By BELINDA SCOTT
IF you want to make a special offering on Chinese New Year, Ted Knoblock has just the thing.
Mr Knoblock and his son, Steve, are harvesting bracts of bright red Bengal lychees picked complete with their own glossy green leaves, a popular offering to Buddha and for Chinese New Year festivities.
And with the Chinese New Year falling on February 9, harvesting is cranking into top gear on the Knoblock farm.
The South Boambee orchard is Australia's most southerly commercial lychee orchard, the last to begin harvesting for the year.
And that's good news for the Knoblocks in the years when their harvest coincides with Chinese New Year, because it means keen customers and good prices.
In fact the Chinese connection has been good luck all round, because it was a Chinese fruit merchant that persuaded Ted Knoblock to plant lychees in 1977, when the Department of Agriculture said it would be too cold for them at Boambee.
Now he grows Kwai Mae Dink, Wai Chi and Bengal lychees as well as avocadoes, macadamias and bananas and sends fresh lychees to markets in Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle and Port Macquarie.
Like mangoes, the lychee season is short. The Knoblocks usually begin picking in late January and pick their last lychees about March 15.
For those who are not familiar with them, lychees are a fruit like no other.
The leathery red skin encloses a succulent translucent white flesh with a flavour which has been described as similar to a muscat grape.
And if you want to taste the Knoblocks' lychees yourself, fresh off the tree, you will find them at Tom the Farmer's stall at the Jetty Markets tomorrow.
If you would like to grow your own tree, lychee trees take five years to grow large enough to produce commercial quantities of fruit and seven years to reach full production, but in China there are trees that are 200 years old and still bear fruit.
Liz and Ted Knoblock netted their plantation three years ago to save their fruit from the depredations of fruit-eaters like rainbow lorikeets and flying foxes, and Mr Knoblock said the nets had proved their worth this year as thousands of hungry lorikeets mobbed the nets, trying to get at the tempting fruit, which has bright rosy-pink or orange-red skins, depending on the variety.
The skins begin to turn brown after they are picked, so the more colour on your lychee, the fresher the fruit is likely to be.