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Fruits with Stones

We are shown around today by Geraldine, G in the alphabet of the A, B C D E F G H I J & J Watt family, who moved to Waitaki from South Auckland, “Yes, a bit of a change” 18 years ago to run an orchard, despite knowing absolutely nothing about it. But that’s just how they are, the ultimate DIY-ers, learn as you go: if you don’t know how, take classes till you do. Diversification is the key to their success, Ellen (who went to cooking school to learn how to be the orchard baker) makes cheesecakes, sorbet (which just won a NZ Artisan Award), fruit crumbles - all now selling in supermarkets as well as the road side stall, using fruit that is damaged or marked, so there’s less waste overall. Old trees are stripped of branches, stacked and used for firewood, the rest of the branches are mulched back into the soil after pruning, it’s very sustainable and certainly keeps everyone busy. The sisters joke that Dad, who was an accountant before the shift, had a mid-life crisis just to provide work for the whole family.

A little Eden, the orchard’s soil is slightly less rocky than surrounding land. Fruit trees take 3-4 years to reach maturity, “but you’re not just sitting back while that’s happening! There’s thinning, pruning, picking... lots of maintenance.” Geraldine was 5 when her family bought the orchard, and back then all the trees looked the same to her, helping out picking the low fruit she soon learned the difference, and now does a lot of the company admin as well as leading the picking teams.

Once a potato farm, the orchard now grows apricots, plums, peaches, cherries, nectarines and exports to Europe, Australia and the Middle East. Waitaki is a pretty nice place to work says Geraldine, the roadside shop goes well especially as locals start heading up to the lakes to go camping, a box of fruit a holiday tradition, just like Vitamin C in your hand.

Long green corridors of poplars shush in the breeze, big sisters to the fruit trees, over 20 hectares, the orchard holds 30,000 trees of many varieties: woody armed plums, Dr Suess-like nectarines with fluffy tops, bridal arches of apricots. Snow-capped Mt Domet smiles in the background over the biscuit tin pretty, belying the hard work that’s gone into it. Conditions are perfect here for stone fruit: cold over winter and hot dry summers, “Apricots don’t like rain so if you hear rain on the roof in summer you go ‘oh no..’” They’ll be picking Rose Zee plums on Christmas Eve, apricots will be ready early January, nectarines and peaches will be ready in February - by April or May there might even be time for a break.

By Lisa Scott

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