Leaf & Petal, Turlinjah : Farms With A Future


Case Study: Leaf & Petal, Turlinjah

Farm Overview

Leaf & Petal is owned and operated by Sasha Ermichina and Bret House, the farm is just over 8.5 hectares with half a hectare currently used for production. It is located in a coastal climate approximately 10 minutes South of Moruya with light, loamy soils on a granite and clay base.

The property is mostly located on a slope. The house and the garden are on the highest and flattest part. Being on top of a hill, the garden is experiencing soil run off, leaving a very rocky soil behind. The highest point of the property is in the west side of the land. From there it slopes north, east and south. The state forest on the west side border rises slowly from the property. The garden is located on the north facing slope.

Leaf & Petal is not served by reticulated town water supply and rainfall is inconsistent, often coming in isolated storm events. There are two concrete water tanks with a total capacity of 91 000 litres and an additional plastic tank with a capacity of 10 000 litres. A dam has been built on the northern side of the property but does not hold water. A second dam is located on the east, however lower than the garden and access to this water for irrigation is difficult.

The property is adjacent to Moruya State Forest and uphill from a creek which flows into Tuross Lake. The existing vegetation on the property has been classified as South East Dry sclerophyll forest. The dominant trees are stringy bark and ash eucalypts, accompanied by an open layer of smaller trees. There are also areas of Coastal Valley Woodlands.

The flora includes spotted orchids and large areas of smooth apple. Fauna diversity is very large: more than 50 bird species have been seen on the property.

There are also plenty of marsupials (wallabies, kangaroo, possums, wombats and bandicoots) and reptiles (snakes, lace monitors, skinks) and amphibians.

Leaf & Petal is primarily a market garden farm to grow fresh vegetables, herbs, flowers and herbal teas to sell at farmers markets, cafes, local grocers and through a box scheme.

Background of the farm

Sasha and Bret came to Leaf & Petal in July 2015, from a suburban life in Perth. They felt that this land needed to be developed with care and with the landscape, not against it, and see themselves as custodians, not owners, of this land.

Some areas previously cleared for cattle had some revegetation work done about 10 years ago. Most of the bush area is dense and provide great habitat for wildlife, however it is also a serious fire hazard. A small part of the farm was used as an inefficient orchard with most of the trees having never been pruned and inappropriate for the climate. The previous owners used a number of chemicals on the farm including pesticides and herbicides.

A large raised garden looked like it was used for growing vegetables but was also a dumping and burning ground. Most of the area around the house is kikuyu grass.

 

Changes that have been made

Grassed areas have been converted into commercial beds. After fencing an area about ½ acre in size, market garden beds have been dug up and had multiple sowing of cover crops to increase organic matter in the soil.  

The beds are covered with driplines for irrigation and black plastic to kill weeds. Worms (hopefully) will turn the manure into fertile beds for summer crops. The small amount of soil, and the struggle to grow nutrient rich produce, turned the vision of Sasha and Bret for the garden towards growing more herbs and flowers that can tolerate weak soils and drought. Listening to the landscape, not imposing their will on it.

Round up and other ‘cides’ have not been used on the property for two years. To increase soil amount, as well as its health and biodiversity, they are making and using compost, seaweed and comfrey tea, worm casting and worm liquid.  Chickens have also been integrated into the garden management plan to help increase nutrients by lightly tilling and digging weeds and cover crops into the soil.

Water retention and water quality:

Consistent access to water for irrigation and personal use is a priority. For now, they have integrated a dripline water system in the commercial garden which is more efficient that overhead sprinklers.

Plans for the Future

  • Conversion of the chicken house into a chicken tractor for better efficiency (almost done)
  • Creation of more beds including raised beds for mints
  • Building compost heap
  • Glass house/nursery construction
  • Local vegetation specialist to come and identify flora
  • Building drying shed for herbs and flowers for tea blends

The owners believe they will be working on increasing soil amount and quality for quite a few more seasons. It is becoming more like growing soil than crops and the knowledge of the chemistry behind it is always a work in progress.

More commercial beds are yet still to be built and prepped. The variety of crops will also increase with the coming seasons.

Water: The dam on the north side is now used to irrigate the market garden using a solar pump to get the water at the top of the hill and stored in a tank. The water is gravity fed through a dripline system. Retention of water at the top of the hill for the garden and bushfire preparedness is a great advantage and assistance from the RIA group was used to achieve this.

Biodiversity: The increased amount of beds will permit the owners to increase polyculture, making the landscape more diverse.

The focus of the Ground Work Day will be on water management and implementation of recommendations from The RIA Group who have been engaged.

 Join In the Ground Work Day

Acknowledgements: SCPA-South East Producers, LLS, Leaf & Petal