Tree Croppers: Something for Everyone

Tree Croppers have had 2 field days this year, the first was to Hikuika Farm at Little River back on the 14th of February, and then last weekend to a property at Eyrewell ‘Wild about Saffron’.

Little River is out on the south side of Banks’ Peninsula, a popular stop on the road to Akaroa and the end of the line when it was thought that rail was the way to go for transport. The road hugs an ancient shoreline around the base of the peninsula with Te Waihora, Lake Ellesmere, on one side and low wave cut basalt cliffs on the other.



Hikuika Farm looking down toward Waiwera

Nick and Gilda have a small farm running on permaculture principles with a commercial crop of hazelnuts: Whiteheart and for pollination Merveille de Bolwiller and Alexander. Some of the hazels are on a slope which is on the limits for safely mowing between the rows. Being on a slope like this mechanical harvest is out of the question but nuts roll down and collect in hollows or against the windrow left by the mower.


3 kW of grid-tied solar and all timber from a macrocarpa milled on the property

They’d started out with a steep hillside dominated by a large macrocarpa that shaded swampy flats, severely pugged by cattle and covered in blackberry. The macrocarpa was high on the hitlist and was milled into lumber. Five years of hard work draining and clearing the weeds later, they were able to use the lumber to build their home and move onto the property. They’ve taken a self contained approach with a composting toilet, wetland for grey-water and 3kW of solar panels that are grid-tied which means that they don’t have the hassle (or cost) of batteries and contribute to the local electricity supply.


greywater wetland: wind grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) outside with bright green purei (Carex secta) sucking up the nutrients

Once grey-water has been treated in the wetland, it can be pumped out around fruit trees and anywhere else that needs a bit of extra water. The orchard area is just for their own consumption and they use comfrey around the trees both to suppress grass and for the nutrients that comfrey pulls up from deep in the soil.

Up on the steeper slopes there is a natural cover of kanuka and in places they have planted trees for lumber and coppice wood. In particular ash (Fraxinus) and chestnuts some of the chestnuts got their first coppicing cut last year.


Waiwera, Lake Forsyth, it’s long and it’s wide but is apparently at most 3m deep and highly eutrophic (foul), no good for drinking or swimming but the waterfowl like it.

Heading home I stopped along Waiwera, Lake Forsyth, and then went out to Birdling’s Flat in the hope that I could catch up with the Botanical Society, but missing them had a walk where Waiwera drains through the shingle beach and local Maori continue the traditional practice of trapping migrating eels in trenches. It’s a spectacular beach where Kaitorete Spit butts onto the volcanic cliffs, hopeless for swimming but a lucky walker might pick up a polished agate and the strand line is always decorated with the egg cases of elephant fish.

Seeing as Little River is one end of the cycle way built on the defunct rail embankment I called in at the other end at Motukarara, where a nice job has been done of setting up the station office.


A festooned pear tree, note the brick weights


Dunn’s seedling

Last weekend at Eyrewell, Trevor showed us around his biodynamic orchard full of varieties of disease resistant fruit many with unpronounceable European names like Reinette shimmyrenko (simirenko). He has taken a different approach to conventional wisdom using ‘festooning’ to increase fruiting wood. In essence he takes all upright growth and bends it over to encourage flowering buds rather than the accepted approach of pruning to develop form and only tying down main branches that are too upright. The big advantage I can see with this approach is fewer pruning cuts and opportunity for diseases to enter. Having trouble with birds getting all the fruit and finding the netting process difficult he is also developing another area of fruit for espalier that should be easier to net. In this he is taking a French approach where upper tiers are taken off the tier below and this keeps the lower branches healthy. It’s easier shown than explained so have a look at the photos.

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Freyberg apple, festooned and netted

The combination of the dry spring and a lot of strong wind, saw most of his fruit on the ground so the trees were mostly bare but we were able to have a taste of ‘Freyberg’ a rather boring looking apple with a sweet and pleasant aromatic flavour, the opposite of the commercial apples (decorative and bland).

Trevor has also put himself through several courses and he shared some of the tips he has learnt along the way, such as:

  • Using one year old manure resulted in increased fungal attacks
  • Potassium bicarbonate for blackspot
  • Pyrethrum for pear slug
Saffron beds, sawdust helps mark out the aisles and helps with weed management

Saffron beds, sawdust helps mark out the aisles and helps with weed management

The Saffron beds were just starting to sprout. Harvest keeps Trevor and Lyndsay flat-out (all day – every day) through April, but it is reasonably low effort for the rest of the year. Being organic they have to do all the weeding by hand and there is no premium paid for organic saffron. On the positive side the quality is excellent getting $12/gram and their fifteen 20 metre rows produce 600 – 700grams (approx. 1 ¼ lbs). They also sell surplus corms from their website Wild About Saffron.DSCN2879

The animals were away across the paddock but they have 2 flocks of Wiltshire sheep and 3 red Devon cows. The Wiltshires don’t need to be shorn and red Devons have small calves so don’t have birthing difficulties.

We also had a look at the large biodynamic vege garden and while it wasn’t part of the tour I liked the approach Trevor has taken to his wood shed.

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