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One of the easiest—but most important—things you can do to control both pests and diseases in your fruit trees is to pick up all the fruit that falls during the season.

We call this practice “orchard hygiene”.

Apricots rotting on the ground under the tree

Fallen fruit is a sad but common sight under apricot trees. Fruit that has been pecked by birds or is overripe falls to the ground. Once on the ground, it will usually then develop brown rot (if it didn’t already have it).

This is normal—fungal diseases like brown rot are incredibly useful in the ecosystem. They play a key role in returning organic waste to the soil.

Unfortunately, they cause damage along the way. Leaf curl disease of peaches and nectarines is a similar story. Infected leaves fall to the ground where they return to the soil as organic matter. A key difference is that there’s no need to pick up the infected leaves.

It may seem counter-intuitive to remove this fabulous source of organic matter from the soil. It goes against the ‘closed-loop’ version of nutrition. This is a key permaculture principle and one we practice here on the farm as much as possible.

However, if you leave the fruit lying on the ground there’s a chance the brown rot can spread into the fruit on the tree that is still healthy.

You also don’t want to leave brown rot spores around your tree where it can start an infection next year. So, it’s important to pick the fruit up and completely remove fallen fruit from the area.

How to use the fruit

Where permaculture principles come into play is what happens next. You definitely don’t want to lose all that lovely organic matter if possible.

We collect ours and save whatever we can. If it hasn’t been on the ground too long, you may be able to remove the rotten parts and eat or cook th rest of the fruit.

However, if it’s been there a while, chances are that insects will have moved in or infection may have taken over the fruit.

Even then, all is not lost. It’s still often fine to feed it to animals, either at your own place or someone else’s. Neighbours with chickens are often glad of donations, and if you know anyone with a goat they’ll be eternally grateful for the extra feed.

Putting the fruit into a worm farm or through a hot compost system also ‘cleans’ it. Once it’s been processed in this way, there’s no risk of spreading brown rot by putting the end products (worm castings or compost) back onto the soil.

What else can go wrong if you don’t pick up fruit?

There are at least three other excellent reasons not to leave fruit under your trees. It provides the perfect breeding ground for the following pests:

(a) Carpophilus Beetle. This is a very small beetle that puts tiny holes in fruit. It’s also a carrier of Brown rot fungal spores.

Tiny carpophilus beetle on an apricot
Tiny carpophilus beetle on an apricot

(b) Earwigs. Fruit on the ground provides a good food source and breeding ground for earwigs. These annoying critters are one of the worst pests of stone fruit.

A cluster of earwigs inside an apricot

(c) Queensland Fruit Fly. We don’t have these in our district (yet), but it’s a terrible problem in many fruit growing areas. QFF relies on fruit and vegetables as its food source.

A lemon that's been infected by Queensland Fruit Fly
A lemon that’s been infected by Queensland Fruit Fly

Fruit fly won’t infect fallen fruit. However, if they’ve already laid eggs in the fruit before it falls, the fruit on the ground provides the perfect nursery habitat for the next generation.

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