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10 October 2019

Apples for Culverden

Ngāi Tahu Farming is working through a detailed planning process with the aim of establishing their first horticultural development in the Balmoral/Culverden district of North Canterbury. 

Their Culverden operation comprises just over 9,000 ha in pines and beef production, and the plans for a pipfruit orchard has now reached the point of ordering tree stocks for planting in 2021. Business  Development Manager Ben Giesen explains: “The initial concept came about because Ngāi Tahu has a significant bit of land in the Balmoral Forest in North Canterbury. For a number of years, we’ve been looking at what to do with that land, with a lot of it coming out of pine trees. What are the alternative land use options? We considered horticulture as one of those options and enlisted Plant and Food Research to help us understand the possible crop options and provide recommendations.”

Three years ago, Ngāi Tahu established a 2.5 ha trial orchard, having first completed the extensive work needed to bring former pine forest blocks into a state suitable for orcharding.

“We sourced some trees for the trial, mainly stonefruit, olives and nut trees,” says Ben. “The first year they did reasonably well. At the same time, we created the infrastructure such as water and wind protection needed to give the trees the best opportunity.Our view was to run this trial block in a  commercially-focussed way.”  The Ngāi Tahu team, which now included Orchard Manager John Blackadder, sought support and advice from Fruitfed Supplies and AgFirst consultants to expand their orcharding knowledge. “It’s outside our capabilities at this point, so we wanted to understand spray and fertiliser programmes, consider different irrigation and trellis systems, and then rate what we think will work.”

In year two, different tree varieties were planted and that’s when the focus turned to apples.“We planted a range of apple varieties, Envy, Jazz, Galaxy, Lady in Red and some berries. Last year, we monitored growth rates to get hard data about how these trees perform here. Growth rates varied from 600-800 mm with the majority between 700-800 mm. We got a good understanding that these trees are in the right conditions and performing well. So about four months ago we asked, can we turn this into a commercial viability? 

“Our Fruitfed Supplies Representative Rob Wards was one to say you need to secure plants for 2021 and 2022 because of the demand. It’s quite hard work, but we managed to secure about 40,000 trees for 2021 which will plant around 15 ha.” The decision on varieties to be grafted onto the M9 dwarf rootstock is still to be made following further data from the trial block this season. The assessment of inversion layer during frost events and the installation of an Orchard-Rite wind machine were the final pieces of the puzzle to counter the site’s biggest risks: wind and frosts.

Rob Wards explains: "We provided pest and disease prevention programmes plus the chemistry for the various trial crops, fertiliser and fertigation programmes and herbicide recommendations. Fruitfed Supplies has also supplied the wood and steel trellising structure, irrigation systems, a Cropliner sprayer and an Orchard-Rite wind machine for frost protection, plus varied equipment for harvest, etc."  

Ben says the size of the commercial orchard is also still being decided. “Apples are the prime focus at this point, but we’re not ruling out other options like stonefruit. We’ve talked with the likes of Turners & Growers and Heartland Group about pathways to market. It’s important to have a good fit for a business like ours when we don’t have the knowledge and infrastructure. There’s a lot of good knowledge out there with people like Fruitfed Supplies who help you grow these trees productively.” 

Ben adds: “It’s an exciting step for Ngāi Tahu Farming which includes dairy, beef and forestry assets. This ticks a lot of boxes in terms of a good alternative use of the land and income stream for
our business."

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Young Grower of the Year 2019 announced

03 October 2019

Nelson’s Jono Sutton, 26, was announced as this year’s Young Grower of the Year at the awards dinner in Tauranga on Wednesday 2/10/2019

“This is one of horticulture’s highest achievements for a young person, so winning it is massive,” said Jono.

“Some of the past winners have gone on to do amazing things in horticulture, so to have my name next to theirs is overwhelming.”

HortNZ Chief Executive Mike Chapman said the Young Grower of the Year is important because it highlights horticulture as a vibrant career for young people. 

“Our $6 billion industry continues to grow in response to worldwide and domestic demand for fresh healthy food.  At the same time, our industry is responding to new requirements, particularly in the areas of freshwater, land use, food safety, and health and safety. 

“These areas offer young people many and varied career opportunities.  I am positive that all entrants in 2019’s Young Grower competition have benefited from the experience and will continue to grow and support horticulture.” 

Jono proved his impressive skills and knowledge throughout the competition. As the regiona­­­l Nelson finalist, he was up against six other contestants, from around New Zealand, in Tauranga this week.

Jono’s grandparents, who are berry and apple growers in Nelson, came to support him.

“It’s really great to have really genuine support where win or lose, they think you’re the best anyway,” says Jono. 

“They’ve been in the industry since the 80s, when they transferred from agriculture to horticulture with the help of my father. For them to be able to pass the baton on to me is a real blessing.” 

The annual Young Grower of the Year competition is run by Horticulture New Zealand. Fruitfed Supplies were Gold Sponsors for another year and are proud to be right behind passionate young talent that are driving the horticultural industry forward. Craig Trembath, Fruitfed Supplies Sales Manager presented the Young Fruit Grower of the Year Award last night, which was also awarded to Jono Sutton.

Late spring planting and summer entertaining

01 November 2019

The warmer months are an exciting time in the garden as your spring planting efforts come to life, There is also plenty of summer sun loving crops to plant and it's the perfect time to get your garden into shape for summer BBQs and backyard entertaining. 

By now your spring planting should be coming to fruition and you can enjoy bountiful harvests of homegrown vegetables. Harvesting your vegetables regularly helps promote more growth throughout the season. Crops that flower and then fruit will continuously fruit throughout the summer season if you keep up with harvesting and watering.

There is still plenty to plant at this time of year, so you can continue harvesting delicious homegrown ingredients for your favourite summer meals. Pizzas are a great option for feeding family and friends over the summer entertaining months. Plant tomatoes and a variety of herbs and you'll have tasty, fresh pizza toppings. Top tomato varieties for pizza include Money Maker (reliable and flavoursome), Beefsteak (large and tasty), Grosse Lisse (full of flavour) and Sweet 100 (small and sweet). 
Flavoursome herbs include parsley, thyme, oregano and basil. Rosemary can also be chopped finely and added into pizza dough for extra flavour. Herbs will provide the perfect finishing touch to your homemade pizzas. If you're planting your tomatoes in the garden or in pots and containers, add a layer of Tui Tomato Mix, which is specifically formulated with extra potassium to encourage a bumper crop of big juicy fruit. Plant your herbs in a spot close to your kitchen so they are easily accessible, and add a layer of Tui Herb Mix, rich in nitrogen to promote green, leafy growth and continuous harvesting.

If summer BBQs are your go-to, plant salad greens such as mesclun, spinach, lettuce, rocket and spring onions for fresh ingredients at your fingertips. Other vegetables and herbs you might want to add to your summer dishes include radish, cucumber, tomatoes, sweetcorn, basil, coriander, parsley, radish and mint. Before planting dig in organic matter to your soil such as Tui Compost to replenish nutrients used by previous crops. Compost is also an excellent water saver, it improves the soil by increasing moisture holding capacity, particularly in sandy soils. You can then add a layer of Tui Vegetable Mix, formulated with the right blend of nutrients to provide your vegetables with the best possible start and sustained growth throughout the season.

Add some vibrancy to your backyard space with some luscious green foliage and pops of colour. For greenery plant Chatham Island Nikau Palms, New Zealand's only native palm tree. They are fast growing, tolerate the wind, dry summers and poor soils. Gardenia and Hibiscus will bring a relaxed tropical feel to your garden. They both make excellent container plants, choose a large container and plant with Tui All Purpose Potting Mix, specially formulated to give the best start to your indoor and outdoor plants in pots, containers and hanging baskets.

Plants use nutrients from the soil as they grow, so replenishing the nutrients used by your plants ensures they will grow to their full potential. Feed your plants with a suitable fertiliser during key growth periods and remember to water your plants in the morning or evening to avoid water evaporation. A good deep soak every few days is better than shallow watering every day as it helps plants to better survive short term drought.

For more information, pop into your local PGG Wrightson store.


Bountiful berries in Blenheim

07 November 2019

The family behind Blenheim’s Hedgerows Hydroponic Strawberries have just started their fourth harvest of delicious, fresh strawberries and are looking forward to another summer of learning and improving their small scale, high quality production techniques.

“When we first began, we were completely new to the hydroponic industry,” says Hannah Morgan, who oversees plant husbandry in the 5000 m2 of glasshouses. Hannah’s father-in-law Geoff Morgan grew up on a farm in the Hunderlies so had the most farming experience. “Other than being keen, green-fingered people with science, design and business experience, we were very much going in blind in terms of strawberries but with a ‘can do, won’t fail’ attitude.”

The Hedgerows’ team includes Hannah’s husband Clayton who oversees the nutrient film technique hydroponic systems and farm operations such as monitoring systems and health and safety, and Clayton’s mother Annette who co-owns the business with Geoff and oversees the packhouse. They all share coordination of staff and daily picking and packing schedules during the September to January harvest season.

Hannah says the first year delivered a steep learning curve. “Definitely a test of character for all of us. The second year we had a plan and some experience to build on. The third year was putting everything into a more consolidated plan with educated experience under our belts. This year, it has felt like we are finally able to plan ahead and feel confident in our gathered knowledge and experience to really make the farm thrive.” 

The previous owner helped with an initial handover then the family worked and studied to get up to speed as quickly as possible. “We consulted with hydroponic companies New Zealand-wide to gain a broad contact and knowledge base. When we began, we were the only nutrient film technique hydroponic strawberry growers in New Zealand at the time; experts were also limited in their knowledge,  but we all learned together. Having our local Fruitfed Supplies Technical Horticultural Representative Nick Kininmonth was very useful as he could guide us with potential solutions for an unhealthy plant, diseases and pests.”

Hedgerows focus on plant health and aim to use natural and/or organic crop protection products where possible. This hydroponic technique requires a sterile environment so fully organic processes are not possible. “Strawberries are interestingly sensitive and robust at the same time, so we try to stay one step ahead with a well-thought out integrated pest management plan. The available agrichemicals, when used correctly and pre-flowering, do an incredible job at protecting our plants and eliminating diseases and pests they have been exposed to during their time in the paddock  before we get them. We use predators from Bioforce which we love. We choose to remove any heavily infected plants from our growing systems instead of spraying.” 

With plant health in mind, they utilise biostimulants from Valagro. “They truly help with root system health and therefore nutrient uptake, creating healthy plants faster. Our transplanting in mid-May is very stressful on plants and we found Kendal Nem reduced the stress. Pre-flowering we add Viva and, during the hotter months, Megafol helps reduce the stress of the plants.”

After two years of research, Hedgerows introduced a compostable punnet this season. Combined with an anti-fog film, the new packaging reduces plastic use by 95% and extends the berries’ shelf life. “Now that we have a solution, we are keen to share our findings and knowledge with anyone who wishes to find out more.” 

Hedgerows Strawberries are sold to restaurants, the local farmers market and from the on-farm store. “Our goal is to grow high quality fruit that is great enough for top restaurants but affordable enough for families and lunchboxes.”

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