Do you have the passion?
Passionfruit is a subtropical fruit which thrives on warmth and needs a sheltered frostfree environment for successful production. The season can last from Christmas through to late September, which is an extremely long harvest period.
Passionfruit normally appear in the supermarkets from late January. Harvests peak in April and there are limited supplies until at least July. Some exporters will still be going until September.
The centre of passionfruit production was initially in Opotiki, in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Today most of the country’s passionfruit orchards are located in Katikati, west of Tauranga. Currently there are 65 members, from diverse areas such as Kerikeri and Whangarei in Northland, South Auckland, and down in the Bay of Plenty’s districts of Opotiki, Kawerau and Katikati. There are Taranaki growers, along with others in pockets of the South Island’s Nelson and Karamea locations.
The New Zealand Passionfruit Growers’ Association has been established for more than 20 years, and in this time, a range of growers have come and gone.
Since the 1980's membership numbers have remained steady as old growers left the small circle and replaced by new enthusiasts. It is hoped by the association that more growers will plant commercial-sized crops because the demand and prices gained from exports are healthy and look to improve over the foreseeable future.
New Zealand’s first commercial plantings of purple passionfruit were located at Kerikeri in 1927, and a few years later more were established in Auckland and Tauranga. Until the mid-1930s, successful cultivation of passionfruit was relatively easy but
since then, the incidence of disease has made commercial production more difficult, resulting in reduced yields and increased costs.
Purple Passionfruit ( Passiflora edulis) is the only variety grown commercially in New Zealand at present. Variants of the purple passionfruit from Australia have been tried and although they colour up well in the heat of summer, the early and late fruit tend to have a lot of greening, which makes them unacceptable in the market place.
FRUIT FLY FREE
New Zealand passionfruit growers benefit because the country is free of fruit fly, and this allows our fruit access to most world markets. The association says that few, if any, insecticides are used on New Zealand passionfruit so buyers can be assured of zero chemical residues at the point of sale.
Because the fruit drops to the ground when ripe, this easily ensures consistent quality and sweetness. Unlike most other fruit where time affects taste, New Zealand passionfruit actually improves with age and the wrinkled appearance is a good sign- hence the saying ‘sweeter when wrinkled’.
The fruit is harvested and packed in single-layer trays and reaches world markets within 24-48 hours of leaving the orchard. Each individual fruit is labelled with a PLU sticker and trays are wrapped in a plastic liner to stop dehydration.
Depending on size, there can be between 28 and 42 fruit per tray. Export fruit has a final audit check by Agriquality staff for quality and pests before being air freighted. Passionfruit can be kept up to four weeks if stored in a refrigerator at the correct temperature.
The purple passionfruit, Passiflora edulis, is a native of the Amazon rainforest margins of Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina. It adapted to cooler sub-tropics and highaltitude tropical climates.
There are many other passiflora species spread widely around the globe. Interestingly, about 50 species are native
to New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific and South East Asia.
Passionfruit acquired its name from Spanish missionaries who thought parts of the plant's flower resembled different religious symbols. The Jesuit missionaries who accompanied the Conquistadors to South America saw in its striking flower a means of illustrating the Crucifixion; the 10 petals and sepals represented the apostles, the crown of thorns was seen in the filaments, the five anthers represent the five wounds, the three stigmas were allied with the nails used to pierce the hands and feet of Jesus and the vine's tendrils were equated with the whips.
The availability of New Zealand grown passionfruit depends upon the location and pruning times. In certain areas growers prune for very early or very late crops, in order to produce fruit outside the normal growing season. This is all important to fetch better market prices.
Passionfruit produces a continuous crop, with flowering and fruit set happening at the same time as the first fruit ripens. This continual flowering extends the harvest season of passionfruit over several months, commencing in late January and going through to September. Frosts may reduce the crop during the middle of the year. Pruning terminates the ripening season in early spring.
HORT OR HOBBY?
The association’s growers believe there are key factors that must carefully considered by would-be growers.
What are your real objectives? Are you looking for a hobby, or a horticultural interest which provides an income but little or no investment return, or a serious commercial investment?
Reasonably, one person can look after 400 plants on a full-time basis, says the association. A lone-grower must have the time available to put into a successful crop. Regular tasks include spraying during the growing season, trailing the vines, harvesting the fruit from the ground, cleaning and grading the fruit for sale, whether it be for export or the local market. A successful passionfruit crop requires attention every day during the growing season – not just at weekends.
KEY SUCCESS FACTORS
The association is keen to ensure all fruit supplied to overseas and New Zealand markets is of the highest standard and has developed acceptable quality guidelines in a visual format, which can see seen on its website, www.passionfruit.org.nz.
The following key success factors must be met for passionfruit growing to be viable: • the proposed site should ideally be
north facing and frost free • passionfruit should be planted in
rows running north to south • free draining soil - passionfruit do
not like ‘wet feet’ • adequate shelter needs to be established before planting to protect from wind • a soil test will determine the nutrients required for ideal growing conditions
adequate rainfall or access to irrigation during the growing period and dry spells
effective plant and machinery for spraying, mowing and other orchard activities
a suitable hygienic area available to clean, grade and pack fruit
• The greatest returns are received from exporting passionfruit. There are many New Zealand and overseas requirements relating to exporting subtropical fruit which growers must comply with, for example, grower registration, spray certification, and so on.
Passionfruit vines require a warm, moist environment to thrive. Commercial passionfruit production is only possible in relatively frost free locations; however, vines will tolerate a slight frost of minus 1-2 °C for short periods. More severe frosts will kill the growing shoots, and cause severe fruit damage and fruit drop.
An orchard should ideally be established in a deep, well drained sandy loam. Poorly drained soils cause the vines to become susceptible to root disease which can rapidly kill the plants. Where natural drainage is inadequate a suitable drainage system should be installed before planting.
Clockwise from top left:
2017-18 Committee: From back left: Terence McHardy (Athenree) Gavin Stilwell (Opotiki), Andrea Lee (Kawerau) and Phil Cursons (New Plymouth). Front row, Tony Wright (Katikati) and Rebekah Vlaanderen (Oropi, Tauranga). Absent is Isa Dyet (Tauranga).
Bay of Plenty growers made the most of having the AGM in their area. From left, Trish and Lance Chipchase (Katikati), Andrea Lee (Kawerau), and Malcolm and Carolyn Muir (Tikitere, Rotorua).
Cathy Tang (Te Puke) enjoying meeting other growers at the annual gathering.
Catching up over a drink. From left, Warwick Lee (Kawerau) and Gavin Stilwell (Opotiki).
From left, Duncan Rutherford (Tauranga), Russell Faulkner (Tauranga), Stephen McIsaac (Katikati), and Phil Cursons (New Plymouth).