We don’t know if she sings Beatles songs but this farmer swears her organic crops respond to a little crooning
If you drive around the picturesque Glass House Mountains on a clear cool day, you just might hear a sweet melodious voice borne on the breeze. It’s probably organic farmer Pim Mens singing to her strawberries. Belting out a tune (or having a stern word if they’re not performing) is all part of her farming ethos.
“I’ll tell them, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to plough all of you in because you aren’t doing well’ — then suddenly they’re looking really good,” she says with a mischievous grin.
Chat to Pim for a while and you realise there’s a whole lot more than a great sense of humour to this hardworking farmer. Pim, 46, and husband Edwin, 47, have 11 acres of fertile farmland including five acres of organic strawberries plus another two of mixed crops along with some custard apples, avocados and native and European bees. They’ve found their forever home and are doing what they love: working the land.
Pim grows two varieties of sweet, succulent strawberries: Red Rhapsody, which is burgundy in colour and chock full of antioxidants, and Suncoast Delight, a firm and flavoursome cultivar. She calls farming her “hobby” but she puts in a staggering number of hours each week; she’s in the fields at 5.30am when the sun comes up.
The couple have four children: Vanita, 19, Alisha, 17, Sarah, 16, and 12-year-old Arno. Soon after giving birth to each of her brood, Pim was back in the fields with a baby tucked into a shaded crib alongside the strawberry-picking trolley.
She says, “I’d have one in the crib and another running around the patch. We are organic farmers, so I don’t have to worry about anything.”
A born farmer
Pim arrived as a teenager from Thailand with her family, who farmed corn and rice: “Farming wasn’t a choice we made. Like a lot of Thai people, we were too poor to do anything else.”
After leaving school, Pim jumped on her pushbike and doorknocked local farms looking for work picking crops, then worked on a ginger farm for seven years. “I like freedom and space,” she says. “The idea of working outdoors really appealed to me.”
Pim and Edwin were childhood sweethearts — he was her judo instructor — and share a special love of life on the land, as Edwin’s family are farmers, too. Pim decided she wanted her own patch of dirt so, at the age of 20, she bought a small parcel of land and began growing her own crops.
The family purchased their current farm in 1998 and, before building a new home, lived in a converted shed on the property for eight years. “There was an outside toilet and cold shower but I was very happy,” says Pim. “We had one bedroom; then, every time a baby popped out, Edwin built another room and it turned into a four-bedroom house.”
They made the switch to organics in 2002 and are Australian Certified Organic. They sell their produce to wholesalers in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and also share produce with neighbours, friends and family. The decision to grow organically came after Edwin researched non-organic products. “Many commercial strawberry growers use systemic chemicals — a spray the fruit absorbs into its sap stream,” he says. “It’s like our bloodstream, so [it] goes into the fruit. You can wash it and peel it, but you’re still ingesting traces of chemicals.”
The farm is completely off the grid: the house is solar powered, running off batteries at night. There are several spring-fed dams that take care of water needs. Pim makes jams and preserves as well as drying fruit. She also makes delicious strawberry rollups while her girls make lip gloss from the native bee wax.
The strawberries are grown on plastic beds raised around 20–25cm to keep the grass under control and the fruit clean. The Menses use composted chicken manure as fertiliser and sugar cane mulch for weed control.
It’s an annual process, explains Pim. “At the end of the season we take the plastic off — leave it on too long and it will kill all the soil microbes in the ground — and then plough everything back into the soil. Then we grow a green cover crop to add nitrogen and fix bacteria in the soil — it gives the soil a rest.”
To produce healthy, vibrant plants, strawberries need water — every day for seven days when planted. “We use overhead sprinklers at the start of the season to establish the plants, then drip feeder irrigation as there’s less water wastage.”
When picking season rolls around it’s all hands on deck with the kids and a few WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) pitching in.
Dealing with pests
There’s plenty of wildlife wandering through the pretty-as-a-picture property. White cockatoos wreak havoc picking at the fruit, but other birds like frogmouth owls are beneficial as they eat the mice that eat the fruit.
Mice aren’t the only pests they have to deal with, though. Strawberries can also suffer from two-spotted mite, which can potentially decimate a strawberry crop. Introduced pest control in the form of Amblyseius montdorensis, an Australian predatory mite, takes care of the problem.
Written by Carrol Baker
Photography by Carrol Baker
Originally in Good Organic Gardening Magazine Volume 8 Issue 4