Why you should pick up fruit from the ground (yes, all of it!)

One of the easiest—but most important—things you can do to control both pests and diseases in your fruit trees is to pick up all (yes ALL) the fruit that falls during the season. We call this practice “orchard hygiene”.

This is a common sight under the apricot trees in our orchard. Fruit that has fallen because it’s damaged by birds, or overripe, will usually develop brown rot.

This is normal—fungal diseases like brown rot are incredibly useful in the ecosystem in returning organic waste to the soil. It may seem counter-intuitive to remove this great source of organic matter for the soil, and seems to go against the ‘closed loop’ principles that permaculture teaches (which we practice here on the farm as much as possible).

However, we don’t want brown rot to spread to healthy fruit on the tree this year, or to infect our trees next year, so it’s important to pick the fruit up and completely remove fallen fruit from the area.

Where permaculture principles come into play is what happens next. We collect ours and feed it to animals, either on the farm or nearby farms (and the farmers are always very happy to get some supplementary organic feed for their animals). Putting the fruit through a worm farm, or hot compost system will also ‘clean’ the fruit and allow the organic matter to be returned to the soil.

If you want to learn more about how to use permaculture to increase the amount of food you grow, check out Permaculture in Action.

Here’s some other reasons not to leave fruit under your trees. It provides the perfect breeding ground for the following pests:

(a) carpophilus beetle – a tiny beetle that puts tiny holes in fruit, and is also a carrier of the Brown rot fungal spores.

(b) earwigs – fruit on the ground provides a good food source and breeding ground for earwigs, which are one of the worst pests of stone fruit:

(c) Queensland fruit fly – we don’t have these in our district (yet), but it’s a terrible problem in many fruit growing areas, and relies on fruit and vegetables for its food source.

They won’t infect fallen fruit, but if they’ve already laid eggs in the fruit before it falls, the fruit on the ground provides the perfect nursery habitat for the next generation.

Did you get the thinning right?

As we go about picking in the orchard during the apricot season, we see the end result of the thinning we did a couple of months ago – where it worked, and where it didn’t. Here’s a bunch of apricots that were missed in the thinning, and you can clearly see the outcome.

Out of this bunch of four, two apricots have grown normally, and two are stunted, slightly shrivelled, and not really edible – these are the ones that should have been removed when we were doing the thinning.

When they’re removed, you can see that we’re left with two reasonably sized, delicious looking apricots. But…how much bigger could they have been?

The energy that the tree has put into the two discarded fruit would have been better put into growing just two pieces of fruit in the bunch to a larger size.

This is just one reason why it’s a good idea to do thinning early, hard, and thoroughly! We’re aiming to always maximise the ratio of usable, edible fruit to core/stone that the tree produces.

We’ve also seen quite a few of these broken laterals in the orchard, which is another problem caused by leaving too much fruit on a branch that isn’t big enough to carry the weight.

Having put all our care and attention into growing and pruning the tree, it’s then our responsibility to make sure we don’t leave too much fruit on any one branch or lateral than it can carry, to protect these precious growing areas.

Sorry, tree…

Prevent brown rot in apricots

It’s not uncommon, particularly after rain, to see some brown rot developing in stone fruit like apricots (you might also see it in peaches and nectarines). Notice how the brown rot often starts around a hole?

 

The holes might be caused by a tiny pest called carpophilus beetles, or in this case, earwigs! The combination of a small hole in the fruit, and a bit of rain can lead to a bit of a brown rot outbreak in your tree.

A lot of the infected fruit tends to fall to the ground, and also it’s important to remove any that you see in the tree to stop it spreading. Be sure to clean them up from the ground (goats or chooks will love to eat them) to help keep the tree disease free next year.

Controlling brown rot, like all fruit tree diseases, relies on the 8 principles of disease prevention:

  1. Love your soil
  2. Prevention is easier than cure
  3. Protect the predators
  4. Encourage variety in your garden
  5. Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene
  6. Maintain your trees
  7. Monitor your trees regularly
  8. Plan your fruit tree garden.

You’ll find more detail about the 8 principles, and details of how to manage 27 different diseases of fruit trees in What’s That Spot? Common diseases of deciduous fruit trees.