The Tomato Guys

What do two highly accomplished public servants do when they tire of the Canberra city treadmill and decide to move out to the country?

Greg and Andrew made the tomato 'tree' change to Coolagolite in 2015.

Greg and Andrew made the tomato ‘tree’ change to Coolagolite in 2015.

They become The Tomato Guys!

Greg and Andrew

Hothouse adventurers!

I’ts not too far a stretch when you consider that hothouse production requires carefully managed systems, measurements and controls.  Attention to detail, forward planning and risk management skills have all made their way to Greg and Andrew’s flourishing new farm business on the Sapphire Coast of NSW, between Cobargo and Bermagui.

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Mt Gulaga from the house site at Mountain View.

This 160 acres nestled against the Biamanga National Park and with Coolagolite Creek running along one side, is watched over by Mt Gulaga, which is considered a place of local spiritual significance by the local Indigenous people.  Andrew and Greg are committed to repairing and preserving the beauty of their piece of the local landscape, and with the help of Regional Innovation Australia (RIA), have instigated practices to help their land hold water, encourage sustainable growth and become resilient in periods of drought.

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Black faced dorper sheep watch over the shed and hothouse in the distance.

Importantly, they minimise use of chemical sprays and have instigated an integrated pest management system (IPM) strategy.  This includes goats and sheep for weeds in the dam paddock, companion planting in the tunnel houses and weekly introduction of good predatory bugs to eat the white fly which damages the fruit.

Hot House #1

Moutain View’s state-of-the-art hot house.

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Biological white fly control – part of Mountain View’s integrated pest management system.

As well as the large, state-of-the-art hothouse where most of the commercial crop is produced, there are four tunnels houses for other crops such as basil and kale.  At the moment the bulk of the produce grown at Mountain View is sold at local markets and to local stores and cafes, but there are plans for a second and third hothouse to help meet the demand for their luscious, high quality tomatoes.

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The tunnel houses contain test plantings of different tomato varieties, herbs, kale and strawberries.

Even though the setup looks high tech, there is still a lot of manual labour required to produce each crop. Because the environment is kept free of insects, each flower head needs to be brushed with the ‘tickler’ to encourage pollination, and in prolonged periods of damp and humidity, powdery mildew can start to take hold, and the careful removal of all affected parts of each plant is the only way to stop its spread.

Ripe tomatoes

Romas and basil, a spectacular truss and some of the harvest!

Of the thousands of varieties of tomatoes, Greg and Andrew have chosen Conchita, Malinche and Labell, as well as various cherry shapes and colours.

Tomatoes

A sample of the beautiful Mountain View product.

While a career in the Royal Australian Navy and at Australia’s Parliament House seem far removed from this place, Andrew actually grew up at nearby Tathra, where his parents grew vegetables commercially to help feed the local community.  His Mother is still there, and still makes the best tomato relish ever apparently, the secret recipe of which is closely guarded.  Plans for tomato products such as chutney, passata and pesto are on the agenda at Mountain View, as is a farm shop and holiday stay experience.

Andrew tending tomatoes

Andrew tending a truss….

Like so many of the wonderful new people moving into our special corner of Australia, Greg and Andrew bring skills, passion and enthusiasm which all help our community to thrive.  I don’t know if Canberra  misses them, but if they do get homesick for the Nations Capital, they’ve installed a round-about in a juncture on their gravel driveway… a few laps of that and they’ll remember why they left…!

Together Wines

When commercial helicopter pilot Euan decided to combine his trade with his new found passion for growing food, he and his young family landed in Far North Queensland where he took a job crop spraying.  After one day on the new job, it was immediately apparent that this sort of practice was actually not about growing the sort of crops he would want anything to do with.

Euan and Carlin

Together – Euan and Carlin

A short stint in a vineyard outside Canberra before this had ‘wet’ his appetite for the art of winemaking, and after leaving Queensland, three years in Margaret River helped Euan complete his study of viticulture and oenology at Curtin University. Having family connections and fond memories of the NSW South Coast, Euon, his wife Carlin and their two young daughters then went in search of somewhere to plant their own roots.

Carlin and winter pinot.

Carlin and winter pinot.

Beautifully biodynamic soil...

Grass up to the base of the vines forces the vine’s roots deeper down into the ground. The grass also uses excess water in wet times and when times are dry it is slashed to keep it low.

Together Wines found its home at Verona, just south of Cobargo, and plans for the planting of 2500 vines got under way.  In keeping with Rudolph Steiner’s biodynamic principles, 800mm holes were dug and then left open for almost a year. Once the soil had been exposed to the weather and sunshine for that time, each hole was filled with humus rich soil, enhanced with biodynamic preparations, and in August 2010, the vines were installed into their earthly pots.

Strong and sturdy.

Strong and sturdy after 5 years.

Five different varieties were planted including Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Shiraz, Mataro and Sauvignon Blanc varieties.  Although advised against Pinot Noir by the ‘experts’, Euan and Carlin have found that these devigoured vines are producing the best quantity and quality fruit, and there are plans afoot to plant even more.

The farm's biodynamics flow form.

The farm’s biodynamics flow form.

Biodynamic Brew!

Biodynamic Brew!

Biodynamics is a regenerative growing technique that uses preps to enable the soil to optimise it’s own performance in managing mineral availability, disease resistance and water holding capacity.  These carefully considered and prescribed preparations are sprayed onto the soil and crops as required when problems are identified.

The prep. spraying rig.

The prep. spraying rig.

Euan and Carlin have found that they have rarely needed to irrigate their vines, even through the driest months, and close observation and careful trials have enabled them to custom their spraying from season to season.  By getting to know their vines, they are learning to support nature’s own unsurpassed ability to know how to thrive.

Jaffa in the veggie garden.

Jaffa in the veggie garden.

Bananas warm against the silo.

Bananas warm against the silo.

Of course, once chemical inputs, and high levels of soluble ‘stimulants’ are used, such as with industrial agriculture, nature loses it’s way. Not here. Thoughtful, sustainable practices are the nature of Together Wines.

Beautiful barrels....

Beautiful barrels….

Highly recommended Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Highly recommended Sauvignon Blanc 2014

And the result of these wholesome practices? Well, I have to confess that the writer just had to have a taste – even though it was not long since breakfast – a red and a white, and they were delicious.  I’m no buff, but I’d like another glass please…..

A tasting...

A tasting…

As a result of a visit to the Winery by the River Cottage Australia crew in April, Together Wines first blend was born: Paddock Blend Rose. A combination of the Sangiovese, Shiraz and Mataro this blend created a bit of a sensation among the cast and crew, so keep an eye out for it once the Property’s new Winery is completed later in 2016 – you can follow the progress of this exciting development on Facebook.

Evan and the scientific side...

Euan and the scientific side…

A vintage

All Together now – a vintage

It’s still going out on a limb to grow things a bit differently in Australia, and certainly in my experience there’s no shortage of people who’ll tell you, “It won’t work.” But the gentle, self assured confidence Euan and Carlin have in the practices at Together Wines is undoubtedly worth bottling.

The duck pond

The duck pond

For more inspiration, see Instagram. Cheers! XO

What’s going on?

Another summer draws to a close, and it’s been wet and mild and of course, presenting a whole lot of wonderful, life changing experiences! Here’s another pictorial look at what has kept us busy over the last couple of months…

Warming conversation.

Warming conversation – preparing for bush fire season.

Lambs arrival.

John Walker delivers our new sheep and lambs…..

Our first batch of meat chicks arrive.

Our first batch of meat chicks settle in…..

Ginger joins the family....

Ginger joins the family….

Flooding rains.

Flooding rains…..

Little boys enjoying the swollen river after rain...

After school swims in the swollen river…….

An excursion to Goat Hill Farm hazelnuts...

An excursion to Goat Hill Farm hazelnuts…

Lunches with special people...

Lunches with special people

The building of, and .....

The building of, and …..

....planting of the new kitchen garden at the local school...

….planting of the new kitchen garden at the local school…

Sweet Home Cobargo moves up the hill to a lovely new premises....

Sweet Home Cobargo moves up the hill to a lovely new premises….

Meat chicks growing happily....

Meat chicks growing happily….

A new workshop space....finally!.......

A new workshop space….finally!…….

Abundant growth.....

Abundant growth…..

and spectacular skies.

and spectacular skies.

One glorious summer, and so many wonderful blessings. The first lot of veggies are ready for harvest, so stay tuned. 🙂

 

 

 

 

Walking the walk on Old Mill Road

At Old Mill Road Biofarm just south of Moruya, they don’t just talk about living sustainably, they live it all day, every day. Passionate about the expansion of food production in our communities, Fraser and Kirsti work full time in their beautiful garden and sell their produce at local markets, supply a couple of restaurants in town, and run a market gardening course.

Fraser at work...

Fraser at the office…

In fact they have encouraged and supported several other farmers to set up similar operations in the area, and their concerted efforts within the local grower community are no doubt in part responsible for the Moruya Farmers’ Market recently being awarded the Most Outstanding Market Garden in Australia by ABC delicious! Magazine.

Poly-tunnels and 45 metre beds

The Biofarm office.

Garlic

Garlic beds.

Sugar snap peas, broccoli and oranges.

Sugar snap peas, broccoli and oranges.

As well as fruit trees and veggies, and chickens for meat and eggs, they have set up a series of hydroponic growing tanks running down their garden hillside, which operate by gravity feeding the water down through each tank to the bottom one which is stocked with trout. Twice each day the water from this tank, which has had nutrients added to the water by the fish, is then pumped back up to the top tank and circulated again down through the veggies in the system.

One of the layers of the teired hydroponics system.

One of the layers of the tiered hydroponics system.

The pump that operates in the hydroponics system is run solely using solar panels, as are the electric mesh fences that contain their chickens, the power for their shed and family home – they live completely ‘off the grid’.

The trout tank

The trout tank

Kirsti and Fraser use three portable chicken enclosures to move three lots of approximately 90 chooks around their garden and hillside. The chooks provide a terrific supply of eggs for sale locally, as well as helping to clear and add nutrient to their soil.

Kirsti and Piccola at chook feeding time.

Kirsti and Piccola ready for chook feeding and egg collecting.

Old Mill Road

Dusk over the dam.

July is ‘down time’ for most farmers in the Southern Hemisphere, as it is here for Old Mill Road. There is less available for sale during these shorter, cooler days, but that doesn’t mean that there is any less work to do. My visit today found Fraser repairing irrigation hoses ready for spring plantings, and there are plans being made to introduce pigs to their operation in the coming months.

Sugar snaps for Piccola!

Sugar snaps for Piccola!

It is late in the afternoon -still, quiet and beautiful.  I get the feeling though that this lovely little family, and the earth that supports them around here, is taking a big, deep breath in. Resting and collecting itself together, in readiness for another busy, productive year ahead.

Kirsti and Fraser

Kirsti and Fraser


To find out more about what they’ve got going on, visit them at oldmillroad.com.au.

Tim and Thea’s dream

Tim and Thea moved to the Bega Valley almost 2 years ago. As Tim is originally from the NSW North Coast, and Thea from Melbourne, they spent some time researching different ares before they chose to set up their dream farm on 25 acres just North of Cobargo.

Tim in the first 'patch'

Tim in the first ‘patch’

With a landscape management and conservation background, Tim also has 10 years experience working in bush regeneration, but his and Thea’s dream is to grow food. Good food and lots of it.

Young celeries

Young celeries

Once they chose their ideal property, they set about choosing the best sites for vegetable plantings, and setting up irrigation from the property’s 3 dams.

A live-in helping hand

A live-in helping hand

Their friend Jeremy has recently joined them in their venture, and gutted and refitted a sustainable home for himself out of an old caravan parked near the house.

Insect attractants...

Insect attractants…

Tubs of worms

Tubs of worms

Passionate about permiculture principles and growing organically, the pair employ every trick they can to maximise the productivity of their farm, including worm farms and compost that they create from piles of wood chip and fish waste that they pick up from the wharves at Bermagui.

Tigerella tomatoes

Tigerella tomatoes

They raise all their own seedlings from seed they collect in Thea’s very impressive collection which lines the shelves of a dark hallway in one wing of the house.

Seedlings

Seedlings

They have chooks and goats, including a kid that Thea has been given to hand raise, destined for the table down the track.

Thea and the kids

Thea and the kids

Both Thea and Tim work a few days per week off the farm, but their next commercial plot is being prepared now to increase their growing capacity, and they aim to become certified organic growers, at which point they will have to decide on a name for the venture – which dinner conversations have narrowed down to three possibilities….still ‘hush hush’.

A very cultured Thea

A very cultured Thea

Extremely resourceful and abundantly enthusiastic, Thea makes her own sour dough bread, kombucha tea and delicious flavoured kefir – which I can vouch for on several occasions now. No doubt helped by her Greek background, her baklava is renowned in Sweet Home Cobargo, a local cafe where she helps out in the kitchen.

The orphan kid

The orphan kid

It’s early days, but they are delivering produce to several local customers, and the ideas and passions for their project are endless. Watch this dream come true.

Bangalay Bend Garlic

Dignams Creek is tucked away off the Highway between Cobargo and Tilba Tilba and is home to the NASAA certified organic farm, Bangalay Bend.

Dignams Creek

Dignams Creek

Driveway to the Bend

At the end of the track, Mark and Didi’s mudbrick home is nestled against the hillside, with sweeping views across their market garden paddocks, and up to Mark’s woodworking workshop.

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The farm’s beautiful anti-aviary

Bangalay Bend is renowned for it’s great tasting purple garlic, and what Mark and Didi harvest here each November and December, is now shipped all around the country.

Mark in one of the garlic drying sheds

Mark in one of the garlic drying sheds

Picking the garlic when the soil is not too wet, and drying it correctly is critical to the production of a high quality product. The drying sheds have to be well ventilated, and fans help circulate air in this shed as well.

Bangalay Bend Garlic

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The second drying shed

Like all agricultural businesses, growing garlic poses all sorts of challenges from Mother Nature, and Didi uses biological farming practices to help balance her soil, and grow high quality pest and disease free product.

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The aerated compost tea ‘brewer’

Foliage of the Farm’s crops are sprayed twice each season with a tea brewed from lucerne, fish emulsion, worm castings, compost and seaweed extract.

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A sample of Didi’s carefully created biodynamic preparation

As well as the foliar sprays, Didi sprays her soils with a biodynamic preparation which has been sandwiched between two freshly slaughtered steer hides and buried about 80cm deep for 9 months.

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Chooks at work in the enclosed vegetable garden

The resulting product, when the hides are uncovered just looks delicious!.. and the results of its application on the gardens speak for themselves.

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Espaliered Satsuma Plums

Didi is particularly skilled in espaliering her many fruit trees, either vertically like this plum, or horizontally to maximise the fruiting of the horizontal branches.

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Pomegranate

It feels like a Garden of Eden visiting here, and to share a welcoming cup of tea on the verandah is to sit and soak up a wholesome, vibrant energy from all around you.

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The gorgeous Layla

It’s absolutely peaceful. And if you want to share some of this beautiful place, you can buy Mark and Didi’s garlic directly via bangalaybend@bigpond.com, and they’ll post it to you, or it’s available at Sweet Home Cobargo, on the main street in Cobargo. See you there.

Biological truths

I have been inspired this week by John Elliot Gardiner, who owns Gore Farm – a 650 acre organic farm in Dorset, SW England. He has just turned 70, and is actually better known as a great classical music conductor. When asked if he had to choose his favourite, which he would choose between music and farming, he replied “You dismember me! It is not possible. I have to have both. Music occupies one’s heart and brain, and farming is to do with creating food, looking after animals, refreshment and … other challenges.”

Gore Farm, Dorset

It is his choice of the word “creating” that captivated me. I have dabbled in the soil one way or another all my life, but I am only now becoming fully aware of how to grow anything to be strong, disease free and healthy, it’s all about creating the environment in which it is to grow – at a cellular level – and this doesn’t mean adding anything that comes out of a bottle, packet or drum. It’s about creating the optimum cellular conditions for nature to do what it does so well without any help from us: Biological Farming.

Soil alive…discovering a friend while weeding at Foxground.

This isn’t new. Different cultures have naturally managed the productivity of their soils for thousands of years, and nearly 90 years ago Rudolph Steiner gave lectures about it, and Sir Albert Howard published his first book on the topic nearly 75 years ago. The trouble is that scientists began telling farmers over 100 years ago that they had discovered the cure all for production woes – nitrogen, phosphorus & potassium, all neatly blotted up and ready to spray. Somehow, since that time, many farmers relinquished the intuitive and ‘creative’ components of nurturing their soils, for reliance on chemistry to do the job – and we have to acknowledge that the results have been spectacular. See “What is the ethical choice?“, by The Centre for Food Integrity for some clear, moderate perspective on industrial agriculture – thanks Lynne.

More beautiful fungus at work….can’t help myself.

 Scientific medicine has paralleled the development of industrial agriculture. There aren’t too many health practitioners who will deny that while those of us privileged to reside in the minority world live longer than ever, the responsibility for us to nurture our own biological health to ensure vitality and well being, is all too often, handed over to chemists, again most often with life saving results. The tragedy here is how polarised the scientific vs biological camps have become though, causing disunity and distraction from the issues that really matter.  There should be no right or wrong, only great and greater. Clever and even more clever. To thrive we need to use our scientific knowledge, combined with wisdom and intuition to really be creative.

Andrew and silverbeet

Andrew transplanting a silverbeet. Hmmmm…commercial practice?!

As John Elliot Gardiner says: “To sustain organic farming at a commercial level is tricky due to the weather and the debate over genetically modified crops. It’s no good being nostalgic about organic farming. You have to adapt and be commercially alert; and you have to be bold and daring and not go down a conventional route.”  One of my mentors has hinted that I am practicing “Utopian bull***t”, by the way I currently farm – so I’d like to add one other thing to Mr Gardiner’s list – you also have to be brave.