What are those brown marks on my apples?

We had a great question from one of our Grow Great Fruit members recently about what causes russet on apples, which describes both the yellow marks (as you can see on the side of this Cox’s Orange Pippin apple), and the rough brown marks around the stem end of the apple.

Russet is one of those curious conditions that occurs naturally – in fact several heritage apple varieties include it in their name, like Brownlees Russet, Egremont Russet and Old Somerset Russet. It’s also commonly seen on pear varieties such as Beurre Bosc.

These days, russet is not considered an attractive trait on apples (have you even seen a russeted apple in the supermarket?), and it’s just one of the reasons many of these beautiful old varieties have gone out of favour (which is one of the reasons we’ve planted a new heritage apple orchard to preserve many of these old varieties).

Russet can also be an injury caused by environmental conditions like frost, sunburn, or hail, or by spraying your apples at the wrong time – even using sulphur (which is an organic fungicide we use occasionally) at the wrong time can cause russeting on some apples (as can a lot of the chemicals used by chemical farmers).

This damage-type russet – think of it like scar tissue – usually happens in the three weeks after petal fall, when the trees are flowering, or when the environmental challenge happens. It is often not a problem in itself, but it can make the apples much more vulnerable to other diseases, like various fungal rots, cracking, or even sunburn.

Heritage varieties that were bred in the UK, such as the divine Cox’s Orange Pippin apples (above) or the much-loved Bramley (below), are really not suited to the harsh and hot conditions in Australia, and so it’s very common to see this type of damage on your apples.

Of course once you realise that, you can set about creating micro-climates that these trees will prefer, and you may find that much of the damage is preventable.

You can find out more about creating micro-climates in your garden in Permaculture in Action.

Netting options for backyard fruit trees

Fruit damage from birds, bats and possums is high on the list of complaints from home fruit growers. This week we look at various netting options,and how they can protect your crop from most of these problems.

The birds left us the stems!

Our new cherry trees are now producing fruit (hooray), and even though we drape netted some of them, it wasn’t completely successful – partly because we were a bit late getting some of the nets on, and partly because the type of birds that were giving us a hard time (parrots) are also particularly clever at getting under drape nets!

So, successful netting is not just about doing it in a timely fashion, it’s also about having the right system for your situation.

Another big advantage of netting your trees is providing some protection against hail, and if you’ve experienced hail before, you’ll know what we’re talking about! Hail storms are a pretty common occurrence on the farm and we lose at least some fruit to hail most seasons.

This is what hail damage looked like on our apricots last year:

Hail damage on apricots

Birds not only damage the fruit, but can help spread brown rot as well. There are lots of different ways to try to scare birds away, such as CDs hanging in the tree, fake predators and the like, but the only real solution is to net your trees – the sooner we all resign ourselves to this necessity, the happier we’ll all be!

This simple net below is made with a frame of star pickets and pipe, and is the easiest and most effective solution we’ve seen (and used).

It’s easy to put up (and take down again if you choose), and easy to peg down around the perimeter to stop persistent smaller birds getting in under the net, which can happen with drape netting (as we saw this year!). This particular set up also has wire netting around the base, which can be useful for stopping larger animals from getting into the enclosure.

Drape netting is easier if you are doing a lot more trees, and is very effective against big birds, and can also deter fruit bats, both of which descend on the tree from above and don’t like to get in under net.

Unless you are really diligent about tying off the net around the trunk, it won’t stop smaller birds like parrots, which are happy to nip under the edges of the net and help themselves. Having said that, it does keep the damage to minimum and is definitely worthwhile.

Learn practical strategies that actually work to protect your fruit from birds and other critters in Protect Fruit from Pesky Pests.

Renewing the nursery with green manure

It might seem a bit late to be putting in a spring green manure, but better late than never, right?

Sas figured out what seed we would need and how much, and I ordered it, and we were hoping it would arrive before all the lovely rain, but alas I was a bit late getting the order in, and we missed the boat.

The rain came and went, and the weather  seems to have settled into being consistently hot and dry now, but our soil desperately needs some love and attention, so we decided to go ahead and plant it anyway and rely on irrigation rather than rainfall to make sure it grows.

Here’s what’s in the green manure mix:

  • buckwheat
  • mung bean
  • French white millet
  • kidney bean

To make the seed easier to spread, Sas put it all in a bucket that was half full of clean sand…

and gave it a really good mix…

before spreading it. The area had previously been dug up with the rotary hoe and raked, and then Sas used the back of the rake to make a series of ridges down the rows to catch the seed as she distributed it. This method makes it a bit easier to lightly rake the soil back over the seed.

So, why a green manure? The nursery has three separate patches on the farm, and because of the nature of how a nursery works, each patch can stay in production for up to three years. But also, each year we need somewhere to plant seed and cuttings to grow new rootstocks.

To stop the soil becoming more and more depleted, we need to put some organic matter back into it, because the only input we routinely use is a bit of compost.

Unlike the orchard where ground cover is encouraged, the nursery is kept free of weeds to reduce competition for the baby trees, so it’s really important to keep the soil fertile by adding extra organic matter.

A green manure is the perfect way to do it—even if mid-summer is not the perfect time! Our seed mix included mung beans to add nitrogen to the soil and build organic matter, buckwheat for fast growing bulk and phosphorus accumulation,  French millet because it’s a fast-growing grass that combines well with legumes, and kidney bean because it’s another nitrogen fixing legume.

Luckily we have the benefit of an irrigation system already in place, so we’ll use a bit of water to get the seeds up and established, before we turn them back into the soil to work their magic in autumn, ready for planting next winter.