Orchard job keeps her busy

JAMES GREENLAND
Last updated 13:00 22/01/2014
Jennie Verstappen
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
SUMMER WORK: Apple thinner Jennie Verstappen has enjoyed her second season at an orchard in Hope.

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A row of apple trees each day has kept Jennie Verstappen's money worries at bay.

The Otago University student has enjoyed her second season under the sun, thinning apple trees at an orchard in Hope.

Apple thinning is the process of removing "fruitlets", tiny apples, from producing trees early in the season, which allows the remaining fruit to grow into larger, export-quality apples.

People often confuse "thinning" with "picking", which happens after the apples are fully grown and ready for processing, Ms Verstappen said.

Thinners also remove blighted apples, which otherwise steal energy from the healthy fruit, and "thin" bunches where apples are growing too close together blocking essential sunlight.

Ms Verstappen toiled again this summer for Vailima, or Hoddy's Orchard, whom she says were "awesome" employers, treating workers to ice-blocks on hot days and ensuring they were paid a competitive rate.

"I like that you are working outdoors, and it's really good hours - eight-and-a-half each day. Starting early, at 7.30, means you're finished by 4.30 each afternoon, and getting weekends off gives you a summer to enjoy."

The money was motivating too, she said. Most thinners were "on contract" meaning they were paid per tree thinned.

Big old trees with plenty of apples to take off might be worth $2 each, but weren't great for morale as they seemed to slow workers down. Although, that was usually a misconception, Ms Verstappen said.

Dwarf trees might pay just 40c each, but thinners appeared to move through rows much faster, which made you feel like you were "getting somewhere", she said.

"Now that it's my second season, [the pay] has been much better," she said - having earned between between $16 and $30 an hour this summer.

"You can set yourself good goals, like ‘I'll finish this row by lunchtime, or that row by the end of the day'."

A highlight of horticultural jobs in Nelson was getting to work alongside some spirited seasonal migrant workers, Ms Verstappen said.

"The Tongans and Fijians keep us all entertained with their singing which carries across the orchard like our own personal choir. They are great!"

Not so enjoyable are the "apple dreams", or nightmares, that were a well-known side-effect of the job, she said.

"At night, when you close your eyes, sometimes you can see in your mind your hands stretching in front of you, reaching out to thin a bunch of apples.

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"And sometimes I wake up after a nightmare that I have gone down an entire row and taken all the apples off!"

Although she's about to start her final year of human nutrition study and one day aspires to land a professional position, Ms Verstappen said she wouldn't rule out another season between the trees.

"It's a great summer job."

- The Nelson Mail

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