A hallmark of the Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market is an abundance of the very best of seasonal produce, and Thirlstane Gardens is always one such wonderful smelling, looking and tasting beacon. Graeme Lodge is the passion behind the greens with 2017 being the year for moving into a glasshouse.
Graeme blames his life-long passion for gardening and horticulture for leading him down the path to initially a few hydroponic channels and now to building a sustainable glasshouse that will see his garden grow.
First there was an auction where an interest in experimenting with a few hydroponic channels morphed into purchasing the entire system. Then in 2010 Graeme took another leap. He quit his nursing job to concentrate on his horticulture hobby and started growing the best and most nutritious lettuces and herbs full-time. “I’m pretty much a one man band with my wife Kym helping with bookwork and odd jobs, but she has her own job as well. A friend and our children help out on occasion too.”
Thirlstane Gardens joined Harvest Launceston from the beginning and in the past five years, Graeme’s journey has seen his lettuces and herbs being increasingly sought after and a foray into some value-adding with his sought after pesto. Although he has expanded little by little each year of operation he always struggled to keep up with demand. “What we found with our attendance at Harvest, from day one, was that we suddenly got this huge amount of traction and demand which we have never really caught up with.”
Graeme reached his maximum growing capacity about three years ago. “What a lot of people don’t realise is the growing area is only 100 x 50 square metres. I call it a nano operation! But it is a testament to the amazing efficiency of the hydroponic system that we can produce what we do from the space. I think last year we planted 60,000 seedlings.”
From the beginning Thirlstane Gardens has grown salad greens and herbs with lettuce and basil being firm favourites with customers. “In year three we had a trial planting of basil and people just loved it,” Graeme says. “Every year in about October customers are asking when it will be ready! But we don’t even plant it till November as we have no heating.”
But that is all about to change as Thirlstane Gardens gets ready for an exciting 2017. Graeme explains, “Approximately two years ago we seriously set out to expand the business with the advent of the State Agrigrowth loan scheme, which we applied for and got.” The loan will enable Graeme to build a glasshouse that will double his growing capacity. It is hoped that project will get underway mid-year.
An interesting aspect of the glasshouse is that careful planning will mean a small environmental footprint. Solar power is to be utilised to power the building, the pumps, fans, ventilators and lighting. A closed loop irrigation system that captures rainwater from the roof will provide for all the water needs.
“Although this is a major investment for us we still see ourselves as a niche producer and at this time the goal is to be able to supply our established customer base with salad greens year round including getting back to regular attendances at Harvest,” promises Graeme. In the meantime Thirlstane will be at the market this Saturday for their fortnightly attendance.