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:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Open Garden: Our Permaculture Backyard

Three years ago we scratched up a plan for a permaculture garden that would provide a family of 2 - 4 an abundance of food, medicine, & craft supplies, plus room for the horse. Last month we had the pleasure of sharing our garden at it's first public opening. It's not complete, but what garden is!

Open Permaculture garden Hunter Organic Growers Society

Having a productive garden is a joy to watch it grow, learn about the plants that provide for us, and eat fresh nutritious produce. Inviting others into our little paradise is such an absolute pleasure, the buzz of people as they are excited by ideas for their own garden, I don't think a garden is complete until it's shared. We learned more about our plants. The large grey green grasses in our cottage garden which I'd found growing along a bush track, assuming they were 'native', I thought I'd extend the native habitat. Maree discovered that they are in fact from the paspalum family and a notifiable weed! So I've already purchased some suitable native replacements that also aren't spreading, of the same lovely colour.

the cottage styled native and herb garden 
paths of crushed ryolite a byproduct of quarrying


Our garden was designed to maximise growing space by careful layout of growing beds, minimising paths whilst allowing access for harvest to everything. We found a key hole design (typical of permaculture) in our vegie and cottage garden achieved this. Our orchard is very compact of dwarfing deciduous varities (apricot, peaches, quince, cherry, pear, apples), placed on the west side of our vegie garden shading it from the harsh western sun in summer. The tropical fruits (bananas, curry tree, mango, sapote, ice-cream bean) are located on the south of the orchard, with a duck pond to their north to create a warm humid microclimate. Space saving ideas include espaliered trees on the vegie fence, running poultry in the orchard, and growing pumpkins over a net above the vegie garden for shade during summer. We use vertical space (vertical gardens on the backyard fence, shade trelises of choko).

Permaculture is about sustainable design methods for production inspired by nature. For example our mandala vegetable patch is made up of eight pie shaped yards which our rotating chicken house (a recycled timber house mounted on an old hills hoist) lets our chickens access each yard as part of a 3 - 4 month crop rotation, fertilising and hoeing the bed for the next crop. All our beds are planted as a 2 week mixed supply of food, not in single species beds (this confuses the pests!). Visit the full article on our vegie plot design: Mandala Chook Clock Garden

Over 200 plant varieties (maybe 300!) grace our garden (and counting). Yacon, coconut geranium, qld arrowroot, citronella grass, elder, yam, wild oregano, marshmallow, brahmi...... Each is selected specifically to do at least two jobs, therefore maximising the yield of our land. For example mulberries offer human, stock and poultry food, placed so each animal can self harvest. Additionally the leaves are a natural stock wormer, the berries produce a wonderful food dye, and it shades our vegetable patch from the western sun. We also use many of our gardens plants as natural dyes: apples, elder, madder, lady's bedsraw, eucalyptus, comfrey, rhubarb etc... And our herbs offer medicine: wild oregano, rosemary, marshmallow, brahmi, penny wort, etc....

We love our garden, it provides for us in so many ways, but best of all is that it's ever changing, evolving and nourishing us.

home bred japense bantam x araucana

home made labels from aluminium cans embossed with a pen
vertical garden: pot plants hung in shoe fabric holders

chokos growing on a trellis made from the arms of an old hills hoist

poultry proof pond (up high beyond reach) in the stainless steel lining from a commercial oven

pots given new height in old chimney flues

raised bed for garlic in an off cut from a ventilation shaft, a road side find

shade for the new art studio from a grape vine

one way of remedying excess water run off, turn it into a feature. our 'dry' creek bed that channels rain into the duck pond for a self cleaning system

a peek at some of the results of dying fabrics with plants from our garden

Come along to a field day:

Monday, March 9, 2015

Urban Hum - A backyard beekeeping program

In 2014 I visited the curious backyard of Kelly Lees in Mayfield, Newcastle, NSW with the Hunter Organic Grower's Society...

urban bee keeping, hive, honey
Kelly Lees in her inner city Newcastle backyard with 9 or so hives

Sweet honey.... is in fact not pollen or nectar, but bee vomit. Across Newcastle this fact seems to be having no impact on the ground swell of urban bee keeping. Bringing sustainability to the suburbs by feeding and pollinating local gardens, Urban Hum is at the heart of creating a truly local food source, all be it of vomit. 

An initiative of Kelly Lees of Mayfield, it began for this self proclaimed insect nerd, in her small backyard. On Hunter Organic Growers visit in September approximately ten hives hummed to the tune of urban bliss, so naturally it’s no surprise that Kelly outsourced additional hives to new hosts in the Newcastle region. 24 hives call home in 24 locations within a 20km radius of Newcastle, keeping her busy with the bees particularly in spring time when the hives are split to make more.

A swarm of bees is in fact not dangerous, as they are in a delirious state after gorging on honey.... somewhat like a Saturday night out for some? If you see a swarm call a bee keeper, as they are in search of a new home. In this state they begin to waggle dance as they vote on the location of a new hive (the more vigorous the waggle, the better the local food source). Kelly demonstrated the splitting of a hive, how to calm them with smoke (it’s not known why this works but don’t be in a bad mood when bee keeping, they’ll pick up your vibe via your pheromones and get nasty!), and how to construct a super ready for honey ‘growing’.  And of course what we were all waiting for (at least until I discovered the true nature of honey) the tasting of the bee vomit and honey comb! Yum, yum! The flavours vary with the seasons and are infinitely complex, no doubt a trademark of the variety of forage available in the urban landscape.

Kelly Lees talks about her passion for beekeeping
Bees are a fascinating creature.... when bees move to a new hive the guards give them an all over crew cut (chewed, not with scissors) and after their spring clean are let into the hive.... the workers not the Queen are in control of the hive and decide when a new Queen shall be hatched....hives must only be moved at a meter per day or they lose their positioning (GPS gone haywire), unless they are moved beyond a 3km radius.... 

Keeping your own hive is a wonderful addition to the organic garden and a great way to support these pollinators that are crucial to our food production. 

Visit for more info on how you can be a part of this project.

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