A guest contribution from Mark and Caroline Eastmond, Canterbury
When planning a lifestyle change in 1992 Mark and Caroline Eastmond purchased a house and 20 acre paddock just outside Waiau township in North Canterbury. Now, nine years later, the empty paddock has become a thriving hazelnut orchard of 1300 trees and, as an offshoot of this, a tree nursery specializing in the propagation of hazelnut trees for other commercial orchards.
"In a traditional cattle and sheep farming area twenty acres really isn't enough grazing land to generate an income unless you look seriously at some form of diversification and intensification of your land management", says Mark.
"Our orchard currently takes up only a third of the available area leaving potential for development and expansion in the future."
Hazelnut growing is a relatively new industry in New Zealand with commercial quantities of the nuts only now starting to become available. Market interest is growing, however as we are able to produce a product that is high on quality, freshness and flavour compared to the imported varieties that have been seen here previously. Hazelnuts lend themselves well to both the 'lifestyle' block orchardist and to those interested in organics as they are at present susceptible to only one pest, big bud mite, easily controlled without the use of pesticides.
As a horticultural crop maintenance is relatively low however there are some basic requirements to meet if the grower is to get a good level of production - wind protection, water, weed and sucker control. Winter pruning and shaping of young trees is important as is a pest control strategy in areas affected by bud mite.
A well planned and established orchard will result in easier maintenance later, when the trees mature.
The variety favoured by most Canterbury orchardist's at present is known as 'whitcheart'. This produces is smaller but quality kernel ideal for the culinary or processing market, The trees produce flowers over the winter season and are wind pollinated but not self fertile so around 10% of the orchard will be pollinator variety trees. The most favoured are a combination of Alexandra, Merville and Butler, these will produce their own nuts but are generally planted predominantly for their pollen production.
The nuts then mature and are ready for harvesting from the ground in Autumn.
The Eastmond's aim is to support a developing industry through networking with other growers, developing markets for the future and producing quality trees for the establishment of new orchards.
Unlike traditional bare-root methods of propagating hazels the trees are grown on for twelve months in a potting medium to develop a strong root system and can be planted with minimum root disturbance to ensure optimum growth in the new orchard. This system also means that trees can be planted at the convenience of the grower rather than the back breaking chore of planting a whole orchard in a weekend! Trees are graded and priced according to size.
Interest from potential growers is high this year. Now is the time to start planning, preparing and ordering orchard trees to ensure availability of desirable varieties, especially pollinators.
Visitors to the Eastmond's North Canterbury orchard and tree nursery are welcome by arrangement. Free grower information sheet and price lists are available on request. Phone/Fax:(03)315-6173