A bit of resilience….

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. 

Mel   

5 ways to help your fruit trees recover from fire

The fire rapidly approaching the farm in January 2018

Hopefully you’ll never need this information, but we had a little fire in the orchard a year ago this week, so we can now share our experience about how to best help your trees recover from fire damage.

Watching the fire burn through the orchard

Our amazing fire services put the fire out very promptly, and we got away relatively lightly, with the loss of only about 300 fruit trees, some fences and the irrigation system.

A burnt out fenceline and vegetation

Our most immediate concern after the fire (after having a good wash up and a cold bevy) was what to do next.

The most useful info we could find was from Agriculture Victoria, which started by listing the different types of damage that can occur to trees in a fire:

  • Leaves are scorched and die, but limbs survive
  • Trees are burnt and die
  • Trees are affected by radiant heat, killing the cambium layer in the trunk and limbs
  • Trunks are ringbarked by the vegetation burnt around the base of the tree
  • Older trees can be damaged through embers lodging on the bark or in the crotch of the tree
  • Root systems sometimes survive even though the tops have been killed
  • Root systems are damaged by burning organic matter or heat in the rootzone
  • Fruit is scorched or baked
  • Irrigation lines and emitters are destroyed
  • Defoliated trees can have limbs sunburnt after the fire

That list is pretty much spot on! Of the 300 or so trees that were burned, we saw most of these outcomes, and in the aftermath some trees survived, some re-shot from the rootstock (if the tops were severely burned or if the trees were ringbarked), and many just died.

Here’s the main things you need to do to look after fruit trees after a fire:

  1. Assess the trees as soon as possible, and try to decide whether they’re likely to live or die—check the cambium layer under the bark and see if it still looks healthy, check whether the bark is shrivelling, look for signs of new shoots starting to emerge;
  2. If the irrigation system was damaged, re-establish it asap — if you think the trees are worth saving;
  3. Delay pruning until regrowth has been established, so you can clearly see where there is new growth and dead wood;
  4. You may need to protect trees from sunburn if they’ve been completely defoliated, e.g. use shade cloth or paint the trunk and branches with whitewash;
  5. Remove any remaining fruit to prevent pest and disease build-up and unwanted stress on the trees.

We put out a call for help to the community to help us with #5, because the job of removing all that fruit was just too daunting. We got a great response, any fruit that was salvageable was taken home by the vollies, and we received some terrific donations for our local CFA.

So, one year on, what did we learn?

Plum trees flowering the spring after the fire
  • That if you’re going to remove a tree, do it sooner rather than later, because unless the tree is stone cold dead it’s likely to re-shoot, which may trick you into thinking it’s worth your time to try to nurse it back to health.
  • If the tree is burned around the base, it may re-shoot high in the tree. It may have lots of vigorous growth, but you’ll end up with a tree that grows all its fruit high in the tree where it’s hard to manage. It’s probably best to remove it.
  • If the tree has been badly burned it’s probably better to cut your losses and start fresh with a new tree. It will probably take years for the tree to recover completely, and even then it may never function as well as before the fire.
  • Fruit trees are incredibly resilient! We were able to save a few trees that had only been mildly burned because they re-shot so vigorously it gave us plenty of opportunity to prune away the damaged wood and leave new shoots that will grow into replacement limbs.
New shoots that will replace the wood that was burned.

We also learned that we’re pretty resilient, and that after the initial shock we were able to get on with things really quickly, particularly because we received excellent support from the community. We were also extremely fortunate that we received some compensation for our losses, which made a huge difference to our capacity to clear up trees and get on with our recovery.

If you’ve found this blog useful and are looking for more helpful tips about how to manage your fruit trees, please visit our online short course library.

Feeding people in a changing climate

Today the temperature is set to top 43° with winds up to 50 km/hr. Not an unusual summers day in these parts, but with climate change realities becoming more and more pronounced we can expect days like these to get more and more frequent. Feeding people in a changing climate is a huge challenge and one we as farmers are faced with every day. So today, in preparation for the heat and winds, we tuck all our delicate crops in under shade cloth, water early early to get the moisture down into the soil, mulch what we can and watch for the cool change.

This time of year is slightly nerve wracking. We start our 5-6 month veggie box season in 2 weeks, and many of our crops are only just starting to fruit. A few days like today can completely wipe out whole rows of things and set us back months. Our box customers pay upfront for their boxes, so we are committed to delivering boxes in 2 weeks’ time, but nature doesn’t always keep to our timelines!

This morning I picked the first of our zucchinis and cucumbers and looked at the baby eggplants and tomatoes slowly expanding on their plants.  So far so good.

 

Last year we provided 40 mixed vegetable boxes to our community for 5 months. This year we are hoping to provide 50 boxes for 6 months. If you’re interested in getting a box, there are still some available. We have a small weekly box for $30/wk (suitable for 1-3 people) and a large box for $50/wk (suitable for 3-5 people. There is the optional extra of $10 worth of gorgeous organic fruit from Tellurian Fruit Gardens too.

We ask our box customers to commit to 3 months at a time, which makes the admin and planning so much easier for us, but if that kind of upfront payment isn’t possible for you we are always happy to work something out. Pick ups are from The Farm shop on Wednesdays 10 am- 1 pm and Fridays 10 am – 1 pm and we are also doing a Castlemaine drop off at the Theater Royal courtyard on Wednesdays 5-6 pm. Boxes start on 17 Jan (fingers crossed!)

To order a veggie box, go to our Open Food Network shop:

https://openfoodnetwork.org.au/gunghoegrowers/shop

Thanks to everyone who has supported us throughout 2018, we’re looking forward to another year of growing real food for our people.

Happy New Year to you all, may your 2019 be full of peaceful and joyful abundance!

Sas (and Mel)

Gung Hoe Growers