Approach to growing food
‘Whatever works’ is a good policy to follow. But silverbeet has been easy and almost perennial in terms of every week of the year you can harvest a lot of silverbeet. And it fits the need of the restaurant and temple. So that’s been our first big success. Basically as mush silverbeet as the restaurant and temple can use, they have, and they have surplus. So that was the first big one. Other than that we have had very good sweet potato crops. Maybe got 200 boxes out last year. So that would be like 4 or 5 tonne. And pumpkin and we’ve had a couple of good broccoli and cauliflower, cabbage crops, brassica crops. Other than that, whole bunches of stuff which has been moderately successful, semi-successful or not successful beetroot, carrot, actually lettuces grow well. Beans have actually been pretty good this year. We’ve been getting a few boxes of beans each week. They’re probably picking them right now.
I don’t think about pests at all in the sense of directly. Ah, like I don’t spray with anything at all, ever, I don’t think about it. All we do is just try to keep the plants as healthy as possible. Which means the soil as healthy as possible. PH right. And probably the other preventative is that we plant, things like neem, and um what’s that flower, [pause and clicks fingers] nasturtiums, marigolds, plant them through the rows. I’ll show you a garden in a minute.
So if you have a few rows of silverbeet and then you have a row of nasturtiums, some marigolds and things like that, somehow or other there’s just no bugs there. So, I don’t know why. If I was a bug I think I’d like flowers. But somehow or other they don’t come. So we had cabbages that were the size of medicine balls, or bigger. And I had farmer coming here from outside saying; “holy hell!” and I’m like; “no idea!” [laughs]. But I’m sure there is a science to it. It’s just that I got lucky. Or we got lucky. Our PH is another one. Those fertilisers like chicken poo, or event cow dung or so many things they tend to be acidic, fermented, so you can balance that with um, like say Mr Prichard uses lime for the soil, we use bio-char. You know?
Bio-char is good for fifty reasons but one of them is; it brings the PH more basic, like charcoal. So we’ve got plenty of that. Within the last week we’ve probably um, we’ve got 900 acres here so there’s no dearth of deadwood. We drag it out from everywhere by the, by the tens of tonnes. You know if you’ve got the time and energy. They just burn it down into bio-char and break it up and chuck it in the garden. From the very beginning from when we started that, immediately the plants, it was over there, was at out eastern garden for those people listening on that thing. Where we had bio-charred and where we hadn’t was a dividing line in the middle of the garden. And you could see clearly that, even within a week or two, the bio-charred area was improving. Although it’s not particularly basic in terms of PH another really good one has been worms, basically worm tea, as they call it. We have a table over there, currently we have about 120, 000 worms in it and off the top of my head maybe a couple of tonnes of soil where they are, and it gets irrigated twice a day so, maybe I don’t know 30 or 40 litres of water a day are coming through that and trickles through the dirt and the worms and then drips out the bottom into a pipe which goes into buckets. So that in the morning we have buckets full of worm tea, we just go chuck it on the fields. Actually I don’t know where he chucks it. Sometimes he chucks it all over the place. But often it goes on the garden.
As I understand it worm tea is just super-chockers with good bacteria. And basically, like in a culture, like in a Petri dish, bacteria can move. Cause their life cycle is minutes, I think. In other words they have babies or whatever and die, within a very short span of time. So their numbers can grow from small to huge very, very quickly and then back down. And as long as you have organic matter you could put a bucket of worm tea at one point in your garden and they would just gradually spread. You won’t see it but they, as long as there’s organic matter they can move to they can spread over the whole acre. Anyway, so I’ve been told.
So yeah, bio-char being good organic matter and say chick poo, whatever, any kind of mulch, or whatever, being organic. The bacteria, if they have enough of that, I think they just eat it and then they poo it out the other end and, I guess and that becomes good soil. As far as I understand it.
Monoculture, yeah. So we do the opposite of that. That’s a very conscious thing. Even if I grow pumpkins, we grow pumpkins, or they grow pumpkins. Even once, we won’t grow again for at least a year. We’ll put in other crops. Harvest those crops. Plough it up again, put another crop and then maybe in a year put in pumpkins again. So for example, what’s that little worm? Nematode, yeah things like that.
Banana orchards, three of them that I know of and maybe more. There’s a big mango thing there, I don’t know how many, but many. Dozens and dozens and dozens of full size trees. But nobody maintains them. So they may crop, they may not.
If there’s a good crop we’ll go and harvest it, so why not. But amongst the normal people that would also, there’s about 90 people that live here. Or 80 people that live here and maybe a transient community, like WWOOFers, and another 30 or 40 on any given day. So, it’s a lot. A decent amount of people, lots of kids, so you know you couldn’t stop them if you wanted to. They just walk in there and pick mangos, eat mangos, eat mangos all day. We welcome that.
Ultimately we’d like to see a situation where there’s more food than we know what to do with. Well maintained, nicely taken care of. And without being overly utopian in a kind celestial atmosphere, heavenly atmosphere, where basically you are just surrounded by, ah whatever it is: mangos, avocados, probably too hot here for walnuts, macadamias would probably grow here, whatever it is. And preferably, we’re working with a gentlemen, I don’t know what his birth name was but we call him Shunapali Nice man, nice wife and a few kids, good looking family, but he a… I think his got a Masters in Horticulture or something like that. And I’m trying to work out with him so that we can have orchards, that at any given day of the year (we usually harvest once a week for everything so ah, any given week of the year) we can get at least two or three types of fruit. You know cause different things are harvested at different times. So to work that out, make a good plan, maintain them nicely, grow them where they’ll grow well etcetera. etcetera. etcetera. We have horses and cows here as well so, young, and peacocks, young plants depending on where you if you put them anywhere near the paddock where the cows go through, ah, its sport for them to trash them. So anyway.
We’re taking care of all our parameters, to nicely grow up some orchards here so that we can have that two or three different types of fruit on any given day would be ideal, I think. And ah, we’ve already got veges going well, just increase that little bit. And probably the last thing we’ll try to get in to would be grains. I know there is someone successfully, not too far from here, a couple of miles down the road; growing a sort of rice, which grows not in paddy fields filled up with water, but actually in more or less dry soil. I’ll probably end up looking at that. If we could do all three of those, we already do allot of herbs as well, they seem to grow pretty easily, that would take us very close to a, (at least in terms of food) a self-sufficient situation.
The cow department goes on very nicely, so they get dozens of litres of milk every day. So that’s butter, yoghurt, ice-cream, milkshakes, whatever. And, if you have grains, veges and fruits, that’s pretty much it.
Also we, on an average, say like our Sunday thing, Sunday Feast they call it, we probably average 300, 400 maybe? Something like that amount of people. And there’s also allot of guests come and there’s other festivals, at least two or three a month, like I think this Saturday is [indesipherable] puja.
The quality of the food I guess is important both to the community, in terms of the static community, the Hare Krishnas, and also to the growing community of WWOOFers and volunteers. Like if wasn’t organic that would be a big issue. If it wasn’t… we do the opposite of… I know a friend of mine down the road, nice lady, she’s a little bit lenient. Actually I know another one in town, he’s also a very nice man. But they’re a little bit lenient with the certified organic thing. Sometimes a practical, immediate, expedient concern will overwhelm their…, but here we really do try for the ideal. Like, even if a crop will fail, I would rather that than mess with that ideal. Ideals are inspiring, and the ideal of ok we tried for a pure organic crop and it didn’t work. We won’t bend our pure organic, we’ll just try again. Try to figure it out. Try some other solution. So I guess that matters to the community, both the static community and the growing WWOOFer/volunteer community. And, because we’re not under immediate financial pressures we have the freedom. You know if that’s your livelihood, if you’re feeding your kids and you’re going to lose your crop unless you do something that’s a little bit on the border of proper, people are under pressure like that. I know my friend in town is. But because of the very good management here from Agita, who you will later hear from, is a extraordinary individual and very savvy financially. We are free basically to just go for that ideal. Whereas for most people I think that would be a little bit utopian. It’s easy for us. Actually the whole thing is set up in a super easy way. I asked Agita for more accommodation, I’d only been here for about a year when I asked him that, how much? $110, 000. Ok. So that’s a pretty supportive boss [laughs].
Because of the support we get from the community we’re able to do that ideal thing and I think at the rate of success we’re having and that rate of growth and improvement in general, quality and quantity. It seems like that will give us the window of opportunity we need to lift up to a self-sustainable cyclic kind of motion, ah, in our gardens. And … free from the pressures of the outside world.