Tucked away in the bush on the Nelson Bay plains is Bob's Farm Berries. They specialise in growing southern highbush and rabbiteye varieties of blueberries, that thrive in the local acid sandy soils, in addition to raspberries, youngberries, boysenberries, strawberries, and garlic. David and his wife bought the small bush plot with good friends of theirs who also built a home there, making the move to acerage affordable. Most of the block has been preserved in it's natural state, with perhaps an acre cleared around their home. I visited their place with Hunter Organic Grower's Society last month.
Blueberries grown organically at Bob's Farm
Growing since 2008, David is a wealth of knowledge on blueberries. They selected the Southern Highbush, which has 2 kg crop, a lower yield than their other main variety, Rabbit Eye which grows to over 3 meters, producing a heavy yield of 3-4 kg. Misty Blue is one of their most successful varieties, Powder Blue is the personal favourite. The plants require constant moisture, 25 mm rain in autumn, and at fruiting time 40mm per week, with daily watering. The ideal Ph of their water is 5.5, the soil can be as low as 5 or for some varieties even lower. They find certified organic bagged fertilizer, such as Super Organic Growth by Ktec, yields consistent results. If you're fertilising your berries at home use cow not chook manure, as they require a low phosphate input. They also apply zeolite (natural rock mineral) for holding water (Red Rock Booster), use the coarse variety to avoid dust inhalation. The bushes take 4 years to reach maturity and are kept pruned at eye level for easy management. The DPI recommends that plants are replaced every 8 yrs, but David feels if the plants are well managed they should be good for 50 yrs plus. One of the problems blueberries can have is lime induced chlorrosis, if the Ph is too high. Yellowed leaves with green veins is evidence of this which can be solved by application of sulphur.
Their garlic plot is modest, perhaps only 100 - 200m2, but yields a good crop. David grows the Australian purple and Giant Russian variteies. Harvest for all crops is in Oct- Dec, with Farm Gate sales on Fridays during these months. 5000 bulbs were planted this year, he knocks out 500 per hour with his homemade multiple prong garlic planter. To grow garlic they require good levels of sulphur in the soil, apply with lime, plant twice the depth of the bulbs in string line rows, apply chicken manure. Use crop rotation to guard against build up of pests in the soil. Nematodes can be an issue, so don't rotate with solencea, however pumpkins and sunflowers are ideal (because their nice to look at says David). To mulch he uses what he has in abundance, leaf mulch from the surrounding bushland.
Organic weed control using a steamer
Organic methods of weed control can be high tech. David whipped out his impressive piece of technology, a steam weeder, and gave us a demo on the power of steam to curtail the invading growth of buffalo grass. Using either a close or open head on the end of a long handle, the machine is used a bit like a vaccume cleaner, run over the grass edges of the rows to kill off the invaders.
Most of their produce is sold at the farm gate, including Asian tourists buying up big quantities of garlic to ship home with them (Australia must be producing good stuff!). You can visit their farm gate on Fridays from 2pm (Dec - Jan), Saturday from 2pm (when stock available), 3479 Nelson Bay Road, Bobs Farm, NSW. A big thanks to David and his wife for welcoming us to their farm.