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

The Orchardist - - Persimmons -

“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.”

Sally Gad­dum

From far left: LET THE SEA­SON BE­GIN: With drought con­di­tions at an end and au­tumn tem­per­a­tures be­gin­ning to cool, the per­sim­mons on Sally and Bill Gad­dums’ Gis­borne orchard get the mes­sage that it is time to start ripen­ing. THE NEXT SEA­SON: Af­ter harves

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