“Work hard and eat well” is the motto that Diana and Geoff Robb live by.
And judging by the abundance of organic fruit trees surrounding them at their Donnybrook orchard, it’s a mantra they embrace wholeheartedly.
Six years of hard work – and plenty of fruit consumed along the way – has seen the couple transform the Spring Valley Orchard into one of Donnybrook’s most thriving properties.
The couple moved to Donnybrook for a change of scenery after selling up their 89 hectare cattle farm in Victoria.
Geoff was working in Malaysia at the time, and WA was easier for him to commute to.
As well as location, average rainfall was another key factor when it came to them deciding where to move.
“We wanted a rural lifestyle property with good rainfall, because one of the problems we had in Victoria was ongoing drought,” Geoff said.
“It was very difficult in the 1980s and 1990s.”
They fell in love with the Spring Valley Orchard, south of Donnybrook on South West Highway.
The remains of a 2000-tree orchard was on the property when they first took over, but the couple decided to downsize, leaving them with a manageable, 900 tree operation across their 16 hectare patch of paradise.
One of their first priorities was to turn the orchard into an organic operation.
“We were very keen to make everything organic, so we stopped using chemicals,” Diana said.
“We’ve got horses to cut the grass and eventually want to run cattle, and we have introduced a lot of chickens and ducks and they’re great to patrol and pick up any fallen fruit, which is the host for so many diseases.
“They are ideal for controlling pests.”
Spring Valley grows Pink Ladies and Sundowners, and the Robbs also have three types of plums growing in their orchard.
They hand-pick the fruit themselves, with the help of overseas “Woffas” (workers on farms).
“We don’t pick everything at once,” Diana said. “We extend our season so when things are ripe, we pick them ripe, and sell them direct to market.
“Because we are organic we don’t have the same amount of fruit as the commercial places, we can’t expect that from our trees.”
Diana said Donnybrook deserved its reputation as the “apple capital”, and said people could tell the difference when buying the fruit at markets.
“We pick our fruit and take it to Perth the next day, and people appreciate that,” she said. “They follow their nose and can tell it isn’t waxed.”
Spring Valley has an average yield of about 30 tonnes, with most of the fruit going straight to markets in Perth.
The Robbs are currently planting a “fruit salad” orchard and also have a thriving herb and vegetable garden.
With the apple season still a couple of months away, the couple are currently carrying out maintenance on their house and the rest of the property.
Diana said there was never a dull moment at the orchard, particularly during harvest when workers and tourists alike came to witness – and taste – the fruits of their labour.
“We get so many letters from the kids who have come to work here, telling us how much they enjoyed the experience,” Diana said.
Visitors are invited to visit the orchard, and are able to wander around the property and pick their own fruit.
The Robbs have had visitors from throughout the world, with particular interest from Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
The couple said it was important for both locals and international visitors alike to experience fruit picking, to see where their food comes from.
“From a philosophical point of view, we have a lot of land and we need to share it with the rest of the population,” Diana said.
“A lot of people who come and pick the apples are experiencing it for the first time, and they are so fascinated,” Geoff said.
“When people come in to pick we take them around and explain the process, and show them the property.
“There is something magical about an apple tree laden with apples.”
[from Farm Weekly]