Before you do soil prep…

Autumn is an excellent time for soil improvement and preparation before we plant fruit trees in winter.

Apples close to harvest time in autumn
Apples close to harvest time in autumn

There’s usually enough of a gap between when the harvest of summer fruit has finished (though you may still have apples and pears on the tree), and when planting happens in winter, to allow for planting an autumn green manure crop, for example.

However, before you even start thinking about soil prep, there’s a few other steps you need to do.

  1. Review how your fruit trees performed this summer

Did you get enough fruit to meet your goals? If not, why not — was it because of disease, lack of pollination, or just not enough trees? If you don’t know, we recommend keeping a fruit tree diary to help track of how your trees are performing. (You can download our Fruit Tree Diary template, plus instructions for using it, as part of the Learn to Diagnose Your Fruit Trees short course).

We like to preserve enough fruit to see us through winter
We like to preserve enough fruit to see us through winter

2. Decide whether you need to plant more trees 

After completing step 1 you should know whether you’re going to need more trees to help you grow the perfect amount of fruit to suit you and your family. There’s no point planting trees unless you actually need the fruit.

3. Decide which varieties will help you achieve your goals

  • You may have discovered that you need to choose a variety to fill a gap in production and provide a more continuous supply of fruit throughout the season (balancing out the periods of glut and scarcity).
  • If pollination is an issue, you may be looking for a variety that can act as a pollinator to improve yields from an existing tree.
  • Or you may be adding a type or variety of fruit that you normally have to buy.

4. Now choose the right location in your garden

Having chosen the varieties you’ll be buying, now think about the best location in your garden for those varieties.

For example, apricots and almonds need the most frost-protected spots, but they also need to be able to dry quickly in periods of rain in spring. Pears are relatively frost tolerant and reasonably tolerant of waterlogged soil.

NOW that you know what you’ll be planting and where, you can think about getting started with your soil prep! More on that in another blog…

April means garlic…

April means garlic for us and the anniversary of our time growing at Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens. In theory garlic is the last of our autumn and winter crops to go in the ground, but in reality it’s one of the many things we’re rushing to get in the ground while there is still some warmth to the soil and the weather isn’t either too blisteringly hot or too freezing cold. Next week, we will be planting out our fifth crop of garlic as Gung Hoe Growers.

We’ve carefully saved our best garlic from the crop we pulled out in November 2018 and this will be what we plant out next week in our beds, which have housed beans all summer. Over the past 5 years we’ve repeated this process so that slowly over time the garlic we grow is really well acclimatised and suited to our specific little patch of land and climate. We’re also going to try planting a later-maturing variety of garlic, which our lovely friend Darren from “Two Good Acres” in Yapeen has kindly offered to give us some of. That way we can extend the harvest and storage of our garlic crops over a longer period of time.

If April is Garlic, than March is broad beans (and everything else). Most of our brassicas (Cauliflowers, Broccoli, Brussels, Kohl Rabi, etc.) got tucked in in February along with the winter greens (Escarole, Radicchio, Endives), leeks and spring onions. After visiting Days Walk Farm and picking up a few good new tips and with the wonderful volunteer help of Marty, Cara and Kya, we planted out our broad beans in what was the Okra row. Rather than pull the okra plants out, which are still spitting out the occasional okra, we decided to leave the plants in the ground and plant the broadies in around them. Our idea is that as the broadies grow we’ll be able to continue to harvest the okra, and they may even be nursed through the winter with the frost protection from the broad beans. That means we don’t have to lose all the good soil biology that’s clustered around the roots of the okra or disturb the soil too much. Bit of an experiment, but that’s how we like to roll.

Last year we were still harvesting tomatoes and eggplants in late May. It was a lovely long (proper) autumn. This year, we haven’t really had an autumn, it feels like it’s gone straight to winter. We’ll be ripping the tomatoes out in a week or so and making way for more winter crops like onions. Farming teaches us to be creative with whatever the weather and natures presents to us and try and make the best of it. It’s a humbling place to be, and a constant reminder that despite what we tell ourselves, we really cannot control anything in life. 

Grow well,

Sas (and Mel)

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.