The sweet smell of success

TASTY: Feijoa growers Lee-Anne and Mike Stone with their daughters, Emily, 10, and Teresa, 5, in the foreground. 
TASTY: Feijoa growers Lee-Anne and Mike Stone with their daughters, Emily, 10, and Teresa, 5, in the foreground. 

Feijoas, the sweet smell, the gritty taste - you either love them or hate them.

Mike and Lee-Anne Stone have 50 trees with a few gaps caused by some snow damage a few years ago.

They have an orchard on their farm near Norsewood in Hawke's Bay. It is sheltered by high willows bred in New Zealand - the moutere hybrid, which regional councils say has been the most successful clone on very windy sites.

Mr Stone says he started the feijoa trees 20 years ago, after failing in his first attempt.

"I planted 15 and they perished. I realised they needed irrigation for the first two years to get them established. I didn't have that with the very early ones."

He says they have three main varieties: unique, gemini and apollo.

The drought had no impact on unique, which is the big producer.

"Apollo is OK, producing long and sweet fruit. The drought did mean fewer fruit from that variety," says Mr Stone.

But gemini doesn't produce much fruit and it is small compared with the others. "Unique is consistently good as a producer. Our biggest fruit was 260 grams."

Mrs Stone is the main harvester during the week. She picks the fruit when it has fallen, which means it is ripe. Big fruit on the tree is touched and, if it is ripe, it falls off. It sticks to the tree if it is not ready.

The spread of varieties means the harvest takes place over months, rather than weeks.

She says she has been out just once during the week, rather than the twice when the crop is at a peak.

"We sell through the Norsewood dairy and we have loyal customers who ring to ask when the first fruit will be ready."

Mr Stone is keen not to be a price-taker, but would rather they were price-makers. He sells them as troll berries, as a way to add value.

He has been sending some feijoas to a wine-maker to come up with feijoa wine, blended with other sourced feijoas. "It is troll-berry wine and it's magnificent."

Birds pollinate the blossoms, so the trees are pruned so birds can fly through them. The Stones keep the lower parts of the trees pruned, because once the fruit season is over, sheep go into the orchard, keeping the grass down and fertilising it.

They use romney sheep, as they don't climb, says Mr Stone.

Norsewood is at a higher altitude than the nearest town of Dannevirke, but is warmer, says Mr Stone.

It is part of a 31-hectare farm, which has sheep and cattle.

Some people call feijoas pineapple guava. Some varieties have thicker skins than others and are better for exporting.

The Stones say people close to an airport have the opportunity to send the fruit overseas.

"One of the growers in Taranaki lived close to the airport and he used to freight feijoas to California.

"Feijoas are regarded as Spanish cuisine and that's where the orders came from."

Mr Stone says that before he decided which variety to plant, he joined the smallholders' association and read all he could.

Some research into feijoa varieties had been done, but only in parts of New Zealand which had a different climate from Norsewood. He says he will plant wiki tu variety in the gaps because it has potential.

The couple have two children, Emily, 10, and Teresa, 5. They and Mrs Stone's mother, Sylvia Collins, from Tauranga, all go out with supermarket plastic bags to forage under trees for ripe fruit.

Mrs Stone says despite eating the fruit for years, the children still love feijoas. She dehydrates some and makes fruit leathers, which the children take in their lunchboxes. They also take fruit, cut around, but not split, so it stays fresh.

"I also make a gluten-free feijoa cake and crumble. You can freeze feijoas whole and have them year round."

Manawatu Standard