Mossman Field meeting, 16 March 2001

Peter has 3 hectares of rolling land in Julatten, surrounded by rainforest, with a permanent creek along one border. He has developed a nursery where he specialises in citrus, but also has a range of other trees. There are a number of varieties new to Australia he is trialling.

At the start of our walk were two rows of peaches, nectarines and plums. He plans to remove the peaches, as they are too much trouble, needing constant spraying for fruit fly, although further down the orchard he has some new varieties of peach (white and yellow) he is trialling. The plums, he has found, have a much shorter time showing colour on the tree, so are not recognised as ready by the fruit fly in time to do much damage before harvest. The plums are yellow when ripe, with a small pink blush.

In the next row were Gulfgold plums. These need to be hand-thinned or they will overbear and thus have small fruit. There were also some nectarines, which are a fuzz-free sport of the peach. He also has a white nectarine 90-3 further down the orchard by the new peaches. Peter considered it probably the best white nectarine. He said his tree should have been cut back at Christmas time last year.

At this stage, Dawn said Neem mulch would control fruit fly. Put down a light layer, and cover with some other mulch to protect it. Neem is a systemic, interfering with their metamorphosis. Done this way it will take a year to rid the area: Neem oil sprayed on will act faster. It is also effective against fruit sucking moths and other insects that dare to live off your labours.

At the apples, Peter said to keep up the copper fungicide spray to control fungus. Most of the Mossman group are coastal dwellers, so cannot grow apples. The pears had fruit about half grown. He said they do get stung. Although not absolutely essential, as a few fruit will set, two varieties greatly improves pollination.

A new Japanese seedless mandarin Satsuma, varieties Miho and Okitsu, are proving to be the best of the early bearers. Imperial will bear this early, but with a loss of quality. They are at their best later in the season. Originally called Ortanique, from Israel, Topaz from Jamaica was not doing well and would most probably do better on the coast. Would have a thinner rind on the coast than in cooler areas. It is not an easy peeler. An exceptional juicing mandarin with a very intense orange colour.

Fortune is another late variety which hangs well on the tree, as does Topaz (no loss of quality). The peel will come off in one piece. Has a very thin skin. Doesn't leave any rag on the sections. Intense flavoured, it is a late bearer, coming on in October; but the fruit can be left on the tree until November. It is a bit acid if eaten early.

Honey Murcott var. turner is supposedly a superior murcott. Peter said his fruit is definitely sweeter than ones from Mareeba. It was propagated most probably from a limb mutation (sport).

Freemont is a mid-season mandarin which should be OK on the coast. A very compact small tree which bears big crops of small fruit. Hand-thinning doesn't seem to improve fruit size.

A query from the crowd about the Paige - mandarin or orange? Peter said the book calls it an orange, probably because of the skin. Peter said his fruit set this year was poor, most likely from dry air during flowering. The trees were an impressive size at three years. He gives them plenty of dolomite, zinc and boron.

Afourer is a late bearer, with the flavour of a Honey Murcott, but easier to peel. They say overseas it originated in Algeria, the mother tree having been grown from seed. Originally thought to be a seed from Honey Murcott but DNA testing shows it to be a Murcott-Clemantine cross.

There was a thornless King of Siam, a very old variety, Peter's tree coming from an old tree in Mareeba. The Pera Olympia from Brazil he though a bit insipid - good flavour but lower acid level. It would be the most widely used juicing orange in the world, as it comes from Brazil, which is the world's biggest producer of production juice. A young Salistiana from Spain Peter thought had good prospects. Navel Lehman he has no writeup on. It is an Aussie variety but it is patented, so he will have to wait for it to fruit, but, he said, it must have something going for it to have been patented.

Mangoes; Khieow Savoey had a good flavour and could be eaten green like an apple. The Harumannis he thought was the best. It fruits the same time as Kensington Pride.

Summer Lea from Lucinda is reported to have come off a sugar lighter. They are supposed to be good, but Peter says his tree looks as if it will be too big.

Springfield from South Africa had fruited for the first time, and Peter considered the fruit very nice. Jim Newton had one for many years at Freshwater, where it was a shy bearer which invariably dropped its fruit green. They assume from this it is not suited to the coast.

Peter has a number of Mulberries - the red and the white shahtoot. Most people had propagated by approach grafting. The rootstock are the common white Mulberry. Peter grafts onto that cutting with a 50-60% success rate. Shahtoots do not propagate readily from cuttings, so have to be grafted, and the white has been the most successful. Rumour has it Limberlost can propagate from cuttings in a mist house. They have to be thicker than your thumb but there is some other trick they are keeping under their hat. Ah, well .....

A friend of Peter's has hot bed and mister for striking them. A hot bed has electric coils through the base of it, to keeps the bottom at a constant temperature. She does soft tip cuttings, but still only gets 10% strike. Hicks var. black, the most common variety, is a large tree that grows by cuttings straight off the tree. Mulberries need a lot of food and regular cut-backs. Peter says to get out the chainsaw and take them back almost to the stump each year. There was no sign of any old growth on his trees. He said the trees will produce fruit as big as his thumb if this is done.

Next was an old variety of lemon, Yen Ben, which was a limb sport of Lisbon. It was smaller, and had a thin skin. It became a very common backyard tree in Sydney during the 1930s, then was lost for 20 to 30 years. Taken up by NSW AG when rediscovered, they have redistributed it. A summer lemon called Verna, from Spain has yet to prove itself.

The Star Ruby grapefruit is considered to be the best for Australia, especially on the coast. Peter's tree has not fruited as yet. He had a Thompson Pink further down the orchard, but he said the fruit was too small. He is fairly sure this may be because it was grafted on the wrong rootstock (Cleopatra). A lot of the original trees were not grafted by Peter and the labels have since disappeared, so he cannot be sure.

He says: "Draw yourself a mud map of your trees and update it as more go in, as it is easier to keep a piece of paper in your filing cabinet, than labels on or around trees".

The Thompson Pinks Peter has done are grafted on to Troyer, a good general rootstock for the tropics, so the fruit size should be normal.

A persimmon called Nightingale was seedless but astringent.

Of the five corners, the prolific Wheeler is Peter's favourite. Sampling proved them to be deliciously sweet.

The Bullocks Heart Custard Apple was fruiting despite having been put in only last year.

With the grumichamas, black fruit is the norm from seedling trees. At this stage only Limberlost can guarantee yellow-fruited trees.

The sapodilla var. Ponderosa was a poor bearer for Peter, compared to the Sawo Manila which is a smaller tree with better fruit set.

Longan-Fukho #2 was doing well. It needs a cool spot on the coast, as do all longans. Biew Kiew would probably be the best if anyone wanted to try longan on the coast. Back against the range where cool winds drift down from the higher ground, there can be enough chill to get them to fruit.

The Brown Turkey Fig likes a well-drained area, as it is susceptible to root rot. If you want to grow it where it is wet, you need to keep up copper fungicide spray to prevent fungal disease on the branches, especially when it is drizzling. The trees like calcium (dolomite).

Moving up from the creek flat there were more Mandarins. The Clementine is an early cropper, although not quite as early as Satsuma, and is almost seedless. It is the most popular mandarin in Europe. Reduce crop for fruit size.

Of the clemantine varieties, Morisol is the first to fruit, Oroval 2nd, Nules 3rd. They are about three weeks apart if growing as a backyard tree. Fina, another clemantine was one he wouldn't recommend as it needs a lot of fruit thinning; it overbears by a mile, branches need propping and so on.

Nova is an early variety for juice. Has a tight skin that can be peeled easily enough. It is very juicy·

Mandarin var. Encore is said to be the latest, flowering in June. In NZ it is picked in April, from the previous year's flowering - called it the Mt Lewis original. As he died last year, Peter renamed it in his memory. He said it was a good orange, with an unusual flavour - very smooth, creamy orange flavour.

White Sileta is a popular orange. It could be a good one for the coast.

Satsuma is a variety that can be eaten green. Mandarins need chill to develop full skin colour, so if you are on the coast but want them to colour up, dip in Etheril (gas from bananas). This is important if you are going to sell the fruit.

Commercial growers use a brix meter to measure the level of sugars in the fruit, so picking is done at the optimum time. One week means a lot for the marketers, thus many varieties have been developed to extend the season. The following oranges are all limb sports of the Washington. They are for eating or fresh squeezed juice, as their juice breaks down in 12 hours. It is caused by a chemical in the juice of navel oranges called limonin. The original Washington probably has shortest juice life. The varieties have different traits. Lanes Lake has less limonin so is the pick for commercial processing. It matures 3 months after the Washington. Leng matures a month before.

The Navelina, considered the best navel at this point, has a different shape (oval). Hamlin is a prolific bearer, an early common orange good for juicing.

With the blood oranges, it is the flavour which is desirable. They will not colour up on the coast, but this does not affect the flavour. Ruby and Harvard were the varieties he had available. There was an Arnold from South Australia, but it had been patented, so Peter could not sell it.

Pixie, which has not fruited yet, did not get a good write-up from California in a book by James Thornt. He has written a couple of books on citrus varieties of the world, but most of it is overseas experience, so Peter thought it was worth a try.

Kara carries a big crop with big fruit which doesn't lose its acidity. It is a late producer that is good for juicing. Very good juice content, mix with Honey Murcott to sweeten.

Bakers Sweet is a non-acid orange for people with ulcers. A little insipid for those who have an option.

Meiwa Sweet was a true Kumquat - note the spelling - it is sweet and can be eaten skin and all. The 'cumquat' Calomondin is the sour fruit many of us are familiar with for marmalade.

Kaffir Lime var. Nathaniel has juicy fruit, as good as the Tahitian. The other variety of Kaffir lime has very dry fruit.

Peter had a Grapelo which he got from Joe Anich. The DPI said it is a grapefruit/pummelo cross. The skin is a bit thicker. It tends to be a bit sweeter than grapefruit.

Peter has four of the 6 varieties of red grapefruit. They all come from the Marsh, which is a big tree with white-fleshed fruit. The pinks have become so popular there is no longer much demand for the original.

The story of its demise says some fruit was irradiated for fruit fly to ensure it was safe to export. Somehow, through this, they discovered that irradiated seed, when grown out, threw pink or red-fleshed fruit, though it was variable. Limb sports were taken from these trees to give, so far, 6 varieties.

Grapefruit Ruby is one he recommends. It is a smaller tree, a good bearer with pink-fleshed fruit.

The Lemonade tree he considered a headache because of its thorns. The flavour of the fruit is lovely, though, so definitely worth while for the backyarder. I can see it would be a pain (pardon the pun) for propagating.

Peter advised everyone to stress their trees prior to flowering, to make them panic and put their effort into reproducing rather than growing. You can fertilize when they start flowering, but leave irrigation until fruit set and keep up until the fruit is marble Size or they will drop all their fruit. Keep watering to fill fruit out.

Peter is going to write an article next year on the citrus, when more of the varieties he is trialing will have fruited for the first time. As is obvious from the information he gave us on the tour, it will be well worth the wait. He is also looking into the Bergamot orange, the skin of which is used for perfume, and is in demand for aromatherapy. While it is being imported it is horrifically expensive. It appears home stills can be made to extract the oils.

Sketch of flat steel coconut grater.

A cooking demonstration by Aorè followed the walk. Aorè brought along a beautiful little stool with a coconut grater attached. The grater was of the flat steel type, the end rounded and serrated, but with a neck to the stool, and a hole in the centre of the serrated end to allow the coconut gratings to fall through.

It saves having to stop every three or four strokes to clean the blade. She had a number of young coconuts, the tops of which she sliced off to give everyone a drink. Coconut water is very high in potassium, so is considered the perfect drink to balance out your electrolites on a hot day - the natural staminade.

She then demonstrated how to open husked mature coconuts, by hitting them with the back of a heavy knife around their circumference until they crack. Save the juice for cooking. If you wish to eat the coconut meat, she demonstrated how to cut the flesh on an angle then slide your knife under to lift out. If you cut at right angles to the break the flesh is much more reluctant to give up its grip.

A number of members then practiced grating mature coconuts until there was enough to make milk for the traditional Island dish Aorè was preparing for us. She just squeezed the grated coconut to get the milk. For those of us weaklings whose hands would extract barely a drop, pour boiling water over the gratings, and when it cools enough, squeeze the milk out through a muslin cloth. This can be done twice.

Aorè then diced cassava, taro, breadfruit, sweet potato and finger bananas into a pot, poured over the coconut milk, and twenty minutes later we were eating a traditional Island dish of vegetables cooked in coconut milk. It was delicious.

Sue Wilkie

DATE: July 2002

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