Bumper peach and nectarine crop expected after successful bee pollination

On Hogarth Range, bees are buzzing and Southview Orchard’s stone fruit trees are bursting with pink blossoms.

About 90 per cent of the stone fruit blossoms have been pollinated, and the bees are working their way through the last block of nectarine trees.

The blossoms arrived three weeks early on John and Frieda de Kleuver’s farm, west of Casino in northern New South Wales.

“We’re looking at a consistent blossom this year. We’ve had inconsistent years in the past, but this year it’s absolutely magic,” Mr de Kleuver said.

“I think it’s the wet weather we had earlier in the year that actually helped us now, which is good.”

John and Frieda de Kleuver have been busy pruning and thinning their nectarine and peach trees.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

The couple was optimistic the conditions would result in a bumper crop this October.

“We always have a positive mind and we hope we have a bumper crop. At this stage, everything is great,” Ms de Kleuver said.

The European honey bees behind the pollination belonged to neighbours but flew to the orchard daily to collect pollen.

“The bees are out in full, and it’s beautiful. They’re buzzing all over the place. There are thousands upon thousands of them,” Mr de Kleuver said.

“They come in each day at 10 o’clock in the morning once it warms up, and they stay till about four in the afternoon and then they go home.”

Three baby nectarines and pink blossoms on a tree in an orchard.
Baby nectarines and blossoms at Southview Orchard on Hogarth Range. (ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Busy bees and busy farmers

It is not only the bees that are active.

The season is the busiest time of the year for the de Kleuvers, which starts with winter pruning in July.

After eight to 10 weeks of pruning, it is on to fruit thinning in September ahead of the harvest in October.

“Once they’re pollinated and they’re nail size, we come along and thin them to two pieces per limb so they’ll end up being tennis-ball size or above,” Mr de Kleuver said.

“The idea is to keep them to two per limb otherwise the weight would be too heavy, and the limb would snap off.”

A tree limb with two baby peaches growing on it.
Baby peaches on a tree in Southview Orchard at Hogarth Range.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

While the de Kleuvers’ orchard sat high on Hogarth Range, it did not escape the impact of the heavy rain this year that devastated those in the low-lying areas of the Northern Rivers.

“The wet weather was a little bit too heavy earlier in the year, a few of the peaches happened to die on us,” he said.

“Maybe a dozen, up to 20 altogether. That’s not too bad in a total of 1,500. [It’s] actually a little bit less work, so we’re happy.”

Bees key to bumper crop

A close up of a honey bee flying past blossoms in an orchard.
European honey bees are important for stone fruit orchards. (ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Frieda de Kleuver said the orchard was reliant on bees for pollination, which included native bees that had been scarce since the 2019 bushfires.

“We do have some plants to attract bees and in the future want to plant more and make the orchard less monoculture,” she said.

John de Kleuver said the arrival of the bee pest varroa mite in the state was concerning.

“We’re happy with the amount of bees that are up here. We just hope that there are no diseases coming up this way,” he said.

“It’s on our list of things to keep an eye on.”

A nectarine orchard under netting filled with pink flower blossoms.
Southview Orchard at Hogarth Range, west of Casino, has both nectarine and peach trees.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Pick-your-own peaches

The orchard’s gates will open in October for a pick-your-own peach festival and picnic for the first time in two years due to COVID-19.

In past years, up to 250 revellers attended. But this year the couple hoped for up to four times that number. A boost that should come after the boon of securing sponsorship from the local council.

“If we end up with 400 to 500, that’ll be fantastic,” Mr de Kleuver said.

“If they all take a couple of kilos, that’s 2 tonnes on the day. I’m happy with that.”

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