Harvesting rootstock trees

Back in August 2018 we tried an experiment to grow our own rootstock trees, in a technique called a stool bed, and the results are out – we’ve just done our first harvest!

Merv harvesting apple trees from Carr's Organic Fruit Tree Nursery stool bed
Merv harvesting apple trees from Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery stool bed

So, did it work?

Well, yes and no.  We have two different sorts of trees in the bed. The first is a semi-dwarfing apple, and they worked fantastically well. We planted just 10 rootstocks of a semi-dwarfing variety called MM102 – we think they’ll perfectly suit our customers.

From the initial 10 we layered into the stoolbed trench, we harvested more than 60 trees! And that’s just year 1. We fully expect to get more than that next year.

Apple rootstocks with lots of roots being heeled in
Apple rootstocks with lots of roots being heeled in

The other rootstock in the stoolbed are cherries, which are notoriously hard to grow from either seed or cutting, so stoolbeds are the traditional way of growing them.

An unsuccessful cherry rootstock from the stoolbed
An unsuccessful cherry rootstock from the stoolbed

We started last August by layering 20 cherry Mazzard rootstock trees, and while we also harvested more than 60 of these, they were much less successful, particularly in the root department.

For some (as yet unknown) reason, root development was very slow. Some trees had enough roots that we’re confident they’ll grow well, but some trees only had a couple of roots, and some had none at all!

Lots of the rootstock trees grew over-large, which makes harvesting them extremely difficult – if we didn’t have Merv’s expertise with his secateurs we would have struggled to get them out of the ground at all!

This excessive vigour is also possibly one of the reasons that roots failed to develop on some of the trees, as it seemed to be more of a problem on the larger trees.

Fingers crossed that next year’s crop of trees is smaller, and much rootier!

Field Trips Are Fun

Field trips to other people’s properties are one of the most effective ways of learning about farming (apart from actually doing it for a few years, of course).

Ant at his first ANOO conference, with Hugh and Katie
Ant at his first ANOO conference, with Hugh and Katie

We’re just back from ANOO 2019, the fifth conference of the Australian Network of Organic Orchardists.

We went back to the roots by returning to Tassie, where ANOO was born back in 2015, the brainchild of Michelle McColl from Kalangadoo Organics. It’s a pretty casual group – no committee, no office bearers, no bank account, and is based on two principles: it’s for certified organic commercial growers, and it’s a collaborative, information-sharing space.

Organic orchardists having a round table discussion at Willie Smith's Apple Shed, in the Huon valley
Organic orchardists having a round table discussion at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed, in the Huon valley

Even though no-one’s a complete expert, ANOO is a gathering of farmers who are problem solving every day to grow the best fruit they possibly can.

We all face the same issues and problems, but everyone puts their own interpretation on them and solves them in their own unique way, like Simon, who uses a flame thrower in his orchard to get rid of last year’s leaves and the Black spot spores they carry, without only minimal damage to the understorey – a brilliant solution!

Simon demonstrating the flamethrower he uses to kill black spot spores in his orchard
Simon demonstrating the flamethrower he uses to kill black spot spores in his orchard

Sometimes the learning comes from noticing the differences between the farms we visit and our own. And because ANOO is set up on the principle of openness and information sharing, we get to see and hear about everyone’s mistakes, as well as their successes.

Simon's undulating orchard on the side of several hills had Ant jumping for joy
Simon’s undulating orchard on the side of several hills had Ant jumping for joy

In Tassie some of the challenges most growers face is too much vigour in the trees, and too much grass in the orchard. We wish! It’s such a contrast to our semi-arid growing conditions, and our relatively low soil carbon levels.

So it’s reassuring to benchmark ourselves against others and and assess our yields, fruit quality, and disease management against what other people are getting. Ant should feel rightly proud of the success he’s achieved with Tellurian Fruit Gardens with a minimal amount of water, and good soil and nutrition management.

Ant giving the pigs what they love at Our Mates' Farm in Geeveston
Ant giving the pigs what they love at Our Mates’ Farm in Geeveston

We saw lots of examples of animals in orchards, which gave Ant the chance to compare the different management techniques he needs to use to look after his animals in our drier and more fragile environment.

The greatest value of ANOO (or other similar networks, like Mel talked about in her blog about the Deep Winter Agrarians gathering) is having a peer group of like-minded people who “get” what you’re talking about.

There’s not many places in the world we can have in-depth conversations about Codling Moth or Black Spot without the eyes of the person you’re talking with quickly glazing over!

Where are my bloody multigrips?
Where are my bloody multigrips?

Without fail, we learn something new to bring back for the farm, and for our Grow Great Fruit members, and this year was no exception – we’re buzzing with new ideas to share.

Really year 1 for the nursery?

Collecting quince seed from organic quinces
Collecting quince seed from organic quinces

This time of year we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting for the leaves to drop off the nursery trees so that we can dig them up for people’s bare rooted orders and move them around to make way for new areas of nursery.

Pear seed is stored in sand before planting
Pear seed is stored in sand before planting

We are also collecting and cleaning seed for apple, quince, pear and peach rootstock.

Apples that have been crushed to harvest the seeds
Apples that have been crushed to harvest the seeds

It’s nearly time to collect our plum cuttings which will become next years budding rootstock and we are also beginning to diligently collect and label our scion wood. This is the pieces of first year growth off the varieties of trees that we want to propagate. We store the scions in the fridge until spring when we use it to graft onto our rootstock in the nursery.

Plum cuttings
Plum cuttings

Foremost in our minds at this time of year however is our organic bare rooted fruit tree orders. These orders close this Sunday, June 30.

You might have bought trees from us before … and therefore be wondering why we’ve been saying it’s our first year of operation?

Previously, Katie and Hugh sold trees through Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens. Most of the trees came from a wholesale nursery, supplemented by a few trees from their own nursery (which were left over from what they’d grown to plant in their own orchard).

Then, they finished re-planting the orchard, leased it to Ant (Tellurian Fruit Gardens), and started the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC).

But, we didn’t want to stop growing fruit trees on the farm.

Why?

Because we (Sas and Katie) want to learn as much as we can from our resident master-nurseryman Merv Carr (Katie’s dad), we want to preserve heritage varieties by propagating them, and we want to help as many people as we can grow their own food.

So, Katie and Sas joined forces to start Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery (named after Merv), and joined HOFC.

Joining the co-op has meant that we’ve also been able to get organic certification for the nursery – in what we think is a Victorian first!

We’ve still got a fairly limited range of organic trees (and quite a few have already sold out, like our multigraft trees), but as our skills expand we’re aiming for the range of trees we sell to expand as well.

In the meantime, we’re supplementing our offering with non-organic trees from our wholesaler – our trees are clearly labelled (organic) on the website so you can tell the difference.

Hopefully that explains the whole picture – get in touch here if you have any questions at all, and jump on the website here to see what’s available and order your trees by June 30.

Cheers,


Katie, Sas and Merv