Why organic? Let us remind you…

It’s becoming increasingly obvious (to us at least) that eating organic food is more than just a nice idea, or an optional extra.

If we want to get serious about our own health, the health of the planet and creating a sustainable food system that’s realistically going to feed our growing population, it’s absolutely essential.

Sound a bit strong? Don’t worry, we have some convincing pieces of evidence we want to share with you.

The first one is the US based The Detox Project, who recently published the first results of their validated glyphosate testing trial (the details about the testing process are here, if you’re interested).  

The results of their research are pretty clear, with 93% of the adults testing positive for glyphosate. If you’re interested, read the results of the study here.

Glyphosate is mainly used to kill weeds, but in organic fruit growing weeds are valued for the many benefits they bring to the soil
Glyphosate is mainly used to kill weeds, but in organic fruit growing weeds are valued for the many benefits they bring to the soil

So what? Glyphosate is one of the most used herbicides on the planet, so surely it’s safe for humans, right?

Well Monsanto (who makes Roundup, one of the most common brands) would like us to think so, but in March 2015 the World Health Organisation declared that “glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen”, based on the view of 17 top cancer experts from 11 countries, who met to assess the carcinogenity of 5 pesticides.

More recently, Monsanto has lost three trials in a row (with more than 2 billion dollars awarded in damages against them) and is still facing lawsuits from 13,400 farmers, gardeners and other users.

We did a bit of research into how safety limits for glyphosate are set, which raised all sorts of alarm bells! Read more about whether glyphosate is really safe here.

The Detox Project also asked people to put themselves on an organic diet for three weeks, and then retest themselves, to find out whether this can reduce the amount of glyphosate in your body. This experiment was done with a family in Sweden, with dramatic results – watch the video here.

Eating organic food has been shown to quickly reduce the level of glyphosate in your body
Eating organic food has been shown to quickly reduce the level of glyphosate in your body

One of the arguments against eating organic is that it’s too expensive, and it’s undeniable that it often (though by no means always) costs more than its counterpart that has been produced using chemicals.

However another way to look at it is that the real costs of production are not reflected in the retail price, chemically produced food is too cheap and many people have unrealistic expectations of how cheap food should be.

The cows are outraged at their milk being undervalued!
The cows are outraged at their milk being undervalued!

For example, 2 litres of milk in 1910 would have cost the equivalent of $26 today, but we expect to pay just $1!

Until we as consumers start paying the real costs of producing food, they are often borne silently either by farmers or the environment.

Organic seedlings are a great way to get started with growing your own food
Organic seedlings are a great way to get started with growing your own food

You know what we think is the best solution to this whole mess?

Grow your own, of course! This will give you access to more organic food, while saving money at the same time.

This is why we’re so passionate about helping people learn how to grow their own organic fruit (and by extension, other organic produce in their gardens as well).

 Hugh giving a workshop on how to easily make your own compost tea to introduce natural fertility to your soil
Hugh giving a workshop on how to easily make your own compost tea to introduce natural fertility to your soil

Once you learn the basic skills it’s really not rocket science. If you really want to change the world and fix the food system, look to your own backyard!

Our whole Grow Great Fruit system is based on organic principles, but if you want to find out more about the specifics, our short course Grow Great Fruit Without Chemicals explains how to put it into practice.

Precious rain

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It came late this year, it seems to get later every year. Not that we have been growing in this spot long enough to have an accurate gauge of the “normal” rhythms of the seasons in the micro climate of Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens. But dry warm air stretching right through and into May, and watering things that really should be able to look after themselves by now, doesn’t seem usual. The rain, when it came, was a welcome and revered event.

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With the late warm and the soaking rain, the garlic crop seems to be doubling in size every time we blink. Rain for us means the plants grow fatter, greener and healthier as if by magic. There is nothing like it, rain water is charged with the electricity of the atmosphere and contains nitrogen in a form that plants can readily absorb, so they really do grow like the clappers when it rains.

Rain means we can direct sow broad beans, peas and green manure crops into the rows and they will grow happily with very little intervention from us (besides a bit of weeding and patting). It means our freshly transplanted seedlings can settle their roots in with much less trauma and kick off their new life in the ground with a smile.IMG2833

It also means that all the dormant weed seeds in our freshly hoed and formed rows have the best conditions possible to thrive! Hence the past month has been consumed with a weeding regime that would make most go weak at the knees. The trick is to weed with your back to the weeds so that you can only see the clear brown earth before you, not the mass of weeds creeping up behind you! Little bit by little bit we’re filling up all our (freshly weeded) new beds with seedlings of all sorts of gorgeous things. Mustard, spinch, silverbeet, lettuce, endives, escarole, raddichio, fennel, brassicas, beets, carrots, radishes, kale, peas and broadies….winter is looking green and yummy! But we would like some more rain please, can anyone organise that for us?

Cheers,

Sas & Mel

How to Grow Pears

We love pears. They’re a much maligned type of fruit, probably because it’s so hard to buy good, ripe pears, but we reckon they’re a top tree in the garden, and pretty easy to grow organically. Here’s our top 10 reasons why you need a pear tree in your garden:

Reason 1: There are at least 15 varieties of pears and nashis easily available, which ripen from mid January right through until early April. This means they can help to extend the fresh fruit season in your garden.

Reason 2: Pears don’t get too many bugs or diseases. The four most common problems experienced by pears are:

  • Black spot, a common fungal disease that is worse in wet years, but very preventable with organic fungicides applied at the right time

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Black spot damage on pears

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    squashing a Pear and cherry slug

    Pear and cherry slug can be a nuisance some years, and if left uncontrolled can severely damage or kill a young tree (but they’re also easy to control on young trees). On mature trees they can make the tree look ugly, but don’t affect the fruit and don’t do too much harm really. They have quite a few predators, and numbers tend to self-regulate as long as you’re not killing the good bugs with indiscriminate pesticide use.

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    Pear leaf blister mite damage

    Pear blister mite. Harder to control because the mites live inside the leaves, but again, they don’t really do too much damage, though they can make the tree look ugly if you’ve got a bad case. Doesn’t affect the fruit.

  • Birds! Like every other fruit tree you grow, if you want to pick fruit, you need to net them to prevent bird damage.

Reason 3: They’re easy to prune. Most pear varieties are ‘spur-bearers’, which means they produce fruit on 2 year old wood (and older), in the form of short fruit-bearing shoots known as spurs. Some varieties (e.g. Josephines) produce fruit on the end of longer shoots, and they are known as ‘tip-bearers’.  Once you’ve figured out which type you have, you’re half way to knowing how to prune them! The difference really is in how you treat the laterals – in spur-bearing varieties, they should be shortened back by about 1/3 to encourage the development of new side shoots and spurs. In tip-bearing varieties, it’s important not to shorten the laterals, because that’s where the fruit grows.

pear in hand
A perfect pear

Reason 4: Most pears don’t need to be ripened on the tree. In fact, unlike other deciduous fruit, most pear varieties (except some of the early season ones) won’t ripen properly on the tree, but need cold storage for 2–6 weeks, followed by a period of ripening out of the fridge. Pears ripen from the inside, and ripening them on the tree leads to both poor texture—either grainy or mushy—as well as poor keeping qualities. How long do you need to leave them in the fridge before you ripen them on the bench? It’s a bit different for each variety, but here’s some guidelines for the more common varieties:

  1. Beurre Bosc – don’t need cold storage
  2. Packham’s Triumph – need 1 month
  3. Winter Nelis – need 1 month
  4. D’Anjou – need 2 months

Reason 5: Pears can tolerate quite boggy ground, and in fact will often thrive in conditions that would make other fruit trees sulk (or worse – die!) This makes them a handy tree to pop in those difficult, hard-to-drain spots in the garden.

Reason 6: It’s easy to grow your own pear trees. Gather seed in autumn, store it in damp sand over winter and plant out in spring. Most of the seed will grow, so choose the biggest and strongest seedlings and discard the rest. Now you have your rootstocks. In late summer, you can graft a bud of your desired variety onto the rootstock (a technique called ‘budding’). In spring cut back to the bud, and over summer it should grow and form your new tree. Voila! The following winter you’ll have a brand new pear tree to plant in your garden – for free!

Reason 7: It’s easy to grow your own dwarf pear trees! Follow the same process as above, but use quince seed instead of pear to grow your rootstock. Then when you graft your pear variety onto the rootstock it will grow into a much smaller tree – very handy for short gardeners (or if you’re trying to squish a lot of fruit trees into a small space!).

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Frost ring on small pear.

Reason 8: Pears are relatively frost-hardy – not completely, but because they flower so late they are much less likely to succumb to the spring frosts that can be so devastating to apricots and stone fruit, which makes them the best choice for the frosty spots in your garden. Having said that if a really heavy frost is forecast while they’re flowering they may still benefit from throwing some frost cloth (or even an old sheet) over them to prevent this sort of damage.

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Pear trees have stunning white blossom

Reason 9: They are beautiful trees which look great all year, with their stunning white flowers in spring, their large, dark green glossy leaves in summer and a beautiful display of colour in autumn.

Reason 10: Pears are delicious, and once properly ripened are not only great to eat fresh, but lend themselves to a multitude of preserving techniques – bottled, spiced, chutney, dried and pickled, to name a few!

So, that’s we love pears: they’re beautiful, they’re delicious and they’re easy to grow!

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