With 50 years of farming experience under their belt, Manjimup growers George and Kathy Grozotis take the cake as the largest cherry producers in Western Australia. Their farm, Cherry Lane Fields, is located right on the western edge of the Manjimup town site, where they tend to over 12,000 cherry trees of about 20 different varieties.
George has trialled many cherry varieties over the years, perfecting his range to stagger ripening. Early ripening varieties begin in early December, through to late harvesting varieties finishing in mid January. Merchant cherries are their first variety to ripen, with deep red fruit in an attractive heart shape. Simone cherries, mahogany in colour, are firm and round with an intensely sweet flavour, and ripen towards the end of December. Sweetheart cherries are a late ripening variety, which mature in January. These large, crunchy cherries are heart shaped and bright red, with great firmness and a small pit.
Troublesome varieties of cherries are those with soft skin or those that are prone to splitting. Some trees are not suitable to the rainfall pattern of the Southern Forests, and over time George and Kathy have perfected their portfolio of varieties to avoid any such issues. It’s been a lot of trial and error, but through sheer determination the couple have found the sweet spot. Airflow is important, so George avoids netting the orchard. Encouraging moving air to flow through helps to maintain an even temperature, which promotes growth. Cherries enjoy a chilly winter and cold winds, so the low-lying area of west Manjimup has proven to be ideal.
Bees are integral to the Grozotis’ orchard, so George installed a series of hives that allow the bees to live in luxury – they have their own roofed shed! Pollination of the cherry flower is key, so the bees are extremely busy in October when the orchard bursts into thick white blossom.
Over summer the Grozotis family manage a team of 50 staff comprising of local and seasonal workers who pick from the trees and pack the produce onsite in their state of the art packing facility. Cherries are picked every day through summer, at peak ripeness, to ensure the consumer is getting a premium product. The extensive grading process and careful packing procedure is all done by hand, with every cherry being individually checked. Through summer the farm is operating 6 days per week, seeing an average annual yield of 38 tonnes of fruit!
Last year students from a Perth high school travelled to Manjimup to enjoy a summer of orchard work at Cherry Lane Fields. The students became quite competitive with each other, consistently improving their picking rate. Many were able to pick over 200kg per day, and due to the piece rate offer they could earn around $35/hour – that sure beats the standard MacDonald’s hourly rate! Students then enjoyed the attractions of the Southern Forests in summer with visits to Big Brook Dam for kayaking, or bushwalks on the Bibbulumn track.
George attributes the success of the farm to the rich, well-drained soils and the temperate Southern Forests climate. The cold winters and mild summers create perfect conditions for cherries to develop their sweet flavour and great colour. Avocados are another crop the Grozotis family have invested in, with their first commercial sized crop to be harvest next year.. In the past, they have grown apples, but the orchard suffered from an infestation of apple scab, which required them to pull out 20 acres of trees. Whilst this was not ideal, it encouraged the Grozotis family to consider their options and pivot their direction, resulting in the extensive cherry plantation.
The relaxed lifestyle is the cherry on top for George and Kathy, who love living in the Southern Forests. The clean country air, flexible schedules (for most of the year) along with the physicality of the farm keep them in good health both mentally and physically. George loves the connection to the land and the idea that he’s growing produce that provides nutrition for the population. In his spare time, George enjoys rebuilding classic Massey Ferguson tractors, a hobby that requires a lot of tinkering and problem solving.
Produce from Cherry Lane Fields can be found in December and January, in Woolworths supermarkets across the state and specialty greengrocers in Perth – look for their distinctive logo and the Genuinely Southern Forests brand mark. If you’re in the Southern Forests, head to the farm gate of Cherry Lane Fields to pick up a box directly.
Photographs by Craig Kinder Photography for Genuinely Southern Forests.