Feijoas a family affair at Matamata orchard
Life at Southern Belle Orchard in Hinuera, near Matamata, is full of variety for the de Jong family Frans and Tineke de Jong moved to New Zealand from their home in Holland in 2003 tempted and intrigued by the taste of our feijoas.
Carrying a chemistry background and having run a successful testing laboratory for many years in Holland, Frans, along with Tineke – who had practiced as a florist and enjoyed gardening – were drawn to this less crowded country.
By combining their skills and passion the couple found their niche and calling using biological methods on their 5.05 ha orchard.
Track forward to 2013 and their son Talbert joined the family business bringing his partner Emily into the mix. “My job is to do the marketing.
We have a very successful B & B on the orchard and along with the produce we grow we also offer the opportunity for visitors interested in our fully biological approach to see our operation in action,” Emily says.
Building relationships with organic produce shops and marketers has also been a focus for Emily, along with maintaining Southern Belle Orchard’s engaging website and facebook page.
“I recently became an editor of a global Feijoa face-book fan page and it has been a really exciting way to promote the fruit around the world.”
Southern Belle Orchard not only has 3000 feijoa trees across 14 varieties but has an extensive greenhouse with a unique heating system, developed by Frans, where capsicums and chillies are grown.
Instead of using sprays biological methods and beneficial insects are used to control pests and diseases and to feed the growing plants.
“Capsicums are vulnerable to a lot of pests and many growers would be spraying a lot to control these,” says Emily.
“We don’t grow this way. Instead we introduce a lot of predatory insects into our greenhouse and we have a big growing medium incorporating pumice with each plant in its own pot into which we add a lot of beneficial micro-organisms and seaweed to create a well-balanced soil.”
The system is fully recycling so nothing is leached, all nutrient solution that the plants do not use returns to a tank to be re-used.
This return water is analysed every month to ensure the plants are getting the right level of nutrients and micro-nutrients.
A unique heating system in the greenhouse again runs counter to standard practice.
While most greenhouses have hot water pipes along the ground, where a lot of the heat doesn’t get to the plant itself, the de Jongs have created a much more efficient system, as Emily explains.
“My father-in-law invented a polystyrene heating tunnel system underneath the plants. Hot air enters the tunnels via a heat exchanger from a burner that uses recycled, cleaned oil.
“The hot air keeps the roots warm and small holes in the polystyrene under each pot allow warm air to rise up through the plant.”
Talbert came from a dairy farming background to join the family business bringing strong inventive skills with him. Even the feijoa orchard outside is structured differently from the norm.
Instead of growing as individual trees the plants have been trained to run along wires, similar to grape vines, allowing for a lot more trees per hectare to be successfully grown and less labour for picking and pruning.
Come November and December the orchard has an abundance of flowers which are pollinated by birds. From the end of March to mid-June additional staff are employed for the harvest.
When it is time for pollination of the feijoa trees birds are used rather than relying on bees.
Collaboration between other producers of top quality feijoas has resulted in the establishment of the brand Zeijoa.
Emily says it’s a good way for those striving to promote the fruit overseas and to ensure the quality remains high to pool resources.
“It’s the second season we have exported through the Zeijoa group and it has gone really well, exporting fruit to Singapore and finding our products on to Australian supermarket shelves.”
You can follow orchard life on their Facebook page and Frans, Tineke, Talbert and Emilly would love to see you at the Hamilton or Tauranga farmers markets.