Jo and Andrew Horsbrugh
Our orchard is called Tunlaw – the clue is in the name and the answer is at the end!
We decided to become Walnut growers back in 1998. Our place is 120 acres and when we moved in, it was completely bare of trees except for a few neglected macrocarpa hedges.
It had previously been land acquired by the Norman Kirk Government to build his Rolleston town of the future (if only he could see it now!). Rolleston wasn’t built on our place, and the land was sold.
I was 7 months pregnant at the time of purchase. One problem … there was nowhere to live! A trip to the Canterbury A&P Show in November 1999 solved this. There was cottage built by Master Builders there to be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the Rainbow Trust. After quick trip to the bank tent at the show we placed a bid and won the auction. We shifted in with a three-month old baby in 2000; and Tunlaw Farm was named.
We stayed in the cottage for seven years developing the block and bringing up our three children. Over the next 2 years the infrastructure was developed. 18Km of shelter trees were planted. These are a mix of Crowsnest Poplar and Italian Alders. Students from the local Universities helped with this. A lot of work was carried out in weekends or under car lights. The neighbours must have wondered what was going on!
It has been a labour of love, and in 2002 we planted the first Walnut trees. The grafting process was carried out by David Murdoch and the varieties were ones specific to New Zealand. There had been research carried out by Lincoln University to determine the cultivars at that time. Taste, crack out (that’s the proportion of kernel to shell), and crop were some of the criteria. We decided on two main cultivars, Rex and Meyric. We also planted a block of New Zealand purple and Tehama.
Over the next 6 years we planted out the block and installed the irrigation. We have planted 3,856 Walnut trees. Including Shelter, Walnut trees and specimen trees we have planted 35,000 trees, and every tree has water to it.
Eventually we built the homestead. This was completed just before the earthquake in September 2010. The builders were back for another 9 months repairing it.
Autumn is always busy preparing the orchard for the harvest which takes up most of April. The Walnuts are picked up by a harvester, placed in tip trailer, elevated into a washing machine, de-stoner, de-huller and then hand sorted before being elevated up into big tower driers. We employ the same local staff to help with the harvest each year, and I love the catch up during the season. Once the Walnuts are dried they are taken to the factory to be made into various goodies for our brand Trickett's Grove.
The children have always been hands on in the Orchard. They even have their own special tree. Come Harvest it is hands on. The school holidays come at just the right time. They have graduated from picking sticks out of the trailers to sorting. Tunlaw Farm is all they have known and the Orchard is still maturing. There is often talk about the jobs their kids will have to do when they come to stay during harvest.
We enjoy all the seasons in the Orchard, but summer is the only time of the year where it doesn’t need so much attention. As long as the water is going on those trees, we let them be to bask in the sun and feed the nuts.
We love riding the horses through the Orchard in late autumn when the helter-skelter of harvest is behind us. Come June and it’s time to get back into the Orchard. There is pruning to do and any maintenance to machinery is done during this time. Spring comes quickly and the trees start to show life.
We are 19 years into the development of the Orchard. It is now in its “teenage” years and like all teenagers takes a lot of time and energy. Eventually there will be less mowing and less spraying as the tree canopies start to touch.
There is always a bowl of Walnuts with a cracker on the coffee table to munch on, and I love being creative in the kitchen with our Walnuts.
We have a motto written on the wall. Our goal is to grow great tasting, high quality Walnuts and to create a park-like environment that creates joy to all.
Tunlaw Farm … It’s Walnut spelled backwards!