IT has been a bumper year for Mount Leura Garlic and food lovers right across the south west are reaping the benefits.
First beginning five years ago with a trial plot of 5000 bulbs, the ‘small venture’ saw 105,000 bulbs planted this year which is expected to yield about four tonnes of garlic.
This year has been particularly good, with a similar sized planting to last year’s producing eight times the yield.
Project leader Frank Conheady said the year’s high rainfall had been a godsend.
“We didn’t have to water the garlic at all,” he said.
“We also took a different approach to weed suppression, using ‘Weed Gunnel’, and applied some organic fertilisers.
“The result is a lot more garlic with bigger bulbs that are a lot more consistent in size.
“That’s something we’ll continue to work on – producing bulbs of a consistent size.”
Mr Conheady and his wife Carmel first began the venture with neighbours Paul and Janell Maskell.
Mr Conheady has a horticultural background and Mr Maskell is a qualified chef – the garlic concept seemed the perfect marriage of interests.
Soon after, fellow neighbours Stephen and Diane Wright joined the venture, with all three properties each growing their own patch of the chemical free garlic.
Between them, the three properties grow varieties of Italian Red, French White, Californian White and Australian White garlic.
The bulbs have been hand planted from about April each year and were lifted, also by hand, in about November.
The harvested garlic was then ‘cured’ for six to eight weeks and offered for sale in loose packs or in braids.
The bumper year has seen the group pull their family members together to help ‘lift’ the crop, hang it and then braid it.
Family members are now also helping to promote and market the garlic, with online orders already coming in, including a few from Sydney buyers.
Mrs Conheady, Mrs Maskell and Mrs Wright are also becoming regulars on the ‘market circuit’, with their stalls often selling out.
“I never ever thought I’d be sitting at markets selling anything, but it’s been a lot of fun so far,” Mrs Conheady said.
“People are thrilled to see Australian grown 100 per cent chemical free garlic, they get pretty excited about it and are happy to buy it.
“We’ve been to the Timboon Artisans Festival, the Noorat Show’s ‘Nibble and Nosh’ event, the Barwon Heads Market and were at Port Fairy on New Year’s Day and have sold out each time.
“You find yourself among like-minded people at the markets and learn a lot from one another and it’s great to meet the buyers and have a bit of fun with them.
“Having the Mount Leura label also leads to a lot of conversations about Camperdown and what it has to offer, so that’s a nice benefit too.”
Mrs Wright said her husband’s family had grown onions on their property in previous generations.
“It’s lovely soil and we thought the garlic was something that would suit,” she said.
“We’ve forged great friendships with each other along the way and everyone in the wider Camperdown community has been a wonderful support.
“So many of the local food outlets use our garlic, which is really special for us and a lot have it on offer to buy.
“Everyone is always asking us how it’s all going and we really appreciate that support and interest.”
While the venture is still very much ‘hands-on’, Mr Conheady said it was now time to look at remodelling some farm machinery to ease the workload.
“We’ll also focus more attention on marketing the garlic and getting to know our buyers,” he said.
“We’ve come a long way and learnt a lot, but there’s still a lot more to do and a lot more to learn.”