Almond harvest time

Green almonds pre-harvest before the husks have opened
Green almonds pre-harvest before the husks have opened

Apart from all the fruits that are grown commercially in the orchards on our farm, we also have a pretty big garden, with a wide variety of fruit and nut trees, including 8 almonds (2 each of 4 different varieties) under net.

We’re big fans of nut trees in gardens, particularly if you’re trying to build a permaculture (which stands for “permanent agriculture”) system. We’ve written about them before here and you can find out more about how to create a permaculture system here.

Almonds ready to harvest - the husks have opened and started to dry
Almonds ready to harvest – the husks have opened and started to dry

You can tell when they’re ripe because the husks open up, as you can see above, exposing the shell underneath (and the almond nut is inside the shell).

This week we started picking them, because some of them had started opening up. The other indication they’re ready is that some are on the ground, but we don’t want too many on the ground because in past years we’ve found they’re a pain to find in the grass, because we usually let it grow quite long underneath the almond trees.

Long grass under the trees can hamper the harvest!
Long grass under the trees can hamper the harvest!

This year we learned from previous year’s pain, and cut the grass a few weeks before harvest, which made the process much easier!

After we’ve picked, we remove the husks before we store the nuts, and then we shell them as we need them through the year as they stay much fresher in the shell.

Mowed grass under almond trees makes it easier to find the fallen nuts
Mowed grass under almond trees makes it easier to find the fallen nuts

Now that the trees are mature, 8 trees supply us with enough nuts for eating all year, plus we grind some into meal and use them in cooking as well.

Our small almond block is planted in 2 rows, with 2 trees each of 4 different varieties. Like so many other well-meaning but vague gardeners, we lost the tags, so we don’t know which variety is which! (This is one of the things we caution against in our Grow Great Fruit program — so do as we say, not as we do!)

Variety 1 in our almond block

Normally we pick the whole crop together, but this year we’ve kept the different varieties separate, and will attempt to identify them. As you can see from the photos of the first 3 varieties we’ve picked, they’re all quite different. Variety 1 has a very papery shell (which suggests it might be Canadian Papershell).

Variety 2 in our almond block

We planted pollinisers together, so variety 2 must be either Ne Plus Ultra, Mission or IXL. Ne Plus Ultra has very large kernels, and as you can see from the photo (the sunnies are there to give a size comparison between varieties), #2 is much smaller than #1, so that rules out Ne Plus Ultra. It’s more likely to be Mission, which yields relatively small kernels. Other options include Johnsons Prolific or IXL.

Variety 3 in our almond block

Varieties #3 and #4 were also pollinisers for each other, so the likelihood is that they are Brandes Jordan and Chellaston, but we have no idea which is which! Oh well, they’re all delicious, so it doesn’t really matter, though it’s going to leave me forever curious…

A beautiful almond flower at sunset
A beautiful almond flower at sunset

A bit of resilience….

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
My tasks lie in their places
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labour,
Mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it.  As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move. 

— Wendell Berry

Hi out there!  I hope you are having a moment’s breath and soaking up the rain we got yesterday and are enjoying the cool change like me (Mel).  Whilst I was picking lettuce at dawn on Tuesday I had this whole blog written out in my mind.  I love the meditative state I can find myself in whilst completing some tasks.  The blog I’d composed was actually quite negative and there were tears forming if I allowed myself to go there.  You see, Tuesday morning through to Tuesday afternoon is a big picking and packing day for us.  We are currently providing 40-odd houses (affectionately named ‘boxies’ – they have committed to buying a small or large veg box off us for the summer season) with weekly veg and still up keeping a somewhat regular supply of salad, veg and edible flowers to local restaurants, cafes, caterers and occasionally sell bulk produce to a few green grocers in town too.  So, Tuesdays we arrive at the farm 5.3 0am, put the coffee on the stove, the irrigation on, water the seedlings in the hardening-off area and after we write all the orders and divvy up which box gets what we set out to pick ‘n pack it all.

Usually by this time of year we are drowning in summer produce and are needing to pick every 2 days, and it was this that made the old eyes start to well.  As I was picking the lettuce (which looked beautiful) all I could see around me was what I deemed as failure.  The green tomatoes staring at us = failure; the basil just plumping up after being in the ground for 2 months = failure; the zuchs with a few fruit on them = failure; the cucamelons from Mexico that are meant to love drought are splattered with baby fruit a few mm long but not really what I’d call abundant picking = failure; the capsicums under their shade cloth with but a few fruit = failure; the eggplants showering again with flowers and bees but small fruit = failure; the corn with its wind-shrivelled leaves and flowers = failure; the beans with fried flowers from the wind = no beans = failure.  A few successes but for the most part what I felt surrounded by was failure. 

I walked back to the shed to splash water on the buckets of leaves I’d picked and put them in the coolroom when I ran into Sas who was bunching kale/silverbeet and restaurants’ herbs…mentioned the failure feeling to her and I was met with an unexpected response: ‘I know!!  It’s all I can see…’. So it wasn’t just me being extra hormonal or something if Sas was experiencing it too. We had a quick chat about it and went back to picking our respective vegies. In our quick chat we had both identified the need to build not just eco-system and food resilience, but mental resilience. We are not strangers to the failure feelings (I’d even be so bold to say that everyone experiences them) and we are getting better at acknowledging them and identifying why we’re feeling that way and if it’s within our control or not.  So Tuesday morning we both came to the fact that this season’s current challenge (as all seasons have at least one) has been the heat. And without wanting to bang on about it, the consequences of it are really tough! Next year we will be better prepared, plan for another hot season and no doubt we will have a wet, mouldy etc etc season and there will be more blogs about wet and mildew ha! (…or it could be just right and nature and us will nail it!). But in the meantime we have to just keep plodding on in the current reality. We get one shot at each season each year…. 

Another thing we acknowledged to ourselves were expectations. Our own expectations and what we think others’ expectations of us are. We want to provide everyone with what summer normally provides! For example, tomatoes big and small, yellow and black and red. But we aren’t doing that.  We feel like we aren’t providing what we should be – thus we have failed and let people down and people will think we’re not trying hard enough, aren’t very good, won’t trust us with their stomachs again…etc etc. It’s a whole spiral when you start going down that tunnel. Which is so bloomin’ easy to do. Hence why we spoke about mental resilience instead.  

We both finished the fragile leaves that need to be carefully picked and bunched before the sun’s rays get too hot by 9am and sat down for a coffee (yes, another one!) and breakfast with Tessa (the legend behind the microdairy) in the shed. We asked her about mental resilience and we spoke about it a bit more. Later that day when I was weighing and bagging up salad leaves for boxes and restaurants, Katie was packing fruit and so I also asked her about the failure feelings. I’m still yet to hear the gems of wisdom from her lived experience, but she spoke about the reality of that feeling being common with farmers. Her decade of farming in drought and seeing farmers commit suicide saw her build mental resilience I reckon – Katie I’m still gonna hunt down that conversation with you!  

Again there was that affirmation that these feelings are very real. So I think I’m still left with pondering a bit of how to build that said mental resilience.  I think we’re doing heaps better this year with that than any other year.  Even though we’re very green (young/new) at farming we do have a few years under our belt now, simply to know that something always goes wrong, there’s always pests depending on the condition of the seasons and if we try hard enough we do remember that we are producing good food, to people and our community and that were getting better each year.  

One of the reasons we wanted to do veggie boxes apart from it stemming from the value of wanting to offer affordable, locally grown, chemical free food to families in our community, was also to have direct contact with people who are eating the food! When we deliver to restaurants we have big smiles for the chefs who produce works of art with our produce – but we don’t get to sit at the table when customers eat the fresh salad leaves and the crisp, peppery watermelon radish… 

Having direct contact and seeing stuff go home to houses has a lot of value for us. I think this year we have seen potentially the other side of this value in action too. This isn’t a cry for comments or anything like that – just a transparent slide from our side acknowledging the fact that we take it very seriously that people have committed to eating with us for a season. So I guess where my I’m left is with the reality of the season and our capacity is what it is. We work hard and do our best. And at the end of the day we laugh and cry and laugh, work in a stunning outdoor office surrounded by other beautiful hardworking souls farming and we love what we do…

And now, you can go back up to the top and read the Wendell Berry poem again and it might make more sense 🙂

Peace out, do some dance steps or jump around to thrash – whatever’s your fancy; and as Leunig would say, go pat a dog. 

Mel   

3 steps to a new tree with bud grafting

Do you know how to graft? Have you tried, but had mixed success? It’s not difficult, but has lots of aspects to it, and is one of those skills (like pruning) that needs practice to cement the theory.

We love it when people who have been to our workshops get back to us to let us know how they went, like this note from Judy, who came to a recent budding workshop.

Just writing to say how thrilled I am to be gazing in wonder and, I must say, anticipation at my very own young nectarines!! These be the first fruits of your terrific budding workshop!”

Judy’s budded nectarine!

If you haven’t heard of it before, budding is the type of grafting we do in summer, and it’s pretty easy. The technique is as simple as taking a single bud from the desired variety, and inserting it under the bark in the graft recipient tree, or rootstock.

It’s interesting that Judy sent us a photo of her nectarine tree, because though budding can be used for all fruit trees, it is the only type of grafting we routinely use for peaches and nectarines, as they tend to be very ‘gummy’ and the more traditional winter grafting techniques don’t usually work, as the big cuts that are required stimulate the trees to respond with a lot of sap, which prevents the graft from ‘taking’.

Grafting is literally thousands of years old. It was known to be used by the Chinese before 2000 BC.  It is one of the basic life skills that underpins our food security because it’s what turns a rootstock or seedling (which may not have good fruit on it) into a known “variety” that will bear reliable, high quality fruit.

Unfortunately it’s almost a lost art, and hardly anyone knows how to do it any more.

We’re on a mission to teach as many people as possible these skills, because if you know how to graft, and you know how to grow your own fruit trees from seed or cutting (which we also cover in our workshops) then you have the skills at your fingertips to create an endless supply of fruit trees for free for yourself, your family and friends, or even as the basis of a small business. 

So, here are the 3 basic steps involved for budding:

  1. Collect a piece of scion wood (grafting wood) from the new variety you want to graft onto your existing tree or rootstock;
  2. Cut a single bud from the piece of scion wood and insert it into a “T” shaped cut in a shoot on the tree you’re grafting onto. Insert the bud into the shoot
  3. Tape it up to seal it while the graft heals.
Our WWOOFer Norma taping up one of her bud grafts

If you’re intending to transform an entire tree to a new variety, then you need to do some preparation work in early spring. Remove most of the limbs from the tree and the tree will respond by growing a forest of new shoots to replace the limbs that have been removed. When it comes to budding time, select the shoots that are in the right place to create replacement limbs and bud them, removing all the other shoots.

Budding success!

We love passing these skills on to a whole new generation of food growers and have developed a short online course that includes theory and videos — you can access it here.

Once you understand the theory, then comes the practice! It’s a good idea to do some budding every year, to maintain and improve your skills. Judy was kind enough to attribute her success to our workshop, but in fact it’s actually her commitment to putting it into action that produced her success:

My good fortune is a result of your good teaching..clear, thorough, hands on..with plenty of practicing..can’t B faulted!! I’m about to do a lot more budding..being February!..Thanks heaps for a terrific course.”

Thanks Judy!