After the rain….at last.

Welcome rain has filled the dam at Foxground this week.  Very much a relief after the longest, hottest dry spell in memory apparently.

Zucchini, capsicum and eggplant at Foxground

Zucchini, eggplant and capsicum.

Temperatures nearing 50C and way below average rainfall has caused all sorts of problems for farmers along the South Coast. There has been a feed crisis for our dairy farmers which places enormous strain on herds, farmers, their budgets and families. Still $1/L for milk?….seriously?!

Mid summer heat stress

Heat stress – shedding leaves mid summer.

This good soaking 180mm over 3 days will really help, and you can see the paddocks greening up almost immediately. Good follow up rain over the next few weeks and months is obviously critical to really make a difference.

Pigs in mud

Soaking it up – piggies love the mud!

There’s not much you can do when the soil is as wet as it is at the moment, but it is just so lovely to be in the garden, and see everything flourishing.

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The little creek, once again flowing past the vegies

My most favourite thing is the new sounds. Wet sounds. The creek ‘babbling’, the frogs chorus. I just wish there was a picture to express how amazing sounds ‘look’.

Frog on the reeds

Tiny blue-black frog on the reeds, by the dam

I guess on a blog, this will have to do….   🙂

Turning up the heat!

I always said that our first year of operating a market garden was going to be a complete experiment. We have tested raising pigs for meat vs. saving them as pets, sowing seed vs. buying seedlings, staking tomatoes vs. wire mesh enclosures for them, and several different sprinkler systems vs. drip irrigation systems, just to name a few of the trials.  There have been some lovely successes, and some monumental disasters… or should I say, fundamental learnings!

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Jac and Gordon bean picking from the heavily laden vines

Jacqueline (Foodscape Tours), and her wonderful tour bus-driving Dad, Gordon visited today to help pick beans for this Saturday’s Jamberoo market. Notice the dangerous bowing of the stakes under the weight of the climbing beans in the photo above?  So, although hardwood stakes and twine were a lovely idea, the beans have been blown about way too much in the wind, and have required Andrew to reinforce the structure almost daily due to the weight of the produce.

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Eggplants and chard, the day after the 43 degree heatwave.

Along with the ‘try it and see’ challenges, we have had an abnormally dry spring and summer, by all accounts.  This has meant that we have given up using the sprinkler system altogether – as although the lovely Foxground breezes make for a comfortable working environment in the heat,  too much water was being blown away, and wasted.  Therefore, the half of the garden which hasn’t been kitted up with dripper hoses, (and the plans for root vegetables) has been let go – for now anyway – while we arrange more hose to replace where the sprinkler was intended to be used.

Jack by the dam

Jack by the dam – 11 Jan 2013

The dam from where we draw water for the vegetables is the lowest it has been for a long time, according to Kerry and Nicko, and our watering regimen is strictly, and carefully timed.  The cabbage moths seem to have moved on, and the fruit fly have only touched a few tomatoes, and we wonder if this is perhaps due to the very dry conditions?  I imagine the answers to so many of the very many questions we have, will only come after years of experience.

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Summer sunrise over the baths at Boat Harbour, Gerringong

But… despite the heat and the mixed result experiments, while ever we are blessed to have the opportunity to work this beautiful South Coast land at all, and to live 10 minutes walk away from being able to start every day looking at this glorious sun rise, no problem is really a problem at all.  All the challenges and learning opportunities are blessings, albeit sometimes in disguise.

Round up blues…

I took this photo this morning in the playground in Gerringong whilst walking my dog. Sadly, we see it all the time. Our Council goes crazy with the Glyphosate (stained blue to presumably make it ‘safer’?), particularly in this lovely children’s precinct. When I opened my emails with my morning coffee, I discover I’m not the only one who is distressed by the indiscriminate  overuse of this chemical – Justin of the useful blog ‘The Radish’has just posted the same sentiments.

Gerringong Playground

Just in time for the kids to come out and play…

It is liberally sprayed all over the ground, and if it’s and lucky it soaks a weed which could have easily been pulled.  More and more evidence points to the fact that it’s not has harmless as it’s touted to be, and really….is there any safe level of any chemical we should expose our children too? Please re-consider your spraying policy Kiama Council.

Thanks, and please weed on…

Everything is growing, growing, growing… especially the dock, fireweed, Kikuyu, and the bill at the irrigation supplies shop….. but Feast Farms have invoiced their first customers – yay! (teeny amounts, but it’s a start).

Tom at Foxground – November 2012

Most importantly though, we (my wonderful, patient, often dragged along for the ride, family), are all still smiling and enjoying the learning. Many thanks to our wonderful markets customers each week, to Green Box and The Little Blowhole Cafe who are supporting our efforts, and of course to our friend Kerry, without whose generosity, none of this would be possible.

The gorgeous Kerry at one of our dawn meetings!

We had a visit from a Land journalist a few weeks ago, so keep an eye out for the early December issue of the paper for the ensuing story. Jacqueline is bringing Foodscape Tours to visit for the next three Saturdays which will be fun too. All the excitement just means one thing to me though… boy have I got a lot of weeding to do! Anyone want to come and help? I can pay in lettuces…. 🙂

My piggy tale…

Using pigs to till the soil has been an experiment with mixed results. There is no doubt pigs do a great job of turning the soil and eating the roots of the unwanted weeds and grasses. But once they reached about 70kg, P1 & P2 (who remained un-named so that apparently it would make it easier to truck them off to the abattoir at 6 months old…), actually damaged the soil, especially once it became wet after rain.

Saying good bye to P2

I had been hoping that raising the pigs, and selling them for meat would help with funding my market garden setup, but the project was lucky to just break even. This wasn’t helped by my choosing to pay a premium for transport to abattoir, to ensure they were shipped as comfortably and quickly as possible. I thought I was pretty cool and tough about the whole process, until P2 (above) wandered over and sat beside me as I filled his water dish for the last time, and then crooned while I scratched behind his ears.

Was there really any chance they would walk quietly with a collar and lead?!

So, would I do it again? It has been nice to hear the favourable feedback from those who have eaten our tasty pork, and to know that it is being enjoyed all over the place by friends and family, but Andrew and I won’t eat it. We do have two new pigs, shown here (above) with Harriet lifting them into their enclosure. But these miniature variety are not destined for the plate, and more than that, they have been rescued as they were surplus to requirements of a children’s nursery animal business. I am hoping their smaller size will be gentler to the soil whilst still tilling the weeds, and they have names – Calvin and Hobbs. Now that feels better.

More inspiration, this time in Gundaroo

I have an awful lot to learn about market gardening, and who better to teach that subject than Joyce and Michael of Allsun Farm teamed up with the dynamic Milkwood Permaculture.

Tim and Michael in Allsun’s organic garden

Worth every minute of the 2.5 hour commute, their market garden ‘master class’ filled in a lot of the blanks for me. It’s all very well to know how to plant and water a lettuce, but if you want to grow 100’s of them, you also need to know that you should work ambidextrously; force yourself to be just as comfortable digging and raking to the left as you may be to the right to help ensure your body remains symmetrical, and lasts the distance. Valuable stuff.

The lovely Kirsten from Milkwood who ensured our class stayed ‘on track’ and ‘on time’.

Joyce taught a wonderful combination of theory and practical skills, but at the end of the day, each and every one of us hopes to return to our own latitude, climate and soil and adapt those theories and skills to transform them from this….

Joyce demonstrating the simple (?!) process of designing crop rotations.

into something like this…

Allsun’s Organic Farm at Gundaroo

Game on! 🙂

Taking stock

Running our little fresh produce markets at Berry and Shoalhaven Heads each week for the last 4 months has been a great test of my skills in the kitchen. Although I can do all the basics pretty well, and my family is reasonably well nourished, I don’t consider myself a cook.

Vegetable stock in the making

It makes it so much easier to prepare wholesome, tasty offerings though when you have plenty of great, fresh produce to start with. As our market’s customers know well (PLEASE tell me you need broccoli this week??), what we don’t sell, we have to eat. And customers are unpredictable…one week we sell out of bananas, the next we are googling “101 things to make using bananas”!

French toast and pomegranate

And then there’s The Press. If it was on MasterChef, or Kim Kardashian said it was good to eat, we can’t sell enough of it. But this has all been great for widening the repertoire of ingredients I can do something with. Some of the experiments have gone down well, (like pomegranate served with Classic Yoghurt and maple syrup), and others have been a disaster (seriously…does ANYONE know how to do a turnip justice??).

Fennel and english spinach in the Seven Cedars garden

All this learning has been great for giving me ideas as to what I need to plant lots of as my market gardens get going, (kale, beets, english spinnach, fennel), and what I just mean leave for someone else…to grow and to cook!

How to ruin a paddock.

I have been watching this paddock over the last year or so, as I pass by a couple of days a week. It looked to me like a fairly normal sort of pasture, complete with a few grazing horses. But then one day the horses were gone, and it was all black. It had been burnt completely, releasing all that stored carbon into the atmosphere, and destroying all those grass roots so effectively stabilising the soil.

Fireweed is a highly invasive and opportunistic weed native to south eastern Africa. It quickly colonises overgrazed pastures and disturbed areas.

It was then left for months and months, so that rain after rain could remove any topsoil, and leave 10-20 cm deep erosion channels in the sand, running the length of the paddock. The natural progression for this distressed ground was of course for the fireweed to move in. Declared a noxious Weed of National Significance, fireweed has now taken over, flowering beautifully to ensure it continues to spread and flourish all over the South Coast. I presume a herbicide will be sprayed next? This will ensure the soil becomes more acidic, and hostile to the microbes trying to heal it. Sigh.

Can anyone explain why this poor management of the land is allowed to occur? Next week…my neighbour who has Astro Turfed his “nature strip”. Again…sigh.

How old is heirloom?

We celebrated all things unique and special this week, with Deb’s Birthday, heirloom veggies and the wonderful job our heritage pigs are doing preparing the ground for spring. Not sure if Deb would like to be considered ‘heirloom’, but seeing she now has grand-nieces and nephews, I don’t think she’d be too offended by the dictionary definition of, “A valued possession passed down in a family through succeeding generations.”

Deb & Steve – enjoying Ran’s heirloom cherry tomatoes at the Pavilion on Tuesday night.

Heirloom veggies are described as old, open-pollinated and mostly non-hybrid with some suggesting they needed to exist as they are today before 1951 (which Deb certainly didn’t!), or even before the Second World War. Popular not just because they often look interesting and beautiful, but often taste better and are sometimes more pest and disease hardy.

Gorgeous heirloom eggplants ran out the door at last week’s Feast Markets, and will make an appearance again this week.

The exact lineage of Feast Farm’s pair of pigs is somewhat doubtful, but they look like Berkshires to me, which is Britain’s oldest pig breed, originating from Berkshire county (now Oxfordshire).  I’m just thrilled with the job our pair are doing moving the grass at Warwick Park. As well  as preparing the ground, we planted over 40 trees along the Southern fence line line here last Sunday to help create a wind break and bring small birds to the new garden.  Bring on spring!

Pigs at Foxground doing a great job of moving the grass

Purple perfect

Inspired by the first purple cauliflower in Feast Farm’s Seven Cedars garden, we had great fun this week with all edible purples. Pam kindly modeled our display as she was so appropriately dressed!

Pat in Berry with our display of purples…

Like all good fresh fruits and vegetables, these are not only chock-full of vitamins & minerals, but also naturally occurring phytochemicals which are responsible for the rich, vibrant colors of plant foods. Phytochemicals help safeguard the health of plants by protecting them from a variety of environmental toxins and stressors, including insects, ultraviolet radiation from the sun and disease-causing fungi. Scientists believe the beneficial compounds in plants can provide similar protection to the humans who eat them on a regular basis.

Vibrant violet and wet with rain.

Anthocyanins are the particular phyochemical responsible for the vibrant purple colors of ripe blueberries, cherries, black currants, rhubarb, beetroot and eggplants. Apparently, in humans, anthocyanins have been shown to boost levels of brain chemicals that influence memory and learning, promote healthy aging of the eyes, possess potent anti-inflammatory properties useful in the prevention and treatment of arthritis and other degenerative diseases, and a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that anthocyanins have powerful cancer-fighting potential. Wow!.. all those brains and good looks too!