Sunday, November 22, 2009

Arid zone fruit tree tour.

Last weekend a hardy band of garden types headed out to the arid zone research institute to have a look at the orchards and try to capture as many pearls of wisdon as we could from the man taking the tour - Raghu.

Despite Raghu having only arrives at azri less than a year ago - he had mountains of interesting information to offer.

As we waited for Raghu to finish some photocopying for us - i told the group that one of the reasons i had organised this tour was to garner support for an orchrd subgroup that could advise the community garden committee. So after a few moments of people lookin at each other and scratching their heads Raghu came out and we were off!

After negociating a goodly number of locked gates we parked our vehicles in the shade of the Olives and Date palms. The questions started, left right and centre about the olive trees and several indepedent conversations fire up about preserving olives, olive types. Rahgu said that the Olive trees produced well but like most of the trees in this orchard - they were on low water rations designed to keep the trees alive rather than producing a lot.

The orchard was now long past its hey day ( in the 60's and 70's) when Raghu said just about everything and anything was tried. He also relate dthat is was unfortunate that much of the information was not published and only exists in internal reports. The crops were also being tested for horticultural potential in the centre rather than back yard culture which needs to be taken into account when guaging success or not of certian crops.

The hand out Rahgu gave to us documented thefollowing crops:

Roses - yay!

Geraldtone wax - woohoo! - ok i'll stop judging now



Ruby grapefruit






Kangaroo paw


And in addittion to that there was of course Citrus and apples.

There are publications put out by azri called "agnotes" and they describe how to grow many things. Some of them are on the web and others are filed in the library and can be photocopied.

Rahgu though we were moving until he mentioned the jujube. The group back-tracked to where these couple of old trees stood and srounged around looking for what might be fruit.

Several people had asked me about the jujube in the last couple of months, so i was intreaged to see this tree that was supposed to do so well in Alice Springs. Marg Latz recently obtained one from a business in Darwin called "tropiculture". i have no idea if they are best grown from seed or cuttings or even when they fruit, but there was no sign of fruit and barely any to be seen on the ground.

I got the picture that the tree may well have done quite well in Alice but had no commmercial potential - because people like to buy and eat things like apples and bannanas.

We reluctantly moved ontowards the citrus which despite low levels of water, weeds and relative neglect had reasonable fruit still on them. I asked Raghu why there was never commercial potential for cirtus in the centre and the main reason he sited were labour limitations. He said that securing labour was a limiting factor on many crops and it was a challenge when you had to secure new labour for each crop. Of course Citrus do very well in Alice Springs - just about every second house has one.

Just over yonder were many rows of metal and wire trellises which were where the table grape experimental plantings had been. I lively discussion followed on table grapes - that there were competitors from the gasgoyne in WA to Emerald in QLD. The challenge for grapes was to grow them as far north as you could to get the earliest crops of the year onto the market. the down side to this was of course increasing humidity and rainfall as you go north - and this all has to coincide with good fresh water supplies. The titree grape growing areas was small incomparison the other industry players and had experienced some decline in profits in recent years.

Some nice rows of figs were still standing and had set lovely fruit. There are a range of varieties which fruit at different times. The major challenge to commercial figs was birds.

Some very sorry rows of apples were still in existence which Raghu said did reasonable well but were given hell by the rabbits which loved to ring bark them. There were a few trees which appeared to have keeled over quite recently. The continuing decline of the fruit tree varieties here was a worry - because i dare say it would be very difficult to obtain these varieties again - and importing them from interstate would be difficult and costly.

Thanks to Stephen who took some great photos - and which adorn this blog post.

Having just mysteriously lost a page or two of writing I think i'll cut my losses and post the rest of the fruit tour on the next post......
coming up - pistaccios, bush tomatoes and dates.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

garden growth update

The weather is certainly heating up but we are all accustomed to that - 36 and above for the next 4 months. Oh well - we did have such a lovely october!
The mulberry trees have all but finished fruiting. Plenty of citrus fruit still hanging on though. i think my cut off date is late november to have them all picked - due to the fruit fly.

A few things are starting to feel the heat. was disappointed to find that the french beans had nothing much on them - i think due to the heat. will look again this weekend to confirm that. i did have a few set backs with those - rabbits eating them etc. i think if you plant hem at the beginning of august with no set backs you should get a good crop from them.

The pumpkins are growing rampantly as are the other melons and a few setting fruit. Still no bees as the red gums are still flowering. I'll have to keep hand pollinating them!

Gourds and snake beans are growing well while the cabbages look fine but i'm wondering if they will not have tight heads due to the heat??

The sorghum crop is progressing well. the amaranth continues to grow rampantly - almost everywhere.

like a weed it seems to be able to utilise things in the soil that other plants are unable to extract - it might be a good green manure crop because of this trait, making minerals etc more available to the following crop. The rabbits seems to be going for it as much as any of the other greens i'm feeding them at the moment.

I have a large male rabbit seperated in a chook tractor. At the moment he is living of the fat of the land with no supplementary pellets. He gets Ruby saltbush, Mulberry leaves, amaranth, mint, general weeds and the grass on the lawn. He hoes into this stuff much more so than when he had pellets. Certainly the growing rabbits are eating much more and i'm not sure i could keep up with their food demands with the hours i have left in the day after everything else. So they'll have to stay with their beloved pellets for now.

Dispatched 3 rabbits on the weekend. All safe in the freezer now.

The mega seed sorting meeting took place on the weekend with spectacular results.

The mega seed sorting meeting took place on the weekend with spectacular results. We had many large chook food bags full of seeds. Boxes of assorted seeds, bunches of plants carried in hand. We sorted Coriander ,Sno peas, Ethiopian cabbage, Tat tsoi, Paak Choi, Mizuma, Raddicio, Lettuce, radish, Shallots. It was all systems go! I rushed around from person to person showing them the next stage or sorting out problems with slow progress, but there was lots of help and advice flying all over the place. We quickly labelled all of our jars so that our similar seeds weren’t mixed up.

We all took a well earned break on that 39deg day! We're a tough crew in the centre! We had some scrumptious offerings for morning tea – although it merged into Lunch thanks to some wonderful home made curries and bread from Michael. Thanks Bronnie for hosting such a fun meeting!

Techniques we used to sort seeds included using various sized sieves to remove chaff. Crushing seed pods into fine particles then blowing off the lighter seed, winnowing in metal bowls and removing the chaff off the top, or blowing the lighter stuff away. Most of these techniques rely on the seed being heavier than the chaff, which it usually is. The crushing techniques also rely on the seed being harder than all the other parts of the fruiting body.

In the next few weeks my carrot seed will be ripe. My wife Helen found that with carrots it is much better to carefully remove the seeds from the dried umbel by hand, rather than crushing the whole lot up. This is because carrot seeds come in may sizes – but so does the chaff so they become quite hard to separate.

Earlier in the week I had squeezed out the seeds from 2 types of tomatoes and placed them in a cup to ferment.
After a couple of days mould had formed on top and I then washed all the seeds in a sieve and left them to dry in the sieve . later I scraped them off the sieve and put them in an envelope to dry further. After a week I’ll put them into a storage container.]