Dec 07

2018 Recap: Time to Remediate the Farmer

Jeez, it is hard to believe we have ended up at this time of the year already! I have to admit I am exhausted and by the sounds around the sticks so are a lot of you. So I think I am going to start wrapping up the year, have some downtime and start planning out the 2019 season! I haven’t had a day off since beginning this journey 3 years ago and am feeling in need a of a refreshing beverage while reading a book maybe even with the sounds of flowing water.

What an absolute whopper of year it has been in all reality, we really had to dig deep this year and do a bit of soul searching to see how much this whole small-scale regenerative agriculture would fit into our future. I am glad we did, as an old saying I like to tell myself goes ‘you can only appreciate the peak of the mountain when it is viewed from the depth of valley’. I think in the heat of the moment, when the body and mind are exhausted the only answer seems to be to give up, and in my honest opinion that is how we have ended in this predicament of a period.  Where the information on our world and populace is an ever increasing barrage to the senses and the feeling of despair due to an inability to collaborate and create feasible change has become the icy depths of the Marianas Trench. Well hopefully we will all be able to change that!

I am finishing off a book that I have been developing over the past 2 and a half years. I am hoping that it will be a companion in the backyard and give the confidence to all those who read it to go out and start creating effective ecological changes in their own backyards. I believe that if we are able to all give each other a helping hand and pat on the back the wheels of change become one we can embrace rather than fear.

We have also nearly finished work on the conceptual design for the Food Connect Vertical Gardens! This has been a momentous effort and has been a project which has really stretched the educational and experiential understandings we had on what it means to incorporate gardens in the city. We wanted it to be a soil based unit which still captures and facilitates the natural processes found within open environments and design it in a modular way which would allow anybody with some basic wood working skills to start incorporating natural environments in a multitude of city spaces. We might be able to see some development begin next year if they accept the concept and if not then it will be an absolute pleasure to see people incorporate city changing designs on their balconies, walls, industrial precincts and every other bland concrete monolith that could benefit from a bit of ‘Green Graffiti’.

Highlights

  • This year we had 680m2 under cultivation, we sold 1017.6kg of produce to you! The best locavores in Brisbane, it is people like yourselves who are creating the future platform of ethical consumption through being conscious of your spending habits.
  • We sold produce for 51 weeks of the year.
  • We completed all the market garden work with hand tools, no machinery was employed this year within the plots.
  • We completed all the harvest and preparation of the produce by hand. The only thing not completed by hand was delivering the produce by car.
  • There was no petroleum used in our production this year!
  • The Health Mix appears to be a well loved salad! This makes me incredibly happy 🙂 with a whopping 270kgs eaten by our local community!
  • I was a full-time farmer and stay at home dad for the entire year.
  • My wife was my biggest supporter. She reentered the workforce this year and has kept our family and the farm going forward. It would be highly likely that we wouldn’t be operating at any sort of capacity without the sacrifices she has made.
  • Our local fair food distribution hub, Food Connect, managed to crowd fund through the community $2.2 million dollars to buy their warehouse and continue creating major changes to our local food system. That is massive! As a community we stood up and took back a small section of our community commons, a slice of our food system!!
  • We began our business to business composting initiative with Food Connect and have composted 240L of food waste destined for landfill.
  • 1% of our organic waste was disposed of offsite, 99% was reincorporated back into our soil 🙂
  • Our onsite inputs from organic fertilizers have reduced by 55%.
  • Our onsite inputs from onsite ferments, brews and teas have increased by 200%.
  • Our yield through winter got up to 3.2kg per m2 an increase of 45% on last year.
  • Our yields through summer are around 2.2kg per m2, an increase of 60% on last summer.
  • Our onsite waste at the start of the year was averaging 25% and we are now down to an average of 11%.
  • We have developed a weekly ordering and production system which has been one of the core foundations to reducing our weekly waste.
  • Our onsite topsoil growth is nearing 7-10cm, this has been one of the core foundations to increasing and maintaining weekly yields.
  • We had our first bumper fruit harvest of nectarines, mulberries, bananas and passionfruit from the orchard and had our first resident fruit bat live under the fruit nets and eat its daily fill, much to Eli’s delight. We also had our first pears, apples and mangoes.
  • The website section Eat Your Yard www.naturecycle.com.au/eat-your-yard/ has become a base platform to begin the journey of becoming a Market Gardener
  • The blog www.naturecycle.com.au/wordpress has become an interactive space among the wider world community! It has been a great confidence building platform and I look forward to delving into some deeper conversations next year.
  • A special mention and big thank you to my wife’s parents, Sam and Elle, for allowing us to have a market garden on their property. Who without none of this would have happened.
  • A special mention and big thank you to the community members who consistently supported our market garden, sending us photos of your dazzling kitchen delights and bountiful backyards.
  • A special mention and big thank you to the Ipswich Good Food Group for all your support and for being our local food cooperative. Just through the Ipswich Good Food Group we have managed to put nearly 400kgs of produce through the Ipswich community since our relationship first blossomed!
  • A special mention and big thank you to all the team at Food Connect, who despite having a constantly full plate, always share in the abundance of information and community. We now have a platform of confidence and data to rely on thanks to the collaborative relationship we have been able to grow!

So thank you, all of you! I am looking forward to cracking a refreshing beverage and reminiscing on the year past and planning for the year ahead. Viva!

Oct 14

Regenerative Farming: The Grassroots Plight for People and the Planet

Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting inside the delightful setting of Wandering Cooks to share in an open conversation on one of the poignant topics of our current day. It was surreal to be in a room of like minded people to hear from some of Brisbane and Australia’s biggest names in food systems change talk about the issues, the journey and the solutions to one of our most fundamental and ancient practices, agriculture. The question put forward was ‘Are Farmers the new Environmentalists?’ and I believe the speakers put forth a strong case on why that is becoming the necessary role for the modern farmer and why it is integral that we all play our part in facilitating these farmers.

Dr. Charles Massey, renowned author of Breaking the Sheeps Back and Call of the Reed Warbler presented his information on the deficits created by the current industrial systems and how regenerative practices have remediated Australian farms and Australian farmers. Drawing from over 35 years of experience in the field from starting as a naive industrial farmer with dead soils before becoming an ecologist and radically changing his onsite practices. His book Call of the Reed Warbler is effectively a field guide on how to utilize regenerative practices and the benefits that can be expected using first hand experiences of Australian farmers, I highly recommend reading it. For me it was an enjoyable reaffirmation of the interconnections between soils health, plant nutrition and overall human health, the knowledge that our practices are constantly affecting our current and future standard of living. As Charles mentioned, ‘the paradigm in agriculture of today is that we are still repeating the same practices and seeing the same results, farmers with dust bowls can be neighbours with someone utilizing regenerative practices who still have 2.5cm of green pasture in the current drought and won’t ask why!’.

What is Regenerative Farming?

So for the people who aren’t familiar with the concept of Regenerative Farming, it is the utilization of practices which rehabilitate the onsite natural systems of a farm to benefit the local and wider ecosystem, basically acknowledging that we are part of a living system and facilitating the processes of the living system to produce the healthiest environment for our needs. Keeping in mind that humans are a major factor of the ecosystem, this also means the rehabilitation of the farmer to realign with the natural systems and regenerate the wider community. To me this is irrelevant of scale, it can be from a balcony garden, to a 1000 hectare farm, to the entirety of a cities limits and is why this is the Plight for the People, as Ray from Symara Farms put it ‘Eating is an Agricultural Act, so any person who eats participates in the agricultural system’. Regardless of whether we want to acknowledge our participation or not we all play a role, I think it is a positive thing as it means we all have a place within the system, we are all able to help each other achieve a better socio-economic platform and we can all facilitate an environment worth handing over.

The Basic Principals of Regenerative Farming:

  • No herbicide, pesticide, fungicide use
  • No synthetic fertilizer use
  • Regenerate onsite topsoils
  • Increase onsite biodiversity
  • Improve onsite water cycles
  • Enhance the overall ecosystem
  • Improve the health of the local community

The Community of Regenerative Farming

Now we have the research backing the practices, we have the farmers utilizing the practices and as consumers we have awareness that this is facilitating positive change for the wider community, but how do we achieve wider access to the agricultural products which ensure these practices are able to continue expanding? Well that is where we are fortunate here in Brisbane to have the keystone foundation for access to local agriculture, Food Connect. Robert Pekin and Emma-Kate of the Food Connect Foundation and the hard working team of Food Connect Brisbane have facilitated the connection between local farmers and the fresh food community of Brisbane for over 16 years, this community has been the grassroots push to maintain ethical practices on local farms which provide healthy, nutrient rich food to the community while ensuring a fair payment which allows the farmer to continue building a healthy environment. By participating in a weekly produce box you are supporting 80 farmers within a 500km radius of Brisbane to keep following the path of ethical growing. You are supporting the growth of local production and ensuring the future of Brisbane’s food remains local, which is vitally important, because if we are to regain and maintain trust within our agricultural system we need it to be transparent and we need to be able to access it. Funnily enough this system is known as Community Supported Agriculture and is literally where the community supports the growth of the agricultural practices which they think benefits their community the most. It gives confidence to the farmers who are providing the best practice to continue and mitigates the detrimental practices by lowering the economic standard of the farms utilizing them. This is a proven successful model the world over for regaining community trust in local farmers while rebuilding an ethical agricultural system and Food Connect are offering this on a city wide scale. They are also in the midst of crowd sourcing investor owners from the community to buy the hub they currently reside in, they want over 400 women in the local community to form the base which will carry Food Connect into the future. If you are a person who feels a bit helpless against the big multi corps which dictate farming practices, land usage and farmer livelihood then this is a powerful community to be a part of as your dollar and participation speaks a volume which the people up top listen too.

This is our time, this is our battle, it is time to link arms and go forth as the platform of change and regenerate the future we want to facilitate!!

To read more on local food systems and sustainability initiatives, check out:

Oct 09

The Health Mix: Fueling more than Aesthetics

One question I’m often asked is why we called our signature salad mix the Health Mix? Why not a Gourmet Salad Mix or a Petal Salad? This in all honesty would probably make more sense from a marketing perspective, as I imagine people would type salad mix or gourmet mix much more regularly than Health Mix into search engines. While I appreciate the general business need for appealing to the customer, creating an engaging marketing strategy and streamlining the entire business operations to be completely engaged in sales, I also appreciate the personal need for self expression, growing a product which engages the local community and allowing the produce to represent itself as a valuable source of dietary nutrition. However, we do live in a period of time where dietary nutrition is being fast put by the way side, one of the more intriguing trends I have noticed through the Health Mix, is how much more value people put into the aesthetic quality of produce and meals over the nutritional value and growing methods and conditions which put it on the plate; we now seem to eat with our eyes more than ever! It is as though the amount of social engagement produce or a meal gets meets a greater need than the need of a healthy diet with high nutritional value.

What is so Healthy about the Health Mix?

The Health Mix came about as part of our growing journey, in hindsight it almost feels that it created itself and I was just lucky enough to put the elements together. The basis for the mix actually started about 4 years ago while Jamie was pregnant with Eli, I remember Jamie being unable to eat for about 9 weeks and surviving on a diet of water, milk, and crackers and cheese. It ended up causing quite a lot of stress as at the same time Eli was struggling to grow in the womb and we were put on a regular check up list with the big possibility of going in for an early C-Section and Eli coming as a premature birth. At the time all of this was going on I was busily trying to figure out how to change our diets, food sources and jam pack nutrients into every possible meal. We had already come across the organic methods of production and had limited as much industrial produce as possible to mitigate the amounts of agricultural chemicals entering our diets but none of this is effective if you can’t actually eat the food that is available. While I was researching away I re-found a series of research papers which focuses on the extraordinary longevity and overall health of 5 geographic areas in the world, now termed as ‘The Blue Zones’ (1). These ideals and way of living struck a new found chord within me and I finally found a purpose and potentially a way to build a better lifestyle for both my family and my community. Dan Buettner, the author of The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons to Living Longer from the People who’ve Lived the Longest, provides a list of 9 similar traits and lessons that the 5 Blue Zones have in common through their lifestyle, these are

  1. Moderate, regular physical activity.
  2. Life purpose.
  3. Stress reduction.
  4. Moderate caloric intake.
  5. Plant-based diet.
  6. Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine.
  7. Engagement in spirituality or religion.
  8. Engagement in family life.
  9. Engagement in social life.

The plant-based diet (here we are talking about a diet where the majority of food consumed is sourced from plants) is the one that I will focus on as this is the basis of the Health Mix and is the most fundamental lesson and well studied section that can be given by these cultures as personal diet has large inferences to the health and lifestyle of aging individuals. One of the larger studies conducted on 72,113 nurses by Heidemann and colleagues showed that subjects who followed a predominantly Prudent Diet (high consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, fish, poultry, and whole grains) vs. a Western diet (high consumption of red meat, processed meat, refined grains, french fries, sweets, and desserts) had 17% lower risk of overall mortality, 28% lower risk of Cardio Vascular Disease and 30% lower mortality from non Cardio Vascular Disease, non cancer causes (2).

The other significant factor that links the populations of the Blue Zones is their high consumption of a variety of herbs, particularly Sage, Rosemary and Oregano (3). Herbs in particular are being linked to beneficial mental health later in age and are gaining recognition in their uses for treatments against mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s (4). This is actually why I consider the Health Mix to be healthy; it has a high content of mixed herbs mixed with an assortment of nutrient dense leaves.

What makes the Health Mix?

The Health Mix is made up of 4 parts, 1 part Sweet Lettuce, 1 part Bitter Greens and Mixed Leaves, 1 part Assorted Herb Mix and 1 part Edible Petals. To ensure diversity in the leaves we grow 7 varieties of lettuce throughout the various seasons for the sweet lettuce, the Bitter Greens and Mixed Leaves contains a rotating variety of Asian Greens, Spicy Greens, Chards, Kales, Nasturtium and any leaves that I want to grow but don’t have a market for, the Herb Mix contains a huge variety usually Sages, Oregano, Mints, Chives, Parsley, Dill, Coriander, Basils, Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena, and the Edible Petals usually contains Carnations, Nasturtiums, Roses, Borage, Geranium, Calendula, Garland and Clover. So hopefully now you can begin to understand why it is the Health Mix, sure it is a gourmet mix and it does have petals but I am trying to ensure a rounded dose of high quality nutrition which is able to meet our physical and mental needs, by seasonally rotating a variety of crops through biologically active soils. This is what I think the prominent factor is when growing produce and eating food  .

References

  1. Buettner, Dan (2012-11-06). The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic Books. ISBN9781426209499.
  2. Heidemann C, Schulze MB, Franco OH, van Dam RM, Mantzoros CS, Hu FB. Dietary patterns and risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in a prospective cohort of women. Circulation. 2008;118;230 –237
  3. https://www.bluezones.com/exploration/ikaria-greece/
  4. Dos Santos-Neto, L. L., de Vilhena Toledo, M. A., Medeiros-Souza, P., & de Souza, G. A. (2006). The Use of Herbal Medicine in Alzheimer’s Disease—A Systematic Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 3(4), 441–445. http://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nel071

Oct 06

Insect Hotels: Beneficial Backyard Building or Following Fads?

Our onsite critter cabin has seen through its first winter so I thought we could go through and decide if it is just a trendy piece of junk placed together in an aesthetically pleasing manner which would have provided more use on the fire or if it was actually something which was utilized by our backyard friends and more so benefited our backyard friends!

To see how I built this Chitin Chateau and how you can build one, check out Insect Hotels for Deft and Dangerous.

Personally I am quite surprised that anything decided to take up residents as every 4-6 weeks the Foreman would pull it apart, or maybe that made the stay more enjoyable as there was a consistently rotating view, I dunno.

We had a few species frequent the rooms and it was quite an interesting experiment to watch the coming and goings throughout the past few months. The 4.5mm holes where predominantly taken up residents by ants and spiders. Both of which offered quite an interesting insight into the lives of the species, the ants in particular where fascinating as they created their various rooms. They are very methodological in their approach and place their feeding and egg chambers in an efficient layout while maintaining a safe position constantly rearranging as the light and temperature changes.

The 10mm holes where filled with the species we were trying to attract! Of the 25 10mm holes we placed into the Chitin Chateau, 14 were overwintered in. We were lucky enough to have boarders from both the Bee and Wasp families, which were the two main species we wanted to attract. The Mud Dauber and Potter Wasp were the prominent wasp species that interacted with the Bug Hotel, I unfortunately didn’t get to capture the hatching but it was a delight to watch the adult building the nests. Both the Mud Dauber and the Potter Wasp are quite common in the backyards of Brisbane and are a valuable asset for the backyard grower. Both are a solitary wasp, which mitigates the stinging swarm which chases you upon being disturbed, the Mud Dauber prey on spiders (1) while the Potter Wasp prey primarily on caterpillars which they place inside cells in their nests for the growing young (2).  We attracted 2 bee species, the first of which I thought was a Mason Bee, but it turns out they aren’t prominent within Australia so I am tentatively resting on a type of Resin Bee. The second (which at the beginning I mistook for a very strangely shaped fly) appeared to be the Domino Cuckoo Bee. This was quite a phenomenal sighting for me as I haven’t knowingly come across either these species before! The domino cuckoo bee is a parasitic bee who lays its eggs within the chambers of other bee species such as the Carpenter Bee and the Teddy Bear Bee where the Cuckoo larvae hatches earlier than the resident bee and eats all the food provisions before the resident bee can hatch (3).

So all in all, I think quite a success and will be putting this under the Beneficial Building category! I hope you can enjoy some crafting time and build some homely nesting spaces for your backyard friends!

Here is the link so you can build one for your backyard! Check out Insect Hotels for Deft and Dangerous.

Oct 05

Spring Planting for the Budding Brisbane Grower

As the weather is warming up, the daylight hours are extending and moisture is forming in the skies above it is always a time that calls for me to be in the great outdoors. What better way to start the outdoor adventures than by spending time in the garden, reaping the rewards of a backyard bounty! I have just planted out my first spring and summer rotation so I figured why not do up a small cropping schedule for my fellow Brisbane budding brown-thumbs to enjoy some delicious home harvest through the Spring and into Summer.

Preparing the Bed

Most people who ask me about planting are also setting up their crop beds and growing area, so I will begin with preparing the soil for growing. Regardless of whether you are utilizing raised beds or planting directly into the soil, preparing the growing medium will be relatively similar. Just about all garden soils need a big boost of organic matter and a go to for organic matter is some mushroom compost, aged cow and chicken manure mixed through the onsite soil (this breaks down into a nice nutrient holding loam). For the final amendments (top dressing, mixed through) adding rooster booster, seamungus, a handful of rock mineral dust and a microbe activator should be sufficient. Now it is hard to give an overarching soil remediation program as every backyard is slightly different, Brisbane has 4 main soil types alone, however this should see you through the next 10-12 weeks of growing and harvesting.

If you would like to read more on preparing the soil medium, be sure to check out:

  1. Understanding Soils in the Backyard
  2. DIY Nutrient Ferments

Crop Selection

For plant selections it will be beneficial to create a diverse cropping system as it will allow continuous harvesting through the season and plants can be ripped and replaced as they come to the end of their life cycle continuing the harvest. Adding some beneficial bug attracting flowers will maintain a healthy ecosystem while giving the garden space a pop of color, the plants we have selected here are also edible so you can enjoy them in your spring salads.  Some sure fire winners for this time of year are:

15 Crops for Spring and Summer Planting in Brisbane

  • Cherry tomato
  • Capsicum
  • Chili
  • Cos
  • Swiss Chard
  • Rosella
  • Radish
  • Beets
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Beans
  • Zucchini
  • Marigold (use marigold tenuifolia as the petals can be used in salads)
  • Alyssum,
  • Nasturtium

To read more about biodiversity in the backyard and find some projects, be sure to check out:

  1. Befriending Beneficial Bugs and Building Biodiversity
  2. DIY Worm Farm Bin
  3. DIY Composting for the Backyard Gardener
  4. Bokashi Composting for the Backyard Gardener
  5. Insect Hotels for the Deft and Dangerous
  6. What is Bio-intensive Growing?

Considerations

So a few things to think about is most crops we grow are European they prefer 6 hours of morning sunlight with a north facing position. Do not worry though, it can be easily worked with! Setting up a shade structure from some reo-bars staked into the ground and PVC pipe hooped over the bed creates ample shading from the harsh UV and temperatures we get coming into summer. Planting a crop like Turmeric and Rosella along the western boundary of the growing area will also provide some shade from the afternoon sun. Brisbane gardens through the Spring and Summer season suffer largely from evaporation and rapid degradation of soil structure, so getting the soil rich in organic matter and mulching over as much open soil as is feasible mitigates much of the harsh climate, also try set up a permanent sprinkler which is easy to turn on and off. Otherwise, happy planting!!