Is it spring already?

Surely not … and yet … we think these peach buds on our Anzac peach tree might be starting to swell soon.

Early budswell on an Anzac peach tree
Early budswell on an Anzac peach tree

Anzacs are a great ‘indicator’ variety for us, because they’re one of the early varieties to show signs of movement in spring.

Almonds are another great indicator as they’re also very early. Rather than having to monitor the whole orchard, we just go and look at the Anzacs and almonds to see what’s happening.

Almond flowers at sunset
Almond flowers at sunset

If you have peach and nectarine trees in your garden or farm, it’s time to start monitoring them for budswell.

Why?

Because it’s the trigger for putting on a spray to prevent Leaf Curl, which is a fungal disease that can have devastating consequences, particularly for young trees.

Leaf curl fungal disease on a peach tree
Leaf curl fungal disease on a peach tree

A bad case of leaf curl can even affect the fruit.

A Goldmine nectarine infected with Leaf curl disease
A Goldmine nectarine infected with Leaf curl disease

The good news is, it’s (mostly) preventable. You can find details about how and when to spray in Keep Your Fruit Trees Free From Disease. This is one of our most comprehensive short online courses, and includes guidance on how to manage and prevent about a dozen of the most common diseases of fruit trees.

Should you spray organic fungicide in autumn?

A peach bud in spring with copper spray
A peach bud in spring with copper spray

A lot of people don’t think “organic” and “spray” go together, but actually there’s a couple of relatively ‘safe’ sprays that certified organic growers can use, under strict organic standards.

The only sprays we use are organic fungicides — a little bit of copper, and elemental sulphur — because in a wet season they can make a huge difference in preventing some particularly nasty fungal diseases if you use them in spring.

An apricot with brown rot
An apricot with brown rot

Some people also recommend spraying fungicides on fruit trees after the crop has been picked in autumn, to clean up any residual disease, but this is a bit more controversial.

So, when is the right time to spray? Do your fruit trees really need an autumn fungicide?

The answer is … sometimes!

In our short course Keep Your Fruit Trees Free From Disease we detail those diseases that can benefit from an autumn spray of an organic fungicide, under certain conditions, like brown rot.

So we certainly don’t rule it out, and it can be a useful part of an overall strategy for cleaning up some diseases. However, in most reasonably healthy trees, you don’t need to routinely use a fungicide.

And that’s a good thing, because even organically allowable sprays can have an impact on the environment, particularly the soil, and you should only ever use the minimum amount necessary, and strive instead for a really rich biodiverse garden where natural immunity will be at its highest. (And you should never use chemical fungicides.)

If you’ve had a dry season – as we have in central Victoria this year – there’s been very little fungal disease.

Remove this diseased wood when pruning for good disease control
Remove this diseased wood when pruning, for good disease control

Under these conditions our strategy includes pruning any diseased wood out of the tree, and totally removing it from the tree and the orchard floor, but we won’t be needing to put on a spray at all. Excellent!

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.