It’s about to rain—what should I do?

After a patch of quite hot weather last week (which was been lovely for us and the fruit), the Bureau of Meteorology were predicting BIG dumps of rain the last few days, as well as storms and potential hail, which begs the question, what can you do to prepare for rain?

The big concerns at this time of year are:

  1. fungal concerns, like brown rot and black spot;
  2. fruit cracking on the tree from the rain;
  3. fruit being blown off by gale force winds;
  4. the potential for hail;
  5. fruit being generally battered, or becoming dirty.

This is what happened.

There was indeed lots of rain, though not nearly as much as some parts of the state which had up to 190 mm!

Here’s how we prepared:

  1. Picking everything that was ripe enough;
  2. Picking some fruit that was probably a little greener than we’d normally pick, to let it ripen safely in the coolroom rather than be damaged on the tree;
  3. Put an organic sulphur spray on all the trees to help prevent brown rot and black spot;
  4. Getting as much fruit netted as possible to protect against the risk of hail, and making sure the net is well secured.

Other tricks you can consider are watering the trees before the rain (seems counter-intuitive but can help prevent splitting) or investing in hail covers. In the long term, remember that wind is your friend because it can help trees dry quickly after rain and prevent damage, so plant your fruit trees in moderately windy places.

We’ve even heard of large commercial orchards hiring helicopters to help dry cherry trees after storms, but that’s probably a bit out of most people’s league!

severe rain crack

So, what happened? There was a bit of damage and cracking in the apricots (as you can see in this photo) and cherries, but this time we reckon the farm dodged a bullet!

To find out more about irrigation for fruit trees, rainfall and drainage, check out Water for Fruit.

This is what “retirement” looks like…

We’ve been asked a lot recently how we’re enjoying our retirement. Well, so far, this is what retirement looks like…

Katie and Hugh with filthy dirty faces from putting out compost on a windy day

Though we’re not responsible for most of the orchards any more, we still look after the heritage apple orchard. We didn’t include it in Ant’s lease because the block’s not in production yet—in fact, we’re still planting it.

We started planting the block in 2016 and put in more in 2017, but were so busy looking after the fruit in the other orchards that these poor babies didn’t get the care and attention they deserved.

Then the hares and kangaroos gave them a hard time, so they’ve had a bad start.

This spring, we’ve been able to dote on them. They’ve been whipper-snipped, pruned, the grafts have been cleaned up, the block’s been mowed, and we’ve mulched them with compost.

So it probably doesn’t count as retirement, but it’s VERY satisfying. To our delight (and surprise), most of the trees are happily alive, despite being almost literally buried under grass and weeds.

We’ve also been busily chainsawing the trees that were burned in the bushfire that came through the plum orchard in January. We were aiming to have them all removed by now, but with a few hundred to deal with it’s taken a bit longer than we thought! Clearing fence lines to replace burnt fences is also on the agenda…soon.

Another of our “retirement” activities has been helping Ant out a bit, particularly with those jobs that take more than one set of hands, like netting.

Ant is understandably keen to protect his cherries from potential pests like birds and earwigs, and has been absolutely diligent in following our advice.  He has access to the nets and the net-putter-outerer as part of his lease, but this is the first year since we replanted that there’s really been a crop of cherries worth protecting, so he’s put many hours into modifying and improving the system to make it more effective—and the result looks great.

So it might look like we’re still working, but actually that suits us perfectly. Our intention in setting up the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op was never to retire, because we’ve never stopped enjoying the physical side of being farmers.

Now, we get the best of both worlds. There’s plenty of hard work available when we want it, without the demands of another fruit season.

The truth is, we’re writing this from the beach. Leaving the farm for more than a day or two between September and April has been pretty much off limits for us for the last 20 years, so being able to take a week off at this time of year is absolutely golden.

The beauty of it is that (despite appearances) we’re still working! When we’re not actually on the beach we’re focusing on our other passion, which is our Grow Great Fruit coaching business. We’ve purposely set it up to be portable and use technology to connect with our members where ever we are (as long as we have wifi).

We’re currently working on a whole new way of helping people to get the fruit-growing skills they need in affordable bite-size chunks, as well as some new free resources (in addition to our  webinar and Weekly Fruit Tips newsletter).

We’re absolutely committed to providing free resources—because we support the human right to an affordable, organic diet—by teaching people the skills to grow their own. We know the joy of eating incredible, free fruit straight from your own tree—we want everyone else to have the same experience. Our free work is supported by our Grow Great Fruit membership program, for those who want to take their fruit growing to the next level.

So thanks for asking—we’re enjoying our non-retirement very much!

How to set up a farming co-op

We’ve signed the leases! It took 3 months of negotiation and not a little angst, but all 4 founding members of the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op now have a lease at the farm. (In fact the leases all started on 1 July, it just took another 3 months to work out the details and get the paperwork signed!).

All the leases are for 3 years, with the option to extend them for 2 more 3 year terms (i.e., 9 years altogether). They can also opt out at any 3 year mark, so it gives them a chance to try it out without making a huge commitment.

Next step is setting up the co-op, which is the part of our big plan that should help each business to save time and money by working together.

We’ve started a “Business Ninjas” program to help members run lean, profitable businesses and financially “future-proof” themselves, but also to come up with a cunning plan to protect us all against the many risky things that can—and do—happen to farmers.

The other main project underway is the RDV-funded project to provide the infrastructure our farmers need, which is now rapidly taking shape—the containers have been found and bought, the concrete footings were poured this week, and we hope to take delivery of the containers in the next week or so.

There’s loads of interest in what we’re doing—we’ve already had a number of people wanting to visit and talk to us about what we’re doing, which is so great and definitely part of the point of what we’re trying to set up.

We don’t know much yet (including whether this experiment will actually work), but we’re happy to share our experience so far.  And we certainly understand why people might be interested in this model, because there are just SO many potential benefits:

  • A succession plan for older farmers like us who want to step away from active farming, but don’t want to sell up and want their farms to stay in production.
  • A productivity plan for farms—our model aims to ‘stack’ as many compatible enterprises onto the same farm as possible (similar to the Joel Salatin model, but each enterprise is run as a separate business).  Multi-enterprise farms are more resilient, and can produce more food and make more money, but unless you have a large and enthusiastic family it’s beyond the capacity of most farmers to do more than a couple of things well. This way each enterprise gets the passion, dedication and time it needs to become as good as it can be, and it also creates a livelihood for many more families.
  • An affordable and supported pathway into farming for young farmers, many of whom don’t have sufficient capital to buy land, or experience to start their own business. This model gives them access to land without taking a massive financial risk, while at the same time giving them business support to help fast-track their business skills.
  • Mitigating climate change by increasing the amount of farmland being farmed organically, which puts more carbon into the soil.
  • Increasing the amount of locally grown food that’s accessible straight from the farm for local families.
  • Creating a supportive peer group for the young farmers, where they provide emotional and practical support for each other, plus lots of opportunities to collaborate to help improve each other’s businesses.
  • A chance to share our knowledge and expertise with the younger generation of farmers.

While we’re really happy to share what we’re learning, time means money, and though we’d love to drink tea and chat all day we’ve also got work to do! So we’re thinking about the best way we can share our model without it taking too much of our time—stay tuned on that one, we’ll let you know when we’ve developed our cunning plan.

Meanwhile, it must be time for another party, so we’re holding our official launch and farm open day on Sunday October 28.  Things get started at 10 a.m. with morning tea, then the farm tour will kick off at 11 a.m. where you can see and hear about

  • Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery
  • Sellar Farmhouse Dairy
  • Tellurian Fruit Gardens
  • Gung Hoe Growers market garden
  • Grow Great Fruit education program
  • Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens heritage apple orchard
  • the infrastructure hub we’re building

It’s a free event, but if you’re coming please register here so we have an idea of the numbers. You’ll be able to buy scones, cake and drinks for morning tea, and soup and bread for lunch, and will also be invited to make a donation to help us with running costs (suggested donation $10). Please DON’T bring your dog (unless it’s on a lead and/or can stay in the car) or ANY fresh fruit or vegetables onto the farm (because we’re on fruit fly lockdown).