James Slaughter

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since Sep 10, 2012
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Recent posts by James Slaughter

I think after 15 years or so trying different methods of growing fruit (I have 25+ fruit trees growing on an average size suburban block), I'd suggest not bothering with pots for the majority of fruit species. Many of the trees will become root bound. Repotting is a painful and tedius process (even if you're not "repotting" as such, but root trimming and topping up with fresh mix). Fruit grown in ground has less issues, is more resilient to dry periods, and over the long haul requires much less maintenance. If however you are lacking the ground space for more traditional growing then these would be my tips and some good selections of varieties to grow:

- When setting up the plant in its pot think about methods for making certain the plant is able to drain properly. A good method is to not actually water the top of the pot but apply the water in a bottom reservoir, deep enough to hold a reserve but not deep enough to promote root rot.
- Mulch the tops of the pots, occasionally scrape off the top surface and top up with fresh mix and mulch (unless the species you're growing is very averse to root disturbance).
- Place them in an area which is protected from winds, or alternatively find a way of securing them from falling over.
- Liquid feed through the growing season - weak applications on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Remember, they're totally dependant on you for their potential for a worthwhile harvest. Urine is a good option, seasol, liquified worm castings, fish emulsion, etc.

Fruit selections -
- STRAWBERRY GUAVA - Absolute winner in this situation, giving you huge crops year in year out. Highly recommend.
- BLUEBERRIES - and other berries - all are good choices. A trellis system will be needed for the brambles.
- STRAWBERRIES - Have always done better in containers for me than on the ground.
- CITRUS - Most do well, though still do much better in ground.

So for me, berries and bush type fruits are the best way to go, being easier to maintain, extended yield, and easy to repot / transplant / propagate. They also offer many of the best nutritional benefits. Cheers.
3 years ago
"subterranean flood irrigation" - ? Do you mean water wicking beds? Or subsurface drip irrigation? Or perhaps flood and drain aquaponics? Either way, the thing that attracts me to the bamboo drip irrigation is the fact that it can be done by any community without any outside external intervention or monetary aid (usually based on debt...). It is a great example of a low tech solution. Sure it won't be applicable in all circumstances, but I don't believe that anything is.
3 years ago
Around 6 years I did the hard work of preparing a water wicking bed (raised sleepers, pond liner, ag pipe, gravel, geotextile fabric) and made a few errors that others may learn from.
#1 - Make certain your entire pond liner is above the external ground level, especially if you have any large trees nearby (my casuarina sends out roots in at least 15 mtrs in all directions...).
#2 - Beware of compaction - as it's not exactly designed for digging. If I were to do the project again I'd go shallower soils and use less straight dug soil in the mix, or preferably even only use potting mix like materials.
#3 - Make certain that slugs and snails can't access your watering area - they tend to use it as an ideal habitat for breeding.

All in all, given the work required and the potential for effort in maintaining it, I would no longer recommend them. I think that a more viable system with less potential for headaches is the "Rain Gutter Growing System" of growbags / pots in a pond / kiddy pool. At least then you can see if anything is going wrong with the water reservoir (drainage, water level, etc) and maintain the soil structure your using to grow in (a "compost tumbler" being a good way to remix and freshen up old material).

3 years ago
You really do notice the way local insect communities seem to respond as you change their environment. I had shocking problems with earwigs the first year that I put in vegetable gardens, and did plenty of squashing at night to little effect. The next year I saw very few, I assume as they found a new balance. I think it's also like the people that keep neat as a pin gardens and complain about snails eating everything on sight. I've noticed that snails (at least in my garden) tend to prefer the dead plant material. Sure they occasionally nibble a seedling but generally I don't concern myself too much with them. It seems to me that often times the more we try to "take control" the more problems seem to build one on another. Minimal intervention at the right times seems to be key. As to voles, we don't have that problem in Australia. i would not allow plant material to build up around the trunk of the tree regardless, either as living material or as dead. Fungal problems can often be a result, collar rot being a particular example. Yeah, I just feel that building that material around the drip line seems to be the best "defense", and over time if you practice it the right way you tend to encourage species that grow at the times of year that you want them to as their material tends to suppress the plants that you are less likely to desire to compete at certain times (namely fruit set). I think that worrying about weeds in an orchard and building a barrier of plants or physical objects is a waste of effort. Save this for the veggie garden proper. Cheers.
4 years ago
Given what we know about the succession of "weeds", how they repair the bare ground and lay the framework for the plants to come by bringing up nutrients, improving soil structure, changing pH, etc., then isn't the best way to manage so called weeds in an orchard just to mulch them with themselves? So, allowing the grass to grow long and strong in the times of year that trees are at their least dormant, and then slashing them and using the material as mulch around the tree. The thing I've noticed about many species of grass, they not only tend to "crowd" out the other plants but eventually crowd out themselves. From what I've heard they create this dense blanket of dead and dry and highly flammable material as their method of suppressing many trees from reestablishing themselves, using the high temperatures to wipe out woody species. I'm thinking that using the material from the plants that grow the strongest, while trying out different species (clover, comfrey, yarrow, etc), and slashing and dropping the material as mulch for the trees to suppress other species in the dripline would be the easiest way (especially psychologically...) of making the best of a "bad" situation. Too often we want to make it clean and tidy, rather than just learn to use what nature provides. I also think too much thought is given to the idea that "competition" from ground covers is the problem that people make out. Chop and drop, deep watering, and suppression with mulch. Another idea would be to in effect create a "ferment" of grass (& other weed) material, feeding bacteria and material into the brew, and then spraying / watering over the mulch in the drip lines. Micro-organisms and bacteria created this way could possibly help to break down the material into food for the tree, as well as being the basis for a general "compost tea". Anyway, just a few ideas.
4 years ago
In regards to being able to deal with potential for salt buildup " It appeared possible that duckweed removed up to 9kg salt/ha/d when grown under fairly optimal conditions, suggesting a potential for duckweed to rehabilitate saline land and water." - Duckweed

I'd think some sort of water wicking bed, with an overflow area where duckweed could fill a shallow "pond" type of area and then be dispersed as a surface mulch, composted, fed to ducks / fish. Using urine in the garden, even diluted, tends to build up a certain odor. Note, one tends to be more sensitive to the pee of others so your backyard may smell fine to you...not so much for others. A wicking bed, with clay or pond plastic base, ag-pipe, scoria / rock, and a pipe with a good fitting cap would really help to keep any potential stink in.

Not particularly related but a scary species of tree you'd want to avoid - Tamarix aphylla "Athel Pine"
"consume large amounts of water - up to
twice that of Willows (Salix spp.) reduces water availability for stock and the
environment, alters the course of rivers and increases sedimentation rates. It
concentrates salt, which is excreted by its leaves, making the ground around Athel
pines more salty
and excludes native pasture grasses and other salt-sensitive
plants, thus reducing biodiversity. It can also cause corrosion of gutters, metal
buildings, bores and equipment when planted adjacent to infrastructure, and falling
limbs are a hazard to humans and stock." Truly a horrible tree...
4 years ago
Yeah, Michael this is kinda what got me thinking about this question. I myself put in lots of fruit trees / shrubs (25+), many of which have proved to be disappointing to say the least. I think most of this issue comes from giving individual trees enough care at the right time, as your efforts become so much more dispersed. My most dependable and highest yielding trees have been the full sized ones, with dwarfing varieties not worth the effort in my opinion. You end up giving them as much water and fertilizer as full sized trees, and they never seem to really reach that more independent stage (the full sized trees seem to be better at fending for themselves for their nutrient and water). Another bit of misinformation I got while starting out was distances on planting them, the idea being that if you put them closer together they will remain smaller. In my experience this just often stresses one of the trees out, if not both, especially during extended dry spells (no real rain here for around three months). Irrigation during these times (I'm hand watering, not drip) seems to be more about keeping them alive than keeping them growing. So, from this 10 year adventure, I'd have to say my favourite species for productivity and ease are -
Loquat - early yielding (roughly around Sept / Oct here), a named variety it gives big fruit and a long season, and is dependable for yield.
Strawberry Guava - have this growing in a built in concrete tub, been my most dependable highest yielding fruit.
Feijoas - get a named variety and you'll have a great fruit, large and flavourful, and drops them when they're ready to eat. Best thing is birds leave them alone.
Apple - double grafted, full sized tree, bears amazingly well, needs thinning out for larger fruit.
Peach - birds don't seem to pester this too much, bears great fruit though good yields only every second year.
Plums - massive crops, only problem is that for blood plums to get a reliable pollination you need to get a multi-graft.

My most disappointing - (I think mainly due to the above points I mentioned, but also throw in the intensity of our summer sun / heat)
Hazelnuts, Almonds (savaged by sulfur crested cockatoos), Mulberries, Currants.

My main point would be go full sized, multi-grafted species, give them ideal plant spacing, get used to bird netting, and be ready to remove those trees that fail to impress. If it's not looking likely after 2-3 years (poor growth, disease, etc) rip it out and try something else. Of course these points are more for those in my situation of trying to grow fruit in a suburban block, rather than the orchard situation.
4 years ago
as a rough measurement of ensuring that people have enough fruit (yeah, very subjective) for the year. Talking about full sized type trees, with the excess crop being frozen, dried, preserved, etc., to spread it through the year. Would a good start being a Loquat (very early season), plum (multi-graft, full sized), peach, and apple? In this way you'd have 6 or so months covered by actual fresh fruit. Cheers.
4 years ago