North East Victoria has always felt like home. I grew up working in the apple orchards at Stanley, Wandillagong and in the Buckland Valley. I have planted, trained and pruned the outstanding vines of the region, from the heart of the King Valley at Cheshunt, north to Mt Beauty and across to Rutherglen. I have swam in the refreshing – read icy – streams and rivers, I have skied the stunning mountains, and taken off more skin than I care to admit tackling the narrow mountain bike tracks. Scratch that, the north east IS home.
In 2009 an opportunity presented itself for me to have my own little piece of the north east. Seen in the paper on Wednesday, inspected on the Saturday, and won at auction the following Wednesday night. By 7pm I was the scared, proud owner of 12 acres at Beechworth; a 24 year old female engineer who became a farmer in a total of 1 week, now that’s commitment to calling the north east home.
With only 12 acres, I decided to focus on niche crops that do not require vast space, so I chose table olives and saffron. Beechworth, with its altitude is very reminiscent of the saffron growing conditions in Kashmir and on the high plains of Iran. Hot and dry in summer, cold in winter. With this little amount of information I bought 100 corms (scientific name for the saffron bulb, bulbs have layers, corms don’t).
The first year lulled me into a false sense of security, so I bought 200 corms the year after and by 2013 I thought I was onto a sure thing. Then nature reared its ugly head as it is prone to do in farming.
Saffron growing is half art, half science and a little dose of luck. It is generally agreed in all the traditional saffron countries, Iran, Spain, Kashmir, that some families have the knack and some don’t.
I’m hoping we are a family with the knack; coming into our ninth season I think we might just be.
To complement the fickle nature of saffron, I also planted olives, specifically with the intention of producing traditional wild fermented olives for the table. Where planting saffron gives you a reward in 6 weeks, olives take 6 years to start fruiting and 10 years to mature, which means that by 2019 I should have just about got my head around this whole farming gig.
1 week to commit, a lifetime to perfect!