Farm visit – part one
Today we headed up the valley again and back to Pete and Jan Flemming’s farm that I mentioned last week. Our friend Daniel, permaculture gardener and farmer extraordinaire, is working there and he took us on a tour.
Here is one of many mandala gardens that Dan has been creating with keyhole access points so you don’t have to tread on garden beds and compact the precious soil. The perfect dimensions of a mandala garden are where two people can reach out and touch each other from the access points as demonstrated here by Dan and Taiji.
It was such a lovely feeling walking along the sorghum mulch pathways and seeing all the seedlings sprouting and growing. Dan does polyculture farming which is a system of growing multiple crops in the same space in imitation of nature where you find a diversity of plants growing together. Polyculture farming serves many functions: much higher density food production, companion planting, and chemical free weed, pest and disease management. Dan showed us where he has planted garlic along the edges of the beds which will act as an anti-fungal, then carrots and asian greens together in the middle. The asian greens will be ready and harvested before the carrots need the space to themselves.
This bed is being “rested” – something that doesn’t happen in modern farming. Here, Dan has planted “green manure” in the form of a legume plant called “vetch” – this will be turned into the soil to increase its nitrogen and nutritional content. In modern farming, which uses fossil-fuel derived synthetic fertilisers, crop-rotation and bed rest are ancient history. Instead, the soil is continuously depleted requiring more and more fertiliser which kills off the biological activity of the soil and the nutritional value of the food besides all the other disastrous and compounding effects on our health and the planet.
Finally, the highlight of our tour – letting the resident chooks out to free range. These beautiful hens live in paradise – they stay in their very large coop until about 11am (so the eggs don’t end up all over the farm) and then are let out to roam around the farm freely until dusk. Dan says it’s about fencing the chooks out rather than in – in other words, it’s the crops that are fenced in and the chooks have free range over the rest of the property. Right near their pen is a lovely grove of paw paw trees – well, they couldn’t get there fast enough! Dan said they like to eat the paw paw (flowers, fruit, skin – whatever they can get their beaks on) particularly for the enzyme contained in it called “papain” which acts as an internal anti-parasitic agent (more info on paw paw and its wonderful health benefits here if you’re interested).
The girls were delighted to clean up a fallen paw paw. We purchased two ripe paw paws that Dan and Taiji picked and went on our merry way. Tomorrow we go back to help Dan pick persimmons – my favourite autumn fruit.