My growing history

I want to take some time to reflect on my past 6 years of farming adventures. It seems like i'm in a dream sometimes, I've found something I love doing and somehow, I've been fortunate enough that I can just keep on doing it. This post is just a summary of these years. I intend to go into more depth as time permits to tell the tales of the key points in my growing life.

How and why did I start growing... ?

My first little garden was at the Willunga Waldorf School. I started at the school in year 5, Which meant, Id actually missed the veggie garden experience that they had in year 3. At this school my friend Kamilah challenged me to eat a little blue flower she had just picked from the garden. I really didn't want to, but after heaps of encouragement I hesitantly ate my first flower, but not before mashing it in my pumpkin soup... (assuming there would be less chance of death by doing so). 

It seemed that after the encounter with the flower and the lack of death (!) I became intrigued with the fact that food came out of the ground. I was a timid thing, and so the way that I created that experience of finding out more for myself was to hide it. I wandered into the year 3 garden space and found myself stealing? borrowing? plants that were over crowded. Please note: I had never stolen anything in my life and so, upon reflection, I can see that this strong draw to the plants had me doing whatever I needed to to get my hands on the plants. 

So, next, I knew that I had to put these borrowed plants into the ground. I didnt really know where to do this. And just to feel safe, I found a special spot away from the hustle and bustle of school life. The place was behind a shed that was out of bounds. Please note: I also never went out of bounds! I find this hilarious to remember, I was such a good kid, always played by the rules, but for some reason I felt totally ok with my renegade gardening.

 Stall at the channon market NSW 

Stall at the channon market NSW 

Fast Forward 10 years and I was on my way to Northern NSW. I had saved all my gold coins and small notes that I had surplus and had saved up enough for a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) with Geoff Lawton from the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) in the Channon. I had planned to move back to Melbourne after the 2 week course, but It was two years until I left the Byron Shire. The PDC was life changing. I thought I was going to learn how to grow a vegetable garden, harvest some rainwater and maybe build a chicken coop. I got so much more! I look back on my crammed PDC notebook today and I don't know how it is possible for one brain to take in all that information in 14 days. The course covered everything from evidence to act, the state of the world and why we need to make changes, patterns in nature, landscape zoning for efficiency, garden design, case studies, food forests, animal systems, community structures and more. mind. blown. 

 The first market garden I ever worked on  

The first market garden I ever worked on  

Im not joking when I said it was life changing. I stayed at Geoff's farm for 4 months. Working my butt off, feeding, moving and pulling ticks out of animals, planting and harvesting the main crop garden, weeding, making enclosures for animals, harvesting bamboo, planting food forests, maintaining kitchen gardens, controlling pests, marking contours for dams and swales, tanning sheep skins, saving seed, tending the nursery, working with new volunteers, making meals, chop and dropping and so much more.

 My earth works course at PRI  

My earth works course at PRI  

Whilst I was at PRI I also attended the Earthworks course. It was amazing to learn the principles of water harvesting using earthworks. Water will always run at 90 degrees to contour, so using this law there is lots that can be done to slow down the flow of water and put it to work along the way. During the course we built dams from scratch, repaired older damns, marked out and dug swales, cleaned old spillways and had a ball playing with big machines.

 One of my first jobs on an organic farm, in Byron bay, NSW.  

One of my first jobs on an organic farm, in Byron bay, NSW.  

I left the Permaculture farm and started my career as an organic farmer. I worked on 4 different organic farms around Byron Bay. The most notable was 'Organics Fresh and Wild' a 7 acre farm in Tyagarah. This was an old stone fruit orchard that had been converted to veggie production. Here I gained great experience with general day to day farm operations. I started here as a volunteer, but soon I was employed to take a role of volunteer management and helped run the farm whilst the farmer was away at times. I had worked at farmers market before this, But it was working on this farm, harvesting with volunteers, loading the truck early in the morning for market and selling this super high quality organic produce that really got me excited about markets and farming. 

 The farmers market tall for the farm I worked on  

The farmers market tall for the farm I worked on  

The Byron Bay farmers market and a few other farmers markets became my second home. The atmosphere was electric and contagious and I knew Id found a happy place for life. After two years in Byron I moved back home to Willunga. It had taken me leaving, to actually realise that my home had everything that I loved about Byron, expect the weather, But I love my family more than I love the weather sooooo... Willunga won.

 Diana bickfords organic farm in McLaren flat  

Diana bickfords organic farm in McLaren flat  

It was just over 4 years ago now, that I returned home and met Diana Bickford from Bickleigh Vale Farm. She grows amazing certified organic seedlings and also has a market garden on the side. She took me on board and gave me work and more valuable experience in market gardening. Diana reintroduced me to a temperate climate and expanded my farming knowledge by showing me the work of Eliot Coleman, an awesome market gardener from the states. On Diana's farm I learnt a lot more about farming hand tools (The PRI had introduced me to machettes, sickles and rice knives). Farming on a more human scale connected me to the growing process more, and also made the idea of one day running a farm a bit more conceivable.

 The photo that started my long time desire to do an organic farmers nude calandar 😉 

The photo that started my long time desire to do an organic farmers nude calandar 😉 

I had to really face the fact that Im just not the kind of girl that gets excited about makeup, clothes, latest trends or shoes... I get way more excited about finding a rainbow chard leaf that could cover my whole torso! Im totally ok with that. 

 Starting my own growing ventures in small pieces of land all over Willunga  

Starting my own growing ventures in small pieces of land all over Willunga  

During the last 7 years Ive moved around a lot. I didn't have a stable home location for longer than 9 months. Its because of this that Ive seen many little gardens flourish for one or two seasons before I leave them behind to start another in another place. 

 The green room garden  

The green room garden  

I grew a few gardens on the main street of Willunga. This was an amazing (unintentional) social experiment. For the most part the veggies that were grown on the footpath were very well respected! only occasionally I would find someone sneaking a cheeky taste of a tomato! I loved the reactions of people walking down the street. It brought so much joy and excitement when they realised it was food they were looking at.

 Garden at blue doors on the mains street of Willunga  

Garden at blue doors on the mains street of Willunga  

I adore gardening in small places, I find high density, multi species planting to be so rewarding and beautiful.

 I grow anywhere I can  

I grow anywhere I can  

I plant food where ever I can. I made these little nooks and crannies into flourishing salad bowls.

 A make over  This is in my families back yard. It now has herbs and greens available all year round. 

A make over  This is in my families back yard. It now has herbs and greens available all year round. 

My family moved into a new house and the first thing I had to do was pull convert the existing garden plot into a place suitable for produce. 

 My first harvest from my own farm for Willunga Farmers Market   

My first harvest from my own farm for Willunga Farmers Market

 

It is this happy memory that I will leave you with. This was my first harvest on the farm that I started with my brother Alex. This was the first time I was going to sell my own produce at a farmers market. I look back now and can hardly believe that I have had all of these incredible experiences (and lots more). I feel blessed to be where I am now. Im learning every day, enjoying the challenges and successes of growing produce, I have no doubt that this is something that I will do in some way for the rest of my life. There is nothing more rewarding or nourishing than being able to GROW FOOD!  

Breaking ground at Yia Yia's Farm

Last week we broke ground at our new farm on Norman Road in Aldinga Beach. We are calling this site Yia Yia's farm after my friend's Greek Grandmother Marika Hassiotis, who I always only ever knew as Yia Yia. This land is still owned by the Hassiotis family and they have welcomed me onto the land to grow my market garden business.

I am developing this farm to compliment my current site on top of Willunga Hill (Askara Farm). The plan for this plot is to expand the amount of growing space I have, and to make sure that next winter I have a more mild climate to ensure the crops stay growing strong through those colder months. See my last post for more details on why this is necessary for me. From Late February - September 2016 Yia Yia's farm will be my main growing location.

So how do you break ground on a new farm!?

I want to be clear that I believe there is no 'right' way to do this, that is the beauty of gardening. Each garden, farm, plant and person will bring something different into the equation. I have started many gardens and farms. Each time I have started them slightly different and each time the produce still grew nicely. This particular time, however, I am setting my farm up to continue my market garden and Green Juice business. So, of course, this site is going to look different to how I would set up my garden at home. On this new site I acquired a soil test, tested flow pressure of my water supplies, planned the size and aspect of the beds, established an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the land owners and I have devised a crop plan, making future crop rotations clearer and easier than my past willy nilly plant style. I have done all of this before breaking ground.  

The first step in setting up the structure of the farm, was to mark out our growing space and make sure it was square. This farm will have four plots of sixteen, twenty metre long beds, separated by a 1m access path. The beds are all 80cm wide (the width of a standard walk behind tractor and 5cm wider than the standardised hand tools for market gardeners across the US). The paths are 30cm wide, just wide enough to walk down with light feet. The initial measuring had to be precise to ensure the right amount of beds fit into the space provided. 

 

From past experience and advice from others I have learnt that it is important that the market garden beds are all uniform length. This uniformity helps with record keeping, calculating amounts of seed and seedlings and usability of row covers, tarps and other floating structures. 

Nearly all the previous gardens and farms I have started were free flowing. I would either follow the lay of the land and make swales, or whack crops in willy nilly. Again, I'm not saying this is wrong, it's really beautiful, fun and rewarding, and I still would recommend it in certain situations. This time around, I'm going a bit more standardised and organised to keep the operations clean, clear and regular, a necessity when running any business (so I'm learning).

It took a bit of brain power (and google juice) to drag up old pythagorus' theorem to make sure we were doing all the right things to find square. a²+b²=c² meant that we needed (length of beds) 20m² + (width of each plot) 17m²= (Diagonal) c²  

This simple equation made it easy for us then to know that the diagonal length of each plot should be 26.25m. When both diagonals were the same length, we knew our 4 plots were square.

It was only when we had the measurements sorted that we were ready to welcome Nat Wiseman from The Village Greens of Willunga Creek. The farmers from village greens have a very handy machine commonly called a walk behind tractor. This machine is indispensable in a small market garden. A walk behind tractor is a self-propelled rotary hoe, that can adorn many different attachments. Nat is such a learned young grower who we are very blessed to have farming in the same region as us. He is so generous with his knowledge and passionate about what he does. 

The soil we have at Yia Yia's is top quality black self mulching clay. This type of soil stays soft on the surface when it is dry, forming aggregates that effectively mulch the soil below and keep the moisture levels quite stable. About 2 months ago the farmer who has been using this land for the last 10 years included the site we are farming in his tillage cycle. Since then a few weeds had grown over the site and the clay had settled a bit under the winter rains, but the walking tractor made light work of tilling the weeds in and fluffing up the soil.  

To my surprise the machine was quite user friendly. I had been a bit daunted by it, but after giving it a go, I realised I could grow to feel comfortable using one of these by myself. It is really important for me to feel safe and confident with the tools and processes I use on the farm, as often I am farming alone, or I am working with several volunteers. We did a single pass with the walking tractor over the whole space we wanted to cultivate. The tractor drives itself, so all you have to do is steer it, moving the handles to either side and walk along side it so you aren't walking on the freshly tilled soil. 

Once the soil was tilled and all light and fluffy, we needed to mark out where we needed our paths. We marked out where each path would be and run string line long the length of the plot at each spot. Once the string line was strung tight, we walked across the line to create a clear marker of where our paths were going to be.

We kept moving the string line to the next full measurement (110cm) of the stick and walking out the paths. The whole plot was then all light and fluffy with clearly marked lines ready for the walking tractor to come and furrow out the paths. 

One of the tractors' many great attachments is the furrow. This can be adjusted to several sizes to furrow to your needs. We were very happy with how the machine made the path ways. 

From start to finish, with the tractor, prepping this site took us 5 hours, with two people working most of the time. After seeing this machine work, I have to say I'm pretty smitten, and although I'm still only just becoming comfortable with tilling soil (that's another story) I'm getting a little bit keen on getting myself one!

I want to thank Nat and the Village Greens for the loan of the walking tractor, it was a great experience and a nice bit of learning. Another special thanks also to Nat for guiding us through some of the new techniques we used in setting up this new site. I cant wait to share more of the stories from Yia Yia's Farm with you all. 

My winter farming challenges.

It has been about 6 months since starting up my plot on top of Willunga Hill. I started in late November 2014, a time of heat, dry soils and fast growing plants. Fast forward to now and winter is in full swing. I have farmed from summer to winter before and experienced the difference between the two seasons. But for me, this year, on top of these hills, the summer/winter contrast is even more stark. 

This write up is a break down of some of the challenges I am facing this winter. Im really drawn to start sharing all of my experiences, not just the beautiful edited photos I take and share on Instagram and Facebook. 

 Those days that it is sunny on the plains whilst raining on the hills.

When the first signs of winter appeared, I quickly realised there would be days I would have to leave behind the beloved sunshiny plains where I had farmed last year, to ascend into the rain clouds. I am a hot weather lover through and through, so this realisation made me shudder a bit in disappointment. The more time I spend away from the little available winter sun the moodier I tend to get. So this early discovery hadn't left me in great spirits for my first winter growing on the hill.

 Sunny day in the plains rainy day in the hills. This particular day the cloud on the range did clear up within a few hours. 

Sunny day in the plains rainy day in the hills. This particular day the cloud on the range did clear up within a few hours. 

 So much rain makes so much bogginess.

 Those rain clouds that sit on top of the hill aren't just sitting there, they are usually creating a constant light drizzle with intermittent showers. So much constant rain made so much more wetness than what I was expecting! The lower part of the farm quickly became so boggy that crops began to struggle. Their growth slowed down because of the cold and slowed even further because they have their roots constantly in too much water.  

 The waterlogged part of the farm. Wet paths try and steal our gumboots!

The waterlogged part of the farm. Wet paths try and steal our gumboots!

Too waterlogged to weed

Another challenge with waterlogged soil is that it is virtually impossible to weed. The hoes don't work efficiently at cutting the weeds off from their base and if you try and hand weed too much soil stays attached to the roots. There has been no choice but to leave the weeding until the ground drys up a bit.

 Waterlogged soil makes it extremely hard to weed. 

Waterlogged soil makes it extremely hard to weed. 

Discovering new pests 

Three weeks ago I realised my next fresh crop of silverbeet wasn't looking so flash. I found silvery marks on its leaves. After researching and receiving help from the local growers collective. I found that I have a bad case of red legged earth mite! I didn't know what they were until then. But I discovered they are a sap sucking little mite that lives in the soil, becomes active in the early winter and feeds on leaves. This mite particularly loves to live in Cape Weed, and there is a lot of that growing where I am farming. 

 Silvery marks cause by red-legged earth mite  

Silvery marks cause by red-legged earth mite  

If you'd like to read a bit more about the red-legged earth mite here is a brief profile of them. The are very common and they may be affecting your crops too. 

http://www.herbiguide.com.au/Descriptions/hg_Redlegged_Earth_Mite.htm

This is a video i quickly made to show you the redlegged earth mites on my silverbeet. Usually they will leap back onto the soil when disturbed like this. so they can be hard to identify.

Every winter I rediscover I have terrible circulation.

I don't have the best peripheral circulation, I never really have.  Occasionally the cold just over takes my extremities and the blood doesn't quite get everywhere it should. It's mornings like this that stepping out onto a freezing farm feels particularly difficult.

 Strange lack of blood circulation in my fingers. 

Strange lack of blood circulation in my fingers. 

Solutions

The hills are never going to be the warm haven I always crave in the winter. So this is one issue I'll always have to face head on. I just need to get better at rugging up and waterproofing myself. It is always much colder and wetter up the hill. 

I know now for next year to avoid the bottom 10-12 beds after April. All crops should be out of those beds by then and ill perhaps trial a cold hardy winter cover crop in that space. This could then be tilled into the soil the next spring.  

The red legged earth mites' population may be able to be controlled a bit if measures are taken early in their breeding season. I will research this timing more. I have started trialling eco oil to control the population. Next year ill also avoid growing the crops that they obviously favour (silverbeet, spinach and rainbow chard) and grow the crops (brassicas and others) they are so far avoiding. 

If I want particular crops to grow with more speed, I can implement floating row covers. These would create a warmer environment to speed up crop growth. 

 

 Crops crawling through the winter cold. Still a picture of beauty.

Crops crawling through the winter cold. Still a picture of beauty.

 The importance of knowing your land and proper planning.

As a student of permaculture this reminder is of utmost importance and one I'm sure I'll never stop learning. I started farming on this plot in a rush. I needed a new patch to continue my business and there were many things I didn't research and set up correctly because of this. Most of these issues could have been avoided had I been more aware and informed of my environment.  

Now that I have had these experiences, next year will be a different story for me and this plot of land. 

So much learning 

I love this learning, because sometimes no matter how many times you hear something, or even how well you conceptually understand it, it is not until you are seeing it and experiencing it, that whatever it is, becomes a reality.  

The greatest lesson overall for me, is that only when you dedicate to something, can you really reap rewards. I have been avoiding settling down here and running my own farm for years. I always thought there was probably something better somewhere else. I found this mindset was just a distraction that lead me to feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. I am now running my own business and able to support myself from it, and i wouldn't have it any other way. 

 

 

Break from market for two weeks


That's it! I'm doing it! It's been such a hard decision because I just love being at the markets. But it's official, I'll be taking two weeks break from farmers markets. 

Saturday and Sunday the 27th and 28th June and the following weekend the 4th and 5th of July, The Garden Farmers market stall will be absent from both Willunga and Adelaide farmers markets. 

The second hardest decision was whether to take this time to go on holiday to a warmer destination, or to stay put and work hard towards longer term dreams. 

Putting the phrase long term dreams into the mix, won that option priority. So, Daniel and I are putting these precious 'obligation free' weeks to work. 

As you will read in my next post, there have been many learning curves with my new plot of land on top of Willunga hill. This farm will not be a sufficient space for growing during next winter. So we are setting up another farm! (I'm going to get really good at this farm set up thing soon) .

 The new plot to be started  

The new plot to be started  

The new farm will be on Norman road in Aldinga. I'm very excited to start on this new plot of land and use this land especially for winter crops next year. 

These two weeks will see the initial development of this new plot, the beginning of my first true crop plan (I'm usually all about winging it) and a new face for the market stall! 

So far today has been greatly productive and I'm very exciting about these two weeks and equally as excited about returning to market and launching into the coming spring. 

 See you in a few weeks

See you in a few weeks

See you soon.  

Love Jay.  

Happy new year and what's ahead for us.

Happy new year everyone

We want to thank you for all of your enthusiasm and support in 2014. Being the inaugural winners of the Willunga Farmers Markets' Young Farmers Scholarship was amazing. It facilitated a year of learning like neither of us could have imagined. We learnt lots about ourselves and our amazing community. 

In the coming weeks and months you may start to notice changes around our activities, both at the markets and on social media.

We would love to inform you that after our success and the support from the community we are very happy to announce that we are expanding, and taking 2 different directions, introducing the addition of the Clean Slate Produce (www.facebook.com/cleanslateproduce) to the Garden Farmers enterprise!

Alex will be heading up the Clean Slate Farm, farming on the woodchip farm we established on Aldinga Beach Rd at Whites Valley in 2014 and has expanded to other properties around the region. He is concentrating on growing a couple of chilli varieties, zucchini, pumpkin and greens.

Whilst he will still have his produce at Willunga FarmersMarket, he is also selling his produce to a select few local restaurants. He has found a great love for communicating with chefs and bringing them what they need when they need it to feed the masses. His networks have grown rapidly and his zucchini flowers are already famous in the region. 

Jay has established a farm up willunga hill and is continuing to grow her greens, specialising in those that go well in juices and smoothies. She will continue to bring you fresh green juices every Saturday at the Willunga Farmers Market using her farmed produce and fruit from McLaren Vale Orchards and Fat Goose Fruits. 

The Scholarship aimed to create a business for someone in primary industries, and it has exceed itself by being the initiator of TWO! 

We will both continue to farm using organic/ permaculture practices and our two businesses will still be under the one tent at the Market. So come and see us every Saturday and grab fresh veggies and a delicious green juice. 

Love Alex and Jay

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Alex saving seed at Clean Slate Farm 

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Jays new patch of land at point of first harvest 

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New things are both exciting and daunting 

Better Homes & Gardens came to play with us.

This morning was a perfect spring morning and making it even better was the Willunga Farmers Market being featured by Ed Halmagyi from Better Homes & Gardens. Ed had contacted us and wanted to use some of our produce for a dish he whipped up live at the market as well as help him present why it's so important to support your local farmers!

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We had a chat infront of the camera at our stall, served a few fresh green juices and gave Ed some of our killer Rainbow Chard to use in his dish.

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The episode will be on tv for the 26th of September. So feel free to tune in with us.

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Joel Salatin visits The Garden Farmers

Today was very inspiring! The Willunga Farmers Market and Tasting Australia brought Joel Salatin to our little Farm! I was unaware that we would also be greeting Darren Doherty! Talk about inspirational!

It was to my relief that Joel had heard of the wood chip farming method. He has actually just written the forward for Paul Gauchi’s book on it! he was very supportive of the farming method and liked very much that we were giving it a go! we believe that it is the first trial of it’s type (commercial scale) in the area, maybe even in SA. 

I got talking to Darren about how to help the woodchips break down faster. He explain two type of fungus that would help us to break down the woodchip faster. So this week im buying button mushrooms and throwing them all over the woodchip :) the fungus will eat the woodchip and turn it into plant food faster. 

The day proceeded beautifully with Joel Salatin giving a wonderfully inspiring speech at the farmers market. The crowds were large and very engaged, and the weather was absolutely superb :)

I also attended at 3 hour more in depth lecture from Joel about how he runs his farm Polyface farms. It is amazing and I am really inspired. He gifted us his latest book “fields of farmers’.

AMAZING

Working Bee

Today we had our second working bee. This time the people that came were invited via facebook. It was AMAZING to see who turned up! It was a very mixed bunch of awesome willing helpers. We were totally in shock over how much work we got done together! 

The first job to get under way was to dig out the second swale! This literally happened in 15 minutes! a whole swale about 20 metres long DONE! Then we all moved on to the shaping of the beds that had been drawn out that morning. Everyone was briefed on what to do and BAM…. everyone got right into it and loved the task. It was truly amazing to see the beds just come to life so quickly in front of our eyes. 

Then, after a watermelon break, we actually managed to newspaper and mulch half of the beds that we had just made!!

We then proceeded to have a huge feast together and a lovely circle of friends on the grass. 

THANK YOU everyone who came on the day! Especially Joel Kimber, the best (and hottest) plumber in the world. Your handy work is beyond appreciated. Dont forget to send us the bill! love you.

Local Growers Collective

Today the Local Growers Collective came and worked on our property. This is a wonderful group of growers, who have been working together for about a year now. Every 6 weeks they choose a location to go and have a working Bee. For two hours they work hard to help the people who property it is reach their goal. Then together we all enjoy a shared dinner and great conversation. At the end of the gathering there is a circle where each person introduced themselves and their specific interested in the field of growing, this way a strong network is created :) 

We are extremely grateful and impressed with the work ethic of these people. They are thoroughly inspiring and passionate. It was truly a blessing to have hosted them. 

If you want to connect with the Local Growers Collect email Stephen Hoepfner on hoffna@gmail.com he will be happy to give you all the information that you need.

Newspaper... Weed Stopper

WHAT A MORNING! We got tipped off that there was free dripper line laying on the side of the road just out of Willunga, We’re still not sure exactly how we are going to do irrigation, but as dripper is a good option in this climate, we jumped on the opportunity to see if this dripper was good enough. It seemed in pretty good condition, so we grabbed it and will have a look at it and its usefulness later. Then Alex and Jay went to Murray Bridge to collect newspaper for the construction of the garden beds! After searching around locally and accepting that we would most likely have to scrounge up our newspaper from small shops and individuals, we finally found the jackpot, as much newspaper as we want, whenever we want it! this is AWESOME. 

Compost Day

Today Marty Vaher from The Original Green Co came and brought us our first load of compost. It was a very exciting moment, a true landmark in the project. With this 13tonne of compost came so much LIFE to the patch of land. He got straight down to business moving it to all corners of the land ready to be incorporated in. 

We just had to share this clip with you. This was such a defining day! It seemed to mark the true start of our project. There is something special about bringing LIFE onto the land. This compost was just brimming with life. Fungii, Bacteria and so much more. Marty gives us a little bit of a run down of what is in his compost. Have a watch :) enjoy.