Fancy some ripe juicy cherries for an upcoming summer barbeque? Perhaps you would like some cherries for chocolate dipping or fruit toppings for your Christmas pavlova. If you happen to be travelling to Leeston and see a big red cherry flag on Leeston Dunsandel Road, pop in to Avalon Cherries!
On Christmas Eve, the team at Avalon Cherries will be on the roadside selling cherries.
“We suggest you come early to avoid disappointment!” says Avalon Cherries owner Marsha Jordyn-Mullins.
Marsha only sells to the local community because she says they tend to miss out on the best New Zealand can offer due to overseas exports.
“We wanted to give the locals a taste of the best that we can grow here in Selwyn.”
A passion for growing food, giving back to the community and becoming self-sufficient, is what led Marsha and her husband to owning their Leeston cherry orchard.
Originally from Christchurch the pair did a lot research, followed by some driving around Selwyn to find the perfect property.
They needed somewhere that would be within easy driving distance to Christchurch for work commutes but also had good soil for crops. Leeston was the best fit.
“We fell in love with Leeston, the library out here is fantastic which is really important to me, the school out here is fantastic and the community was just welcoming and warm, it all just came together for us.”
Marsha says she was inspired to grow cherries during their property search.
“The crop was growing on a property that we saw and it was just magical, they just looked so beautiful. We couldn’t resist them!”
Marsha says the Templeton silt loam soil on their property grows just about anything and is even too good for growing cherries.
“We struggle to keep the trees down to a reasonable size. We want to keep them small so they channel their energy into producing more fruit rather than more growth, but because the soil is so good they just take off! We’re constantly pruning,” she says laughing.
Within their first season of cherry growing, they harvested 300 kilos of cherries. Now in peak production, Avalon Cherries harvest 2000 kilos of cherries. No machinery is used, all cherries are hand-picked, washed, sorted and packed by Marsha’s family members.
They are grown with minimal spray and under canopies which raises the temperature and shelters the cherries from the rain (known to cause cherries to split); resulting in huge succulent export-grade cherries.
Some years aren’t so successful in production due to temperature, weather, bee pollination and other factors.
“Growing is not for the faint of heart, every year at a certain point, just when the fruit is looking lovely and green and marble sized, a whole lot of it just falls off and it’s the most heart-wrenching thing.”
These challenges have not stopped Marsha's passion for gardening. Future plans involve planting 1000 trees, and creating a community garden. In collaboration with Te Ara Kākāriki, they are growing native plants on their property for native wildlife, helping to regenerate the Canterbury landscape - a part of the Green Dot project.
“We love growing good food and looking after the land. We want to leave something for our grandchildren and great grandchildren to come and visit. We’re lucky enough to be here and we should share it with as many people as we can.”