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

Lets get Frank….

Frank and his son Michael have been running a local sawmill on top of a hill just West of Bermagui for over 30 years. But in recent times, the demand from the local community for growing has outstripped the call for cutting down. They are transforming their timber mill by surrounding it with lush and productive gardens producing seriously good veggies for sale.

Frank and his ribbons

Frank and some of his Cobargo Show awards.

Frank and Michael enter the best of their produce in the Cobargo Show each year. There’s actually a pile of award cards in Frank’s hands above, and if you look closely, along with great veg, the ribbon over Frank’s left shoulder is for “Best Packet Cake” – versatile guy.

Michael with some new plantings.

Michael with some new plantings.

Snails and other pests are apparently not a problem, and if something comes along it’s manually removed and squished before it gets out of control. Lots of bird life helps with pests, and companion planting, and rotating different plantings are, “….you know, just common sense,” confide the gently spoken pair.

The mill track

The mill track

Totally organic, the only input into the vegetable gardens at Frank’s is some saw dust, and loads of cow manure. In fact the soil is amazingly full of organic matter, and free of pest and disease.  I suspect the hill top position with great drainage and fresh South Coast air flow all around helps the garden to thrive as well.

View from the hill.

View from the hill.

Michael’s yellow tomatoes are famous in town, as well as at the Bermagui Markets each Thursday afternoon, and just as sweet and juicy as their more popular red cousins.

Frank and Michael.

Frank and Michael.

Frank might say growing good food is ‘common sense’, but not many would agree with that.  Those who’ve given it a go know it takes planning, caring, thoughtfulness, passion, dedication and lots and lots of hard work.

Tomato abundance.

Tomato abundance.

In fact, it’s like any flourishing marriage I suppose.  With their incredible humility, I have no doubt that Frank and Michael’s successful relationship with the food they’re growing is all about commitment and patience.

Bringing the bees.

Bringing the bees.

…and it’s beautiful to witness….

Pumpkin hiding.

Pumpkin hiding.

….and not very common at all really. XO

Bees and things…

Ross and Maryanne have been growing fruit and keeping bees at Quaama on the NSW Far South Coast for almost 30 years.  Ross helped to pioneer the process of organic certification of honey and up until he retired several years ago, their SCPA certified organic property has provided their income, and continues to provide the organic produce for Maryanne’s delicious preserves business.

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Ross and Maryanne of Lemonthyme Apiary

In the 1990s, they trialed exporting their honey to Japan, a market that prefers dark coloured honey, such as the Australian Stringy Bark that they produce. Ross built a specialised labelling frame to hold each jar precisely, ensuring each and every label was applied in exactly the same place, as per their Japanese client’s specifications. He also built a specialised loading dock to assist with transport for their pallets of honey.  But the export process was not without problems, one of which was that the international standard for honey is to have a 9% sucrose content, but dark Australian blossom honey’s normally have up to 14% sucrose.   When their first export shipment was tested, they were accused of adding sucrose to their product, which of course they hadn’t and this unique property of our sweet honies had to be pointed out.

Lemonthyme apiary jar labeling frame.

Lemonthyme apiary jar labeling frame.

They worked very hard to meet all export requirements for their certified organic product, but decided not to pursue this international market when his customers couldn’t understand why, when seasonal supply ran out, they couldn’t just ‘make more’!  It was decided they would keep the product local, where their ‘liquid gold’ has been much appreciated.

Ross and his hives.

Ross and his hives.

SCPA organic and bio-dynamic produce is legitimately certified via a peer inspection and assessment scheme which adheres to the current Australian National Standard, and Ross and Maryanne’s home has been part of this scheme since its inception.  They built their home as chemical free as possible, and boast a septic tank (which Ross proudly lifted the lid on to show off), the content of which has no smell, and has actually become a healthy, organic worm farm.  If you have ever had anything to do with a septic tank, you will know that this is a pleasant surprise!

Septic worm farm - healthy outputs!

Septic worm farm – healthy outputs!

Harnessing energy for the home.

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A new addition, and heavily laden Lemonade tree.

Like all Australian farmers, Ross and Maryanne are clever and resourceful in the operation of their property. They have converted a couple of old caravans into accommodation for WWOOFers, raise chickens for eggs, and goats for meat and milk.  Although considered a weed, Ross slashes the patches of tussock on the farm to use as mulch for the orchard trees and gardens. What you and I might call a ‘junk pile’ is Ross’ ‘hardware store’, where throwaways are converted into useful objects, such as a wheelbarrow, made using an old washing machine barrel.

Ross-built barrow using an old washing machine barrel.

Ross-built barrow using an old washing machine barrel.

Maryanne had a purpose-built, commercial kitchen built into the home for her preserve making, and uses the berries and fruit from the farm to make her product here.  Growing up on a farm in England, where the hired help’s name was Mr Digweed (seriously!), she is no stranger to being able to convert the land’s abundance into something delicious.

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Maryanne and some of her delicious, organic Lemonthyme preserves.


Ross and Maryanne would like to see the process of SCPA certification of food production expanded, as it is a simple, cost effective way to help promote and support the production of clean, naturally farmed food. Their long term commitment to this process means that there is no doubt that this couple are certainly a good example of ‘clean living’.

A special Aude autumn

I should never leave it so long for an update here – too much going on! March brought with it a very special visitor from France, and so many wonderful events, we’ve barely sat still.   So here is a photographic summary, starting with the harvest of our beautiful (if only ornamental) corn…

Corn Painted Mountain

Corn Painted Mountain

…the beginning of the wonderful John Blundon’s passionate restoration of our century old shed…

Stage 1 of shed renovation

Stage 1. Removal of the west wall to reinforce the stumps, jack up the bowed frame and trim and replace the enormous wall panels.

…the very well attended, inaugural monthly Cobargo/Quaama Food Swap at the beautiful home and garden of River and Tammy…

Fabulous coloured carrots

Fabulous coloured carrots

Fabulous Food Swappers!

Food Swappers!

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The super resourceful Cornelia showing off banana leaves and fresh lemon grass, (and you should try her home made Indian style ice cream…OMG!)

…a first experience with fresh roasted chestnuts…

Peeling roasted chestnuts for creating creamy chestnut soup (Tilba Jersey creamy of course!), French style - amazing!

Aude peeling roasted chestnuts for creating creamy chestnut soup (Tilba Jersey cream of course!), French style – delish!

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and experimenting with stir fried kale, Bangalay Bend garlic and roasted chestnuts – tasty and super nutritious.

…a visit to the Tilba Jersey Dairy…

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Our friend Aude enjoyed visiting an Australian dairy, having grown up on her family’s dairy in France. The difference between here and there? Apparently nothing. (Do cows ‘moo’ in French?)

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Heading back to the paddock after milking

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Waiting for spilt milk

…the sharing of abundance by Gary and Francis from The Rusty Fig Winery

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Tom and Aude crushing grapes ‘au naturel’.

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The resulting syrupy sweet juice from the chambourcin grapes – yum!

…a lesson on harnessing heavy horses for field work…

David and his Belle

David in the Yowrie Valley, with his Shire horse, Belle, in training for work.

Tom walking behind Belle in her harness - practicing for the real thing one day.

Tom walking behind the young Belle in her harness – practicing for the real thing. One day she will pull the cart and furrow.

…a crash course in evaporative distillation…

David loading the still.

David loading the still with Eucalyptus leaves.

David's still

Showing off his handiwork – although he has commercial grade, stainless equipment, David loves to use the still he built himself.

"....and the oil/water mix comes out here..."

“….and the oil/water mix comes out here…” David sells his pure Eucalyptus and Lavender oils around the district, including at Sweet Home Cobargo.

…a great big Diamond Python in our trees, and not-so-welcome slithery visitor in the chook house…

Red Belly Black visitor

Red Belly Black

…and Aude’s leaven creating beautiful loaves and Easter Buns.

Aude's first lovely loaf.

Aude’s first lovely loaf.

So now as April draws to a close and we are lighting the fire, and the growth of the grass (and weeds), starts to slow, we are reflecting on, and enormously grateful for the abundance of good food, good people and good learning.  Some people leave a lasting warmth and impression though, and although she has moved on, we all really miss Aude.

My day as a housewife in the 50’s…

As horrible bush fires rage in Victoria and South Australia, although we can’t smell smoke, there is a haze in the air this morning, and the sunrise looks both beautiful and terrible at the same time.

Glowing sunrise

Glowing sunrise

We are blessed to be free of the threat at the moment though, and it is a joy to visit our Wyandotte hen and her 5 new chicks this morning.

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Hen and chicks. Can you spot 3 of the 5?

After collecting the eggs, I pick another bucket of pears, and head into the kitchen to make my first attempt at preserving.

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Apple, ripe and ready

My gorgeous neighbour Joy has lent me her Vacola preserver, complete with bottles, lids, seals, clips and instructions. I learn it’s not just fruit I can save now, but vegies, sauces and even meat – I can even cook a ham in it! Why did so many people put this device away in the 1970’s in favour of a ‘deep freeze’ in the laundry or garage???

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Fowler’s instruction manual, beautifully intact

In fact, I learn so much! Such as my fruit salad will be ‘unpalatable’ unless I preserve passionfruit to add to it each season, and sugar free preserving will work wonders for those who have diabetes… Hmmm. I suppose if the only other fruit you have access too is tinned in heavy syrup?

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Now I too, can be a Mrs B Thrifty!

The book is the 22nd revised edition, and replacement copies:

“…may be purchased from Fowlers Vacola Manufacturing Co. Ltd, 257 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, E.2, Victoria for the sum of 15/6 (which includes sales tax and postage). The Registered Number of your Steriliser must be supplied at the time of ordering – this is important, as no book will be supplied to anyone not having a Vacola Bottling Outfit.”

Now I feel very important as well as knowledgeable!

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The Fowlers Vacola Sterilizer


So I read the little book in detail and start washing and chopping. Hours later my first 9 bottles are done, and it is surprisingly satisfying looking at them all lined up, shiney and beautiful.
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Pears and plums

It’s been a great, productive summer’s day, but my thoughts linger on all the fire fighters, families and businesses having a horrible day in Southern states, working so hard to preserve life and property. Best wishes to all of you.

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.

Cobargo Farm

Cobargo Farm is a pleasure garden and working farm located on the Bermagui Road, just outside the historic town of Cobargo on the Far South Coast, about 10 minutes drive from Feast Farm. Three generations of the Holloway and Doolin families help run this farm and last Saturday October 5th was the third time they have held an open day to showcase the amazing job they do.

Cobargo Farm sells at the gate 7 days from dawn 'till dusk.

Cobargo Farm sales always welcome.

Janet heads up the hard working team at the farm where they produce an enormous variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables, raise pigs, chooks and cattle, and keep bees, ducks and sheep. All of this bounty is beautifully laid out around the homestead, shady established trees, a spring fed creek and dams, and flower gardens, including a large collection of roses.

Cobargo Farm

Cobargo Farm

The Open Day was as much about showcasing the local community as it was about getting to stroll around and enjoy the Farm itself. There were dozens of stalls laid out on the lawns, each showcasing the talents and productivity of this vibrant region.

CWA Hospitality

CWA Hospitality

Along with sheep shearing, bee keeping, and spinning, the Galba Forge was one of the demonstrations you could watch, and the unique form of blacksmithing practiced by Hans Schippi was mesmerising to watch. How you can take a piece of metal and wrought it into beautiful, natural looking pieces that are not only artistic, but beautifully functional, is inspiring. Of course, mostly the Open Day was about food- although a great band played on the deck overlooking the rose garden and their cruisy music pervaded the entire garden, along with the smell of the Lions Club sausage sizzle. Alfred and Jane’s Cobargo home made ice cream was a stand out for us too!

Cobargo Farm

Cobargo Farm

We haven’t lived here for very long at all, but I have to say it feels different to anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I guess this is the ‘real’ country here, as opposed to the peri-urban fringe farming areas which are commutable from a capital city. It has a very different feel. A strong sense of community, I suppose because people genuinely rely on each other so much more from day-to-day. Lots of things you take for granted in, or near a big city may not be available (especially services), have to be ordered in advance, then take longer to arrive and possibly cost more.

Perfect hat for this gorgeous day in the garden!

Perfect hat for this gorgeous day in the garden!

But, as Janet and her family would no doubt agree, those problems become insignificant compared to the benefits. You don’t just visit here, you choose to escape, and immerse yourself in a different way of life.

Moonacres Inspiration

It has been great to get to know Phil from Moonacres Farm over the last couple of weeks. Formerly working in finance, Phil began farming here at Fitzroy Falls in 2007, and what he has set up, and  the certified organic produce he is growing – is very impressive.

Browsing the crops, and eating corn fresh off the cob

Browsing the crops, and eating corn fresh off the cob

It’s a big setup – 100 metre long rows, lovely big orchards, paddocks of pumpkins and sheds full of lots of big equipment – makes my setup look quite puny really! I was quick to point out to Phil that I was still on my “L” plates with my growing efforts, at which he was just as quick to retort that he was too. That was encouraging.

Drying garlic - Australian purple and white

Drying garlic – Australian purple and white

In fact, as Phil described the evolution of his learning about how to best grow different crops, I felt that my journey – albeit on a micro scale – was not too dissimilar.  In fact, I know now you never finish learning how to grow anything well.  Not only does every individual geographic site offer different challenges, but so does every season, every batch of seed, and every nudge of intuition that says to try ‘this’ or ‘that’.

Beautifully formed and irrigated rows.

Row after row, after beautiful row…..

It’s rained all night again. We have had soooo much rain since February. This has taught us which areas of our paddock drain well, and which areas a drenching downpour will prevent us from moving on for weeks to come. While we’re busy learning, it has been great to be able to offer our Jamberoo Pub markets customers supplementary, certified organic – jumping out of its skin with life – produce from Moonacres.

Bill and his 'healing' greens.

Bill and his ‘healing’ greens.

As we are busy setting up our Jamberoo stall each Saturday morning, Bill arrives to buy his kale, and other greens to juice. Yesterday he was telling me how until a couple of years ago, he was taking an enormous amount of medication for arthritis and other ills, but seeing the documentary film Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, prompted him to drastically alter his diet.  Raw vegies and green juices feature daily on his menu now, and he takes no medication, and says he has never been healthier.  See, we all should never stop learning how to grow.

More elegant fungus, in the mulch at Jamberoo Pub

More elegant fungus, in the mulch at Jamberoo Pub

Blood Limes

Green Box is offering Blood Limes at the moment from Tom and Helen Supple at Jamberoo. Most people wonder what on earth these interesting looking little fruit are, but the lovely Sarah was delighted to find them last week. She grabbed a handfull and announced that she was heading up to the fish market on the wharves at Kiama for Blue Swimmer Crab. Apparently all the excitement is caused by her Crab Spaghettini recipe…

Sarah & Ash with Blood Limes

We would love the full details, but tossed crab, herbs, olive oil and crumbled blood lime were among the ingredients. I’m sure crunchy Berry sourdough bread, Coolangatta Estate Semillon and maybe fresh grated Parmesan cheese would be accompaniments? Anything else you can share Sarah?

Blood Limes

Blood Limes are also grown at Coolangatta Mountain Orchard, and are a hybrid of the Australian native red finger lime and rangpur lime. As you can see they are a striking red colour, and have a zingy flavour to match. Pick up a recipe at your Feast market.