NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

Peter and Re­becca had suc­cess fast with their truf­fles, har­vest­ing the first one just three years af­ter they planted their trees, but they’re not rush­ing to give up their day jobs. Their truf­fière cov­ers 3ha (7.5 acres) of their block, a for­mer deer stud.

“It’s one thing to pro­duce truf­fle, it’s an­other thing to be able to do some­thing with them,” says Re­becca. “We were sort-of sold it ini­tially as a bit of a get­rich-quick, grow­ing gold on roots of trees idea – I don’t think it’s go­ing to be that, there’s a huge cap­i­tal out­lay and a lot of hard work.”

It helps that the couple both love trees – they are mem­bers of the In­ter­na­tional Den­drol­ogy So­ci­ety and their block is home to many rare species of trees – and that Re­becca is an ex­cel­lent gar­dener says Peter.

“There’s a lot of in­tu­ition in it, and I guess we’ve been care­ful enough to track what’s go­ing on and to ob­serve as closely as we can and learn from ex­pe­ri­ence, so into our sev­enth year we re­alise when you start talk­ing with oth­ers, we’ve got ex­pe­ri­ence now that we’re clearly build­ing on.”

When they were start­ing out, in­spired by watch­ing an episode of Coun­try Cal­en­dar that fea­tured truf­fle pi­o­neers Alan and Lyn­ley Hall of Oak­land Truf­fles in Gis­borne, it was hard to know the right way to go. Their block’s best fea­ture is its rich al­lu­vial soil, not some­thing found in a tra­di­tional Euro­pean truf­fière, but ex­cel­lent for grow­ing trees. Their first con­sul­tant was an­other key NZ ex­pert, Dr Ian Hall of Truf­fles and Mush­rooms (Alan’s brother), and the first per­son to in­oc­u­late Périg­ord black truf­fle my­c­or­rhizae onto trees in NZ in the 1980s.

“That orig­i­nal ad­vice was based around repli­cat­ing arid, high ph soil in Europe and so, if any­thing, Ian was con­cerned the soil was too healthy,” says Peter. “It was very low in ph so we also added a lot of lime to get the ph level up. He was fol­low­ing the line to repli­cate the Euro­pean model.”

But Peter and Re­becca have since also taken on board what they heard at a truf­fle con­fer­ence three years ago.

“Some ad­vice from Aus­tralian grow­ers who came over was the op­po­site,” says Re­becca. “That good qual­ity soil with a high qual­ity soil health and soil bi­ol­ogy, 17 worms to the spade-full – if you dug a spade into the soil and found 17-18 worms then that was good soil – is good for grow­ing truf­fles, al­most the op­po­site ad­vice, so that was in­ter­est­ing en­cour­age­ment to us.”

They only had to wait three years to find out that they could grow truf­fle, a quick re­turn when the ex­pec­ta­tion was

they might have to wait 10 years or longer, but they haven’t let their amaz­ing suc­cess go to their heads says Peter.

“In terms of a com­mer­cial suc­cess, I think the jury is still out in New Zealand as to whether we will be suc­cess­ful in the long run. We’re suit­ably en­cour­aged – in the first plant­ing there are about 650 trees and in the last win­ter I think the to­tal was 83 of the trees were, as we call it, ‘turned on’ truf­fle trees, they were ac­tu­ally pro­duc­ing... about 15% of the trees we know are pro­duc­ing truf­fle so that is en­cour­ag­ing.”

“If we were hav­ing to live off our truf­fles, we’d have starved to death by now!” jokes Re­becca. “It would be nice to think that in five or so years we could get an in­come that we could live off but it’s too early to see if that’s go­ing to hap­pen. It would be great, if we could, but you’ve not only got to get the truf­fles, you’ve got to be work­ing up the mar­kets for them. We are hop­ing we have a good in­come and get a re­turn on the in­vest­ment be­cause it’s some cost to put in 7.5 acres of truf­fle trees.”

Peter es­ti­mates he and Re­becca spend about 70 days a year work­ing in their truf­fière, weed­ing, prun­ing, feed­ing and wa­ter­ing, and then hours dur­ing win­ter hunt­ing for the fruit, and that will only in­crease over time.

“This was a very ex­plicit move on our place to find a life­style block where we had room to play with trees,” says Peter. “I don’t feel any re­sent­ment or any­thing to­wards the time I spend on the truf­fles, it’s good fun and you’ve got to be pre­pared to do that if you’re go­ing to make a suc­cess of it. Some peo­ple have yachts and some peo­ple have baches and some peo­ple have life­style prop­er­ties with lots of trees on them, and if you’re into that – which we are – there’s an enor­mous plea­sure in it.”

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