The Accidental Orchardist

The Accidental Orchardist

David Whyte describes himself as an accidental orchardist. It all started four years ago when he and Tiffany were on the hunt for a lifestyle block with the vision of establishing a food forest – a multi-species, multi-layered forest system of mostly perennial plants. Serendipity meant the property found them, and they became the new custodians of a 1/2 hectare citrus orchard.

The orchard had been neglected for 15 years and required a massive pruning task, but now in year five they are down to 25% of the trees still needing heavy pruning. David has also, and importantly, put in a concerted effort to learn about the soil, the needs of the citrus trees and the needs of the humans who eat the fruit. This video from September last year, tells the whole story and helps explain why David and Tiffany’s citrus are so sweet and delicious!

In addition to ensuring all the trace elements are present in the soil, David has learnt a lot about the colouring variations in citrus. Did you ever notice that oranges you buy in a supermarket, are a uniform orange colour? If you’re curious to know why, David explains it in detail in this video and gives yet another reason to buy from organic growers and those who are spray-free. 

In the early days, when they started harvesting, they took the fruit to a Sunday Farmers Market in Clevedon. He said it almost killed them. The orchard wasn’t giving them enough income to live off, and by the time they did a Saturday pick, clean, sort and pack, then got up at the crack of dawn to get to the market, there was no down time before heading back to work on Monday morning. Now they receive an order from Ooooby on a Friday, and Monday is harvest day which is also the day the produce is delivered to the Ooooby hubs in Auckland and Hamilton.

As for the lifestyle goal that got them on the land in the first instance, David explained to me that having an orchard and a family with three children has been a wonderful combination as they’ve regularly done the tasks together, making it quality time and less like work. In addition David has time for his writing and to steadily develop the food forest design that was a key part of the original vision. There are now 200 nitrogen-fixing trees supporting the citrus trees, and the 200 new fruit trees they’ve planted. 

If you are an Auckland or Waikato Ooooby customer, you will very likely have enjoyed some of David and Tiffany’s citrus. Feel free to leave a comment if you have enjoyed it or want to give them some feedback or encouragement. 

For David’s selection of videos about the orchard and why and how it’s different, this YouTube playlist offers a wealth of knowledge.

  • rcarterbrown

    Wow, they certainly go the extra mile!

  • Lois Palmer

    Hi David. What do you clean your citrus with? Just water? Thks

    • david W

      A very good question, we just use water.

      The main reason is to remove any sooty mold so the fruit looks nice. But also gives an opportunity to inspect the fruit to inspect to make sure they are ok. Mainly to pull out any insect chewed ones, as these break the skin so they will not store as well. And as they kids also help us, and have an amount they need to pick, they are not as picky about removing ones that may have soft spots / damage 😉

      • Lois Palmer

        Thanks David. As a fledgling organic citrus grower, I have an ongoing issue with sooty mould on my mandarins. Guess I need to prune the old trees better. Would love to see your operation sometime.

        • david W

          Sooty mold is a by product of sap sucking insects. These insects need protein to grow and reproduce. But sap is low in protein. So they have to drink a lot to get the protein. Hence they excrete honey dew as a waste. The sooty mold then uses this honey dew as to grow.

          So to get ride of sooty mold, figure out what insect is attacking. In our place it is whitefly but there is a handful of others that cause the problem. Once you know your enemy you can then read up on what predates / kills / eats them. And how to manage to maximize them thriving. Typically this is planting flowering things that have small flowers so the beneficial insects have something to eat when they need to, as their lifecycle normally needs pollen and/or nectar at a specific point.

          Pruning does also reduce the sooty mold, as you removing fruit / leaves from the inside of the tree, which is the area hit the worst by sooty mold. This is because not only is it close to the honey dew production, it is still so doesn’t blow honey dew away, and sheltered from rain which naturally clears the leaves.

          At our place getting the micro nutrients sorted, helped with our sooty mold issue, and then once benefitials serendipitously arrived we have much much less than when we started.

          Feel free to call in if you are traveling south out of Auckland. We are in ohinewai and close to SH1, my # is 027 558 4448