“We just like growing things” was Llew’s answer to why he and Puce started their blueberry farm. Even before we entered the 5-acre netted enclosure, there was plenty of evidence in front of us: the large covered vegetable garden next to the house, the free range pigs in the paddocks.
Once through the sliding gate of the enclosure, we passed other “things” they like to grow — a long row of figs (for a local restaurant), mixed berries and hazelnut trees. The care that is lavished on the 9 varieties of blueberries is obvious. We visited at a time when some varieties were just coming into flower, and some were heavily laden with developing berries.
“We started out wanting to be biodynamic,” said Llew, “and we still use some biodynamic sprays”. He pulled away some of the heavy mulch around the plants to reveal healthy earthworms. The sawdust is bought from the local sawmill which helps the keep pH of the soil acidic for the blueberries. Before the blueberries were planted (about 7 years ago), they had soil tests done and ordered a specific blend of compost for their raised beds from a company in Young. This laid the foundation for the vibrant plants that are now in full production.
The property sits in the middle of a national park, so there is competition for anything edible from the local wildlife, especially birds and wallabies. The overhead netting is for hail protection while the perimeter is bird netting. Puce explained that this is to allow access for the bees to pollinate. Naturally, there are bee hives next to the enclosure.
There’s no access to the electricity grid so the home, pickers’ accommodation and the picking shed are all solar powered. They are in the process of installing a solar pump to move water from the main dam to a storage dam on the highest part of the land. This allows maximum efficiency for the drip irrigation lines.
What started out as a retirement project is now a thriving little business. A mix of locals and backpackers do the picking, although recent changes to the visa laws have reduced the numbers of seasonal pickers. The different varieties of blueberries extend the picking season, and Puce is a firm believer in seasonal eating. Her French heritage has instilled a culture of local seasonal produce, and the place where everyone shopped in regional France was the local market.
“I love coming to the SAGE Farmers Market. I get great feedback and our regulars are interested in the different flavours of each variety. Some are full and sweet, some have a slightly tart and herbal note,” said Puce. “I really look forward to each season at the market. For me, it’s as much about people as selling blueberries.”