IN ORDER to feed stock and the family, early local settlers back in the 1830s grew wheat, barley, rye, peas, potatoes and turnips. They also grew stone fruits, especially peaches and apples, from which they made cider.
James Atkinson recorded that, from 1824, at his Oldbury property, he developed methods of horticulture, growing a great variety of fruits including apricots, figs, grapes, olives, pears, apples, plums, cherries, quinces, raspberries and strawberries.
He found peaches to be more abundant than any other fruit and made considerable quantities of cider from the juice; he fed swine with them for three or four months in the summer and autumn.
The vine and olive grew with much success and some good wine and excellent raisins were produced.
Atkinson also said that, "The want of some kind of cheap and common beverage is much felt. Private brewing is very little practised; and apple or peach cider would be most important and useful articles in harvest and other busy seasons."
Over the years orchards flourished in the district and by the 1880s horticultural efforts with stone fruits became commercial operations.
The major orchard areas were at Joadja Creek near Mittagong; around Yerrinbool in the north; and at Penrose in the south.
Orchards were established on a commercial scale at Joadja Creek by a subsidiary company of the Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company, which worked the oil shale deposits at Joadja from 1870.
Making use of the alluvial soil that provided ideal conditions for growing many varieties of fruit, the company grew more than 6700 fruit trees and a table grape vineyard was planted, supplying the local area and the Sydney markets with about one quarter of its needs until into the early years of the 20th century.
Cherries were also a popular crop and ripened early, so hundreds of cases would be sent to the Sydney market, arriving before the cherries from Orange and Young, but equal to them in quality.
With the fruit trees in blossom, the valley at Joadja was a spectacular sight, the heavy perfume masking the odours from the refinery. In addition to cherries and grapes, the orchards produced pears, peaches, apples, plums, quinces, apricots and walnuts.
From the 1890s, settlers began growing fruit at Yerrinbool and their apple, pear and cherry orchards became famous. One of the early families, the Dawsons, grew strawberries for the Sydney market. The freshly picked berries were taken by dray at night to the nearest station at Colo Vale, on the loop line, where they would be freighted to Sydney to arrive the next morning.
The village of Yerrinbool developed when the railway came through in 1919. Apple growing thrived; Yerrinbool's apples-for-sale sign became a familiar landmark for travellers along the Hume Highway.
Orchards were established in the south of the shire around the village of Penrose in the late 1800s. The fruits grown - mostly granny smith apples, pears and peaches - thrived, and in 1917 a jam factory and cool store was opened by Oliver Clewes. Here Olive brand jams were made, canned and marketed. Cans used were also made at the factory.
By 1920 several of the orchards were taken over for returned soldier settlement. Eventually 500 acres of orchards were producing enough fruit to require a co-operative packing shed. This was at Penrose railway goods yard and opened about 1923. From here fruit was railed to city markets.
Quality fruit from Penrose was exhibited at the Sydney Royal Easter Show in pyramids and on several occasions were successful in winning first prize.
As a result of violent hail storms that damaged fruit in 1924, several pulping plants were installed on various orchards and the pulp was packed in four-gallon tins. Penrose apple pulp became very popular.
The tragic bushfire of January 1939 played havoc with the town's infrastructure and many orchards were destroyed. With the start of WWII, labour became scarce and land army girls were directed to assist - one orchard employed several Italian internees.
Gradually, orchards were replaced by timber as the main industry and a mill, built on the site of a pulping factory, became a major local employer.
Bee hives were kept at all the district's orchards as the bees were necessary for pollination.
Honey was collected from the hives and became another sought after product.
Fortunately, Tennessee Orchards at Yerrinbool still produces fruit, but the district's other early orchards are no more.
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