Spring has sprung in the patch

Happy change of season and daylight hours out there!

Hope this finds you reawakening as one does when the light gets longer and the air begins to blush with warmer winds.

The Gung Hoe patch in spring
The Gung Hoe patch in spring

I think the turnover seasons are my favourite on the farm.  They are, of course one of the most important and busy, but they are also a pleasure to be amongst.  In Spring the grass is green (and growing very fast along with the weeds) and your fingers don’t snap off from frost and the birds have woken up and are darting everywhere eating the smaller (and bigger) bugs that are alive thanks to warmer weather and soil.  Everything feels alive rather than cold, dead and cold.  It feels hopeful and abundant.

Seedlings in the hothouse
Seedlings in the hothouse

And that’s the tricky thing about Spring – it feels all of these things but one thing it definitely isn’t is abundant.  While things are growing it’s a tricky time with planting, sowing and of course, timing.  Things we planted too late in Autumn/winter don’t do well with the sudden hello of hotter horizons; freak out and bolt.  And the hot lovin’ plants like zuchs, cucs, tomatoes, caps, melons, basil and chillies can’t handle weather below 10…our nights have been colder than that still, and as the old saying goes – don’t plant them out till after Melbourne Cup Day – it’s true! unless you’ve got a warm hot house or like Sas, heatbeds and love and care to water them everyday…at least once.  So with hope comes one of our leanest times out here in Harcourt with veg. In saying that this year does seem to be one of the best in terms of us being on top of things and as much as anyone can never be – on a somewhat OK timeline?!! haha.

It’s also that time of year when things begin to shadow over you as you know it will be non stop for the next little while…

We’re excited to have partnered with the monthly Castlemaine Farmers Market to begin a weekly farmers market.  Beginning on Nov 6th, prioritising Mount Alexander Shire residents there will be producers from our region selling their wares.  We are hoping that people and producers alike get behind the market and it becomes a thriving weekly event with good food and good people.  Sas and I think it is imperative to build up the resilience of the local food system, and we believe this is a way to encourage and support and hopefully inspire the region’s producers with an avenue to sell and be seen for all the work they do and connect with their community. 

Our little farm family (co-op and volunteers and workers) continues to swell and step further into understanding how and what we’re all doing.  It is an evolving journey and one that teaches lessons for each and all along the way.

The farm family gathering for Katie's birthday morning tea
The farm family gathering for Katie’s birthday morning tea

We are lucky to have met a hilarious lady named Sarah (through Tessa) who is helping us build a website.  This is great ‘cos its been on our to do list for about 2 years now…when its up and running in a few weeks it will be the place to find the link to our Open Food Network online shop to buy boxes – hopefully starting in December sometime – all our blogs and information on where in the community you can buy our produce, info for restaurants/cafes who want to work with us and news about the co-op etc, etc.  Hurrah!

Ziggy gathering her resources in preparation for a busy season ahead
Ziggy gathering her resources in preparation for a busy season ahead

On a personal note, I am so glad for a change of season as winter has been dark.  Maybe one of the darkest actually.  I have a new found gratefulness for being able to put my energy into Gung Hoe and the family out here at Harcourt because without it, I’m not sure where I would have ended up.  I have regained my love and passion for what Sas and I (are trying to) do and am excited by the potential and current lay of the land.  I feel proud to claim my aims and creations made of dirt; and want nothing more but for us to keep evolving and growing Gung Hoe and our farming family to be a beautiful, successful (I have my own definitions for this) growing, learning and thriving existence.  For us and for our community. 

Here below is an excerpt from one of my favourites – Khalil Gibran, ‘The Prophet’ on Work. Note – for me the God is unreligious.  

May we grow in all senses of the word.
Cheers, Mel 

“Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work. And he answered, saying: You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite. When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison? Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune. But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when the dream was born, And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life, And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret. But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written. You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary. And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge, And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge, And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, And all work is empty save when there is love; And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God. And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit. It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit, And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.”

Gung Hoe Growers
69 Dann’s Rd Harcourt

Laura the butcher

It’s been over 5 years since I’ve picked a fresh peach from Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens, but having Katie and Hugh in my home takes me right back to the orchards. 

I’ll never forget my first day working at the farm on my first visit in 2010, coming from the busy restaurant world in San Francisco, I thought what could be better than working on a farm with fresh organic peaches and cherries and eating them at my leisure? I remember looking out the window as we drove up seeing bright green-leafed cherry trees with hundreds of little red pops of colour, I couldn’t wait to get a bite.

Me (centre) working at MAFG back in 2010

After settling in and getting a good night’s rest I got ready for our first day’s work putting on my best new ‘farmer’s clothes’ and new leather Aussie hat I had just purchased. What could be my first task, I thought, picking cherries, peaches or plums fresh for market? I couldn’t wait to jump in and experience true, organic farming. 

Then came our first job assignment, grabbing onto branches above our heads and shaking earwigs out of the unripened cherry trees. It was then that I also figured out that even the earliest fruit on the farm was still a month away from being ripe enough to eat. I swallowed the squeamish “eeek” feeling that came over me as well as any hopes I had of chomping on a juicy peach that day and carried out the task. 

I remember going to bed that evening frantically checking for earwigs in bed after every little tickle, thinking this is not what I signed up for. 

After a few more days of branch shaking, manure shoveling and trunk taping (for pests), I found myself asking more questions and being more and more curious about the processes of organic farming. After weeks the curiosity turned into fascination and I found myself excited every morning to get started with the day. Seeing the fruit slowly get bigger and watching our hard work pay off was completely addictive. 

Katie and Hugh were so patient in guiding me through all of my amateur farming questions and continued to introduce me to all their different organic practices, as well as local farms around them. 

After my working visa expired, and finally chomping on a juicy peach, I came back to the United States and continued working on farms. A few years later when the snow came I returned to Australia to work for Katie and Hugh for 3 months and expanded my knowledge even further.

Since working for Katie and Hugh my interests in farming have been nonstop, evolving from fruit trees to vegetables, flowers and eventually animal farming.

Working on animal farms domestically and internationally while fine-tuning the craft of whole-animal butchery has led me to where I am today. I have grown to combine my culinary background with farming to find my passion in butchery and the teaching of ethical meat eating.

I recently relocated to Steamboat Springs, Colorado where I will be teaching whole-animal butchering at the local college, connecting small farmers with the restaurant community, and running a small business – Laura the Butcher – providing artisanal meat and cheese platters to the Steamboat Springs community.

To finally get to the point of being ready to launch my own business feels incredible.

Cheers, Laura

Really year 1 for the nursery?

Collecting quince seed from organic quinces
Collecting quince seed from organic quinces

This time of year we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting for the leaves to drop off the nursery trees so that we can dig them up for people’s bare rooted orders and move them around to make way for new areas of nursery.

Pear seed is stored in sand before planting
Pear seed is stored in sand before planting

We are also collecting and cleaning seed for apple, quince, pear and peach rootstock.

Apples that have been crushed to harvest the seeds
Apples that have been crushed to harvest the seeds

It’s nearly time to collect our plum cuttings which will become next years budding rootstock and we are also beginning to diligently collect and label our scion wood. This is the pieces of first year growth off the varieties of trees that we want to propagate. We store the scions in the fridge until spring when we use it to graft onto our rootstock in the nursery.

Plum cuttings
Plum cuttings

Foremost in our minds at this time of year however is our organic bare rooted fruit tree orders. These orders close this Sunday, June 30.

You might have bought trees from us before … and therefore be wondering why we’ve been saying it’s our first year of operation?

Previously, Katie and Hugh sold trees through Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens. Most of the trees came from a wholesale nursery, supplemented by a few trees from their own nursery (which were left over from what they’d grown to plant in their own orchard).

Then, they finished re-planting the orchard, leased it to Ant (Tellurian Fruit Gardens), and started the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC).

But, we didn’t want to stop growing fruit trees on the farm.

Why?

Because we (Sas and Katie) want to learn as much as we can from our resident master-nurseryman Merv Carr (Katie’s dad), we want to preserve heritage varieties by propagating them, and we want to help as many people as we can grow their own food.

So, Katie and Sas joined forces to start Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery (named after Merv), and joined HOFC.

Joining the co-op has meant that we’ve also been able to get organic certification for the nursery – in what we think is a Victorian first!

We’ve still got a fairly limited range of organic trees (and quite a few have already sold out, like our multigraft trees), but as our skills expand we’re aiming for the range of trees we sell to expand as well.

In the meantime, we’re supplementing our offering with non-organic trees from our wholesaler – our trees are clearly labelled (organic) on the website so you can tell the difference.

Hopefully that explains the whole picture – get in touch here if you have any questions at all, and jump on the website here to see what’s available and order your trees by June 30.

Cheers,


Katie, Sas and Merv