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

Diversity, soil, and the amazing Christine Jones – a vollie’s view

Alistair and Tess on the farm
Alistair and Tess on the farm

Hi, I am Alistair Tuffnell and I’ve come up to Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op for a few weeks to get some experience with Tess and Ollie on their dairy farm.

On Tuesday this week I went with Tessa, Ant, Katie and Hugh to the Dr Christine Jones workshop.  

Straight away I was surprised and captivated by the stats and facts that Dr Christine Jones was stating.

Fifty percent of USA males are infertile due to (my understanding of what Christine said) their gut microbiome being deficient because of really poor diet and a lack of diversity of plant species.

Autoimmune disorders such as autism are rising exponentially today and this is highly related to and (my understanding is it is) even caused by a lack of plant species in our diet.

We humans need to get at least 20 plant species in our diet weekly. A person who eats industrialised meat will have the same gut biome as a person who is on antibiotics. And so on…   This led into Christine making the point that we live in a microbial world, ‘microbes can control the world, microbes are smarter than biogenetic scientists’.

We need to coordinate them more in our soils.  Agriculture is about food – ultimately grown in and from the soil – and at this point in time our food has never been less nutritious.

Since colonisation in Australia there has been a staggering mineral depletion in our soils but according to Christine ‘our soils are not mineral deficient but are deficient in microbes’.

Christine defined soil as ‘weathering rock materials (sand, silt, clay) that are in contact with plants’ – so bare ground must not be soil!  

Dr Christine Jones explaining how bare soil contributes to climate change
Dr Christine Jones explaining how bare soil contributes to climate change

There was so much information presented and I am sure I missed much of it with my novice soil and tiny farming experience but some of the things Christine talked about stayed with me. Such as the presence of green plants are the most important factor of soil health. That water vapour from bare ground (we can’t see it) is the main driver of climate change. That plant root inputs build soil 30-50 times faster than compost does – it is the chemical signals of the microbial process that make plants so intelligent.  

I walked away from the workshop thinking diversity, diversity, diversity – in what to eat and in what to grow as cover crops.

To improve our soils I understood Christine recommended to grow about 20 different cover crops according to the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis, which I don’t understand but I can look at her website to try. www.amazingcarbon.  

How old are the fruit trees we sell in our nursery?

Katie in front of Carr's Organic Fruit Tree Nursery
Katie in front of Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery

This is a very common question from people looking to buy a fruit tree from Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery, particularly at this time of year before orders close on June 30.

An apple tree seedling in the nursery
An apple tree seedling in the nursery

Unfortunately it’s a bit tricky to answer, and there’s lots of “ifs” and “buts”, but here goes – we’ll try to answer succinctly, without writing a whole essay on fruit tree production!

Collecting peach seed for planting in the nursery
Collecting peach seed for planting in the nursery

Different types of trees go through different processes in the nursery, which take varying periods of time, and have varying degrees of success. But essentially, the process is always the same:

  1. We collect the propagation material – either cuttings, seed, or occasionally bought rootstocks. This usually happens several months before the right time to plant it out, which means storing the material correctly over winter.
  2. We then plant out the seeds or cuttings in spring to grow a new rootstock tree. We use cuttings for figs and to grow plum rootstocks, (which are used to graft both apricot and plum trees), seed to grow apple, pear, quince, peach and citrus rootstocks, and rootstock trees layered in a stoolbed to grow cherry and dwarfing apple rootstocks.
  3. The new seedlings/rootstock trees then grow over spring and summer.
  4. In February, any that have grown strongly enough are bud grafted.
  5. The rootstocks that are too small for bud grafting are left to continue growing to be grafted the following winter.
  6. The next winter, we cut back to the buds, which then grow over the ensuing spring and summer. These trees are then available to be sold the following winter – which is 2 years after the initial seed/cutting was planted.
  7. In winter we harvest the rootstocks that have grown in the stoolbed. They are then planted out as individual trees, and the bigger ones are grafted (along with the rootstocks from last year that weren’t big enough for summer bud-grafting). The smaller ones are left to grow another summer to be bud-grafted next February.
  8. The grafted trees will grow over the following summer and be available for sale the following winter – which is 3 years after the initial seed/cutting was planted.
Merv planting apple seed (which has started to sprout) in the nursery
Merv planting apple seed (which has started to sprout) in the nursery

Hopefully that all makes sense, and explains the basic processes most of our trees go through, all of which are explained in much more detail in our 5 short online grafting courses.

But of course, it’s not quite that simple! A couple of factors can add layers of complexity. The first one is that at each stage of the process, we don’t get 100% success (though we’re always striving to improve our techniques). So when we do the bud-grafting for example, not all the buds will take. The failures will either be late budded using a different technique, or left to grow and be grafted the following winter.

Grafted cherry trees in the nursery
Grafted cherry trees in the nursery

Likewise, not all grafts are successful, and so the failures will be cut back to the original rootstock and allowed to grow for a bit longer before being bud grafted the next summer.

Multigraft plum trees
Multigraft plum trees

Then there are rootstocks that are destined to be sold as multigrafts. These trees are headed in early summer to create the multiple branches we need, or sometimes failed buds will instead be headed to grow multi-branched rootstocks.

Any that branch and grow strongly enough are then bud-grafted with multiple varieties in February, cut back to the buds the following summer, and become ready for sale the following winter. All up, this may take up to 3 or even 4 years since the original cutting/seed was planted.

Sorry to be complicated! Basically, most trees we sell are between 2 and 4 years old from seed to finished tree.

A cherry tree that's been headed to create a multigraft tree
A cherry tree that’s been headed to create a multigraft tree

But do you know what? It doesn’t really matter!

In most cases once you’ve planted them in your garden they’ll need pruning back quite hard to establish the right number of branches in the right place for the type of tree you want to grow, whether that’s a vase-shaped tree, espalier, or something else, so the age of the tree doesn’t really matter. We call this “establishment pruning” and you can find out more about it in this short online course.

Merv and Sas planting rootstocks
Merv and Sas planting rootstocks

Hopefully that helps, and if still have any questions, either ask us in the comments below or shoot us an email.