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Subtropicals Aotearoa Ltd looking to the Future
Focusing on diversity, sustainability and climate change resilience, a new subtropical fruit business has been developed in Waipu.
Sara Bennett and her partner Andy recently gave me an exclusive guided tour of their recently built and developed greenhouses in Waipu, south of Whangārei. Sara and Andy established their company Subtropicals Aotearoa Ltd in 2021 and are focusing on growing a diverse range of subtropical fruits, and growing in ways that support healthy soil activity and result in delicious fruit.
Sara and Andy both come from families of home gardeners, and grew up surrounded by home grown vegetables and fruits. “We both love growing things” said Sara, “and we wanted to grow things that were more resilient to climate change challenges than the traditional English fruits. Subtropical fruits are perfect – really good for your health and wellbeing, great tasting, and we’re learning a lot about what grows best in our conditions in Aotearoa.” They initially experimented with a small subtropical food forest, and then expanded to grow under cover as well as outside.
Sara and Andy have established a range of covered structures on their property. “We have put up a series of Queidan structures, which are very flexible with their height, and are fantastic for what we need. We have taller tunnels to support our taller plants, like our different jackfruit varieties, chocolate sapote, starfruit (carambola), and bananas, as well as slightly shorter structures for our tropical papaya”, said Sara.
Inside the taller structure, there are more than 40 varieties of edible bananas established, including some hard to find varieties. Sara and Andy have planted jackfruit varieties, starfruit (carambola), chocolate (black) sapote, yangmei, mombin, rollinia, finger limes, sapodilla, cinnamon and different types of tropical passionfruit. There’s also an intentional focus on diversity, and using the covered space to support research and development to learn how best to grow subtropicals in Aotearoa, under covered conditions.
The taller tunnels were developed in late 2020 and the plants are lush, and growing well. “The jackfruit in particular are loving the shelter from the wind, they’ve grown more than 1.5 m in a year, so we are hoping for the first flowers next year.”
The covered spaces are not heated, and the plants are directly grown in sandy peat. “We grow with nature, and we grow with aroha” said Sara. “This means we use fish and seaweed fertilisers, to feed the soil and the mycorrhizal networks. We see ourselves as caretakers of the land, so we are spray free, and we are working with syntropic food forest and permaculture principles. Sustainability and diversity are two of our key focus areas. It’s working well – the plants are thriving, and we’re getting really interesting results in soil activation.”
Sara and Andy have also developed dedicated Quiedan structures for growing tropical papaya. “We’re growing a range of tropical red papaya varieties, including Red Lady, Solo Sunrise, Maradol Red, and a Tainung hybrid. We want to look at what produces the best, under our conditions” said Sara. “We’re also experimenting with intercropping, and looking at how papaya, starfruit (Carambola), dwarf bananas, mamey sapote, abiu and jackfruit will do together. We want to encourage diversity, vibrant soil activity and healthy networks of plants.” There’s currently about 1300m2 under cover, and Sara and Andy will develop a further 1000m2. Andy said “We are expecting our next wave of papaya to ripen soon. Our initial trial crop of tropical papaya were delicious, sweet and with a lot of flesh, and weighed 1.5kg or more. Our customers at the Roving Rural Market in Waipu loved them.”
There’s also a wide range of subtropicals growing outside, including more than 700 bananas, casimaroa, cherimoya, chocolate sapote, inga beans, Surinam cherries, and others.
Sara and Andy will market their fruit online and direct to customers, and are interested in talking with other growers of subtropical fruits about this opportunity. “We have also established an online subtropical plant nursery, selling a range of edible and harder to find subtropicals. We’ve built valuable experience in e-commerce and direct marketing to customers. We’d love to talk to others who share our values” said Sara.
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Article written and compiled by Stefan Vogrincic
All Article’s checked and edited by Marie Vogrincic
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