Some people think that we in Tree Crops have achieved very little, pointing out that we do not yet have any viable commercial orchards.  I think they are talking a lot of nonsense.  Long ago I said it would probably take us 20 years before we would be making big money out of our crops.  This July saw the 10th anniversary of the first meeting at DSIR Lincoln when we formed the Tree Crops Committee.

At that stage all we knew was that nuts grew on nut trees, but we had no idea what constituted a good nut or how we could produce them.  Obviously it would not be easy or the nurserymen would have featured grafted trees in their catalogues instead of advertising seedlings.

The first breakthrough came from a Czechoslovakian report detailing how they had been able to graft walnuts during the winter, using a chamber which would maintain a temperature of 26°C for three weeks.  We tried it and it worked in a fitful way.  Success rates were about 50%.

That meant that we could select a top grade walnut and collect scion wood off its parent tree, graft it and eventually harvest a nut similar to the original.  Further the grafted tree would bear in a third of the time of the average seedling.  Today our best propagators like Chris Ryan, Vernon Harrison, Dave Murdoch, Guy Goldsborough and others achieve far better success rates (but never get round to telling us how they manage it).

walnut trial Orton Bradley Park 1985 pic 1

The Tree Crops Association walnut trial at Orton Bradley Park near Christchurch demonstrates the importance of site. The miserable trees barely visible in the foreground are in a part of the paddock that gets very wet, the excellent ones further back are on a well-drained knob.

We started off like typical Kiwis thinking we were bound to find the best nuts overseas and we spent a lot of time and effort importing overseas cultivars.  Today we know better, realising that the best trees for our purposes will be grafted to local selections which have proved themselves here under our conditions of climate and soil.  For instance the Californian trees are selected where the summer climate hovers around 40°C and winters are cold enough to prevent brass monkeys from becoming fathers.  We have a maritime, reasonably equable, climate.

Rex Baker of the Walnut Action Group will endorse this after having judged 15,000 walnuts sent to him from all over New Zealand.  The best nut is from a seedling, about 45 years old and growing on a hillside badly affected by slips.  He says it is far better than anything he has seen from overseas.  In addition, we have been disappointed at the performance of overseas material grown in Canterbury.  Rex would be the first to emphasise that, while this may be the best nut for Canterbury, it may not be so good for the humid, fungus ridden pastures of the North Island.

I planted more than 100 grafted walnuts on my farm but it was a waste of time because I did not have enough shelter from that vicious norwester and because we get a stinging late frost every other year which kills the new growth.  These negative findings are as important as many of the more positive ones.  We now know that walnuts are demanding in their climate.

walnut trial Orton Bradley Park 1985

Well-known nurseryman Clarry Jones beside one of the excellent walnuts in the dry area of the trial

We learned a lot from the hazels we planted at home.  There is not one we would recommend now, but they were the best available at the time. We did not know which were the best cultivars, which yielded well, which pollinated which, which were subject to big bud mite etc.  Today we can recommend and supply far better hazels, inter- pollinating pairs like Barcelona and White- skin filbert, Ennis and Butler, Tondo Romano and Tondo Griffoni.  We understand the importance of producing nuts which branch satisfactorily, know which yield well and can produce them at a reasonable price.  Hamish Deans and the Hazel Action Group have done an excellent job.

Chestnuts are still an unknown quantity — or the North Island boys are keeping their knowledge to themselves.  We have found good nuts, know how to graft them and believe there is a good future for them as a commercial crop.  But none of the experts like my good friend lan Howat, will tell us which nut they think is the one to plant or which is pollinated by which.  The best of my knowledge is that W1005 is the best all round nut and is pollinated by W1011.  Ian, is that your opinion?

We have sizeable plantings of macadamias going in.  My contact here is Don Boyes- Barnes who has worked out a system of producing grafted trees.  The two he gave me are growing well on Banks Peninsula.

And I see Owen Long is producing pecan trees.  Good on him.  One enthusiast like him will get more done than a dozen scientists — unless they, too, are enthusiasts.

As we met and talked together, the field for Tree Crops widened.  John Smith initiated the search for trees which could provide out- of-season forage for bees and Chris van Kraayenoord and he produced a world first in their chart showing the flowering time for willows.  Using it, you can feed bees any week you like by planting the appropriate willow.  Canterbury beekeepers now have their own bee tucker orchard for growing willows.  Again we planted a lot of supposedly perfect bee forage trees, most of which were useless in our climate.

We need to look at trees for feeding stock. Trevor Lennard at Te Puke is our leader here with his honey locust trees.  We should have a properly conducted trial, incorporating the best of the oaks (supplied by Don Hamilton our oak expert from Katikati). We have someone somewhere working on growing carobs which make up the biggest export from Cyprus and which could provide winter tucker in our drought areas.  We should incorporate apples and pears in the trial — just think of the tonnage of fruit they drop each year v and Don Mackenzie recommends we try sweet cider apples because they have not been weakened by generations of sprays.

Doug Davies is a familiar figure to us all. I think his work on tagasaste could be the most important idea to come out of Tree Crops.  Farmers in drought prone areas still rely on ryegrass pastures which we know will fail every time we have a drought. Imagine how delighted they would be if they had a bank of feed ready for the dry time in the form of tagasaste (commonly called tree lucernel just as they provide a bank of feed for the winter months in the form of swedes and turnips.  He is responsible for the full- scale trial on our Canterbury president’s farm on the driest part of the Banks Peninsula.  Alistair and Jennifer Menzies are leading the way in what could become a revolution in pastoral farming.

We are looking at trees for oil production. There are a few olives in Christchurch, one at St Matthews Church in Cranford Street is loaded with olives this year and as it is the only one anywhere round, I deduce that olives are self fertile.  There are some very heavily fruiting trees at Waipara in North Canterbury, good selections which can be struck from cuttings.

There is a whole field of trees grown specially for firewood.  Thanks to the proliferation of log burners there is very little available firewood but Bill Brandenburg and David Jackson are planting a coppice at Lincoln this spring.  We should be involved.

We should be planting trees whose wood does not rot in the ground on the farms to provide home grown posts.  The Gisborne branch took me to see Bob Bell’s plantation of Catalpa speciosa.  He used the trees for setting up his vineyard instead of buying vastly expensive treated posts.  He might have used Robina Pseudoacacia, like the farmer who came into the Queenstown conference with a post of Robinia which had been in the ground for 40 years.  He was going to turn it end for end.  The Scots settled South Otago.

So where are we after 10 years?  We have developed the idea of using trees which can produce an annual crop and we have spread the word so that our journal now goes to 10,000 people.  We have selected elite trees and developed propagation methods. We have planted many trees and got a lot of information from them, both positive and negative.  We see some second generation plantings, better than the first ones, going in. We have tapped the brains of overseas experts like Maxine Thompson, lchiro Kajiura and Pierre-Jean Averseng, bringing them here and visiting them in their own countries.

We have made many people more aware of the importance of trees and we have encouraged them to go ahead and have a go themselves.  And I think we have had a great deal of fun.

Layering hazels, 1985

A successful method of layering hazels. The subject is a Barcelona from Oregon which was grafted. The long scion was bent over from right to left of the photo and pinned down to the ground last spring. A couple of boards were put on either side and filled in between with sawdust Hormone powder was put on the bottom of the scion where each downward facing bud had been removed. The result was seven first-rate, well-rooted layers this winter.

There is plenty of challenge ahead in our changing world.  The knowledge we have won may be invaluable to third world countries. Plenty of new fields are ahead.  There is nothing stopping us getting involved in the protea family of flowers, many of which are borne on shrubs and trees.  I think some of us should be looking at a crop of beauty from our trees and I think of the glorious colours of sugar maples in the autumn, the rich russet colours of English oak leaves still on the tree till they are cast aside in the spring, and the beautiful patterns on the barks of our maritime pines in Hagley Park.

We are concerned with some of the minor fruits like the feijoas.  I wish our Taranaki branch would write in and tell us something of what they have learned.  I would like to read more about citrus, figs and mulberries.

I would like to see how the Irish manage their willow plantations so that they can be cropped annually for fuel.  They have devised a system whereby they can heat their greenhouses from this home grown fuel, which gives them the equivalent of seven tonnes of coal per hectare a year.

And all the time we must remember that, though the association must be financially viable, money is not the only objective.  The mass of our members are interested in trees because they are interesting.  From this mass, those who wish to make a few bob can branch out, opening new fields but remembering that they are but a branch of the main trunk which must give back information and help at the same time they receive it.


McKenzie award to Bernard Vavasour

Some time ago Dr Don McKenzie, a founder member ofthe Tree Crops Association gave the association a fossil walnut (Juglans tephrodes UNG). This walnut was set in resin and mounted onto a walnut base by Mr Reg Williams of Henderson Intermediate School at no cost to the Association. As Mr Williams is not a member of the association this gesture is much appreciated.

Dr Don award and its crafter

The Trophy and its craftsman

Delegates at the AGM of the NZTCA conference held at Hamilton in May decided that the first recipient of this award would be Bernard Vavasour of Blenheim. While Bernard Vavasour has been a long-time member of TCA the award was made principally for work done during 1984. The production of the book Growing Walnuts was acknowledged as a major contribution, being the first of its kind produced by a Tree Crops’ member on one of our crops.

The award will be presented to another member at next year’s conference and advance publicity will be sent out to enable branches to nominate people for this attractive trophy. We are hoping to obtain further details about the fossil walnut apart from the fact that it was retrieved from a German coal field and is calculated to be 8-9 million years old.