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Were you growing your own food when you first arrived, once you got the water sorted out?
Well, when Ellen and I got here there was a small garden patch down there, much smaller than now. Probably an area about twenty metres by ten metres. And it was irrigated, they had a little pump down there which was driven by the lawn mower. You’d take the lawn mower down there which had a pulley on – and you’d stand the lawn mower next to the pump and put a v belt on it and start up. Hopefully the lawn mower would work and hopefully the pump would work and it would suck water out of the creek. It was pretty primitive, so the whole idea, the limiting factor for the garden, was water.
The best time to grow vegies here is Spring when it’s dry but of course you need water and so now we’ve just got water coming down the hill and it’s never really dried up. It’s gone close, gone close in the 2002 drought. We’ve got very fertile soil, we’re blessed with terrific soil down there on the flats, it’s a bit of a heavy clay soil, clay loam soil but it’s really good for growing things and we know how to manage it.
Yeah, so one of the things, to grow the quantity of vegetables needed, you need to be able to cultivate that soil – it sets hard like a rock. So I remember going out and looking in the Northern Star and buying an old rotary hoe. Cause I’d owned a rotary hoe down in Sydney – this is where my market gardening experience came in. There was an old Italian bloke over at Fairy Hill, had this thing for sale for fifty bucks. Real monster you know, one lunger, boong ga boong. But it got us going yeah… it got us going.
So you really got to have mechanical equipment. I was going out doing odd jobs for a living, Ellen was doing nursery work and so on, and we eventually, when the old Howard Rotary Hoe fell apart, I can’t remember where I found it, I bought a really good machine – a Valpadana, an Italian, very well engineered machine that not only had a rotary hoe on it but had a four foot wide sickle bar mower. You just turned the handle bars around and put the sickle bar on the PTO. It also had difflock and it would go up that hill believe it or not. And I used to get around and slash all the paddocks with that, fifty acres. And it would fall apart because it rattled a lot and so I’d have a backpack full of spanners and spare parts on my back. I was young and strong, I wouldn’t do it now.
But eventually I ended up getting a couple more of those Valpadanas and pulling things off you know. Like you’ve got two or three machines there and ‘oh well this fell off so we’ll put this one on,’ cannibalising them. And then ended up realising …. I was very committed to doing things simply, so with low-tech ten horse power petrol motor but ended up getting a tractor. Borrowed some money in about 1990 and bought a tractor, a decent tractor, like a thirty five horsepower Kubota tractor and that’s made a big difference.
But yeah so we got the one acre of vegies down there, we’ve got another little vegie patch up the hill which is frost free and I’m still irrigating that, there’s still enough water up above it to irrigate the zucchinis. And then of course there’s the dairy, and we’ve got bananas and fruit trees, avocados yeah, still picking avocados this late in the season.