Mel Willard from Gung Hoe Growers at Harcourt gave a very informative and entertaining talk.
From 2014 Mel has been working with her partner Sas to grow organic food on a larger / productive scale than backyards. Gung Hoe Growers was set up at the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens location in 2015. It has become part of the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-operative. The initial venture was to rotary hoe 1/8 acre and plant 30m of garlic. This has expanded to grow many vegetables, herbs, perennials and edible flowers on 1.5 acres.
Harcourt has better soil than the Castlemaine area, but it is granitic soil, so very old and like sand. It doesn’t have much in it nutrient wise and doesn’t hold much. The Gung Hoe Growers practices are all about building up the percentage of organic matter and soil life – microbes, fungus, worms, bugs etc. – building soil – which means better moisture retention and healthier plants.
The plants you eat are only as nutritional as the soil in which they’re grown.
The soil preparation process is to initially rotary hoe then add a sprinkling of either gypsum or dolomite lime and rock dust, broad fork the new bed, incorporate compost and either mulch the bed or plant directly into it. The aim is to have the least amount of bare ground possible as this is what dries the soil out, puts carbon out into the atmosphere and depending on the season either freezes or fries the top layer of soil deriding it of life.
They rotate all of the crops every season depending on which section they fall under – heavy feeders, light feeders, green manures, alliums, By using rotations you not only take from the soil, but you feed it too.
Gung Hoe Growers sell to select restaurants in Chewton, Castlemaine, Trentham and Bendigo. They cater for functions and sell veggie boxes via CSA for 6 months of the year. They have a stall at the new weekly farmers market in Castlemaine – held next to the Market building on Wednesday afternoons rom 3.30-630pm.