John's Garden Newsletters

John Bodycoat works for Conservation & Land management as a lecturer in the advanced diploma in agriculture and horticulture courses. He writes a Newsletter most months which is printed in Mandurah area newspapers. He has agreed to share the articles on our website.

February 2016 in the Home Orchard

January has been very hot, which of course is not unusual for Perth and most of Western Australia. Hopefully your orchards and gardens have survived. If you have lost plants and shrubs, ask yourself why, as you may need to prevent the loss of plants by using more shade cloth, plant on the south side of your house or even plant under taller trees.

Maybe your garden has been affected by bush fires and your trees and plants have been burnt or singed. Clean up around your garden and orchard next spring to save your garden from being a potential fire hazard. From my experience with January’s bushfire, it was so intense there was little anyone could do to stop their gardens from being demolished from the heat and flames.

Last Sunday our monthly visit was to Troy’s property in Orelia where he entertained and amazed us with his rare and unusual fruit trees.

In the ground at this property was a native finger lime, Citrus australasica which is from northern NSW and southern Queensland; these are rainforest trees. They can grow upwards to about 6 metres, the trees are thorny and have finger-shaped fruit as well as green skin and pulp. The fruit has a texture similar to caviar. I have grown a tree in a pot and this has fruited in the past couple of years and will be going into the ground this year. I have used it in chicken curries.

I am sure over the next few months we will be hearing more from Troy and his great fruit collection.

I have recently run a workshop on soil nutrients and soil pH as well as composting, so it is great to see gardeners getting involved with caring for their soils. Soil pH is very important because soil acidity or alkalinity directly affects plant growth. Most of the soils we are growing our fruit trees in are Bassendean soils which are very acidic, meaning they are really sour, so plants cannot take up nutrients such as nitrogen N, phosphorous P, and potassium K. All plants need these nutrients to thrive and this will allow the plants to fight off diseases and stress. What happens is the roots of the plants are unable to absorb and take up the required nutrients. When nutrients can’t be absorbed, they are called ‘locked up’.

The right pH is very important for bacterial growth which will help in the decomposition of organic materials in the soil. In sandy acidic soils it is important to use dolomite to help lift your pH. Dolomite or calcium carbonate applied at around 200 grams per square metre will help and this can be applied 5 – 6 times during the year.

Calcium from the dolomite you are applying to your trees is needed for cell growth and development and also helps plant roots access iron, magnesium, boron and potassium.

Magnesium from dolomite is available and is an essential part of the chlorophyll molecule. It is also an activator of many enzymes. A deficiency of magnesium will result in yellowing of leaves between the veins with some dark green veins and sometimes leaves can have reddish tinges.

I think the WA Rare Fruit Club should look at running a workshop during the winter recess on soils and composting. Have you any ideas, members?

Companion Planting using WA native Flora.

We are all home orchardists spending time in our gardens growing and looking after our back yard fruit orchard, but do any members or readers grow Western Australian native flora as well?

I realise you can’t eat callistemon, grevillea and banksia trees, but there are so many benefits from these native species to our gardens than what we actually realise. Most of these species previously grew where you are presently growing your citrus, lychee, grapes and olives, or whatever you have in your garden, so why not plant back a few in the garden corner?

Aesthetically, we have some great colours in reds, pinks, white and yellows, but colour is only part of a sustainable garden. Local indigenous plants growing on the Swan Coastal plain live without mobs of water, are bird attracting, need very little fertilising, attract insects that are beneficial to our orchards and gardens, they love our poor Bassendean soils with a low pH, and attract bees back into our back yard for fruit tree pollination.

For example, parasitic wasps are actually attracted to white and yellow flowers that have their stamens and anthers exposed and these wasps will also prey on pests. If you have a small amount of room don’t be afraid to plant out native species in your orchard as companions to your fruit garden as they will be beneficial to your fruit trees in many ways. So why not give it a go?

I also like to plant garlic under my fruit trees and this may or may not attract useful insects and prevent diseases. But the garlic tastes great. If you are going to plant out garlic in your orchard, either next to fruit trees or in areas of your orchard and garden, April is the best time to plant out your bulbs. I use the 25th April as my sowing date and 11th November as the day to pull up my bulbs. The purple garlic or really any locally bred garlic bulbs should only be grown, not the imported rubbish in our supermarkets. Garlic plants are hungry feeders, so prepare your garden for planting now with sheep, chicken and baa poo plus compost and blood and bone+.

Fruits in the garden.
Black Apple
: I grew this bush food tree with a comment from a friend of mine stating it will be worth my while. The black apple or Pouteria australis has a fluted trunk, is a tall tree and produces small apple-sized fruit and is a rain forest tree. The fruit is a rich red colour with a delicate sweet flavour. I have only recently planted out this tree and hopefully it will grow near the estuary, far removed from its rain forest environment. This tree can be sourced from Daley’s Nursery.

Tayberry: A new berry that I recently saw growing in a friend’s garden in Denmark was a Tayberry. (Rubus fruticosus x R. idaeus). This is actually a cross between a black berry and a raspberry. It has dark sweet juicy fruit and was in fact very yummy. It likes cooler summers and may not be a good species to survive our summers around Perth and Peel regions.

When Planning a Garden you should look at the following:

WaterAll plants and fruit trees need water: Some plants require more water than others. So group your shrubs and trees according to their water needs. Put the plants that need the most water together in your garden beds. Install and repair your irrigation. Go to your local hardware store or nursery for great advice in planning your irrigation system.
SoilSoil is the basis of all life. My ole saying is ‘’ Feed the soil not the dam plant’’. If you build up the soil in your garden you will have bragging rights for the best fruit trees and vegetables in the district. Build your soil up with animal manures, home-made compost, rock dust, straw, green manures and sea weeds. If you have clay soils, use gypsum which is excellent for breaking down the hard clay soil. Likewise if you have acidic soils, lime must be added to your soil. For quick results liquid lime can be used. My favourite is dolomite which contains both calcium and magnesium. Lime contains only calcium.
Sun or ShadeGrow and plant your young fruit trees in the right area of your garden, making sure that plants that require full sun and shade are adequately catered for.
Picking producePick your fruit early in the morning as this is when the fruit is at its freshest.
Compost and FertilisersCompost is the cornerstone of gardening and it is better if you make your own. I like the lasagne way of making compost: layers of 40% greens and 60% dries. Lawn clippings and dry leaves, green weeds and straw with chicken manure or baa poo to set off your compost. I also like to spray on molasses and the heap must be kept wet as the temperature of the compost heap must be between 60-70 degrees. Use a thermometer to test your compost heap at all times. If your heap is less than 60 degrees it will take a few months longer as the microbes in your heap die when you cool it down. Take in your neighbours greens or rake the streets gutters to get your dry leaves. This is a cheaper way to make fertilisers and you can use blood and bone, sea weed and fish emulsion, worm wee, granite dust and animal manures. I also like to add Kitty litter to my compost, which contains bentonite clay. Or you can purchase from your local nursery using chemical based acidic fertilisers. This is Your Choice.
Wind ProtectionMost plants need wind protection, some require full protection at all times. Plant behind a fence or shade cloth. Hot winds are very cruel to plants. If you are planting an avocado tree they require a well protected site.
Firstly, get out of your comfort zone and grow a new or an unusual fruit tree or a local bush tucker tree found in our state.It then becomes fun in your garden. Autumn is the best time to plant out your orchard, so plan out your area and decide what you want to grow now, and prepare for a late March planting.

Community gardens in your area.

If you have time, join up and become a member of a Community Garden. Then you can help out at these sites as most new members in Community Gardens are eager for information about growing fruit trees. Most people in these organisations are green, do not have green thumbs but are willing to learn so they too can grow fruit trees and follow their dream in eating and growing produce. There are many Community Gardens in the Perth metro region, so if you have time to be part of another garden then visit these gardens yourself.

A few readers asked questions during January.

Mango Tree.
One reader sent in a pic of his Mango tree which did have discolouration of the leaves which is anthracnose. If readers have anthracnose on the leaves of their mango you can cut out the dead parts of the leaves which is what organic producers do or spray with mancozeb, every week while there are blossoms on the tree, and then every four weeks. Please do not put affected leaves in the compost bin, only discard through your rubbish bin.

Fruit drop on citrus.
Remember citrus normally drops fruit as they have mobs of flowers and only about 9-10% of flowers become picked fruit.

Make sure you have a constant supply of water to your trees, not up and down like a Jack and Jill effect. Hot weather over 35 degrees will also make the tree drop off fruit. In hot weather I like to foliar spray my citrus with fish and sea weed fertilisers.

Fruit splitting is more often noticed and can be caused from excessive water, but I tend to think it is from a Jack and Jill effect and a lack of calcium or copper. Navel oranges are perhaps the worst of the citrus for fruit splitting

Next Site Visit:
The next site visit will be at Nigel Johnson’s property on Saturday 13th February 2016.

John Bodycoat

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