Your secret weapon against extreme weather

Katie and Hugh in a hot orchard. (Photo credit: Biomi photo)

In these days of climate variability, farming is becoming increasingly unpredictable. In the last 10 years we’ve had the worst drought, the worst flood and the wettest spring on record!

This summer has been searingly hot, with temperature records being broken all over Australia, and more consecutive days in the high 30s and low 40s than we’ve ever experienced here in central Victoria, leading to more sunburned fruit than usual.

Sunburned plums

A couple of years ago we had the wettest spring ever, with the consequence that we experienced about 95% reduction in our normal apricot crop, and at least 75% reduction in our peach and nectarine crop, as well as cracking in the cherries. 

Rain cracked cherries

Some areas are more conducive to food growing than others (with more reliable rainfall, and milder conditions), but to a certain extent all small-scale food producers are subject to the same risks from the environment, no matter where they live.

So how do we protect ourselves against this extreme climate variability? Should we all just give up trying to grow food here at all?

We’ve been aware of this for a long time, and have actively pursued a few strategies here on the farm to protect ourselves from this unpredictability as much as possible, but they basically they all come under the same heading.

And the secret weapon is…biodiversity!

Flowering sage attracting bees

We practise diversity at every level of our farm, from growing as many different varieties of fruit as possible (in different micro-climates and places on the farm), to having multiple water sources, a diversity of plants under our fruit trees, and even a diverse soil food web of microbes under the ground.

Many times we’ve lost a variety on one tree for some reason, but been able to pick them from another tree in a different part of the farm.

predatory shield bug eggs and nymphs

We also welcome a diversity of insects, birds and other wildlife. We’ve worked hard to continually improve our biodiversity over many years.

And it clearly works, because throughout every flood, hailstorm and heat wave, though we’ve frequently had fruit damage (or complete loss of a particular crop), we’ve always picked a crop of something.

Carla picking a very light crop of apricots

No matter what scale you’re growing food on, you can practise the same principle.

Pack in as many different types of fruit tree, vegetable and herb as you can fit in your garden, and even value your weeds for the diversity they add to your patch!

It’s particularly worth having lots of different flowering plants in the garden to attract bees and other insects, because they’re so important in ensuring you get a good harvest every year. Find out more about how to create a bee-friendly garden in the Bees and Pollination short course.

2 thoughts on “Your secret weapon against extreme weather”

  1. Hi there, I agree wholeheartedly with your ideas and try to follow the same principles, not exactly permaculture but as close as I can.
    However I am still bugged by the same problems i.e. brown rot on my nectarine and peaches and some unknown problem with plum trees where the leaves turn brown at the tips, holes appear and then the leaves drop off. I’ve been reduced to using a nasty…Mancozeb but it hasn’t stopped the problem.
    I have a fair amount of bees visiting due to the blue and yellow flower varieties so pollination shouldnt be an issue but to lose all fruit crops two years in a row is devastating.

  2. Hi Primrose, sorry to hear about your fruit losses, it’s devastating for sure.
    The brown rot is quite manageable with an organic spray called wettable sulphur, which should be used first at flowering time, and then regularly before it rains. Of course you don’t want to spray too many times but if you follow the guideline’s it’s usually very manageable (it can be harder in very wet conditions). You also need to practice good hygiene. Not sure what the plum leaf issue is so that would need a bit more detective work, but should also be perfectly manageable using organic methods – pretty much everything is! In the next few days we’ll be publishing a short course called “Prevent fungal diseases of fruit”, which will have all the answers you need, so keep an eye out for it at http://www.growgreatfruit.com (go to the Online Courses tab). Best of luck next season.

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