Quality home grown
Rocco and Connie Zampogna are on their own when it comes to growing citrus.
The Chittering Valley couple are the only producers of fresh locally-grown orange juice in WA, Rocco says.
Their 65-hectare block includes a 16ha orchard, Golden Grove, with about 12,000 citrus trees.
Golden Grove was originally planted in 1928 and 50 years later the Zampognas sold an electrical contracting business to buy it in a run-down condition.
Rocco said that other fresh orange juice producers made their juice from concentrate brought in, usually from Brazil.
"Local juicing oranges at 10-20c are still considered too expensive for juicing," he said. "Thousands of tonnes of Australian oranges are thrown away each year."
But not at Golden Grove. Rocco delivers fruit juice to high quality cafes and restaurants weekly.
"I don't look for customers, they come to us," he said. "People are prepared to pay a bit extra for quality juice."
The only problem is there is little fruit on the trees in February and March.
"We grow all types of citrus here, including a unique white grapefruit and Seville oranges for marmalade making," Rocco said. "We also grow non-allergenic oranges.
"People in monsoon regions find ordinary oranges too high in citric acid so we grow 'claytons' oranges (Citrus nobilis var. microcarpa) known as jeruk Pontianak in Indonesia and sweet lime or masabe in India.
"We keep replanting new varieties. The oldest tree is nine years old and the youngest three years. They have still not reached peak production.
"Most of our odd varieties are sold through our website. We get family groups who come to pay to pick their own but not as many as five years ago."
A shop on the property is open all year except for a few public holidays.
Ninety per cent of their output is sold direct to consumers via the shop. Fruit is graded at the back of the shop and customers can see the whole process.
"The shop sells our best quality fruit," Rocco said. "We give visitors a taste, it is important to keep the public coming back."
They open a small café during the winter months and host organisations, including a down-hill mountain bike club, an amateur radio group and visual light astronomers, which helps to keep up the traffic flow past the shop.
They also function as a party venue, especially for family parties of various ethnic groups.
On request, Rocco spit roasts a sheep or side of pork. The sheep come from his own flock of Dorpers crossed with British breeds but he buys in the pork from Del Basso in Osborne Park.
"The sheep keep the grass down, they are low maintenance - no shearing, lice or blowfly strike. They are also preferred for eating," he said.
"We keep the sheep on the non-citrus land. Under the trees they will eat anything."
Citrus growing is very labour intensive. All picking and pruning is done by hand.
"We have just bought our first pair of electric secateurs," Rocco said. "They increase the work rate by 200 per cent and also save sore wrists."
Rocco and Connie employ up to 12 people, mostly part timers like back packers, to help with picking.
Citrus are notoriously thirsty trees, so water is critical. The Zampognas have a bore, which goes 20m down into cracks in the granite that opened up during the Meckering earthquake. They also take water from the nearby Brockman River, which runs fresh in summer but is too salty in winter.
Citrus don't like wet feet, so Rocco grows the trees on mounds to prevent root rot and the water is supplied through drippers. "Dripper irrigation is time consuming," he said. "We have to check 12,000 drippers are working by hand.
"Iron in the bore water causes blockages in the drippers. Now we let bore water stand in a tank for a while to let the iron to settle out.
"We plan to use molasses to clean the pipes. Molasses is a good cleaning agent and good for the soil. We recycle all our water through the irrigation system."
Rocco also runs free-range hens and guinea fowl which forage for insects in the orchard during the day.
"We lock up the poultry every night because of foxes," he said. "It doesn't matter if we come home late because the foxes mainly operate in the early morning."
Baiting in the Avon Valley National Park next door also helps keep foxes under control.
"I haven't used fertiliser for eight years other than chicken manure," Rocco said.
"We use no chemicals except Maldison on fruit fly and then we don't cover spray.
"We control ants with a drop of honey and poison placed in the entrance to their nests. The ants farm aphids for excretion.
"If you control ants, ladybirds and wasps keep aphids under control.
"And we use glyphosate for occasional weed control.
"Birds can be a problem but we work with them. We pick what fruit we can sell and leave the rest to keep them happy. We try to work with nature.
"Our business has the lowest possible carbon emission and water use. We do what works after 34 years' experience. Last year was our most profitable yet."
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