The sun was out but the gumboots still came in VERY handy as there were lots of puddles from all this rain we've been having.
We congregated outside the packing shed at the farm and the farmer Michael Champion gave us a quick rundown on the 'rules'. The kids then contributed what they knew about organic farming and Michael told us briefly about herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. After a last loo opportunity we were off down the lovely bush road, past a full to the brim dam and lots of pristine native land featuring tea trees, gymea lillies and gorgeous rocks.
Our first stop was to see garden beds in three stages of development.
Stage 1: Chop all the weeds down and lay weed mat over them, effectively killing them by sunlight deprivation. This way all the nutrients from the dead weeds can be absorbed back into the soil. Michael spoke passionately about the wonders of soil and how it is much more than 'just dirt'. He spoke of all the millions of creatures that live in a healthy handful of soil, and how, just like children need constant meals in order to keep playing, so do does soil need feeding in order to stay 'alive'. He also spoke about the food chain that exists amongst soil creatures and later gave the kids a cool handout on this topic. At this stage he also spoke about the three main elements that plants need in order to grow which are nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. This information came in handy later....
Stage 2 : Remove the weed mat, then dig trenches in the bed, lay irrigation piping and fertilize. Michael showed the kids what 'drip' irrigation pipe looks like up close and also chatted about the types of fertilizer he uses. We also saw how quickly weeds spring up in a fresh and healthy bed! As Michael said "nature abhorrs a vacuum", meaning if there is an empty spot nature will fill it up!
Stage 3 : Plant all the gorgeous new seedlings using companion planting ideas. Weed and water as needed......
It was a great deal of information for the kids to take in but they did well! Then it was off further into the farm to look at rows of orange trees. Michael pointed out what happens when the root stock of a grafted tree takes over - you get a dark green spindly shrub with tiny sour fruit and thorns that look like something out of a horror movie! Of course all the older boys had to have a good look at and a 'feel' of these! Michael then showed us some of his weeding tools and demonstrated how to use them without straining your back. Very important for farming (or gardening) longevity...
Then we got the rare opportunity (due to the huge amount of rain) to see a spring bubbling up straight out of the ground! This was a real treasure to behold and the kids were clustered around it accordingly. Michael also showed us the vertical pipe which lead down to an underground river 20 metres below the surface! He dropped a rock into it and we heard it fall.....then splash into deep water - so cool!!!
Then it was the compost heaps where we saw baby corn plants growing straight out of the discarded cob! Nature is truly amazing. On the way back Michael showed us lots of edible 'wild weeds' such as red clover, dock, plantain, dandelion and fat hen which the kids (and parents) delighted in trying. Back at the shed we all had a look inside at the washing area (which recycles it's water) and saw where all the sorting and packing happens preparing food for market. A huge thank you to Michael Champion and his wife Nancy (who kept up the rear answering questions and sharing great knowledge all the time). Organic farming ROCKS!
Then back to the freedom farm we went for an afternoon of pic-nic-ing, swimming, canoeing, horse patting and jumping off the houseboat. At one point I joined the kids on the houseboat and they jumped in amidst cries of 'Nitrogen! Potassium! Phosphorous!'
A lovely day of learning, experiencing, socialising and playing in nature's classroom.