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“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

For Now... Saying Goodbye to Growing Brassica's

G'Day Folks,

Winter has officially arrived on the farm, temperatures are getting down towards 4 degrees in the early hours just before sunrise, although we are yet to see our first frost. The winter veg is looking great considering the amount of rainfall it has endured, but our successional crop of winter veg has come under attack by the growing number of Bower Birds that seem to find our farm one of the nicer places to live within the Lorne Valley.

Most farms that exist in the valley have mainly been cleared for raising cattle with the odd patch of trees and shrubs lining the creek banks and steeper ground not worthy of maintaining pasture. However, our fields of vegetables are surrounded by forests which attract healthy numbers of bird species creating a wonderful balance to keep insect populations from getting out of control and destroying our crops.

Although one of those birds just happens to do an awful lot of damage to our winter crops. The bowerbird diet consists mainly of fruit but also includes insects (especially for nestlings), flowers, nectar and leaves in some species. The satin and spotted bowerbirds are considered agricultural pests due to their habit of feeding on introduced fruit and vegetable crops. But we must also recognise they have been part of this intricate ecosystem far longer than we have been growing vegetables in it, which brings me to the dilemma I'm about to share with you.

We have tried netting the crops they prefer to eat (those from the Brassica family, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage etc.) and whilst this keeps the crop well protected, it increases our costs significantly. First there is the labour to install wire hoops every 2m along each bed, draping nets over the hoops and pinning them down, then these nets and hoops have to be removed each time the crop is weeded. On average a winter crop of Broccoli will stay in the ground for 8-12 weeks depending on the hours of sunlight it receives throughout the season. Each crop requires weeding at least 3-4 times to keep weeds back and allow each plant to reach full maturity. Ultimately this results in a financial loss when selling winter vegetables at the market rate.

So the way I see it, we will not be able to produce brassicas until an affordable technology becomes available to keep these intelligent birds at bay. Speaking with other farmers that have tried sound systems with sensors, they don't work for long, the birds just get used to the noise and ignore it. The alternatives they have recommended are using poison (strictly forbidden in organics and not something we would ever consider) or shooting them. We have very high numbers of bowerbirds due to our surrounding forests, we are not just talking about one or two pesky birds, we are talking about hundreds and if they are thriving in our ecosystem there must be a reason for it. To disturb that balance seems not only ignorant but ultimately futile, for the loss of an insect eating bird results in the increase in vegetable eating insects and on and on it will go until we kill everything.

What this problem demonstrates is the real costs in producing cheaper food. Cheap food requires the total destruction of any animal or insect that damages our crops. Cheap food requires the use of poisons and chemical fertilisers that make our food artificially cheap. I use the word artificially because the true cost to our health and the health of our land is never paid for at the supermarket check out. The true cost is borne by our taxpayer funded health care system and the environmental cost can't even be estimated due to its enormity and complexity. I know this information may sting a little at the moment with grocery bills skyrocketing, but avoiding the realities of our food system is only going to perpetuate the problem.

For now, we will plant the remaining trays of seedlings and keep our fingers crossed the bowerbirds find something else to munch on. But next season we will focus on growing only crops that are suited to our land, climate and biodiversity. Eradicating a native bird species to make crops profitable is in contradiction to everything we believe in. We must start thinking holistically if we are to not only sustain ourselves on earth's increasingly delicate and intricate ecosystem, but to thrive within it.

P.S. We will continue to supply all of your winter vegetables from certified organic farms further afield, they do not have the same intensity of bowerbird populations our farms ecosystem sustains. The more we learn about farming this land, the more we realise why we are one of the only Certified Organic mixed vegetable farms in our region. But we are learning what grows well here, so there is light at the end of this tunnel!

Thank YOU for joining us on this epic journey & supporting Your local farmer!

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