An Introduction to Trewhella Farm
by Liz Burns
Trewhella is Cornish for farmer on the hill after one of my ancestors (Great Great Grandfather Ben Trewhella who had emigrated from a mixed berry farm in Cornwall over 150 years ago) who earned sufficient money from mining at Barry’s Reef to purchase a 150 ac at Blue Mount in 1867.
Interestingly, the southern part of the Blue Mount farm was purchased from J. Dolphin after which our volcano Dolphins Hill is named, by Great Grandfather, Ben Trewhella junior. Ben senior was famous for his berries, apples, pears, plums, mulberries, currants, goose berries and of course raspberries.
My own grandfather, George Trewhella (as did many of his siblings) had a magnificent raspberry patch from which we were kept in jam for all of my childhood. While the Trewhellas continued to grow berries for their own use, they became more famous for the jack & other land clearing aids over the last hundred years.
Trewhella Farm is a 12 ac block of land purchased in 1986. It was part of a much larger farm which had basically been in the same family (The Roddas, also Cornish) since white settlement.
It was largely undeveloped with one fence running through the middle and two of the four boundary fences only. This basically gave me a “clean” slate from which to develop the farm. It was covered in thistles, blackberries and bracken; a promising sign of fertility and lack of herbicide use.
While potatoes were grown many years ago, Marg & George had ceased growing potatoes in the 1970’s when they were told by the Dept of Agriculture that they needed to fumigate their soil against a potato pest. They decided that it was better to get out of potatoes rather than poison their land. It was then grazed by cattle up to the time of purchase.
Trewhella Farm is on the east side of Dolphin Hill, an extinct volcano. There are a couple of acres of bush in the middle of the property that were never cleared, as it was a rocky outcrop around which the volcano lava had flowed. A spring (which has never been known to stop flowing) emerges from one of the highest points on the property and flows down through the middle, through 2 dams, which have been fenced off as a wet land environment and to keep the cattle out of the water system.
This is to protect the cattle from liverfluke and to protect the water quality from faecal pollutants and eutrophication. When the area dries out in late summer, it is a good supply of green food for the cattle until the autumn break.
The remainder of the property has been divided into 3 roughly 2 ac paddocks – 2 on the east side of the hill and 1 on the south side of the bush providing all year round protection from hot northerly’s in summer and chilly southerlies in winter.
The house and shed & yards are located in the middle of the property. I had a caravan in the bush for a couple of years to observe the seasons before deciding where to build the house, shed and fences. The cattle basically “told” me the best location for the house and fences.
In 1997, a site was selected for a trial herb patch. This was deep ripped in the autumn, sowed to dun peas and oats as a green manure. The cattle had been fed their clover rich hay on the site over the previous winter adding dense clover growth as well. It was ploughed up with a disc plough in the spring, fenced off and formed into five 30m X 1m row beds and planted with dandelion, elecampane, melissa balm, echinacea seedlings and dill seed in mid October. A severe frost followed by a week of unseasonably hot weather knocked a large proportion of the seedlings off before the water system could be installed. By the end of the El Nino summer, the surviving plants were used to propagate my future plantings giving me material that is extremely well adapted to my conditions.
The area was doubled the following year using the same method as above, except the farmer who I engaged to do the ploughing decided (in my absence) to use a rotary hoe to ‘finish’ off the job. Something, I would never allow happen again. It turned the soil into a hydroscopic dust. The structure is just starting to return after 3 years of 500 application, compost and forking.
A stainless steel fork and a rake/hoe are the main tools used to cultivate the soil. Drip irrigation is used to water the plants and old hay mulch protects the soil from the searing sun over summer & provides the basis for my compost heaps over winter. Mulch is lifted in time for 500 sprayings in autumn and replaced after the spring 500 and compost application in late spring/early summer.
Organic certification was sought and gained from OHGA. (No 391) Complete organic fertilizer and fish/kelp liquid fertilizer were applied prior to learning about Bio-Dyanamic methods.
Half a ton to the acre of “rock dust” from the Tylden basalt quarry (closest quarry just down the road) was spread over the paddocks using my trailer & Ute during Jan 1998 and 1 ton to the acre of dolomite was spread from Deladovas at Marybrough.
During 1998, I did the BD farming and gardening course at Warranwood and joined the Bio-Dynamic Gardeners Association Inc (BDGAI).
500 has been sprayed over the 3 paddocks and the garden every autumn and spring since. It has been my highest priority to be available to do 500 at the optimum time – ie when the moon is descending, the air is still or misty and after sufficient moisture is in the soil. Prepared 500 has been used the last 3 years.
Four steer calves used to be purchased each year, fattened up and sold at market. Hay (approx 100 bales) is made from a different paddock each year. As my aim is to have a closed system as much as possible and I need manure from cows for my compost, I decided to buy cows instead and breed my own calves.
In early 2000, Fred Eder sold me 2 Dexter cows to whom I mated with a neighbour’s Angus bull. They had 2 calves late Jan 2001; one was a heifer, and the other (a steer) was put in the freezer. The 2 cows and heifer were mated to a visiting stud Dexter bull the next summer and gave birth to 2 more heifers and a steer in September/October 2002. The herd has now grown to 7 cows and 2 steers waiting for the freezer. They have been mated with a stud Dexter bull, Catalyst and due to calve next spring.
Manure is collected from the paddocks over autumn and winter for compost making and liquid fertilizer using the preps as per the BDGAI booklet. The dung beetles are too active in spring and summer for me to be able to collect manure.
Potatoes are used as part of the cultivation, weed control cycle and keeps us in a staple food. Vegetables are also grown amongst the herbs for home use and to maximize the diversity of the garden.
Herbs are harvested as soon as the dew dries first thing in the morning using stainless steel buckets or cotton sheets and clean gloves. They are either sold fresh to herbalists for fresh plant tinctures and ointments or dried on drying frames in a converted cool room turned into a drying shed, built with in a larger steel shed. This gives me much more control over the temperatures to which the herbs are exposed and eliminates rehyration problems that I have had in the past with our heavy dews.
Herbs are harvested fresh where possible and made into fresh plant tinctures and ointments in my farm kitchen which was registered with the Hepburn Shire as a Bed & Breakfast/herb processing kitchen.
They are also packaged fresh into cellophane bags and sent Express Post through out Australia to other herbalists to make their own fresh plant tinctures and ointments.
Left over herbs are dried in a converted coolroom, packaged into cellophane bags, frozen for 2-3 days ( to kill moth eggs etc).
My Bio-Dynamic farming practices have evolved over the last 8 years out of a commitment towards working with nature, rather than trying to control it, and a lifelong interest in observing the wonders of nature. I find weeding one of the most exciting activities as it gets my hands into the soil discovering new fauna and flora. Weeding helps aerate my soil & gives me an indication of the moisture levels & nutrient levels in the soil. They can also help shade the soil from the searing hot summer sun. They can contain the minerals which my soil may be deficient and therefore put these back via mulch or compost.
Many of my “herbs” have found their own way here and it is simple matter of protecting them, harvesting and selling and or processing into tinctures or ointments for my clients.
Both Steiner and Podolinsky books have awakened some inate knowledge that makes more sense than all my scientific training as a agricultural scientist and dietitian. As a herbalist, I feel the spiritual energy aspect of BD medicinal herbs is a vital difference from merely organically grown herbs.
As I had concerns about many organic practices and attitudes, I have started to advise my clients to seek out Demeter certified produce where ever possible. I finally reached the stage where to be consistent, I should also be certified Demeter, and hence applied for Demeter certification in 2003.
My year starts with the autumn break around the equinox and Easter. It is the time of year for planning the next growing season & collecting seed for the next year. Once the rain starts up in a consistent way and the soil starts to absorb the moisture, I remove all the mulch from my trees and plants to allow the soil to breath and in preparation for 500 spraying. I regard the timing of spraying 500 the most critical of all my operations. My whole year revolves around picking the ideal time for both autumn and spring sprayings – I seek a warm, misty, still day in a descending moon period with good soil moisture levels. This is easier to achieve in spring, as often in autumn, by the time there is good soil moisture, the frosts have started.
Being right on top of the divide at 600+ m is a challenge with very changeable weather conditions often bearing very little resemblance to weather forecasts. Generally, I get north of the divide sunshine with south of the divide rainfalls (~1000mm per year).
However the misty rain seems to be more common with an ascending moon presenting an extra challenge. Sometimes I can wake up to what looks like an ideal 500 day, prepare the water, only to find that its blowing a gale by 3 PM. Often I end up spraying 500 twice in a season. I have experimented with making my own 500 as I have saved all the horns from my steers that we have had put in the freezer and Steiners instruction that we should make our own preparations, appealed to me.
However, I regard Alex’s as the gold standard and usually spray Prepared 500 from Alex as well. I find the whole process highly spiritual, meditating and uplifting and something that I prefer to do on my own – though my kids like to sit by the fire and chat to me while I’m stirring, if they get the opportunity.
The beauty of 500 is that I get to walk every square meter of my property at least twice a year so it is also an important part of my planning process. I stir 2 ac at a time using a copper over a fire and a stainless steel back pack (from BDGAI).
I start collecting manure from my paddocks once the dung beetle activity slows down, with a wheel barrow and combine with the mulch and weeds to make compost heaps with a core using bracken and the compost preps from BDGAI. This year I made excess to the requirements of my garden so the extra compost was spread on the front paddocks down hill from the compost heaps every time it rained. I have noticed that since applying BD compost, the soil seems like “blotting paper” no matter how much it dries out, which means that it takes longer to fill my dam.
The cows are fed hay mostly made from the property & from a neighbouring property, that was once part of the same farm. They are organic by default.
The spring and dam are fenced off and water is piped to troughs.
The cows are rotated around 3 paddocks for parasite control and pasture management. In 20 years of having cattle on this place, only one has required a commercial drench, and he is part of the reason why I decided to breed my own parasite resistant stock. He was so heavily infested when I bought him that could not see an alternative at the time.
Beds are dug over in winter with a stainless steel fork or the perennial beds are weeded. Root crops are harvested. Compost is forked in on moist days. Transplanting takes place as the soil starts to warm up in early spring.
New seedlings are planted out late spring after frosts appear to have finished, though they can occur at any time of the year.
However, frosts have had a lot less negative effect since starting 500. I have also noticed that my plants are much hardier and resistant to “pests”. I have observed snail trails around my lettuces with no sign of damage. I am starting to think that snails and slugs are only there to clean up sick and dying plant material.
In early summer as the soil seems to be drying out I put out the rest of my compost (with the dripper system) and cover with mulch. Water is gravity fed from the spring to the garden or siphoned from the dam to dripper pipe.
Harvesting of flowers and leaves or aerial parts takes place over summer and either sold fresh to other herbalists or made into tinctures and ointments or dried in a converted cool room for sale or use over winter.
My 2 ac bush block provides an abundance of native birds whom all seem to find suitable food in the garden. The magpies and Kookaburras in particular are very active after I have turned the soil over in winter.
Most insects do not seem to cause any major problems so I watch them come & go with interest.
They seem better indicators of the changing seasons than the calender. For example when the grass hoppers come, summer is drawing to a close.
I made a cockchaffer pepper one spring as there seemed to be more than usual and there seemed to a general panic in the district about them. Some farmers were blaming their bare paddocks on them. The Department seemed to scare a lot of farmers in to spraying with warnings that their paddocks would be otherwise stripped bare. In retrospect I probably over reacted and I’m starting to wonder whether I’m trying to play “God” too much with the peppers, so have not made any since.
Thistles are hoed and blackberries have the brush cutter and cattle keeping them under control.
Burning & peppers have also been used for the blackberries.
Many of the plants in my garden are regarded as weeds by many people, such as sheep sorrel, clover, plantain, varigated thistles and cleavers where as I have a good market for these plants so they are a bonus to me.
I also grow some bush foods such as mountain peppers, yam daisy and round leaf mint. Not even the rabbits bother these plants.
MUSK BERRY FARM
Musk Berry Farm was purchased jointly with Peter Liddelow last July 2005, from a family that had struggled with ill health for many years, so it was quite run down.
The agreement was that I would manage the farming side and he the tourist/marketing/value adding side.
As the nets were still on the blueberries in mid winter, the first task was to liberate the plants from the nets & entwined blackberries.
A 16 ac stirring machine had to be purchased as the extra 16 acres made it too much for hand stirring, though I still prefer to do my herbs by hand. Alex located a stirring machine which I picked up from John Smith Warnabool on 9/7/05.
A tub of liquid manure and three compost heaps were made to use on the berries.
The D block blueberries were pruned and weeded in late July, but bud burst happened before we could do the G block.
During August, liquid manure (made from own cow manure, herbs and preps) was applied to the blueberries.
Prepared 500 was sprayed over the entire property as well as half of neighboring property on which cattle have been grazing over last 3 years and from which hay is made, in September and October.
During October, compost was spread on the blueberries and covered with old hay as mulch.
As December was a wet, warm month with botrytis warnings being issued, 501 was sprayed over all the blueberries and F block brambles in early Dec. with a second application of 500 +501 applied in mid Dec.
50 bales of hay was cut from the berry farm, 90 bales from Trewhella Farm and ~300 from a neighbour’s paddock. A further 80 bales was cut from a scrubby paddock on Greg’s and left out all summer to be used for compost and mulch.
Gooseberries started in December, followed by summer raspberries and brambles over January and February. Blueberries took over until beginning of April with a steady rate of Autumn raspberries and cultivated blackberries.