Colin and Suzanne Pickering, Blackwood Orchard
Harcourt, Mount Alexander Shire
Tell us about yourself and what you grow?
Colin was born in Harcourt and raised on a mixed farm where his parents ran a dairy, an apple orchard, and pigs. The farm was just down the road from where he and his wife Susie later established their orchard. When Colin was 11 years old the family packed up their life in Harcourt and purchased a larger dairy farm in the town of Cohuna, a move that would have a huge impact on his future.
Susie was born in Cohuna and lived in the town but spent most of her time on her Grandparents dairy farm nearby. She always preferred being outdoors and in the country. Colin and Susie met in Cohuna and considered following the lifestyle they both knew and becoming dairy farmers themselves when a property for sale in Harcourt struck Susie’e interest. It was a 27-acre property that had been originally used as a training site for racehorses. Susie showed Colin and they took a leap with their young family of two small children. Twenty-eight years later they are still here. Susie and Colin have put a lot of love into this property and everything that is here they have grown including a very well-established garden around the house. They initially started growing apples as this is what was surrounding them and ‘when in Rome’ they felt this was the best direction to take. They were known for their fabulous Pink Ladies that they sold at local farmers markets. Over time they found that the apple orchard required more chemical inputs than they wanted to use and, on a whim, decided to plant 200 cherry trees on the property. They found that the cherries sold better than apples and did not require the same chemical inputs to manage disease and pests. They planted another block of 1000 cherry trees and slowly moved away from apples. Their cherries are all under netting which is extremely helpful in managing crop losses to birds and it does offer some wind protection.
Susie and Colin have grown their farm, purchasing additional land and another part of their business now includes strawberries. They also farm some beef cattle and grow blueberries, and lemons in smaller quantities.
They run their property as ‘spray free’, don’t use plastics and only package in paper trays and bags. They also try to make their cherries affordable and accessible to all. They recognize that cherries in recent years have been seen as a luxury item due to soaring prices.
When is your produce in season?
Strawberries are first in line to be available. Colin and Susie grow three varieties. They usually kick off at the start of November but this year the season is looking to be early, more like mid-October. Strawberry plants continue to produce right up until May and June if the weather stays warm enough.
There are 13 varieties of cherries grown here. Early Burlat and Merchant cherries are the first to ripen in early November followed by Bing, Van, Simone and Sweetheart. Depending on the season these vatieties may or not be available before Christmas. Other varieties tend to ripen during January.
Where in our region do you sell your produce?
Strawberries are sold at local Farmers Markets, mostly Castlemaine weekly market and extending out to Talbot and Lancefield Farmers Markets if there are enough. People tend not to come to the farm just for strawberries but once the cherries arrive on the scene most produce can be moved via farm gate sales.
If you would like to purchase Susie and Colin’s spray free cherries and strawberries, the best thing to do is to get onto their Facebook page to see when the Farm Gate is open or what local market they are attending. It is also possible to place an order via email: [email protected]