Really year 1 for the nursery?

Collecting quince seed from organic quinces
Collecting quince seed from organic quinces

This time of year we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting for the leaves to drop off the nursery trees so that we can dig them up for people’s bare rooted orders and move them around to make way for new areas of nursery.

Pear seed is stored in sand before planting
Pear seed is stored in sand before planting

We are also collecting and cleaning seed for apple, quince, pear and peach rootstock.

Apples that have been crushed to harvest the seeds
Apples that have been crushed to harvest the seeds

It’s nearly time to collect our plum cuttings which will become next years budding rootstock and we are also beginning to diligently collect and label our scion wood. This is the pieces of first year growth off the varieties of trees that we want to propagate. We store the scions in the fridge until spring when we use it to graft onto our rootstock in the nursery.

Plum cuttings
Plum cuttings

Foremost in our minds at this time of year however is our organic bare rooted fruit tree orders. These orders close this Sunday, June 30.

You might have bought trees from us before … and therefore be wondering why we’ve been saying it’s our first year of operation?

Previously, Katie and Hugh sold trees through Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens. Most of the trees came from a wholesale nursery, supplemented by a few trees from their own nursery (which were left over from what they’d grown to plant in their own orchard).

Then, they finished re-planting the orchard, leased it to Ant (Tellurian Fruit Gardens), and started the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC).

But, we didn’t want to stop growing fruit trees on the farm.

Why?

Because we (Sas and Katie) want to learn as much as we can from our resident master-nurseryman Merv Carr (Katie’s dad), we want to preserve heritage varieties by propagating them, and we want to help as many people as we can grow their own food.

So, Katie and Sas joined forces to start Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery (named after Merv), and joined HOFC.

Joining the co-op has meant that we’ve also been able to get organic certification for the nursery – in what we think is a Victorian first!

We’ve still got a fairly limited range of organic trees (and quite a few have already sold out, like our multigraft trees), but as our skills expand we’re aiming for the range of trees we sell to expand as well.

In the meantime, we’re supplementing our offering with non-organic trees from our wholesaler – our trees are clearly labelled (organic) on the website so you can tell the difference.

Hopefully that explains the whole picture – get in touch here if you have any questions at all, and jump on the website here to see what’s available and order your trees by June 30.

Cheers,


Katie, Sas and Merv

How to buy a good fruit tree

If you’re going to plant fruit trees this winter (and haven’t ordered any from Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery), then it’s time to be either getting your order in (they close on June 30), or thinking about buying trees from a nursery.

To give you an idea of the average size of a new tree, this is what a bare-rooted tree will usually look like when you buy it (these are plum trees we’ve grown in our on-farm nursery):

A plum tree that's just been dug up out of the nursery
A plum tree that’s just been dug up out of the nursery

There’s a number of things you can do to give your fruit trees the best possible start in life, and choosing a good tree at the nursery is the first step.

Most nurseries are reputable, and most trees you buy are in excellent condition, however there are still things to look for to help you choose the healthiest trees available.

If you buy fruit trees at a market, make sure the roots haven't been allowed to dry out

If you buy fruit trees at a market, make sure the roots haven’t been allowed to dry out
  1. Check the roots – they should look moist, and not dry. Be careful buying bare-rooted trees at markets for example, which may have had their roots exposed for long periods. Even if the roots look wet when you buy them, it’s worth asking how long they’ve been out of the ground, and how they’ve been looked after between markets (because the trees may be going to multiple markets before they’re bought).
  2. Check the age of the tree – trees that have been at the nursery for more than 1 or 2 years are at increased risk of transplant shock when moved. Be cautious with trees in pots, as this is often what happens to left-over trees from previous years.
  3. Are the buds healthy?
  4. How much did the tree grow last year? This is a good indication of health.
  5. Does the bark look healthy and free of disease?
Trees waiting for collection with their roots wrapped to prevent them drying out
Trees waiting for collection with their roots wrapped to prevent them drying out

When you get your trees home, ensure the roots are kept moist and covered until you plant them.

If you don’t have time to plant your trees straight away, you can also use a method called ‘heeling in’ to keep them in good condition.

You’ll find guidance on the next step towards a healthy mature tree, which is how to plant your tree correctly (including a video), in our Plant New Fruit Trees the Right Way online short course.

Fancy a cup of compost tea?

Having our morning cuppa - of tea, not compost!
Having our morning cuppa – of tea, not compost!

We’re always banging on about soil being the foundation of your entire food growing system, and how important it is to be constantly improving it.

So one of the common questions we’re asked, is “how?”

There are lots of techniques available to help you improve soil, like adding aged chicken manure, and compost (and we’re big fans of them). However one of the most useful (though least understood) is brewing your own compost tea.

We brew it on a big scale (as you can see in the photo below), but it’s also easy to make on a home garden scale.

Our 1,000 L compost tea brewer set up for demonstration at a workshop
Our 1,000 L compost tea brewer set up for demonstration at a workshop

So, what is it? It’s probably easiest to start with what it’s NOT, which is compost extract.

Compost extract is made by putting compost in water and swishing it around or leaving it to soak. You can do a similar thing with weeds to make a weed tea or weed extract. They’re both fantastic things to do, but all they do is to put the nutrients and any microbes present into solution.

This method doesn’t increase the number of microbes in the brew, and that’s the point of compost tea.

Hugh showing off his bathtub full of rich worm castings, which will be used to make compost tea
Hugh showing off his bathtub full of rich worm castings, which will be used to make compost tea

To brew compost tea we start with a small amount of something that’s rich in microbes, e.g., good compost, worm castings, or leaf litter from under a mature gum tree are all perfect for this. Then we put the source material in water, agitate it to knock the microbes off, then add microbe food and oxygen for 24-48 hours and voila! The microbes breed like…well, like microbes (that is, REALLY fast when conditions are right).

Components for the compost tea brewer
Components for the compost tea brewer

This turns a small amount of healthy microbes (bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa) into a huge number in a very short time.

On the farm we always check the brew to make sure we’ve actually got the right kind of microbes, but that’s not necessary in a home-brew situation, as long as you follow the guidelines.

Hugh checking the compost tea to make sure it's full of microbes (and not just brown water!)
Hugh checking the compost tea to make sure it’s full of microbes (and not just brown water!)

Then we just put the tea on the soil under our fruit trees, and let the microbes go to work. 

If you want to know more about this simple and very effective method of quickly building healthy soil, we’ve designed a short course just for you! It’s called The Art of Compost Tea, it includes plans for making a home-sized brewer, and you can download it here.