By Melissa Meehan
STANDING on their Toomuc Valley balcony, Marie and Chas Harding survey the devastation caused by Saturday’s storms.
They estimate the clean-up costs to reach up to $100,000.
As luck would have it, most of the crop had been picked the week before, so the major damage to the orchard is mostly structural.
Piles of hail remained on Tuesday, still the size of large marbles, a continuing reminder of the storm.
“The hail mesh mostly saved the fruit we hadn’t picked yet,” Marie said.
“But some of the mesh came off second best and that’s where we have been hardest hit.”
The couple was holidaying at Torquay when they received a call from their sons, David and Ross, telling them about the storms.
“But when we got home this morning (Sunday) we never expected it to be this bad,” Marie said.
It’s amazing to think that such devastation only affected half of the orchard with one side of the property practically untouched.
Marie said about 90 per cent of netting would have to be replaced in the areas most affected.
But the sad fact of the matter is that the Hardings are not insured.
“We used to insure the crops before we had the netting,” she said.
“But once we had the netting there wasn’t really a need.
“And to insure the netting would be exorbitant.”
Fruit pickers were on site when the rain started and were lucky enough to reach cover just as the hail began to pelt down.
Chas estimates it will take about a month to clean up the property.
“In one area, where the trees were younger, the mesh did what it was supposed to and gathered the hail in the centre,” he said.
“The idea of hail mesh is that the hail comes to the centre, it’s not supposed to break, and the ice is meant to melt away.
“But where we were hit the hardest – that’s where the older trees are – their limbs don’t bend so that’s what would have caused the mesh to tear under the weight of the hail.”
Saturday was not the first time that the Hardings orchard has been affected by hail storms.
“This would be the fourth time in 30 years,” Chas said.
“And while I have never seen anything like this, I’m sure we are no worse off than anyone else.”
As the Gazette met with Marie and Chas on Sunday, friends from nearby orchards visited to offer their support.
The Russos said their orchard in Officer escaped the storm, but the Montagues in Narre Warren North were badly affected.
See page 23 for more storm coverage.
By Melissa Meehan