The Season Ahead

Hello to all the wonderful people and friends I’ve met along the way in my journey of becoming an organic berry farmer.

A video if you’d prefer to listen & watch

It could be easy to think that the works starts now with the furious growing of new life, but winter is where the action has been and the spring time is when the warmth and sunshine push the growth up from underground to take in what the sunlight delivers.

This time of the year is important for the development of leaves with the strawberries we’ve planted in Autumn and Winter.  Hardly anything happens when you plant these little runners in the ground and look at your fields for months wondering how you’re going to go for the next season. 

You get impatient, looking at the weather, the clouds, the warmth in the air, how much more frost are we expecting, until the right moment occurs.  Days over 15c.  That’s what we need to warm up the ground enough to wake up them up and say – it’s time.

We start by giving them trace elements that we know are needed to help start the growing cycle.  We need to wait until the weather is warm enough, we need to apply in very small, minute amounts, and we need to be patient with nature. The minerals and nutrients we’ve given them over the last month, just as the warmth started, sees leaf growth.

It starts off with a few small leaves bursting from each plant, a couple of flowers, often lost due to the still, frosty mornings we get until as late as November.

Then when the stars are aligned, the nutrition is on point, larger leaves appear. The flowers still grow but what we’re looking for is large shiny leaves.

Large, shiny, healthy leaves – we’re on the right track

The large, shiny leaves tell us that they’re ok with how they’re being fed, and, plenty of photosynthesis happening.  It’s a fancy word for the conversion of energy from the plant leaves to the roots. That’s what we need to produce great fruit because it’s the conversion of the sunshine received through the leaves that helps the roots grow and reach the other nutrients in the soil that don’t move far. 

Just imagine, it’s like all the goodies are here but you’re going to have to get to them yourself, at the right time when you need it, so sometimes you’ll need nutrients to build up muscles, and sometimes you need nutrients that help you get through a long walk or race.

The amazing conversion between the sunshine and the plant roots is something that always amazes me.  When I read up about what makes a successful strawberry field, there is so much detail available for me to follow.   I look at the size of the leaves, how shiny they are, the colour, is there any discolouration around the edges, the amount of leaves on a plant and that will dictate how much fruit the plant is able to grow, and grow out to be a mature, ready to pick fruit.

Fruit will only be as good as it’s lowest important mineral.  For example, if I have 100 things, I need to have right, to get the perfect sweet strawberry, and I miss out on getting the calcium levels right, it won’t be as sweet as if I did. 

It will look amazing, it will have rich bright colours, the size could be large but missing out on that valuable calcium at the time it needed it, means the fruit just doesn’t get that sweetness.  Crazy but true and you can’t just put calcium in as a mineral and hope that it all works, because it’s got to follow the natural sequence of the uptake of nutrients at the right time.

Nature’s funny like that.  And because we don’t put any long life or slow release fertiliser in our strawberry beds, like most others, we’ve got to be on top of our game.

Missing out on nutrients at each step of the growing process can affect that flush of fruit.  I’m not sure about this but I think one year, we simply didn’t have enough nutrition applied on the plants and they weren’t as full of flavour as I hoped they would be.

Although people loved our fruit, I thought it should have been sweeter, so we’re trying something different this year. 

Each year is incredibly different. I admire the older farmers who have the wisdom to reflect to the past and have some memories of what a year was like to compare with another. I often wonder if they write all this down because I find it all so hard to remember. 

We’re moving into our final year of conversion so we can call ourselves certified organic berry growers after August 2020.  I’m not even sure if we’ll be growing the same amount of strawberries in the future as our blueberries become more commercialised.

I wonder if I’ll ever get the raspberries to grow like they should.  Learning for us has been very painful, financially and morally in the mistakes we’ve made and if not for our wonderful clients and friends who encourage us on through supporting us, I’m not sure how we’d keep going.

It’s crazy to think this, but although I’m getting older and taken the biggest risk in life that I could imagine, I’m more positive about my future, growing healthy food that people love.   In a world of uncertainty, particularly around food, I think growing healthy food is as important as pretty much anything I can think of.

Our second year in conversion – on our way to be fully certified organic

Thanks for being part of our journey as we navigate through the world of soil stewardship, understanding nature, working with, not against the natural forces we can’t control.

And for providing you with food that is so delicious and healthy because of how it’s grown and makes your day happier for having eaten our strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

We’re looking forward to a tremendous season for the year 2019 and 2020.

Our First Commercial Season

We are organic in conversion and this is our first commercial season selling fruit to wholesale markets. It’s also the first time I’ve really dedicated my time to have more of an online presence to share my journey, but more than that, share the information I’ve learnt along the way about food, society and health. How closely they are related.

To me, my photos I’ve taken, and videos too, represent my memories of accomplishments and achievements, mistakes and discoveries. I often check my photos as they represent our journey when checking things to try and create a relationship with compared to the year before but really I can see it’s hard to do due to the weather.

It was exciting to go through this process to become certified but I did feel that being new to farming, new to berry growing and new to the paperwork required was at times exhausting and overwhelming.

Being overwhelmed when you’re tired really does put pressure on how you think and your mindset in general.  I’ve learnt over time to get more sleep, take a few more little ‘time out’ moments during the day and it’s been a whole lot better.  Even though I can be deeply involved in thoughts while in the field, changing the focus to simply looking and taking in the vista has helped enormously.

Our first season was really a year behind for a couple of reasons, things we can’t change, and while it’s been excruciatingly difficult financially at times, it really has probably been for the best because it’s taken me a couple of years to simply understand the land, how farming works, and the seasons… those amazing seasons. Branded as if we have ‘4 seasons’ Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, but the weather patterns move around so much I think it should be 6 or 7 weather elements and then you have the moon – lunar activities if you’re a biodynamic farmer.

Do you know how much food goes through the markets – those wholesale markets whereby store owners come in usually on a Monday and Thursday morning, to buy and replenish the stock of food so you can cook a meal? It is in my mind, hard to comprehend. These are the hubs where farmers bring in their produce to be sold, either on the market floor themselves or through agents.

We chose agents to sell our produce. They are experienced, have the existing customer base. And this is where it gets a bit trickier. We’re organic. We have certification guidelines we adhere to as do they but what I did learn was how small the organic wholesaler market was. If you can imagine a place probably as big if not bigger than Tullamarine Airport where people take all their fruit and veggies to be sold, and in there imagine 4 places open to take in organic produce. It’s minuscule.

My farm as an organic grower, even smaller. We are a boutique style farm, even as we expand, our farm doesn’t rate anywhere compared to the big boys. 64 million runners are grown in Australia every year for the strawberry industry. Each one of those runners will produce for the conventional farm, a couple of punnets of fruit.

Some farms are so large they have millions of runners, highly geared for production sending out many thousands of punnets each day. It genuinely makes me wonder how you can maintain quality, and then it dawned on me after having some backpackers working on our farm, and sharing their experience of other farms… it’s all about the money. This is why you frequently see fruit in the supermarkets that is almost inedible. And really quite the reason my darling husband looked at me in amazement for years as I ate my way through punnets of inedible fruit. I’d say “Surely there is a good one here in all this fruit” and he’d say “I’m not eating them after I get one good one because I’m not expecting any more than one or two edible ones in a punnet.

The general public has gone off strawberries where supermarkets request to pick the fruit back to green so it can ‘last longer’ in their warehouses. Your fruit could 7 days old before you buy it. Grown in poor quality soil, with some farms using a combination of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, making up to around 57 chemicals. As per researched information available upon request. Consumers deserve better.

Healthy soil, focusing on flavour, giving consumers what they want. Sweet Delicious Strawberries. If we cannot monitor the taste of our strawberries and the health of our soil, we do not have the consumer in mind. I want every strawberry in the punnet to be delicious.

Growing organically is hard work. I think it’s more old fashioned farming, although it’s really about the inputs – what we put into our soil and how we fertilise that requires tracking and recording. I don’t think it’s hard forever, but more about understanding the seasons, looking out for things that will affect the growth of the plants and their yield.

While I continue to grow our farm with Andrew, given we’ve been together 31 years now, I might grumble and complain when I’m tired and anxious about the fruit and our income, how will this all happen when I see these plants and think OMG I’m supposed to make a living, pay wages and build a home out of this, and yet, going into the fields, day after day, seeing how much better the crop has been after so many mistakes, my doubts are removed when I go to the Farmer’s markets and talk face to face with the wonderful people who look forward buying our fruit, listening to my stories and thoughts, and tell me how wonderful it is. That is such a cool feeling.

I’m off for now and hope you’ve enjoyed this little read. I’m going to be more consistent because it’s now just as important to me, to share what I know as it is to grow it.

Nina Meiers
Farmer Extraordinaire

Greenhouse Foundations

Today was a great day – it didn’t start off too early because I’d had a rather troubled night sleeping well with a cough and tossing and turning, so to sleep was a blessing for me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve felt somewhat anxious, but the last several months has been something new going on virtually every day and as I look through my photos and videos, I can see how much we’ve progressed, although at times I’ve felt like we’ve not done much.

Next year will like a breeze for us we’re thinking, or perhaps we’re just being overly optimistic – I don’t know but that’s a better way to be in life.

So today we’ve done a little more work on the greenhouse. We had 13mm of rain on Thursday night so it provided to be a little wet today as we decided to do prepare the footings. Fortunately were able to get it all set out so we can look at pouring the footings very soon.

It was a beautiful afternoon and I was quite surprised to see such a lovely sunset on a winters day.

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