En­joy the sweet sen­sa­tion of choos­ing your own fruit

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - David.fitzsi­mons@news.com.au Twit­ter: @FitzAtLarge

They’re big­ger, juicier, tastier, cheaper and a lot more fun to ob­tain than stand­ing in a su­per­mar­ket queue. To­day is the start of Syd­ney’s sea­son to pick your own cit­rus fruit. And the place to go is also one of our most scenic spots — be­side the Hawkes­bury River, 15 min­utes from Wise­mans Ferry.

Sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion grower Mark Watkins — the fam­ily her­itage on the farm dates back to 1867— runs one of the three pick-your-own prop­er­ties in the Laughton­dale/Lower Hawkes­bury area, and his trees are laden with fruit that’s ready to pick.

Th­ese Syd­ney fruit grow­ers turned to the pick-your-own mar­ket af­ter be­ing over­run by in­ter­state com­pe­ti­tion and un­able to meet su­per­mar­ket de­mands for high-vol­ume, blem­ish-free, uni­form-sized fruit for low re­turns.

Faced with hav­ing to close down, they opened their or­chards to the public in the past six to 12 years in­stead — and the crowds are com­ing.

It’s been so popular that they are adding more trees and new fa­cil­i­ties; Watkins is build­ing a pic­nic shel­ter, toi­lets and a food and drink stand.

His 2100 man­darin trees take up 10ha of his 34ha prop­erty, which is in a hid­den val­ley sur­rounded on all sides by moun­tains and 1km down a dirt track from the main road.

Here, you can roam the rows of trees, in­hale healthy air by the lung­ful, and choose your fruit to the sound of bell­birds rather than su­per­mar­ket an­nounce­ments.

You are given a bucket to fill, and when you re­turn to put it into bags, the 5-7kg you have gath­ered will cost you just $10.

“We’d have had to give it up if it wasn’t for pick-yourown,” says Watkins.

“We started about six years ago. The first year there were only about five or six cars but last year they filled up the car park.

“The kids love it. When they are done, the par­ents are drag­ging the kids home. The kids don’t want to go home.”

To as­sist pick­ers, Watkins prunes his trees so most fruit is at an easy pick­ing height.

Watkins says you should pick the fruit on the out­side of the tree and cut the stalk with the snips he pro­vides; if you pull the fruit, it tears the skin. “We’ve got a full crop this year so we will go through to Septem­ber,” he says.

“This year is the first year we’ve had a full crop since we’ve had peo­ple com­ing.” There are two types of man­darins on his prop­erty: im­pe­ri­als, which are ripe now, and hick­sons, which are slightly larger, mostly seed­less and should be ready by the sec­ond week of Au­gust.

W Watkins says he uses an or­ganic spray and no pes­ti­cides, and while some may have the odd mark they are fine to eat.

“We just want them to taste re­ally, re­ally good. We get a few blem­ishes but they are safe for you.”

The man­darins are so popular that Watkins has com­pe­ti­tion from the lo­cal wildlife.

“We’ve got the bugs, the birds and the wal­la­bies — ev­ery­thing has a feed.

“You see the wal­la­bies — they get the man­darins, they peel it with their front paws and eat it, just like a kid.”

And he gets the oc­ca­sional over-ea­ger hu­man, too, in a process he calls “thieve your own”.

“Some turn up in their Audis and put the man­darins down their pants,” he says.

“They have the car but don’t want to pay for four man­darins.”

The farm has also at­tracted 21-year-old French back­pack­ers Manon Libaros and Ro­main Fabre, who are work­ing there as part of a two-year trip.

“We have a car and we are go­ing around Australia,” Libaros says. The duo are from Bordeaux, where they are used to grapevines but not man­darins.

“Not the man­darins — they are in Spain,” she says.

Up the road, Watkins’ par­ents run a pick-your-own man­darin or­chard on the river­side, while at Ford’s Farm Nicky Alexander has pick­y­our-own man­darins, or­anges, lemons, cumquats and limes. She also has her own home­made honey, jam and chut­ney for sale.

Alexander says the June long week­end (next week­end) is the busiest time, and vis­i­tors will have plenty to do as there are two fairs on in Wise­mans Ferry that week­end.

If you want to pick or­anges only, head to Schofields Or­chard at Rich­mond on Sun­days.

Lyn Schofield says they have been on the site for 50 years, with navels pick­ing now and wash­ing­tons by mid-June.

“There used to be cit­rus d down the whole street. Now w we are the only ones left.”

Ma­son Fal­lon (left) and Eli­jah Wilkie, both 10, hav­ing fun at the Watkins Fam­ily Farm Or­chard.

Back­pack­ers Ro­main Fabre and Manon Libarosb (above)bove) and (right) or­chard owner Mark Watkins at Watkins Fam­ily Farm. Pic­tures: Bob Barker.

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