The Day My Friends Went Green

Last Sunday, we hosted twenty-five keen and enthusiastic new and old friends to a fun, hands-on composting workshop at the vineyard, as part of the 2015 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival..

Called 'All My Friends are Going Green', it was the first of a series of hands-on workshops we are planning this year at the Box Grove Osteria which will show you how to achieve great flavours in what you grow and make and how you can share these great flavours — in foods, wines and cooking — with friends.

In this first workshop we worked very closely with the Little Veggie Patch Co's Andy Wright. Andy works as a teacher at the LVPC garden plot at Federation Square. He is young, and energetic and absolutely passionate about growing good soil and fabulous things in this great soil — on a farm, at home, in a communal plot, even on a balcony.

We started the day by showing our visitors the compost I make to spread in some parts of the vineyard to help improve the soil that is either sandy and leached of nutrients, or hard clay that sets like concrete in our warm dry summers.

I make my compost from chicken manure and straw from my chicken run, waste from the local mushroom farm and stable waste from nearby horse studs. I also include ute loads of nutrient rich oak leaves that my mother (and the neighbours she has coerced) sweeps up each autumn. I "cook this up" in big piles, turning and heaping it up with my tractor. When it has cooled and broken down I spread it in the parts of the vineyard that need it. Even a small amount can increase the water holding ability of the soil (reducing our irrigation needs) and microbial activity, making it much more healthy and active soil.

Then Andy showed our guests how to make compost at home and demonstrated what makes good compost.

It was thirsty work! After two hours of walking and talking, touching, digging and smelling soil we returned to the Osteria where my great friend Deb Lawrence, a wonderful local cook, had prepared a lovely spread, all made from fresh locally grown produce, either here on the vineyard or by Matt Purbrick from Grown and Gathered, who has a large composted veggie garden on the Tahbilk Estate.

There was a really tasty chicken terrine with a delicious beetroot chutney and beautiful melt in the mouth baby veal with capers from the vineyard! This was all accompanied by a lip smackingly good salad of heirloom tomatoes with some of the most fragrant basil I have ever tried, and a delicious leafy salad, all from Matt, which we dressed simply with my Verjus and local olive oil.

Deb had also made a Lemon and Olive Oil cake and a gorgeous Fig Torte from fruit from our farm.

People took an information kit home with them along with baskets of pomegranates and pears, and bags of horse manure. From the mail I received over the next few days, some even rolled up their sleeves and started work on the compost heaps that same afternoon.

The response to our first workshop has inspired me to do a series of workshop and lunches over the coming months. I have given them the working title of "Here's One I Prepared Earlier"!

We hope to cover the following topics, with the following speakers:

'Bob the Beeman', Bob Buntine is also from Avenel. Like me, he supplies Attica Restaurant with his honey. He will come in and have a chat about how hives work, how to set up a hive and keep it happy and productive, He has said he will even help get people started with a hive of their own, if they are interested.

Naomi Ingleton from the Myrtleford Butter Factory, is an award winning butter maker from north-east Victoria. She will teach us how to churn our own butter and what flavours to look for in cultured butters. Deb will then cook up some dishes for us to enjoy afterward - perhaps something with a flaky butter pastry or butter based sauces such as beurre blanc, beurre noire and hollandaise.

Richard Thomas and my cousins at the Meredith Dairy will come up and talk about how to make their newest creation - fromage blanc and yoghurt at home and how you can use that in cooking.

Local butcher Scott Reid from Avenel Meats will show us how to bone a lamb and what cuts are the best for different cooking styles. We'll do this workshop as winter sets in, and Deb will cook us a hearty slow cooked lamb dish which we can enjoy by the fire.

So stay tuned for dates and let me know which ones you are most interested in.