Despite the gruelling drought conditions, South West Slopes cherry growers are revelling in a solid harvest with excellent quality fruit according to Young district growers.
“We’ve been picking for the last two weeks and the fruit is beautiful,” says Cath Mullany from Ballinaclash at Young. She and husband Peter run a pick-your-own orchard and farmgate shop, selling cherries and stonefruit throughout the summer season.
“We’ve got a medium crop – it’s not heavy because we’ve been thinning the fruit to achieve better size, but we’re very happy with how the season is turning out so far.”
Partly that’s because the big dry means no damaging downpours which can destroy a year’s worth of fruit in the space of an hour. The Mullanys have a reliable bore and have been judiciously watering their trees since late winter.
“It’s earlier than we have ever watered. We knew that it would be a hot, dry year so we started in August. I’d say the crop is coming in a little earlier than usual too, but only by a week or so,” Cath says.
“We’d usually start picking in the first week of November but the first cherries were ripe late in October. A lot of that depends on the night temperatures as well as daytime highs, but the start was definitely early and sudden. It won’t be a bumper crop for any of the fruit this year but the quality is excellent.”
Cath says that the family and team of workers are already picking apricots and peaches, too. Harvest is in full swing across the Young district, where there are road signs everywhere warning motorists to watch out for wandering fruit pickers camped among the orchards.
Ballinaclash is named for Peter’s father’s hometown in County Waterford, Ireland. His father, Michael, migrated to Australia and established himself in the Young district as a doctor and cherry farmer. Peter’s brother Brian also has a successful Hilltops vineyard, Grove Estate.
The orchard is open seven days, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, until close to Christmas. Ballinaclash offers pick your own cherries and apricots, wine at the cellar door, cherry ice cream and cherry pie classes (although these are heavily booked).
For visitors coming from Canberra, Ballinaclash is 8 km from Wombat on the Young Road or from Young, 3 km from the service station heading towards Wombat.
Meanwhile, closer to Canberra at Kembla Grange, Royalla, the cherries have a way to go and owner and fourth generation orchardist Martin Corby is praying for rain.
“I’m hoping for one of those big spring storms, frankly”, he says.”We’ve got bugger all water left otherwise.”
He’s still hopeful about the pre-Christmas cherry crop but says it’s still some way from maturity. “Ordinarily we’d be picking the Merchant variety by next week, but a lot of the fruit is still fairly green although they’ve got some size on them.”
Corby says that Kembla Grange, 20 minutes south of Tuggeranong on the Royalla Estate, should have cherries by mid-December. The orchard carries 2000 cherry trees consisting of five different varieties: Merchant, Lapin, Stella, Ron and the white Sunburst variety.