MiApple Farm

Heritage apple tree growers and suppliers
80 Joyce Lane, Mia Mia, Victoria, Australia
Contact: Phone (613) or (03) 9701 3066
Email :- See the Contact Page
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THIS TECHNIQUE PAGE DESCRIBES METHODS WE USE AS ORCHARDISTS.

Peter's new E-BOOK.

Peter has been writing a new e-book on his experiences in running an orchard in Australia. It includes many new thoughts on dealing with the New Weather. The following are some of the chapters in PDF format for you to read or download. Photographs will be added later.

"TRIAL & ERROR ON MIAPPLE FARM" by Peter Cooke (Copyright)

PLANNING AND PLANTING (pdf.)           INFRASTRUCTURE(pdf.)

MAINTENANCE (pdf.)                                PRUNING (pdf.)

PESTS N DISEASE (pdf.)                            CHEMICALS N FERTILIZER (pdf.)

ROOTSTOCKS (pdf.)                                  GRAFTING (pdf.)

POTTING YOUNG TREES (pdf.)              PROPAGATION N STOOLING (pdf.)

IDENTIFYING APPLE TREES (pdf.)

The following commentaries remain from the old web page.


Preparation for planting

We start our preparation for planting at the end of summer. There have been so many trees to plant that hand dug holes are out of the question. During autumn the ground is hard enough to bring in a back-hoe to do the work.

We like to dig holes at least 2ft 6inches (750mm) deep and about the same wide. The main idea is to loosen the soil for the young tree roots to grow into and to make sure there are no large rocks in the way of the roots.

Apple trees love calcium so we often throw old sheep bones before backfilling ready for planting.

Planting

We usually plant in early winter (July for us) when the young trees are still dormant.

Because we have to dig at least 50 new planting holes, hand digging is out of the question. We now drill with a motorised post hole digger 60cm (2 ft) deep then we partially backfill the hole chipping away the machine hardened outer surface of the hole to allow the roots access to the softer surrounding soil.

The potting mix we use to grow the young grafted trees is low in nutrients so we usually plant the trees combining the potting mix with mushroom compost and sandy soil and we add a tablespoon full of slow release fertiliser to the top of the soil after planting. Taking care fertiliser is not in direct contact with the young roots.

If planting bare root trees, the roots are likely to have been damaged or trimmed before planting and it is wise to reduce the top growth by pruning the tree after planting so that the root system can cope with supply of the nutrients needed by the leaves and branches.

Grafting.

In July (early winter when the trees are dormant) we take scions (young growth only from the last season) from the donor trees, that are carefully labelled and stored in the refrigerator ready for grafting onto rootstocks in August and September.

I recent years the rootstocks have not dropped their leaves until August and grafting has had to wait until the rootstocks are truly dormant.

We usually graft using the whip and tongue method and try to match the thickness of the scion with that of the rootstock to get the best grafting results.

If the scion to be grafted is very thin only one side of the cambium tissue can be matched and the likihood of the graft taking is reduced.

The rootstock needs to have a healthy moisture content for the graft to take.

We recently used pear rootstocks that had not been well watered before grafting - the grafts all failed but the rootstocks lived on with new leaves. We have kept the rootstocks and will try grafting onto them again next season.

Pruning.

We prune our trees while they are still dormant in mid-winter and try to develop the traditional wine glass shape that makes the tree open to sunlight.

We cut out any dead or diseased wood and remove it from the orchard. If large branches are removed we use a pruning paint to minimise fungal growth and rot.

Most of our tree scions have come from other orchards where there is a risk of bringing in diseases like mosaic virus. You don't know about the disease until the tree has grown leaves. If a diseased branch is discovered we remove the infected branch and remove the cutting from the orchard.

The worst infected tree found so far was a pink lady bought as a bare root tree from one of the large hardware stores - we have learned not to trust mass produced trees grown for the general suburban market.

While pruning we carry around a bottle of disinfectant ( we use ti tree oil mixed with water) and disinfect our secateurs between each tree pruned.

Spraying with fungicide.

In early spring when the buds have started to swell but before flowering we spray all our trees with Bordeaux mixture fungicide.

We mix a cup of copper sulphate in one bucket of water and a cup of builders lime in another bucket and leave them soaking over night. The next morning we mix the two in a spray bucket taking care not to put too much sediment in the spray mixture which now turns sky blue in colour.

We still use Dad's old stirrup pump which he used in his orchard 60 years ago to spray the trees with bordeaux mixture.

The use of Bordeaux mixture is compatible with organic horticultural practices.

Coping with Birds

Nettree thumb
Apple tree under nets

The white cockatoos and parrots are a destructive lot. If you plant a young tree that has side branches they will sit on the side branch and chew off the top of the tree. If the side branches a pruned off in the first year the birds have nothing to stand on during destructive activity.

For the same reason I pluck the apples off young trees that are not netted. If you don't the parrots chew the branches until the apple with branch drops then they eat the fallen apple on the ground and leave the branch behind.

Single tree Netting.

We buy white netting 4 by 4 metres square for a small trees and a 25 metre length cut into 6 metre lengths for larger trees.

Four 24mm (1 inch) square posts are hammered into the ground around each tree and two bows of poly water pipe are crossed over the trees. Experience has shown that if netting is placed direct on the trees without a support frame, parrots and cockatoos will chew the tree down through the nets to get to the fruit below - we have had trees chewed to half their size where nets were placed direct on trees without a netting frame.

Once placed over the trees the nets are weighed down with rocks and gaps on the sides are laced together with haybale twine.

Black netting cannot be easily seen by the birds and they can entangle themselves if they fly into a black net.

At night kangaroos and foxes don't see the nets either and will rip a net off a tree while escaping from an entanglement.

Full over orchard netting.

The best but most expensive method of netting is to net the whole orchard using arial wires and posts. We have done this over the past two years so that no birds can access any part of the orchard. We used half inch bird netting ten metres wide and installed a grid of telescopic steel poles, each in the corner of 10 metre (33ft) squares. The grid of wires and netting was all installed at 2 metres high and then raised to 3.8metres (12 ft) just like a big circus tent. The outer perimeter needs to be combined with a 1.8mtr (6ft) high fence to prevent animals from pushing through the net.

NETTING HOLE SIZE CONSIDERATIONS.
If the top netting is too small it will catch hail and while preventing hail damage, the wires and grid poles must be strong enough to support many tons of ice.

The side netting needs to be at least big enough to let bees in to pollinate the tree blossum.

ORGANIC CONSIDERATIONS
Some organic growers use larger holed side curtain netting up to 35mm (1.5 inches) that will keep out larger parrots and cockatoos but will allow smaller birds into the orchard to feed on the small insects.

Irrigation.

Young trees will need irrigation through the summer to keep them alive until their root systems have matured. We dig the planting holes deeper than root depth the theory being that the irrigation water will soak below the young roots and encourage new roots to grow deeper in the hole.

We irrigate using a drip system and give each young tree about 50 litres of drip water each week through the summer. - We mulch our trees with straw during summer as well.

Our soil is deficient in calcuim and when we irrigated with dam water two years ago many of the apple fruits developed brown rot - the apples developed a big brown bruise which indicates calcium deficiency.

For three years we have watered with our bore water which is rich in calcium salts and the apples produced were beautiful.

Why we gave up Organic Growing.

Our quest has been to grow heritage fruit trees for distribution to enthusiasts across Australia. Part of this quest has required us to become registered as a quarantine agency which required the compulsory use of chemicals prescribed by the quarantine authority before shipment interstate.

In the meantime we were hit by a locust plague and compulsory spraying of the hoppers required by the Dept of Primary Industry.

After netting the orchard the good insect eating birds have not been able to access our orchard and the cherry slugs, thrips, apple moths and garden weevils have got out of control. Where possible we have used organic sprays to combat the problem but that doesn't always work.

Selective spraying is very important as we don't want to destroy the bees and other good insects.

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