HOMEGROWN: Farnborough growers hand pick all their produce
IN A past life, Louise and George Wilson owned a fast food franchise, a fish and chip shop, an irrigation business, and a florist and wedding business.
But these days the Farnborough couple own and operate a thriving farm selling produce: Cap Coast Veges.
The Wilson's story is the third addition to The Morning Bulletin's Homegrown Series, featuring the produce and faces behind the farms gates in Central Queensland.
There is a lot more to the region than just beef capital and the Wilson's vegetable farm is one of them.
The Wilsons moved to the Capricorn Coast in mid 2007, but they wound up with the farm in an interesting way.
The couple were living in Tweed Heads and once their children finished school they decided to sell their businesses, pack up and move.
They had planned to go sailing for a couple of years and were looking for somewhere to live that as a base.
Driving north, they stopped by a friend's place at Bundaberg.
Their friend grows hydroponic and George loved the concept, deciding that was what he wanted to do.
So the couple kept continuing north and they came to Yeppoon.
"We fell in love with Yeppoon from the moment we drove over the hill from Rocky," Ms Wilson said.
"It is a beautiful place, it's stunning.
"We started to look for somewhere to live and we found this place."
The property had a bore and that was it. So the couple put in infrastructure with some shadehouses.
They decided to grow roses and gerbras, selling them to local florists.
One thing led to another and they set up an online shop, getting into the wedding scene. They hosted wedding expos from 2011 to 2016, with the first one on the Farnborough property.
But after a while they started to grow some vegetables to offset the flowers.
Then Cyclone Marcia came in February 2015 and sent their world spiralling.
Two of the shadehouses were wrecked and a lot of the infrastructure was twisted. Some crops were lost.
Looking at rebuilding, the couple had to choose: the wedding scene with the roses or the vegetable produce.
"We thought this would be somewhere one day we could retire and sell it, so we had to make it work," Ms Wilson said.
So they went in a whole new direction and put their heart and soul into growing vegetables and fruits, establishing more shadehouses and planting crops.
The farm grows a wide range of hydroponic vegetables across their eight shadehouses, one of each that are used for propagating and cycling.
They have all your salad items from lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, capsicums, kale, rocket, red vein spinach and more. They also have strawberries, ladyfinger banana trees, dragonfruit, passionfruit vines and citrus trees.
The couple recently expanded into chickens and started selling free range eggs.
They also bought some bees and beehives to start producing their own honey.
The couple also have their hand in spices, growing ginger and turmeric. The spices crops are the toughest one they grow, given it takes 12 months to get a result .
It is quite a thorough process, the plants themselves are grown in the soil and leaves grow from out of them. Once the leaves are dead, the crop is ready. The plants don't need much water as they will rot.
One plant the Wilsons have not been able to manage to grow because of the Central Queensland climate conditions is garlic.
"I would love to grow garlic but we have tried a couple of times and we would get a little bit of a crop... it was month and months and it is just not a stable product," Louise said.
They take their produce to the local markets, to the Yeppoon Boutique Markets behind the Strand Hotel monthly and every other weekend they sit in the car park and sell from there.
Every Sunday they come to Rockhampton and sell at the Kern Arcade Markets.
CAP COAST VEGES:
Open to the public Mon-Fri, 9am to 5pm
Phone (07) 4933 0402
1612 Farnborough road, Yeppoon
In Yeppoon's Strand Hotel carpark every Saturday
Kern Arcade Markets Rocky on Sundays
Search them on Facebook
"We sell most of it and what we don't sell, we bring back on the farm and people come out here Monday to Friday and buy," Louise said.
"If we have too much of something we give it to the chooks."
There is no one produce that would be more popular than the others.
"We haven't had cucumbers for a while and now we do and everyone is clamouring for them," she said.
"We used to sell a lot of tomatoes but now we don't.... our leafy stuff, people love that."
What sets the Wilsons produce a part from your regular grocery produce is the key ingredient - freshness.
"At the supermarket ... you go there and half the time it is limp ... our stuff we pick the day before the market," Louise said.
A major part of their business and the way the farm runs is that they have "integrated pest management".
This means no harmful insecticides.
The Wilsons ship "good bugs" in and around 10,000 a month are released around the shadehouses.
These good bugs combat the bad bugs.
"You can't see the good bugs with the naked eye ... wherever there is bugs they target ... wasps and grubs," Ms Wilson said.
The couple have been using this practice for the past nine years and find it the most beneficial.
But it does take a lot more hard work as all of their produce is hand picked.
"When you look at our leafy veges ... that is quite labour intensive ... we do have our shortcuts of doing it because we have been doing it a while," Ms Wilson said.
"While you are picking, you are forever looking at all your leaves and the damage they do.
"There is a cluster moth and it will lay on the back of the leaf, it will only be the size of your pinky fingernail ... once it hatches you have hundreds of tiny little bugs going everywhere eating your leaves."
The plants are watered through the bore and nearby creek water in drip-irrigation.
Every now and then, they have to test the water for the chemical levels.
Ms Wilson said incorrect chemical levels could wreck the plants.
As the each leaf or piece of produce is looked at, Ms Wilson says customers can be assured whatever they buy is top value.
"Anything that is dodgy goes in the bucket for the chooks, we make sure that all the good stuff goes to consumers," she said.
"We don't want to give consumers something that is going to rot straight away."
The climate for growing vegetables in the Capricorn Coast is good, with winter the better growing months. This year was a different story though.
"We had some days under 10 degrees for an extended period of time, it holds our crops back," Ms Wilson said.
"The seedlings sat two inches high in the beds for six weeks because it was too cold for them to grow.... nature goes into recovery mode and they just stay dormant.
"When things start heating up, they start to grow.
"But we had days where it was hot during the day and then cold at night so that made it hard on them... they didn't know what was going on."
Summer can be a bit harder. The lettuce likes the heat however not all of the tomatoes do.
"It is just time management of it," Ms Wilson said.
Having been at the property for 11 years now, the couple have gone through "trials and tribulations" of what works and what doesn't.
Mr Wilson usually does planting every three months or so, switching around the seasonal produce.
"What goes well at different times of the year and when to plant," Ms Wilson said.
In terms of plans for the future, Ms Wilson said it might be time to pull back and focus on what they are doing now.
The property is 16ha and Ms Wilson says they are lucky to use 3ha of it.
"We think of things all the time, putting lavender in, potatoes ... you have to know when to stop and refine everything you already has," she said.
Stay tuned for more stories in The Homegrown Series in The Morning Bulletin each Saturday.
For ideas or tips please email firstname.lastname@example.org