The long silence was due to busy days of pre-harvest preparation, the cycles of harvesting and the subsequent processing of nuts.
Over half of the crop is now sold, one month after harvest and most of the bills and half the debt paid.
We are emerging and planning for next year. The trees are going to sleep. The cockatoos are sifting though the rubbish heaped as mulch under the black walnuts, for nuts.
The scout stands guard atop a nearby tree while the others scavenge. These guys live for over 70 years. They will be back next year with their mates.
Two forklifts out-nimble hippopotami, in the right hands, on the right day and for the right reasons. Our colour grader did not cope with walnuts last year as we had hoped. We have other plans afoot for the 2015 harvest. So; shall we dance?
Shimmying this long blue streak off this dance-floor required coordinated poise, thought and creativity.
Al fresco, our chariot awaited to take the grader off to its new home to size larger fruit; lemons, peaches and apples.
We are left with space to create this year’s production line. Its a secret at the moment but soon, all will be revealed.
The walnut trees are peaking. The fruit is full size and the shell is hardening. The branches are flush with supple fresh green leaves. Two more months of summer lie ahead with temperatures over 40 C. This Friday and Saturday are both predicted to be 41.
At the Boxing Day orchard breakfast, Kim blessed the orchard for the difficult days ahead. We have provided much water and fertigated again in early December to promote growth of shading new limbs, but the blessing spoke to another need.
Breakfast mongst the trees required some planning and preparation, bringing all together.
The breakfast was a quiet time of sharing for all who have hectic lives in the city, who are caring for a young child, are expecting imminently, building, working and planning. The orchard provided a haven from city cares.
With my sons, their partners and friends, home on the farm, the conversations ranged widely. Each brings unique perspectives. And with my new iphone, (explaining why I have been silent for the last month), I learned new skills. I am now on Instagram. I can now share kindle books with ipad.
My hope is that my new iphone does not share with you the sunburn devastation from successive days over 40 in January and February. That the blessing has been heard and noted.
At this time of year the weather app does not away look like this:
but when it does, the problem is pre-Christmas blight. A bacterial infection that may transform any part of the tree into a charred bushfire facsimile. Walnut trees were struck here four years ago. The memory of that disaster is fixed in the minds of local walnut growers. At that time, we had few nuts to lose and losing them was a minor discomfort.
Now, we have a reasonable crop of walnuts and total or even partial loss would be crippling, metaphorically and financially.
So seeing this red, green and yellow polka-dot pattern on the weather app I shake and quiver, appalled by the prospect of imminent disaster.
The only thing to do is wheel out the tractor & sprayer again for a final performance with kocide and summer oil. I thought about kelp, but the one container I had was last year’s and the constituents had precipitated to a gluggy merky ooze that would surely clog the nozzles of the spray unit. Today was the last outing for the orchard copper team, starring myself. No sightings of blight were made during the operation. Time to put my blight fighting feet up.
After Christmas, the challenge swaps to sunburn prevention. There is no corresponding mechanical solution to this problem; just keeping the water up and having stimulated the leaf to shade the nuts; apart from 25 kg/hectare over the next few days which may help.
Let’s see what the weather app had in store for us in Jan and Feb.
Now is the time for dark green tropical clouds sweeping in from the northeast, whose origin in the Kimberley coast explains these rain, hail, lightning and thunder laden clouds. Last Monday, as I sheltered in the shed, one passed through. I saw it on the radar. It was long and slim with red & yellow polka dots moving east across the state. I judged it would take 7 minutes to pass. I was not far off. What was also not far off was one strike that was following immediately by a clap of thunder. It looked to make landfall just south of our southern boundary. Fifty ibis is that vicinity rose together in flight. I pitied my neighbour’s potential for harm and gave it no further thought. I was waiting to take out the sprayer.
When I reached the pump house I was greeted by a blank and silent electric pump controller. I checked the leads, power board and power points. The trouble was in the controller. The lightning had struck the switch in the south paddock and the shock had passed along the wires that accompany the pipes back to the pump house. I switched from automatic to manual and was able to commence pumping. I needed the automatic function so that I could pump overnight.
I called Chris. He was gone for November but I hoped he might be back. No. I got his mobile’s message. ‘Phone Phil’. Phil did not want to come. I was able to convince him. He replaced the controller.
Then, three days later, the weather app showed a much larger system crossing the state, with threats of hail and lightning. I put on Billy Bragg, loud, just as we did at Daisy Hill, Queensland, when the real sub-tropical storms belted through, and sat and watched the performance in the fading evening light.
The Mooroopna farmer’s market second hand bookseller’s ‘ Would you like a plastic bag for that?’ chaffed. What I needed was the seven dollars in loose change from my wife to pay for the purchase; and not his suspicions. Yes. I had the anthology of Henry Lawson poems and short stories under my left arm. I was not slinking off. I was standing my ground.
My relationship with Henry, one of our nation’s preeminent bards, has been unfortunate. My first volume of his stories had not survived the interminable undergraduate house shifts. Worse was my attendance at Leonard Teale’s one-man-show recitals of Lawson classics in Darwin. Andrea had bought the tickets. Nabil refused to go; as did all others. I had worked through the night before and that day and was too exhausted to refuse. We sat in the front row of the tiny intimate theatre. I could had leaned forward and tapped Leonard on the knee. He could have leaned forward in response to my yawns. We left Henry at interval.
I have not read Henry for many years. Then, my life was urban, and I had remarkable family links to his life. My grandmother lived on the lower north shore of Sydney at the time Henry regularly descended into alcoholic oblivion. Then, she lived with us and read the Sydney Morning Herald, cover to cover, like Henry. My parents were married at Lavender Bay. My sister, who now lives near Blues Point Rd, once pointed the church out to me as she hurled their Toyota Hi-lux round the narrow streets like a moto GP driver, not Formula 1.
Now, I live in the bush. A bush that is so distant to that of Henry’s. With the NBN and refrigerative air-conditioning, life is more connected and comfortable. I am able to discern qualities in local rural characters that are akin to Henry’s but the familial affinity that I experienced when last I read Henry has shifted to me viewing the text as a museum exhibit.
Last night the weather App showed a thin line of storm clouds snaking along the northern border of Victoria. Red and yellow spots indicated intense activity. One tweet from Mildura showed hail scattered over grass, the size of table tennis balls. Now, our green young walnuts are not much bigger. We are located 100 km south of the Murray river. We hoped the storm clouds would pass harmlessly to our north. If hail were to hit our crop, the outcome is certain.
Two years ago, hail hit our neighbours’ apple crops one week prior to harvest. They had huge losses. Even with netting above the crop, ice pooled and cut through. The leaves on our trees were stripped and shredded. The walnuts has been taken two weeks prior to the event.
Last night our season could have stopped. So quick. So complete. After all the preparation and costs.
Instead, we had gentle rain to kiss the trees. One disaster avoided.