AGM Weekend 2011

A series of field days were held around Nelson, in conjunction with the 2011 Annual General Meeting on 4 June.

By Jenny Darragh

HGA newsletter – August 2011

As part of the AGM and Field day at Queen’s Birthday Weekend, a damp Saturday morning found about 30 members at Irene & Phil Hickford’s orchard to a warm welcome and morning tea. The Hickfords have around 800 hazelnut trees 4-6 years old. These are mixed varieties of Whiteheart, Tonda Romano, Barcelona, Merveille de Bollwiller. As we admired the immaculate orchard, Phil explained that he keeps the suckers under control weekly with a $99 mini hedge trimmer and this suppressed the growth of the suckers.

Phil uses a Cifarelli backpack harvester that he has modified to make it easier to use and has it mounted on a trolley. He uses a nut cracker and a separator made by a local engineering company to process the nuts for the local farmers and church markets. To ensure maximum freshness and to prevent nuts oxidising, he vacuum packs the nuts and believes that presentation is very important. Phil recommends letting people sample nuts and has plenty of repeat sales through internet and phone. For more details visit his website at
We adjourned to Brightwater for a lunch that was great value both in content and amusement. The inventive Flat Whites were a lost photo opportunity! The AGM followed at the nearby Brightwater Community church hall.

On Sunday morning we visited Ross and Janet Wood’s orchard in Waimea West. The mainly Whiteheart trees are around 17 years old. The Woods were concerned about overcrowding and thought trees may need to be removed. Murray Redpath found they were healthy trees with at least 15 cm extension of new growth and were cropping well. He suggested Ross and Janet remove lower branches that were protruding into the rows, and also remove some inside branches to let more light in. In some cases a chainsaw would be needed. For the problem of harvesting, Murray suggested they use suspended nets. This is a big outlay to start with but makes the harvesting cleaner and easier, particularly on a small block such as this. Any nuts that are still unharvested are now likely to be of poor quality, and could be put through a chipper on low speed to be used as chicken or stock feed. Janet and Ross had a great variety of other nut trees including pecan, walnut and macadamia.

Later that morning we looked around Terry and Sandra Westbury’s orchard in Redwoods Valley. The property was originally an apple orchard. As the trees have been removed they have been replaced over ten years with hazelnut trees. While having a welcome morning tea, we had a chance to look at their Giffoni Nocchione harvester. The machine removes husks, twigs and blanks so the nuts come out clean and can be put straight into bags to be sorted later. They have washed the nuts in a bath in the past but are looking for an alternative. Murray discussed the importance of cleaning the nuts and this needs to be done twice. Once for a clean and once with a dilute bleach to disinfect as there is a risk of cross contamination from bird and rodent droppings and animal faeces (if stock has been in the orchard). As regulations become more enforced in the food industry this will soon become a necessity.

There was a discussion about drying the nuts – The faster the drying, the better the quality of the nuts. Flowering in the orchard was apparent and Murray said that because the autumn had been mild, data information should now be recorded to enable the success of research to find the most suitable pollinisers in various regions.

After a delicious lunch at Mapua we visited Toni Elliott and Smoky Fry’s orchard near Motueka. They have 1000 Whiteheart, Alexandra, Merveille de Bollwiller, Butler and Barcelona trees that are approximately 10 years old. Because of the climate in Nelson, the management of suckers involves constant spraying – every 1 ½ weeks. With the high rainfall and lack of opportunity to spray, the suckers can grow to enormous heights in a short time. Smoky and Toni remove these with a chainsaw and sell these as tomato stakes.

Suckers destined for use as tomato stakes

Toni keeps excellent records of her orchard so is able to say how much each tree yields and whether a tree is useful or needs to be replaced. They use a concrete mixer for a brief wash with great success as it will wash a sack of nuts at a time. The afternoon ended with afternoon tea and a chat. This was a very successful and enjoyable weekend and our thanks and congratulations for the efforts of Darrell and Karen Johnson and the Nelson members.