Rat­tled & stirred

A se­ries of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters since tak­ing over a Can­ter­bury green­house grow­ing busi­ness 18 months ago means An­thony Carter and part­ner Jemima Smith are look­ing for­ward to the rel­a­tive calm of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a “nor­mal sea­son”.

NZ Grower - - CONTENTS - By Heather Chalmers

New green­house grow­ers hope for a“nor­mal sea­son” af­ter quakes and floods

Since pur­chas­ing the busi­ness, north of Christchurch in June 2016, their green­houses have been se­verely dam­aged, first by the Novem­ber 2016 Kaik­oura earth­quake then July flood­ing.

The com­bined ef­fects of earth­quake dam­age and a wet sea­son meant they lost 70% of the crop in the worst ef­fected green­house in their first year. This was de­spite yields be­ing 10 tonnes up in mid-Jan­uary, com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year. “But by the end of Jan­uary it started to rain and the dam­aged ground, green­houses, gut­ters and drainage be­came an is­sue,” says An­thony.

Trad­ing as Har­bour Head Grow­ers, the cou­ple have four twin-skin green­houses cov­er­ing 7000sq me­tres, with a Priva com­puter con­trol­ling ir­ri­ga­tion, feed­ing and heat­ing sys­tems. They pre­dom­i­nantly grow cap­sicums, which make up 90% of their crop, as well as egg­plant, toma­toes and chill­ies. It is An­thony’s first ven­ture into hor­ti­cul­ture af­ter em­i­grat­ing from Eng­land in 2011.

The Kaik­oura earth­quake not only dam­aged their green­houses, but also their ad­ja­cent house. “Al­most ev­ery­thing that could be dam­aged was. Our house is off half its piles. So the house will have to be lifted and its foun­da­tions re­done.

“The quake lifted or dropped most of the green­house foun­da­tions, twist­ing and buck­ling the frame, pulled apart most of the gut­ter­ing on the green­houses and the floor be­came a Mex­i­can wave. It split the ra­di­a­tors in one green­house. It rup­tured wa­ter pipes un­der the ground. It blew out the back end of the boiler, so we are cur­rently leas­ing one un­til it can be re­placed.”

Dam­age caused meant the green­houses and equip­ment all had to be taken apart, relev­elled, re­straight­ened and re­braced.

As lit­tle re­me­dial ac­tion could be done while the green­houses were fully planted the cou­ple sol­diered on, with a wet sea­son com­pound­ing prob­lems.

The un­even floor meant wa­ter pooled rather than drain­ing away on a slope.

While they kept pro­duc­tion go­ing as long as pos­si­ble, plants be­came dis­eased and were ripped out early. “Too much wa­ter in the green­house led to botry­tis, fun­gus and rot and plants started dy­ing.” Nor­mally plants are re­moved at the end of May for early June re­plant­ing.

The green­houses had to be com­pletely emp­tied so earth mov­ing equip­ment could Laser level the floors. Then the build­ing con­trac­tors could start work on fix­ing the green­houses. Work was near com­ple­tion and all floor coverings were down when a del­uge in July meant a month’s rain fell in one day, leav­ing all the green­houses un­der wa­ter. This was made more dif­fi­cult as the trol­leys and gantries are used di­rectly on the floor rather than on rails which meant that all the floor­ing had to be ripped up and tents with de­hu­mid­i­fiers and heaters put up inside the green­houses to dry the flooded ground. This was to pre­vent any fu­ture health and safety is­sues, where gantries would have tipped over in the rut­ted ground.

“The first green­house is usu­ally filled by the be­gin­ning of June, but this year it wasn’t planted un­til mid-Au­gust. The last house was only planted in mid-Oc­to­ber, so we have lost four months of pro­duc­tion.”

In­sur­ers FMG were in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive, said An­thony. “As we were so far be­hind, FMG gave vol­un­teers from its of­fice a day off so that they could help get the green­houses ready for the plants. I’ve never seen that be­fore.” The Na­tional Train­ing Academy in Christchurch sent a mini-van of >

stu­dents for a cou­ple of days. Friends and fam­ily also pitched in.

“We did a 12-day set up in four to five days with the help of every­one.

“The nurs­ery had been hold­ing on to our plant stock un­til we were ready. As these were only in 10x10 rock­wool cubes, the plants were 800mm in height, root bound and fruit was al­ready form­ing.

“We should be in full pro­duc­tion, but at Labour Week­end we are only on our third pick from house two and the other houses are still not ready to pick. How­ever, pro­duce to date has been good size and qual­ity.

“We are still try­ing to get ev­ery­thing back to nor­mal. It’s very frus­trat­ing. We’ve had an earth­quake, flood and re­built most of ev­ery­thing, so if we can get through all that and keep smil­ing it’s got to be a good thing.” In con­trast, the grow­ing op­er­a­tion re­ceived lit­tle dam­age dur­ing the Christchurch earth­quakes when pre­vi­ously owned by Liz and Chris Sin­nott, a for­mer chair­man of the cov­ered crops ad­vi­sory group. The Sin­notts re­main “on call” to pro­vide ad­vice when re­quired.

As well as the colour range of red, green, yel­low and or­ange cap­sicums, they also grow mini sweet vine pep­pers. “It’s a per­fect lit­tle lunch­box item, or snack. There are very few seeds in them and the flavour is amaz­ing. It’s very sweet and pleas­ant to eat.”

Egg­plant was a small, but grow­ing mar­ket, while chilli pro­duc­tion was very small scale. “It’s more for per­sonal en­joy­ment. Not so much for the heat as the flavour.” Apart from a small road­side stall all pro­duce is sold whole­sale. An­thony is orig­i­nally from Devon in Eng­land, where his fam­ily has gen­er­a­tions of in­volve­ment in both the farm­ing and fish­ing sec­tors. Farm­ing in­volved a mix of dairy, beef and arable. He set up his own IT com­puter ser­vic­ing busi­ness be­fore be­ing drawn to the sea. “I bought my own fish­ing ves­sel, net­ting and pot­ting for sole, cod and whelks in south­west Eng­land and Wales. I was also on other boats all around the coast.” How­ever, af­ter about five years he was ready for a change.

“I was work­ing too many hours in Eng­land and needed a break. We came out to New Zealand for a month or two and re­ally liked it. We looked all around, but de­cided to base our­selves near Christchurch.” By co­in­ci­dence, An­thony ar­rived on one of the first flights af­ter the Fe­bru­ary 2011 Christchurch earth­quake, tak­ing a role at a lo­gis­tics busi­ness. His chil­dren, then aged two and three-and-a-half years fol­lowed six months later once ev­ery­thing was set up and ready for them.

“Work started slow­ing down three to four years af­ter the earth­quakes and I never wanted it to be long term any­way. I had never done any in­door green­house grow­ing so did a lot of re­search and took the plunge with Har­bour Head Grow­ers.” His part­ner Jemima left her teach­ing ca­reer to help with the busi­ness, and take on the run­ning of the pack shed dur­ing the first sea­son. “She has been a great sup­port and I couldn’t have man­aged with­out her.

“I have en­joyed learn­ing a com­pletely dif­fer­ent side of farm­ing. It’s good to get into hy­dro­pon­ics and the tech­ni­cal side.” An­thony has also taken a role on the cov­ered crops ad­vi­sory group, which he said was an op­por­tu­nity to see “all the work that goes on be­hind the scenes”.

“We haven’t had a nor­mal sea­son, so I am look­ing for­ward to hav­ing one.”

Cov­ered Crops

◀ (Bot­tom) An­thony Carter with mini sweet vine pep­pers. “It’s a per­fect lit­tle lunch­box item, or snack.”

▴ (Above and left) Green­house plant­ing is up to four months be­hind be­cause of re­pairs needed for earth­quake and flood dam­age.

▴ Mini sweet vine pep­pers. _____________________

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