Top Three Tips to Protect Your Fruit

How’s your harvest? Where we live in central Victoria we’re about mid-way through our harvest.  Apricots and cherries have finished, though we only just sold the last of the apricots last weekend. We have a clever way of storing fruit for a bit longer than normal when we have to – it’s a special type of plastic bag that stops the fruit respiring, so it really slows down the rate of ripening. We don’t use them normally because we prefer to just sell everything fresh, but they come in handy for this sort of situation, when one of our regular customers didn’t return from an overseas trip until last Sunday, but didn’t want to miss out on her annual apricot jam!

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We’re about half-way through our peach and nectarine varieties, and have just started the apples. So, it feels like we’ve spent the last couple of months climbing a rather large mountain, and now we’re standing on top about to head down the other side to the end of the season, which is in sight … just a few months away.

Mid-season is a great time of year to reflect on what has worked, and what hasn’t, in terms of protecting the crop, which is our constant mission. We learned years ago that in farming you’ll always be exposed to the many risks that mother nature has in store for us, but with some good planning and crafty strategies, there’s lots you can do to predict and thwart the worst of them.

netting-over-cherry-trees-295x221Here’s our top three tips:

  1. Netting is the only reliable way to stop birds eating your fruit.  The bird threat comes from a variety of different bird species, at different times during the season, on different crops, and is hugely influenced by what else is going on in the environment around us. We have learned the hard way to always net. Just do it. It doesn’t have to be big, complicated or expensive – even drape netting your trees, or just covering a few branches with netting, old sheets or anything you have to hand, will usually be good enough to protect at least some of the fruit from these predators. It has the advantage of also protecting against possums and fruit bats (though if you have a serious and persistent possum problem, you may need to consider more of a permanent cage – for your fruit trees, not the possums – rather than a net.
  2. It’s possible to prevent crawling insects (e.g. earwigs) eating your stone fruit – but you have to be on the ball! Having just packed some peacherines that were full of earwig holes, we’re vowing (once again) to pay closer attention to this problem next year, because we know it’s largely preventable! Chemical farmers use poisons to deal with problems like this, but we’ve had to come up with organic solutions, which we’ve done through lots of trial and error over the years. The main solution we use is double-sided sticky tape around the trunk or branches of the tree, but if you’re going to do this, there’s a few tricks that make all the difference. Firstly, it has to go on in early spring, because earwigs are attracted into the tree as soon as it has leaves, and can cheerfully take up residence there for some time. Secondly, put the tape as high in the tree as you can manage – this helps to prevent other things like flying insects sticking to the tape, but also helps to prevent the crawling insects bypassing the tape by crawling up any grass that happens to be taller than the level of the tape in the tree. Thirdly, keep the grass short around the tree! And lastly, check whether there are any other places the crawling insects can access the tree – maybe an irrigation pipe, a fence, or a another tree that’s close enough for the branches to touch. It’s also really easy to trap earwigs in a variety of ways, but not as reliable as stopping them getting to your fruit.
  3. Protect against hail with – the same solution as #1 – netting!  Hail – aaarrgghh – it just takes one short, sharp hailstorm right above your fruit tree to wreak havoc (as you can see from the apples in the photo below). Hail is random, unpredictable, and unpreventable, but luckily the best defence against it is the same defence as Top Tip #1 – netting! In fact, preventing hail damage is an even more common reason that commercial orchardists use netting than bird protection. It won’t completely prevent damage to any fruit that is just under the net for example, but it can make a huge difference to the overall levels of damage in the tree.

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So, there you have it – our Top Three Tips for protecting your fruit this summer – good luck!


RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Award – week 44

As my year as the Victorian Rural Women’s Award winner starts to wind down my commitments have been fewer, but many opportunities continue to open up for me, as I’m sure they will continue to do for years to come as a result of my experiences this year.  In the last few weeks I have:

  • Been asked to participate in a forum held by the Australian Futures Project about how to make Victoria’s food system more sustainable
  • Agreed to be on the panel to select the 2016 Victorian Rural Women’s Award winner
  • Been interviewed for a new board position
  • Spoken to many people, and continue to make available the resources I developed, as part of my project.

My project, called “Farmers Markets Building Communities” has been made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Awards.

Join the revolution!

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Seven out of five health experts recommend you don’t use this awesome, success herb. Banned in 72.5% of ‘places’ worldwide, purslane, commonly known as ‘red weed’ or ‘pig root’, can give you the edge to improve your success power. Sick of hating yourself? There’s no time to stop and ‘self-loathe’ once you jump aboard the purslane express.  Here’s a testimonial from satisfied customer Sucky McBoringman: “Before I discovered The Purslane Program I was sucky and boring. Since completing the program I am less so!”
Are you sick of being killed by death? Not anymore, with Purslane. Now available in Purslane X-trA. Multiply your success power!!

BUT SERIOUSLY!

Its amazing! Purslane leaves have more omega-3 fatty acids than some of the fish oils; is high in Vitamins A, B, and C; and we are growing it!

Find Purslane at the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens farm shop, or order it from us on Facebook…$5 kg for whole stems, $10 kg for florets only.

Alex from restaurant The Good Table is serving it up, and we are featuring it in this week’s salad mix.

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My favourite recipe is florets of purslane as a salad tossed with raw garlic slivers, lemon juice, olive oil and salt.

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Stay tuned for more purslane highlights and Join the Revolution!!!

Cheers,

Sas and Mel

P.S. Thank you to the friend who wrote the amazing pitch for the revolution this week 😉

Seeing double on Facebook!

GGF Facebook page

We’ve taken the plunge and started a new Facebook Page for the teaching side of our business. It might seem a bit odd that we’ll be running two Pages (or even that we have two businesses, when they seem so similar), but over the almost 3 years since we’ve started the Grow Great Fruit program, we’ve come to realise that we really have two distinct groups of customers – those who want to grow their own fruit (we’ll be bringing regular fruit growing tips to these folk on the new Grow Great Fruit Page), and those who want to buy organic fruit from us (who will get all their fruity news via the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens Page).

Of course, the two groups overlap – a lot of the people who live close enough to the farm to buy our fruit are also interested in growing their own, but when we really thought about why we started teaching fruit growing, we realised we didn’t want to limit ourselves just to teaching fruit growing to people who live close to the farm.  We remembered that we started the Grow Great Fruit program because we want the whole world to re-learn how to grow their own organic food. Our great grandparents knew all about growing their own food, and so did many of our grandparents. A lot of people of our generation have memories of a special fruit tree in a grandparents’ garden…but their children don’t!

It’s kind of scary how quickly the knowledge of how to feed ourselves has been lost, and how much most of us now rely on supermarkets for our food. We might think we have a lot more food security than in the old days, but if our food supply chain gets interrupted, we only have a few days’ supply on the supermarket shelves. In fact, many people face more food insecurity now than ever before!

A few years ago when we did our Sustainability Plan (which you can download for free) we decided that part of our mission in the world is to increase food security by teaching what we know – how to grow fruit! The more we read and hear about growing rates of obesity, disease and fast-food consumption, not just here in Australia but around the world, the more we feel like the best thing we can do is just teach the basic skills we have about fruit growing, because it’s often just the simple stuff that can really make the difference between getting a crop each year – or not! The more we hear about the relationship between chemicals in the food system and health problems in the population, the more we want to tell everyone about the benefits of organic growing.

So, why two Facebook pages? Well, our teaching is based on giving people lots of regular, free, useful information, mainly via Facebook and our Weekly Fruit Tips newsletter. We know that there’s lots of avid “wannabe” food growers out there, and that often all they need is just some simple tips, which we’re more than happy to share.  But as this year we’ve been running our really successful trial of selling fruit on Facebook, it started feeling a bit mean that we were bombarding all those people who can’t (or don’t want to) buy our fruit with news about our markets and fruit specials.

So, we took the plunge and started the Grow Great Fruit Facebook page. We sort of figure people will gradually sort themselves out and make sure they’re getting the news from the right Page for them (or from both!). Here’s the link, hope you enjoy it.

(remember to “Like” the Page to see our tips in your newsfeed).