Category Archives: 2016

November, 2016

Dandenong Christmas Tree Farm

Farming is an occupation driven by nature’s seasons. With the agroforestry business of growing Christmas trees, this is especially true. Women on Farms West Gippsland members learned so much on a fascinating visit to the Dandenong Christmas Tree Farm at Nar Nar Goon.

Pinus radiata are grown for the annual Christmas market by the Cranston family and their business partners. This market extends interstate and overseas. Even the Maldives Islands are a surprise destination for the festive trees from this successful enterprise.

Neil Cranston started in the business as an employee. In time his involvement grew, with his family taking over the enterprise and its established name. They have plantations and outlets at Officer, Tynong and Nar Nar Goon. Wholesale and retail sales keep them especially busy at this time of the year, but there are months of demanding work beforehand. Neil even observed that the trees require more effort than do the cows on his dairy. The plantations certainly demanded an open and innovative mind to their commercial propagation and successful marketing.

The seedlings are germinated by a specialised nursery then planted out when less than 30 cm tall, at about ten months of age. Depending upon the size sought by customers, the young trees might be harvested at 5, 6 or 7 years of age. However, before reaching this stage, there is an intensive and year round regime of nurturing, shaping, pruning, pest management, fertilising and general care. Everyone wants to buy the perfectly shaped tree!

Hungry rabbits and hares contribute to a small annual loss rate of approximately 2%. Seasonal workers are engaged to help minimise this and to assist with the constant trimming and shaping. By the time the pre-Christmas season starts Robyn is looking forward to welcoming many of their return customers, some going back four generations. She delights in the family visits and the very personal customs some have in what tree they choose and why. As the three Cranston adult children are also engaged in the business it is clear that this farm has a strong family focus.

October, 2016

Poplargrove Mediterrean Miniature Donkeys, Drouin South

Spring has arrived and baby donkeys were happily greeting the Women on Farms group at Andrea’s beautiful farm. Unfortunately the weather was cold and wet at times but the adorable donkeys won over everyone’s hearts.

These donkeys are small, they are used for showing, as pets, breeding, pulling small carts or carrying packs on walks. Stockmarket’s Pocket Change, a jack imported from USA is only 28 inches high at his wither. He was enjoying his time with a few jennies while there were 4 of his lovely foals to greet the women. Donkeys are loveable and when given time to work things out will do most things asked of them. They are hardy animals that enjoy eating a variety of herbs and trees as well as grass.

Temperament is the most import trait Andy breeds for; she has imported several animals from the USA to get the best bloodlines. The usual husbandry work of teeth, feet, and vaccinations are attended and mineral licks provided. Donkeys are very stoic and their blood does not clot well so any serious injuries and gelding require special immediate attention. Donkeys can founder so watching their weight at this time of year is part of the care they receive.

Andy came to donkey breeding about 13 years ago after breeding paint and quarter horses. Moving to the farm with a house, a grove of young poplar trees and a magnificent oak tree she has transformed the place with an extensive garden, shedding, stables and yards. All the paddocks .are surrounded by shelter belts and sheds. The donkeys were very keen to shelter out of the rain.

The donkeys come in a variety of colours, grey, black, brown with spots and all donkeys have the cross markings over their shoulder and backline. Some of the donkeys were classes as “woolies” These donkeys had long hair, about 100mm in length and were even more adorable.

Special care is given to all the donkeys with Andi present at all births and all the animals are hugged and kissed everyday. Their friendliness showed the great love and care lavished on them. Occasionally some are for sale but you always need at least two donkeys to keep each other company. There is a waiting list and prospective owners have to be suitable to ever be lucky enough to own any of these delightful donkeys.

September, 2016

Andrew Bayley admits to a momentary ‘Oh God, what have I done now?’ panic on day one of his newly installed, computerised and highly complex wood burning boiler. This Austrian designed system generates heat from waste wood. Hot water is then piped to warm hectares of under-cover hydroponic tomatoes on the Yarragon farm.

It is one of many state of the art components of intensive vegetable farming. The Bayleys’ ‘Blackwood Park’ specialises in cherry truss tomatoes. Grafted tomato stock are nurtured, pruned, trained and provided with the optimum growth requirements needed to produce rapidly. Vine ripened tomatoes are picked eight to ten weeks from planting.

Each elongated plant continues growth for up to ten months, producing uniform, healthy trusses of twelve cherry tomatoes each truss. These are marketed through Flavorite Tomatoes in Warragul.

Together with the dairy, the hot houses employ around thirty staff, a number being originally from the Philippines and Taiwan, but many locals also find employment on the property.

The innovations and growth of both enterprises have tested the Bayleys’ sense of risk and innovation, generated work for local industries such as engineering and trucking, and have ultimately delivered Gippsland products to markets as far as Hong Kong.

Food production on this scale demands efficiencies and focus. At the same time it shares the fundamentals driving all farmers – need for markets, pest and disease prevention, reliable water and sunshine, and balanced plant nutrients. Hydroponics also require sustained levels of carbon dioxide and humidity. Andrew ensures the adequacy and constancy of the growing environment in the large plastic and glass hot houses.

With Andrew and Angela starting in dairying, being the fourth generation on their farm, not only did they diversify from cattle to tomatoes, but gradually acquired more land as neighbouring properties became available. The dairy, currently supplying Fonterra, relies on a 44 stand rotary milker. Given the crisis with milk prices, the Bayleys are more than pleased that they have their tomatoes.

Women on Farms members who attended this farm visit were generally astounded by the sophistication and ambition of the enterprise. At the same time, they felt proud that such farming success is in their local area.

August, 2016

Warragul Waste Water Treatment Plant 

Women on Farms West Gippsland members spent an interesting morning on a crisp sunny day at the Waste Water Treatment Plant at Warragul. Adrian Harper and Wayne escorted the ladies around the series of treatment tanks where wastewater full of impurities was “cleaned or treated” to be released into the Hazel Creek.

Wastewater from residents and businesses in Warragul is pumped up from the holding pit to the step screen. This is the only time water is pumped on site, and then all movement is by gravity flow. At the step screen all the non-biodegradable rubbish is removed. This is where “wipes’ of all types end up, if they haven’t blocked private toilets already. This waste is deposited into bins for landfill.

Then the wastewater goes a circular tank where a vortex causes the sand and grit to fall to the bottom from where that is pumped to a bin for removal. The wastewater now flows into the treatment plant. The bacteria in the anaerobic tanks get to work to remove the Phosphorus. The Phosphorus will be held in the sludge that is later removed.

The wastewater then flows to the aerobic tanks where different bacteria break down any organic material. This is where the Nitrogen is removed to the atmosphere. Then it is off to the clarifier where the sludge settles to the bottom prior to being pumped off.

The water then flows to the Ultra violet shed where any viruses or bacteria are destroyed and clean water is discharged into the Hazel Creek. Water quality tests are regularly carried out with water quality always better downstream of the discharge point than upstream.

The sludge, a valuable source of Phosphorus, is taken to Dutson Downs where it is composted and incorporated into the product Revive for use in fertilizing soil.

The site is managed by one operator with mobile phone and computer technology allowing adjustments over the Internet to fine tune operations.

The normal daily input is 4.5 million litres but the storm the previous night increased the input to 9.5 million litres. Wayne had worked long into the night to keep Warragul, Drouin and Nerrim South wastewater plants operating.

July, 2016

9 Mile Fresh, 9 Mile Road Tynong

On a cold day Women on Farms members spent the day fascinated by apples bobbing about in water. The Thompson family Battunga Orchards and the Ajani family Bon View Orchards have developed site where the apple is centre stage. A large shed houses a purpose built production line incorporating world best technology with great staff to provide fresh apples throughout Australia.

Apples sorted in the morning in Tynong are on the shelves of supermarkets in Sydney by 8am the next day. Supply is even quicker to Melbourne outlets.

The whole set up utilizes the best systems from around the world. German, Italian and Dutch technology is used in the washing and apple-sorting machine. Robotic bin movers feature at the beginning and end of the sorting line. Traditional wooden bins full of apples come from the cold storage rooms where they have been kept cool at 1% oxygen since picking. These bins are picked up and immersed in a vat of water, the apples float out and around to the sorting machine, having first passed an operator who picks out any badly blemished apples and leaves. Then the magic happens, the apples pass through a machine where each individual apple is photographed 100 times and goes into an individual numbered cradle. This machine can identify 800,000 apples per day at 40 per second.

The apples then proceed to where there are about 50 sorting channels and they are delivered to the same specifications in each line. Size and colour being the main criteria. The apples are still bobbing about in water until 330 kg of one type is amassed. Then they are automatically shunted along the race and into a bin. This bin is delivered to a set place for collection by a forklift driver to be taken to a correct packing line or cold storage.

Apples are then floated out of this bin, they can be waxed with natural bees wax if required, air-dried and then packed by people into trays, or punnets. The punnets are automatically wrapped in the label required, stacked in trays or boxes, onto a pallet and dispatched for delivery. Apples are also bagged with tight weight specifications maintained .

Attention to providing a great product at the correct specifications has resulted in a successful company. Thank you to Rob for sharing his enthusiasm for apples with us.

June, 2016

Bassine Specialty Cheeses on the Bass Highway, Bass

Women on Farms members spent a great day sampling the efforts of a team of dedicated people at Bassine Specialty Cheeses. The attention to detail in looking after a special product was evident in all parts of production. Kaye Courtney makes wonderful cheeses from the milk her partner Glen Bisognin milks from their Holstein Friesian cows. Recently Tony has added his skills to the team as a master cheese maker to expand the range products available to include soft white molded cheeses such as, brie, camembert feta, marinated feta, spreads and semi hard cheeses and hard cheeses with names such as San Remo and Gurdies along with cream, yoghurt and pasteurized but not homogenized milk. Hallumi and ricotta style cheese are also made.

This successful farm gate store has expanded into an outlet for their products plus those of other local producers and cheese making classes. Visitors can stock up on wine, cheese, preserves and more while enjoying great coffee and tasting platters.

Kaye has been working with dairy cattle off and on for many years while also working in the corporate world. In 2006 she joined Glen on his family dairy farm at Bass and her passion for cheese making expanded. Extensive travel for cheese making workshops and marketing research coupled with determination to get through all the health regulations has resulted in the current factory and farm gate store. It seems the production activities are growing bigger all the time with demand for quality products ever increasing. Social media has also be used very effectively by customers wanting local supplies.

Currently the farm gate store is open at weekends and public holidays but Bassine Specialty Cheeses products and Bass River Dairy’s milk are available at local IGA and other stores. Only some of the milk produced on farm goes into their products so there is room for more production ahead.

It all sounds easy, follow your dreams and it will all come about. Kaye and the committed team at Bassine Specialty Cheeses continue working hard to produce a premium product to a growing band of appreciative customers.


Autumn is the busiest season for seed retailers, Graham’s Seeds. It was a most informative time to visit the seed store and blending facility based centrally in Gippsland at Yarragon. Graham’s Seeds is a proudly independent business, sourcing pasture seed both in Australia and from across the Pacific. Established in 1966, the private company has had a series of owners. For the past twelve years it has been in the competent hands of Frank and Marianne Templeton.

The business is an independent provider of seed, agronomic advice and chemicals. Dairy farmers, graziers of beef and horses, and market gardeners are the main customers. Graham’s Seeds sells mainly pasture varieties but also green manure crop seeds for horticulturalists keen to refresh overworked soils with legumes. Custom blends of seed are mixed onsite according to client needs.

Quality is critical and is achieved through strict purchasing guidelines. All lines of seed purchased by Graham’s Seeds must come with a certification ensuring a minimum purity of 98% and a minimum germination of 85%.

In addition to the retail outlet, there is a nearby research farm. A pastoral property operating as a dairy farm was recently purchased for the purposes of research, trialling new seeds and evaluating agronomic strategies.

The small professional team at Graham’s Seeds includes two women agronomists. It was fascinating to hear their career stories and of their enthusiasm for agriculture as a direction for young women passionate about rural living. Tertiary agricultural study at the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University was recommended as a good start.

The agronomists participate on the research and demonstration facility, and are available to clients seeking help with pasture improvement, soil tests and location specific advice.

Frank Templeton had much practical wisdom to offer Women on Farms members. He encouraged undertaking periodic soil tests, pacing paddock rotation according to how tough the seasons are, properly spraying out and fully re-planting pastures when they become degraded, and for purchases of seed to be from retailers who are members of the Australia Seed Federation.

April, 2016

Beenak Farm at Hoddles Creek began in 2002 when Ian Cuming took over a more conventional property and organically nurtured kiwifruit vines planted by previous owners. Now, fourteen years on, the annual harvest is up to seventeen tonnes and Ian has well established sales outlets.

Biodynamically grown fruit and vegetables are in high demand in farmers’ markets. The Beenak kiwifruit are no exception.

Kiwifruit, or Chinese gooseberry,  is the edible berry of a woody vine. The fruit has a fibrous, dull greenish-brown skin and bright green or golden flesh with rows of tiny, black, edible seeds. To eat, the fruit has a soft texture and a sweet, unique flavour.

The name ‘kiwifruit’ was reportedly coined when the fruit were exported from New Zealand to the United States around 1966. However, historically, the kiwifruit is native to China. Cultivation spread from China in the early 20th century to New Zealand, where the first commercial plantings occurred. It is now a commercial crop in several countries, not just Australia but also United States, ItalyNew ZealandChile, Greece and France.

Kiwifruit are both delicious and nutritious, being a rich source of vitamins C, K and E, as well as providing dietary fibre.

The variety Ian grows at Beenak is Heywood, the most common type. With the farm being adjacent to a forest, this sort of ecosystem seems to benefit the vines. In addition, the biodynamic farming practices mean that fertilizers and chemical sprays are not used. Organic matter via mulched prunings is added to the soil. Bee hives are brought in just before Christmas each year. Pollination of the flowers is essential as the plants are not self-pollinated, with the vines being either male or female. Adequate watering is essential, thus a key cost input is the irrigation required.

Harvesting typically is in autumn, with all fruit picked in the one pass by employed pickers. Grading of the fruit is undertaken before packing for either wholesale or for weekend farmers markets.

The Women on Farms members who enjoyed hearing of the kiwifruit enterprise appreciated the enthusiasm and knowledge which Ian has invested in this successful Yarra Valley property.

March, 2016

March, 2016

2016’s calendar of out and about begun with a farm visit to Garfield North property ‘Bingarra’, owned by member Lyn Link and husband Peter. Scenic, hilly and productive, the farm grazes cattle and horses.

For WOF members, this visit also provided an important chance to hear from guest speaker, Max Caithness, on myna bird eradication.

The common or Indian myna, note the spelling, can be confused with the harmless honeyeater, Noisy Miner. While both have similar colourings and size they are not the same in their impact on the environment.

The common myna is a nuisance. It invades, disrupts, attacks and takes over. It degrades woodland ecosystems by removing other birds. It is highly invasive and could be compared to the rabbit and cane toad! Why is this? This bird was rather innocuously introduced to Australia in the 1860s as a mode of insect control in market gardens. One hundred and fifty years later, man has to deal with what is now a true pest species.

Max Caithness’ talk was focussed on the hazards, trapping and hopeful eradication of the Indian mynah. This is essential if Australia is not to lose many valuable native bird species. The problems with mynahs do not stop here. The myna, with its nesting behaviours and droppings around homes and gardens, carries lice which are vectors for coccidiosis and dermatitis. Thus, common mynahs are harmful to man as well as to other birds.

With no permission required for trapping and eradicating mynahs, the chief requirement is to do so humanely and effectively. Traps are available, being specially designed. Farm supply stores have them for sale, as do some private suppliers and LandCare groups. Baw Baw and Cardinia Shires reportedly have myna traps for hire.

Mr Caithness emphasised that trapping is worth the effort and can make a difference. Winter months when there is reduced food availability for the birds are more likely times to set effective traps, with care needed to ensure that native birds and other animals are quickly released if also caught. Given the successful spread of this feathered pest, its eradication will be a massive task. This requires both community persistence and political will.