On a sunny Saturday morning, a dozen or so of our intrepid seed savers ventured north on a veggie tour to Virginia on the flat northern plains about 20 kms from Adelaide, where big-business grows vegetables ‘en masse’.
Our first stop was at the “Bio-Tech Organics” shop in the heart of Virginia, where we heard much on balancing soils from John Norton our friendly host, although how we were to scale-down broad-scale soil testing, soil chemistry and balancing methods to our own small patches mystified us all. Interesting was his use of brown coal to provide humic and fulvic acid to soils as an organic input; this stuff is mined in the Flinders Ranges rather than New Zealand as of yore. John stated that locally-produced compost from green waste needed about 8 years to mature before we’d benefit from any of this good stuff (rather than the three months normally offered), whereas coal had been ripening since the age of the dinosaurs. Deb pointed out to him that ‘mining’ anything at all for agricultural inputs breached the spirit of organic farming. This promising debate fizzled out as a customer entered and Deb exited…
Then we toured the whole of the north Adelaide Plains on-route to Gary Clerie’s ‘Joyeata’ organic farm. It seems that Google Maps don’t show roads cut off by the Gawler River when in flood. Perhaps a left turn rather than a right turn north of Virginia would have simplified things, but then we would not have enjoyed the grand tour that resulted. Still, we were so tuckered out by our tour of the district and the preceding soil chemistry lessons that we decided on arrival at Gary’s to eat lunch first and tour later. Gary had baked a few quiches and cheesecakes, and Maggie had skipped some of the previous visit to baby-sit young Diesel and shop for some weird Vietnamese vegetable that tasted like water–chestnut and looked like a flat turnip.
Gary is the quintessential rebel - a burr under the saddle of society, and one of those blokes that really makes things happen in this world by irritating the establishment, speaking his mind and wearing down the opposition. He’s managed to get the whole Lewiston district declared an ‘animal husbandry zone’ so that no chemical sprays of any sort are used anywhere therein, and crop-dusters cannot even over-fly the region. A little organic patch in a vast swathe area of industrial agriculture…
Gary’s approach to composting is to dump all organic waste from his shop, chicken run and 5.5 acre farm into old cut-down rainwater tanks, and let the ‘tiger’ and ‘red’ worms work through them. He uses this compost in plastic bags on raised (pro-back, anti-slug) tables to grow ‘field mushrooms’ in a well-ventilated shed over a six-eight month growing period. He collects spoors from the biggest mushroom in each bag by putting blotting paper underneath them to catch the ‘rain’ from the gills, then freezing these paper towels for three months before setting them out on top of new bags of his compost under a few millimetres of rock dust. He harvests mushrooms continuously, and keeps them moist with overhead misting sprays for a few minutes each day.
In the same shed, Gary showed us his pineapples that he has propagated himself over the past eight years (pineapples are grown from the spiky crown, or from ‘runners’ in a manner similar to getting cuttings from strawberries). Pineapples like the heat, provided the humidity is kept high (those mist sprays again…) and don’t like frost (solved by growing them among weeds if planted in tubs outside). Gary uses no pesticides in his shed. Instead, he has a half-dozen green tree frogs that have travelled in from northern Queensland in banana bunches. These hunt through his pineapples and destroy slugs, earwigs, beetles and other pests. Gary has created a haven for frogs on his property by using runoff from various sources to make a small lake for them and his Indian Runner ducks.
Gary has seven staff, has farmed in the district for 25 years, and ships boxes of organic fruit and vegetables to many cancer sufferers around Adelaide. Gary speaks his mind clearly and forthrightly, and made every moment of a thoroughly enjoyable tour both inspiring and thought-provoking.
We Hills and Plains Seed Savers have now added mushrooms and pineapples to our ‘must-grow’ list, although there was general agreement that encouraging nests of tiger and brown snakes as a rat-control measure was beyond the scope of our backyard gardens. Many of us came away with bags of Gary’s apples, pears, vegetables and seed potatoes. Thanks Gary! That was great!