Garlic on the plains

The tale of a young Sydney couple seeking a different life in the country is not a new one. However, Jim and Maddy Adams’ story took a unique turn when they began commercially producing and marketing single-source garlic from their property, ‘Carthian Hill’.

Situated on the western fringe of the Liverpool Plains near Mullaley, Carthian Hill is the culmination of Jim’s steadily growing desire to farm. Despite being born and bred in Sydney, he spent most of his school holidays on Mullaley’s ‘Lambrook’. The property is owned by his family but, with the farming taken care of by a property manager, Jim is the first to admit that his involvement was limited during his school years.

“We’d tidy up a bit and do odd jobs, but it wasn’t until my late teens that I started helping out with harvest,” explains Jim. “Then at uni I started spending a lot more time out at Lambrook and getting more involved in the farming side of things.”

After completing his science degree at Sydney University, Jim worked as a jackaroo in the Northern Territory in order to get hands-on experience working with cattle, followed by a stint at Lambrook under the tutelage of the property manager.

“Throughout university and the following two years, I realised this kind of work and lifestyle appealed to me more than what most kids do in the city,” says Jim, referring to the office jobs of his peers. When Carthian Hill became available Jim was keen to give it a go and Maddy, a teacher, was able to work nearby at both Mullaley and Tambar Springs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the garlic began in Maddy’s garden, with a small crop grown in 2009. “It started in the vegie patch and we found it was well suited to our climate and soil,” says Maddy, referring to the deep fertile soils of the Liverpool Plains.

“We found it really easy to grow. We threw it in the ground in April, didn’t touch it until November and then had beautiful garlic.” About the same time, Jim and Maddy heard that Australian garlic was hard to source and buy, and that’s how the project was born.

At first it may sound rather quaint, but the Adams’ garlic operation is far from amateur. Jim has drawn on his background in science to grow their business in a strategic manner and to problem solve challenges that have come their way.

“It’s easy to grow in your vegie patch but taking it to commercial quantities is a bit trickier,” says Jim, who cites weed management as a prime example. “Those problems are easily controlled in a garden where you can pull the weeds out or in broadacre crops where you can put a spray over it.”

As a result, garlic is a very labour-intensive crop and Jim claims 90 per cent of the cost of production comes down to labour.

Another challenge for Jim and Maddy has been the establishment and maintenance of their seed stock. The most efficient and viable way to grow garlic is to plant the previous year’s cloves. The down side to this is a balancing act between seed stock and retail sales.

“It’s tricky to manage, having enough to sell but also keeping enough seed to plant for the following year,” says Jim. This is further complicated by the need to refine the seed stock each year to minimise any inherent diseases.

“You’re planting a clone of the parent, therefore any virus is passed down. This is a big limitation to the garlic industry as a whole and disease is difficult to control.”

Fortunately, Jim and Maddy have the luxury of space to compensate for some of the disease challenges facing garlic growers. Carthian Hill consists of 900 hectares of grazing country and 200 hectares of cultivated land used for fodder, grain crops and garlic.

“Most small garlic growers only have a couple of hectares. So we have the luxury of crop rotation. This is beneficial to us,” explains Maddy.

Six years on, Jim and Maddy are continually refining their garlic operation, while managing the cattle and crop side of the property and raising their young family; their daughter Rose is turning two this year, with a brother or sister due in May.

In addition to elephant garlic, the first variety grown on Carthian Hill, Jim and Maddy now produce monaro purple and printanor, or ‘French white’, varieties. Each has unique culinary and horticultural characteristics and the mix was determined after careful analysis of the marketability and agronomic characteristics of each variety. Always the humble grower, Jim claims much of their success is due to trial, error and accident, but it’s clear his scientific approach plays a big role.

In 2015 Jim and Maddy developed custom made Carthian Hill hessian pouches to provide optimal storage conditions for the bulbs and, when in season, the garlic is sold in retailers across Sydney as a single-source, branded product.


STORY Alison Treloar

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