AFTER establishing his own herbal tea enterprise, David Bell has ventured into organic garlic with surprisingly lucrative and rewarding results.
Bellbrae Organics was formed just over five year’s ago when Mr Bell and his partner Traci Brown purchased a four-hectare property in Bellbrae, along Victoria’s picturesque surf coast.
“We always wanted to be organic. There was no question about it. It’s better for the environment and being a boutique producer, it gives you a marketing edge,” Mr Bell said, adding they are now certified with Organic Growers of Australia (OGA).
It was a visit to Southern light Herbs in Maldon that fueled a passion in the couple.
“We got a bad case of herb fever,” he said.
“At the time we lived in Brighton and were experimenting in our backyard and it’s just flowed from there.”
After planting their first herb crops at their Bellbrae farm, (which included peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, yarrow, valerian, calendula and meadow sweet), Mr Bell said their initial instinct was to sell the produce wholesale.
“We soon realised it wasn’t worth the effort, after harvesting the first cut and only making $140,” he said.
“We started drying and packaging the herbs in 50 gram cellophane bags. Our profits went from $35 for a kilogram of leaf to over $200.”
Calendula is harvested all year round, while the remainders are perennial types.
Horse manure is acquired from local farms and composted with other organic matter, along with agricultural lime and used as fertiliser. Mr Bell prefers the bio-dynamic fertiliser method, which leaves the compost for more than six weeks and results in an extremely fine-textured product.
All the herbs are watered through a drip line irrigation system, which is pumped from a dam to a tank and finally to the plants.
“Water is a big issue here, we grow the herbs according to how much water we have,” he said.
Harvest begins in the last week of November, with the first cuts of peppermint and spearmint underway.
“I hand pick most of the herbs, but last season I tried using a scythe with a wire mesh bag on the end to catch the herbs,” he said.
The herbs are then laid on screens in a drying shed.
“We aim to get the moisture down to eight per cent, which takes about 3-8 days,” he said.
“Humid nights can be an issue, because the process takes a lot longer.”
Once dried, the herbs are rubbed through a screen until they form small particles, bagged and put into a freezer for 72 hours.
“The herbs have to be frozen to kill any remaining insects or bugs that might be in there, he said. “
It’s a much more involved process than we initially thought, but we have pretty much perfected it now.”
After the freezing phase, the dried herbs are ready to be packaged, labeled and sold.
“We discovered farmer’s markets early on in the game and discovered they suited us the best,” he said.
Mr Bell runs the Torquay Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning, selling his own range of organic tea, as well as other local produce.
*Extract. Full feature Stock & Land, August 27.
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