What a month is April in the orchards. It is the time of harvest and always the harvest moon shines large upon our orchards. We have been Australian walnut farmers for two decades, but like all farmers through the centuries, there is a joy at harvest time.
It is a time when we can estimate, rather than guesstimate, the size of our harvest. This year our 60 HA orchard at Manjimup, which is the largest walnut farm in Western Australia, will produce the biggest walnut harvest in our history, but there is a long way to go from the nuts being on the trees to the palates of our customers. From bough to bowl if you like.
The walnut harvesting and production line equipment is used once a year and, despite trials, there are breakdowns and exasperations. Also, the weather gods have not been kind. After no rain in late summer – from January through to March – we have had storms when we did not need them.
Nevertheless, there is delight in the trees drooping with their fruit. There is a good deal of fruit on the ground which has not made it to maturity, which is normal, however, what is on the trees is fresh and beautiful in size. The trees start to look tired as their annual journey from flower bloom to walnut drop nears its end. In a few weeks, the trees will be bare and will start their winter hibernation until spring beckons again.
Around the dam the Ibis and other water birds patrol the shoreline of the shrunken water supply. Through the ACO certified 35 HA Western orchard, where our organic walnuts are grown, the sheep crop the grass and clover, and bronze wings, magpies and egrets pick among the windfall on the orchard floor, while the organic trees await their turn to be harvested. In the skies over West Manjimup circles a wedge tail eagle or two which keeps the cockatoos at bay.
In the conventional orchard, the shaker, sweeper and harvester noisily plough up and down the rows picking up tonne after tonne of fresh walnuts. They are then fed into the production line where a series of machines eliminate rock, grass, husks and failed nuts, then into our six dryers, built on the farm, each capable of holding 7 tonnes, while our gas heaters reduce the moisture content to 8 percent.
At Nannup, where our raw walnuts have been certified organic for seven years, the crop is down due to the ravages of the Baudin cockatoo and their partners in crime, the ring neck parrot. Nannup is a preindustrial revolution orchard, save for a modern tractor and shaker.
Our small team manually harvest, sort and dry the raw fresh walnuts individually. While the crop is small, the size of some walnuts are among the largest seen. This small harvest will go to Manjimup to join the Manjimup nuts in the post-harvest process which will be covered next month in ‘May in the Orchards.’