Planning for productivity

Autumn is a great time to review the process for planning your home garden to get maximum productivity over as long a period as possible.

A great crop of healthy organic Kieffer pears
A great crop of healthy organic Kieffer pears

We harvest fresh fruit from our orchard for 6 months (from late spring to late autumn), and it’s easy to replicate this at home.

Wonderfully diverse autumn harvest from a Grow Great Fruit member's garden
Wonderfully diverse autumn harvest from a Grow Great Fruit member’s garden

We also aim to have as much variety as possible every week, for two very important reasons. The first is to give some protection against the inevitable challenges that mother nature throws at us that might damage or diminish the crop, and the seconds is to provide as much nutrition as possible in our diet.

It’s a pretty simple planning process:

  1. For each fruit type (e.g., apples, pears, peaches) choose early, mid-season, and late varieties;
  2. Map out the likely harvest dates of each variety in a calendar;
  3. You’ll then be able to see how many varieties you are likely to be harvesting each week over the season;
  4. Adjust to suit your family, your climate, and your preferences (number of trees, amount of water available, etc).

When choosing the actual varieties, try to include some of the lesser known heritage varieties, like the very rare Kieffer pears in the photo above, or the hard-to-find Fragar heritage white peaches in the photo below.

A seasonal basket of mixed vegetables from our garden
Rare heritage white-flesh Fragar peaches

This can sometimes help to extend the season, but more importantly helps to provide more variety in your diet and biodiversity in your garden. It also helps to preserve some of these heritage varieties that might otherwise disappear.

Mixed orchard trees including peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots
Mixed orchard trees including peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots

We grow at least 140 different varieties of fruit on the farm, and that’s just in the orchard, not including citrus, figs, berries etc. in the garden. We’re also constantly on the lookout for, and adding, new varieties.

Mixed box of apple and pear varieties
Mixed box of apple and pear varieties

That means that between late spring and late autumn there’s normally at least two, and up to 15 or more different varieties of fruit available to eat fresh from the tree every week.

Most modern agriculture is heading more and more towards monoculture, whereas the system we’ve developed here on the farm is all about polyculture, variety, and biodiversity. It’s based on many of the same principles as the permaculture system.

A seasonal basket of mixed vegetables from our garden

It’s worked well for us for nearly two decades, ensuring we’ve harvested a constant supply of fruit every year throughout droughts, floods, bird plagues and disease outbreaks as well as a wide range of vegetables and nuts from the garden.

That’s why this principle is the very basis of the Grow Great Fruit system that we teach, to help home growers replicate exactly the same system in your own garden and achieve true fruit security.

Could grasshoppers be eating your fruit?

If you still have fruit on your trees this summer, you may have seen this type of damage on it:

Grasshopper damage on a clingstone peach
Grasshopper damage on a clingstone peach

It’s caused by grasshoppers (or more unusually, locusts), which can become quite a problem from about mid-summer onward.

A locust on the window of our packing shed
A locust on the window of our packing shed

They can also eat leaves quite badly, as you can see from this devastated little plum tree.

Leaves stripped from a young plum tree by grasshoppers
Leaves stripped from a young plum tree by grasshoppers

As bad as it looks, a tree can survive this damage late in the season, because it’s already done most of its growing for the year. This damage happened a couple of years ago to this plum tree, and it came back in full leaf the following year, and has continued to grow and become very productive.

Plum tree recovered after grasshopper damage
Plum tree recovered after grasshopper damage

However severe damage can also kill really young trees, or if the trees are completely stripped of leaves too early in the season, so the next question is, is there any way to prevent the damage?

One way to combat them seems to be keeping the grass cut (or eaten down by animals) under the trees, but this can have limited success.

A chicken on earnest bug eating duty on the farm
A chicken on earnest bug eating duty on the farm

The best method is to use some animal friends to do what they do best! Chickens and other poultry just LOVE to eat grasshoppers, so if you can confine them around your fruit trees, even for a brief time, they can help to clear up a grasshopper problem very quickly.

This is just one of the ways that animals can be really useful to help you
successfully grow organic food. We’ve put together a short course called Fruit Tree Care for Animal Lovers to help you explore all the ways you can go into partnership with your pets to grow better food.

Mending broken branches in fruit trees

Granny smith apple tree with broken branches

We occasionally make mistakes on our fruit trees (just so we can illustrate the theory of course!), like the apples above, or this broken branch of peaches…

Peach tree with broken branch

Branches also break for other reasons like equipment, animals, storms, disease…you name it, in fact!

Once the damage is done, the next question is “can it be repaired?”

If the break has gone all or most of the way through the wood (like the peach branch above), or has been caused by disease and the branch no longer has any healthy wood inside, then the best thing to do is make a neat pruning cut to remove the broken branch (because remember the first rule of pruning is “remove all dead and diseased wood”).

A broken limb on a fruit tree caused by a kangaroo

However if there’s still enough healthy and green wood on both sides of the split that can be brought back together, it’s worth trying a repair.

Remove the fruit (f there is any), bring the two pieces back together and make sure you can get a really good union between the two sides. Then use whatever is at hand to hold the pieces very firmly together.

Split branch on fruit tree bound with grafting tape

In this case the split was on a fairly small branch, and I had some budding tape in my pocket, so that’s what I used!

For a bigger split, for example in the trunk of a tree, you’ll need a more heavy duty solution like these cable ties.

Broken tree trunk repaired with cable ties

You may also need to support the break with some rope or hayband (baling twine) while it repairs itself.

A broken limb supported with baling twine while it heals

Leave it in place for at least a few months, and check back next spring to see whether the repair worked. If not, remove the branch, but if it did, make sure you thin that limb extra hard next year, and supply extra support as well next season to make sure it doesn’t break again.

Taking enough fruit off the branches to prevent these breaks can be very difficult, as it feels awfully destructive to throw all that fruit on the ground.

But as you can see, it’s important to protect the structure of the tree, not just this season’s fruit. If you’re still not persuaded (or not sure how to do it), invest in our short course Fruit Tree Thinning— your fruit trees will thank you!