Tag Archives: earlwood

The Earlwood Farmers go to Milkwood Farm

The weekend began with a trip to Newnes in the Wolgan valley. We shared a campground with kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, goannas, ducks, magpies, crows and one very bold satin bower bird. We bathed by skinny dipping in the Wolgan river and hiked to a disused rail tunnel that is now full of glow worms.

All this was on the way to our two-day ‘Starting an Organic Market Garden’  course at Milkwood Permaculture Farm. Milkwood is working farm on a magical property in the hills somewhere south east of Mudgee. We arrived on a stormy Friday evening ready to meet people, build a community and learn amazing things. At Milkwood we camped near a garden full of produce, wild blackberry brambles, huge gum trees and transportable structures housing chickens and geese. We cleaned up in a rocket powered shower and spent the days in an incredible short course that helped us get serious about the future of Earlwood Farm.

It is difficult to summarise our experience quickly because in two days we went through every aspect of building a small market garden, from permaculture 101 and seed cultivation to harvesting and selling produce at a farmer’s market. We also learned about impact of ancient geological history on contemporary soil quality in the spectrum from high fertility (basaltic) to low fertility (rhyolitic) soil. We learned some handy maxims such as the three pillars of permaculture (“earth care, people care and fair share”), a neat one that helps you rethink how you approach fertilising your garden (“feed the soil, not the plants”) and another that encourages you think more holistically about your garden (“the garden is an organism”). We learned that organic market gardening requires more labour from management (smiley face) and that organic permaculture gardening is a life practice (much like the work of an artisan, the farmer should constantly be refining her craft and asking herself if she can do it differently and/or better). We learned that everything from the position of the sun, the direction of the prevailing wind, the average rainfall and temperature to the quality of the seed and soil and the amount of attention you pay to the nuances of each plant’s behaviour affects the quality of your produce. We ate tasty food that was the fruit of such mindful labour, mostly (if not all) grown in the Milkwood market garden and all prepared onsite by Rose. We camped out in a storm on the first night, charged by the electricity in the air we were ready for two days of study which was an incredible communal experience and we left completely invigorated and ready to return to Earlwood and begin seriously planning our own farm.

The main takeaway for us, beyond all the amazing tips and tricks for getting your garden to grow, was that we needed to become clearer about our goals and what we actually want to achieve on the Farm and then plan our work with these goals in mind. As the last post demonstrated we have proceeded in pretty much the opposite manner so far. Our “farming” has been entirely ad hoc, with much excitement and only minor success. These activities have been great for making space in our lives for the labour involved in starting an urban farm in the front and backyards of our rented house, but much more planning and labour is needed if we want to really begin to provide food for ourselves and some for market. The other takeaway was that community is essential. This farming business requires community and the help of others. On this front we think we are doing alright, with community as the foundational idea of the farm – sharing living and inviting our friends to working bees. This has had a flow on effect and we keep getting given worm farms and planter boxes and plants from friends all over Sydney.

On the way home from Milkwood we stopped into Kandos for the final day of Cementa_13 and saw Pia van Gelder perform at the golf club, camped by a lake surrounded by more blackberry brambles, we were awoken at sunrise by the dulcet tones of Liam Benson singing Video Games by Lana del Ray on an island in the middle of the lake (which I’d never heard before but it haunted by dream so significantly I [Jen] had it stuck in my head for the next week!), we bathed in the lake and wandered the streets of Kandos looking at works by many artists including Jacqueline Drinkall and Connie Anthes. We were also utterly duped into thinking Kandos was an ecotopia by Ian Millis’s fake tourism poster spruiking the former-cement town, not as the slightly creepy time capsule that it feels like, but rather as a world leader in sustainable technology and eduction.

We were almost sad to return to home. But our malaise was thwarted by the promise of yurts. The following week we engaged in a 3 day creative development lab for the Yurt Empire at 107 Projects. The lab was as invigorating as the course at Milkwood and also is supported by Milkwood! So stay tuned for more on the Yurt Empire project and more on the developments of Earlwood Farm and, excitingly, for news of our return trip to Milkwood over Easter with the other members of the Yurt Empire for the second development and Yurt building intensive!

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Step 2: Blindly Opportunistic Enthusiasm

Since the inaugural busy bee things have been a little bit quiet on the farm, largely because the holiday season took over. We hosted Christmas and New Year at the farm and so we had to focus on doing the ‘little things’ like making a Christmas version of the Earlwood Farm logo, decorating Craig’s Wollemi Pine, painting wrapping paper or making chutney. The celebrations were lovely, but we have had precious little time to focus on the farm itself. However, we have had mini busy bees between parties. Instead of planning, we are operating on blindly opportunistic enthusiasm. So, even with no planning and little time, we have made some headway. For example, we purchased a Cardamom plant and put it in the bathroom.

Cardamom in Bathroom

Cardamom in Bathroom

We’ve also started propagating a range of plants from cuttings: Mulberry, Grevillia, Rosemary, Frangipani, Pig Face and we’re on our 2nd attempt to get a Curry Tree going. The Rosemary and Mulberry are from Alexandria Community Garden, the Grevillia and Pig Face are from local verge gardens and the Frangipani we found dumped on the side of Illawarra road. We got the latest Curry Tree cutting from Alfalfa House.

Then, one Sunday morning at Addison Road Community Markets, we stumbled upon four giant apple boxes, 20 roof tiles and some old chicken wire for sale at Reverse Garbage. $80 later we were the proud owners of said items and they were delivered to our front door. Two of the apple boxes have since been ‘cleft in twain’ with a circular saw, making four decent sized planter boxes for the front yard. In the planter boxes we have a range of delights from the edible (Coriander and Tomato) to the flowering (Cosmos and Marigold).

Apple Crate Planter Boxes

Apple Crate Planter Boxes

Craig and I also paid a visit to Randwick Community Nursery, which is a council run operation, trading mainly in native plants. We picked up a Bracteantha Bracteata (!) or a Paper Daisy, a Rosemary and a Hibbertia Scandens (!!) or Guinea flower. On another occasion Sophie had loaned us her car and we took the opportunity to visit a run-o-the-mill commercial suburban nursery in Kingsgrove. There we purchased a Lilly Pilly tree and a Passionfruit vine for the front yard, and a Gardenia for near the front door. My lovely mum also gave us a Lavender bush, a hanging pot of Chilli and decorative Curry plant as gifts for Christmas. Also, we are eating heaps of Fruit and Veges and composting like crazy. Sophie came with a compost bin and the results of our combined efforts belong in a text book.

Exemplary Compost

Exemplary Compost

But, as you can see, at the moment it is a complete fruit salad of a backyard garden-farm. At least there is nothing monocultural about the place! We are overwhelmed by variety and slowly learning the needs of each little wantonly individual plant. For example, the pumpkins (donated by Dr Kearnes) are bolting, at the expense, it seems, of the first crop of tomatoes and beans. And, we’ve discovered that if we drape the pumpkin’s main runner over Aaron’s cute little tricycle, the sadness we feel about the dying tomatoes is somewhat alleviated.

Trike with Pumpkin Runner (N.B. Roof Tile Bed Edge C/O Aaron)

Trike with Pumpkin Runner (N.B. Roof Tile Bed Edge C/O Aaron)

Although we’ve had some success and made some progress, an actual plan for what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve remains forthcoming. Craig and I are going to Milkwood Permaculture in Mudgee to do their Organic Market Garden course in early February, in the hope that, because they are Permaculture nerds, we will be taught how to plan. Stay tuned…

The Inaugural Earlwood Farm Busy Bee

In mid-November we moved into The Farm. It is almost overwhelming for our plan, which has been brewing for so long in our imaginations, to start to take shape in reality. We moved in with very little furniture and swiftly acquired a lounge suite from Gumtree and a dining table and chairs from the Greek Orthodox Monastery across the road from us (!). After a few weeks in The Farm for settling in, gathering flatmates (welcome Aaron and Sophie!) and getting things set up, it was time to start building the farm.

So, with CMJ’s exciting acquisition of twelve cubic metres of Jacaranda and Gum mulch from Gumtree, the stage was set for the inaugural Earlwood Farm Busy Bee. We invited a group of friends and by 10am we had an amazing team working on spreading the mulch around the front lawn (Thank you Jose, Sophia, Mattias, Susie P, Ned, Vixie Pixie, Ben and Amelia!). The plan is to kill the grass and build a no-dig garden atop the new surface. The trees will slowly breakdown and enrich the top soil as well. The results from our working bee are not very pretty. It very much looks like a work in progress, like a base coat rather than the finish. But that is OK. The brown desert-like aesthetic will encourage us to do more work.

Seedlings

Earlwood Farm is the lovechild of Craig Johnson and Jennifer Hamilton. We are embarking on a life together and we want to find a new way of making home and building a sustainable life in a rental property in Sydney. There are a few significant obstacles to living sustainably while renting, simply because the house and land is not yours and therefore you can’t just install solar panels or construct an underground grey water management system. Also, sustainable living requires mindfulness, care and both emotional and financial investment. And there is always the risk that you will be booted off the property if rent prices become too high or if the landlady decides to sell. But we are going to make a share home and domestic urban farm. We have a hypothesis that you can build this kind of life in a rental property. This is our living experiment and we hope not to disprove the possibility. We will record our findings here.

The seeds for this experiment have been planted both metaphorically and literally. We have signed a lease and we have sowed the first crop: Okra, Silverbeet, Watermelon, Basil, Mustard Greens, Jalepenos, Lettuce and Rocket.