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…!

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.

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! 🙂