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

Aggie’s passion

Aggie will give you the best hugs ever. He knows what sort of stuff is actually valuable in this world. He has been living in the bush West of Cobargo, completely self reliant, for over 20 years, and has built the entire place himself, molding his home, gardens and workshops carefully into the native landscape using all recycled materials, treading as lightly as he can.

Self made man - almost all of the timber Aggie has used on his property was grown there.

Self made man – almost all of the timber Aggie has used on his property was grown there.

His gardens and orchards with free ranging chickens and ducks, are fenced for protection from wildlife, but those most determined critters still find their way in, and he doesn’t mind sharing a little of the abundance.

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Fenced gardens.

The original home was formed around a small caravan, which has been enveloped over time by room after room of collected building materials, and decorated beautifully to feel earthy, warm and comfortable.

Fallen timber set in concrete create a warm, ambient living space.

Fallen timber set in concrete create a warm, ambient living space.

There is an inside bathroom, but Aggie’s favourite place after a hard day is his outdoor bath and shower.

The en suite with a view

En suite with a view

Aggie has lived this entire time completely ‘off the grid’ and managing his own water supply. Collecting water for his own personal use, and for the garden is of course important, but living in the bush in Australia means that bush fires are a real and constant threat during the summer months and much of Aggie’s water management set-up is focused on this.

Managing the waterworks.

Managing the waterworks.

Fire protection system on the roof.

Fire protection system on the roof – pulling a cable tips the blue bucket of water over the roof, filling the gutters.

Sprinklers mounted on every railing, into the decking timbers and along the roof.

Sprinklers mounted on every railing, into the decking timbers and along the roof add to the fire protection.

To protect the human life in a bush fire situation, Aggie has built two under ground bunkers, each with double doors, sealed to prevent oxygen being drawn from the room by fire, and stocked with food and water.

Fire bunker No. 2

Fire bunker No. 2

The escape hatch.

The fire escape hatch from the main building.

In the early days Aggie relied solely on fire for power, but now he has 3 rooms of power cell storage and an array of solar panels which allow him to light his home beautifully with low wattage globes, and enjoy other small electrical conveniences.

Battery cells - unit 1....

Battery cells – unit 1….

Battery cells - unit 2.....

Battery cells – unit 2…..

Sharing a meal here with Aggie on this particular evening, you could taste the love and passion in every bite. The wholesome greens and homemade cheese, and fruit for dessert, washed down with red wine, memories of Aggie’s childhood in Wales, and tales of ingenuity, resilience and courage that are inherent in Australian bush survival.

The cooker

The cooker.

The kitchen.

The kitchen.


I bumped into Aggie outside the post office last week and enjoyed another all enveloping hug. He tells me that there is a third fire bunker now, and that’s all the excuse I need to have to arrange another visit to inspect, and get a dose of a real life, lived well.
The road to the future...

The road to Aggie’s….

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.

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.

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.

Autumn action

It’s been a crazy, busy couple of weeks at Warwick Park.  Our wonderful Japanese friends have arrived with enthusiastic, helping hands, and with a dam full of water and gorgeous autumn sunshine, we are flat out planting, planting, planting.

Seedlings

The new ‘babies’ waiting to be installed…

The abundant crops of leeks, eggplants, zucchini, rainbow chard and capsicum are beginning to dwindle.  With the worst of the summer season behind us, we are preparing the rows and planting seedlings and root crops, utilising the last of the summer’s warmth with hope for further abundance in the months to come.

Cleaning leeks

Tomo, Hiro and Hana, prepping leeks for delivery to Green Box

It’s so great to have Hiro and his Team’s company in the paddock too. Even with the language barrier, working alongside people equally as passionate as you, and with a common objective, is much more satisfying than chatting to chooks – as much as I love them.

Kazo

Kazo – always smiling, even after hours of weeding!

Pretty glad the weeds are about to slow down their prolific growth, and with continued diligence and persistence, hopefully there will be a lot less of them to contend with next year.

Andrew and the new rows

Andrew taking a break.

Not sure if Andrew fell down in the photo above, or plonked down, exhausted? Sometimes, I topple over when a weed finally gives way, or my boot turns up a stone, and it’s a really wonderful thing. Just stopped for a moment. Plonked in the grass and looking across the rows, and up to the hills. We are planning a bit of an open day in the coming months, so you can come and plonk down too if you like? Will let you know as soon as we set the date.