Set on beautiful red volcanic soil and surrounded by the rolling green hills of Hoddles Creek, Siobhan Simpson runs Yarra Valley Garlic. The nine-acre hillside plot is a simple farm set up with all the essential ingredients - north-west aspect, fantastic soil, a shed and natural spring. ‘Sheep Station Creek’ snakes beneath the acreage feeding lush green bush and tall gums.
Siobhan has been growing garlic in Hoddles Creek for five years and tells us the season this year is two weeks late due to a wetter than average year. Purple Glamour is her choice of variety, part of the Turban cultivar group, it loves cold winters and hot summers. Garlic is very sensitive to weeds and is commonly planted with matting. Siobhan is conscious of the impact agriculture has and will soon be switching to a bio-degradable material made of corn starch. Though not certified, she farms organically and has experimented with bio-dynamics and biological farming, a more scientific approach to soil fertility and plant health.
Siobhan proudly shows us her harvest which will hang ‘curing’ in bunches of ten for four weeks, weather dependant. “Then we braid them and they’re ready to go.” She explains. It’s all hands on deck for this busy time, with all the family and even some WWOOFERS helping out. “My best braiders were two French girls who worked here a couple of seasons ago. Undeterred by the sight of a shed full of garlic, they cranked up some techno and smashed it out.” She laughs.
The beds are rotated each season to avoid any pests or diseases settling in. “We’re generally fine here, everything is manageable. You just have to keep an eye on things like leaf rust and cheeky weeds that can really effect the growth of the bulbs.” Working with nature is the whole ethos of sustainable agriculture. The beautiful rustic bulbs of Yarra Valley Garlic will surprise many who are used to the average bright white uniform bulb of Chinese garlic found in supermarkets. These pale excuses for garlic are sprayed with methyl bromide and other nasties to fumigate, bleach and kill natural sprouting.
Supplying to restaurants in town like Circa, Copperpot, French Salone and Vue, Siobhan manages her business from preparing the soil through to delivering the final product. The Providore at Meletos is excited to stock braided and loose bulbs for sale this season.