Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Do you ever wish you already knew everything you need to know about fruit growing?

When we started fruit growing, we made (approximately) 10 million mistakes. We still make plenty today! There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s how you learn, after all.

But it would have been SO good to have been able to avoid the worst ones. We also would have loved to speed up the process of learning so we got profitable, faster.

Here we are back in September 2003!
Here we are back in September 2003!

When we came home to the farm, we were lucky enough to have Katie’s Dad here to teach us the basics of fruit growing. It would have been SO much slower without him.

He’s taught us heaps about the technical aspects of fruit growing, irrigation, grafting, and growing our own trees – amongst many other things. He was our first mentor and teacher.

But we’ve had to forge our own way with organic growing, which involves a completely different understanding of nearly every aspect of fruit growing.

When we went organic we also had to develop a new way of marketing using farmers’ markets and social media.

Fair to say, there’s been a lot of trial and error over the years. With the benefit of hindsight, if we could have waved a magic wand and got what we needed right at the start, here’s our list of the top 5 things we wish we’d known when we started.

1. How important soil is

Who knew?

We’d kind of heard of soil before we started farming, but we thought it was just something that held the trees upright. The moment we realised that our soil is a living organism (and that pretty much the whole health of our farm depends on soil biology) was a beautiful day.

It’s just a pity it came about 8 years after we’d started farming!

2. How to control pests and diseases organically

Like soil, we’d kinda heard of biodiversity, but thought it had something to do with looking after native bush.

We had no notion of our farm as being part of the landscape. We didn’t understand that biodiversity and working with nature is absolutely key to naturally controlling pests and diseases.

Since that dawned on us, we’ve also learned a whole toolbox of really useful tricks and techniques for protecting our crops from all the things that want to eat them. That would have been pretty useful info in advance!

The enclosure netting over the cherry orchard after a big storm
The enclosure netting over the cherry orchard after a big storm

3. Farming is risky

We learned this the hard way, after many difficult years, crop losses, and painful lessons.

If only we’d known at the beginning how incredibly risky fruit growing can be, we would have built a more resilient business from the start.

Then all those calamities (drought, torn netting, flood, bird plagues, disease outbreaks…) would have been expected and planned for, rather than being really depressing and painful body blows.

4. How to be profitable

Like many other young farmers, in the beginning, we had our heads in the clouds and were full of the warm fuzzy visions of ‘living the dream’.

Knowing what we know now, we would have put more time into planning so we could have gotten things right at the beginning to ensure our profitability. Things like the appropriate scale of the farm, alternative income streams, and how to put a value on our time.

A planning meeting with Clare from Sorted.
A planning meeting with Clare from Sorted.

5. The importance of having a mentor

There are many different types of mentors, including consultants, advisers, and peer mentors. We’ve worked with lots of them since about our 8th year on the farm (and always will).

It’s so incredibly useful to work with someone who can see our business from the outside. They can guide us through essential processes like business planning, and tell us all the things we didn’t even know we needed to know.

Through mentoring we’ve established our vision, values, and goals that have guided our fruit growing, our business, and our personal lives.

It made such a profound difference to our lives that it inspired us to create the Grow Great Fruit program, so we could offer the same thing to other fruit growers.

It’s sort of like having a compass to guide you in the right direction—and without it, it’s very easy to get lost!

Now that we know what we need to know, we know we’ll always need to know more!

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