Wake Orchard History

The Wake family became established in Hawke’s Bay when my father Archie’s parents moved the family from Clandeboye, which is out towards the coast from Temuka in South Canterbury to a property on the corner of Norton and Algernon roads in Hastings. They settled there in 1913, but I have no idea how long they farmed that property before moving to a slightly bigger farm at Pukahu on the Southern outskirts of Hastings. Dad’s mother Annie Isabella died in 1926 aged 57 and his father died as a result of a heart attack in 1931 aged 67, so both my paternal grandparents had died several years before I came along. Dad was one of a family of eight, three girls and five boys, Dad being the third eldest.

Norman, the second eldest, and Archie both served overseas during WW1 and on their return drew a farm under a resettlement scheme at Raupare on the outskirts of Hastings. This farm backed onto the Ngaruroro River and after two disastrous floods they were forced to leave it.

Archie was awarded the Military Medal for bravery while at the war and on his return, after the farming partnership with Norman, moved into Hastings where he set up a milk delivery business. He married Doris Stairmand in 1924. Archie and his brother Charlie purchased sixteen acres of bare land in St. Georges Road South, which they halved, each building a house and later a packing shed and proceeded to plant both properties in orchard, and in Archie’s case, the milk run providing an income as the orchard was being developed. Another twenty eight acres also on St. Georges Road was later added and cropped with Tomatoes for Watties before also being planted in apples, peaches  and nectarines. The final development that Dad carried out was to purchase sixteen acres on Norton Road. This was planted up with five acres of Golden Queen peaches, six acres W.B.C. Pears, all for Watties, and Granny Smith apples. The accumulated area of Granny Smiths on the three blocks meant that he was probably the largest grower of GS. in Hawkes Bay. The Norton Rd. Block backed onto the twenty eight acre block which gave quick access from one road to the other, a facility that a lot of people soon heard about and made good use of.

The Wake family started to increase with the arrival of Graeme 1933, then Elaine 1935 and myself in 1937. We all attended Havelock North Primary School and then Hastings High School, the latter being a med school then, later to become Hastings Boys High when a new Girls High was opened. Graeme left school aged fifteen and joined Dad on the orchard and eventually Hillview Orchards was formed.

I was fortunate in having an uncle by the name of Sid Morrison. During his youth he had been a successful motorcycle grass track racer before establishing a motor mower manufacturing business probably during the 1930s. The factory switched over to the production of armaments for the war effort for a period before resuming mower production. The Morrison mower became very popular Sid sold the business in 1950 and built an engineering workshop across the road from the mower factory, on the corner of Karamu Road and Wolsely [Wolseley] Street. During the next few years, while I was attending High School, Sid supplied me with a motorbike which I rode to his workshop each morning, then cycled to school and back again after school and spent the rest of the day doing general duties in the workshop before riding the motor bike home in the evening. He took on the agency of several makes of motorcycles including the German Victoria and the English Norton, AJS and Francis Barnett which I used to assemble ready for delivery. This gave me a good start in general engineering principles and maintenance and led onto buying the first of several motorbikes and also helped me to decide on what career I wanted to follow. I was fortunate having this association with my uncle Sid and he had a big influence on me at that time.

I left Hastings Boys High at the end of 1954 after attaining School Certificate level and commenced an apprenticeship with Baillie Motors, a General Motors dealer, with the aim of becoming a fully trained A Grade mechanic which I eventually managed to do. Betty and I married in 1960 then at the end of 1961 I finished at Baillies and joined Dad and Graeme on the orchard, working, but not joining the partnership. In 1963 the queen and Prince Philip, who were touring the country, had requested a visit to an orchard while they were in Hawke’s Bay. There were several properties in the running for the honour, but we were chosen, partly I think, because of the large packing shed and modern packing equipment. Both my parents were on an overseas sea voyage when the decision was announced and without the modern methods of communication only heard of the impending visit when they arrived home in November 1962, with the Queen and Duke due in February. I can remember a big tidy up being carried out and personally repainting the whole packhouse in preparation for the visit. The occasion was certainly a highlight and a very proud time for my parents who had achieved a great deal during their lives by taking a few risks and working hard building a business they could be justifiably proud of.

In about 1965 Archie decided, aged 69, it was time to retire. Graeme continued with the Hillview Orchards Ltd. company and the 28 acres planted in apples and peaches. A house had been built on the property in which Graeme, his wife Judith and family were already living, and also a large shed which Graeme set up as a packhouse after transferring the equipment from the packhouse on the home block. Betty and I formed a company, C.A.Wake Ltd, bought the 16 acres on Norton Road and leased the original 8 acres on St Georges Road. We purchased a Cutler fruit grader from Slaters, a produce auctioneering company in Hastings, moved it to the now vacant building on the home property along with enough ancillary equipment to start packing. Our first year of trading on our own account was 1966. In 1971 we purchased 20 acres on Riverslea Road South which was part of a large operation growing a range of produce for canning as well as the fresh market. During January Archie suffered a heart attack from which he never fully recovered, eventually passing away from a further attack during May of the same year.

The Riverslea Road property was part of Claremont Farms, a large horticultural business set up by a group of local business men to supply local canneries and the fresh fruit and produce market as well as a road side shop on Railway Road. The business eventually folded and the property carved up and sold off. Our block was planted half in apples and the other half in asparagus, the apples consisting of a wide range of varieties planted to give the shop’s customers the best possible selection. All the apples were eventually replanted and the asparagus cropped for two or three seasons before being changed over to apples.

During the nineteen seventies it became apparent that the gentlest method of getting apples from the bin into which they had been picked, to the grading and sizing equipment, was to float them out using water. The bulk handling methods which had been acceptable until then were becoming obsolete through damage occurring. My father had been one of the pioneers of bulk handling, building, at a time when others were experimenting with various sizes and shapes of bins, a fleet of fifteen trailers each capable of carrying approximately seventy carton equivalents (about 1300kg) of apples and riding on balloon tyres off WW2 aircraft to give the softest possible ride.

The packhouse at St Georges Rd, which we were still using, did not lend itself to a water dumping system, so the decision was made to build a packhouse at Riverslea Rd. This was built during 1978, but still using a dry dump system for about three years, then installing a water dumping system. We built a new home in1981, also on the Riverslea Rd. property, in 1982 we purchased twelve acres in Norton Rd. Planted in lucerne which we removed and replaced with apples. We entered into a

share cropping venture on five acres adjoining which we planted up and eventually bought. This property was converted to organics during the 1990’s, but after going through the conversion process and one full season as a fully certified organic operation, it was apparent that it didn’t fit well with conventional methods of fruitgrowing due to the lack of suitable methods of weed and pest control. The lease on the original home block in St. Georges road was relinquished after the purchase of this property and subsequently sold

In the late 1990’s we were faced with the decision of upgrading the packing equipment or packing through a larger operation off site. The trend appeared to be heading towards consolidation of post harvest handling of apples using sophisticated electronic equipment. We felt that the size of our operation probably didn’t warrant the cost of what we would need, coupled with the fact that we were approached around this time with an offer to become a partner in a company being formed to handle fruit through a site already operating in what was formerly Birdseye food processing plant. Our company was one of three in a new company named United Fruit Packers Ltd, trading as Unipac and being sited adjacent to the NZ Apple and Pear Board’s Williams Street operation meant that the finished product on pallets could be moved across to their coolstores by forklift which removed the need for trucks. We also had a close collaboration with Enza as they were in control of marketing. While we were at Unipac our packhouse was leased to an organic apple packing operation for two seasons, after which we ran the operation again ourselves packing organic fruit for an exporting company.

The powers that be at Enza decided that, as we were now up and running again, there was a conflict of interest, so to avoid jeopardising Unipac’s relationship with Enza we withdrew from the company and started packing our own fruit again. At around this time we replaced the Mcdonalds four lane fruit sizer with a more modern machine with electronic colour sorting and upgraded other equipment. The perceived threat of needing the facilities of one the large packing operations hadn’t really materialised and we felt we could run a more efficient business with more control over the end product. We also packed apples for a few other growers, and for a few years, peaches and plums.

I guess at this point we could probably look back on where we’ve come from and that is the plantings, the old plantings that your father hurl, the big vase multi leader trees, the wide spacings down to the modern form of close spacings now, specialised equipment to operate it. Just like to make some comments on that Colin?

The standard type of tree grown from probably the 1930’s right through until the 1960’s was classed as multi leader with at least four main leaders and in the early years even more, sometimes six or eight. The choice of root stock available was pretty limited, usually Northern Spy, a vigorous stock which produced a big tree necessitating a wide planting space, usually 20x20ft and sometimes even out to 22x22ft. The introduction of alternative root stocks during the 1960’s paved the way for experimentation in the way that trees were grown, tree spacings growth habit and tree shape to maximise light. Dr. Don Mckenzie [McKenzie] working at the DSIR Research Station at Havelock North began experimenting with various imported root stocks and different tree shapes in an effort to find the most suitable tree for New Zealand conditions, bearing in mind that we have some very fertile soils and a climate that produces a strong tree. He eventually settled on a stock known as MM106, developed at a research station in East Malling in the UK, which gave a tree classed as semi dwarf in size. This stock was not suitable in a replant situation as it struggled to grow to a decent size and an alternative stock settled on for this situation was M793 which had also come from the same research station. The size of the MM106 tree meant that trees could be planted closer with row spacings also closer. Overall yield increased and the general quality of the fruit improved also. One

of the disadvantages of the newer root stocks was the need to provide support with posts and wires as the smaller root system didn’t provide enough strength to stop trees with a full crop being blown over in a storm. Closer rows necessitated narrower equipment and after much experimenting with various sizes of bins over the years previously, the 1.2×1.2 metre bin evolved, and is still in use today.

You made mention earlier Colin about how sprays have changed and also we’re not using nearly the spray that we used to use 30 years ago.

If we go back to the very early days of spraying, there were some very crude pieces of apparatus used, even to the extent of having permanent pipes buried throughout the orchard and pressurized at the spray shed. There were various points to tap into and with the aid of a long hose and a spraying wand the grower systematically sprayed each and every tree from the ground. This led on to self propelled machines being developed by growers, usually a small converted truck chassis with two gearboxes to get the speed low enough, with a wooden vat over the rear wheels and a platform behind for two people to stand on from where they sprayed each individual tree as they crawled past using handheld wands. This led onto the development of the air blast sprayer and after various iterations has resulted in the sprayers being used today, still using the same principle. Other systems have been tried, some successfully, but by far the most common is still the tractor driven air blast sprayer. It’s inefficient as a lot of the spray is wasted, but a system that targets only the tree has not yet been invented.

Spray materials, thankfully, have improved dramatically overtime. Arsenate of Lead and Lime Sulphur were two of the basics. Lime Sulphur is still being used by organic growers as a fungicide but has a corrosive effect on spraying equipment. Unfortunately Arsenate of Lead is still being detected in soil even now. Sprays now are much more user friendly and have a different mode of action. The Organophosphate sprays were successful in that they killed everything, but unfortunately took out predators and other beneficial insects as well. Sprays were applied on a fourteen day basis, but now harmful pests are monitored closely and targeted specifically only when the needs arises. Resistance to materials used for fungus disease control has meant a lot of development has taken place over the years to enable growers to keep on top of this problem.

There has been a big change in orchard apple varieties too Colin. I would like you to comment on those.

If you go back far enough, a lot of the apple varieties that were grown here originated in England, but then locally bred ones started to creep in. Some of the early pioneer growers became breeders. One who comes to mind was Mr. Kidd from Greytown who gave us the Kidds Orange Red. He also developed an apple which was originally called Kidds D8 and later renamed Gala which was very popular because of its sweet flavour. This variety produced some naturally occurring red sports, one being discovered on an orchard in Matamata owned by Mr. Bill Ten hove. This was named Royal Gala and went on to become the world’s most popular apple. Delicious was an early variety and later became the Red Delicious with numerous improved strains continually being introduced from nurseries in America. This is still a popular variety over there but here in New Zealand many far superior varieties have been created. The DSIR Research orchard at Havelock Nth. Bred many new varieties including the Pacific series. The Pacific Rose was one of those, a dog of an apple which had many faults, and growers persisted with but is now disappearing rapidly. Pacific Queen has been more successful, but can be prone to russet. Granny Smith, which originated in a backyard in Sydney many years ago is still around, although in reduced numbers, and is still popular. Other varieties such as Sturmer, Jonathon, Statesman, Dougherty and Cox’s Orange Pippin have long gone, with the

exception of GOP. which is still grown in limited numbers. Ballarat, a good cooking apple, was once popular also, but has all but disappeared. Braeburn and Fuji are two that have been around for years and higher coloured strains have helped to maintain their popularity. Jazz and Eve are two NZ bred apples commercially owned and now grown in many countries.

The management of an orchard Colin today with the single leader, easier pruning, easier management I guess you would have to have specialised tractors because of the narrow rows. You just might comment on that.

One of the better pieces of equipment that has been developed over the years is the locally made Hydralada, a mobile elevating platform which has revolutionised a lot of tasks associated with tree work such as pruning, thinning and a host of other activities that normally involve the use of ladders. These machines also have a place in picking when used by a skilled operator who can avoid damaging fruit while still maximising the advantage of machine harvesting as opposed to using a ladder. As mentioned earlier, closer rows necessitated narrower machinery and until the advent of specialised narrow orchard tractors being imported from European manufacturers, growers either took it upon themselves or used the services of a tractor agency to modify existing tractors to suit.

So then from your fathers first plantings in the 1930s till now that means you have been going for eighty five years as a family.

Yes I suppose that’s right and there are very few families left in Hawke’s Bay where the descendants are still running the operation. In our case Gary our son came along after completing an apprenticeship in the motor trade and eventually took over running the business, which meant we didn’t have to go through the exercise of planning succession, it just happened. So with Gary carrying on the tradition, who knows how many more years our family will have connections with the fruit industry.

So what level is it at now. How many acres are you totally operating?

We’re running close to 300 acres or 120 hectares, but of that we own about a third and the rest is leased. As well as that we do take in a limited amount of fruit from others to be packed in our packhouse but apart from that all the fruit that we pack is our own.

That’s a fairly impressive growth isn’t it when you think from 8 acres the initial orchard your father had in St. George’s Road to now. Now Colin you haven’t only been an orchardist. You’ve served on some boards and community, you’ve been part of Rotary. You’re a keen Taupo person. Would you like to give me a few briefs on that.

When I first came into fruitgrowing the usual procedure if you wanted to get involved was to get elected onto the Fruitgrowers Association Social Committee. This provided a good opportunity to meet other younger growers and to provide social activities for members of the Association such as the annual picnic and the Fruitgrowers Ball, which was always a sell out success, to name just two. We also provided supper at fruitgrower meetings, which were held reasonably frequently in the 1960’s and 70’s and this gave a good opportunity learn about what was going on in the industry, both locally and nationally. From there, if you were sufficiently enthused, you sought election onto the Executive Committee of the Association. As well there was the Fruitgrowers Federation Advisory Committee which dealt more with the political aspect of fruitgrowing on a national scale and was always chaired by the local director of the Federation. I worked my way through all these committee positions, becoming chairman of the social committee for two years, and then after several years on the executive becoming President, a position I held for four years. At the end of that term l was

awarded with a life membership of the Fruitgrowers Association. I also attended the annual Fruitgrowers Federation conferences as a Hawke’s Bay delegate for several years. This was an opportunity for representatives from all the regions to debate industry matters including Apple and Pear Board operations. The only other activity I’ve had was as a director of the Hastings Building Society for 21 years. I am still a member of the Rotary Club of Havelock North which gives me a lot of pleasure and one way of being able to put something back into the community. We have also owned a bach at Taupo for 36 years so hop up there whenever we can to catch a few fish.

And also travelling. You noted you like Melbourne and some of the suburbs by naming one of your orchards Toorak.

We had returned from a trip to Australia and had to think of a company name for a property we had recently bought. We were quite impressed with the suburb of Toorak, and as we couldn’t think of a better name, created Toorak Orchards Ltd. Betty and l have travelled to England and Europe a couple of times and also Australia and had a good look around our own country, but Taupo, being so accessible is still a favourite. During the late 1980’s the Apple and Pear Board organised tours to British Columbia and parts of California and one to England and parts of Europe, both of which I went on, visiting grower operations, research stations and packing operations which was interesting and informative.

Yes, okay Colin I think that’s a pretty good coverage of your family and your fruitgrowing time in Hawke’s Bay. Oh, just one other famous relative that you have and that was Nancy Wake. Now what was her name, the White Mouse?

Nancy Wake was my father’s cousin. Nancy’s father and my father’s father were brothers and Nancy’s father moved to Australia, and then while Nancy was still very young moved the rest of the family over. Nancy’s life and wartime antics have been well documented. She died in 2012 in her 99th year in England. She was living in France with her French husband at the start of WW2 and became so incensed with what Hitler and his henchmen were doing that she became a resistance fighter, spending the rest of the war years trying to undermine the German war effort resulting in many awards for bravery being bestowed upon her.

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