Zest for life in Toodyay

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

The results of lime cordial production greet me at the door of a house nestled high on the top of a hill in Toodyay.

The chalet, one of three on the block, has panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, which has dried off to a delightful yellow, with patches of red soil and the lush, deep green of citrus trees.

I'm at The Limes, a holiday retreat and citrus orchard containing a mixture of Tahitian limes and blood oranges.

The property is owned by Philip and Jenny Perkins, who are supposed to be semi-retired, however, running their block means they are now busier than ever before.

With three children grown up and following careers out of Perth, Philip and Jenny started looking to move out of the city and find their dream block in the country in the late 1990s.

"The idea was to find something to do in retirement, both to keep us occupied and to bump up our superannuation," Jenny said.

It was decided Toodyay was the ideal area and in 2000 the Perkins bought their first block. The following year they also bought the neighbouring block, extending their property to a total of 25 acres (10.1ha).

"We planted 100 lime trees each year over the first four years," Philip said.

In 2006 the Perkins moved permanently to Toodyay and it was then that they started planting blood oranges in small bursts. "The blood oranges were our daughter Anna's idea," Jenny said. "She said we needed a niche market cash crop."

At the time of planting not many people in WA were growing blood oranges, so there was little risk of being in an oversupplied market.

There are now 160 blood orange trees in the orchard with all trees at a stage of producing fruit.

Jenny said now the orchard was established it more than covered its costs but getting any bigger was not in their plans as this would be too much for the two of them to handle.

When it came to the Perkins' decision to grow Tahitian limes, this was a result of both Philip and Jenny's self-proclaimed lack of gardening skills.

"When we were living in Como, one of the trees that survived our neglect was a lime tree," Jenny said.

Phillip said choosing the Tahitian variety of lime to grow was simple, because this was what most shops sold and they also had very good juicing qualities.

_ Water is vital _

Phillip said the Toodyay area was good for growing citrus provided you had plenty of water.

"During summer we use 6000 to 8000 litres of water to reticulate the orchard over two days," Philip said.

Keeping water up to the orchard over summer is critical to ensure the trees do not become stressed.

The Perkins use a Win Probe moisture detector and linked software to make sure this is not a problem.

The orchard does not require as much work over winter when rainfall is normally sufficient, however fertigation (fertilising using the reticulation system) is carried out.

There is no need to use any pesticides on the trees, with the only real problem affecting the orchard being strong winds which are often experienced in the area.

Jenny said now the trees were established this had become less of an issue.

The Perkins sell their fresh limes and blood oranges at several Perth outlets including Boatshed Market in Cottesloe which was where the idea to produce lime cordial was developed.

"The Boatshed took our limes and owner Michael asked us one day if we made any juice," Philip said.

The step from producing lime juice to cordial was a natural one, with excess ripe limes ideal for cordial production.

Value adding all excess fruit is now a big part of the Perkins' business with fresh lime juice, lime cordial, blood orange cordial and marmalade all produced and sold through selected outlets.

Complementing the Perkins' citrus operation is their self-contained orchard stay chalets.

Jenny said providing accommodation was a natural extension of their plans for the property.

"We have started off with two self-contained chalets," Jenny said.

"We want to specialise in providing family-friendly accommodation so the chalets have been well finished and designed while also being fairly indestructible."

Since the orchard stay was opened three years ago bookings have increased each year.

"We get most of our bookings off our website; this year we even have bookings over Christmas day for both chalets."

Looking to the future Jenny and Philip said they were not thinking of expanding. Instead, they will be working out an exit plan so they can really retire.

"Originally we were thinking when Philip turns 70, which is next year," Jenny said. "I don't think that will happen as we're not ready just yet."

Philip and Jenny both agreed their advice to anyone thinking of starting a similar business on their block was to start younger.

"Don't expect it to be profitable overnight," Philip said. "It's more than a weekend job."

Jenny said the main thing was to make sure it was something you enjoyed.

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