How’s your harvest? Where we live in central Victoria we’re about mid-way through our harvest.  Apricots and cherries have finished, though we only just sold the last of the apricots last weekend. We have a clever way of storing fruit for a bit longer than normal when we have to – it’s a special type of plastic bag that stops the fruit respiring, so it really slows down the rate of ripening. We don’t use them normally because we prefer to just sell everything fresh, but they come in handy for this sort of situation, when one of our regular customers didn’t return from an overseas trip until last Sunday, but didn’t want to miss out on her annual apricot jam!

cherries and hands-250x181

We’re about half-way through our peach and nectarine varieties, and have just started the apples. So, it feels like we’ve spent the last couple of months climbing a rather large mountain, and now we’re standing on top about to head down the other side to the end of the season, which is in sight … just a few months away.

Mid-season is a great time of year to reflect on what has worked, and what hasn’t, in terms of protecting the crop, which is our constant mission. We learned years ago that in farming you’ll always be exposed to the many risks that mother nature has in store for us, but with some good planning and crafty strategies, there’s lots you can do to predict and thwart the worst of them.

netting-over-cherry-trees-295x221Here’s our top three tips:

  1. Netting is the only reliable way to stop birds eating your fruit.  The bird threat comes from a variety of different bird species, at different times during the season, on different crops, and is hugely influenced by what else is going on in the environment around us. We have learned the hard way to always net. Just do it. It doesn’t have to be big, complicated or expensive – even drape netting your trees, or just covering a few branches with netting, old sheets or anything you have to hand, will usually be good enough to protect at least some of the fruit from these predators. It has the advantage of also protecting against possums and fruit bats (though if you have a serious and persistent possum problem, you may need to consider more of a permanent cage – for your fruit trees, not the possums – rather than a net.
  2. It’s possible to prevent crawling insects (e.g. earwigs) eating your stone fruit – but you have to be on the ball! Having just packed some peacherines that were full of earwig holes, we’re vowing (once again) to pay closer attention to this problem next year, because we know it’s largely preventable! Chemical farmers use poisons to deal with problems like this, but we’ve had to come up with organic solutions, which we’ve done through lots of trial and error over the years. The main solution we use is double-sided sticky tape around the trunk or branches of the tree, but if you’re going to do this, there’s a few tricks that make all the difference. Firstly, it has to go on in early spring, because earwigs are attracted into the tree as soon as it has leaves, and can cheerfully take up residence there for some time. Secondly, put the tape as high in the tree as you can manage – this helps to prevent other things like flying insects sticking to the tape, but also helps to prevent the crawling insects bypassing the tape by crawling up any grass that happens to be taller than the level of the tape in the tree. Thirdly, keep the grass short around the tree! And lastly, check whether there are any other places the crawling insects can access the tree – maybe an irrigation pipe, a fence, or a another tree that’s close enough for the branches to touch. It’s also really easy to trap earwigs in a variety of ways, but not as reliable as stopping them getting to your fruit.
  3. Protect against hail with – the same solution as #1 – netting!  Hail – aaarrgghh – it just takes one short, sharp hailstorm right above your fruit tree to wreak havoc (as you can see from the apples in the photo below). Hail is random, unpredictable, and unpreventable, but luckily the best defence against it is the same defence as Top Tip #1 – netting! In fact, preventing hail damage is an even more common reason that commercial orchardists use netting than bird protection. It won’t completely prevent damage to any fruit that is just under the net for example, but it can make a huge difference to the overall levels of damage in the tree.


So, there you have it – our Top Three Tips for protecting your fruit this summer – good luck!

RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Award – week 44

As my year as the Victorian Rural Women’s Award winner starts to wind down my commitments have been fewer, but many opportunities continue to open up for me, as I’m sure they will continue to do for years to come as a result of my experiences this year.  In the last few weeks I have:

  • Been asked to participate in a forum held by the Australian Futures Project about how to make Victoria’s food system more sustainable
  • Agreed to be on the panel to select the 2016 Victorian Rural Women’s Award winner
  • Been interviewed for a new board position
  • Spoken to many people, and continue to make available the resources I developed, as part of my project.

My project, called “Farmers Markets Building Communities” has been made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Awards.