with warmer winds.

The Gung Hoe patch in spring
The Gung Hoe patch in spring

I think the turnover seasons are my favourite on the farm.  They are, of course one of the most important and busy, but they are also a pleasure to be amongst.  In Spring the grass is green (and growing very fast along with the weeds) and your fingers don’t snap off from frost and the birds have woken up and are darting everywhere eating the smaller (and bigger) bugs that are alive thanks to warmer weather and soil.  Everything feels alive rather than cold, dead and cold.  It feels hopeful and abundant.

Seedlings in the hothouse
Seedlings in the hothouse

And that’s the tricky thing about Spring – it feels all of these things but one thing it definitely isn’t is abundant.  While things are growing it’s a tricky time with planting, sowing and of course, timing.  Things we planted too late in Autumn/winter don’t do well with the sudden hello of hotter horizons; freak out and bolt.  And the hot lovin’ plants like zuchs, cucs, tomatoes, caps, melons, basil and chillies can’t handle weather below 10…our nights have been colder than that still, and as the old saying goes – don’t plant them out till after Melbourne Cup Day – it’s true! unless you’ve got a warm hot house or like Sas, heatbeds and love and care to water them everyday…at least once.  So with hope comes one of our leanest times out here in Harcourt with veg. In saying that this year does seem to be one of the best in terms of us being on top of things and as much as anyone can never be – on a somewhat OK timeline?!! haha.

It’s also that time of year when things begin to shadow over you as you know it will be non stop for the next little while…

We’re excited to have partnered with the monthly Castlemaine Farmers Market to begin a weekly farmers market.  Beginning on Nov 6th, prioritising Mount Alexander Shire residents there will be producers from our region selling their wares.  We are hoping that people and producers alike get behind the market and it becomes a thriving weekly event with good food and good people.  Sas and I think it is imperative to build up the resilience of the local food system, and we believe this is a way to encourage and support and hopefully inspire the region’s producers with an avenue to sell and be seen for all the work they do and connect with their community. 

Our little farm family (co-op and volunteers and workers) continues to swell and step further into understanding how and what we’re all doing.  It is an evolving journey and one that teaches lessons for each and all along the way.

The farm family gathering for Katie's birthday morning tea
The farm family gathering for Katie’s birthday morning tea

We are lucky to have met a hilarious lady named Sarah (through Tessa) who is helping us build a website.  This is great ‘cos its been on our to do list for about 2 years now…when its up and running in a few weeks it will be the place to find the link to our Open Food Network online shop to buy boxes – hopefully starting in December sometime – all our blogs and information on where in the community you can buy our produce, info for restaurants/cafes who want to work with us and news about the co-op etc, etc.  Hurrah!

Ziggy gathering her resources in preparation for a busy season ahead
Ziggy gathering her resources in preparation for a busy season ahead

On a personal note, I am so glad for a change of season as winter has been dark.  Maybe one of the darkest actually.  I have a new found gratefulness for being able to put my energy into Gung Hoe and the family out here at Harcourt because without it, I’m not sure where I would have ended up.  I have regained my love and passion for what Sas and I (are trying to) do and am excited by the potential and current lay of the land.  I feel proud to claim my aims and creations made of dirt; and want nothing more but for us to keep evolving and growing Gung Hoe and our farming family to be a beautiful, successful (I have my own definitions for this) growing, learning and thriving existence.  For us and for our community. 

Here below is an excerpt from one of my favourites – Khalil Gibran, ‘The Prophet’ on Work. Note – for me the God is unreligious.  

May we grow in all senses of the word.
Cheers, Mel 

“Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work. And he answered, saying: You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite. When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison? Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune. But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when the dream was born, And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life, And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret. But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written. You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary. And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge, And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge, And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, And all work is empty save when there is love; And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God. And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit. It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit, And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.”

Gung Hoe Growers
69 Dann’s Rd Harcourt

Peaches and cream…

It’s happening! We are expanding our patch from 0.5 acres to 1.5 acres. Eek! We have been growing incrementally by design and out of necessity since we started over four years ago. Starting with 1/8 of an acre and then slowly taking on more land as time, finance and energy allowed. But seriously, an extra acre…? That’s a leap. 

Hugh and Oli gazing in awe at the Gung Hoe's new patch
Hugh and Oli gazing in awe at the Gung Hoe’s new patch

It will help us produce more veggies but also allow us to be more efficient by having large chunks of the land resting in green manures  and ready for the next season’s crop. Slowly over time we’re testing the boundaries of what size growing area is both viable and manageable, and this is the next step on that journey.

Sas getting her Daikon
Sas getting her Daikon

After the old orchard trees were ripped out, lovely Dave Griffiths, who Yeomans ploughed and worked his soil magic on our last patch, came and Yeomansed the new acre. He commented on how extremely compacted the ground was after decades of tractors driving up and down it and rows running down hill that carry water away rather than across the slope to sow and catch the water.  The Yeomans plough is designed in such a way that it deep rips the soil, opening it up and aerating it without turning it over and disrupting the soil structure. This helps let air and water into the soil .

Dave's Yeoman Plough
Dave’s Yeoman Plough

Since Dave’s plough went through, we’ve been rotary hoeing the soil to loosen it enough to get a crop of green manure sown into it while these lovely rains are coming. Progressively from December onwards we’re going to work with Tessa to put the cows on the green manure crop, eating, pooing, weeing and trampling it where we would normally use our bodies and walk behind tractor. It’s a bit of an experiment inspired by the Holistic Management(HM) course that we’ve been doing the last few months. Come January and February, the new patch (which we’ve called ‘Peaches and Cream’ because of its previous history as orchard and our use of the cows in it) will be ready for us to plant our autumn crops into. In theory!

Sas studying hard at the HM course
Sas studying hard at the HM course

One of the many things that has come out of the HM course we’ve been doing is that we have reviewed and written our Holistic Context for Gung Hoe. Part of this is like a ‘statement of purpose’ or ‘vision statement’ which we would like to share coz its helped us re-invigorate our focus and motivation to keep doing what we’re doing. Here it is:

“We nourish ourselves and our community with the life force of the food we grow. By daring to do things differently, we work with the elements to grow thriving, robust, diverse and joyful communities of living things.”

Like all vision statements, it isn’t worth the paper its written on unless you have the means and motivation to bring it into reality as well as continually reflecting on it adapting it as things change.  That’s what we’re pulling apart by creating our whole business holistic management plan. So stay tuned for more developments.

We’re also gearing up for our next season of veggie boxes. Mel has been madly plugging away at planning the crop rotations and numbers of crops that we need to grow in order to feed people well and consistently over the next 8 months. Sas takes that plan and numbers and turns it into the right number of babies in the hothouse to plant out at the right time. Part of our planning process for the next season is to do a little ten question feedback survey for all the people who have got veggie boxes off us before. This helps us review what has worked and what hasn’t and improve our boxes for the next round.

Maka investigating the new Gung Hoe "Peaches and Cream" block
Maka investigating the new Gung Hoe “Peaches and Cream” block

If you have five minutes and wouldn’t mind answering our veggie box feedback survey, that would be amazing! It really helps us do the best we can, to feed you!

That’s all for now. Who ever said that winter was the quiet time in farming!!

Grow well

Sas (and Mel)

VEGGIE BOX SURVEY link:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HNYJTZT

Gung Hoe Growers
69 Danns Rd Harcourt

Deep Winter 2019

Hi there out there, hope this finds you well.  We are in the middle of the deep, dark winter out here with cold fingers, sunny (hurrah!) skies, wet soil and busy minds…

In mid June Sas, Ant (amongst heaps of others) and I travelled to South Australia’s Fleurieu peninsula to the fifth annual ‘Deep Winter Gathering’.  It has been three years since I attended and for Sas four, so we were nervous / excited.  I don’t know if anyone else has this feeling ever but I know that I can get nervous being in a room full of people (especially farmers!) and feel like I have no right to be there… so I was determined to not bow down to mind scuffles and engage with the weekend and others right from the start…lets just say I did better than 3 years ago!

It was brilliant to see people in the flesh that I often ‘like’ their photos and stories on social media and connect in real time.  SO good actually.  Because online only tells part of the story and is short, becasue our attention spans suc these days; but hugging someone for real and having a coffee/cuppa/beer/wine and true conversation cannot be beat.  It’s really refreshing being around a bunch of people who completely get what you do because they do it too.  Its the same in any community, skill or trade I reckon.  


This year the organisers were South Australia (it moves states every year) had organised a key speaker for the weekend; which Sas and I were really looking forward to hearing.  His name was Walter Jehne, an Australian and a soil micro biologist.  Woohoo – wisdom on soil that also understand Australian soils.  He was fantastic.  All about building soil, maintaining soil hydration, sequestering carbon, farming to reduce carbon emissions and potentially draw back the effects of climate change…  All things that we harp on about regularly.  His ability to explain scientific processess in a way that is accessible, interesting and poetic was incredible.

However what I took from him that has stuck most prominently in my brain is how what we do actually  questions the status quo. (Dont worry, I have all the practical, scientific stuff written down and Sas and I have started to mull over and are keen to put into action plans this winter too).  I dont see myself or Gung Hoe Growers as crazily weird or different or challenging.  I see it as enacting our values to want to feed our community real, healthy food; not add to the destruction of the planet but try our damned hardest to actually do the opposite, build skills in ourselves and others to strengthen food security for who knows when but the inevitable crash of the current food system which is not sustainable and does have an end point.  That’s all pretty common sense I would have thought.  The reality that we are small scale also has to do with our values, and the belief that if there were more of us the afore mentioned values will see fruition.
However connecting with farmers (veg, animals, dairy, grain, eggs, bread and fruit) who are farming with the same techniques in mind of building soil, not relying on chemicals to stop pests or make their food look a certain way, refusing to rely on trucks and supermarket contracts to sell their produce and wanting to work WITH nature and their environments to rehabilitate landscapes and the earth it was both heartbreaking and inspiring to learn that the majority of people havent found a way that it simply ‘works’.  People 30 years in or like us, five are still figuring it out.  
Listening to Walter speak it was affirming to remember that the current system is the status quo and no, what we’re doing or trying to do is not the norm and anybody/thing that is attempting to work outside of that major norm will find themselves pushing.  A lot.  Despite if what you are doing is true, or good, or more efficient or proven to work better – it’s on the edge… I forget that I live in a bubble sometimes… it’s funny I can relate ‘the edge’ to creativity and people who invent things or work medicinally with plants and midwivery; but seeing farming in our way as another challenge to the current system has helped me.  The truth is we are trying to create a new system that values things differently.  This is also why I feel tired, not just getting up early or manually doing a lot of things.

Here is some excepts from an interview with him from ABC;s Australian Story back in 2009 (https://www.abc.net.au/austory/interview-with-walter-jehne/9206054) which demonstrate how what we are trying to do isn’t romanticism or idealism, actually:
“If you’re leading and innovative, you are always questioning the status quo. Invariably the status quo doesn’t like being questioned. More than that the status quo doesn’t like to actually be confronted with the reality that, hey, there may be smarter, easier, better ways. That’s just an inevitable reality with innovation. Just because Peter is an innovator doesn’t make his options and messages radical or controversial. Nature’s actually been operating through them highly successfully in Australia for the last 40 million years…So the question is, how do we foster this innovation at that practical farmer level? Of course, it’s very important that support be given to lead innovators. But often, it’s not the innovators it’s the agencies, the gatekeepers who become the dominant recipients of any support. This often reinforces the status quo impediments rather than providing a chance for those innovations to come up. Our outcomes from the public funding of resource management may be impeded by this. If the role of Government is to foster innovation, and actually support the innovation, rather than the gatekeepers who are often reinforcing the status quo we may need to look at these issues critically.

You basically have innovators who are illustrating and demonstrating that and how good things can be done. But then you have a lot of dogma coming back to say “No, that can’t be done” For example, one of our key priorities is to rebuild carbon in our soils because that carbon is fundamentally important in rebuilding the structure and, therefore, the water holding capacity, the nutrient cycling, root ecologies and the productivity of key bio-systems. Against this, we have the dogma within the status quo that it can’t be done at anything like the rates demonstrated. This is despite nature of course doing it all the time.

The food and agriculture organisation of the United Nations, has now recognized that soil carbon restoration has to be a key part not just to secure future water and food essentials but also in providing the key opportunity for the world to bio sequester carbon to address climate change. Here again we face a paradigm shift where the people who resisted and said it can’t be done can actually change, and drop their dogma, because now there’s a lead for them to do that.

Australia needs to face up to such paradigm shifts on many fronts urgently if we are to address some fundamental challenges. For example, if as we believe, southern Australia is drying as rainfall patterns change we need to face the precarious situation where many of our forests are going to be so vulnerable to fire that they risk collapsing or changing radically within decades if wildfires become too intense and too frequent. We may have to find a whole new way of understanding and managing fire ecology. How can the intensity and frequency of fires in these bio-systems be reduced and managed? What can nature teach us if we cant see beyond our dogma?

Conversations about green manures, seed collecting and sharing with species work well and why were some other nerding out with other market gardeners Sas and I particularly enjoyed, as well as the farm tours.  There was a group conversation dedicated to land access / land sharing which we took part in and it is exciting to see lots of different models coming up in regards to small scale agriculture…some of them working better than others but they’re in existence.

We also took to the ocean and had a sunrise swim for the winter solstice – well, attempted to!  It was ankle deep and freezing so some flopped into puddles and others (like me) just ran on back out!  There were laughs, good food a plenty, dancing and informative, encouraging conversations.  I have taken Walter’s advice of keeping on doing what you’re doing…in fifty years time the government might even say that what you’re doing was what they created; but it doesn’t even matter.  What matters is that there’s a growing movement of people pushing the edge and the more it grows the closer it comes to pushing into the norm…which is what we want.

Grow well out there.

Mel (and Sas)

P.S. Here’s a poem that was read out by Alice on the last day that she had written in response to the weekend:

Going Underground

I am going underground,
where the lost things can be found.
Where the ringing songs of ancient feet surround
the fungal threads, the dung, the bed
of many buried heart-beats in the dark;
they must have stowed away upon the Ark,
or hitched a floating raft of leaves and sticks
and listened to the laughter of the furred and feathered beasts
and the righteousness of Noah, so oblivious
to necessary ugliness and muck.
Oh! I am going underground to try my luck
among the worms and squirming centipedes,
the roots of ferns and wattle trees,
the tangle of the vegetable, with animal and mineral,
the humming of the miracle of mycorrhizal messages;
I’m going underground to make a mess among the messiness!
Amongst the heavy coldness of the cast off bones and stones
in the pockets where the silken-footed spiders make their homes;
where colours are irrelevant,
and actions are irreverent-
life is sucking and it’s sliming and it’s writhing and entangled;
with the patience of cicada
and the power of the lava
rising molten in the memory of sediment.
I am going underground to taste its secrets with my skin,
to read the languages of scent and spark,
pulsating through the brilliant dark.
I’ll swim through truffle-scented regions,
touch the velvet of a mammal’s winter sleep
and there I’ll slumber through the ages,
with the aquifers, the fossils, and the peat.

Alice Blackwood