When most people think of a tree change, it is to move from the city and out to the country.
When the Dinham family considered a change it was to sell up their broadacre enterprise south of Forbes to buy Norland Fig Orchard situated 17 kilometres outside of Orange.
David and Alison Dinham began their new adventure last year with no experience in growing figs, but were given a helping hand from the previous owner.
They bought the orchard from Warren Bradley, a fourth generation fig grower.
The orchard had been in the Bradley family since 1876 and understandably, he proved very useful to the Dinhams early on.
“For three months after we purchased the orchard, the previous owner Mr Warren Bradley stayed on to help show us the ropes,” David said.
“We wanted to downsize and get into something different.
“It meant Alison and I were forced to live in a caravan for those months, but the information he gave us was invaluable so it was definitely worth it.
“We did not really know much about the processes involved, but we have a grip on it now.”
There are more than 2200 varieties of figs and the Dinham’s grow four of them in their orchard.
On approximately 500 fig trees, they grow Brown Turkey, Black Geona, White Geona and a variety which has pink flesh which they are yet to identify.
Unlike most produce, figs have two harvests approximately two months apart.
The first harvest usually begins around mid-December and runs for three to four weeks.
The second harvest begins mid to late February and can run until the end of April.
“Harvests can be very tricky,” David said.
“We have a very small window of when the fruit is ideal for picking.
“You can’t just go and strip an entire tree as figs do not ripen off the tree.
“We have to keep going back to every tree to pick them just as they ripen.
“Sometimes the picking window is only a day or two as they become too ripe very quickly.
“During peak periods, I am driving the truck down to the markets in Sydney four times a week.
“The first couple of weeks you only get bits here and there and it steadily gets heavier and heavier.
“Like most harvests, it can get pretty hectic,” he said.
The fig harvest is heavily dependant upon the weather with lots of heat needed for ripening, while wet weather grinds it to a halt.
“When the fruit has grown to size, it requires a good 10 to 14 days of hot weather to ripen fully,” David said.
“It is this sunny weather which creates the sweetness in the fruit.
“If a fig is picked before it has fully ripened, it will taste a bit tart so it is important to get it right.
“Any rain when the figs are ripe can split the fruit and then they are only good for the neighbours pigs.
“We still have to pick them or the vinegar fly can get in.
“If they get in to the split fruit, it is only a matter of time before they get into the whole fruit as well.”
Planning for the future, the Dinhams fixed up a greenhouse on the property to propagate cuttings from some of the fig trees in the hopes of expanding on their current enterprise.
“There is probably room for around 600 trees,” David said.
“We took the cuttings and put them in the greenhouse and set up a watering system.
“They are given 10 minutes of water at least once a day, sometimes twice in the hottest part of summer.
“Some of the cuttings didn’t take, but most have come along very nicely.
“Trees have been pulled out over the last few years and those we propagated in the greenhouse will replace them and hopefully add a few more to the orchard.
To value add to the fig orchard, Alison is investigating ways to use their fruit.
She already makes fig jam, fig and ginger jam, and a fig chutney, but she is also looking into other recipes to expand her range of products.
“I have done the jams as a way of using our seconds and someone who purchased those asked if I did a chutney,” Alison said.
“At the time I didn’t, but I did some research and I am very pleased with the result.
“After the success of the jams and chutney, I am looking at other ways to use the fruit.”