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)

This is what “retirement” looks like…

We’ve been asked a lot recently how we’re enjoying our retirement. Well, so far, this is what retirement looks like…

Katie and Hugh with filthy dirty faces from putting out compost on a windy day

Though we’re not responsible for most of the orchards any more, we still look after the heritage apple orchard. We didn’t include it in Ant’s lease because the block’s not in production yet—in fact, we’re still planting it.

We started planting the block in 2016 and put in more in 2017, but were so busy looking after the fruit in the other orchards that these poor babies didn’t get the care and attention they deserved.

Then the hares and kangaroos gave them a hard time, so they’ve had a bad start.

This spring, we’ve been able to dote on them. They’ve been whipper-snipped, pruned, the grafts have been cleaned up, the block’s been mowed, and we’ve mulched them with compost.

So it probably doesn’t count as retirement, but it’s VERY satisfying. To our delight (and surprise), most of the trees are happily alive, despite being almost literally buried under grass and weeds.

We’ve also been busily chainsawing the trees that were burned in the bushfire that came through the plum orchard in January. We were aiming to have them all removed by now, but with a few hundred to deal with it’s taken a bit longer than we thought! Clearing fence lines to replace burnt fences is also on the agenda…soon.

Another of our “retirement” activities has been helping Ant out a bit, particularly with those jobs that take more than one set of hands, like netting.

Ant is understandably keen to protect his cherries from potential pests like birds and earwigs, and has been absolutely diligent in following our advice.  He has access to the nets and the net-putter-outerer as part of his lease, but this is the first year since we replanted that there’s really been a crop of cherries worth protecting, so he’s put many hours into modifying and improving the system to make it more effective—and the result looks great.

So it might look like we’re still working, but actually that suits us perfectly. Our intention in setting up the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op was never to retire, because we’ve never stopped enjoying the physical side of being farmers.

Now, we get the best of both worlds. There’s plenty of hard work available when we want it, without the demands of another fruit season.

The truth is, we’re writing this from the beach. Leaving the farm for more than a day or two between September and April has been pretty much off limits for us for the last 20 years, so being able to take a week off at this time of year is absolutely golden.

The beauty of it is that (despite appearances) we’re still working! When we’re not actually on the beach we’re focusing on our other passion, which is our Grow Great Fruit coaching business. We’ve purposely set it up to be portable and use technology to connect with our members where ever we are (as long as we have wifi).

We’re currently working on a whole new way of helping people to get the fruit-growing skills they need in affordable bite-size chunks, as well as some new free resources (in addition to our  webinar and Weekly Fruit Tips newsletter).

We’re absolutely committed to providing free resources—because we support the human right to an affordable, organic diet—by teaching people the skills to grow their own. We know the joy of eating incredible, free fruit straight from your own tree—we want everyone else to have the same experience. Our free work is supported by our Grow Great Fruit membership program, for those who want to take their fruit growing to the next level.

So thanks for asking—we’re enjoying our non-retirement very much!

A new farming co-op emerges…

Hi there,

Hope this finds you well. As I sit writing this I feel a bit beaten and calm (i.e. tired and grateful for the shreds of rain falling at present) it has felt like a big month here for me.

When Sas and I dug up new ground for our first 30 metres of garlic 4 years ago here in Harcourt we didn’t really have a plan. We just wanted to grow and try our hands on this dream we both had igniting us forward… Four years on and we’re still such grasshoppers! But becoming more and more at peace with this fact. One of the reasons I fell in love with farming was the fact that I was working with nature. I had no other choice – it is far more powerful than me and thanks to climate change is becoming more and more unpredictable. Something about this really humbled me and I felt like I was respectfully working with something much greater than me. In the last 4 years this has made me feel more broken than I think I realised, but this oncoming season both Sas and I seem to be more accepting of the fact that there’s always one pest that will cause havoc and at least one of our crops will fail…

I know that we would never have dreamed that down the track we would be part of a dynamic, system changing small farming co-operative. This last week has both heartened me and given me insight to the reality that even though we aren’t doing anything new (we’re just living in the past really, haha) we are pushing current systems, ideologies and having the opportunity to really work to our values from the ground up (yes, pun intended. I rarely understand them, let alone use them!). We are not alone in this movement, I know this for a fact, and it’s comforting talking to others near and far who are also actioning the very same ideals and beliefs.

As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, the relatively recent arrivals of Ant (Tellurian Fruit Gardens) and Tess (Sellars Farmhouse Creamery) and a formal partnership in the nursery (Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery) has formed a supportive farming community on this very land. I’m constantly learning new things about fruit trees, grafting, cows, pasture, innovative energy systems…the list goes on. It’s great.

Last weekend we had our official launch into the world as a formal collective – the ‘Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op’ — in the form of a farm open day.  To me it was big on several levels, not to mention the fact that we are all treading new ground with the co-operative model we are starting here. It’s like we’re unveiling ourselves to the world not knowing how it’s really going to work out!

And how special it was to be showered with such support from the community. We had some volunteers help us out on the day who normally either work or trade time for produce lend a hand serving, welcoming, MC-ing, washing dishes and cleaning the packing shed so it was decent enough to serve scones out of. We are indebted to you guys—thank you (Cohen, Lucy, Grace, Oli, Cara, Marty, Paris, Danny, Dan)!  And then all the people near and far who celebrated with us stepping into the unknown.

Merv (Katie’s Dad) gave a really special speech highlighting his history as an orchardist in this area and how he’s seen it change from a lot of small family owned and operated farms to mainly large company farms…I think we all felt pretty chuffed to be called part of Merv’s new family (as he said in his speech).

On the open day all the separate enterprises that make up the collective gave a little rundown on what they do…on the Gung Hoe tour it was so heartening to see people engaging with how we grow and why we grow, so many questions that showed us just how interested people are.

We in Gung Hoe land rarely get a chance to explain the values that underpin why we have taken on this endeavour and why we want it to succeed.  Having the open day on Sunday and then a more informal Industry Day on Monday gave us just that opportunity. The industry day was about us opening the opportunity to have chefs, caterers, restaurant owners, retail owners, etc. come out to the farm and see where the produce they are purchasing comes from, how it’s grown and why, and build the connection further beyond a weekly drop-off g’day.

When Monday actually happened and they rocked up in their rad cars with home-made cakes, families and some staff, we realised the power of connection and relationships. We had a short walk around the patch and spoke about our techniques and how we are building the soil slowly but surely, and why the lettuce is so crisp, and how many varieties of leafy things go into the salad mix, and here’s some freshly picked broad beans we can eat over morning tea.

We also had insight into how it works for them working with us, using our produce to create meals. How hard it is sometimes to work for someone else when it means you have to set aside some of your passion. A large chunk of our conversations were about food systems and how Sas and I are passionate about feeding our local community with truly nutrient-rich produce (because the soil is getting better, it means the plants are also better for you) and building skills so young people can grow up knowing they can have power by growing their own food and knowing where it comes from, that farming can be a viable and enjoyable career path.

It was inspiring for both parties to meet on the land and talk food with each other. I have great respect for chefs who understand great produce and use it in their culinary art. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about it has to be all fancy and stuff – not at all.  It’s more about seeing them use their passion and skill in the way they cook the food; they are letting the produce speak for itself, and comments like, “it’s the first time I’ve seen staff eat more salad than chips” and “I thought I’d have to blanch the peas, but there’s no need – they’re so sweet!”

Massive ups to Brunno, Ben, Jason and Tim for empowering actions and conversations, and the piccies 😉

So, in short (sorry this has been a rather long ramble), although it can feel vulnerable opening up yourself, values, work to the world, it is our launching into the greater sphere…strengthening relationships with each other to strengthen and make our imprint on the current food system a lasting one.

Thanks for following us in this journey.  Peace out!
Mel