SugarloafRidgeFarm-Logo.png

Harvesting, Pickling and Keeping Healthy!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted an update, and I could make several excuses as to why I haven’t made the time to keep you all informed. The busyness of the constant summer vegetable harvest, and the ongoing soil preparation and planting schedule. Not to mention the negotiation around sick or isolating family and staff. All things to keep me well and truly occupied. I’ve also been busy with making tomato paste, and pickling cucumbers and green tomatoes. I have plans to pickle some zucchinis, capsicums and chillies over the weekend too. As well turning some more of the tomatoes into passata.

The garden is overflowing with abundance at this time of year. The tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchinis are coming thick and fast. This year seems to be an excellent season for eggplant and capsicum. The chillies are also growing very strongly, as is the basil of which we have loads. We continue to develop the soil in our existing beds, as well as creating new beds to enable us to grow even more food. All the regular staple like the salad mix, lettuces, and micro greens continue to produce well.

This week I have added some paste tomatoes to the website, as well green tomatoes and cucumbers for pickling. If you’re keen to make pesto then there are some extra large bunches of basil available too.

Through all this madness I’ve managed to keep on top of most things (perhaps not all the weeds) and stay healthy. I guess eating a farm fresh seasonal diet really does help!

I’ll endeavour to post something further about my pickling efforts over the coming weekend.

Important end of year info!

As 2021 comes to an end I’d like to thank you all for your support through out the year. It’s also a good time to reflect on the growth we have experienced in the last twelve months. We have continued to expand our little market garden and the infrastructure that supports it. I remember back at the start of the year using an old fridge to chill the veggies after harvest and our family car to deliver the produce to our customers. Now we have a refrigerated van and walk in cool room which makes life a lot easier. We’ve more than doubled our customer base and have increased our production to service more wholesale clients as well! Whilst the year has had it’s challenges, we continue to learn, both from our mistakes and successes. We look forward to continuing to strive to improve the quality of the produce we grow in 2022 with a serious focus on improving the nutrient density of our produce through re-mineralising our soils and increasing the micro-organism population on our farm. This should translate to better tasting produce with increased shelf life and greater nutrition.

This week, Tuesday 21-12-20 will be our final delivery for 2021 and we will resume delivery on January the 4th. We still be working to keep things growing over the week. I will leave it up to you to pause your subscription if you chose to do so. If you feel that you have received good value during the year please consider allowing your payment to continue for this extra week. We would be very appreciative of this.

In the new year we are moving to a new pricing structure, which will go back to including free delivery as part of the price. This makes our accounting much easier. There will also be a small rise in price as we go forward in to the new year. I will be in contact with each of you who are subscribers by phone to update your account. Our website will also be undergoing a rebuild, hopefully with some streamlining of processes to make your experience a bit smoother.

As always we appreciate your feedback so if you have any suggestions, criticisms or compliments please let us know. We look forward to another exiting year in 2022. Stay safe and enjoy some time relaxing with friends and family over the Christmas period.

Brian

It’s Berry Season

Now that summer is here, so are the berries. We have started harvesting the Silvan and Young Berries as well as Boysenberries and Raspberries. You can order some from the fruit section on the website to add to your veggie box.

Also new this week are zucchinis, whilst not quite as exciting as berries they do also herald the beginning of summer, and the start of a new season of produce. The tomatoes are starting to form their first fruits but will still be a while off, as are the chilli plants. Capsicums will be a little further away, as will the cucumbers this year – they have been slow to get going. With the warmer weather everything is growing fast including the lettuces, and we are reintroducing some whole lettuces both the mini cos, which we’ll have in a twin pack, and the Magenta which is large enough on it’s own. Both are beautiful crunchy salad lettuces.

The pumpkins have finally gone in, as have the beans and the garlic harvest is done for another year. I’m sure many of you are enjoying the new seasons garlic. We should have enough in storage to keep us going for some months!

November Rain

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve updated you on the goings on at Sugarloaf Ridge Farm. Mainly because it’s been a bit tricky to find the time to sit down and type at the computer, anyhow I digress. We have been busy with the usual farm chores like, weeding, planting, harvesting and making compost as well as starting on a new greenhouse build. This structure will protect plants from the cold during the winter as well as form the frame to trellis our tomatoes over the summer.

Greenhouse under construction.

This week we have some cauliflowers to add to list, there’s not a huge amount so get them whilst you can. The sugarloaf cabbages continue, and we have some beetroot bunches back on the list too. There is a bit of coriander around and more plantings popping out of the ground too. You may have noticed that dill is back on the list, as well as Kaffir lime leaves.

Snowball Cauliflower

The basil seedlings have gone in and are probably about a month away from harvest. The tomato plants are growing well and we have begun pruning and training them. There are some flowers forming, which of course means fruit on the way. The cucumbers have been a bit slow getting going, but they are starting to look like they’re about to burst forth with growth. The chillies and capsicums have settled in and are growing well after being transplanted a few weeks ago.

Unfortunately the snow peas are coming to an end for this crop. They don’t cope so well with the wet weather as they are prone to mildew. We will be planting beans this week as well as pumpkins.

The rain has been welcome and the forecast is for wetter than average weather in the near future, which is good for us and the garden. We had 37mm in last weeks deluge, and I’m yet to check the gauge this week, but the gentle rain has been more useful, soaking in rather than running off.

Broad Beans and Mustard.

It’s been another hectic week at Sugarloaf Ridge Farm. At this time of year the weeks seem to fly by and it’s tricky to get all the jobs on the list ticked off. We have been turning beds over from winter produce to spring and summer crops. This usually involves mulching up the remainder of the crop and along with any weeds. We then use a fork to open up and aerate the soil. Soil amendments are then added, followed by a nice thick layer of compost on top of the bed. Then we are ready to sow the next crop or transplant seedlings into the prepared beds. We have put in another two or three varieties of tomato this week, as well as the regular plantings of lettuce and other leafy greens. We should be getting the rest of the tomatoes, chillies and capsicums into the ground very soon.

Next week we are going to give the rocket a break this week whilst the next crop grows a bit more. I would recommend the Spicy Mustard Mix as an excellent alternative. At this time of year it is beautiful. It has amazing colour and the flavour is not too hot as it has been grown very quickly and is harvested young. There is also some new kale coming on to the list with some lovely young, Tuscan and Dazzling Blue available. We also have the Asian green, Senposai back again.

Broad beans are also starting to make an appearance and we’ll have some young pods ready this week. These are a diverse of broad bean varieties, so it will be pot luck as to which you might get. Some are coloured or spotted broad bean varieties. Though many of the colours don’t come through fully until the beans are mature. An oat crop has grown up amongst the broad beans from some hay that we used as mulch last summer. Whilst the broad beans (and the oats) are doing well it makes the harvest a little more awkward. I think the improvement in the soil will be worth it. The oats also support the beans, protecting them from blowing over in the wind.

In other exciting news (for me anyway) we’ve made some carrot selections for our friend Gregg from Useful Seeds to breed with. We will be embarking on our own carrot breeding program too, using some of the other carrot selections from Gregg’s work. Gregg is working towards a ‘blunt’ Paris market style purple carrot. We are going to try to develop the wedge shaped carrots that have come up in the mix.

It was wonderful to meet so many new local Axedale customers on Tuesday, we hope you enjoy our produce and we thank you for your support.

Brian..

Swarm Season!

It must be swarm season! Last Friday I had two calls to collect bee swarms, followed by another two on Sunday. I successfully transferred them all into hives, and I’ve found a new home for one of them with an old friend which is great!

On the farm we have been busy building fences to keep the roos out of the orchard. This will also open up more protected planting space for long term, sprawling plants like pumpkins and melons. We will also be able to use this space for variety trials, breeding and seed growing.

In between building fences we’ve been getting more summer crops in the ground, more tomatoes and chillies, with capsicums to follow soon.

It’s a short update today, but I should mention that we have a few new local Axedale customers joining us which is great. So welcome to you all.

Tokyo Bekana is back on the list but remember it’s a bit of a rock star, it lives fast and dies young so get it whilst its around (one week, maybe two?)

Until next week, I’ll leave you with a few bee swarm pics…

Brian.

Planting Summer Crops

This week we’ve been planting our summer crops. As spring progresses the soil warms up and the frost risk decreases. So we respond by getting our summer crops in the ground. This week we planted tomato and chilli seedlings, both in the green house and protected in the field. We also put in some zucchini and cucumber seed. In the following month we’ll be getting onto planting capsicum and basil seedlings and seeds of pumpkins and beans.

In the greenhouse we are using reusing hessian potato sacks as “weed mat”. Most farms use plastic for this job, but we have noticed how much the worms love the hessian and the bags eventually break down into the soil, adding organic matter and carbon. We’ve also swapped out the plastic string for biodegradable twine to train the tomato plants up as they grow. After the frustration of removing all the plastic from the spent tomato plants last season we decided that we wouldn’t be doing that again. Unfortunately the tomahooks that we use in our trellis system come pre-wound with horrible plastic string which we have to cut off, and I have been unable to find a stockist that sells the hooks naked.

You may have notice some coloured carrot in you bunch this week. These have been bred locally by our colleague Gregg Muller from Useful Seeds in Strathfieldsaye. We are now collaborating with Gregg to further his breeding program by giving back carrots that fit his criteria so that he can produce more seed from them. We are also providing Gregg with reports on the growing characteristics and flavour. If you have any feedback on the vegetables you are receiving please let us know. The parsnips, and coloured snow peas are also the work of Gregg and we will be growing some seed out for him of these too.

The Carrot in my hand below is the shape that we are looking for. This type of carrot suits shallow soils, the blunt end mean more volume of useful carrot for it’s length and the colour we’re aiming for is the purple skin

New vegetables this week are beetroots, back again after a winter hiatus, and Silverbeet grown from seed I was given by a friend (see below).

A word or two about Plastic!

I think I start every post by saying “we’ve been busy on the farm” and this week is no exception. Amongst all the other jobs I managed to fit in a beehive inspection earlier this week. The bees are all strong and healthy and I had the opportunity to split a hive. This means I can share my bees with a friend who is just starting their beekeeping journey, and has a hive, but no bees! Yet.

Today we got into some soil block production using our new tools which can press out 20 soil blocks at a time. A five fold increase on the old 4 block machine we were using. Soil blocks are an alternative to pots or plugs trays. Using soil blocks makes our transplanting process quicker and easier. More importantly the soil blocks create a superior environment for the seedlings to grow producing healthier, more resilient plants. It also reduces the use of plastic pots and plug trays on farm.

Soil Blocker and Soil Block Mix
Pressing Soil Blocks into Tray
Freshly Sown Soil Blocks
Red Frisee Lettuce Germinating in Soil Blocks

Speaking of plastic use, I have had the opportunity to speak with a few customers recently about the packaging we use for some of our products. I thought I should communicate the rational behind the packaging decisions we have made at this point in the development of our farm business. Our first priority is to deliver a quality, nutritious product to our customers. This means that we harvest our produce as early as we can in the day to reduce the wilting effects of the sun. After harvest we need to cool the produce as quickly as possible to remove any “field heat”. This process may vary depending on the product, but it will almost always involve some form of refrigeration. Unfortunately refrigeration has the undesired effect of removing moisture from the produce and possibly inducing wilting depending on the sensitivity of the produce. Chives for example tend to go floppy more quickly than carrots.

By protecting the produce from moisture loss in the cool room we are able to reduce or delay the vegetables or herbs from turning limp. Usually this involves plastic, either containers or plastic bags. We tend to use reusable tubs or containers in our cool room.

Once the produce is cooled we need to then pack and deliver all the individual orders. This would be best done in the cool room, but our cool room is tiny – that’s all we could afford to build and more importantly all we can afford to run. Working inside a cool room is also not ideal for us or our staff. So the produce needs to come out of the cool room and then be packed into the boxes for each order as quickly as possible and then returned to the cool room before being delivered in the refrigerated van. So for certain products that are loose such as leaves that cannot be bunched together or peas, or particularly sensitive items such as the afore mentioned chives, or chickweed and even basil they need the protection of, yes that dirty but oh so convenient stuff – plastic.

It also helps our packers to work most efficiently when produce is pre-bagged to be added to orders and not needing to be handled again for weighing during packing. It also preserves the quality of the product better during the packing stage too.

Now we despise the stuff as much as the next person, but at this point in time the best option we have is zip-lock plastic bags. We encourage you to reuse them as much as you can or desire, send them to soft plastics recycling if that’s something you do, or as some customers do send them back to us (clean and dry please) and we will reuse them for other farm uses such as seed storage.

Obviously the best way to reduce packaging in our lives is if we all grow our own food in our own back yard. I think we all recognise that this isn’t as easy or practical as it sounds so the next best option is to purchase from a local farm where you know the farmer. Think about all the transportation and other savings that are being made by purchasing your food locally.

I could continue to go on but I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted.

Brian.

P.S. We can also accept any rubber bands that you wish to return as well. Just pop them with your bags back in the box ready for me to collect when I make your delivery.

Seasonal Spring Produce

It’s been a couple weeks since the last update and things have been busy on the farm.

We now have Peas on the fresh list. I hope everyone enjoyed the Snow Peas this week. We will also be adding Sugar Snap Peas next week, which are super sweet and crunchy.

Rocket is also back, as are some of the herbs like mint, sage and oregano. They are all looking, smelling and, most importantly tasting beautiful.

We are now starting our seedlings in the new greenhouse.Very soon we’ll get some tomatoes and cucumbers planted in the ground in there too.

We have been busy creating some new garden beds on the old orchard terraces, and these will be sown later this week to some quick growing leaf crops in the next few days. We can fit three beds on each terrace and with three terraces that gives us another nine beds about 20 metres long. This will significantly increase our growing space. The soil in this area is incredibly healthy and full of life after growing the orchard and associated ground covers for the last 10 years. We are really looking forward to the increased vegetable production we will be getting from this area.

Spring is Here!

Spring is here and the weather is matching the season. At least for the last couple of days. Everything is growing beautifully here at Sugarloaf Ridge Farm. The tomato and chilli seeds are germinating from seeds we saved from last season and the fruit trees are blossoming. The bees are happy that the sun is shining and so are we.

We still have some Sugarloaf Cabbages left, and the parsnip should keep us going for another 4 or 5 weeks. There are a whole lot of asian greens that need harvesting so we’ve decided to do a mixed bunch next week. It will contain greens like Kailaan, Hong Kong Broccoli, and Bok Choy. Prepare these with some of our spring onions and coriander. Add a squeeze of lime juice and you’ve got yourself a fresh, tasty spring meal. There are some lovely little cos lettuces coming on and some baby kale that is due to be harvested so you will find those on the list too.

The snow peas are flowering which gives us hope for a bumper crop of snow peas coming soon. The broccoli plants thankfully continue to produce shoots for us. Broccoli is a tricky crop for us as it takes up so much space for such a long time. We grow it as it is a favourite for many people. Each week we harvest everything we have and divide it amongst the number of orders we have (at least up to point when we get to eat some ourselves if there’s a bountiful harvest). This means you might get more or less depending on the growing conditions over the week.

Despite the busyness of spring we’ve been making sure to spend some away from the endless work of the farm. We’ve kicking back in front of a fire at the end of the day. It makes tidying up in preparation for the fire season a bit more enjoyable too!