Saturday, June 2, 2001-10-11. Our hosts, for this meeting were Peter and Sheila Breuer of Alligator Creek. They bought their 5-acre block 10 years ago and had cattle to start with. Nine years ago Peter was given 80 macadamia trees; 40 of these are still alive and doing well and have been bearing for 4 years.
They have lived there for about seven years and started growing citrus trees about that time. It is only recently that they became interested in the more 'rare' fruits. There are 80 citrus trees: 20 Imperial, 20 Emperor and 20 Navelina mandarins and 20 Washington Navel oranges. All these trees were bought at the Mt View nursery at Pomona. They have a problem with the Blue Mountain parrot cutting off the citrus fruit.
There are 300 Lychee trees of varying ages and 100 of these should be bearing this season. Last year they produced 300kg fruit (all were sold locally) from just forty trees, another 100kg went to the flying foxes.
For the last two years they have found it difficult to keep the supply of fruit up to the demand. The tree main varieties of Lychee are Wai Chee, Kwai May Pink and Tai So. Peter intends to grow another 200 trees, these will be mainly Fei Zi Suo. He does his own marcotting from his existing trees. The trees are grown very close together and are pruned low to facilitate easy harvesting. As Peter said, this was the most expensive part of the project. Peter likes to have all the pruning of the lychees finished by the end of the first week in February as it's usually too late once the tree starts to flush.
The property has good drainage but the soil is very acidic, so regular applications of lime are necessary. Peter uses 303 or Crop King 80 for a ground fertiliser and Mango Thec Triple 10 as a foliar spray for the lychees. The wind also presents a problem on this block and Bana grass is grown for a wind break for the lychees. There's a row of neem trees that were grown initially for a wind break and now help to deter the insects. Erinose mite is a problem that is treated with wettable Sulphur and D C Tron. He uses a dishwashing detergent (that doesn't have an oil base) as the wetting agent. Peter said that the erinose mite actually makes the fruit sweeter. There was a row of dead Fei Zi Suo trees. I don't remember what caused their demise. There is a girdler beetle that ring barks the stems on some of the lychee trees.
All the trees in the orchard are mulched with shredded newspaper as Peter believes this encourages the worms, as they like to have something to read when they're not too busy. There is a micro irrigation sprinkler system set up throughout the orchard, supplied by a bore which delivers 450 gallons of water an hour. It takes the whole week to water the entire orchard. Flying foxes are only a problem with the early lychee varieties as they are attracted to some native trees later in the season. The more recent planting in the orchard include jaboticaba, "Gulf Gold" tropical plum, star apple, soursop and a Bowen mango.
A house brick and a few metres of string can be a definite advantage when pruning trees in your orchard.
This was one of the many useful tips shared by members of Mossman Branch of the Rare Fruit Council during a tree pruning demonstration in September. More about the brick and string later.
The field meeting was held in Joy and Peter Cully's orchard in Upper Cassowary Road, Cassowary, a short drive from Mossman past paddocks of ripe and just-harvested sugar cane.
Joy and Peter have a mixed orchard, with a range of mature and fruiting trees, while grevilleas provide a splash of front garden colour and are a bit hit with the local bird population.
Recent changes to a creek which bisects the property has caused Joy and Peter some grief, undercutting the steep bank adjoining the orchard. Progressively, the bank has been collapsing into the water. However, a particular species of grass, noted for its ability to develop and extensive and deep root system, has been planted in clumps and seems to be the most cost-effective way of stabilising the soil. Time and further plantings will tell.
Avocados do not like being run over by trucks. The one subjected to this indignity was still looking a little worse for wear, with obvious trunk damage. Diagnosis suggested a product, Phosject, might help, injected into the tree to repair the root damage. Long term prospects did not appear promising, as the tree had been planted relatively close to a septic tank drainage system and the resulting potentially excessive watering was likely to cause root rot problems.
Another avocado had been pruned, and the reduced foliage had led to sunburn. Yes, trees also suffer sunburn. Fungus had attacked dead areas on branches where the tree had been burnt. The fungus needed to be cleaned off and the affected areas painted with a copper slurry. And a tip - after pruning, paint exposed branches with a water-based paint mixed with a little copper slurry.
What's this copper stuff? Copper oxychloride is OK to spray on trees and is an effective fungal controller (wait till after flowering), and can be painted on branches and trunks as a pasty mix. However, copper sulphate ('bluestone') should not be sprayed on trees, but use it on the surrounding ground to overcome copper deficiency in the soil. Leaf dimpling in mandarins and big, coarse watershoots with square edges, not rounded, are indicators of copper deficiency in the soil.
Nearby, a Brazilian Cherry was expected to fruit well, and could be trimmed to form an attractive hedge.
A Longan needs a light prune after fruiting...only problem was, this one had not fruited in nine long years. Possibly it was a variety that was slow to bear. Perhaps surprisingly, members suggested it was best not to have a grafted tree.
A non-fruiting Mamey Sapote was identified as a seedling. Sadly, these seedlings can take 12 years to produce fruit, so Joy and Peter have about another three years to wait before they are likely to taste the fruits of their labours.
Citrus bear fruit on new growth. Growers suggested thinning the new growth would help develop a strong, healthy branch structure. Demonstrating on a lemonade tree, they pointed out that the branches would be brought down to a useful height, without the need for serious lopping, by the weight of the developing fruit. These trees do not have a dense canopy, and the pruning tips applied to both this tree and others in general:
Try to encourage growth developing outwards.
Remove branches interfering with others.
Remove weaker and diseased branches.
Another tip from those with direct and painful experience: when pruning prickly trees and shrubs, wear gloves (check them first - they may have become the home of a spider or scorpion since they last had an outing in the garden or orchard). And, rubber-soled shoes, such as joggers and the faithful wet-weather gumboots are no match for the fierce spikes of some of our pricklier vegetation. You have been warned.
Now for the brick and string. A Jackfruit in the orchard was also identified as a seedling. Still a small tree, it could be grafted when it grew larger, and this was likely to help with fruiting. The tree fruits on old growth. But these trees can grow quite large, and the massive fruit on higher branches can be difficult or impossible to pick - and dowright threatening should it fall on an unsuspecting passer-by. The answer is to shape and train the tree's branches by tying selected new, soft shoots with a piece of string or light rope, gently bending them out from the centre of the tree in a cascade form. Keep them in place by attaching a brick or rock to the other end of the string.
Allan Small, Mossman Branch
DATE: August 2001
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