Pre-fertigation

Keen to flush the poly irrigation lines in the new orchard prior to fertigation I turned the ignition key in the ute: nothing. No sound; no click. Battery flat. Headlights has not been left on overnight but the front left door had been ajar. The cabin light had drained the battery. I would need a jump start. The peugeot was parked next to the ute in the garage. I would need to drive it out and push the ute to a position to let me use the jumper leads. With the Peugeot out I pushed the ute out of the garage. I positioned the Peugeot adjacent to the ute’s battery. I opened the bonnet. You can’t attach jumper leads to the Peugeot’s battery. Another solution was needed.

To get the tractor I have to disengage the winged slasher. Hammer to the metal pins released the arms, while pressure and tugs released the PTO shaft. I manoeuvred the tractor into position, attached the leads: nothing. Not a click, not a whurr. Can you believe that I received a state-of-the art jumper leads for my birthday- yesterday. I attached the leads, mindful of the potential for explosion with their superior conductivity. The ute started first go.

I loaded the ute with tools, spade, irrigation equipment, hat sunscreen and gloves.

The orchard pump had not operated in seven months. It started first time. The pressure gauge showed normal functioning and did so for four minutes. I would not have to prime the line or call Chris, our local irrigation expert.

Ruth was pruning station five so I sent the water to six. At station six I parked the ute and used pliers to open up the taps at the end of the poly pipe at the end of the row. Murky muddy water gushed from the pipe. I walked on opening another ten taps. By the time I had done this , the outflow from the first had cleared. I made my way back and closed the tap for this and each successively. There are twenty one rows in station six. I flushed each, on the eastern and western sides.

Having flushed the central poly line I focused on the sprinklers. Some are blocked. Some have been chewed by hares and others knocked flat by sheep. You need gumboots and pliers to pull the tubing leading to the sprinkler head from the poly. Gumboots block the jet from the hole in the poly hitting you in the face once you have freed the sprinkler tubing from the poly with the pliers. Its best to do this once the weather warms. Today is the last day of winter – 21 degrees centigrade. With the pump on its easiest to see errant sprinklers by viewing their spray defined by sunlight. There are those that in which there is no flow, those lying on their sides, those with leaks in the tubing and those with sprinkler faults. Each requires a different but similar solution.

Today went well. Two stations out of six were prepared for fertigation. Its not unusual to be forced to do three to five tasks before the planned one.

Interdependence

I was told yesterday that Walnuts Australia is developing 300,00 hectares, that’s 300,00, near it’s present orchard at Leeton. That is a massive investment in walnuts in Oz. I think they have made the correct decision. There is a huge future for walnuts in Australia. Like almonds. Just look at the present drought in California; and they are the northern hemisphere.

But; how should a small producer like ourselves respond to what some might perceive as a threat. Well, good luck to them. They operate on a very different business model. Others have their own too.

As I was slashing the orchard this afternoon I came to an understanding of our business model. I had to stop slashing as I noticed a ute on the road by the dam. I knew who was driving. My wife had arranged for Peter and Mick to come and prune the cherry trees in our home orchard. These two gentlemen from Italy and Ukraine have over fifty years of knowledge and experience in horticulture and dairy – tomatoes, stone fruit and milk. They are both retired but wander at large, getting involved in production and marketing. They are garrulous, joking buddies happy to share an anecdote and always on the lookout to provide advice or spot a bargain. Wine and salami have been their staple interest, but walnuts have crept into the agenda.

We now bring something to this table. With walnuts appearing on our trees in increasing volume we now have a voice at this locally based market.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to grow, process and market walnuts.

ATV

Puddling about side-saddle mongst the rows of walnut trees is not the stereotypical image of the all terrain vehicle. Stepping off to straighten a sprinkler, replace a blocked water jet or pick up a dead branch – the ease, has made the ATV our best ever purchase.

It tows a bouncy trailer to carry tools, feed for sheep, spray tanks, irrigation needs, chemicals, gloves, hoses, water containers and shed clothing.

Simple to garage in the shed, under a tree, on the road, next to the water tank or on the front porch.

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Trailer

After years of borrowing we bought a trailer this year. You have to request new tyres, a rail for ties and stronger guards. Worn tyres are standard for new trailers.

We use the trailer to take bins of nuts for cracking. If you secure the load with truckies’ blue fluoro ties, coppers don’t bother you.

The trailer rides so smoothly behind that you forget its there, that is, until you take a serious corner.

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Tractor

Traditionally, farmers do not lend their tractors. Not now especially, with air-conditioning, music and soundproofing. Spraying copper no longer turns you to a smurf; but still, no one wears the seat-belt.

You need a tractor to pull the slasher, sprayer, harvester and fruit-bins trailers; move bales of hay and rescue bogged vehicles.

Tractors hold their value. Trade-ins are huge and manufacturers support low interest loans. These factors diminish any temptation to bow to the economic logic of  leasing or renting.

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Hay forks

Forks move the hay or lucerne to feed the sheep through summer or bind them when winter’s lush pastures overload the gut.

When we had ewes and lambs we struggled to feed them through the dry months of summer. Feeding sheep becomes expensive and taxing.

Now we keep others’ sheep. Its win -win. Their flock thrives and our orchard is mown and fertilised.

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