Couple's citrus sideline bears fruit

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Helen Martin can clearly recall when she and husband Shane planted their 30-hectare Bindoon orchard - after all, it was her honeymoon.

Just a week after their wedding, the couple put on their Wellington boots and went out into the paddock to start planting the first of their 14,000 trees.

Helen admits it was no "holiday in the Maldives" but 18 years later, the couple would not have it any other way.

Bindoon might be renowned for its citrus industry, but when Helen and Shane planted their mandarins and oranges, others in the area were pulling out citrus in favour of wine grapes and olives.

The Martins, however, decided to stick with what they knew would work in Bindoon and their strategy has since paid dividends.

The citrus season is just beginning but this year not all of the couple's fruit will be heading to the packing shed and Perth's markets.

Building on a trial last year, this season the couple will pick, pack and post fruit straight from their orchard to customers' mailboxes.

What started with a request from a friend wanting fruit fresh from the orchard has burgeoned into a fully fledged sideline.

"We tried different ways of doing it. At one stage we packed some up, put them on a pallet and put them on freight to pick up," Helen said.

"They all loved the oranges but it was just messy at the other end. Then we thought, why can't we just pop it in the post?"

Last year's trial started in August and relied solely on word of mouth, but before long Helen and Shane were packing and posting about 10 boxes of fruit a week.

This will be the first full season customers can order fruit from the Bindoon Citrus website.

In the midst of packing the first boxes of the season, Shane explained posting the fruit meant country customers could receive oranges and mandarins from tree to plate in just five days.

"This is just a way of getting fruit off the tree straight to a consumer who doesn't get access to that fruit usually," he said.

"With the packing process, because it gets washed, waxed, the wax is dried through a heater and then it's polished - it's probably a couple of weeks before it gets to the consumer."

Not only does it mean customers can have access to fresh, pesticide-free fruit, posting the fruit direct to customers is a means of value-adding to seconds fruit.

Just a tiny blemish on the peel can mean a piece of fruit is relegated to seconds.

"If it tastes nice people don't care what it looks like - they just want a nice piece of fruit," Shane said.

That's not to say Helen and Shane intend to circumvent the traditional market system and sell all their fruit direct to public.

"They're still going to take the majority of our fruit - this is just a sideline," Shane said.

"I don't want to get it to the stage we're I'm sending 100 boxes of fruit a week through the post. This started trying to get nice fruit to friends and it's just grown from there."

Fast facts *

_WHO: _ Shane and Helen Martin, Bindoon Citrus

_WHAT: _Mandarins (Imperial and Hickson) and oranges (Navalina, Newhall, Washington, Rosey Red, Chislett and Lane Late) plus 700 Border Leicester-Merino cross sheep.

_WHERE: _ Bindoon, 100km north of Perth

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