Is Grow Great Fruit Growing?

This time last year I had just MC’d an event and panel discussion  at an event in Castlemaine where David Holmgren introduced his new book “Retrosuburbia: the downshifters guide to a resilient future″ (you can read the blog here, or check out the Retrosuburbia website here.

Ant and Mel represented HOFC (the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op) at the networking event before the Retrosuburbia launch
Ant and Mel represented HOFC (the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op) at the networking event before the Retrosuburbia launch

A big part of David’s vision for a resilient and sustainable future is seeing household food growing become part of everyday life – which aligns strongly with our mission to get everyone growing their own fruit – so we were delighted that he included our range of ebooks (which are free for members of our Grow Great Fruit program) in his book.

The cover of Retrosuburbia
The cover of Retrosuburbia

At the time we noted that growing our Grow Great Fruit coaching business was one of the motivations for establishing the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op, to free us from the day-to-day business of farming.

Some of the ideas we were tossing about at the time included:

  • Taking the GGF program to other countries;
  • Providing more services for members;
  • Returning to running workshops;
  • Taking workshops online to make them more accessible;
  • Providing scholarships;
  • Working with small-scale or start-up farmers to help increase profitability and sustainability;
  • Working with community groups.

So, 12 months on, how are we doing? Have we made any progress at all?

Well, yes – but not as much as we had hoped, mainly because everything always takes longer than you think it’s going to!

This has been true for pretty much every aspect of life for the last year, like adjusting to not being farmers (harder than we expected), the infrastructure project we’ve been building for the Co-op (consumed a lot more time and resources than we optimistically hoped), and the fact that our previous commitments seemed to suddenly expand to take up more space in our lives. Many times we’ve wondered how we ever had time to farm at all!

Despite all that we’ve made some good progress, so here’s our report card for the last 12 months:

  • Went on a 5 week study tour to America to check out whether the Grow Great Fruit program is a good fit over there (and came back feeling pretty confident that it is);
  • Grew the membership of the program by 30%;
  • Increased services to members (e.g. more one-on-one consulting calls);
  • Created “on-demand” webinars to increase accessibility and convenience;
  • Changed the format of our Weekly Fruit Tips newsletter to provide more meaningful free content every week;
  • Trialed an online workshop for small-scale farmers.

We’ve got a long way to go, and still feel like what we’re doing is just a drop in the ocean compared to what’s possible.

But what’s great is that we’re more interested and excited than ever about helping home fruit-growing enthusiasts to turn their passion into reliable crops.

We still have lots of plans in the pipeline – so the next 12 months should be just as exciting as the last!

Looking forward to the next 12 months
Looking forward to the next 12 months

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

Providing frost shelter

We’ve written about frost and fruit trees before and noted the importance of providing shelter for some fruit trees in spring, which is the danger time when a heavy frost can damage flowers, tiny fruit, or even drop-bears.

Our resident drop-bear on a freezing cold morning
Our resident drop-bear on a freezing cold morning

So today we want to talk about a few different options for providing that shelter.

The first one is to build a frame over the tree. This is a great option, because you can use the same frame for bird netting, fruit fly netting, or frost cloth, depending on your need and the season.

Frost cloth is a special, fine cloth that keeps the frost from settling on the ground, protecting the trees, vegies or other crops under it. It’s not very tough and is easy to work with – and even sew with, as you can see in the photo below where an industrious Win (one of our Grow Great Fruit Home-study Program members) is sewing the cloth to fit the frame.

Win hard at work at the sewing machine
Win hard at work at the sewing machine

You can avoid the expense of frost cloth by using old sheets. A word of warning if your cover completely covers the tree to the ground – it’s best to put it on when a frost is forecast, and take it off again (or lift it up) mid-morning or when the frost has disappeared.

A bird netting enclosure can be re-purposed to provide frost protection
A bird netting enclosure can be re-purposed to provide frost protection

Another way to provide the protection your trees need is to use assets you already have in the garden. Here’s a photo illustrating how a shed and a couple of tall trees provide a wide frost shadow.

You often won’t notice these micro-climates unless you go looking for them, so next time you have a big frost, check out your garden carefully.

Look all around for the influence of buildings, sheds, fences, water tanks and other physical assets, and also notice how vegetation like trees, grass and vegie patches can determine where the frost lands, and how it flows.

Other things you can do to protect your trees from frost include putting sprinklers on your trees, using frost fans, keep your soil moist, keep the ground cover plants under your trees short and don’t mulch (because it keeps the ground too cool).

Interestingly, all the things we recommend for soil health (like increasing the amount of organic matter in your soil) can also make your plants more resistant to frost.

This is for two reasons:

  1. Plants with a high Brix level have a lower freezing point;
  2. Soil with higher organic matter levels hold more moisture, which makes them less vulnerable to freezing.

Frost is just one of the factors you need to think about when planning your home orchard (our Home Orchard Design short course has 19 different units in it, and frost only accounts for two of them!).

It can definitely make it harder to grow some fruits in a cold climate, but with understanding and planning, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.