Sumner’s heritage fruit tree forest plan

BOUNTY: Members of the Sumner Community Gardens: (L to R) Rosie Hay, Suzy and Bryan Kaschula and Kevin Hay.

Sumner man Keith Hay wants to establish a ‘bank’ of heritage stone fruit trees in the suburb.

Mr Hay is a member of the Sumner Community Gardens, which in the winter of 2014 planted a ‘food forest’ in the grounds of Van Asch Deaf Education Centre, where the old laundry block was.

The forest idea involves planting in layers, from larger trees like pear and plum, down to smaller dwarf varieties and bushes such as gooseberry, raspberry and currant.

After seven years, the forest should become self-sustaining, said co-ordinator Kathryn Newbery.

Mr Hay wasn’t there for the original plantings but has since moved into the suburb from Opawa and is particularly interested in the fruit trees.

He and his wife had a small orchard in Opawa Rd and he grew up on his parents Ian and Evelyn’s Horotane Valley orchard during the 1950s and ’60s.

Many of the commercial varieties they grew have since disappeared, and he is keen to re-establish them.

This involves sourcing bud wood or grafting wood from plum trees and apricot trees – particularly those grown commercially or locally in Horotane Valley and Heathcote Valley in the 1940s through to the late 1970s.

They include early Australian import roxburgh red, moorpark from England, Californian variety newcastle, hemkirk, dullins, royal and steven’s favourite.

Some of these still be bought in nurseries, he said, but others are more elusive.

It was the advent of supermarkets in the 1990s that spelled the end for most boutique growers around Heathcote and Horotane, said Mr Hay.

“They didn’t want the auction system so when you took fruit in the auctioneer just said: ‘This is the price.’ And the supermarkets preferred long-keeping varieties like sundrop. If you’ve got a whole lot of dairies and they buy one or two cases and sell them within a day or two then they’re in to get more each day. But it’s a different process with the supermarkets.”

Because they bought in larger quantities they wanted fruit that would store well, he said.

“So the old varieties have died out. Some of them were 70-80 years old or more. And what didn’t die out they bulldozed. That’s happened all around New Zealand and all those old varieties we knew on (our) orchard are pretty much gone.”

Ms Newbery said Mr Hay coming on board at the community garden had provided a perfect opportunity to graft onto the food forest’s existing root stock and start increasing the diversity of what was currently there.

“His background has meant he brings a lot of expertise to what we’re doing there; he’s really helped us with pruning and taught us to prune more effectively which has been fantastic.”

•If you can help please phone Kevin Hay on 326 7280 or 021 213 3053