Hello peaches…

Anzac peaches need thinning
Anzac peaches need thinning

The Anzac peaches (one of the first to flower at our place) have set a good crop as usual, and it’s time to start thinning.

This is a good time of year to start assessing the impact of a couple of common diseases that can play havoc with our fruit trees, often without our realising it. 

You’ll also be thinning your apricots soon (if you haven’t already started), so while you’re doing so, it’s a good time to be looking our for signs of blossom blight in your tree.

Castlebrite apricot tree with blossom blight
Castlebrite apricot tree with blossom blight

Even though this disease does most damage when the tree is flowering, it can also affect the fruit that has set – because the disease that causes blossom blight also causes brown rot.

It’s not unusual to see remnants of it alongside healthy apricots, if you’ve had a mild case.

Flowers infected with blossom blight
Flowers infected with blossom blight

If you notice any of these diseased flowers on your apricot tree and you also have healthy fruit, it’s a good idea to knock or prune any diseased flowers and shoots off, for two reasons.

The first is that they can contribute to disease outbreaks next year, but the more urgent reason is that the pathogen that causes blossom blight also causes brown rot later in the season, and developing fruit is very vulnerable, as you can see in the following photo:

Photo showing Brown rot infection of a young apricot (blue arrow) that started from a flower that died due to Blossom blight infection (red arrow)
Photo showing Brown rot infection of a young apricot (blue arrow) that started from a flower that died due to Blossom blight infection (red arrow)

The other disease to check for is leaf curl, which is usually fairly obvious, the red leaves are a dead giveaway.

Leaf curl on a peach tree
Leaf curl on a peach tree

Only peaches and nectarines are affected by this tree, and if you’ve had a really bad case, it can also affect the fruit, so this is another thing to be looking out for while you’re thinning because you may as well pull the infected fruit off.

Affected fruit looks like this:

Leaf curl infection on a Goldmine nectarine
Leaf curl infection on a Goldmine nectarine

It’s not uncommon to end up with one of these infections despite having sprayed, which is super annoying.

There’s a couple of potential reasons for this. The first is that you may not have the right spray equipment for the size of the job you need to do – you can review the various options in this short course (because if you’ve gone to the trouble and effort of spraying, it would be really good to make sure it’s going to work!)

The second reason is that you may not have got the timing quite right, and the right conditions were in place for the fungal disease to take hold in the tree unimpeded.

Of course the long term aim is to get our orchard and trees healthy enough so they don’t need spraying, but while we’re building this biodiverse paradise, a bit of crop protection can go a long way!

Tiny, annoying Rutherglen bugs

A couple of years ago we (and everyone else trying to grow fruit on the east coast of Australia) had a plague of these tiny bugs—have you seen them on your fruit?

They’re called Rutherglen bugs. They are tiny and a nuisance, and unfortunately there’s very little you can do about them. They’re a sapsucker, and if there are enough of them they can suck the juice out of your fruit and cause it to shrivel up.

The year we had a plague, some of our peaches had so much juice sucked out that they weren’t usable, but most were. The bugs can leave a slightly sticky residue on the fruit as well, but this washes off.

Interestingly, we’ve barely seen them since, which is often the way with ‘plagues’—they’re really just the result of an imbalance in the ecosystem that has temporarily favoured one insect over another, but they usually quickly get back into balance and numbers go back to normal (i.e., hardly , any).

Why does this happen? Mainly because they have a lot of predators, and nature tends to get these population explosions under control all by herself, as long as we have decent biodiversity in our gardens, and IF we don’t mess things up by using pesticides.

But, in the meantime, when you are experiencing an outbreak it would be nice to protect your fruit, right?

 

There’s a few things you can do:

  1. Hose the tree when it has a large swarm of bugs on it. This should discourage the bugs on the tree at the time, but if there are lots around in the garden the tree will probably be re-infested;
  2. If you have chickens or other poultry, confine them to the area around your fruit trees if possible – they will make short work of the bugs but, as above, if there are lots of bugs around, the tree may be re-infested when you
    remove the chooks;
  3. Protect the tree with a very fine net—the same sort you would use to prevent fruit fly getting to the fruit (because as you can see in the photo below, they easily get through regular size bird netting);
  4. As an absolute last resort, you can try a home-made organic spray, but be very careful if you do this, it’s easy to do more harm than good by accidentally killing the predator insects that will be eating the Rutherglen bugs, and you may just be perpetuating the problem.

So, the key message is don’t worry too much about them as there’s little you can do!

Concentrate instead on the long-term solutions for these bugs and all the other pests as well, which are (1) continuous soil improvement, and (2) continuous biodiversity improvement. In our experience if you stick to those principles, most problems like this are short term.

We go into more detail about the lifecycle, identification, prevention and treatment of Rutherglen bugs and 14 other common pests of fruit trees (including some recipes for home-made sprays) in What’s Bugging My Fruit?

 

Too many peaches…

Over Christmas (when everyone took a couple of days off and the picking got slightly behind) a few white peaches got overripe and sadly ended up on the ground. One of the basic principles of keeping your organic fruit trees healthy is picking up all of the fruit that falls on the ground, so they all had to come up!

On our farm we’ve always had a commitment to using every piece of fruit for its highest purpose, so any fruit picked up off the ground is used first for people food. If it’s not good enough for human consumption it goes to the pigs and ducks, or into the compost or worm farm.

Oops … some white peaches hit the deck!

So, having just had to deal with quite a glut of white peaches, this week we want to share with you one of our favourite peach chutney recipes, passed on to us by one of our lovely customers, via the Australian Women’s Weekly “The Book of Preserves” (thanks Robbie).

We modified the recipe slightly when we made it, so we bring you the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens version here (based on what we had in the pantry and the fridge, which is how so many good recipes evolve!). It’s a terrific way of using white peaches, which are in abundance at this time of year.

Mt Alexander Peach and Lemon Chutney
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp chilli powder (or 4 small dried red chillies)
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 kg organic white peaches (you could use yellow peaches)
3 medium organic brown onions, chopped finely
2 cups organic brown sugar
2 cups organic apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sultanas or currants
1/4 cup dried peel
3 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp grated lemon rind
1/4 cup lemon juice

If using clingstone white peaches, first simmer the peaches in just enough water to prevent them sticking for 10-15 minutes or until the flesh will easily come off the stones. Cool, and remove flesh from stones by hand, discard peach stones. There’s no need to peel the peaches, just wash them and remove any bad bits before you boil them.

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Stir over heat without boiling until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 1.5 hours or until the mixture is thick. Pour into hot sterilised jars, and seal immediately with sterilised lids.

Goes perfectly with leftover Christmas ham, or give away as a meaningful Christmas present next year.