Last weekend, the Husbo and I set our alarm for ridiculous-oclock and headed off down the dark freeway to visit the stunning Tahbilk Winery. Seeing the sun rising behind Mount Buffalo made the early start particularly worthwhile. Roadtrips are something I need to do more of! We were heading to Tahbilk to check out the closed-loop farming system being championed by Matt and Lentil Purbrick, the faces behind the brand Grown & Gathered. I've been following Matt and Lentil on Instagram and their site for a while now, and even contacted them for advice last year about mulching in our market garden. I was keen to see first hand how they integrated their philosophies on sustainable resource use, minimal waste and living lightly in their home and farming enterprise.
We spent an hour or more wandering around with Matt and Lentil as they talked us through some of their methods and, importantly, the reasoning behind them. It was fantastic to see the garden and animal systems in action (complete with baby chicks and house cows!) and be able to ask questions too - both Matt and Lentil were a wealth of knowledge and it was so refreshing to feel their enthusiasm and conviction. I was inspired by two people who are really, truly walking their talk.
Some of my favourite messages included:
* Irrigation. The common wisdom is to give plants a good soak in the early morning or late afternoon. Instead, water the plants when they need the water! The system here was an automated watering system of drip tape set to water for 2 minutes every hour. We thought this was actually really smart - we usually water during the day anyway, but the shorter regular watering makes so much sense when you think about leaching of nutrients away from the plants and minimising the chance of any water stress. Delivery via drip irrigation is key for this to work I think, in combination with lots of mulch
* Mulch! Everywhere. Super important for soil microbes and worms, as well as soil moisture and soil structure. Mulch your pathways too.
* Diversity. Plant flowers throughout your veggie patch to foster a whole ecosystem - this way the pests and disease are more likely to be balanced within the system, and everything can essentially balance itself. Companion planting is great, and some good combinations are Snapdragons with onions, Dahlias and tomatoes and Queen Annes Lace and Cosmos with everything!
* Learn your environment. Everywhere has it's own little micro-climate. Observe and learn over seasons and grow with your particular climate in mind.
* Worms (and vermicompost) rule. You want to foster their happiness in your system, as a priority. Look after your soil structure, don't smash it up or compact it with machinery and let the worms populate and do a fantastic job of integrating organic matter into your soil. Inoculate your compost heaps after the initial 'hot' period with handfuls of worms, because the worms do the work of aerating and turning for you.
* Your waste is valuable. Return to the earth what you take from it, by composting anything that can be composted. Create a 'closed-loop' whereby you need very little external inputs by making use of everything immediately around you. This may mean choosing a less than 'ideal' option (eg. chicken manure from a battery farm down the road as opposed to organic stuff from hundreds of kilometres away). We farmed for thousands of years without synthetic fertilisers, so lets remember there is always another way.
* Our energy supplies are precious. Be resourceful. Source plastic-free, second hand or repurposed wherever you are able, in every aspect of your home and farm. Small changes make big differences.
* Let nature express itself. If plants what to be wild, let them be wild. Let the animals be free to express their natural behaviours. Work with these tendencies, not against them. A good example of this for me is tomatoes. We didn't get a chance to trellis and prune our tomatoes properly this year, and it has cause problems with mildew and the like - but it's also meant abundant fruit and significant shading of that fruit by foliage, reducing sunburn. A trade off, but not one I'm too upset about!
Thanks Matt and Lentil for being such wonderful hosts, for doing such good work and for being so determined to make a difference. You've sure inspired this little farmer!
If you'd like to learn more about Matt and Lentil or get yourself a weekly veg box if you are in Melbourne, you can head to their website or check out some of the links below:
3RRR radio interview (skip ahead to around 38 min)
Peppermint Magazine (current issue on Zinio here)