Renewing the nursery with green manure

It might seem a bit late to be putting in a spring green manure, but better late than never, right?

Sas figured out what seed we would need and how much, and I ordered it, and we were hoping it would arrive before all the lovely rain, but alas I was a bit late getting the order in, and we missed the boat.

The rain came and went, and the weather  seems to have settled into being consistently hot and dry now, but our soil desperately needs some love and attention, so we decided to go ahead and plant it anyway and rely on irrigation rather than rainfall to make sure it grows.

Here’s what’s in the green manure mix:

  • buckwheat
  • mung bean
  • French white millet
  • kidney bean

To make the seed easier to spread, Sas put it all in a bucket that was half full of clean sand…

and gave it a really good mix…

before spreading it. The area had previously been dug up with the rotary hoe and raked, and then Sas used the back of the rake to make a series of ridges down the rows to catch the seed as she distributed it. This method makes it a bit easier to lightly rake the soil back over the seed.

So, why a green manure? The nursery has three separate patches on the farm, and because of the nature of how a nursery works, each patch can stay in production for up to three years. But also, each year we need somewhere to plant seed and cuttings to grow new rootstocks.

To stop the soil becoming more and more depleted, we need to put some organic matter back into it, because the only input we routinely use is a bit of compost.

Unlike the orchard where ground cover is encouraged, the nursery is kept free of weeds to reduce competition for the baby trees, so it’s really important to keep the soil fertile by adding extra organic matter.

A green manure is the perfect way to do it—even if mid-summer is not the perfect time! Our seed mix included mung beans to add nitrogen to the soil and build organic matter, buckwheat for fast growing bulk and phosphorus accumulation,  French millet because it’s a fast-growing grass that combines well with legumes, and kidney bean because it’s another nitrogen fixing legume.

Luckily we have the benefit of an irrigation system already in place, so we’ll use a bit of water to get the seeds up and established, before we turn them back into the soil to work their magic in autumn, ready for planting next winter.

Treasure from the storm

The concept of “no waste” is one of the permaculture principles that makes the most sense to us, because it’s how we’ve always tended to live on the farm.

It seems obvious to us (and probably to you, too), so it’s absolutely staggering that according to the “Foodwise” website, the average household rubbish bin still contains 60% organic material—40% food and 20% garden waste!

The idea of garden ‘waste’ seems decidedly odd to us, even when we get a bit more organic matter to deal with than we’re expecting.  Storms seem to be becoming more frequent, and more violent.  Last year  we had two huge storms in as many weeks – so violent they were like mini-tornadoes.

The second storm in particular brought lots of almost-ripe plums down in the orchard, and also caused a bit of hail damage in some of the fruit—again, mainly the plums. Poor plums, and poor customers, who (again) graciously tolerated a bit of hail-damaged fruit at markets. We reckon we’ve done a great job educating our customers over the years what “real” fruit looks like!

We also lost plenty of tree branches, both in the orchard and the paddocks, including this rather large branch that came down from the gum tree outside the farm shop, but luckily missed anything crucial (like the shed, or Ant’s caravan), causing only relatively minor damage to one of our beautiful tank garden beds.

Half an hour with the chainsaw and Hugh had turned it into a rather attractive garden chair that has seen the addition of a cushion and many passing bottoms ever since. Every storm has a silver lining!

Often people either don’t realise the damage they cause to the environment by putting organic matter in the garbage, or don’t know what else to do, so we’ve captured a lot of the ways that the permaculture principles can easily be put into place in a typical garden in our online short course Permaculture in Action.

Fallen branches become firewood and furniture, fallen fruit and garden waste become compost, and so the cycle goes around.

Sunburn strikes again

If you live in a hot climate (like we do) sunburn is an inevitable part of fruit growing, but it can also happen in temperate fruit growing areas during heat waves, which unfortunately are becoming more common due to climate change.

There are three types of sunburn damage you may see:

1. Sunburn necrosis

sunburn-necrosis

2. Sunburn browning

sunburn-spots

3. Photo-oxidative sunburn

sunburn-cooked

This week Ant (who leases our orchard) had his first experience of sunburn, when the Pizzaz plums were not quite ripe enough to pick last week, then the heatwave hit—a blistering day of 44C!

You can see the spots and shrivelling on the skin – that’s a version of sunburn browning. Most of the plums are still perfectly usable for jam, or cooking, or even for eating, but it definitely downgrades them.

Is it preventable? It can be incredibly difficult in cases like this, where there was probably only a very brief window of a day or two when the plums were ripe enough to pick (with the confidence that they would continue to ripen off the tree) before the heat wave hit.

In a home garden, if you were paying careful attention to both your trees and the weather forecast, it may be possible to harvest the fruit (or at least some of it) in time. In Ant’s situation, where he’s managing the competing needs of 5,000 trees it’s much harder.

If you live in an area that experiences heatwaves there’s a number of other things you can do to prevent sunburn damage, including irrigation practices, pruning practices, and careful monitoring—we list 10 different ways to minimise sunburn in “What’s that spot? Common diseases of deciduous fruit trees” (even though sunburn is not actually a disease, but an environmental impact).

The main thing to do when a heat wave is predicted is to make sure your trees are getting enough water, which may mean watering every day. The best time to water is either overnight or in the morning, to reduce evaporation.