Orchard visit: Mike & Kathy Davenport, Rolleston

Mike and Kathy’s orchard of 1000 trees was planted in 2006 and the management regime has evolved over time. From their early approach of regular fertiliser and “delicate” pruning to maximise crop, Mike now considers the orchard an amenity rather than a business and manages it accordingly.

Over time Mike has pruned the trunks up, originally to waist height but now to eye level. This sacrifices production area but lets him work below the main branching comfortably. He manages sucker growth with carefully timed sprays of Buster, not only for suckers at ground level but also an early spray of buds emerging along the trunk. He finds this faster and more effective than bud-rubbing.

Mike’s harvest set-up is simple and elegant. Pre-harvest, he rakes out any grass, twigs and old nuts onto the grass and picks everything up with a lawn sweeper. The harvest is then collected using a Bag-a-nut. Although their vacuum harvester is more effective, it requires two people (one to operate and one to drive the towing vehicle) and is only really worth bringing out for a single thorough run once all the nuts are down. By this time, leaves are falling and the soil is getting damp, so the window of opportunity for harvest is much smaller. Using the Bag-a-nut, Mike can easily make many short forays and although the pick-up rate per pass is only 60% or so, this still gives better than 90% pickup after 3 passes.

Mike Davenport's trees, pruned high for comfortable understorey management

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