Caper Tips

The Caper Farm   by  Allan & Mandy Evans    http://bunyaredfarm.com.au/capers/
Bunya Red Farm is located in the picturesque South Burnett region just north of the Bunya Mountains. We moved to the area six years ago looking for a tree change and fell in love with the place we’d found.  It has 360 degree panoramic views of the Bunya Mountains and surrounding countryside.  It was close to Brisbane, our children and families. The possibilities and potential of the rich red volcanic soil stirred the ‘farmers’ from within.  Both of us grew up on farms, and knew we were not going to rely on farming incomes for our young family in our earlier years.  We had lived the struggles of growing up in a family on the land.  So now, these many years later, when we did decide to move back to the land, we knew a diversified approach to farming was required. The question of ‘what to do’ with all this land loomed.  The local area is rich in agriculture.  The main crops are peanuts, navy beans, olives and wine. With a Mediterranean climate, we needed to look for a unique crop that was not equipment intensive, as we didn’t have much, and was tolerant of the conditions in the area. The weather can fluctuate with very cold winters of -4 to above 40+ degree days.  Dry seasons and wet seasons.  It varies.  We were inspired by a story on Capers on ABC Landline and we felt that they would fit our criteria.

Bunya Red Farm is 160 acres and used for grazing cattle on half, peanut and corn rotation on about 75 acres, with the alpacas, a small tree plantation, vegetable garden and capers on a few acres around the house.  It has taken several years to get the farm tidied up a little with still work to be done.  There is an old one room school building on the farm and old fences needing to be repaired or replaced.  It is an ongoing project but an enjoyable one.  The peace and quiet; the stars at night; the blue of the beautiful Bunya Mountains; the green of the kikuyu grass merrily eaten by our alpacas, are all part of the reason why we live in the country. We cultivated an area to plant our capers. The rich red soil is well drained with a pH of 6.4 – 6.8 across the paddock. Our first 150 capers were planted on mounds on 11th & 12th November 2011.  As they went into the ground we added extra natural fertilizer. Each row was a different mixture and one row had none at all. This was our test row, to see how our plants would manage on the existing nutrients in the soil alone. Experimenting with NatraMin Cal-S, Seamungus and alpaca poo, each was chosen for their benefits for soil and plant nutrition.

Capers are the unopened flower bud of the caper plant (Scientific name: Capparis spinosa). The plant is a low growing, but well spread out bush. As ours have only been in the paddock for 15 months, the plants have not yet grown to the expected height of about 1 metre, or spread of about 3.5 – 4 metres. We are looking forward to getting closer to that size as each year progresses. The caper plant comes from a Mediterranean climate.  Here in the South Burnett, we experience cool winters (- 4°C in 2012) and hot dry summers (we had high 30’s to low 40°C in December & January).  All this rain is not in our normal weather pattern for summer. Fortunately our plants are holding up well in this prolonged wet summer. We have put down weed mat along the plant rows, covered it with lucerne mulch and installed a drip irrigation system. Since January this year, rainfall has far exceeded the caper’s requirements. As the caper bush grows, each season, the lower branches provide its own mulch cover on the ground. It also easily hides some of the buds that are to be picked. If the buds are not picked in time, they burst into flower.  The flowers are beautiful, white petals with many long purple stamens. Each flower only lasts for 1 day. The variety of caper bush we have are ‘spineless’ and came from South Australia - they do not have the spikes or thorns on the bush. This definitely makes for easier picking. After the flower has been pollinated it sets an oblong caperberry which can be picked. If the caperberry is allowed to grow too large and round, it is bitter and not good for eating. The young shoots and leaves can also be eaten either fresh or preserved. We start hand picking in October. Part of our daily routine during the season is to visit the ‘caper paddock’ be it harvesting by hand, checking for insects and caterpillars or pulling the occasional weed, or just to enjoy the view and the fresh air. Normally we could pick until the end of March (as we did last year), however, this year’s continual wet and cooler temperatures have stopped picking already. This has limited our first season’s quantity of capers. Once autumn weather has arrived in earnest, we will be mulching and feeding our caper plants in preparation for the much cooler winter temperatures. The plants are pruned right back to quite nearly the stump. The plants are dormant throughout the winter, allowing us to have a much needed break. Once the temperatures start to rise and spring is in the air, the plants start to send out new shoots and branches ready for a new season ahead. It is also time to fertilise and check weed control measures are in place. We would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing our evolving story on our What’s Happening page.   544 Wattlegrove Rd INVERLAW QLD 4610   (07) 4164 3186 Email info@bunyaredfarm.com.au

Caper Berries -  Capparis spinosa   by Ross Dickson – Fraser Coast Sub-Tropical Fruit Club
Our bus trip to the caper farm was very enjoyable and I had a great day out and learned something - I am never going to grow those labour intensive capers! I will definitely be getting my capers via email orders. The weather was perfect for our trip to the caper farm. When we arrived it was a little cool with the wind blowing and some put on jackets but once we started our tour around the farm it was warm enough to put on a hat. I arrived expecting to see caper bushes and caper berry bushes not realizing that they were one and the same. Our hosts Allan and Mandy were very obliging and explained that the Caper plant () is a shrub like perennial that grows 1-1½ metres tall with similar width. It has a multitude of branches bearing 5 cm white flowers with purple stamens. They need to be picked daily otherwise will flower and then have to be used as a caper berry which I actually thought was tastier than the caper. Mandy brines them in white wine vinegar which is delightful much better than the shop bought ones. Allan explained that they are labour intensive as there is no other way to pick them except by hand. They start producing the first year they are planted and fruit September to April which is quite a long picking time when you have to do it daily. They reach full production by 5 years, produce 5 kilo per plant and when you see how small a caper is, that’s a lot of picking. They have 300 bushes planted on about ¼ of an acre. Allan has them growing on black plastic for weed control because the plants tend to ramble and will sometimes meet up with the plants in the next row. We had tastings of capers, caper berries and a delicious Branston pickle which many of our members purchased to bring home. Mandy also had a very tasty potato salad and a caper berry relish on our food plates and I have included these recipes for those who requested them. After lunch we were taken for a tour of the Alpacas and Rita got in amongst them to have her photo taken. Something we did learn is that they are very clean animals and all poo in the one spot. Our trip to the Kingsley Grove winery was next and I think most tried the wine ice creams they had on offer plus a tipple or two of wine. I chose the plum and merlot gelato which I thought was just delightful. It was an enjoyable day with us all learning something. Sheryl:  I emailed members in October about an open day at this Caper Farm and several of our members visited.   http://bunyaredfarm.com.au