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

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. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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….

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.

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

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.

Fungus fetish…

Fungi are critical to the organic web of life in the soil that is so important in any garden. Most of the work they do is unseen, hidden in the soil.  When they do ‘pop up’ though, I think they are one of the most  beautiful things around.

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Peeking up through the mulch…

Beautiful and useful though.  Among other things, they ‘lock up’ nutrients in the soil, storing them until they are needed.  They prevent leeching of vital elements, and keep them readily available to the plant’s roots.

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Dinner plate size, with tiger collar…

They also help maintain moisture in the soil, which means they are very busy at the moment, after our very wet February.  Sadly, we have lost a lot of plant rows to excessive water in the soil. All our parsley and kale, that was growing so well, has not enjoyed the ‘big wet’ and has sadly died.

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Fairy toadstool

So more fungi will move in, as they are also the great de-composers in a garden, breaking down dead plant and animal material into components that can be used by other organisms.  In fact, you would not have an organic garden without them.

Blossoms by the creek

Blossoms by the creek

Lucky they are so beautiful.  Busy de-composing. Stopping me in my muddy tracks, fumbling for my camera…