Gippsland farmer bringing back organic solutions

Gerhard Grasser testing the temperature of the compost heap. Photos: Katrina Brandon

ORGANIC produce and fertilisers are becoming more popular – and Hallston (near Mirboo North) local, Gerhard Grasser, is one farmer who is part of the movement.

Last month, about 20 farmers returned to learning the basics of organic farming and composting at Mr Grasser’s farm.

When the farm was first purchased in 2006, Mr Grasser’s son milked up to 160 cows for 10 years. While running free-range pigs on the farm, Mr Grasser has continued using biologics since day one, which means that no conventional fertilisers have been used on his property.

The group discussed testing soils, the process, care, and ingredients of composting, garden alternatives, fungi, and more. For those grazing livestock, Mr Grasser said farmers must oversee their grazing methods to ensure they aren’t depleting recourses.

“There are a lot of things happening in the soil that we just don’t either care about or aren’t aware of. There are a lot of band-aids that can be applied,” Mr Grasser said.

“The long-standing ones are the biology that we generate when we make compost and getting that compost delivered out there in a way that will benefit the soil’s microbiology and the following plant growth.”

On the farm, Mr Grasser has a couple of compost piles of woodchip, coffee grounds, and fish fertiliser. He believes adding coffee grounds contributes to the pile’s fungal load, nitrogen adds to it, and fish fertiliser aids the pile’s microbiology. He discussed the different composting types, such as thermophilic, and how it must be at a specific temperature. During the ageing process, part of it is getting the carbon to nitrogen levels right, which is 25 to 31.

The compost cycle needs many things, but one thing is that people turn their piles too often. Mr Grasser says a compost pile must only be turned three times.

“Many people in the early days would turn their compost pile, with someone saying they turned it 15 times. They don’t understand that the more you disturb the pile, the more you will destroy the fungi you have there at the end of the day,” he said.

Gerhard Grasser entertained about 20 farmers who wanted to engage and learn about the organic natures at his farm.

Other things to do include watering the compost pile as you turn it and monitoring its temperature along the edge and in the centre, trying to keep it between 65 and 72 degrees. Hay and straw should also be saturated before going into the compost, as the water will help penetrate any wax coatings.

The process can take up to five or six weeks, becoming active once it reaches 35 degrees – the maturation phase before taking it to the paddock for use. When something goes wrong in the process, Mr Grasser says to go back to basics such as food, water, and oxygen to see what is missing.

He said that before stocking the paddocks and pastures with compost, you need to assess the soil to determine its needs.

“Graham Shepard has done some work, and it’s soil assessment tools that he has been used. He has assembled the sensory perception of what we have – touch, smell, vision and taste. Those senses that we have all been born with should be used out in the paddock as well and not to rely on technology,” Mr Grasser said.

Gerhard Grasser testing the temperature of the compost heap. Photos: Katrina Brandon