Gday all,

As much as I have loved dropping emails off my ‘to-do’ list in order to enjoy some free time, I think you’re all overdue for a quick farm update. Thanks to all who have already renewed their CSA memberships. The fruit is still a few months off but it’s really great to have this admin done and dusted prior to the harvest season. I can now spend more time focusing on growing good fruit!

This season (still only my third as an orchardist) has presented my most challenging spring yet. The ‘La Nina’ wet weather patterns have been consistent and have often been the worst kind of rain at the worst time. Wet conditions provide the perfect environment for fungal outbreaks in flowers, leaves and fruit especially when combined with warmer weather.

During the crucial time between bud-swell and flowering we had more than two weeks straight of damp weather without much wind or sun to dry off the trees. While we have now had some decent sunny breaks, it is still quite wet. In contrast, this time last year the soil was dry and I had already started irrigating.

For now the only tools I have to protect the leaves, blossoms and fruit is copper and sulphur. My ‘Holy Grail’ is to all-but cut these out and I have been thinking about what the means to that end might look like for the last 3 years. However, since I was entirely inexperienced only 3 years ago I have been patient and acknowledged that I have so much to learn before I can tackle that change. There is a balance between reducing reliance on off-farm inputs (and striving for ultimate ecological harmony) and harvesting a decent amount of fruit. Running a successful orchard is crucial to delivering food to the community – especially to you, my valued CSA members – and remaining viable is key in being able to experiment, learn and grow, in order to improve my practices.

As a result of the challenging conditions the first few varieties of apricot are quite sparse and a few of the peach and nectarine varieties have heavy outbreaks of leaf curl. I’m not super confident that you will see any ‘Earlicot’, ‘Poppicot’ or ‘Katy’ apricots in your boxes this year but some of the later varieties are still looking strong (Goldrich, Bebecou, Rival etc). As for the peaches/nectarines, it’s a little early to tell but leaf curl doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t get a crop.

'Leaf curl' on a peach tree
Leaf curl on a peach tree.

On the up side I grow about 80 different varieties as a way to mitigate these risks so there’ll definitely be some varieties that work well. The cherries are coming along nicely and I have put a small flock of chickens under them in the hopes of reducing earwig damage. I’m feeling confident that this year I will get a quantity of apples more in the realm of the 2018 harvest (for context, in 2018 Katie, Hugh and I harvested about 1300kg of Pink Lady apples; in 2019 I picked 7kgs; and in 2020 – 25kgs). I’ll be putting Maka to work to scare off those pesky Kangaroos.

A smaller harvest means that I’ll pull fruit from my other markets (wholesale, pick-your-own, farm shop, online ad-hoc orders etc) before I start pulling from CSA. I’ve also reduces the number of CSA members so there’ll be less boxes to spread the harvest between.

In other news, my ‘volunteer resident’ Sam is arriving today! I’ll be teaching him as much as I can about running an orchard and a farm business.

I hope you’re all surviving well in spite of the global mess we find ourselves in. I’m looking forward to bringing you that first bag of cherries!

Cheers, Ant.