Michael from Hill Lock Orchard is a third-generation farmer who has been coming to our Market from way back in the early days, when his Dad would set up shop to sell their ever-popular cherries.
Michael says it’s amazing that he still sees the same faces every week that he did as a boy, and he reckons the close-knit community is more like a family than just a place to sell produce.
His favourite thing about the Market is that the people who come are really supportive of farmers, especially in years like 2021 where they lost almost half of their cherry harvest to the weather.
Coming soon to the Market from Hill Lock Orchard are the four varieties of self-pollinating figs that they grow. These are Brown Turkey, Black Genoa, Italian Honey Fig, and Strawberry Figs which have a green outside, red inside and sweet jam-like textures and flavours.
The property has around 600 trees currently fruiting with maybe 200 still developing that will deliver some late-season fruit.
The Canberra climate is great for growing figs as it is not as hot as the tropics, which causes a slower ripening process that leads to a fig with high sugar content and a rich jam flavour.
The weather lately has been unpredictable, making it harder to determine when the fruit will be perfect for picking, but generally Michael and his family will pick before midday when the fruit is warm, but before the heat of the day has arrived.
Figs stop ripening when they are picked, so the team at Hill Lock Orchard wait until just the right moment to pick.
The figs that are picked for our Market are always sold within 24 hours of being picked, and they are taken straight from the tree into the containers they are sold in to avoid double-handling.
So how do you know you’ve got a good fig? Michael says the best way to tell is to wait until the fruit hangs down a bit, and gently feeling the fruit towards the stem.
“You’re looking for a bit of bounce in the skin, to make sure it’s not too firm. You want that fig to have a soft and sugary jam-like texture inside, so you want to wait until the fig has softened up a bit.”
The third-generation farmer says his family have traditionally grown cherries, but have expanded their operations to now also bring fresh punnets of strawberries to Market as well as figs, pomegranates, and persimmon.
Michael says figs are easy to grow in the Canberra region, but many amateur growers are actually missing out on a bumper harvest by being too kind to their tree.
“Figs don’t like overgrowing, so you should give them a really good winter pruning every year,” he said.
“The best figs come from new growth, so you will actually see bigger figs and more of them after you cut it right back in winter.”
You can find Michael and produce from Hill Lock Orchard at Stall #OS19 every Saturday!
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