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

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.

Spring is sprung

Travelling through Exeter in the Southern Highlands on the weekend, the signs are very clear that nature just wants to get growing.

Daffodils herald spring by a gatepost in Exeter

Longer, warmer days mean it’s time to stop dreaming, planning and talking, and get to work. Whilst the established gardens look amazing out the front at Warwick Park in Foxground, the land to the back where my pigs have been busy preparing soil all winter, is a blank canvas waiting for the brush (or the seedlings and tines in this instance!)

The beautiful spring garden at Warwick Park in Foxground

The pigs can’t take all the credit for this fabulous preparation though. My wonderfully clever Andrew has been having fun with a little walk-behind tiller for which he designed and built a bed-forming attachment.

Ready, set, go….planting time!


I also have to confess to meeting Nicko. For months Kerry has talked about Nicko…”Nicko will fix that pipe/fence/bridge.” Then one day two weeks ago I met the amazing Nicko. “How would you like me to go over this with my tractor and tiller?” he said. Now, the pigs have been great, but they are s-l-o-w. So Nicko worked his magic with his mechanical horse, and the cost? “A couple of cauliflowers when they’re ready will do”. Wow. I just love living ’round here.

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!

My how you’ve grown.

Deciding to move to Gerringong in January 2007, we chose a block with a new-ish house and a backyard that had been completely ‘untouched’. The back fence was hidden in blackberries and lantana, and the lawn was basically remnant dairy paddock grasses barely covering the red clay soil.

23 January 2008

One year later, the food garden had been laid out, and over the years it has been wonderfully productive despite periods of ‘life too busy’ neglect, two new puppies, little boy’s birthday parties and escaped chooks. Lots of failed experiments and bucket loads of learning later, and it’s time to find some more space…

23 January 2012