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.

MVV@

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.

MVV1

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.

resized

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.

MVV#

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…!

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. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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.

Feb 2014 116 (640x541)

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.

Picture 005 (640x571)

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???

Feb 2014 136 (480x640)

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?

Feb 2014 137 (640x480)

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!

Feb 2014 140 (480x640)

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.
Feb 2014 143 (640x480)

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.

IMG_3248 (640x480) (2)

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

IMG_3228 (480x640)

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.

IMG_3257 (480x640) (2)

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.

IMG_3258 (640x480)

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.

IMG_3264 (640x480)

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.

IMG_3269 (640x480)

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.

IMG_3282 (480x640)

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.

IMG_3286 (640x480)

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

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.