The trials and tribulations of netting

I have talked about our orchard before, way back in spring when everything (or most things) was in flower and fruit was still at least one bee love-in and many months away. 

Well most of those months have now passed and the fruit is ripening up nicely. And where there is ripe fruit, there are birds determined to eat the lot of it. We have beautiful birds in our part of the world - rainbow lorikeets, rosellas, cockatoos - and we are fortunate to share our backyard with them. However at this time of year they are public enemy number one. I’m not sure what the correct collective noun is for cockatoos… I’ve seen a “cacophony” proposed elsewhere on the internet, and Christine McCabe suggested a “destruction”, which I would definitely second. Regardless, when the cockatoos sense that you have ripe fruit in your yard, they will descend and plunder and your pup and little people will cower under the couch until they have had their fill because it is crazy! 

People go to extraordinary lengths to keep the birds away from their orchards. There are the peaceful protesters who dangle old CDs or other shiny objects from branches - I honestly think that the birds just see these as a bunch of mirror balls to party up their gorging. There are the violent objectors who use air guns (or just gun-guns) - I’m guessing these guys feel tough and manly, but you’d have to be standing in your orchard all day long for this to be truly effective. Then there are the rest of us who try to keep the birds off the fruit with nets, which is a mammoth seasonal task and turns your orchard into a complete mess for a few months, but is mostly fairly effective.

I say “mostly” and temper it with a “fairly” because it is by no means foolproof. We are using two methods of netting this season: full tree nets and netting bags designed for small crops of fruit on a single branch. The full tree nets are (a) expensive, (b) quite easily torn and (c) bloody difficult to get into place and secured. But they are also really quite effective if you take the time to put them up well in the first place and we have had good experiences with them in previous years. The netting bags are cheap and easy to put into place, and I thought I’d give them a try this year for some of our trees that only have a few pieces of fruit on them - our apples and apricots. They are still on the apples and I maintain hope that they will work, but they were a total fail for the apricots :(

Our entire crop was plundered early one morning through the bags. The bags were torn apart, and the fruit was eaten. Even more annoyingly, some branches were broken off our young trees. Suffice to say that this photo was taken before that morning. 

I've seen some examples of really well maintained orchards - the trees are kept pruned to a manageable height and the polypipe supports are permanently in place and ready to net each year. Although this is the ideal, our orchard is also our backyard so keeping star pickets and polypipe up year round is not going to work for us. But keeping our fruit trees pruned and shaped ready for netting, and keeping our netting supplies easily accessible and in good condition would help... #goals.

I did manage to get in a few of the early apricots and, along with some delicious ones grown at an orchard a few hours south of us, they were turned into jam using my go-to recipe and spread on every bit of toast I’ve eaten since… and many a teaspoon has been eaten straight from the jar.  

The other day I also used some to make the Jam Drops that were made on River Cottage Australia (also in the River Cottage Australia cookbook). My goodness they were amazing! The biscuits aren’t too sweet, so they don’t take away from the jam itself, and they are absolutely perfect with an afternoon cup of tea. Given how simple the recipe is, and how moreish the biccies are, I thought I’d share it here with you in case you have twenty odd jars of jam on the shelf to use up too! 

Original recipe can also be found here

Apricot Jam Drops

125g butter (I use a lightly salted one), at room temperature // 110g caster sugar  //  1 egg  //  185g self-raising flour*  //  60g desiccated coconut  //  Apricot jam, or any other jam you need to use up

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Cream the butter and sugar, and then add the egg and mix well. Add the flour and coconut to combine. Refrigerate the dough for around 20 minutes. Roll small balls of dough (just a bit smaller than a golf ball worked well). Place on baking tray with a bit of room for spreading, and then flatten each ball slightly with the back of a spoon. Using your pinkie finger, make little indentations on the top of each biscuit, and spoon in a little bit of jam. Bake them for 15 minutes, and then spoon a little bit more jam onto each biccie as soon as you pull them out of the oven. I had to do mine in several batches as I have a tiny oven - just remember to keep the dough and jam in the fridge between batches.

* I have coeliacs disease, so I replaced with GF self-raising flour with great results.