Working in an Orchard: Apricot Thinning – Working Holiday New Zealand

Alright, this is the second time I’m writing this because my previous post which I spent 3-4 hours on it disappeared the moment I pressed the ‘Published’ button. Hopefully I do a better job with my review this time round.

In my search for horticulture/viticulture payslips (required for visa extension), I ended up working as an apricot thinner for three weeks. To be honest, I never thought I could survive in an outdoor environment (because I hate the sun) but when the opportunity came (right after the ski season ended), I found it hard to say no as I badly needed the payslips.

If you’re wanting to work the cherry season (in December), my advice is to come to Cromwell/Alexandra area as soon as possible, in order to secure your accommodation. There are quite a number of jobs over here. In October, you can look for orchard jobs like fruit thinning – for apricots, peach, nectarines and apples. In november, the vineyards will start hiring and you will be doing bud rubbing, shoot thinning and wire lifting. There’s a lot of vineyards in this area (I was pretty surprised myself) and a lot of people are not applying because it is kind of hard work. I’m currently working in one right now (Day 2 today) and I will do a review after I resign which could be soon cause I hate hot weather.

Apologies for the long introduction and let me go straight to the point.

What is fruit thinning?

In the offer email, it was stated “Thinning which involves removing fruit from trees to achieve optimum crop load and quality. It would be an advantage if you are physically fit as the work requires use of ladder.”

In simple words, you have to carry the huge ladder through the rows of trees, set your ladder up, climb up and use your hands to flick the excess fruits, leaving the optimal quantity per branch.

I took a couple of videos/photos and you can see it on my IG below:

 

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Who is suitable for Fruit Thinning?

  • Height of more than 1.6m

Although not explicitly stated, it will help a lot if you’re taller than 160cm. My co-workers who were less than that, found if a struggle to carry the ladder around and they will need to use the ladder a lot more than the taller ones who could just tiptoe and reach the branches. It will also help if you have long arms and huge hands or long fingers. Some companies will offer you a chance to earn more than minimum wage and pay you per tree completed. The tall ones get a lot more advantage; but of course there are other elements like luck at stake.

  • Not afraid of heights

The ladders that we are given are about 2 to 3m tall and when you’re up there, the scenery can be amazing but it can also be rather freaky when you look down. I wouldn’t recommend this job to anyone who’s afraid of heights.

  • Ability to work in all weather elements

Spring time has the weirdest weather of it all. The temperature can range from 2 to 25 degrees and you can start the day wearing 3 layers and end the day with only one. Furthermore, it could be rainy and they do not stop work unless the rain is heavy (e.g. until the tree trunks are soaked and water starts falling from the leaves). That said, you need to have your own waterproof clothing and footwear as they do not provide it. When the sun comes up and the temperature rises, having your own sunglasses, sun hat/cap and arm sleeves would come in handy. Though, you may still end up getting a sun burn. On my hottest day at 28 degrees, I really felt like quitting immediately as I really hate the sun. Then again, the good thing about apricot trees is that they have a lot of leaves that can provide you some sort of shelter. There’s totally no shelter for vineyards ><

  • Enjoy Cold Lunch

This is the second most sad thing. For my previous two jobs, I was able to use a microwave to heat up my lunch. However, working in an orchard doesn’t give you the luxury. I’ve been eating bread 90% of the time and the remaining 10% is when I make onigiri with sushi rice. I’ve eaten bread with lemon jam, peanut butter, nutella, tuna, pork floss, leftover meat. To be honest, I’m getting bored but the thought of eating cold pasta/rice and starchy stuff just makes me lose my appetite so I guess bread is here to stay.

  • Comfortable with portable toilets or.. hold your pee?

The bad thing about working in an orchard is that you need to use their portable toilets. It’s kind of different from the ones we have in SG which has a flush system. The ones here do not have a flush system which means that urm all the toilet paper will be there until it gets cleared. I believe they clean at least once a week but I don’t use it often so.. I don’t know. Another thing is that they have this air freshener thing that sprays out so frequently that it doesn’t exactly stink inside but still looks and feels gross. It does look rather clean but the thought of it still makes me hold my pee.

The not so good part

Well, in my short 3 weeks stint, I actually had to fill up the injury report form twice. The first was when something got into my eye while I was looking up the branches to flick the fruits off. I’m not sure what it was, probably some husk since it was brown in colour and I felt uncomfortable for about two days and failed to flush it out of my eye. I ended up visiting a clinic (cost was covered by company or ACC) and they did some flushing and eventually my eye was fine. So basically, you’re supposed to wear some sort of eye protection but this incident happened like within the first two hours of work and I didn’t wear anything yet. I ended up losing 2 hours of pay but oh wells, it was my first visit to a clinic here in New Zealand!

So.. for my second incident report was.. I fell from a ladder. Well, it had been my greatest fear since the first day I started work and I kind of knew it will happen some day and it did. I guess my ladder wasn’t positioned in the most ideal way possible and I happened to do a stretch on the ladder which made it lose balance as it was sloped and I fell through the branches. I suffered abrasions, scratches which resulted in multiple bruises on the left side of my body. There was a scratch across my face (lasted for a week) and two bruises on my arm which was pretty colourful across the days and a couple more on my thighs. For whatever reason, I was super garang and continued working. I felt fine despite the fall; just a little shocked that my greatest fear really happened.

Another damage I got from my work here was that my right knee has been aching from the third week (or so I remembered). I guess it was because of the constant ladder climbing and since I’m right handed, I always climb with my right leg first and perhaps too much stress and pressure was exerted on my knees and it’s till hurting and today is my 4th day since I left the job. I tried to ice it a little and there were red areas. Tried to do some stretching but it hurts so I’m just hoping that time will heal it.

The good part – $$$

The best part of the job (which was an eventual thing) was that we were able to earn more than minimum wage ($17.70). It was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t expect myself (who’s not fit) to be able to be fast enough and earn more money. Then again, it all boils down to luck. In an orchard, there will be trees with a lot of fruits and trees with very little fruits. If you are assigned to a row with fruitless trees, you may get paid for not doing anything at all! (I used the word may as the supervisors and ways of calculation varies from orchard to orchard, season to season) Against a lot of odds, I actually had an average hourly wage of $26/hour!

Happy times do not last long and for our last week, we were assigned back to hourly wages as they wanted us to focus more on quality of work, but then again I secretly think they ran out of budget to pay us.

Another thing to note, this is a weather dependent job which means that you will get lesser hours when the weather is crappy. We even had an extra day off cause the company needed to do some workshops for the full time staff and oh gawd, it brought down my salary by so much. One day of wages us like 20% of your weekly pay cheque T_T

Parting Statement

Like most horticulture/viticulture jobs, this is a hard job but I think for 3 weeks, it was still manageable. For me, I was doing it for visa extension and.. to get content for this blog entry 😀

Anyway, everything is worth a try and I’m glad that I got to do a job that I would have never done in Singapore.

Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below and I’ll be glad to help 😀

Next two jobs I’m gonna try out: Vineyard + Cherry Packhouse!

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