Once upon a time in a very exotic place, there was an evil djinn that lived on a mountain overlooking a village. Occasionally, the creature roamed around, knocking on the roofs of houses with children. If it knocked, the parents had to choose one child to set outside for the djinn to eat, or he would eat all of them. Although it didn’t happen very often, every parent in the village lived in fear of that knock.
Cyclones overshadow the fruit growers of the Northern Queensland like the evil djinn in the story. Except cyclones are rarely polite enough to knock and let you choose your sacrifice.
But in every story, there’s a hero (or heroine) who scales the mountain and vanquishes the evil mythical being. In the story of durian versus cyclone, that man is Peter Salleras. Using innovation, smarts, and the guts to try something different, he’s found a pretty cool new technique to keep fruit trees alive during the worst cyclones.
Okay, so comparing child-chewing genies and natural disasters isn’t quite a fair comparison. But in many ways trees are farmer’s leafy children. Tree crops take years of physical, monetary, and emotional investment. They need to be fertilized, watered, pruned, and coddled for five to ten years before they even start giving fruit, and it may be years beyond that before the trees begin earning their keep.
Some tree types may be hard to get a hold of in the first place, and once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.
|Dead durian tree leftover from Cyclone Yasi|
That huge amount of investment is the main reason why most farmers in Asia grow rice, cassava, or other crops that take only a few months to mature into money. They choose low investment crops even though growing something like durian would ultimately generate a lot more money and be a lot less work.
No one knows when the next storm will strike, but the possibility is always there, looming in Queensland growers’ minds like the evil djinn on the mountain. What can anyone do in the face of winds traveling hundreds of
kilometers an hour? Might as well give up and start buying frozen durian at the nearest Asian grocery store.
Luckily, we humans are pretty smart. We don’t let much get the best of us, even Class 5 killer storms. That’s why Peter Salleras has
In 2006, he lost 95% of his trees to Cyclone Larry, a class 4 storm. He started replanting right away, but decided to begin implementing a new system.
Then came Cyclone Yasi in 2011, a class 5 cyclone that sent 320 km winds howling from two different directions for more than six hours over the top of the farm. It flattened orchards and tossed durian trees end over end like tumble weeds, leaving grief and lost retirement plans in its wake.
Peter didn’t lose a single one of the 450 trees planted on his new system. In fact, he won a fruit competition 6 months later.
So what did Peter do differently? This:
It’s a durian trellis. It’s called the Open Tatura Trellis. Peter’s convinced it’s given him the power to laugh in the next cyclone’s ugly face, as well as the confidence to grow a heck of a lot of really good durian varieties. If he’s right, the trellis system is a total game-changer for wannabe durian growers in Australia.
The Tatura Trellis is a system of wires and poles that trains a row of fruit trees to grow at 45 degree angles in alternating directions. It’s inventor, who has the fabulous name of Bas Van Den Ende, originally designed the trellis to increase the tree’s exposure to sunlight, increase planting density and yield, and make it easier to harvest the fruit.
It looks odd. The tree limbs are trained horizontally along the wires, creating a Flat Stanley effect of 2-dimensional trees.(If you weren’t a child in the 1990’s, this will explain Flat Stanley)
|Durian trees growing on Open Tatura Trellis|
The system’s imperviousness to ridiculous wind speeds wasn’t discovered until a decade after it was invented, when in 1983 a massive storm hit the research station in Tatura, Victoria, throwing a research caravan over a fence into a neighboring field and de-roofing several buildings.
The peach trees planted on the Tatura Trellis were fine.
Since then, the trellis system has been recommended for a variety of crops in very windy places, but it’s also used by large scale apple, pear, peach, grape, cherry, and other fruit growers just trying to get the most bucks out of their trees.
While I was doing my pre-interview prepping to meet Peter, I discovered this article about the trellis being used by pear growers in my hometown in Oregon. Those pears played a huge role in funding my high school education, but nobody ever told me they were grown using any special methods. It really is a small world.
Yet Peter is the first person in the world to attempt growing tropical fruit trees like durian on the Tatura system, despite its obvious application to tropical areas cursed by hurricanes or cyclones. As far as we know, no one else in Queensland is attempting the trellising on any large scale, and the few really fanatical durian growers we spoke to said they weren’t interested.
Because the investment is huge. The maintenance is for real. But given the advantages, it just might be worth it. Peter does a better job of explaining why. Here’s the link to a video interview we did with Peter back in January.
Stay tuned for more pictures of Fruit Forest Farm and ways that Peter is reshaping the way people think about fruit in Northern Queensland, Australia.
Resources about the Tatura Trellis: