Baring all this winter!

Deciduous fruit trees are at their most dormant stage right now.  This means they can be removed from the ground, bundled up and kept in moist saw dust by your local nursery.  But it’s a relatively small window we have to get planting.  After August you’ll notice buds starting to swell indicating the tree is out of its winter slumber and preparing for Spring (see below). This drastically increases the chances of transplant shock and is best avoided.

Bare rooted trees are relatively small and it’s easy to forget how big they may eventually grow.  Most fruit trees will get to around 4m x 4m by the time they’re 20 years old so if that doesn’t appeal check out if there’s a dwarf variety available.  Additionally you want to make sure you plan for the lateral (sideways) growth of the tree.  It’s often you’ll see a garden path made redundant because the once small fruit tree now has an established vase shape and threatens to bump the head of anyone passing nearby!  Of course you could just whip up an organic helmet…

Soil preparation and planting

I always dig holes for my new bare-rooted fruit trees a week or so before I plant them.  This allows me to see if the water will drain freely or whether there’s going to be an ongoing issue of root rot etc.  Simply fill your hole up with water and note how long it takes to drain.  If the water hasn’t subsided by a day then you can either mix in some gypsum with the soil or build up a hill above the original surface.   Gypsum won’t work on all clays (it’s not just adding sand, it actually causes a chemical reaction with certain clays that breaks them up) so it’s worth re-filling the hole with water again to check drainage.

Also worth noting that in recent years our increased rainfall means you have to be more mindful of drainage than 5 years ago.  Make your hole a little deeper than it has to be and about twice the width of the roots of your new tree.  You can tell the original depth the tree was planted at by the different colour on the trunk/stem i.e. the below surface stem will be darker.   DON”T PUT ANY FERTILISER IN THE HOLE!  Your tree has gone through quite a shock with a large amount of its fine roots removed.  The new root growth will not take kindly to any fertiliser so resist the temptation to give your new tree a thriving start by putting a shovel load of chook manure in the hole with it!   Wait until spring when you can apply some organic fertiliser on the surface and let it gradually reach the root zone.

As the roots have been trimmed in bare rooted trees, you need to take of about a third of the above ground growth to compensate.  This is fairly easy, although many nurseries will do this for you when they pack your trees.  Keep in mind the final tree shape you’re after as this first heavy prune will decide whether you keep a main central leader (pyramid) or promote the lateral growth (vase).

Avoid staking unless your tree is really exposed and simply don’t buy it if it doesn’t look robust!

Backyard Harvest’s Top Five bare rooted recommendations

Ultimately your tree choice comes down to personal fruit and nut preferences.   The five I’ve listed will fit in most compact urban yards and either pollinate themselves or rely on one of the others.  If you’re renting don’t forget you can also pop them in large pots.

Apricot (Moorpark)

Surely the king of stone fruits, most of us have fond memories of apricots you could smell before you could taste.  I grew up near Mildura where a massive apricot tree used to produce fruit by the bucket load every summer and gave me an early appreciation of home-grown fruit.  Moorpark is a variety not favoured by the commercial growers as it just doesn’t travel well.  It’s just too bloody succulent!  So it’s not just nostalgia that made the apricots of your childhood taste better – they were most likely a backyard cultivar that never made it anywhere near a supermarket.


Also known as the peach that’s gone a bit nutty, the almond is a great way to show your kids how nuts actually grow.  Make sure you ask for a self pollinating variety.

Apple #1 (dwarf Granny Smith)

You know there actually was a granny Smith.  About 130 years ago she threw a crate of rotting apples by a creek bed like magic some of the seeds germinated and morphed into the world’s best cooking apple.  Nice one Granny.

Apple #2 (dwarf Gala)

Like the dwarf Granny Smith, this Gala will grow to about 2.5m x 2.5m keeping the fruit within reach.  Of course if you’ve got the space go for a full sized ones as they are truly beautiful trees.

Peach (Elberta)

There’s few things that top picking a ripe peach straight from the tree and eating it.  Commercial peaches have to be picked way before they’re ripe so it’s rare to buy one that can go close to matching the home grown experience.

Fig (Black Genoa)

One of the most underrated fruits in Australia.  During the last drought I saw fig trees happily producing fruit using virtually no water while eucalypts a few blocks away turned up there toes and died.  Beautiful shade trees, great for kids to climb and why pay $40kg for organic figs when you can grow them in your backyard!


Dealing with leaf curl so your summer’s nice and peachy

What is it.

Known as Taphrina deformans  leaf curl is a fungus that loves cold and wet conditions.  It also loves peach, almond and nectarine trees, where it likes to live during the winter months.  As the tree buds swell the fungus gets to work infecting the leaf cells.  This stimulates the leaves to grow larger than normal and often with a reddish tinge.  To be honest leaf curl affected leaves look pretty hideous, and anyone unfortunate enough to have seen or read  ‘The Day of the Triffids’ will no doubt think they’re experiencing just that.

What you can do about it. 

There are a number of sprays available – most of them being copper based.  Now this started out with some French peasants in the late 19th century who were getting very grumpy as passers by kept stealing their grapes.  Noting the vivid colour left on the vine leaves when sprayed with blue stone (copper sulphate) the peasants discovered no-one stole their prized fruit for fear of the blue poison!  Don’t you love it when two wrongs make a right.  An unexpected outcome of the new deterrent was a big reduction in fungal diseases and therefore an increase in yield.  Voila!  Bordeaux mixture was born and aptly named named after the city that now produces 700 million bottles of wine annually.

Making your own Bordeaux mixture

(Ingredients available at most hardware stores and nurseries)

Dissolve 100 gram of builders’ (hydrated) lime in half a standard (plastic) bucket of water. (About 5 litres).

Dissolve 100 grams copper sulphate (aka blue stone) in a separate half bucket of water.

Keep stirring the lime mixture to prevent it settling and pour it steadily into the half bucket of dissolved copper sulphate.

Add enough extra water to make up a total of 10 litres of the finished Bordeaux mixture.

It is at its most effective strength when freshly mixed so used immediately or within a couple of days. Using it straight away also means it’s less likely to clog spray nozzles etc.

If you’re not up for the above alchemy go for the following off-the-shelf least toxic ways to deal with leaf curl:

Old School

Lime Sulphur has been around for a long time hence is still favoured by organic operators.  As with the copper based sprays it will damage foliage so ensure the tree is dormant.

New School

Cupric Hydroxide has the advantage of being able to be sprayed after leaves are visible. You’ll see this marketed as a next generation copper spray that needs less copper to do the job.

They had me at “plasma technology”

Safety first for you, your trees and your soil

Only spray while the trees are dormant i.e. the buds haven’t burst and no leaves are visible.  Copper based sprays will burn leaves which really stresses out a tree that may already be fighting leaf curl so if it’s too late and spring has sprung just make a note to do earlier next year.

Spray to cover all the bare branches of peach, nectarine and almond trees.  You need to spray enough so it’s dripping (see pic below).  Wear old clothes and safety glasses plus gloves.  I did this once in black sneakers and they now have a blue speckled look…  If you choose one of the copper based spray options, be mindful that this is a heavy metal and will accumulate in the soil below your trees.  Over years this can add up so it pays to lay out some builders plastic/old curtains under the drip line to protect the ‘good’ fungi we want to encourage in your soil.

Don’t leave it for another week!  Get out there this weekend and make sure this you tube clip is the only curling going on at your place.


Unleash Your Passion! (fruit)

Firstly I hear you ask, why passionfruit?  Well nothing to do here but quote from my favourite fruit tree book The complete book of fruit growing in Australia by Louis Glowinski, a Melbourne based urban gardener:

“…the missionaries who accompanied the conquistadors to South America saw this flower a sign to the native peoples of the truth of Christ.  The ten petals and sepals represent the apostles present at the crucifixion, the halo of filaments represens the Crown of Thorns, five anthers the five wounds, the three stigmas the nails that pierced the hands and feet, the coiled tendrils the whips”  

Blimey!  See how imaginative tourists were before Lonely Planet told us what to expect!?

passionfruit flower

So if you’re still with me you’ll now realise the passionfruit comes from South America – like so many of our edible wonders in Australia.  The main change to the original vines in the sub tropics is that in around 1945 Moorrabin Nurseryman Clarence Kelly started using a European Blue Passionfruit root stock to graft onto.  Clarence then went on to trademark ‘Nellie Kelly’, the hardy black passionfruit most familiar to us all.  Here’s a stack of them in a nursery igloo.


So if you’re purchasing any grafted passionfruit, remember the trunk below the graft is root stock and will generally shoot finer leaves that won’t produce much in the way of fruit, instead taking energy from the rest of the plant.  So if you see non glossy, finer growth on your vine, track it back to the source and make sure it’s not from below the graft of a sucker in the ground.  As per last week’s pruning post…cut them off like a bad act at Eurovision!


Getting the most out of your passionfruit

Lots of water.  Yes now we’ve had a few seasons of excellent rainfall, it makes sense to plant these relatively thirsty vines.  Don’t get me wrong, they’ll survive dry weather, but your fruit will be lacking in pulp.

Feed them well.  I’ve been told to bury a rabbit at the bottom of the hole before planting, or an ox liver.  If you don’t have these handy, try an organic fertiliser such as blood and bone or dynamic lifter.  Remember we’re growing flowers not just leaves so don’t overdo the nitrogen component of the fertiliser (think tomato plant suitable fertiliser as a guide)

–  Pruning.  Spring is the time to take around a third of the growth off the vine once established.  Unlike fruit trees, the new season’s growth is the only way to get fruit so you want to encourage as much as this as possible.

Hand pollination.  Insects are required to pollinate passionfruit flowers, however if their not visible take matters into your own hand. Check out the clip below where a small paint brush is used.


Other Varieties

More recently gold and red varieties have become available that are suitable to our southern temperate climate – check out your local nursery and only buy plants that can handle a light frost.

panama red

Pruning Time

A common pattern you’ll see with all the productive plants humans have been poking around with for the last few thousand years is that they need us!  We’ve evolved these UBER productive plants by helping them perform to their peak.  So we prune for the following reasons:

– It keeps the tree size manageable and allows you to access the fruit.

– By clearing out the over crowded internal branches, you allow more light and airflow.  This means less disease and allows fruit access to more sunshine meaning it will ripen more quickly.

– When you reduce the amount of vegetation, you encourage you tree to produce larger and sweeter tasting fruit – perfect for home use.

Knowing what to chop

Not sure which branch to unleash your new loppers onto?  Try the five D’s:

Dead – no sign of life?  Get rid of it

Diseased – look a bit different to other branches, seeping gum, missing bark? Chop it!

Damaged – strong winds or lots of heavy fruit can break branches – remove these once you’ve harvested any fruit

Daggy – remove these branches if they look out of place and cross other branches, are too low to the ground etc.

Dark – by this I mean remove branches if they’re hidden in the middle of the tree and in summer are unlikely to see the light of day

Best times to prune

Speaking pretty generally here, but prune in Winter when you’re after more growth i.e. it’s a young tree and not yet the size you want.  Prune apples and pears early in winter and leave stone fruit until late winter.  Prune old trees before young ones.  Summer-prune trees that have reached the size you want.   Simply remove new vegetative growth.

Don’t cut off next year’s fruit!

A very important point to note is that you don’t chop off parts of your tree that are going to produce fruit!  Very few trees produce fruit on the CURRENT year’s growth.  So that means you need to leave some older laterals or branches on the tree.  You can tell the age of the wood by the colour and how close it is to the trunk.  Look for fat little flower buds on spurs (kind of little twigs of main branches) as these are signs where flowers will eventually become your fruit.  See the example below from an apple:

Tools of the trade

If you’re going to be doing your own pruning for at least a few seasons, then it’s worth investing in quality gear.  You pretty much get what you pay for, PLUS quality tools make pruning a lot simpler.  And unlike most things these days, quality garden tools will last and become something you can pass on to someone else one day.

Secateurs.  These are usually of the bypass type where the two blades pass each other.  Most models out there are a copy of the Swiss Made Felco brand.  I’m yet to hear a bad word about Felco’s products and they back everything up with spare parts etc.  Also it’s worth checking out Barnel from the USA.  Yes, there are still some old school quality manufacturers around so support them I say!

If you have trouble with arthritis or struggle to use normal secateurs, then you can get models to suit.  I purchased a set of these for my Dad and he’s been very pleased with them.  Fiskars are a Finnish company who like Felco make stuff to last.

Long handled pruners also often use a bypass cutting method or an anvil type – again choose a quality brand and you’ll never need another pair.  These will be good for branches up to 40mm across.  Larger branches can be taken care of with a pruning saw.  These are designed to get into small spaces and are available in hand-held and pole models for all heights.

Of course if you’re this guy – well just use your hand…

Oranges and Lemons…

Eureka and Lisbon lemons are joined by the more recent Meyer variety – great if you’re more interested in the sweeter juice and hate thorny trees!

Try fitting this into your Corona…a great example of a Lisbon lemon

There’s also a myriad of orange varieties and mandarins available, including my favourite at the moment – the blood orange.  A recent discovery, blood oranges have an almost strawberry/orange taste and look great in desserts and mixed drinks.

I’ve grown two tahitian limes in Geelong and they love our frost free urban micro-climates and I’ve also had good results from a so called native lime which I actually think might be a ‘Kassia Lime’ as its flesh was a yellow/orange colour – not the usual green flesh.  Citrus trees make great sustainable gifts for weddings, new family editions and look spectacular in pots and who wants to part with $1 every time they want an organic lemon!?

Location, location, location – getting the most out of your citrus trees.

Citrus work really well in pots, as well as the ground.  The most important thing to remember is that their fruit often takes twelve months to ripen.  So unlike our stone fruit which are quite happy to be in shade all winter, your citrus trees need FULL SUN over the winter.  Just take a wander around your neighbourhood with a compass and I’ll guarantee the healthiest looking lemons are coming from trees with lots of access to the northern sun.

Even better is siting them in a courtyard or against a north facing masonry wall.  Remember the reason these varieties are grown commercially in Mildura is because of the long clear sunny days which aid ripening and help them get to market earlier.

Here’s a very happy looking Valencia orange backed onto a north facing wall

Planting tips

With the below average rainfall we experienced in recent history, the idea of planting new trees was met with some trepidation.  Would it survive?  Can I be bothered keeping the water up to the new tree with prohibitive restrictions?  Well after almost two years of fantastic rain, sub soil moisture is back and water restrictions have eased.  Of course we need to continue to be careful about our water use, but I also think we need to take advantage of the much improved growing conditions and get some trees established while the going’s good!

A good technique before planting is to dig the hole to the required size (usually twice the width and at least the depth of your pot) and to fill it with water.  See how long it takes for the water to drain.  If it’s several hours or more then you will have drainage issues and your tree may not survive – especially as we have nearly 6 months of rain ahead!   You can mix in some gypsum sand, compost and see how that works.  If still no luck then build up the soil and essentially plant close to ground level.

Lemons are also beautiful ornamental trees with scented flowers and lush foliage

Troubleshooting with citrus trees

Ants are usually a sign you’ve got scale or whitefly as they’re chasing the sweet secretions from other pests – use the white oil recipe below and make sure you cover tops and bottoms of the leaves.  The ants will be grumpy but it won’t kill them!

Prune any dead wood at the end of winter and fertilise around now (Autumn) with an organic based fertiliser or manure.  Oh, and if it’s acceptable in your household and not going to upset your neighbours, yes wee on your tree.  It provides liquid urea fertiliser…why give you nutrients away for free!

Most problems with citrus can be fixed using a homemade white oil recipe:

1 cup of vegetable oil

1/2 cup of water

Teaspoon of washing detergent

Mix vigorously in a bottle until white and cloudy.  This becomes your concentrate which you mix 1 part to 40 parts water in a sprayer bottle.

Look after you citrus trees, plant a few varieties and you’ll have access to your very own fruit all year round!

Chicken basics!

Seriously though if you have health concerns about eggs and cholesterol it’s probably worth looking at the work of Chris Masterjohn who is currently pursuing a PhD in Nutritional Sciences with a focus on Biochemical and Molecular nutrition.  He has an interesting story of his own which rattles some of our mainstream understandings about saturated fats, cholesterol and their link with heart disease.  He’s published several peer reviewed articles, is widely read and a great researcher, which is great because cholesterol is such a complex area – just look at its molecular structure!

Cholesterol Structure

Another positive is the manure by-product which chickens leave behind.  When composted with straw or wood shavings this becomes a highly fertile addition to your soil.

Chickens are also a great garbage disposal units.  While they can’t thrive on kitchen leftovers alone, it does help to keep their diet varied and things we don’t eat such as outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage will highly valued by your new feathered friends.

Pets! Yes chickens can be great companions in the garden.  It’s not always recognised but animals that have evolved to provide for humans (chickens are descendants of guinea fowl) have a need for human interaction.  My chooks have a whining cluck when they’re being ignored but spend a little more time with them and they set about scratching and dust bathing very happily.  I’m not sure whether it’s the security of having humans around but chooks love busy backyards and will get into less mischief when involved with their two legged companions.  Here’s an example of hens that decided that life outside their enclosure was more interesting…

chooks escape web


Negatives?  Well you’ll have a food bill.  Of course this can be offset by getting your own eggs, and manure.

Chooks need to be looked after, so if you regularly go away for more than a few days at a time then you’ll need a chook-sitter.  Fortunately they’re pretty low maintenance so often the appeal of free eggs and friendly feathered faces is enough to get them looked after.

Housing chickens will also cost more than say a dog kennel and if you live in an area where foxes frequent you’ll need to make sure it’s fully enclosed with an additional barrier buried around the base of your yard as foxes are capable excavators.

What to feed them

You can buy a complete ‘layer’ type pellet but I tend to go for mixed grains and dilute it with some wheat from a local farm.  The mix grains I buy come with ‘shell grit’ which ensures your eggs will have solid shells.  Unfortunately having all that premium grain available in an open feeder attracts all the local birds so think about using a foot operated feeder.  You will also notice your birds craving green feed such as grass or leafy vegetables – this is important as it helps to develop those desirable fatty acids I mentioned earlier.  Below you’ll see I’ve grown some green feed, even chooks like takeaway!


Avoid giving them eggshells and raw chicken.

Chooks also need fresh, cool water available all the time – especially in hot weather where it may need to be refreshed a few times a day.


Too big a subject for this post, but I’d encourage you to get in contact with local breeders rather than buying cheap ex-free range layers such as Isa Browns.  While Isa Browns are good layers they tend to live shorter lives and are prone to complications as they really are egg producing machines, the poor girls. Poultry breeders operate for the love of chooks and will help you to pick a breed suitable for your tastes (poor choice of words) and needs.  This girl is a Hy-Line Brown, but she thinks she’s the Lone (free) Ranger.


Council Regulations

When talking to people around the traps they’re often surprised to hear that the City of Greater Geelong allows you to have up to 12 hens and 1 rooster in a backyard.  Surf Coast Shire allow for 10 birds in total while the Borough of Queenscliffe is a little more involved – best you call the council direct.  The main issue councils worry about is annoyed neighbours, so maybe give the rooster a miss until you’ve won next door over with a few dozen eggs.  Your local municipality may also have specific requirements around types of houses and flooring – I’m a big fan of ‘deep litter’ systems where around 30cm of wood shavings or straw is used and replaced when necessary.

Point of lay birds are usually available around Spring, so now is the time for planning and constructing your very own chicken run!


Pimp my pavement!

Guerilla Gardening is not as sinister as it sounds, with ‘guerillas’ generally focusing on gardening in public spaces in need of some tender loving care.  Who knows where it actually started, although I have sketchy memories of Permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison planting tree seeds randomly in public spaces in one of his early videos in the 1980s.

No matter how it started it has certainly gained some serious momentum.  How serious?  Take for example the world famous Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show which now includes ‘Chelsea Fringe’ an open access version of the exclusive show, complete with guerilla gardening map of London!  The Brits even have an International Sunflower Guerilla Gardening day on May 1st!  Of course by ‘International’ they really mean northern hemisphere as we’re a few seasons off planting sunflowers down here!

sunflower guerilla day

The idea has even been picked up by companies such as Adidas to promote their more eco friendly range of footwear

This no doubt influenced the local production of the television series Guerilla Gardeners which despite being on a big commercial network, managed to step on lots of local council toes and promptly disappeared. I’ve noticed episodes are back up though now if you’re interested.

Closer to home I’ve observed early evidence of guerilla gardening down the Bellarine Peninsula where forward thinking folks of European decent planted olive trees in nature strips over 30 years ago.  While being a radical act at the time, the trees have provided useful feedback for the City of Greater Geelong, in showing themselves as a nature strip species which holds its fruit (therefore preventing slippery fruit littering footpaths and creating public liability woes) and can be under-pruned for driver vision etc.

Here is a couple of examples of the Council trialing some nature strip olives in Bell Park.

olive trees bell park

Recently Backyard Harvest pimped some pavement near the Urban Bean Cafe in Labuan Square, Norlane.  We think our vintage potato boxes from a local farmer certainly help to improve a sad looking car park!


guerilla norlane before



guerilla norlane after

Bet you didn’t think you could grow this…

My first experience of this was not an unknown fruit to me but certainly one I was surprised to see – an avocado.


It was growing in the backyard of a property right next to Corio bay in North Shore and despite having salty, southerly breezes to contend with it still gave an amazing crop.  At the time the house was vacant, hence the crop was shared with a few savvy neighbours as no-one else seemed to know what they were.  Unfortunately the house and Avocado tree have since been removed.  The best variety to grow down south is the Bacon and Fuerte which will both survive frosts to -2 degrees.  The other thing to be mindful of is that this will be a tree that is going to take years to flower (and therefore) fruit – probably around 6 to 7 years in our climate, so not a great choice if you’re planning on moving soon!


Perhaps less known is the Tamarillo or tree tomato.  Another sub tropical plant from South America and growing commercially in New Zealand, these big leafed but modest sized trees produce a delicious fruit a few years after planting.  They grow quickly when planted in rich well draining soil and will like a north facing position to take advantage of our winter sun.


Feijoa is another variety that’s highly underrated in Australia.  As per the Kiwi Fruit the New Zealanders have got a jump on us so you’ll see Feijoa wine and all sorts of things in production over there.  They are a beautiful evergreen tree, best planted with a few others to aid pollination.  The fruit is fantastic and sweet.  They’re also known as Pineapple Guavas.


The final edible must have is a smaller shrub known as a Strawberry or Cherry Guava.  Again originating in the South American region they are a great productive substitute for a less formal hedging plant.  The fruit is amazingly sweet and the hard seeds are best swallowed or spat out.  The hard seeds are the main reason I believe this variety hasn’t become a commercial success as the fruit is delicious, unlikely to be attacked by birds and very high in vitamin C.

Only a few years back it was hard to get your hands on these more unusual edibles, but I’ve recently seen them in many mainstream garden centres and nurseries.