In the last few years demand for Australian garlic has been growing and so has the garlic growing industry. From its fledgling beginnings in the 70’s the industry grew steadily until the mid nineties when deregulation of our agricultural sector saw the importation of cheap Chinese garlic and resulted in the virtual collapse of our own garlic industry.
However over the last few years our garlic industry has been bouncing back and at the same time demand for garlic at farmers markets and supermarkets has been surging ahead. This has coincided with the general increase in demand for local Australian produce, increased awareness of Country of Origin, a love of fresh food, a desire to reduce food miles, unnecessary handling, and a general increase in home cooking.
Most of the garlic grown in Australia has been early season varieties, Monaro Purple is one of the local early season garlics grown in the Capital region and across the Southern Tablelands. Early season garlics are planted in March / April and harvested October / November. A key factor of Australian garlic production is that the majority of garlic grown for the Australian market is from a small range of garlic varieties that are harvested at the same time, (November & December) and only store well for a few months. This generally means that most Australian garlic is no longer available for consumption by April/ May. That is, Australian garlic is generally available for a short season from late November to around April, with the majority consumed by February / March. (This is referred to as the narrow production window.). After that we are forced to turn to imported garlic which is heavily fumigated on entry into Australia. We know little about how these imported products such as Chinese garlic is grown and no idea of farming practices, use of chemicals or anything else about how the product is treated before it leaves for our shore. But, things are changing!
Over the last few years the industry association has been helping garlic growers to understand the different garlic groups and varieties; their different planting and harvesting times and correct curing and storing approaches, to ensure a year round supply. This means that instead of a once a year garlic planting, potentially growers can have 3 plantings a year and 3 harvests a year: very simply:
Braidwood has had a garlic growers group since 2012. I love growing garlic and I convened the group in 2012 as a community to share knowledge and experience of garlic growing and encourage new growers to enter the business. It was fairly clear that Braidwood could have a broader agricultural base than it currently has which could create jobs and bring income into the town. The group has participated in a project over the past two garlic growing seasons to “demonstrate the potential for garlic as a crop to enhance economic resilience, agricultural profitability and sustainability” All garlic grown as part of the project has been grown using organic principles. A key part of the project has been to develop grower knowledge of the different garlic groups and their different growing requirements. With the aim to see the Braidwood region position itself as a key producer of the late season garlic varieties that store well for 6 to 12 months. By growing these different varieties of garlic Braidwood should able to put garlic in to the market when little Australian garlic is available.
Over the weekend the wind up meeting for the garlic project (not the Garlic Growers Group) was held and the growers decided to move towards the development of a cooperative with the support of the Farming Together Program. This may well be the first garlic growers cooperative in Australia. Exciting garlic times are ahead.
All this talking about garlic is great but it's the garlic growing that counts. We are planting our mid season garlic this week, perhaps a little late, delayed by too much talking! If you too are thinking about planting a late season garlic crop or have already planted your early season garlic you might want to enroll in our online garlic course just to stay informed and have your garlic growing questions answered as they come up. Happy garlic growing.
If you are just thinking about eating delicious Aussie garlic, don't despair. In the next few years you will be able to get good Australian garlic from April to November if all goes well.
Where have all the small farms gone, long time passing.
Where have all the small farms gone, long time ago.
Where have all the small farms gone,
Broad acre farming has them, every one.
When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn.
Lyrics by Bronwyn Richards with help from Peter Paul & Mary
It was not that long ago when most farming was mixed and small scale. All towns small or large had small mixed farms producing grains, fruit, vegetables, meat, milk and eggs in their locality. It is only over the course of one lifetime that we have seen large cities such as Melbourne and Sydney loose the market gardens on their outer ring.
How did this come about? An easy answer is to say that population growth in our big cities means that the land used previously for producing food has been needed for housing. Yes this is certainly true of big cities, but what about smaller rural towns, where population has decreased and so have the small mixed farms?
This did not happen by accident, the shift to broadacre (industrial) farming was a world wide agenda endorsed by the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in the late 1960’s known as the Green Revolution. This began primarily as a humanitarian initiative to end world hunger. In fact, Norman Borlaug known as the "Father of the Green Revolution", received the Nobel Prize in 1970 credited, with the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of farm management techniques, the distribution of of hybridised seeds, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. All leading to significant increase in agricultural production that saved over a billion people from starvation.
The industrialisation of farming that resulted from the Green Revolution has developed hand in hand with global food empires. One major example of this is Monsanto, a company that started as a chemical producer manufacturing DDT; Agent Orange and Glyphosate herbicides (Round Up); and is now the leader in genetically modified and hybridised crops; one of the major pesticide producers; and owns 26% of total world seed production.
It has also become clear in the 21st century that industrialised farming has failed to feed the world. The FAO estimates that the amount of food produced in the world could currently feed 12 billion people. (world population is estimated at 7 billion) Nonetheless, more than 1 billion are still suffering from hunger, whilst 1.5 billion adults are overweight. It also estimates that 40% of the total daily global production of food is wasted. 80% of the worlds soya bean production is used to make stockfeed primarily for intensive poultry and pig production for the 1st world. This is putting the Earth’s resources under increasing pressure and are symptoms of an unhealthy and unequal food production system.
Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at the University of California, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, summarises the major problems with industrial agriculture and global food empires:
They control 80% of world agriculture and promote monoculture farming. Industrial agriculture is:
(Terra Madre, 2016)
350 million small and peasant farmers are producing 50% of the worlds food. It is not about the quantity of land farmed but the key factor is productivity and energy efficiencies per hectare. Small farm inputs of 1 kilocalorie can produce between 15 to 30 kilocalories while the average energy of industrialised agriculture food production is 1 kilocalories to produce 1.5 kilocalories. (a kilocalorie is a measurement of the amount of energy in the foods you eat.)
We need to become conscious consumers and educate others to go beyond the passive role of consuming and take an interest in those who produce our food. In actively supporting local food producers, we become part of the production process. The term co-producer was coined by Slow Food to highlight how collectively our consumer choices can bring great change to how food is cultivated, produced and distributed.
We need more small farms and more farmers. Our food choices can make small scale food production a reality. So do go to your farmers markets and producer street stalls, introduce yourself, ask how the food is produced, and where it comes from, buy what you can. Support farmers who are creating clean, fair and local food on a small scale. Form a critical relationships with your local farmers because as co-producers this is how you can bring small farms back into our towns and cities and maybe take some steps toward making the world a better, more delicious and healthy place.
This is our small market stall in the courtyard of Provisions Deli & Grocery in Braidwood, NSW. Every Saturday morning we sell our vegetables and preserves and enjoy a chat with our friends and customers. We love exchanging recipes and introducing new and interesting vegetables each season.
Having a chat in the shade with vegetable and produce lovers, and dear friends Tim and Suzie.
Conventional wisdom says that small family farms are backward and unproductive. This is just not so. There is undeniable evidence that small farms are much more productive than large farms, if the total output is considered rather than the yield from a single crop.
Diversified farming systems, in which the small-scale farmer produces grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products in the same field or garden, out-produce the yield per unit of single crops such as corn grown alone on large-scale farms. A large farm may produce more corn per hectare than a small mixed farm, however polyculture productivity in terms of harvestable products per unit area is higher than under a single crop with the same level of management. In the United States the smallest two-hectare farms produced $15,104 per hectare and netted about $2,902 per hectare. The largest farms, averaging 15,000 hectares, yielded $249 per hectare and netted about $52 per hectare. (Source:http://monthlyreview.org/2009/07/01/agroecology-small-farms-and-food-sovereignty/)
Polyculture has long been recognised as highly productive. Simple season extension practices and intensive polyculture were used by the market gardeners of Paris in the mid 19th century. Occupying 6% of the land within the city limits of Paris the maraîchers (market gardeners) produced enough food for the inhabitants of Paris (1.5million) as well as exporting to England. They averaged between four to eight harvest per year from the same piece of ground. The modern proponent of intensive market garden polyculture is Elliot Coleman.
Our small village farm in Braidwood is much much less than 1.5 acres (0.6 of a hectare). Yet from that small market garden we produce 2.0 tonne of produce annually. This does not include the meat and eggs we also grow. Small is definitely bountiful.
By managing fewer resources more intensively, small farmers are able to make more profit per unit of output, and thus, make more total profits—even if production of each commodity is less. In overall output, the diversified farm produces much more food.
Not only do small-to-medium-sized farms exhibit higher yields than conventional larger-scale farms, they do this with much lower negative impacts on the environment. Research shows that small farmers take better care of natural resources, including reducing soil erosion and conserving biodiversity. So in terms of converting inputs into outputs, society would be better off with small-scale farmers.
According to United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation (FOA), small farm food production can feed the world. Every person that supports their local farmers market, their regional food producers and grows some food in their garden is changing the future of our world, one meal at a time.
Autumn is in full swing, the leaves are falling, the days are sunny and the mornings are getting crispy. The frost season has started in our cool climate region of the Southern Tablelands. This is not uncommon for this part of the state known as the Capital region. The Capital region, the Alpine regions of NSW and Victoria and many parts of Tasmania are the most extreme cool climate regions in Australia. Apart from the Alpine regions which experience heavy winter snow falls, the Capital region (and Tasmania) is the harshest frost region in Australia. We experience on average 109 frost nights per year. Our frost season officially begins on 23 March through to 22 November, although we can have a frost outside of this time frame. While this high number of frosty nights can mean some very cold starts to the day it also means we have an equal amount of bright sunny joyous days.
While Braidwood experiences a long frost season we rarely experience snow.
Other frost prone cool climate regions of regions of Australia experience between on average 20 to 50 frost nights per year with an average minimum temperature of 0 ° (The Central Tablelands, Central West, Northern Tablelands and some parts of the Darling Downs). In the Capital region our average minimum temperature is -5 °. This is why we find that most cool season planting guides do not seem "right" in our region. Cool season planting guides are based on climate conditions of the more "moderate" cool climate areas, which form the majority of cool climate regions in Australia.
Frosts and low temperatures can have a detrimental affect on plant growth and development, however there are some plants that require a period of cold to be fully productive. Garlic is one such plant. The Turban varieties (Monaro Purple) are generally planted in Autumn (April) with early pre winter growth focused on root development. Growth continues through winter and it is the increasing day length and warming soil that stimulates bulb development in early spring. Other cool season vegetables include members of the Brassica Family - cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale to name a few. However there are some traps for the unwary with some members of this cool season plant group. Our very low temperatures (average minimum -5 °) while not having an impact on plant growth, will burn the developing heads of both broccoli and cauliflower. This is when you need crop protection. It can be as simple as a plastic plant pot placed over the forming head each night to provide protection or for a larger number of plants, agricultural fabrics can used to cover entire rows.
At Wynlen House we use agricultural fabrics with a metal cloche frame to provide crop protection. The material we mostly use is a knitted permeable plastic polymer (polypropylene) called insulnet. Thermal Fleece is another product and these permeable textiles allow water to pass through and the plants and soil can breathe. Shade cloth can also be used to provide reasonable crop protection. Agricultural fabrics limit light frosts but do not provide complete protection particular from hard frosts. More importantly, they ameliorate the overall impact of very low temperatures enabling plant growth and development to continue, maintaining soil temperatures and air temperatures up to 3 ° warmer than unprotected garden sections.
The use of row covers or even very simple low cost plant protection strategies enables all year vegetable production in the low temperature extremes of our cool climate region.
Insulnet is available from Redpath Australia http://www.redpath.com.au/
Thermal fleece is available from Weed Gunnel http://www.weedgunnel.com.au/
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm