A conversation on a couch "a couple of years ago" between three blokes has begun to put down roots as the first of an expected 16,000 juniper shrubs are being planted east of Gunnedah.
Darren Megson and his wife Tammy are the founders of Mother's Ruin juniper plantation and a project they call Three Generation Gin.
It's a step into the unknown in some ways as the shrub crop takes eight years to give a return and harvesting juniper berries in Europe is not fully mechanised, rather it relies on manual labour.
Mr Megson works in the mining industry near Boggabri and central to the project was his purchase of about 40 hectares "of the cheapest land in the district".
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He has begun his nursery, striking cuttings from 13 juniper bushes planted in the driveway of the family's Gunnedah home.
Juniper grows to a height of about five metres and the berries are the essential flavour for gin.
The growth of a cottage industry gin distilleries across country is inspiration for the plantation as juniper berries are almost entirely a northern hemisphere crop and production, Mr Megson says, is waning.
"I thought we are going to have a crack at this," he said.
"I've had inquiry from as far away as Tasmania asking when my first berries will become available.
He said when the berries ripen on his shrubs, the plan is to try an air-powered blueberry harvester. Juniper berries ripen over about two years.
"First, they will produce a flower and then eventually a berry; this process takes a whole year. In the second year, the berry stays hard and green in colour," Mr Megson said.
Planting junipers requires some thought as there are male and female shrubs, and the planting ratio should be one male to five female shrubs.
"The males are spikier than the females," he said.
Establishing the plantation is a family affair; his wife, parents-in-law, daughters and their friends all pitch in with the planting, which aims to have 16,000 shrubs planted by 2025.
Striking the cuttings has enjoyed only about a 40 per cent success rate, but techniques are still being developed.
"Hormone powder on the cuttings is giving me the best results," he said.
"It takes about 12 weeks before you know if the cutting has successfully struck.
Junipers require little water, but now that he has the proper approvals, he is preparing to sink a bore that he hopes will meet his needs.
The Megsons are interested in regenerative soil techniques, and they have managed to get their block into a Southern Cross University soils' database, assisted by a federal government grant.
The junipers don't have any predation issues apart from a single rabbit nipping the cuttings off at ground level.
Mr Megson has plans to end this issue.
Another of his hobbies is buying "cheap" tractors and restoring them for use on his block.
A Massey 35 backhoe, bought for $2000, only needed a new battery and diesel turned over almost straight away, and it is finding plenty of use on the block.
People interested in following Mr Megson's progress call check out his YouTube channel, Humpty 74.
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