Fruits of the forest

Cate RocchiCountryman
Ella and Sonny Giddings, background, with Jill, Rob and Jacquie Baker.
Camera IconElla and Sonny Giddings, background, with Jill, Rob and Jacquie Baker. Credit: Countryman

Finger limes are the most unusual fruit. Tough, brown skin encases little beads of citrus flavour. The fruit is sweet and can be dusty pink to clear green in colour. In addition to their great taste, the texture is delightful - citrus bubbles pop in your mouth.

A small 400kg sell-out crop of finger limes was harvested recently in Pemberton by Rob and Jill Baker.

The pair purchased the 2.4ha plot 12 years ago, but permanently moved on-site a few years ago.

Finger limes are native to northern NSW and southern Queensland, with the Bakers viewing the fruit tree as the perfect crop because of its management.

The family wanted to establish a crop that did not need attention every day of the year.

"I had never heard of finger limes before but they seemed to fit the bill - not a lot of maintenance, not too many pests and yummy," Rob said.

In 2006, the Bakers ordered 100 grafted trees, which were about 50cm tall. The trees were trucked from Kempsey, NSW, to Adelaide, where they were loaded on a refrigerated truck and transported across the Nullarbor.

Those trees are now more than 2m tall and producing finger limes of up to 12cm long.

Rob said fruit had started to appear within a year, but only in small amounts. Now, each tree can produce hundreds of finger limes.

"They hang off like grapes," he said. "Although it is variable."

There was no local expertise in finger limes, so the couple sought out CSIRO research and studied guidelines produced by the Department of Primary Industries NSW.

"We used those guidelines but what applies there doesn't always seem to apply in WA," Rob said.

Their learning curve has been steep and they are still refining their growing techniques.

Jill said here had been some hiccups along the way.

One year, the family attended a wedding in Denmark, planning to harvest a full crop on their return.

While they were gone, a 28- parrot flock took to the crop.

"We learnt to net the trees after that," she said.

Crop care

From December to March, each tree receives about 10 litres of bore water, by drip irrigation, twice a week. Compost is laid down and the Bakers apply three applications a year of NPK Blue, plus trace elements. The fruit is harvested from March to May.

While their trees produced 400kg of finger limes this year, the Bakers are hoping to double production next year.

The couple, who owned a physiotherapy practice in Perth for 37 years, said they had no regrets about moving to Pemberton and it was a friendly community. There is an enormous range of produce being grown in the area, from kale to marron.

The Bakers have also put a lot of effort into the marketing of their fruit, with help of daughter Jacquie Baker, who lives in Perth.

Jill said despite selling all of their produce, they had only just broke even because they had to meet the costs of establishing a brand. This included expenses such as website design and logos, as well as special packaging.

For retail, the Bakers' finger limes are packaged in containers made from recycled sugar cane and bamboo pulp. Each container contains 60g of finger limes.

Jill and Jacquie recently visited Singapore with the Southern Forests Food Council, a promotional group for the farm's region.

The trip resulted in sales to customers in Singapore and Paris.

The family believes the council's expertise in terms of marketing know-how and ability came at the right time for their operation.

"There is so much fresh produce coming out of this region and people just don't know about it," Jacquie said.

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