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)

How to grow organic berries

A bunch of berries starting to ripen up
Berries starting to ripen up

We had the pleasure this week of visiting Sunny Creek Organic berry farm in Gippsland, and spent a happy afternoon touring the farm and picking berry farmer Phil’s brain.

Not that we’re planning to start a berry farm!

But we’ve grown raspberries before and know what a successful, in-demand and high-value crop they are, and we think berries would be a perfect add-on to the mix we’ve got going here at the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op.

Green berries not yet ready to pick
Green raspberries not yet ready to pick

So we were very interested to see how the experienced folk at Sunny Creek have overcome some of the problems we ran into with the berries, and boy, did we learn a lot in one short afternoon!

First, berries need sun-protection or they get sunburned. We thought this only happened on super-hot days with a scorching hot north wind, but in fact it can happen at much lower temperatures. Interestingly, it can also take weeks for the damage to show up, which maybe explains why in our few short years of berry growing we didn’t always realise when sun damage had occurred.

Netting and shade cloth over a berry patch
Netting and shade cloth over the berry patch

The good news though is that this problem is almost completely alleviated with shade protection (like shade cloth). So, lesson 1—include shade cloth covers in the design from the get-go!

Another topic we were interested in was disease control. One of the big problems we encountered when we grew raspberries was Phytophthora (a fungal root-rot disease), so we were particularly interested in solutions, and we came away with a much better understanding.

Strawberry with Botrytis fungal disease
Strawberry with Botrytis fungal disease

For example, we discovered that raspberries are prone to a raspberry-specific strain of Phytophthora. This means that a patch of ground where we used to grow peach trees that were affected by Phytophthora may be more suitable for raspberry growing than we previously thought—hooray!

We also learned that:

  • Some varieties of raspberries are more resistant to Phytopthora than others;
  • Brambles don’t get it at all;
  • Mounding the soil helps;
  • One of the biggest risks of infection is from the public!
The pick-your-own farm map at Sunny Creek Berry Farm
The pick-your-own farm map at Sunny Creek Berry Farm

We also learned about nutrition, seasonal care, pruning, variety selection, running the pick-your-own operation, marketing, and value-adding!

Field trips to fellow farmers are one of the fastest and most useful ways to learn new things about farming in a short space of time. We know from experience how busy farming life is, and so are incredibly appreciative when farmers like Phil give so generously of their time to share their knowledge and expertise.

So next time you’re over Trafalgar South way, pop into Sunny Creek Farm and pick some amazing organic berries and tell Phil Hugh and Katie sent you!

And if you’re interested in starting a berry enterprise in central Vic and joining the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op, please find out more here and get in touch!

Time to Bud…

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!!!

Grow well

Sas