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 Grow Pears

We love pears. They’re a much maligned type of fruit, probably because it’s so hard to buy good, ripe pears, but we reckon they’re a top tree in the garden, and pretty easy to grow organically. Here’s our top 10 reasons why you need a pear tree in your garden:

Reason 1: There are at least 15 varieties of pears and nashis easily available, which ripen from mid January right through until early April. This means they can help to extend the fresh fruit season in your garden.

Reason 2: Pears don’t get too many bugs or diseases. The four most common problems experienced by pears are:

  • Black spot, a common fungal disease that is worse in wet years, but very preventable with organic fungicides applied at the right time
black spot pears
Black spot damage on pears
  • squashed-pear-slug-213x380
    squashing a Pear and cherry slug

    Pear and cherry slug can be a nuisance some years, and if left uncontrolled can severely damage or kill a young tree (but they’re also easy to control on young trees). On mature trees they can make the tree look ugly, but don’t affect the fruit and don’t do too much harm really. They have quite a few predators, and numbers tend to self-regulate as long as you’re not killing the good bugs with indiscriminate pesticide use.

  • pear leaf blister mite1
    Pear leaf blister mite damage

    Pear blister mite. Harder to control because the mites live inside the leaves, but again, they don’t really do too much damage, though they can make the tree look ugly if you’ve got a bad case. Doesn’t affect the fruit.

  • Birds! Like every other fruit tree you grow, if you want to pick fruit, you need to net them to prevent bird damage.

Reason 3: They’re easy to prune. Most pear varieties are ‘spur-bearers’, which means they produce fruit on 2 year old wood (and older), in the form of short fruit-bearing shoots known as spurs. Some varieties (e.g. Josephines) produce fruit on the end of longer shoots, and they are known as ‘tip-bearers’.  Once you’ve figured out which type you have, you’re half way to knowing how to prune them! The difference really is in how you treat the laterals – in spur-bearing varieties, they should be shortened back by about 1/3 to encourage the development of new side shoots and spurs. In tip-bearing varieties, it’s important not to shorten the laterals, because that’s where the fruit grows.

pear in hand
A perfect pear

Reason 4: Most pears don’t need to be ripened on the tree. In fact, unlike other deciduous fruit, most pear varieties (except some of the early season ones) won’t ripen properly on the tree, but need cold storage for 2–6 weeks, followed by a period of ripening out of the fridge. Pears ripen from the inside, and ripening them on the tree leads to both poor texture—either grainy or mushy—as well as poor keeping qualities. How long do you need to leave them in the fridge before you ripen them on the bench? It’s a bit different for each variety, but here’s some guidelines for the more common varieties:

  1. Beurre Bosc – don’t need cold storage
  2. Packham’s Triumph – need 1 month
  3. Winter Nelis – need 1 month
  4. D’Anjou – need 2 months

Reason 5: Pears can tolerate quite boggy ground, and in fact will often thrive in conditions that would make other fruit trees sulk (or worse – die!) This makes them a handy tree to pop in those difficult, hard-to-drain spots in the garden.

Reason 6: It’s easy to grow your own pear trees. Gather seed in autumn, store it in damp sand over winter and plant out in spring. Most of the seed will grow, so choose the biggest and strongest seedlings and discard the rest. Now you have your rootstocks. In late summer, you can graft a bud of your desired variety onto the rootstock (a technique called ‘budding’). In spring cut back to the bud, and over summer it should grow and form your new tree. Voila! The following winter you’ll have a brand new pear tree to plant in your garden – for free!

Reason 7: It’s easy to grow your own dwarf pear trees! Follow the same process as above, but use quince seed instead of pear to grow your rootstock. Then when you graft your pear variety onto the rootstock it will grow into a much smaller tree – very handy for short gardeners (or if you’re trying to squish a lot of fruit trees into a small space!).

frost-ring-small-pear-480x431
Frost ring on small pear.

Reason 8: Pears are relatively frost-hardy – not completely, but because they flower so late they are much less likely to succumb to the spring frosts that can be so devastating to apricots and stone fruit, which makes them the best choice for the frosty spots in your garden. Having said that if a really heavy frost is forecast while they’re flowering they may still benefit from throwing some frost cloth (or even an old sheet) over them to prevent this sort of damage.

packham-pear-blossom-450x253
Pear trees have stunning white blossom

Reason 9: They are beautiful trees which look great all year, with their stunning white flowers in spring, their large, dark green glossy leaves in summer and a beautiful display of colour in autumn.

Reason 10: Pears are delicious, and once properly ripened are not only great to eat fresh, but lend themselves to a multitude of preserving techniques – bottled, spiced, chutney, dried and pickled, to name a few!

So, that’s we love pears: they’re beautiful, they’re delicious and they’re easy to grow!

growth-pear-tree