On our farm, the trees are hoarding sugar in their roots and letting their leaves decay into gold and crimson husks. Meanwhile the people have squirrelled away fruit in sugar syrup in case war-time rationing breaks out during this Age of Coronavirus.
So it seems like a good time to sit back and review the thirteen years since we became guardians of this land. A photo of the land when we bought it shows a barren pasture. To our joy, the soil was very acidic (a core requirement for growing blueberries), and so we started digging and planting.
During the first few years, we developed a permaculture plan for the property. It amazes me that 10 years on, we have made the plan a reality (the last effort is to dig a lake for the wetland)
Fast forward a baby, 550 olive trees, a few thousand shelter trees and a thousand or so blueberry plants (and a LOT of pruning and weeding) and here is how that view into the driveway looked in 2016
And finally here we are in 2020, with the dream on track, and a few new additions (over the last week we have been painting the real fruit ice-cream shack) and we have been taking great pleasure in wandering around just enjoying the wonder of growing things, and the explosion of bird life – which is less stressful now we have nets over the blueberries!
Two years in to our organic conversion, and it is time for some reflection. What have we learned? Are we better off?
Our greatest fear was that going organic would overwhelm us with additional weeding. The reality has been that the WWOOF (willing workers on organic farms) scheme has made the transition manageable, and we have met many lovely young people from overseas who are keen to experience our lifestyle and help us out (just a few of them in the pics with this post).
The types of ‘weeds’ that grow under the blueberries and olives have changed to more benign grasses and clovers – which are easier to mow (Olives) or rip out and lay down as mulch (blueberries).
The number of wasps has stabilised at a level where they are not a nuisance, but there are still enough to eat most of the leafroller caterpillars and spiders. Bumblebees love our messy riverbank and tree trimmings and they have provided excellent pollination alongside our bees.
Birds are flourishing in the trees we planted and in spring they protect us from snails eating blueberry leaves, but they have eaten most of our early season berries! Hopefully with nets that fully cover the blueberries this will not be a future problem.
It is too early to tell if the dire predictions of unsustainable olive yields due to fungal disease will come to pass, but we are pruning hard to let light in, and we are saving on costs by not spraying fungicides twenty times per year.
So we can safely say we are no worse off than before. The blueberries have suffered no lack of production. Fertilisers cost more, but we have made savings on herbicides (we never sprayed non-organic pescticides or fungicides).
We feel better about the ecosystem we are caretaking, and the health benefits of our produce. And that is worth a lot.
Waikawa Blueberries and Waikawa Glen Olive Oil are under conversion with OrganicFarmNZ with OrganicFarmNZ
Waikawa Blueberries is a Pick Your Own blueberry farm at 123 Waikawa Beach Rd, located between Otaki and Levin. Click here for the Google Map. Stock up on lashings of blueberries, and engage in a fun, healthy outdoor activity. While you are picking blueberries, kids can jump on the trampoline, and non-pickers can have a game of pétanque (boules provided).
We are generally open on weekends 10 am – 4 pm from December to early January, then from late February to April. To check the weather and see if we have enough berries to pick – see our Facebook page, or text 021712217.
We have EFT-POS available, so you can use credit or debit cards. Pricing is $22/kg for the summer blueberries (December and early January) and $16/kg for autumn blueberries (February – mid April). We provide picking baskets and compostable punnets for packing blueberries – or you can bring your own containers.
We sell our Extra Virgin Olive Oil, along with any other fruit we have in season – apples, pears and plums.
Waikawa Blueberries is under conversion with OrganicFarmsNZ, so our fruit and olive oil are healthy as well as delicious.
The ever popular Easter hunt is on again this year – This Saturday we will be hiding chocolate eggs among the blueberry bushes for the hordes of families we are expecting (yes big people can find eggs as well). Our blueberry bushes are loaded with big juicy berries ready to fall into your picking trays.
Farmer Bee from Zippity Zoo will be joining us again with her gorgeous donkeys, bunnies and other creatures for the kids to pat. The zoo is $2 per child – the Easter egg hunt is free for families picking blueberries.
We now have EFT-POS, and we will have an overflow carpark ready this year, to avoid people parking on the roadside!
A week ago, a frost crept across the land and left brown blotches over the pumpkin leaves, and red stains on the blueberry bushes. Soon, the blueberries will stubbornly refuse to ripen, and the season will be over. Easter is likely to be the last big weekend for picking.
It is a good time to be grateful for a fabulous fruiting season. Each year, the blueberry blossoms run the gauntlet of late spring frosts – just one frost at the wrong time can wipe out a whole cultivar’s crop. This year the PowderBlues were lightly touched by frost, but all the main picking crops (the Nui at Xmas and the Centra in Autumn) were unscathed.
This season we had a wonderful time meeting and chatting with many folks from our local community, who dropped by to pick their weekly blueberry supply, share the history of their land, and update us on the latest local news. My worry about losing touch with friends in Wellington has also been lessened by the number of friends who have travelled North to catch up for a chat and stock their fridges and freezers.
Our lives have been transformed by the fabulous WWOOFERs we have invited to stay with us. Last year we were running out of steam to get things accomplished, and this year, the extra hands have been enough to keep us on track despite the extra work required to get the cottage finished.
There have been challenges – a flood before Christmas washed away the mulch we had just laid down on several new rows. Anni and Ayenna stood with me as we watched days of shovelling undone by the force of the water. And our fig tree snapped off (my fault – should have pruned it earlier), and just recently many of the young apple trees in our orchard were savaged by a hungry hare. The combination of drought and wind has left many blueberry plants on deaths door.
But we intend to learn from each set-back. Our new permaculture food forest project will teach us how to weather frosts, floods, pests and wind. Then we can retro-fit the parts that work across the rest of the property.
Thanks to everyone who has supported us this year – we really have appreciated your encouragement and interest.