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

Celebrating Australia Day in Bermagui

When you wake up on Australia Day and it’s the most perfect Aussie summer’s day ever, you just have to go to the beach, and for us that means the beautiful Horseshoe Beach at Bermagui.

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Hard day at the office for the life savers…

If the weather wasn’t perfect enough, when we arrived we discovered that the monthly Bermagui Market was being held in the carpark right behind the Surf Life Saving Club at the beach.

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Bermagui’s monthly market place

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The biggest smiles at the market were definitely the carnivores.

Tent after tent of all sorts of delicious local offerings right there, and we couldn’t resist coffee and fresh bagels to take with us down to the beach.

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Bermi SLSC volunteers hard at work.

I learnt from the life savers that beaches are given a safety rating from 1 to 10, with 1 being the safest and 10 the least safe. The beach here at Horseshoe Bay has a rating of 3, making it one of the safest (and I think most beautiful), beaches on the South Coast.

Zinced up and having fun!

Zinced up and having fun!

Perfect day. Perfect venue. Fabulous market offerings, and no crowds. One of the many reasons why the NSW South Coast is one of the best kept secrets.

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Part of the wonderful Mimosa produce display

And for our Australia Day lunch, flathead fillets and Wapengo organic oysters. I LOVE oysters, but these are the best and freshest I have ever eaten. Plucked off leases just down the road, which have apparently been named some of the cleanest in the world. The world!!! Man we have it good in Australia.

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Mimosa Olives

The Mimosa Winery and Restaurant is the next local venue we want to explore – fine dining only 10 minutes further down the coast; serving local foods with sweeping views over the famous Mimosa National Park. Stay tuned, and Happy Australia Day wherever you are!

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.

Further-a-field…

At Warwick Park in Foxground, the beds have finally dried out a bit, and the vegies are mostly none-the-worst for the months of drenching rain. The mixed winter green crop of oats, vetch and mustard has flourished!

Our oat green crop devouring children!

Our oat green crop devouring children!

During a Foodscape Tours visit a couple of weeks ago, we picked our first baby parsnips – small, but a sign of yummy things to come. This was Feast Farms last visit from Jacqueline and her guests, as the Warwick Park garden has now been handed over to Bonnie Cassen of Sharwood Greens. Bonnie will continue to host visitors and supply wholesome, fresh vegies to Green Box & local restaurants in the area. Have fun Bonnie, and we look forward to watching the garden flourish, and sharing vegie growing tips and stories!

Jac and baby parsnips

Jac and baby parsnips

Meanwhile, we have been exploring further South in search of larger paddocks to till. The South Coast is such a ‘hidden treasure’…..so many beautiful, character-rich villages from Milton, down through Moruya, to one of my very favourites, Bodalla. Beautiful forests, stunning coastline, flourishing arts communities and cottage industries everywhere. So many experiences to soak up and flavours to savour!

Pumpkin harvest

Cobargo pumpkin harvest

The contrast between the rural heritage of Tilba Tilba one minute, a pretty 10 minute drive through spotted gum forests later and you’re watching seals sunning themselves on the breakwater as fishing boats bob up and down gently in Bermagui Harbour. Irresistible really!

Small town eats

Delicious local Cobargo offerings…

Back in Berry, husband and wife team John Evans and Sonia Greig have now opened their awesome new restaurant “SOUTH on Albany“. John does a great job sourcing many local, seasonal ingredients for their simple modern menu influenced by chef John’s Welsh background and European training. The menu is accompanied by a fantastic wine list again offering many wines from the local region. A ‘must visit’ for a fresh, delicious, seasonal meal.