Summer Joys and Woes`

It has been an interesting summer for us. Well that is one way of describing it. Certainly the driest year in the 26 years we have been settled in Tasmania,
We have been continually irrigating our row crops with mixed results. It is very difficult wetting sandy soil. The more you water the more likely you are to remove the nutrients that the plant needs. With rainfall the mechanism is different and the nutrients outside the rootzone can migrate back to the plant. We have had a couple of showers one of 30mm and the improvement in growth for the strawberries was impressive. But alas that was some time ago and now it is back to the dry conditions.
The main orchard  is some distance away from the farmhouse and much higher. It is on a north facing slope on sandy soil with hard pan less the a metre below the surface. Very poor soil obvious by the lack of vegetation outside the paddock. Even the bracken is having a hard time this year. Gums trees have also been dying. But inside the paddock we grow apricots, plums, citrus and other trees. The citrus have really struggled with many dying. These are shallow rooted trees and thus much more susceptible to drought. 

Gary picking apricts

the yellow carpet of Apricots

A different story for the apricots. Picked a couple of tons this year versus a negligible pick last year. Quality was very good too. Apricots unlike citrus have a deep root structure as they obviously liked these harsh conditions. There were so many that at least 8 tonnes were left and dropped to the ground. 

the 2017-2018 Berry and fruit season has started

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Just starting to pick cherries

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Blackberries are great

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What a season – hardly any rain in the last 6 months. But amazingly lots of fruit. IN the tree crops cherries and apricots are now being picked. Lucky we have irrigation.

Just the same lots of damage from roos and possums who are desperate for food as the surrounding forests are without fodder.

We have lots of berries though. At present picking strawberries, raspberries, black berries, red currants and blackcurrants.

Our shop is open every day and lots of other goodies available. Ann is a great cook and berry desserts, smoothies and our own special icecream are awaiting your evaluation.

Mulching and other crop improvements

Observations of our berry crops in particular showed poor growth and often heavy weed infestation at the end of last season. This was partly due to the very dry summer and the invasion of weeds and in particular twitch.

I decided that something had to be done. My first response was to hand spray with Basta herbicide. Basta is a glufosinate ammonium and is reported as not as systemic as glyphosate. I have been slow to get on top of just what this meant. Many of the perennials were killed but some broadleafs were not. ( eg buttercup and docks) .

Dormancy of the raspberry and other berry crops is important. Any green material will also be affected by these type of herbicides.

I am sure also that the  wet weather we have been having can pose a problem of herbicides coming in contact with root systems. (remember in many places we have sandy soil and hence no clays to immobilise penetrating herbicides)

I was getting my rows back in shape. It was difficult to tell whether the canes would be affected as they were dormant. But I think the final result was not good with a lot of cane dieback and the twitch quickly  reemerging. It showed up that weed infestations did drop. But digging around the roots showed that couch (twitch) rhizonomes were alive and active. I can’t use glyphosate as it would kill the plants.

I have used Fusilade Forte before but stopped for two reasons . One is it is very expensive perhaps 10 times the price of roundup. And it is very selective with no effect on broadleaf weeds. But I am told it will work on twitch as it is systemic enough to penetrate under the ground along the rhizonomes. This is still a work in progress and I am actually doing it backwards.

As the plants were not growing well I have added feed lot manure to all rows and then mulched with wheat straw which I manage to get. I hadn’t expected to be able to get it this year as farmers were not able to grow as much last year due to the dry season.

So all rows are mulched now but the twitch is reemerging but of course with some difficulty. When it is a little more established I will spray with fusilade. Apparently it doesn’t effect the other crops. The activity of the twitch has to be reduced as it is competing and straggling the  berry plants.

 

  • We were lucky to get large bales of wheat straw. But they were very hard to handle.

On top of all of this continual rains means that many fruilt trees won’t set fruit this year. Apricots are practically non-existent and peaches /nectarines have struggled with these same wet conditions. The front and back orchards have had flooded sections which has caused root rot problems. Some of the die back we have experienced in the blackcurrants and raspberries may also be partially attributed to these wet conditions. But weather in between showers is improving and we will see what happens as the ground warms up. New growth looks very good and if we can contrain twitch I am confident we will imporove things.

It is these learning experience which I think keeps my enthusiasm going. Only wish I had a second life once I had gained the necessary knowledge.

 

Rain, Rain go away come again another Day

Lots of rain in Tasmania. Not just the East Coast but all over Tasmania. One minute we are experiencing droughts and now floods. Fortunately not too much damage todate but certainly slows down the work program. Oh well such is life!

Is Winter Coming?

May is nearly finished and yet the strawberries are still ripening albeit at a much slower rate. Alas we are not getting many to eat ourselves as the parrots seem to have taken a liking to them this year. Hopefully that won’t continue next summer.

The days are shorter but the weather is amusingly warm. Still wearing shorts . Sceptics on climate warming get over it. We are experiencing great changes in out climate. Yes it is nicer to have warmer weather in Tasmania but the rest of Australia it won’t be so good. And the danger of bushfires was extreme last summer. Fortunately we didn’t get bushfires on the East Coast but the west coast had bushfires in the rain forests. This is almost unheard of event and spells doom and gloom for many of our remnant species which are not bushfire tolerant.

So what are we up to? Perhaps you think we are sitting on our bums relaxing now that the picking season is finally over.

In July we intend to take a welcome break and go to the U.S to see how other farmers operate and of course visit friends and family. Before that there is plenty to do. Right now we are collecting canes for nurseries. No help around this year so guess what Ann and I are the total team. Working conditions rules for backpacker employment have been changed considerably by the Government. In past years it was a very attractive proposition whereby backpackers could get a second year extension in return for working on farms for 3 months in their first year. Whilst the rule still sort of applies it is not easy for horticultural farmers to keep such workers on longer than just the picking time as they are not experienced in other work which generally takes longer to train them for.

Anyhow back to us and you can see in the picture below what a bundle of canes looks like. We also have lots of pruning of the fruit trees and sprays to reduce fungal problems. Fences to fix, strawberries to cut back and if time permits replant, mowing and weed control. The list goes on and we just keep at it.

bundles of 10 canes off to nurseries around Tasmania

bundles of 10 canes off to nurseries around Tasmania

Tree Felling

In our strawberry paddock we had 2 big trees right next to the strawberries. They were both dead but needing removing. And this is what I decided to do to my chagrin.

As you might know felling big trees can be very dangerous. The bigger of the 2 was in this category being about a metre in width at its base and with many big limbs at a great height.

So I cut the wedge in one side and as the limbs were mainly opposite I wedged the back cut so as to turn it up the hill. My mistake I believe is my front wedge cut was too deep with a result that the tree had nothing left to stop it falling in the wrong direction. 

Here I am trying to impress by Helpx  volunteers by my tree felling skills to no avail. Listen to the video and you will hear me yelling out ” get out of the way” and stronger words to that effect.

The tree was dangerous and when it fell it went straight across my raspberries, my blackcurrant row and then through the fence. All of us then spent the next few days cleaning up the mess, removing the limb wood, splitting wood for winter firewood and repairing the fence. The boys were great and we all got stuck into it . My Echo chainsaw purchased from the States worked well but I would say now that it is due for a new chain.

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he doesn’t look at all worried, although I think he was astonished when it was falling. (see video)

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Once the tree was down it took a lot of time to cut up and split the limbwood.

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We have a hydraulic splitter which is almost essential for splitting white gums.

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A good outcome is that much of our firewood was cut up in these next few days

 

 

Our Chilean Mountaineer , Diego has moved on

Diego is our first employee from South America and in his case from Chile. Diego has now left Eureka Farm after being here three months. Diego came to us with quite a few practical talents including a love of the outdoors (mountaineering) and cooking. Many of our guest workers struggle with a lack of English but not Diego. OK there was the odd time when the words got confusing but for the most part he understood. This gave him and of course me the advantage that I could use him on the farm for more practical work such as repairing rotten posts and modifying the fences to keep out the wild life.

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All of our workers have worked as a team this year resulting in a very harmonious farm life. Diego’s enthusiasm and easy going nature however was a much-needed tonic when things got busy.

We have become very involved with the Helpx organisation and have sourced some very nice people this year. Most are young and seeking second year visas and often come from a city background and sometimes found working on a farm daunting.

We have developed a roster and have had up to six kids here at a time. Generally we like not  too many of them to come from the same country as then they get a better chance of improving their English and getting to know people from other cultures.

In our roster we divide up the duties. One of the main duties is the preparation of dinner. After a long days work eating the evening meal seems to be treated with a great deal of enthusiasm followed by a good dessert. Some of our kids have never cooked before and thus often spend time researching what they are planning to cook when their time comes. Of course the better meals receive the most accolades but by an large all meals have been pretty good.

Lunch is a more simple affair. Leftovers from the evening or sandwiches. Breakfast has been muesli and fruit. Lots of fruit gets consumed and I am sure all of our pickers now love fruit even if they haven’t had much before coming here.

Feeding the chickens, putting out the garbage, washing up etc are other shared duties. I would have to say I have had no disgruntled employees and everyone seems to have the right amount of gusto and approach to their jobs. Lastly they have learnt a feature of farm life which is up at Sunrise and to be soon after dinner. No one seems to want to party and the only thing that might delay them is a last look at their Facebook page.

 

 

Farming

Diego, Mizuki, Robin all Helpz workers doing a great job

Diego, Mizuki, Robin
all Helpx workers doing a great job

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Diego clening the fence and putting netting on top

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the netting installed on one section. several refinements have been made since then

More about keeping the animals out. This is an obsession of mine now as to how to keep the animals out of our orchards. It is been raining a lot lately and I think this has taken the pressure of our orchard. But one or two wallabies getting into the orchard can do a lot of damage. Young trees particularly seem to be targets and strangely not the young suckers on older trees. Once the trees harden up then they are able to survive wallaby attacks but then the possums can still denude them of all leaves but again strangely leaving the fruit so they will die. But generally possums start their havoc at the end of the rows where the damage is very visible and we can do something about it.

So it is the wallabies that you really have to get under control. In the top orchard which is some way from the house I think these animals believe they can behave in an uninterrupted manner. The plan now is to put a barb wire as a top wire and another one just above the 300ml netting which follows the ground. Then I will put in strips of bird netting which can be easily stretched between these two barb wires and the barbs in fact will hold it in position. (pictures above)

We have tested the prototype and whilst it has worked to an extent the determination of the animals when getting out has caused some damage. We now have modified the procedure and put netting on both sides of the wire so that the animals whether going in or out still have to push the netting against the wire and hence then will back off without getting caught.

We have also put a radio on each night which seems to warn the roos that there could be people about. And finally we go shooting every night. All of these measures have gradually made the roos back out of the orchard. I might add that the dogs like hunting in this paddock now that the roos that do get in are more constrained. However they won’t go near the fence and sometimes the roos can still make there escape.

Will update this info as we do more trials.

Another season starts in a wobbley manner- 2013

After a particularly dry spring we are now having a very wet spell with some flooding last week.

our dam fills up overnight and is seen here over flowing. Fortunately the repairs carried out in the past have held up well.

our dam fills up overnight and is seen here over flowing. Fortunately the repairs carried out in the past have held up well.

The wet weather here last week is certainly a mixed blessing. Obviously you do need rainfall especially as the dam empties which happened last year. But once I get my

We were going to use new ground for tomatoes but it wasn't prepared in time. So made three rows with garlic in between.

We were going to use new ground for tomatoes but it wasn’t prepared in time. So made three rows with garlic in between.

irrigation going in many ways I can do a better job supplying water than coping with such heavy downfalls. The sandy soil we have here is so erodible particularly when ploughed.

But there is so much happening in spring and most things at that time of year depend on steady weather conditions. A major set back this year is the lack of pollination and hence poor fruit set due to trees blossoming in wet or cold conditions. These sort of circumstances keep the bees away.

Another thing is there will be so much grass to mow once I can get my tractor out on the paddocks once they dry off. And all our tomatoes were damaged with weeds taking over especially oxalis which must be the worse weed around. The leave look much like clover but it puts out millions of bulbs all of which sprout the following year. The more you try to move them the more they spread. And the worse thing is there is no herbicide other than maybe fumigation which will get rid of it. Just have to let it lie fallow I guess for a few years.

Wallabies seem more determined than ever to get into out paddocks and eat the things we don’t want eating. They don’t seem to eat the grasses but concentrate on the young trees which after continual denudation give up. Not so long ago I decided that my fences need another update as the wallabies were ignoring the electric and getting in. It was obvious that they were not jumping in but going through the fence as the trails went right up to both sides of the fence. So in the end I contacted the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) and was fortunate to have discussions with Mr. Robbie Gaftney. I had envisaged Baiting as a last resort but he supplied many tips some of which I will explain to you now.

As I said they were getting through the net. Apparently they can open the wires up with their paws and use their tail to propel them through between pulses. He recommended that the hot wire system be replaced with wallaby wire. That is both an expensive and time consuming operation. What I have done seems to be working. The idea came to me when I was repairing the cherry netting which these same varmints had punched holes in. So I am now in the process of attaching birdnetting over the hot wires. The theory is that this will impede the roos pushing through the wires as they are still active behind the netting. As they are polyester they are not conductive and in dry weather the fence behave as normal.

here is a tree not destroyed by the wallabies

here is a tree not destroyed by the wallabies

the wallabies have stripped this tree bare

the wallabies have stripped this tree bare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have had some great help come to us this year. Last week we had 5 helpers come to us via Helpx. The picture below shows Michel (Holland) and his girlfriend Ludi(France) who came for a week. Also shown is Mizuki from Japan. Mizuki is here for a while and seems to like most things on the farm and might I even say it is getting used to weeding.