A sigh of relief is sweeping across the top end of the Capital Region around Young, where hot weather has arrived, firing up the annual cherry harvest.
A cold, rainy spring delayed the harvest. Co-owner of Ballinaclash Orchard and Cellar Door, Cath Mullany and two of her six children, are helping customers taste wine and pick cherries.
“It is a medium to light crop, probably more on the lighter side because we had a wet spring and the bees could not pollinate,” Mrs Mullany said.
“It is also questionable whether we had enough setting hours for the fruit. You need chilling hours to set the fruit in the winter.
“Having said that, we missed the hail, and the rain has been good for us. We are happy with our medium, light crop because we have good size and the quality is beautiful. We started picking yesterday for the shop, and the early fruit is ok, it is actually very good.”
For decades the Australian cherry industry has tried to crack export markets in China. Second generation growers Peter and Cathy Mullany have taken a different route to world markets – they have opened the gate at Ballinaclash, on the Olympic Highway between Wombat and Young, allowing tourists to fill their bellies and car boots with cherries, instead of flying fruit out in the belly of an aircraft.
People from Sydney and Canberra and from overseas arrive and are invited to pick early varieties supremes, early sweets and empress off the trees.
“We should have fruit right up to Christmas because it is a late season, unless we get picked out in the meantime,’’ Mrs Mullany said. “Our other fruit comes into an overlap, so we do pick- your-own apricots as well and sell our peaches and nectarines and plums through the shop, and they all start to come in, in early December. So we end up with an abundance of fruit in the shop, which is beautiful.”
Hard hit in recent years with poor seasons, orchardists have left or replaced trees with grape vines, capitalising on the Hilltops Region’s excellent reputation. The Mullanys have added grapes to their stone fruit enterprise.
“We have just won best cabinet sauvignon in NSW Wine Industry Awards,” Mrs Mullany said.
“It is very exciting because we are a bit of an unknown, you are up against the big guys, so that was good. Hilltops Region is producing fantastic reds, the whites are Ok but the reds are outstanding, I think.”
Further along the highway backpackers tents fill a roadside rest area, where Love Wolf from Colorado has arrived from near Byron Bay where he had picked blueberries. At Young he has teamed up with Melinda Blum from Germany and Serena Serra, from Italy, who are making jewellery while waiting for the harvest to begin.
Ms Blum is happy if she makes $100 a day. “Last year I was at a really small farm, so I have a friend and he has recommended another farm on the north of Young.” she said. “It is a little bigger, it has good money, nice camping area, accommodation is free, a toilet, shower, kitchen, everything.”
Young’s annual cherry festival on December 2, 3 and 4 will bring day trippers from Sydney and Canberra for a cracking event according to festival president Leonor Schiller.
“A lot of people like hands on experience, picking. Still most of the crop is picked by itinerant workers,” Ms Schiller said.
Pictured at top, Young cherries. Photo: VisitNSW
Middle, Peter Moore sampling wine with orchardist Cath Mullany. Photo: John Thistleton
Above, Backpackers Love Wolf, Melinda Blum and Serena Serra await the cherry harvest to begin. Photo: John Thistleton