Did you get the thinning right?

As we go about picking in the orchard during the apricot season, we see the end result of the thinning we did a couple of months ago – where it worked, and where it didn’t. Here’s a bunch of apricots that were missed in the thinning, and you can clearly see the outcome.

Out of this bunch of four, two apricots have grown normally, and two are stunted, slightly shrivelled, and not really edible – these are the ones that should have been removed when we were doing the thinning.

When they’re removed, you can see that we’re left with two reasonably sized, delicious looking apricots. But…how much bigger could they have been?

The energy that the tree has put into the two discarded fruit would have been better put into growing just two pieces of fruit in the bunch to a larger size.

This is just one reason why it’s a good idea to do thinning early, hard, and thoroughly! We’re aiming to always maximise the ratio of usable, edible fruit to core/stone that the tree produces.

We’ve also seen quite a few of these broken laterals in the orchard, which is another problem caused by leaving too much fruit on a branch that isn’t big enough to carry the weight.

Having put all our care and attention into growing and pruning the tree, it’s then our responsibility to make sure we don’t leave too much fruit on any one branch or lateral than it can carry, to protect these precious growing areas.

Sorry, tree…

Welcome to summer

Have you started harvesting any fruit at your place? Depending on where you live, you might have apricots, cherries, peaches or even nectarines and plums ripe already. The season’s running about normal for us, so we’ve started picking apricots, white peaches and cherries already.

Switching into harvest mode means it’s time to start paying attention to a few different things, so this week we’re helping you to refocus your attention. It really is the key time of the season, because this is the bit where you convert all the hard work you’ve done the rest of the year into a yield.

The main yield (obviously) is fruit, but for commercial growers like us it’s also when we convert our work into the money that will sustain our family for the year. And even if you don’t sell your fruit, you may also convert some of it into other produce by swapping with friends and neighbours as part of a neighbourhood food swap, or goodwill by sharing it with family.

  1. Monitoring when the fruit is ripe and ready to pick: One of the guides we use on the farm is waiting until one or two pieces of fruit have fallen because of ripeness (but also, taste them!). Don’t pick your fruit too early, because it grows in size a lot in the last couple of weeks on the tree. Getting your picking time right is really an art, and one of the things that can take quite a lot of experience to learn. We recommend keeping a diary of picking dates and updating it each year, including notes about whether you got it right or not!
  2. Picking up any ripe fruit that has fallen onto the ground: this is one of the basic hygiene practices that can help to keep pests and diseases at bay, as many of them find their perfect habitat in fruit that is rotting on the ground.
  3. Picking and storing your fruit correctly: fruit should be picked when it’s mature, almost ripe (but not over-ripe), and carefully, to make sure there’s no picking injuries. It should never be left in the sun, and then it should be cooled as quickly as possible after picking.

Want more info? Find out more about how to pick fruit to be proud of here.

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!