Friday, December 14, 2018

Intro to Organic Gardening

How do you get started in growing your own delicious and healthy organic food? I recently met up with Atune health center to answer this question... Part 1 below, link

Friday, July 8, 2016

A sanctuary for cows and people: New Gokula Farm

The golden gates of New Gokula Farm rise above the rolling green hills at the end of a quiet meandering track through the Hunter Valley. Nestled at the foothills of Pokolbin State forest in Millfield, the farm is a sanctuary to 65 cows, bullocks and calves and home to the Hare Kristna temple of Sri Sri Radha Gokulananda.

We are greeted by quiet, children play in a playground below the main temple, swathed in richly coloured Indian fabrics. There is a heady strong scent and song wafting from the mud brick temple. The sign by the walk to the temple states:
‘Welcome to New Gokula Farm. We are working tirelessly to maintain a sacred, spiritual atmosphere…’ Followed by their requests on how they wish visitors to respect their place.

In the simple temple is an alter with Indian figures made from cloth and richly decorated, a couple of devotees sing, dance and play a tambourine, dressed in their traditional white robes. It is light, joyful.


Photos of resident cows each with a name, most have sponsors that ensure their care is provided for.

The Hunter Organic Growers members and visitors gather in their large hall, an enclosed verandah off the temple. It’s hot outside, the light streams through the many windows. Large dishes of broad beans and their leaves, salads with cheese and a traditional puffed bread of Puris, and rice were served. A lemon drink and cold desserts of sweet rice pudding and a semolina and mulberry dish called Halava. Many of the ingredients were grown less than 100 meters from where we consumed them. Vegetarian food has never been so good!

Kaliya. A man with a thoughtful face pink from the sun wearing a broad brimmed hat speaks about New Gokula. It is a place of diversity, an interactive farm that is not aiming for commercial success but to provide for their needs and a place where people can come to experience their way of life. He stands in front of a wall of photographs proudly displaying their cows like a family album, each with their own name. The cows are supported through a sponsorship program, individuals may select a cow to support. Their fundamental principal is a symbiotic relationship with the cows, a sacred animal in Indian culture. Permaculture shares similar ethics of respect for all living things and the natural course of nature. “It’s a nice pleasure working with cows and the natural environment”.


Kaliya with a resident Rooster

A short walk from the temple is a greenhouse for their sacred Tulsi Ocimum tenuiflorum, a tropical plant. Often described as Holy Basil, it is not actually a basil but is an aromatic plant in the family Lamiaceae native to India. It grows as a many branched sub-shrub, 30–60 cm tall with green or purple leaves. Traditionally it is used as a medicinal plant and an uplifting herbal tea. New Gokula uses it as part of their worship, being considered an elixir of life. They provide plants for Hare Kristna groups in Sydney. Beside the glass house grows a Neem tree also native to India. It’s used as a toothbrush by chewing the twigs, the leaves are eaten as greens. It has significant value as a pest repellent in organic farming practices and for a wide variety of medicinal uses including as an antiseptic, antifungal, antihistamine, and insect repellent, in addition to cosmetic uses and cooking.

Down a gravel lane an orchard, and a field of large cabbages and broad beans that tower above our heads await their harvest. A man with a broad grin and heavy build stands up from behind a wheel barrow. All the goodness of gardening is written on his face.

There is another photographer snapping away. His white robes a contrast to the green pastures. He is eager to chat about photography, where the best places are at the farm to shoot at each time of day, travel and his family. He came from Luxemburg, after travelling in his three month university breaks around Europe and holding slide nights of his photos in cities he visited, sharing his stories. Now with a wife and child he has settled at the farm only this month, working as an educator of the Hare Kristna faith. He has settled.

An elderly cow that doesn't mind all the attention

Here in these fields of plenty cows have a home for life. Four elderly cows rest in the shade of a eucalypt. Two of them came from a neighbour to retire here. They seem unperturbed by the crowd that gathers to pat the friendly chocolate and white milking cow. She sits quietly taking it all in.  Kaliya is asked whether they put them down when life becomes a bit too tough for them. “They're not going to put me down so I won't put them down!” If a cow is in a difficult situation he explains that he’ll limit the feeding and they'll go on their own. They have their cycles of happiness and suffering as we do. They bring as many people as they can to experience the farm and the placid cows. It’s valuable to have assets where people can come and be in nature, see where our food comes from. We've become disconnected from our roots, its better if we live close to our needs. Cows relax you, they're not stressing about what you have to do at 3.45pm!



Seven milking cows currently provide for the dairy, a small building situated above the fields of cultivated for their meals and their vegetarian restaurant in Newcastle. “Milk is very close to the blood” Kaliya reaches inside a fridge and produces a stainless bucket brimming with a thick creamy coloured milk. This is illegal, be very careful. A look of delight and mischief brims in his face. “Doctors use raw milk therapy.” ‘The milk cure’ as it has become known employs milk as a curative agent for disease. The writings of a Colonel McCarrison, a British Army medical officer record the absence of disease seen in a district of India over a nine year period that he observed the locals thrive on a simple diet of vegetables, fruits, and milk and milk products. At the farm they drink lots of milk. A fresh Indian lightly flavoured cheese, Paneer is made by boiling whey with an added souring agent. Butter is made on site by churning yoghurt. Ghee is made by heating butter. A health inspector once asked if they were selling raw milk. “No, our members own these cows, I just milk them.” was Kaliya’s response.

Many thanks to Gaura and Sachi for cooking such a wonderful lunch that was enjoyed by all.

New Gokula Farm publishes a newsletter and website

Friday, March 4, 2016

A gardener's haven in Cardiff

The brick facade peeping out from native shrubbery of Gerda Maeder's home in a quiet Cardiff suburban street gives nothing away. Stepping out the back under a magnificent 20 year old 'roof' of a wisteria, we begin to glimpse the 1.5 acre oasis of food that is Gerda's passion. A swarm of eager visitors fill the courtyard. We are provided with a safety induction... mind the edge of the deck that's yet to be finished by my husband, there's a bath of water over there in case of fire or emergency... Oh and that's the cubby... a substantial hideaway emerging from a tangle of beautiful vines. This is a labour of love, quirks and anything goes, there are no rules here!

A long snake like form hangs from a pergola. New guinea bean, eaten like  zucchini, Gerda harvests one and shares it among those of us willing to try this strange fruit.... it could feed a small village. Lake Cardiff, as the frog pond is affectionately known, greets us at the bottom of a hand crafted timber stair, the entry to the garden. Chooks scratch in a home made coop, a mesh of wire, tin and recycled bits put to good use. A coffee tree - please take some berries as they are a labour to prepare. Miracle fruit grows in a thicket of trees, it changes your taste buds to make sour foods taste sweet! Over a central pathway of railway sleepers and gravel that adds some structure the garden slopes down into a wild concave of lush growth. A goat picks over the neighbors fence at a tree stump, climbing. There is the unsuccessful cherry tree that is going to be cut down as it is shading the grove of citrus. A fragrant lemon myrtle tree, beautiful for tea grows in the orchard, a close grouping of anything edible.  Pipino is a little bit weedy, a ground cover vine related to tomatoe, the solencae family. She removes the fruit to protect from fruit fly in summer, it's left to mature the rest of the year. 'I try to grow as many natives as possible as they attract beneficial insects"... even in the orchard. This is a working garden, although she made an effort to make it showy for the HOGs visit, it's beauty is in its wildness... tamarillos... lemonades... pomello tree... the unsuccessful hazelnut....yacon... tomatoes... roses... Everything imaginable grows here.

At the bottom of the gully, beyond the impressive stand of bamboo, a creek flanked by tree ferns and native sandpaper figs, winds through. Beyond is the bush area where with the help of garden deisgner Maree, they are trying to regenerate as many of the current natives and out compete the weeds. A solid strategy is needed to win the battle against lantana and more. All ground covers and vines are removed so trees can be mowed around. They saved what they could eg remanat dianella. Lantana and vine weeds are turned into mulch, a method working to increase manageability of morning glory and jap honey suckle. It will take a few more years for the natives to establish. Wattle seed has been thrown around and native indigofera planted, indigenous to the area. ...birds are coming... 100 have been counted by a neighbour. Gerda says that is is really good to have an expert help you, Maree has assisted with plant selection and placement. However it's still a challenge to balance, neighbors at the rear were concerned about the bush close to their homes, therefore they keep a firebreak. The adjacent reserve has a lantana infestation that they continue to work to keep at bay. The creek fills with run off causing a  torrent after rain. It's constantly changing, new pools and patterns to it's banks forming with the weather. The neighbors have a goat for weed control. And then there is the native bush food... anniseed and cinnamon myrtle. .. bush tucker sandpaper figs...plums... munch munch as we walk back up the hill, over the hand crafted steps with a last glance back at lake cardiff and an urban oasis.

Thank you to Gerda for welcoming HOGs and welcome to all our new visitors and to the Newcastle Urban Gardeners Meetup group:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Visit to a blueberry and garlic farm: Bob's Farm Berries

Tucked away in the bush on the Nelson Bay plains is Bob's Farm Berries. They specialise in growing southern highbush and rabbiteye varieties of blueberries, that thrive in the local acid sandy soils, in addition to raspberries, youngberries, boysenberries, strawberries, and garlic. David and his wife bought the small bush plot with good friends of theirs who also built a home there, making the move to acerage affordable. Most of the block has been preserved in it's natural state, with perhaps an acre cleared around their home. I visited their place with Hunter Organic Grower's Society last month.

organic blueberry farm
Blueberries grown organically at Bob's Farm

Growing since 2008, David is a wealth of knowledge on blueberries. They selected the Southern Highbush, which has 2 kg crop, a lower yield than their other main variety, Rabbit Eye which grows to over 3 meters, producing a heavy yield of 3-4 kg.  Misty Blue is one of their most successful varieties, Powder Blue is the personal favourite. The plants require constant moisture, 25 mm rain in autumn, and at fruiting time 40mm per week,  with daily watering. The ideal Ph of their water is 5.5, the soil can be as low as 5 or for some varieties even lower. They find certified organic bagged fertilizer, such as Super Organic Growth by Ktec, yields consistent results. If you're fertilising your berries at home use cow not chook manure, as they require a low phosphate input. They also apply zeolite (natural rock mineral) for holding water (Red Rock Booster), use the coarse variety to avoid dust inhalation. The bushes take 4 years to reach maturity and are kept pruned at eye level for easy management. The DPI recommends that plants are replaced every 8 yrs, but David feels if the plants are well managed they should be good for 50 yrs plus. One of the problems blueberries can have is lime induced chlorrosis, if the Ph is too high. Yellowed leaves with green veins is evidence of this which can be solved by application of sulphur.

growing garlic farm
Garlic growing in eucalyptus leaf mulch

garlic farm tour
Hunter Organic Growers touring Bob's Farm Blueberries

Their garlic plot is modest, perhaps only 100 - 200m2, but yields a good crop. David grows the Australian purple  and Giant Russian variteies. Harvest for all crops is in Oct- Dec, with farm gate sales on Fridays during these months. 5000 bulbs were planted this year, he knocks out 500 per hour with his homemade multiple prong garlic planter. To grow garlic they require good levels of sulphur in the soil, apply with lime, plant twice the depth of the bulbs in string line rows, apply chicken manure. Use crop rotation to guard against build up of pests in the soil. Nematodes can be an issue, so don't rotate with solencea, however pumpkins and sunflowers are ideal (because their nice to look at says David). To mulch he uses what he has in abundance, leaf mulch from the surrounding bushland.

steam weed killer
Organic weed control using a steamer
Organic methods of weed control can be high tech. David whipped out his impressive piece of technology, a steam weeder, and gave us a demo on the power of steam to curtail the invading growth of buffalo grass. Using either a close or open head on the end of a long handle, the machine is used a bit like a vaccume cleaner, run over the grass edges of the rows to kill off the invaders.

Most of their produce is sold at the farm gate, including Asian tourists buying up big quantities of garlic to ship home with them (Australia must be producing good stuff!). You can visit their farm gate on Fridays from 2pm (Dec - Jan), Saturday from 2pm (when stock available), 3479 Nelson Bay Road, Bobs Farm, NSW.

A big thanks to David and his wife for welcoming us to their farm.

Attend a field day with Hunter Organic Growers Society, guests welcome:
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