Have you ever wanted to grow rare tropical fruit but think the Sydney climate is too cold? Think again. Tradewinds South Coast will show you how to push the limits on what can be grown in NSW.
Tradewinds South Coast recently caught up with Joel from Urban Fruit Farmer to discuss his unconventional approach to urban garden design and food production. Joel is a blogger from South East Sydney who has transformed his quarter acre block into an edible food jungle teeming with over 60 rare and exotic varieties from around the world.
What have you done to your quarter acre suburban house block?
After planting several fruit trees in the back yard and using up most of the space that got good amounts of sun we then went ahead and removed all the lawn from the front yard to create some more space. We then dug in a truck load of mushroom compost to add some organic matter to the sandy soil before coming up with a design for paths and planting that would maximise the area available.
The south side of the house is where we have planted only deciduous fruit trees like apples, grapes, nectarines and apricots as they go dormant in winter and do not require sun during this time.
The location with the most sun all year round is also getting a lot of wind as we live on top of a hill. To make the most of this space a large windbreak was constructed to the north and west using clear polycarbonate roofing panels. The southern aspect is shielded by the garage and the whole area in front of the garden is paved which retains heat. All these things work together to create a warm microclimate in this part of the yard. We call this area our tropical zone and we have planted fruit trees that would otherwise not survive the cold weather here.
The entire property is now on drip irrigation as watering so many plants does take a long time.
How many edible trees have you planted?
At last count we have over fifty types of fruit growing, individual plants would be over sixty.
How do the neighbours feel?
The front yard is into its fifth year now and is starting to look like a bit of a jungle, I try to keep it as neat as possible but we have not used traditional spacing for the fruit trees so there is a lot packed in there. I have not had any negative comments from either side and there have been times when my neighbours have been given bags of fruit when we have had an oversupply so I’m sure they are happy.
What made you want to grow your own fruit? And do you have a favourite? How about you tell me about your top 3 favourite fruit trees.
It started with an Avocado tree as they are not cheap fruit to buy in the shops. After that I was thinking about the time it would take to establish and provide us with food and then I thought I should really plant a few more fruits that I like while I’m here to avoid more waiting later.
I soon realised it is best to do some research before rushing out to buy fruit trees, there are things like cross pollination and suitable climates to consider. This then lead to learning about all these other exotic fruits you will never see in a supermarket but can be grown at home and it kind of just snowballed from there.
Picking a top 3 is very difficult, so I will pick a top 5 for taste and a top 3 for how easy they are to grow.
My top 3 for taste in no particular order would be the Cherimoya, Angel Peach, Feijoa, Rollinia Deliciousa and red flesh Dragonfruit.
For ease of growing the Tamarillo, Raspberries and Feijoa are winners.
Name one tree from anywhere in the world you wish you could grow down here on the South Coast if it would survive?
The purple mangosteen, nothing comes close to this amazing fruit.
How many years have you been working on this project and where do you see it going in the next 12 months? 12 years?
The first fruit tree was planted just over 5 years ago not long after buying the house. These days most of the trees are established and look after themselves, the drip irrigation has been very helpful with this. Most of my time is now spent with pruning to keep the trees as compact as possible and moving nets around the yard to protect whichever trees have fruit on them from possums and birds, mostly birds.
Many of the fruit trees are still not yet producing fruit due to their age so it is always exciting to taste new fruits we have only ever read about. Sometimes we don’t like the taste and we will then replace that tree with something else as we are basically out of space to plant new trees.
Can you name a few of the challenges you have faced and overcome on this journey? Do you struggle with pests, wild weather, lack of water, friendly disagreements in garden design?
The first mistake was to buy fruit trees that are not suitable to the climate in our area. The next mistake is pollination. Some trees require multiple varieties for pollination and sometimes you have to do the pollination yourself with a small paintbrush. All these things can be overcome with a little research before you go out and buy a fruit tree.
I have mentioned the drip irrigation already but I will mention it again, this has really cut down on the time I need to spend in the garden. With a young family and plenty of other hobbies I don’t always have the time to water over 50 fruit trees. This is also great if you want to go on holidays during the summer when some of the plants really won’t survive without constant water.
With the exception of a few trees I use either bird nets or organza bags to protect any fruit tree with fruit on it. The nets are removed as soon as I pick the last fruit. This is essential for keeping the birds off the fruit, I am happy to share but they will peck at every fruit on the tree without completely eating any of it and ruin your entire crop if you let them.
What are three things you would say to someone who doesn’t own their own home but wants to follow their dream to grow their own produce in an urban environment?
You would be amazed what you can grow in a container although they can be a little more challenging to maintain. Due to some of our own space limitations we grow all our blueberries, guavas, figs and dragonfruits in containers.
The main thing is to get good drainage in a container, don’t just fill it with potting mix as this does not tend to drain very well at all. I would recommend only using about 50% potting mix with the rest being made up of about 30% vermiculite or pearlite and 10% washed sand for drainage. It would be great if you could then make up the remaining 10% with worm castings or some home made compost to add life to the soil.
Check Out Joel’s page on Facebook: