The depths of winter…

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 We are in the depths of winter…it might even snow on Friday! At this time of year every drop of rain is greeted with thanks. I look out onto the misty tree tops of Mt Alexander and summer feels like a dream. Sas is currently away in Arnhem Land working with women who know the art of weaving. She goes every year to facilitate the opportunity for others to learn the deep culture and skills with the women–I love the rich tapestry that each of us is made of!In the meantime, on the patch I’ve had friends come out and help fence, weed, pick and make new beds! It’s been a beautiful process having people who came to the dust bowl and dug their guts up now picking from those same rows!
When you work alone all the time and don’t necessarily get to share in the flesh (writing is great!) the sweat, the produce, the air, the dirty fingernails, it’s easy to forget what you’re doing.
I love being in the patch and feel like my energy is slowly returning after a tragic start to the year and, as Sas has previously written, we’ve got our sights set on creating more space to find the tricky between being viable and small scale. Having people out here has renewed my joy for this work. I forget that even just one day can be healing for the head, the heart and the body, and sharing this space for that is part of my vision.
I love being able to give produce to people and know that it is SO tasty, fresh and healing on the inside too.
This blog is mostly pictures and they’re mostly taken by Sarah Brazel who helped out last week.  Thank you Sarah!
Hope this finds you nurturing yourself and where you call home, Mel
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Packing shed — the slide show

flood dam wall-480x359We’re in the middle of our annual review process, and got talking about how far we’ve come in the last few years since the flood in 2011.

In the dry years we’ve had since, it’s easy to forget what it was like, so to remind you here’s a shot of the water flowing over our dam wall.

An amazing amount of water flowed through our farm in a very short period of time, and inevitably, it did lots of damage.





One of the worst of the outcomes from the flood was that our cherry orchard died. This is what a dying cherry tree looks like:


However, despite this being a major setback we decided to stay on the farm, and as part of the recovery process decided to build a new packing shed, which we got up and running by the 2013/14 fruit season.

You’ll probably recall that this time last year we were holding working bees to build the new farm shop in the shed, and create a gorgeous garden outside.  This is what it looked like as we were building the beds for the new garden:

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And here’s Hugh holding a workshop just outside the shed in the garden:

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We love having the shed and really appreciate the efficient work space it’s given us, as well as the beautiful garden and outdoor workshop area that many of you helped us build.

So we were a bit shocked when we were going through our review and realised how much we now take it for granted! It’s interesting that as soon as we’ve achieved a goal it’s so easy to immediately look forward to the next challenge – we’re not always very good at stopping and noticing how far we’ve come.

So this week we want to stop for a moment, celebrate our achievement, and remember where we’ve come from when we just had an empty paddock and the dream of a shed. Here’s the slideshow, hope you enjoy it. 

Are multigraft fruit trees a good idea?

Have you heard of the “Tree of 40 Fruit” project? It’s an art project created by American artist Sam Van Aken, where he creates beautiful mega-multigrafted trees, for example a peach tree with more than 40 different varieties of peach and nectarine, for their aesthetic value. They are absolutely stunning (we can’t show you one here because we didn’t get permission to use his photos, but here’s the link to his website if you want to have a look).

multiple-trunk-different-colours-helena-smallInstead, here’s a photo of a multigraft tree from a recent garden consultation we did, showing the different coloured leaves of the two different varieties on the same tree.


Not as spectacular as having 40 different varieties putting on their various autumn colours, but you get the idea! Here’s another one of a multigrafted cherry showing the different coloured blossoms in spring (this photo is from Wikimedia Commons).

A multigraft is, as the name suggests, a tree that has multiple varieties grafted onto a single rootstock. So for example an apple tree with Pink Lady, Granny Smith and Fuji all on the same tree (which coincidentally, is one of the trees we have for sale this year). Multigrafts are always the same type of fruit (e.g., all apples), whereas a tree with different types of fruit on the same rootstock –  say a plum, an apricot and a peach – is called a “fruit salad” tree and is quite a different animal.

The idea of a many-grafted fruit tree is not new – there are a couple of very famous examples around the world, such as this ‘family tree’ that has been grown by Paul Barnett in West Sussex, England, on which he’s grafted 250 different apple varieties (photo from the Daily Mail).

Paul Barnett with apple tree

Multigrafting has been used not only as a repository of genetic material of lots of different varieties, but also as a mark of the skill of the master grafter, proving not only their grafting skills, but also their superior pruning and management skills in keeping each separate variety alive and growing, and keeping the whole tree in balance.

A multigraft plum tree in the garden of one of our Grow Great Fruit program members

Which  brings us neatly to the question of, should you bother?, because while multigrafts have lots of advantages, they are almost always a harder tree to manage in the garden, if you’re trying to keep the different varieties in balance with each other, and they can be daunting for a new gardener in particular.

Sometimes keeping the tree in balance doesn’t matter, for example if you’ve grafted a piece of wood of the same fruit but a different variety to act as a cross-polliniser on to your tree because it wasn’t setting a good crop of fruit. In trees like that, you’re not aiming to grow both varieties in equal proportion.

But if you’ve planted a multigraft because (for example) you have limited space but still want roughly equal amounts of an early and a late apple, then for sure it matters – there’s not a lot of point of having a multigraft Gala and Pink Lady if you get 10 boxes of Gala early in the season (when you already have plenty of plums and peaches), and then have to wait until the end of the season when you pick 2 Pink Ladys from one weakling branch!

So, how do you manage them?

The trick is to pay a lot of attention to your pruning in the first few years of the tree’s life (which we call the ‘establishment phase’). Monitor closely how well the different varieties are growing, and you may need to prune the more dominant variety back quite hard at the beginning to let the weaker side get equally established.

Of course, one of the pruning principles is that the harder you prune, the harder your tree is likely to grow, so the tree’s most likely response to hard pruning is that the dominant side will respond with even more gusto. You can minimse this bounce-back effect by pruning the tree in late summer, rather than winter.

Another trick that might help if you don’t want to continually prune is to weigh the dominant limbs down more horizontally (e.g., with a brick) so the height of the growth tip is lower than the height of the weaker side of the tree. This physical height confers an advantage onto the weaker side, and the tree is more likely to direct more energy and resources to the weaker (higher tip) limb, allowing it to catch up.

So is it worth it? Absolutely! If you’re interested in gardening and growing fruit, all of this is tremendous fun, both the grafting and pruning management. It can be a quick way to experience the age-old relationship between farmer and nature (“who’s in charge here?”), that often starts as a battle for new growers but can end with a much deeper understanding and respect for how nature works. And remember, the tussle goes on mostly in your mind – the tree will just keep being a tree.