Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A bumper crop of wax paper bags

I tend to only grow things that are edible or useful, and never just because they are sightly. Nothing probably better illustrates all of these points than my wax-paper bag trees, and this season I'm getting a bumper crop.

Okay, you've got me. These aren't actually wax-paper bag trees - they're really just apple trees in disguise, although I'm sure I had you fooled for at least a moment. Mind you, if I could grow wax paper bags on trees, I'd be ripping up the lawn to plant a small orchard.

These days the golden rule in my garden is: if you don't bag it, you don't eat it. In principal I'm completely fine with sharing my table with mother nature, but I had no option but to stop inviting her to the party - because it turns out, she's a bit of a glutton. Her fruit fly tend to arrive early, laying a bit of extra protein in the first bite of every apple. Bats also don't mind a go at the platter, but I'm not keen on inviting a colony of them around because they never go home, and they shit paint stripper. Possums tend to take a bite out of everything and put it back on the plate, breaking carefully manicured branches as they go. And finally, if anything is left - there's the sulfur crested cockatoo. When the first four of the seven seals are broken, marking the coming of the apocalypse - I'm certain Conquest, War, Famine and Death will actually come riding on the back of four sulfur crested cockatoos.

The wax paper bag has solved all these problems for me. They're a little time consuming to apply, and you'll be paying a silver platypus for each piece of fruit you want to reserve (a bag is only good for one season) - but you only have to do it once, they're non toxic, and they are really hard for any of the mentioned pests to circumvent - because they completely exclude flying insects, and make fruit invisible to everything else. And since you're already right there, its a perfect time to thin out your crop too. I also remove anything not bagged to help break the cycle of the fruit fly.

At times you'll find you need to bag the end of a whole branch, depending on how and where the fruit is attached to the tree (tying off the bag on individual stalks is fruitless - the first puff of wind will break fruit from the tree) - but the white paper lets some light through, and it won't kill leaves you've had to cover. The only other disadvantage is that you can't readily tell if the fruit is ready unless you take off the bag, but you might also find that results in less human "pests".

I've wasted plenty of time trying to figure out whether you can compost the bags at the end of the season, too. The loud, speculative and often emotionally charged argument of paraffin wax vs. bees wax completely dominates the web, making it almost impossible to bring up any search that results in evidence-based, peer reviewed research on anything wax related. It's also hard to find out what kind of wax is used on the bags, but you can bet your arse its probably paraffin. All that said, I did find one paper on the breakdown of wax paper that seemed to suggest that microbes responsible for wax decomposition are present on all six continents you'd contemplate doing such a thing, and it's possible no toxins are left from the breakdown. To be completely clear, I have absolutely no chemistry expertise to say if this is correct or not - I'm just a guy with compost heap and an internet connection. But if you want to try it, I'd think ripping them up small & adding it to a hot compost would be the way to go.