Once again, about 30 of our intrepid seed-savers took to the roads to learn more about vegetable and fruit growing, this time on a professional level. Our visit took us up to a 150 acre organic farm high in the Adelaide Hills, about 5 kms out of Mount Barker and overlooking Lake Alexandrina on a clear day. Biopark Organic Farm is managed by Bill Hankin – one of our seed-savers – with the help of 3-4 permanent staff and a number of casual workers. Bill has been an organic farmer since 1985, starting out in Victoria, and taking on his current job at Biopark in January 2004. The farm itself has a long and chequered history, firstly as the home of a wealthy Mount Barker agricultural industrialist and MP in the mid- to late-1800s, then as a Salvation Army Orphanage called Eden Park thoughout the early- to mid-1900s. Biopark’s current owner has asked Bill to develop the property to become a model organic farm able to provide for his family and turn a small profit.
Along on the tour was Dr ‘Harry’ Harrison – another seed-saver and President of the South Australian Rare Fruit Society. That’s Harry on the left and Bill on the right – two of the grand old men of the organic growing community in South Australia. Harry helped Bill field questions about the hundreds of fruit trees on the property, including rare heritage plums and figs rescued from the NSW Department of Agriculture when they bulldozed their Bathurst heritage orchards.
Bill believes climate change has already reached his property, and is having to re-adjust his farming methods to avoid the over-hot summers, starting the planting cycle after the breaking rains in March-April each year. Bill started the orchard with apples and pears, adding plums and figs later.In retrospect, Bill thinks that early maturing fruits such as apricots would make a better bet than autumn-maturing pome fruits such as apples, as this obviates the need to irrigate with scarce water resources throughout summer. Netting the whole orchard will be imperative in the future to prevent bird damage to soft fruits; even slightly green apricots couldn’t dissuade some of the local bird species (below) from nibbling early fruit. Eggplants in the vegie patch have also to be netted, as they are a favourite of the local wood ducks.
Even raspberries are becoming difficult to grow under the current warming conditions, says Bill, while crops such as asparagus are doing really well without any irrigation and with the ferns providing a welcome touch of green through the hottest times of the year.
Of greatest interest was Bill’s crop of garlic, which he hangs in one of his cool stone heritage buildings for a few weeks after harvest to allow the nutrients in the stem and flower head to return to the bulb, increasing storage time. Red shallots are also grown, as are peas and tomatoes.
As always, the time came for us to retire to our tables and chairs under a shady tree, swap gardening tales, offer or seek advice and to eat, drink and be merry.
For a full photographic tour of the farm, look through the album (photos - right panel) created by our champion vegie grower and photographer Bob (below), seen here standing outside Bill’s poly-tunnel, used for propagating all sorts of seedlings, including native trees and shrubs for his wind breaks and conservation strips on the farm.
Thanks Bill – great hospitality and inspiration in large dollops.