The co-op gets newsletter-y

(NOTE: The interview from Mossy Willow Farm from South Coast Victoria quoted in this blog has a language warning.)

This time last year Ant, Tess, Mel, Sas, Katie and Hugh were sitting around a table covered with food and pens, papers, ideas, coffee, tea, cake…we had a lot of ‘meetings’ going on and amidst growing and selling we were all pretty tired.

SO why were we having bloody meetings? We were committing to gather to nut out together what the ‘Harcourt Farming Co-op’ even was, let alone it’s name (that came way later!).  It involved figuring out a little bit of a vision, if we even needed to be a co-op or if we just leased separately off Katie and Hugh, our values as a combined team; so many things! 

Mel, Scally, Ziggy and Sas going having a wild ride
Mel, Scally, Ziggy and Sas having a wild ride

When you start something new you have no idea what you’re doing, how to do it and what it will become…ha!  A year on and we are slowly starting to combine forces (enterprises) in a way that enables us to do things in the same vein as ‘many hands make light work’.  We are starting closed loop systems and figuring out how we can make separate businesses make best use of being members of a co-operative.

Tessa's cows devouring Gung Hoe vegie scraps
Tessa’s cows devouring Gung Hoe vegie scraps

Logistical things such as marketing, branding and financial things aside there are many more layers to who and what is evolving up on the hill.  
As all young farmers the accessibility to land is something that none of us really had.  Unable to purchase ‘land’ is a very common sticking point for people wanting to become farmers who do not have links to family land.  Setting up the co-op has involved each business having their own lease with Katie and Hugh, so basically we all pay for what we use.  The amount of land, the amount of water, the amount of electricity. 

"We as a society have forgotten that a farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist." Wendell Berry quote
Quote by Wendell Berry

We are in the stages of completing the ‘hub infrastructure’ which involves a Gung Hoe packing shed, tool shed, lunch room/office area, bathroom and laundry; thanks to a Regional Development Victoria grant Katie and Hugh applied for and received last year, under the Food Source Victoria funding. 

Katie explaining the Harcourt Organic Fruit Tree Nursery at our open day
Katie explaining the Harcourt Organic Fruit Tree Nursery at our open day

For us Hoes who have been sharing a shed for 4 years (and for Katie, Hugh and now Ant who use it primarily for packing and sorting tonnes of fruit) the idea of a space where we can do invoicing work or having a shared meal is brilliant!  It’s important to take breaks, but can be hard to when everyone around is working hard!

Tess cooling down on a hot day with her icecream phone
Tess cooling down on a hot day with her icecream phone

Which moves me onto the next point, which for me (Mel) is one of the most poignant…having other people around on the farm means we are building a community of small scale farmers all working together to support one another and look after the land on which we grow. 

Tess builds soil with rotating herds and a mobile dairy unit; Gung Hoe build soil with plant rotations, organic matter, green manures; Ant uses compost teas on the fruit trees, slashes to keep the grasses in their growth cycle which sequesters more carbon and he is experimenting with grazing poultry through the rows; the heritage nursery is keeping alive old varieties whilst Grow Great Fruit is Katie and Hugh’s online business that assists home growers to make a difference to their patch of dirt wherever they may be.

Being surrounded by people who are busy creating a better world in the way they know how is inspiring.  To me that is one of the standouts of this bunch of young and old farmers on the hill. 

Katie’s Dad, Merv, lends a hand weeding, packing fruit and admiring the cows…the farm family continues to grow with weekly volunteers and all the different workers coming on to hook up electricals, build the creamery, and visiting the farm shop.

What we are aiming to create is a way in which the entire property can be productive and regenerative and feed the farmers who are looking after and learning the land; with food, with community, with good systems which support the humans and keep them in the game as well as feeding the heart and soul.

(had to get a lil hippy in there ;))

Quote from interview with Mossy Willow Farm, South Coast Victoria
Quote from interview with Mossy Willow Farm, South Coast Victoria

If you want to keep abreast of all that’s happening in one place, each business is taking turns to write a monthly newsletter…this is how you can walk, laugh, cry, party, eat and learn with us! You can sign up for the HOFC newsletter by clicking this link (and we won’t bombard you with emails, we promise!)

Thankyou for all the support out there for what we are trying to build … you’re part of it too!!

Grow well in all the ways!

Mel (one of the dirty hoes)

3 steps to a new tree with bud grafting

Do you know how to graft? Have you tried, but had mixed success? It’s not difficult, but has lots of aspects to it, and is one of those skills (like pruning) that needs practice to cement the theory.

We love it when people who have been to our workshops get back to us to let us know how they went, like this note from Judy, who came to a recent budding workshop.

Just writing to say how thrilled I am to be gazing in wonder and, I must say, anticipation at my very own young nectarines!! These be the first fruits of your terrific budding workshop!”

Judy’s budded nectarine!

If you haven’t heard of it before, budding is the type of grafting we do in summer, and it’s pretty easy. The technique is as simple as taking a single bud from the desired variety, and inserting it under the bark in the graft recipient tree, or rootstock.

It’s interesting that Judy sent us a photo of her nectarine tree, because though budding can be used for all fruit trees, it is the only type of grafting we routinely use for peaches and nectarines, as they tend to be very ‘gummy’ and the more traditional winter grafting techniques don’t usually work, as the big cuts that are required stimulate the trees to respond with a lot of sap, which prevents the graft from ‘taking’.

Grafting is literally thousands of years old. It was known to be used by the Chinese before 2000 BC.  It is one of the basic life skills that underpins our food security because it’s what turns a rootstock or seedling (which may not have good fruit on it) into a known “variety” that will bear reliable, high quality fruit.

Unfortunately it’s almost a lost art, and hardly anyone knows how to do it any more.

We’re on a mission to teach as many people as possible these skills, because if you know how to graft, and you know how to grow your own fruit trees from seed or cutting (which we also cover in our workshops) then you have the skills at your fingertips to create an endless supply of fruit trees for free for yourself, your family and friends, or even as the basis of a small business. 

So, here are the 3 basic steps involved for budding:

  1. Collect a piece of scion wood (grafting wood) from the new variety you want to graft onto your existing tree or rootstock;
  2. Cut a single bud from the piece of scion wood and insert it into a “T” shaped cut in a shoot on the tree you’re grafting onto. Insert the bud into the shoot
  3. Tape it up to seal it while the graft heals.
Our WWOOFer Norma taping up one of her bud grafts

If you’re intending to transform an entire tree to a new variety, then you need to do some preparation work in early spring. Remove most of the limbs from the tree and the tree will respond by growing a forest of new shoots to replace the limbs that have been removed. When it comes to budding time, select the shoots that are in the right place to create replacement limbs and bud them, removing all the other shoots.

Budding success!

We love passing these skills on to a whole new generation of food growers and have developed a short online course that includes theory and videos — you can access it here.

Once you understand the theory, then comes the practice! It’s a good idea to do some budding every year, to maintain and improve your skills. Judy was kind enough to attribute her success to our workshop, but in fact it’s actually her commitment to putting it into action that produced her success:

My good fortune is a result of your good teaching..clear, thorough, hands on..with plenty of practicing..can’t B faulted!! I’m about to do a lot more budding..being February!..Thanks heaps for a terrific course.”

Thanks Judy!

Renewing the nursery with green manure

It might seem a bit late to be putting in a spring green manure, but better late than never, right?

Sas figured out what seed we would need and how much, and I ordered it, and we were hoping it would arrive before all the lovely rain, but alas I was a bit late getting the order in, and we missed the boat.

The rain came and went, and the weather  seems to have settled into being consistently hot and dry now, but our soil desperately needs some love and attention, so we decided to go ahead and plant it anyway and rely on irrigation rather than rainfall to make sure it grows.

Here’s what’s in the green manure mix:

  • buckwheat
  • mung bean
  • French white millet
  • kidney bean

To make the seed easier to spread, Sas put it all in a bucket that was half full of clean sand…

and gave it a really good mix…

before spreading it. The area had previously been dug up with the rotary hoe and raked, and then Sas used the back of the rake to make a series of ridges down the rows to catch the seed as she distributed it. This method makes it a bit easier to lightly rake the soil back over the seed.

So, why a green manure? The nursery has three separate patches on the farm, and because of the nature of how a nursery works, each patch can stay in production for up to three years. But also, each year we need somewhere to plant seed and cuttings to grow new rootstocks.

To stop the soil becoming more and more depleted, we need to put some organic matter back into it, because the only input we routinely use is a bit of compost.

Unlike the orchard where ground cover is encouraged, the nursery is kept free of weeds to reduce competition for the baby trees, so it’s really important to keep the soil fertile by adding extra organic matter.

A green manure is the perfect way to do it—even if mid-summer is not the perfect time! Our seed mix included mung beans to add nitrogen to the soil and build organic matter, buckwheat for fast growing bulk and phosphorus accumulation,  French millet because it’s a fast-growing grass that combines well with legumes, and kidney bean because it’s another nitrogen fixing legume.

Luckily we have the benefit of an irrigation system already in place, so we’ll use a bit of water to get the seeds up and established, before we turn them back into the soil to work their magic in autumn, ready for planting next winter.