Autumn is one of the most stunning times of year here on the farm. But it hasn’t all been beautiful sunny weather, we’ve finally had some decent rain. We’ve even had a bit of hail the last couple of days.
Hailstorms at this time of year are much less damaging than when we have fruit on the trees, but have reminded us of one of the main benefits of netting your trees.
Most of us think of netting fruit trees as a preventive measure to stop the birds eating the fruit – and it is – but it can also provide a level of protection against hail damage, depending on the type of net you use, and how you apply it.
As the fruit season winds down and we start to have a bit more breathing space to think about other things, now is a great time to review how your netting (if you have any) performed this season. Think about both the pros and cons:
- was it easy to manage the infrastructure (either building your netting system, or putting out and taking in nets)?
- how well did it protect your fruit from different species of birds or other animals like bats, possums, rats, kangaroos or deer?
- did it provide any protection from weather events like rain, hail or storms?
- did it have a negative effect on birds or wildlife?
- did it cause any damage to the fruit or trees?
It might have been a bit of a pain to manage, or not been completely effective. But here comes the real convincer (and it’s probably something you don’t want to think about!)
If you didn’t net your trees this year, try to estimate how much fruit you’ve actually lost to birds, other animals or weather events that you think might have been preventable with the right protection in place.
Considering that a mature tree can easily produce from 20 to 40 kg of fruit (or even more in some cases), you may well be looking at substantial losses!
Once you have the answers to those questions, they’ll steer you in the right direction for making some good decisions about how you’ll approach the question of netting your fruit trees next season.
And it’s definitely worth putting protection in place if you can. If you’ve never seen hail damage of peaches, check this out – gruesome, huh?
Our farm is in a fruit growing area, and it’s becoming increasingly common for commercial orchardists to net their orchards to prevent hail damage as well as bird damage.
Two common methods commercial growers rely on are to use either a permanent canopy system (as you can see in the photo above), or drape netting the trees each year and then storing the nets in the shed over winter, as we do on the farm.
Surprisingly, both systems can offer substantial protection against hail. It’s tempting to think that you’ll only get hail protection if you put in a highly engineered (and therefore expensive) permanent structure, but actually those systems can be more easily damaged by hail, as we saw in a really bad hailstorm in Harcourt a few years ago, where the weight of the hailstones caused severe damage to the net of a neighbouring orchard (though to be fair, it did protect the crop underneath).
Drape netting may still result in some fruit on the outside of the tree (where it’s in contact with, or just under the net) being damaged by hail, but actually the net deflects most of the hail and provides pretty good coverage for most of the crop.
In our opinion, the best system for both birds and hail is something like the one above, because it’s not in contact with the tree, but it also allows the hail to fall off rather than catching it. This type of system can also be as temporary or permanent as you like and the same structure can also be used for frost cloth or fruit fly cloth if needed.
So there you go, the pros and cons of different types of netting systems for providing hail protection.
Which netting system you use (and you can see quite a few different versions in our short course Protect Your Crop From Birds) will depend on your garden, your budget and your capacity to build it – but guaranteed, your future self will thank you for installing the most effective system you can manage!