It’s garlic time…

The stars have aligned and today we pull out our 5th crop of garlic! Always a momentous occasion! This time we celebrate with a special treat of mint slices and pub squash! We consulted our oracle–the Brian Keats Astro Calendar–to find the best day for harvesting garlic in November. We look at the three moon rhythms of ascending-descending, waxing-waning and also what constellation and its corresponding element the moon is in to find the perfect day. November 22 is it this year. The moon is descending, waning and in the earth sign of Virgo.

This year we planted our usual Italian Purple variety, which we have been saving seed stock off for 6 years now and growing in the Harcourt soil for 5 years, so it has adapted beautifully to its home. We’re also trialing a variety called ‘Spanish Roja’, which our lovely friend Darren Rose from ‘Two good Acres’ kindly supplied us with. We’ve also got a small amount of Melbourne Market and Early Purple in the ground, which Sas saved from her home garden, but it will take these new varieties a few years to fully adapt to our soil. 

The few weeks before we harvest is always a bit nail biting. If we get a lot of rain, the garlic can rot really quickly in the ground. So even though we want rain at this time of year, we don’t want too much that will muck our garlic crop up. Also, once we pull it out, drying the crop can be a challenge. If the weather suddenly goes humid and you don’t have enough air flow around the garlic where you’re drying it, rot and mould can quickly become an issue. 

This last hot dry week has been good for our garlic, but not much else! Yesterdays Code Red day with crazy winds, dust, smoke and extreme heat, really messed around with some of our little green babies. Here’s some pics of our new lettuce crop before and after it got watered. Fingers crossed it doesn’t just bolt to seed after that amount of stress!

Before…
After…

Once we’re finished pulling our garlic today, we’ll have a better idea of how much we have to sell. As with other years we’ll be selling it as 15-head and 30-head plaits through the Open Food Network. So stay tuned and we’ll let you know when its dry and ready for sale. Makes a beautiful Christmas gift….

Grow well, stay cool,

Sas and Mel

Is your tree water stressed?

How do you know if your trees are moisture stressed? In spring it can be hard to tell, but it’s a crucial time to make sure your trees DON’T dry out, particularly if they’re still flowering.

Gala apple blossom
Gala apple blossom

Why is it a problem?

In spring while the fruit is forming it goes through cell division, and if it doesn’t have enough water, there won’t be enough cells formed in your fruit.

Once that has happened, then it doesn’t matter how much water your trees get later in the season – you can’t correct this problem because the cell division phase is well and truly over, and you’ll be sentenced to a year of small fruit.

We learned this the hard way during the millenial drought. In our district here in central Victoria, traditionally there’s enough winter rainfall that there’s plenty of water in the soil in spring, and fruit trees never get water stressed at this time.

Small Anzac peaches that didn't get enough water early in the season
Small Anzac peaches that didn’t get enough water early in the season

After one particularly dry winter during the drought we had to endure a year of tiny fruit (see the peaches above – urgh!) so we quickly learned that we had to start watering the trees much earlier than usual, and it’s now one of the conditions we keep an eye on as we come out of winter each year.

With much of Australia in drought and a hot summer predicted, it’s worth noting that heat waves are another time when it’s really important to monitor your fruit trees for water stress.

Here’s an extreme example of a really dry tree:

Apple trees that haven't been watered
Apple trees that haven’t been watered

We’ve always had heat waves here in Australia, but their frequency and severity seems to be increasing. There’s not much we can do about that (apart from trying to slow down climate change), but we can make sure our trees are adequately irrigated, particularly during a heat wave, to minimise the stress on the tree.

The easiest way to check whether your trees need water is the ‘boot test’ – kick the soil under the tree with your boot and if you see dust, the tree needs watering!

Going up one step in sophistication is to dig a hole a few cm deep near the trunk of the tree with a shovel; the soil should feel cool and moist. If it looks and feels hot and dry, and is very hard to dig into, it’s too dry. (There are also many more degrees of sophistication with moisture monitoring equipment, but in most cases it’s not necessary).

The most sustainable way to protect your trees from inadequate water is to continually improve your soil quality, which in turn increases the amount of water your soil can hold. Learn how to store water in your soil here, and how to improve the health of your soil without expensive additives here.

A tree with a blocked dripper
A tree with a blocked dripper

And finally, check your irrigation system regularly! A quick 5 minute check every couple of weeks can prevent this situation, where a blocked dripper was discovered because the leaves turned yellow and started to fall!

Rude fruit

Have you seen any double fruit in your fruit trees?

A double cherry
A double cherry

It’s relatively common to see double fruit (like these cherries), and as you can see, in many cases the fruit is still perfectly usable.

The photo below shows a particularly unusual one that has caused the stem to split, but doubles – or conjoined fruit – are not an uncommon occurrence, particularly in stone fruit.

Conjoined apricots with a single stem
Conjoined apricots with a single stem

Some varieties (like Angelina) seem particularly prone to this, and are often a good demonstration of the phenomenon where one piece of fruit dominates the other and ends up much larger.

Conjoined Angelina plums where one plum is much bigger than the other
Conjoined Angelina plums where one plum is much bigger than the other

In many cases one of the pieces of fruit ends up so small as to really be un-usable, or the skin of the fruits are torn when separating them, which of course downgrades the quality of the fruit.

A rude Angelina
A rude Angelina

And sometimes the extra piece of fruit is so small as to be insignificant, and sometimes can be removed without doing damage to the main fruit. But they’re also often cute, funny or downright rude, so why would you?

So, what causes this, and is it avoidable?

Whether a fruit will be double or not is determined the summer before, when the fruit buds are developing.

If the young buds go through heat or water stress during the summer months, this increases the development of doubled fruit.

There’s not much we can do about heat waves, particularly with climate change affecting our environment so quickly, but we can make sure our trees are adequately irrigated, particularly during a heat wave, to minimise the stress on the tree.

Irregular or inadequate watering can also be one of the causes for fruit splitting, which is another whole story but can look like this.

A green nectarine with a split in it, possibly caused by irregular waterin
A green nectarine with a split in it, possibly caused by irregular watering

In a home garden it’s not terribly important whether you have double fruit or not because it’s usually still usable, but it’s not as pretty, and now you know how to avoid it! Download Smart Irrigation for Fruit Trees for more tips about how to irrigate wisely without wasting water or money.