Local and sustainably farmed food, straight from our hands to yours.
Here at Roly Poly Farm, our vegetables are grown using a range of methodologies, including organic, bio-intensive and bio-dynamic, all without the use of synthetic pesticides or herbicides. We are transparent in our practices, without the inflated cost and superfluities of a label.
As seasonality and freshness are two of our guiding principles, we happily let our produce be dictated by the seasons, and relish in the abundance that each season brings. It is a full and wonderful feeling that comes about when you have your shelves stocked with sauerkraut, kimchi and other pickles, preserving those moments left over from winter, and are hanging on to the edge of your seat for that new seasonal rollercoaster of broad beans, a rainbow of tomatoes, and all shapes and sizes of eggplant
We make colour and diversity a priority, with the result being a wild and fantastical array of shapes, colours, textures and tastes. Our CSA members never get bored in the kitchen, with a consistent supply of fresh, nutrient-dense annual and perennial vegetables. Whoever said that you don't make friends with salad, has obviously never been a Roly Poly CSA member!
To grow these delicious vegetables, we harness methods that are giving to the soil, forgiving on the water table, and don't harm any of the little critters and creatures that help us to grow our bounty. Cover cropping; no-till agriculture; compost; bio-intensive planting and perennial hedges are just some of the practices we embrace, and that result in our farm being a part of, not a detriment to, the land.
OUR GROWING PRACTICES
Bio-intensive spacing comes from the French-intensive method of agriculture, more recently popularised by John Jeavons as the GROW BIO-INTENSIVE method. It focuses on achieving maximum yields from a small area of land, using less resources than traditional growing methods, whilst simultaneously increasing biodiversity and improving the fertility of the soil. The goal of the method itself is long term sustainability on a closed system basis.
Bio-intensive spacing is one of the principles of bio-intensive agriculture, and involves precisely measuring and planting out seedlings to fully utilise the growing space. This not only maximises yields, but, through an off-set spacing pattern, means that the plants are at full maturity when they go into the bed, with their leaves touching each other. This creates a living canopy of mulch over the soil, which in turn retains moisture, suppresses weeds, protects the soil from wind and water exposure, and helps to avoid erosion. With all of these benefits, we'd be mad not to use bio-intensive spacing!
A broadfork is a simple yet powerful human-scale tool, which relies upon leverage to aerate and loosen the soil without inverting it. This minimises disturbance to the many soil layers that comprise a delicate underground soil ecosystem. Combined with the other methods we use at the farm, broadforking aids to replace mechanically deep-ripping and tilling, and helps to build soil (without damaging all of the critters, bacteria and fungi that are a part of it!), meaning that we can regeneratively grow delicious, nutrient-dense veggies.
The broadfork's vertical tines are stepped on by the user into the ground. Using their bodyweight, the handles are then pulled backwards. This allows aeration and loosening of the soil subsurface, letting water, air and plants roots penetrate the soil, whilst leaving its profile upright, rather than inverting it and disturbing the underground ecology. It creates an ideal environment for root growth, all while making it possible to build soil levels and rich humus. Whilst it can be hard work, broadforking is an essential part of the farming strategy on our hilly garden; a well-built broadfork makes a happy farmer indeed!
Companion planting is an age-old approach to gardening, and embraces the idea that, by planting certain plants next to or near one another, they can help with pest control, growth, flavour development, and the attraction of beneficial insects. Whilst the actual effectiveness of this is, and most likely will always be, debated, we have embraced this method as a way to ensure biodoiversity within our crops and farm ecosystem.
We ensure to grow flowering plants throughout our garden so there is always nectar available for predatory insects and pollinators, whether this be in the form of purpose planted marigolds (which we also use to eliminate soil nematodes) or a parsley plant that we have let go to flower instead of harvesting it. The more bees, wasps. and other insects we see in the garden, the more robust our local ecology is at adapting to changing conditions.
The recycling of 'waste' such as food scraps, manure and old plant material back into a useful product for soil and plant biology is a pretty amazing feat of nature. Instead of throwing away all of these nutrients and letting them go to landfill, we combine them into piles, add water, turn them a few times as they decompose, and let the oxygen, sunshine and microbes work their magic. By getting the ratio of carbon to nitrogen right, we create an ideal environment for conversion of these products into a beautiful, nutrient rich, disease suppressing supplement for the soil.
Compost also reduces our dependence on commercially produced fertilisers by providing us with a diverse array of nutrients and minerals, and reduces our carbon footprint at the same time. Rather than feeding the plants a soluble nutrient, which does not promote a healthy soil ecosystem, we are providing the soil with a product that feeds the bacteria and fungi, who feed insects, who feed the plants. In the process, we help promote the formation of humus, and further add to the resilience of our ecology.
We love making and using compost; it is an integral part of closing the loop in our system. At this point in time our compost needs well outweigh the pace at which we have been making it, and so we have been buying in the bulk of ours from Louise Edmonds at Intuit Earth in Bunbury. They are certified Organic and Biodynamic, and do a really amazing job. The finished product is a beautiful black humus, one which we strive to emulate one day. It's really great finding likeminded producers of products
Cover cropping, or green manuring, is a natural, regenerative way to improve our soil structure; to provide following crops with nutrients they can readily access; to stimulate biological activity; to increase water-holding capacity of the soil; and to sequester more carbon from the air...and keep it there. On our farm, it involves planting an area with a diverse mixture of legumes (to fix Nitrogen from the air), grasses (to generate biomass underground and above ground) and other species of vegetables and herbs, dependant on the season and the effect we want to elicit.
Cover crops are our way of giving back to the soil that gives so much to us, and in essence allows us to feed all of the microbes and critters underground who make growing epic veggies possible. This is where regenerative farming differs from most large scale conventional farming: we are biological farmers, not chemical farmers. We feed the soil, the soil feeds us, and we reduce our dependence on external fertiliser inputs.
After 2-3 crops have been grown in a bed, we aim to seed a cover crop that we will then let grow just after the first signs of flowering. At this point, we mow it; water it; and tuck all that yummy chopped up green residue under a sheet of recycled billboard vinyl or a secondhand grain tarp (our alternative to a brand new silage tarp). The soil biology has a feast (it's like an all you can eat salad bar down there!), and in a few weeks, the cover crop has broken down to a beautiful, rich soil, ready to plant our next crop into.
HEIRLOOM & OPEN-POLLINATION
We incorporate heirloom and open-pollinated breeds of vegetables into our commercial vegetable production. This is for a number of reasons. One is to play our part in creating greater diversity and resiliency within our food system. Whenever you grow, buy, sell or eat an heirloom or open-pollinated vegetable, you are helping to preserve local culture, biodiversity, and strengthen our collective sovereignty over the food we consume. As industrial agriculture continues to focus on the cultivation of a select few engineered and hybrid varieties of crops, our ability to produce food in the face of drought, wide-spread disease and floods declines. Today, 60,000 to 100,000 species of plants are faced with extinction (Millenium Seed Bank Partnership, 2018). These species could hold the key to a disease in the future, or to providing food resiliency and security during a future environmental event.
Heirloom seeds aren’t just about gardening. Throughout the centuries they have been intricately linked with medicine, love, romance, exploration, discovery, and poisons. They have been part of history, science, cooking, literature, fairy tales, genetics, and wildlife. They are wrapped up in farming, travel, state fairs, archeology, philosophy, and so much more. When you plant heirloom seeds remember where they’ve been. Keep them going."
- Lynn Coulter
The second reason as to why we focus on heirloom and heritage breeds is because heirloom vegetables are delicious. Whilst flavour and variety is important at home, in the food industry, it is vital. To be able to focus a dish around an interesting, unique, and eye-catching vegetable is allows one to get a head start, and in an industry as cut-throat as cooking, this is of upmost importance. One of the main complaints we keep hearing from local chefs is the lack of colour and diversity available within the Perth produce scene. So, we have made sure to jam-pack our produce list with colours and variety to boot. Come by our stall at Kyilla Farmers Market to see what we're talking about!
NO TILL/ LOW TILLAGE
Tilling is the inversion of soil through mechanical means, and is harmful because it tears apart the delicate fungal strands running through the ground, both buries and unearths bacteria, earthworms and other insects and wreaks havoc on the structure of vulnerable soils. It can also create a “hardpan” under some circumstances, which means that below the nice fluffy part, the soil is compacted the next layer down, sometimes to such an extent that roots cannot reach down deep for water and nutrients.
Through the reduction of tillage, soil erosion is almost eliminated, which has a plethora of downstream benefits for the soil and the plants. Air pockets remain undisturbed from the movement of earthworms and plant roots through the soil, which increases water infiltration and the water holding capacity of the soil. In our dry environment, this is a huge plus, especially in the summer months. With improved moisture retention, we might be able to water every 4 days instead of every 2, effectively reducing our water consumption by up to 50%. This also creates more area for gaseous exchange and therefore a greater ability for microbes, insects, plants and all the other soil critters to thrive.
The more a soil is tilled, the greater the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, and the less the amount of carbon that is available to to build organic matter for the soil and future crops to feed from. Reducing tillage allows soil aggregates to bind carbon chains and other molecules together, and allows the formation of that beautiful, crumbly texture that is synonymous with healthy, living soil.
We aim to minimise any form of tillage in our garden, and rather use gentle techniques such as broadforking to aerate the soil, surface cultivation with hand tools such as a hoe to eliminate weeds, and tarps to break down our cover crop material.
Annual agriculture is incredibly efficient at producing vegetables that enable us to fill our plates and our bellies with food. By it's very nature, however, it is extractive, taking both nutrients and water off the farm. Due to the quick harvests and rotations, it is also not a system that is conducive to promoting stable populations of insects, birds, reptiles or mammals. At the farm, we plant perennial hedges, that we intersperse amongst our vegetable crops, in order to allow us to create crucial, on-farm woody habitats. These stable and permanent hedgerows give beneficial insects a home to live in, as well as providing small, insectivorous birds a place to safely perch in. It can often be a welcome distraction whilst harvesting to stop and watch these little birds dart in and out of our crops, hunting for food (and controlling our pests at the same time!).
Hedgerows also allow us to plan out flowering times for different plants, so that we can always have a diversity of rich nectar available for pollinators (like our bees) and predatory insects. This increases the biodiversity in our patch, allowing natural pest and predator relationships to form. Our need to to spray any pesticides (organic or synthetic) on our crops is eliminated, thus ensuring a healthier and happier you! Hedgerows also reduce strong or drying winds, reduce erosion, and create a more balanced ecosystem in our patch.
We love our hedgerows, can you tell?!
Transplanting seedlings allows us to fully maximise our growing space, whilst ensuring that our little fellas get the best possible head-start they can before venturing out to the big wide world.
By raising plants in the greenhouse before planting them out in the field, we are able to grow successions of crops, and maximise the amount of time that the soil is covered and that the roots are in the ground. Succession planting is planting the same crop at regular intervals throughout the growing season, and allows us to have a yearly supply of veg to give to our lovely members (you!).
Transplanting by hand is hard work for us small scale growers, however, with new developments in hand-held tools (such as the paper pot transplanter...saving up for one of those!), small-scale regenerative farmers are able to be a lot more efficient with their bodies, soil and time.