A modern approach to an ancient fruit
Already well versed in the art and science of farming livestock, Gisborne couple Bill and Sally Gaddum have taken to horticulture and developed an entire new set of skills. KRISTINE WALSH visits them at Newstead Orchard . . . After two decades running the
“To this day we ask ourselves what we were thinking… we had no idea of how much work it would be,” Sally says 13 years after she and Bill bought the nearly 20ha Newstead Orchard, just 12km out of Gisborne.
“It has been very challenging but satisfying to look back at how far we have come.” Positioned on mineral-rich clay loam soil, much of the property is planted in thousands of mandarin trees, plus a small portion in Yen Ben lemons and nearly two hectares of persimmons.
The latter, a mixture of Wase Fuyu and Fuyu trees, were planted in the late 1980s and though some were trellised, by the time the Gaddums took over in 2003, most were towering at over 10 metres tall.
“Because we had to use hydraladders it was very expensive to harvest them so a year after we bought the orchard we decided to give them the chop.”
With the help of friend Dallas Atkins and the three Gaddum boys Henry, James and Tom (then aged 13, 12 and 10 respectively), Bill took on the mammoth task of cutting the trees to a fifth of their original size, later building A-frame trellises upon which to train the new growth.
“That allows the trees to be opened out to sunlight and sprays, and allows us to harvest with just the low trolleys… a lot cheaper than the hydraladders,” Sally says. “And it has
resulted in a marked improvement in the quality and quantity of persimmons leaving the Newstead Orchard gate.”
It was a huge job and because there was so much wood to get rid of, it took many months, she adds. “We could have left them as they were but even at the beginning we knew that if we were to get top production, we were going to have to put the work in. That’s just Bill . . . he always gives everything his all.”
Covering the trees or using reflective matting were other options but the Gaddums decided they couldn’t justify the expense.
“So far we have been lucky and not lost any fruit to hail damage, but as with everything in horticulture, we have to roll with whatever comes along.”
Despite all they have been faced with, the Gaddums’ persimmon trees have cropped every year – the last 10 years with the guidance and marketing support of local company First Fresh – and this year the Gaddums hope to see a yield of around 44,000kg (11,000 trays).
Good orchard management practice helps: the trees undergo both summer and winter pruning, and leaf picking around February/March helps to protect the developing fruit from leaf and pest damage. Even so, eyes are always peeled for pests like the dreaded mealybug and then, as always, there’s the weather. This year brought drought conditions after Gisborne’s driest January in over a century, but Sally Gaddum says the persimmons are on target for harvest in May.
And in any case, that’s nothing new . . . when the former Canterbury girl first moved to Gisborne to take up a teaching job, she arrived to a region browned by the great drought of 1983.
Sally Gaddum says that having mentors in the industry who have been “extraordinarily generous” in sharing their wisdom has been crucial to getting their orchard to where it is. And she believes consumer education is key to the growing demand for persimmons.
First Fresh product manager Brian Pepper fosters that in overseas markets and Sally Gaddum says that back home, the fruit is steadily becoming better known and better loved.
“Every time a magazine publishes a story or a recipe, it shows people that these are completely different to the astringent or mushy fruits of old. “There’s nothing like the delicate flavour of persimmon combined with something like a blue cheese. It’s a total revelation.”