Is rain good for fruit?

A lemon covered in raindrops
A lemon covered in raindrops

As a fruit grower, lying in bed listening to rain on the roof can bring up a wide range of emotions, both good and bad. In our typical dry summers most people welcome rain when it comes, so it never seems appropriate for us to express concern about the damage it can do to fruit. However, it hasn’t rained for a while, so this week we reflect on the question – “Is rain good for fruit?”

Like everything in farming, the answer is complicated, and depends on lots of different variables, so let’s break it down a bit.

1. Trees like rain better than irrigation waterup to a point! As a gardener, you’ve probably noticed how “perky” your garden looks just after rain. One of the reasons (apart from the leaves being cleaner) is because the rain carries dissolved nitrogen which is easily absorbed by the plants, giving them a nutritional boost. Too much rain, however, and the soil can become waterlogged, creating anaerobic conditions, which actually stops the plants’ roots being able to take up nitrogen! The other advantages of trees receiving their water from rainfall (rather than irrigation) are that the entire root system gets water (rather than just at the point of water delivery), and if you’ve been keeping your garden on rations due to dry conditions, they just love the opportunity to get their fill of water for a change!

A fungal disease outbreak on an apricot
A fungal disease outbreak on an apricot

2. Rain can trigger fungal disease. One of the biggest pest and disease risks in an organic farm (or garden) is fungal disease, and nearly all fungal diseases are triggered by wet conditions (at the right temperature). In general terms, the more rain, the more fungal disease. This risk is highest at the beginning of the season (i.e., at flowering time in spring), and then gradually decreases as the season progresses. During autumn, if the summer has been generally dry and there is not much fungal disease around, the risk of a new fungal outbreak is relatively low.

Cherries that have cracked in the rain
Cherries that have cracked in the rain

3. Rain can cause physical damage to fruit. This is very specific to the type (and even variety) of fruit. For example cherries are particularly vulnerable to splitting from the rain, and some varieties of apricots also split easily. Hardier fruit like apples and pears, however, rarely experience physical damage from rain.

An apricot with a severe crack caused by rain
An apricot with a severe crack caused by rain

4. “Hard” rain can damage all fruit. Storms that bring rain often also bring hail, and that can be completely devastating to all fruit. Hailstorms are very random and localised, so it”s pretty much the luck of the draw with this one, though if you live in a hail-prone area, netting can definitely be your saviour. All fruit are vulnerable to hail damage, including apples, pears, plums and quinces.

5. Rain is good for the landscape. When you’re trying to grow food in an arid landscape (as we are), the general impact of rain (as long as there’s not too much, or too quickly) is generally FABULOUS! It fills water storages, keeps the bush alive, helps to sustain our farming communities, and helps backyard fruit growers maintain their own food security. We love it….except…. when there’s too much! If rain becomes flooding and the soil becomes saturated for too long, it can lead to ALL sorts of problems! Anaerobic soil conditions, trees dying, waterborne soil disease, nutrient leaching, dams breaking their banks, and the list goes on. We’ve seen it before when the drought broke in 2010/11.

A rainy morning and green grass
A rainy morning and green grass

6. Rain is good for mental health. It’s a generalisation, of course, but very often rain can be a huge relief to farmers and others in the community, especially if it is relieving the pressures of trying to farm in a dry landscape, though as you can probably see from our list, it totally depends on the amount of rain, and the context!

Poppy lapping up a puddle
Poppy lapping up a puddle

Regardless of the timing of rain within the fruit season, it’s important to make sure your soil can act as a big “water storage tank” when it rains. As well as building really healthy soil (which is good for both water storage and drainage in your soil), techniques like swales and keyline (covered in this short course) can make a huge difference to how well your soil will store rainfall.

Do wind and fruit go together?

A peach tree blowing in a wild wind

We’ve had some mighty winds over the fruit season. We live in a very windy spot here on Mount Alexander – it can often be completely still in the valley below us, but blowing a gale up here on the farm. 

Wind has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to fruit trees, and is often blamed for fruit ending up on the ground. But in fact, it’s often only the ripe or over-ripe fruit that ends up on the ground, or fruit that wasn’t very healthy and was destined to fall off anyway.

Apricots on the ground after a big wind

Now it’s quite annoying if the fruit you were about to pick in a couple of days hits the deck, where it often splits, or becomes rapidly full of ants and other critters, so it’s a very good idea to monitor your trees frequently when it’s getting close to the time you expect to pick the fruit.

Lots of varieties need picking multiple times (we pick some varieties four times over a few weeks, just getting the ripest fruit each time), so it’s worth casting your eye over your tree every day or two, and picking just those bits of fruit that are ripe. That way you’ve got a good chance of getting them before wind does.

Wind does have some advantages though, particularly in rainy weather, when it helps your trees dry quickly.

Brown rot in nectarines

The dreaded brown rot fungal disease will only take hold in your trees if they are wet for long enough, at the right temperature, so wind can definitely be the fruit grower’s friend.

If you’re planning to plant fruit trees, or are making changes to your garden, take the wind into account, and try to choose (or create) a microclimate that will allow good air movement around and through your trees.

A Golden Queen peach tree pruned to a nice open vase shape

Also make sure your fruit trees are pruned in an open shape to allow the wind to easily get in the middle and dry them quickly after rain, and make sure any windbreak you plant won’t create a completely still environment for your trees.

Choosing the right time to pick your fruit can be tricky, and is one of the mistakes new growers often make, either picking fruit too green (so it doesn’t taste very good, and won’t ripen off the tree) or too ripe (which can also result in loss of flavour and failure to store well).

However it’s not that hard once you know what to look for, and get to know your trees. Luckily each type of fruit has a bunch of different indicators to guide you, which you can learn about in detail in the short course “Fruit to be Proud Of“.

The most delicious apricot jam

We get a lot of questions in apricot season about which apricots are best for jam. We grow about ten different varieties of apricot (at last count), so it’s a fair question!

Old Australian favourites include Trevatt and Moorpark apricots (see a Moorpark below), which both have fantastic flavour and consistency for jam, and make a beautiful bright coloured jam that’s not too dark.

These two also share the characteristic of ripening from the inside, which means that if include some fruit that still looks a little green on the outside it will probably already be sweet and soft enough on the inside to make good jam, but will also have a little bit more pectin in it than overripe fruit, which means the jam will set more easily.

It doesn’t really matter which variety of apricot you use for jam, but here a few tips to help you achieve success and good flavour every time. The basic jam recipe is equal quantities of fruit and sugar, and you should add as little water as possible – if you add water, you have to cook the jam for longer to get it to set, and you risk it developing a dark colour which can look quite unattractive.

Cook the fruit first to the consistency you want, then add the sugar. If you add the sugar at the beginning, the fruit tends to stay in whole pieces rather than break down (if you like chunkier jam, then use this method).

apricot jam, just coming to the boil

Stick to small batches, especially while you’re learning. 1 kg of fruit will make about 6-8 medium jars of jam, and is a great quantity to start with.  If the batch is bigger than 2kg, it can be hard to get the jam to set, and you may end up with a dark coloured jam from having to boil it for too long.

Danny making apricot jam

As long as you’ve properly sterilised your jars and lids before pouring in the jam, it should keep well in the pantry for a couple of years at least (except you’ll probably eat it waaaaay before then).

If you’re not familiar with making jam, don’t be daunted, just give it a try. As long as you manage not to burn it (pay attention, and stir often), nothing really bad can happen – the worst you’re risking is that you end up with rather runny fruit sauce (delicious on ice-cream) rather than jam.

There are lots of variations on this basic recipe of course, so feel free to improvise and experiment.  To save you on time and mistakes, we’ve included a few tried and true recipes (including a sugar-free one), in Fabulous Fruit Preserving.

Happy preserving!