Andrew and Vikki Jones moved from the Tuggeranong valley to a 16-hectare farm at Burra on Canberra's 100th birthday. BurraBee farm is predominantly woodland, a yellow box (Eucalyptus melliodora) property, and bees were the instigator of their move.
The trees bear honey-scented flowers between September and February, and when the yellow box is not in bloom, the bees have 2ha of market garden vegetable patches and other native flowers from which they feed. The couple sells only raw honey from the hives, meaning it is not heat treated, leaving all the natural vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants in the honey.
Vikki grew up on a large rural farm in western NSW and was raised on home-grown food. The fourth-generation on the family farm was growing merino sheep for their wool and wheat. In the 1980s Andrew migrated from England where his grandfather was a keen vegetable gardener and Andrew picked the seasonal produce.
In Burra the Jones grow vegetables using regenerative practices and no chemicals. They keep cows in the back paddocks and turkeys, ducks and chickens. They have 100 chickens from the heritage breeds Sussex, Australorp, Plymouth rock, Wyandotte and Welsummer, all known for their egg-laying capabilities and great foraging skills.
They fertilise the market garden patches to increase the quality of the soil and are free range, being rotated after the cows have been in a paddock. This reduces the number of flies, provides food for the chickens and spreads the cow manure over the grass to increase fertility, producing better grass for their next rotation.
Their first step when moving to Burra was to get a soil test to ascertain what was needed. Compost has been the answer and they have to double dig to help root systems penetrate the soil. Castings from a worm farm are used as a foliate spray and they are building swales on the slope of the hill to capture nutrients instead of them washing off the farm. They have farm dams and a natural creek.
Peas, potatoes, pumpkins, beans and garlic are sown, but all the BurraBee vegetables are raised from heirloom seed in homemade deep seedling trays then transplanted into garden beds. The Jones purchase their seeds from organic Green Harvest in Queensland and online from The Seed Collection in Victoria.
Winter crops include Blue Di Ciccio broccoli, French Blue Solaise leeks, Snowball cauliflower and Detroit and globe beetroot varieties. They are also growing kale, spinach, kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, spring onions, celery and broad beans. Turmeric is grown in a greenhouse.
When Andrew was diagnosed with coeliac disease it sharpened the couple's focus and, through the journey of improving his health, they dedicated themselves to growing fresh, seasonal food for their family and others and reconnecting the general community to this resource.
Their bio-intensive market gardening method is about sustainability using available resources. This is achieved by composting to increase soil fertility, deep soil preparation, synergistic planting and close plant spacing and use of heirloom seeds.
For a number of years they have been fermenting their vegetables, mainly with the idea of preserving the harvest. Fermented foods are nutritious and easier for the body to digest. The beneficial micro-organisms add live enzymes, B vitamins and protein to food.
They hold workshops relating to fermentation, including fermenting drinks such as kombucha, ginger beer and kefir, preserving and fermenting foods including kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, and making sourdough.
This writer first met the BurraBee team at a Canberra market last Christmas. I was drawn to their stall by the large bunches of bright orange Dutch carrots tied with string and smart labels, bottles of fermented drinks, bright flyers and brown paper bags designed by Andrew and Vikki in conjunction with Papercut Graphic Design in Turner.
They are now at the Farmers and Foodies Market in the Kingston Old Bus Depot area each Friday from 3pm to 7pm, at Canberra City Walk Markets on Saturdays between 10am and 4pm and at the Queanbeyan Market held on the third Sunday of each month from 9am to 1pm.
They also sell Harvest Bags via their website (BurraBeeFarm.com.au), only available via pre-order. The contents change weekly and consist of seasonal vegetables and sometimes eggs, honey and ferments.
BurraBee is starting its first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Harvest Hampers. This is a membership-only, pre-paid program, where customers pledge their support and share the risk and rewards of the harvest.
The membership is paid at the beginning of the season (spring and summer) and members will be provided with a share of the anticipated harvest. The aim of the CSA is to increase the involvement of customers with the farm and strengthening the local food system.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer