Natural fertility is one of the keys to good fruit tree care. Autumn is a great time to think about preparing your fruit trees for winter by topping up their nutrition.

This week, we’re noticing that the leaves are just starting to change colour on some of the fruit trees at our place. We can feel in the air that autumn is coming.

The farm's starting to get that 'autumn' feel (thanks to Penny Kothe for this beautiful shot)
The farm’s starting to get that ‘autumn’ feel (thanks to Penny Kothe for this beautiful shot)

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive to be feeding the trees just as they’re about to go to sleep for the year, but it’s really just a case of ‘topping up’.  

Your trees have already started the process of storing nutrients in their buds, bark, and roots.

In fact, that’s why the leaves have started to change colour (we talk about other reasons for yellow leaves in this blog). This stored nutrition is what they will draw on next spring when they wake up and start flowering.

The beautiful yellows, oranges and browns of autumn starting to appear in pear leaves
The beautiful yellows, oranges and browns of autumn starting to appear in pear leaves

Flowering is the first thing most fruit trees do in spring—except apples and pears, which produce leaves first.

This happens before their roots have really started to function very much. The stored nutrition is absolutely crucial to good flowering, and good flowering is crucial to a good fruit set.

Good flowering in spring relies on the tree receiving enough nutrition the previous autumn

In the natural farming system that we follow and teach, we don’t recommend using artificial fertilisers. They can easily cause more harm than good.

Instead, we recommend building a natural fertility system. This relies on having a diversity of organic matter and nutrients in the soil. Then you just need lots of healthy soil microbes present to convert the nutrients into a plant-available form.

How to create a natural fertility system

When we talk about nutrition, we’re really talking about feeding the microbes, so they can feed your trees.

So, what should you feed them?

It's never the wrong time to apply compost under your fruit trees
It’s never the wrong time to apply compost under your fruit trees

Compost is always great, as is well-rotted manure. This provides lots of organic matter and nutrients, and well-made compost should also contain microbes.

If you have a worm farm, worm castings or worm juice provide an excellent, and fast, nutrient boost for the microbes.

Hugh with his pet worms - some of the most useful workers on the farm (thanks to Biomi Photo for this beautiful shot)
Hugh with his pet worms – some of the most useful workers on the farm (thanks to Biomi Photo for this shot)

Liquid seaweed and liquid fish are also great, and are available from garden centres under various brand names.

Even better (and if you want to save money), make a batch of compost tea. This is a form of brewed compost that you can learn about here.

Compost extract (which is just compost soaked in water to make it go further) is another useful product. It’s also easier to make.

And if you want to drill down a bit more into the Natural Fertility System and how to set it up in your garden, spend a little time learning more about the amazing world of microbes in the online short course Soil Biology and the Soil Food Web