So you want to work your way around Australia? Picking fruit can be a great way to work your way around the country while earning money and getting to know locals who just might share some of the best ‘secret’ swimming holes or free camping spots. Many of the fruit picking jobs in Australia are paid on a contract or piece rate. You get paid on productivity, either by the bucket or by the bin, depending on the fruit or vegetable you are picking. Some people earn as low as $3 dollars an hour while others earn $30 or more. It all boils down to working smarter, not harder.
First rule of fruit picking – get in close.
Get your bucket or bag as close to the fruit as possible. Fruit picking is a game of logistics. For example when picking tomatoes you might get paid something like a $1.50 per 20 litre bucket. So to earn $15 dollars an hour you need to fill 10 buckets in 60 minutes. That’s 6 minutes per bucket. To earn $30 an hour you would have to fill them in 3 minutes. Each bucket holds anywhere between 60 and 120 tomatoes depending on the size of the fruit. Therefore, the time you spend on each tomato really matters. By having your bucket close you keep the ‘traveling distance’ for each tomato short.
A common mistake is to pick with outstretched arms. Thus each piece of fruit has to travel a much longer distance, and you are wasting valuable energy. Better to move another step up the ladder, or move the ladder closer. Ladder placement is an art you learn with experience. It’s a delicate balance between moving your ladder as few times as possible and getting your bag in close. Another common mistake is picking too high up without the ladder. As a rule you want to pick up to about shoulder height.
Second rule – two hands double the money!
Always pick with two hands. “Two hands double the money”, my old fruit picking mentor Ned used to say. He was nicknamed ‘The Human Harvester’ by some of the farmers he worked for. Use two hands and grab two pieces of fruit in each hand. Although it might take a little longer to grab two, you are almost halving the ‘travel time’ for each piece of fruit. It is all about efficiency.
Of course with delicate fruits like apples you can only grab one piece of fruit in each hand. However, if you wish to make money, you need to make sure you are picking with two hand as much as possible. Make sure you place the ladder in close, so you can comfortably reach the fruit. I have seen backpackers holding on to the ladder with one hand while picking one-handed and wondering why they are not making money.
Third rule – conserve your energy.
On tree fruit you start picking at the top of the ladder and work your way down. In this way your bag gets heavier as you get closer to the bottom of the ladder. If your bag is half full when you reach the ground fill it up from the section of the tree where you will next move your ladder. This way you don’t damage any fruit putting the ladder in place. As much as possible work your way back to your bin. Count your steps. Think about where you place your empty bin. Make improving your efficiency a game. Be fully present and conscious of the moment. Although music can be motivational, it can also be a distraction. Singing along at the top of your voice not only wastes precious energy and moisture, but also can distract from working consciously. Which brings us to the 4 stages of learning:
Firstly, unconscious incompetence you don’t know that you can’t do something because you have never tried.
Secondly, conscious incompetence you tried something new, and quite frankly you sucked at it. Hang in there it can only get better.
Thirdly, conscious competence you can do something, but it takes concentration and effort.
Fourthly, unconscious competence you can do something without thinking about it. Like riding a bike. How quickly you move through the stages is up to you. If you distract yourself with music or too much talking during the learning stages, you will continue to waste energy without reaping the monetary rewards.
Forth rule – rhythm, not speed.
Some of the best professional pickers look as though they are not working hard at all. Their secret? Rhythm, not speed. Productive picking is all about being ‘in the flow’. We have all had experiences where everything seemed to flow and little effort was required to achieve great results. Like all things this requires practice. If you try to go fast without first having consolidated the basics, you may end up working very hard but not being very productive. This is the trap that I see many backpackers fall into. They see a gun picker pick 3 times as much as they do and think, I can do that. They don’t realise that it has often taken years of practice to get to that level of expertise.
A wise man or woman learns from the mistakes of others. When tackling a fruit or vegetable I hadn’t picked before, I would talk to the best pickers and ask if I could watch them for a while. Most are all too happy to give you some advise. Often I would approach the oldest pickers. While they may not be the fastest they often have good energy saving techniques. If you can emulate those and build on them and eventually speed them up you have just earned yourself a lifetime of experience.
Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency! Get your bucket or bag as close to the fruit as possible. Two hands; double the money. Conserve your energy. Think about where you place your empty bin. Learn ladder placement. Rhythm not speed. Work on your basic techniques, speed will follow. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel; learn from the experience of others. Never be afraid to ask for advise.
Please leave a comment or share your experiences. More content being added.