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.


  1. Really enjoy reading your blog Chris. It's amazing to see the range of food plants that can be grown in the arid country.
    As far as the jujube goes we have a book called "The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia" by Glowinski. It's been out for a few years so it should be available in the local library. It has 3 pages devoted to jujubes and they sound a worthwhile fruit to grow as it thrives in desert heat. The fruit is green when fully grown (a couple of cm in diameter with a stone. If left on the tree it will ripen further and resemble a reddish prune or date. However there are many varieties in the jujube family and some are not as fruitful as others.

  2. Great post Chris, very informative. See all the good stuff we miss out on being out bush!?!

    Info and phone number for Tropiculture here