Owners: Mike and Claire Belcik
Location: Torere, Bay of Plenty
Type of Operation: Garlic
Mike and Claire Belcik use organically certified products and advice supplied by Kiwi Fertiliser. The below is an article about the Belcik's by Elaine Fisher. This article appeared in Coast and Country Magazine in Feb 2015 and is used here with permission.
It’s just as well the sheds on Mike and Claire Belcik’s Torere market garden are well constructed – for from their rafters hangs one tonne of garlic. The couple have been growing garlic for 24 years and such is their reputation for quality and taste that it’s sold throughout the country in gourmet and whole food stores, health food shops and supermarkets. Claire also sells garlic, along with a wide range of other produce she grows, from her popular roadside stall in Opotiki each summer. The latest crop of heirloom Takahui garlic was harvested just after Christmas with the help of WOOFers – a coin for Willing Workers on Organic Farms – as well as friends and a mechanical “lifter”. “I don’t plant garlic on the shortest day of the year and harvest it on the longest, which a lot of people do,” says Claire. “I plant according to the most favourable phases of the moon and keep a record on my calendars of when I plant and harvest all my crops. “Before I plant a new crop, I get out all my old calendars and check back to see what I did in other years and what worked best,” says Claire. “Last season I planted the garlic in late July and it grew really well.”
Planning when to plant is just one part of the preparation. Claire operates a five-year rotation system for the garlic and each new bed is at least two years in the making. This includes growing an herbal ley to be grazed by the family house cow. Mustard is used as a ‘bio-fumigant’ to clean the soil followed by another cover crop. As with planting by the moon, Claire also uses biodynamic principles to enhance soil fertility, including making biodynamic preparations, compost, seaweed and fish-based liquid fertilisers, and growing green manures which are dug back into the soil. “For me it all begins with the soil. If we keep the soil healthy then we produce good food; and I want to grow good, nutritious food for people to eat. ”For the garlic, the soil is worked up into raised beds, carefully weeded and planted with the biggest and best of last year’s garlic cloves placed five rows to a bed. The rows are 20cm apart and the garlic is spaced 15cm apart in the rows. Mulch is applied to retain moisture and supress weeds.
Harvesting is hard work and last year, with the help of friends and neighbours, Claire and Mike built a garlic lifter using different pieces of machinery cobbled together to create a new tractor-drawn tool which has made a huge difference to the work. The device lifts the bulbs, making it easier for workers following behind to pick them up. In the curing shed, the bulbs are cleaned by removing two of the outside leaves, graded and tied in bunches, still with their roots, to be hung up to cure. “I think the garlic goes on growing a little after it’s harvested as it takes up nutrients from the leaves. We don’t wash our garlic or do anything other than let it dry. “When it comes time to sell, we cut off the dead leaves and roots. ”The garlic will keep for up to nine months in the curing sheds. While she’s experimented with a number of varieties, Claire prefers the Takahui garlic which was discovered growing in sand dunes near Dargaville many years ago. “It was probably brought to New Zealand by Dalmatian gum diggers.”
She also grows elephant garlic, which is truly huge. Unlike common garlic, described as “soft necked” and most closely related to onions, elephant garlic is hard necked and related to leeks. To date only small quantities of the elephant garlic have been grown but Claire’s pleased with the latest harvest and will plant more next season. Growing food and being a farmer was all Claire wanted to do when she was growing up at Edgecumbe in the Bay of Plenty. At 21 she and a girlfriend bought round-the-world tickets and began their big OE. It was while in the USA that she met woodsman Mike. In 1990 the couple bought 70 hectares of land at Torere, near Te Kaha. “Our first child John had just been born and Mike had been seriously injured in a car accident, but we knew this was the property for us. ”Much of it was and still is, covered in native bush. The couple began clearing the land and as Mike recovered, he erected a tepee and lived on the farm while he built a home.The family returned to the USA to spend time with Mike’s family and earn money to help pay off their mortgage – Claire working with landscape gardeners, Mike using his considerable building, joinery and timber milling skills.They returned with a container filled with American hard wood they had milled and Mike’s portable sawmill.
The Belciks and their children, John, Dan and Ben, have made subsequent trips to the USA “so the boys can get to know their American cousins” and Mike’s family has visited Torere too. Today market gardening and timber milling are the main focus for Claire and Mike. Apart from garlic their other commercial crop is 145 lime trees with the fruit in demand for juice as well as fresh fruit. Their property also grows a wide variety of other trees, including citrus, avocado, macadamia nut, feijoa, persimmon, bananas, berries, peaches, pears, plums and exotic timber trees. Always experimenting, new varieties of cucumber and melons are being trialled. There’s asparagus, kale, and watermelons. The ‘kitchen garden’ grows an impressive variety of food, flowers and herbs including corn, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, onions, celery, carrots and potatoes. Everything is grown on organic principles and the property is just six months away from gaining full organic certification.
The Belcik family is keen to share their knowledge of farming and gardening and are involved in gardening projects at the local school and marae. They also like to share their home so there’s a steady stream of Woofers coming and going, including this summer Kaisa Schlarb from Washington who helped with the garlic harvest. “Meeting Claire and coming to Torere has been very special. I have learnt so much and every day we have wonderful meals made from produce growing in the garden. ”Pinky Tafatu-Hipa, who Claire met while on holiday in Niue two years ago, has visited for the last two summers, helping with gardening and selling produce from the roadside stall. “I just love it here, helping Claire and selling fruit and vegetables from the store,” says Pinky, who admits she had no idea where Torere was, but now thinks it’s a little piece of paradise –in many ways not unlike her own island home.
For further information, contact Claire and Mike via email: firstname.lastname@example.org