Treasure from the storm

The concept of “no waste” is one of the permaculture principles that makes the most sense to us, because it’s how we’ve always tended to live on the farm.

It seems obvious to us (and probably to you, too), so it’s absolutely staggering that according to the “Foodwise” website, the average household rubbish bin still contains 60% organic material—40% food and 20% garden waste!

The idea of garden ‘waste’ seems decidedly odd to us, even when we get a bit more organic matter to deal with than we’re expecting.  Storms seem to be becoming more frequent, and more violent.  Last year  we had two huge storms in as many weeks – so violent they were like mini-tornadoes.

The second storm in particular brought lots of almost-ripe plums down in the orchard, and also caused a bit of hail damage in some of the fruit—again, mainly the plums. Poor plums, and poor customers, who (again) graciously tolerated a bit of hail-damaged fruit at markets. We reckon we’ve done a great job educating our customers over the years what “real” fruit looks like!

We also lost plenty of tree branches, both in the orchard and the paddocks, including this rather large branch that came down from the gum tree outside the farm shop, but luckily missed anything crucial (like the shed, or Ant’s caravan), causing only relatively minor damage to one of our beautiful tank garden beds.

Half an hour with the chainsaw and Hugh had turned it into a rather attractive garden chair that has seen the addition of a cushion and many passing bottoms ever since. Every storm has a silver lining!

Often people either don’t realise the damage they cause to the environment by putting organic matter in the garbage, or don’t know what else to do, so we’ve captured a lot of the ways that the permaculture principles can easily be put into place in a typical garden in our online short course Permaculture in Action.

Fallen branches become firewood and furniture, fallen fruit and garden waste become compost, and so the cycle goes around.

Sunburn strikes again

If you live in a hot climate (like we do) sunburn is an inevitable part of fruit growing, but it can also happen in temperate fruit growing areas during heat waves, which unfortunately are becoming more common due to climate change.

There are three types of sunburn damage you may see:

1. Sunburn necrosis

sunburn-necrosis

2. Sunburn browning

sunburn-spots

3. Photo-oxidative sunburn

sunburn-cooked

This week Ant (who leases our orchard) had his first experience of sunburn, when the Pizzaz plums were not quite ripe enough to pick last week, then the heatwave hit—a blistering day of 44C!

You can see the spots and shrivelling on the skin – that’s a version of sunburn browning. Most of the plums are still perfectly usable for jam, or cooking, or even for eating, but it definitely downgrades them.

Is it preventable? It can be incredibly difficult in cases like this, where there was probably only a very brief window of a day or two when the plums were ripe enough to pick (with the confidence that they would continue to ripen off the tree) before the heat wave hit.

In a home garden, if you were paying careful attention to both your trees and the weather forecast, it may be possible to harvest the fruit (or at least some of it) in time. In Ant’s situation, where he’s managing the competing needs of 5,000 trees it’s much harder.

If you live in an area that experiences heatwaves there’s a number of other things you can do to prevent sunburn damage, including irrigation practices, pruning practices, and careful monitoring—we list 10 different ways to minimise sunburn in “What’s that spot? Common diseases of deciduous fruit trees” (even though sunburn is not actually a disease, but an environmental impact).

The main thing to do when a heat wave is predicted is to make sure your trees are getting enough water, which may mean watering every day. The best time to water is either overnight or in the morning, to reduce evaporation.

How much water is enough?

In our part of the world (central Victoria, Australia) we experience hot, dry summers, and they seem to be getting worse.  When we first came home on the farm in the late 1990s we’d have the odd day here or there over 40°C, but in recent years it’s not uncommon to have stretches of a week or more at a time with extremely high temps.

Hot conditions always beg the question…how much water is enough for fruit trees?

The rough rule of thumb we use is that a mature fruit tree, with a full crop, in the height of summer, will need about 200 litres of water per week, and if you’re installing an irrigation system we recommend that it has enough capacity to provide that much water to each tree in your garden.

However, the true answer actually depends on lots of different factors, like how old the tree is, how much fruit it has on it (if any), the soil type, what ground cover you have, and the weather, particularly the temperature and the amount of wind.

You’ll also be able to give your trees less water if you install an irrigation system, because it’s much more efficient to slowly deliver a small amount of water through drippers (for example), than you can manage with a hose or bucket.

It's important to test all the drippers at the start of the season
It’s important to test all the drippers at the start of the season

Watering your trees with either hose or bucket will inevitably lead to some water wastage through run-off, and it can also be hard to make sure the water gets down to the root zone where it’s really needed. It’s also time consuming, and can be physically hard for some people—can you tell we’re big fans of irrigation systems?

Here’s the steps to making irrigation simple and effective:

  1. Figure out how much water each of your trees will need at peak production, in hot conditions.
  2. Work out what and where your best water source is.
  3. Design and install a hose or pipe system to get the water the trees as efficiently as possible.
  4. Decide on which type of drippers and/or sprinklers you’ll use, and install them.
  5. And lastly (but importantly), add a timer or programmer to your irrigation system so it will turn itself off (and even on) automatically!

Happy watering!

(Details for how to set up a drip irrigation system are included in the Be a Wise Water Warrior short course.)