Luke and Shona Denton bought their life style block 20 years ago. Right on the banks of the Clutha River in the township of Roxburgh, Frog Rock Orchard is incredibly picturesque. Named for the enormous tors that surround the land and totally define it, this is a private property that gently slopes down to the river.
The property was run down and had mostly apricots growing on it, with a few cherry trees thrown in. Luke rebuilt the house and decided that he really liked cherries. A lot. He planted mostly Dawsons and a few Stellas – all up 250 trees over three acres. What started as a hobby quickly grew into something more as Luke experimented with different cherry varieties. It takes six years to grow a cherry tree and as the trees get older, Luke rotates them out and replants. Often times he uses the wood from the trees to create gorgeous furniture or incorporates it into a building project.
He has developed a Chinese client base and they particularly enjoy Rainer cherries. They advertise in the Dunedin Chinese newspaper and attract Asian families to come pick their own. The PYO accounts for 50% of their crop.
Luke uses absolutely no insecticides on the trees. He feeds the trees with horse manure and fish meal. Stone fruit hates to have wet feet and with only 400 mm of top soil on a clay base he had to get smart about how to plant the trees. He dug right through the top soil and the 500mm of clay, backfilled the hole with rock, gravel and goodies and voilà - a very healthy and productive orchard. Mindful of what he puts on the cherry trees, Luke uses copper through the winter months, fungicide a couple of times during flowering, and BioGrow certified oil to control aphids in the early stages of bud break.
Luke’s background is as a builder, engineer and cowboy in the States. He has worked on fishing boats in Alaska and is an all-round handy person. He is currently building a sleep-out for summertime workers, perched up on one of the enormous rocks on the property. These workers are very lucky to have such a gorgeous, scenic place to stay.
Luke also keeps 20 bee hives which help pollinate his trees.
The fruit gets picked and packed directly into clean 10 kgs crates, then chilled down before coming to the market. Pickers don’t handle the fruit but are encouraged to grasp the stem. The fruit is bagged on the spot at OFM with gloves used to keep the fruit clean.