Hunter Valley Feed

Skills for sustainable living - workshops in the Hunter Valley May 2015

One of the aspects of sustainable living that excites me the most is that there's so much to learn. There's seemingly endless knowledge to acquire and more than a life-time of skills to gain.

Thankfully, there are plenty of individuals and organisations out there providing resources and courses to make learning easy.

Here's a selection of upcoming courses and workshops for the Hunter region this month.

Click on the headings for more information and to register. 

Wild101, May 15-17 with Wildcraft Australia

Note: registrations for this workshop closed yesterday - but maybe they can squeeze you in if you ask nicely :-)

Wildcraft Australia Wildcraft 101. Little eco footprints

Niki from Wildcraft Australia starting a fire without matches. Little eco footprints

This weekend course is for anyone interested in wilderness survival skills, bush crafts, nature and developing bush confidence.

Learn how to start a fire without matches, build a shelter, weave a natural basket and forage for bush tucker.


Hemp Masonry, 16th - 17th May, with Shepherds Ground and The Australian Hemp Masonry Company.

This hands-on workshop provides a unique and exciting opportunity to learn how to build your own hemp masonry walls.

You will go away with a whole new skill set and a manual. 


Part-time mid-week Permaculture Design Certificate, 10 weeks starting Wednesday 20th May, with Purple Pear Farm

This one has me seriously tempted. A part-time mid week PDC! (updated: I've registered! Anyone want to join me?)

For more than ten years Kate and Mark have offered the PDC to people of the Hunter Valley and beyond and have seen many people go on to do great things around the world. From consultancy and aid work to teaching and simply providing for their families, graduates of the PDC at Purple Pear Farm have gained the confidence to live life in a sustainable and regenerative way.

The course follows the curriculum set out in the Permaculture Design Manual by Bill Mollison and continues with the teaching of David Holmgren. 


Brian Keats workshop, 23rd May, with Hunter Biodynamic Group. 

Brian Keats has been publishing an annual Antipodean Astrocalendar and moon planting guide for decades. His calendars are widely used by biodynamic practitioners to understand natural rhythms and guide gardening and farming practices.

A morning seminar will be followed in the afternoon by a Q & A session on using the Astrocalender.

In the evening, a star - watching session will be accompanied by stories from Greek and Australian Aboriginal Cultures.


Medicinal herbs in cooking, 23rd May with the Common Sustenance Project

Nissa Phillips, Common Sustenance project coordinator at The Commons Cafe. Little eco footprints

The Commons is delivering a series of ten classes on healthy, frugal and sustainable cooking. Other upcoming classes include healthy cooking on a budget, cheese making, and cooking for kids. 


Grass identification, 23rd May with Trees In Newcastle and the Australian Association of Bush Regnerators.

Themeda triandra,  Little eco footprints

Grass expert Van Klaphake is coming to the Lower Hunter to present a 2 day plant identification workshop on native and exotic grass species of the Greater Sydney region. 

This hands-on workshop is suitable for bush regenerators, landcarers, botanists, plant enthusiasts, council vegetation officers or for general interest.


Introduction to Biodynamics, 30th May with Krinklewood Vineyard.

Peter Windrim and a few of Krinklewood Biodynamic Vinyards many compost piles. Little eco footprints

This hands-on workshop will be relevant to anyone wanting to produce healthy organic produce - whether you have a small backyard veggie garden or a large commercial farm.

Biodynamic practitioners John Priestly and Hamish Mackay will introduce workshop participants to the application and benefits of biodynamics.

Peter Windrim of Krinklewood vinyard (pictured above with a couple of Krinklewood's many compost piles) tells me "Participants will learn how to make compost, use a planting calendar, and make biodynamic preparations that can be used to enhance the fertility and life-energy of their soil".


Learn How to Make Goats Milk Soap, 1st June with Honeycomb Valley Farm 

This hands on workshop will teach you basic goats milk soap-making techniques including how to mix lye, how it saponifies and how to cure soap for a delightfully mild bar. 


Other regular sustainable living workshop providers within the region:


Purple Pear Farm

Kate and Mark deliver a range of courses on permaculture and skills for simple living. Courses over the coming months include cheese and yoghurt making, introduction to biodynamics, compost making, worm farming, plant propagation, and urban food production.


Herbalist Pat Collins

Pat delivers regular courses across the Hunter region on foraging, using herbs, and making your own skin and hair care products.


Master sourdough baker Warick Quinton

Warick runs regular workshops on how to make artisan sourdough bread.


Happy learning. 

A slightly shorter version of this post was originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 11th May 2015.

Time to support Australian garlic growers

Pokolbin Purple garlic. Hunter Valley. Australian Garlic. Little Eco Footprints

Harvest season has begun for Australian garlic growers. Australian garlic is seasonal and available for just a few months of the year, from around November through to May. Outside of those months, most shops only stock imported garlic.

Now is the ideal time to support our Australian garlic growers and buy a year’s supply of garlic.

The Australian garlic industry was devastated in the mid-1990s when cheap Chinese garlic flooded the Australian market. Very few growers persisted. For more than a decade, most stores only stocked imported garlic.

"Quite apart from the inherent food miles, there are several other reasons why we shouldn’t eat this garlic," writes Penny Woodward, author of Garlic: An Organic Guide To Knowing, Growing And Using Garlic.

"Imported garlic is often bleached, irradiated, sprayed with maleic acid to stop it from sprouting, kept for months in cold storage and, finally, it is always treated with methyl bromide before being allowed on to our supermarket shelves."

Elizabeth Durbin among her Pokolbin Purple garlic. Hunter Valley. Australian Garlic. Little Eco Footprints

Thankfully, the Australian garlic industry is starting to recover. There are small-scale growers popping up everywhere. I recently met with one of these boutique growers – Elizabeth Durbin from Pokolbin Purple. She grows garlic on her Hunter Valley property and is secretary of the Australian Garlic Industry Association.

Pokolbin Purple Hunter Valley Garlic

To make sure your precious stash of Australian garlic lasts until next season, you will need to store it carefully.

"The first thing to remember is that garlic is a living organism. Unlike fruit and vegetables that start to decay as soon as they’re picked, garlic remains alive and breathing – just waiting for its opportunity to spring back to life after the summer hibernation,’’ Elizabeth said.

"You need to store your garlic where it can breathe. Never wrap or store fresh garlic in plastic and don’t place it in the fridge. The cold, humid environment of the fridge is a big no-no. These environments can cause your garlic to die, become mushy and rot, or sprout out of season."

"Store your bulbs intact and unpeeled in a cardboard box, paper bag or wicker basket in a dry, dim and well-ventilated location. On top of the fridge or in your laundry or garage may be suitable."

Stored garlic will typically start to sprout in early autumn. To help your stash last a few more months, you can freeze it. To freeze, separate the cloves and place in a container in the freezer. "Frozen garlic will become mushy when defrosted and the flavour not so intense. But frozen Australian garlic is still better than any import you’ll find in the supermarkets over winter," Elizabeth said.

Where to buy Australian garlic

The best place to find Australian garlic is at your greengrocer, farmers’ markets or direct from the farmer. Many Australian garlic growers sell online, including some Hunter region growers (see list below). 

The Australian Garlic Industry Association website contains a directory of Australian Garlic growers and sellers.

If you want to buy Australian garlic, you better be quick. Some growers have sold this season’s harvest already.

Hunter region garlic growers

These growers sell online and/or at various Hunter region markets. Visit their websites for information on where to buy.

Pokolbin Purple

Macquariedale Organic Wines

Moore Wollumbi Garlic

Patrice Newell Garlic

Stellar Garlic

Four Acre Farm. Available for a short time only from Newcastle City Farmers Market.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 8th December 2014.

For those of you who grow your ow garlic - check out this new website by Penny Woodward. It contains up-to-date in-depth information on Australian Garlic Cultivars. 

Berry Delicious Pickings

Picking Blueberries 1 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

It’s blueberry season here in the Hunter Valley, time to enjoy these berries fresh.

Picking Blueberries 2 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Misty Valley Farm in the lower Hunter lets you pick your own organic blueberries for a fraction of what you would pay at the shops.

My daughter and I picked three kilograms of delicious blueberries. 

Picking Blueberries 3 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Or to be more precise, I picked and she sneaked, with her hand making its way to her mouth more often than the bucket.

Picking Blueberries 4 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 5 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 6 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 7 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 8 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

We devoured handfuls on the drive home and the remainder were destined for the freezer.

Blueberries are easy to freeze.

I simply toss the berries into a container and put them in the freezer. If they are not organic I wash them in water and spread them out on a tea towel to dry.

We’ll enjoy the berries over the next few months in our porridge, on yoghurt, in smoothies, and as a simple frozen treat. Frozen blueberries are one of my favourite summer snacks.

Some families return to Misty Valley Farm every year to pick 20 kilograms of Blueberries to create a freezer stash that will last the year.

These local home frozen berries are far superior to the bags of frozen berries you’ll find in the supermarket.

Most, if not all of the berries you’ll find in the supermarket are imported from China and Chile.

Not only do these berries come with high food miles, they may also carry high levels of mould, fungicides and other chemicals.

Misty Valley Farm is open to the public during blueberry season - from around December until early February. 

More information on visiting the farm can be found on the Misty Valley Farm website

Are you a fan of pick-your-own farms? Do you know of any other pick-your-own farms in the Hunter region or elsewhere? I know of Hillsdale Orchard - but would love to know of others. 

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 26 January 2013]

Pick your own oranges, Hillsdale Orchard, Hunter Valley

Pick your own oranges Hillsdale Orchard Hunter Valley 1a

A few weeks ago Little Eco asked me if oranges grew on trees or under the ground. I was a little surprised by her question because we have a couple of lime and lemon trees in our backyard. So I decided that we needed to visit an orange farm.

I’d seen Bulga Oranges at the Newcastle City Farmers Markets and had heard that you can pick your own from their farm. We headed off in search of Bulga Oranges on the weekend. There are only a few streets in Bulga so I didn’t bother finding out any more information before setting off. We started our search at Bulga’s ‘famous’ Cockfighters Tavern (does anyone know what it’s actually ‘famous’ for?). Thirty minutes and six streets later we spotted a small ‘Oranges For Sale Pick Your Own’ sign at Thompsons Road (four km south of the tavern). At the end of Thompsons road nestled in a valley amongst Yengo and Wollemi National Parks we found Hillsdale Orchard.

Pick your own oranges Hillsdale Orchard Hunter Valley 1

We were greeted by Betty who gave us a bucket to fill for only $10. Betty led us to rows and rows of navels waiting to be picked. 

Pick your own oranges Hillsdale Orchard Hunter Valley 2

Pick your own oranges Hillsdale Orchard Hunter Valley 2b

Pick your own oranges Hillsdale Orchard Hunter Valley 3

Pick your own oranges Hillsdale Orchard Hunter Valley 4

Pick your own oranges Hillsdale Orchard Hunter Valley 5

Pick your own oranges Hillsdale Orchard Hunter Valley 6

Pick your own oranges Hillsdale Orchard Hunter Valley 8

Before leaving us alone to pick our own fruit, Betty told me that her favourite moment each day is eating an orange in the orchard straight from the tree. I can see why. 

Hillsdale Orange Orchard
Thompsons Rd Bulga 

Want to find a pick-your-own farm near you?  

Farms are only open when their fruit is in season, so phone first.

Have you visited a pick-your-own farm lately? Do you know of any other pick-your-own farm directories? 

A 100 metre meal

Margan Resturant Hunter Valley 100 m meal Roast lamb

We enjoyed a 100 metre meal at Margan Resturant in the Hunter Valley recently.

All ingredients were sourced fresh and from within 100 metres of our table.

Margan Resturant Hunter Valley 100 m meal corn soup

We started with a delicious corn soup served in a sweet teeny little cup.

The main was slow roasted lamb with creamy potato mash, heirloom vegetables - all from the kitchen garden. Margan raise their own Black Suffolk lambs in the paddock next to the garden.

Margan Resturant Hunter Valley 100 m meal Margan Wine

We also enjoyed a glass of Margan Barbera - with the grapes grown less than 100m from our table.

After lunch we wandered through the kitchen garden.

Margan Hunter Valley Garden

Margan Hunter Valley Vegie patch

Margan Hunter Valley Strawberry patch

I'm in love with this strawberry patch! I'm thinking I have to have one as big as this.

Margan Resturant Garden Hunter Valley

The concept of the 100 metre meal has inspired me.

A few years back when our urban garden was still productive I would have regularly whipped up a 100m meal - tomato and basil omelet, veggie frittata, or BBQ mushrooms and grilled veggies.

I'm looking forward to the day when 100 metre meals are possible again.

Do you eat 100 metre meals very often? How long could you survive on food that is grown within 100 metres? This guy managed an entire year!