How Graft an Apricot

This is the third year we have had a decent crop of apricots from our tree, so it is well and truly established.  At my work there is another apricot tree in the garden that has larger fruit and always fruits a few week later than my variety which is a “Storey”.  So I thought it would be fun to try grafting the variety from work onto my tree at home to extend the fruiting season.  Apricot grafting needs to be done in the summer.  This video talks you through the process which is actually quite straight forward.  The same process can be used with peaches and nectarines.

Before you start you’ll need:

  • An apricot tree to graft onto
  • Hardened new growth from the tree that you want to graft onto yours
  • A sharp knife to cut the bud and the graft site with
  • A plastic bag to store the chip in after you cut it to stop it drying out
  • Some grafting tape to hold the bud into place (you could use glad wrap/cling film at a push)

Take a look at the video to discover how!

How to test if your eggs are fresh

The hidden nest - minus the eggs now safely tucked away in our fridge

The hidden nest – minus the eggs now safely tucked away in our fridge

One of the side effects of having free range chickens is that from time to time they will decide to engage in a little off piste laying. It’s not a major deal obviously, but you might find yourself wondering why your egg count has suddenly decreased.

Such was the case for us recently. We have been getting one to two eggs from four hens that usually lay 3-4. After checking all the usual hiding places and finding nothing, I put it down to the recent heat.  But today I happened upon 7 eggs stashed behind an old gate.

In such circumstances you need a method of checking whether the eggs are still fresh. I remembered one I had heard about once which was to place the egg in a deep bowl of cold water – if it sinks, it’s fresh. If it floats it isn’t – something to do with the bacteria producing gas within the shell. I quickly tested them all and found they were fresh. Lovely, plenty of eggs for breakfast tomorrow.

Protecting Espaliered Fruit from the Heat

A scorched apple on one of my espaliered fruit trees

A scorched apple on one of my espaliered fruit trees

As the summer sun warms up, don’t forget to protect your fruit. If you try to make the most of space within your garden you may be tempted to grow espalier fruit trees like me. I have three apples that I grow in this way and this is the first year that they have had a decent crop on them.

But because of the way that espaliered trees grow, fruit often doesn’t have the same degree of leaf cover that it would have on a normal tree. We have the dubious privilege of a 38oC day tomorrow, and have already had several days over 36oC. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to protect the apple in the picture but I will be taking steps to protect them tomorrow to prevent any further damage.

My preferred method of protection is draping one of my painting drop sheets over the tree and maybe fixing it to the fence with some tacks or drawing pins. The light colour of the sheet helps reflect the heat so the tree doesn’t bake under the cover, and it is easy enough to remove when it cools down.

The espaliered apple all covered up to protect it from the heat

The espaliered apple all covered up to protect it from the heat

Bad year for Cherry and Pear slugs

Wood ash for treating cherry and pear slug

Getting the wood ash ready to treat the cherry and pear slugs

Judging from the number of slugs on my cherry tree and from the number of visitors to my blog looking for answers this has been a bad year for cherry and pear slugs. For those who aren’t familiar with it, they are a small black slug between a few millimetres and 2 cm long that feed on the leaves of cherries and pears. If you have leaves on your tree that end up looking like lace, then you probably have cherry slugs.

If a post last year I talked about using wood ash as a dusting to controls the slugs.
You can use pyrethrum spray but that kills the good insects as well as the bad, so this year I took my own advice and went for the wood ash. Initially it looked good but the devils kept coming. I was almost going to give up and reach for the bottle (of spray that is, not alcohol!) but I persevered with the ash but it seems to have worked. continue reading..

Brown rot control in your fruit – organically.

Brown rot

One of my email subscribers just wrote to me and asked about brown rot in nectarines.  As I had just posted about my great nectarine crop, I thought it would be a good idea to share the reader’s question for the benefit of everyone.  Brown rot is a common problem that affects not just nectarines, but most fruit including apples, cherries and peaches.

Brown rot is a fungus (Monilinia laxa and M. fructigena) that infects the fruit causing it to rot on the tree, and can spread to the branch as well.  Damaged fruit are more susceptible.  Here goes:

Hi Matthew,

Thanks. I find your tips and chart very useful over here in Sydney. I have a question on my nectarine tree.  This is the second year in a roll that they suffered from brown rot. The rotted fruits hanged on and dried up on the now dead branches. I have cut off these branches and throw away any of the rotted fruits that I can find. Any suggestion as to the cure for this? Will Copper Sulphate spray help?


Hi Simon,
Thanks for your question and I’m glad you find the tips useful.  Thankfully brown rot isn’t a condition I have had much of a problem with in my trees, but it can be a real issue as you describe.  It sounds like you are doing the right things with pruning off infected fruit and branches.  You should also collect any infected fruit from around the base of the tree.  Don’t put them on the compost heap.  Either burn or place the affected parts in a plastic bag and throw in the rubbish.
In addition you can use Bordeaux mixture as a preventative.  You should spray as the buds start to swell in spring.  It is said you shouldn’t spray the mixture while the tree is in leaf, but I have done it in the past and haven’t seen any negative effects.  The ABC has a great fact-sheeton making and using Bordeaux mixture, though their measurements make a very large batch, so I would scale it down.
Also from a preventative point of view you should prune your tree to have an open goblet shape.  This will let sunlight and air into the centre of the tree.  This will help dry out the foliage and fruit faster, discouraging the growth of fungus, plus it will help the fruit ripen faster.  The RHS has a page on thisfor apples, but the principles are the same for other trees.I hope that helps.  Let me know how you get on next year.Matt


Bumper nectarine crop


My abundance of nectarines - yay!

This year has been a great year for nectarines. I think it has been a combination of factors coming together to produce a great crop.

This year for once I managed to get my act together and spray with Bordeaux mixture just as the buds began to swell. As a former fruit growing area, leaf curl is endemic. Spraying is essential if you don’t want the trees growth stunted by this condition. It seemed to pay off as we only had a few leaves this year that were affected, whereas usually most are affected.

Last year we also had quite a problem with fungal growth on the fruit itself. This was due to the high humidity we had last year. However this year has been similar weather wise and we have not had anywhere near as much of a problem. I think that again this is due to the Bordeaux spray earlier in the year. Given the benign nature of this mixture is is prudent to give your stone fruit a spray every year before the buds come out in spring.

So we had a great crop this year as you can see from the photo. Lots beautiful fruit. How were your fruit crops this year? Was it a bumper year for you? Let me know in the comments section below.


Pear and Cherry Slug Control

Pear and Cherry Slugs

Pear and Cherry Slugs

Pear and cherry slug is a common problem in my area, mainly due to the fact that this was a fruit growing area of Melbourne which has left the area with an endemic problem of fruit tree pests. Pear and cherry slug control is a task that I have grappled with ever since I put my cherry tree in a few years ago.

Initially I wasn’t familiar with the problem but as the leaves on my cherry tree were gradually reduced to skeletons I knew that I had an issue. A bit of research revealed that it was pear and cherry slug and I quickly deduced that some sort of control was going to be necessary. A quick spray with pyrethrum spray seemed to sort the devils out.

The pear and cherry slug is the larvae of the sawfly. The adult sawfly lay their eggs on the leaves of the cherry or pear tree which then hatch to for the slugs. The slugs proceed to eat the leaves of the tree, producing the distinctive lace like pattern that is indicative of the problem. On a closer look you will see the small black slugs on the leaf.

Once the slug has reached maturity it will drop to the ground and pupate. After it completes that process it will emerge to fly back up to the leaves of the tree to lay its eggs. There are two lifecycles a season, so that is why pear and cherry slug control is important, otherwise the second, heavier wave can really decimate an already weakened tree. continue reading..

Harvesting Onions 2011

Onion Harvest 2001

The Onion Harvest 2011

I have just completed my onion harvest for 2011 and by my standards it has been quite a success. Usually by the time I get to harvesting onions they have gone to seed. However the journey to getting to that point can be just as challenging.

I usually start with planting my onions from bought seedlings in June (December for those in the Northern hemisphere). I often find that many of them are eaten by slugs and snails, or disturbed by the scratching of the feline menace (cats), so they never even get started.

However once they get going I find that onions are fairly tough plants. Apart from some really dedicated snails, there doesn’t seem to be many pests that will impede their growth. You do however need to keep the weeds down as they compete with the onions and will decrease their final size.

I tend to have a problem with the onions going to seed before they are fully grown. However I have discovered that even if the onion has gone to seed, once you remove the tough core, the onion can be used as normal. It is just that they won’t keep as long as they normally would. Perhaps a bowl of French onion soup is in order.

After harvesting onions you should really let them sit out in the sun for a few days to dry out the outer skins so they keep as long as possible. Then just make sure you store them in the dark where the air can circulate around them so they don’t go mouldy.


Raspberry canes in full fruit

You would be forgiven for thinking that this blog is just about raspberries and chickens given the disproportionate number of posts on these topics. However those who grow their own raspberries will agree with me that given a small area of fertile soil you can get a wonderful crop of fruit that is streets ahead of anything you can buy in the shops. Below are some snaps of my current crop.

20111119-132340.jpg 20111120-105051.jpg

Mulching your garden

Fruit, Winter


Premulch - Put down a good dose of manure (preferrably more rotted than this!) and some fertiliser.

Premulch - Put down a good dose of manure (preferably more rotted than this!) and some fertiliser.

Winter is the time to be putting down mulch in your garden.  As I mentioned in my previous post about mulching the vegetable garden, mulching – covering the soil with a protective layer- is an important task.  In the fruit and vegetable garden mulch should preferably be some sort of organic matter, because then it will add to the health of the soil.  However in an ornamental garden non-organic mulches such as pebbles may be appropriate.

As you can see from the photos below, the mulch I selected was fairly newly shredded tree material.  This will work fine and provide a good protective layer against weeds, but because it is quite new it will draw nitrogen from the soil as it breaks down.  This obviously isn’t a good thing for plants as it reduces the amount of nitrogen they have for growth.  To offset this I would recommend applying a good dose of fertiliser to the surface of the soil like blood and bone and/or rooster poo.

Why mulch?

Mulch offers many important benefits to the gardener.  The first of which is it helps keep the weeds down.  Apart from looking unsightly, weeds compete with your plants from nutrients, limiting their growth.

Secondly, mulch helps keep moisture in the soil.  In Melbourne where I garden, the summers can be very hot, and exposed soil will dry out much

Cover with a good layer of mulch (3-5 inches).  Keep it away from the plant trunk.

Cover with a good layer of mulch (3-5 inches). Keep it away from the plant trunk.

more quickly than covered soil, leaving your plants prone to heat shock.  A good layer of mulch will trap the moisture in the soil, just where your plants need it.

Thirdly, keeping the soil moist helps with the microflora of the soil.  Good healthy soil has fungi and bacteria that live within it. These help release nutrients in the soil and can help reduce the growth of harmful organisms.  When the soil heats up and dries out, this sterilises the soil, reducing the number of microflora in turn reducing soil fertility.  Mulching will help prevent this.

How to mulch.

Firstly start by removing any weeds and grasses around your plants.  This will stop them simply growing through the mulch you apply.  Like I said above the next step is to put a layer of fertiliser down to provide some available nitrogen.  Also it is easier to apply fertiliser for your plants before you put down the mulch.

Lastly finish by applying a good layer of the mulch, between 3-5 inches.  This depth will really help to keep the weeds down and build a good soil microclimate.  Just be sure to keep the mulch away from the trunks of your trees.  If it is too close it can cause collar rot of the trunk, killing the tree.

So, do you use mulch in your garden?  If so, what types?  Have you found it helped?  Let me know with a comment below.  Thanks!