A Tale Of Cyclone Gabriel's Impact On A Hastings Orchard
How a fruitful partnership emerged from the destruction of Cyclone Gabriel. Meet Hugh & Mary, suppliers of Wonky Boxes Kiwifruit!
Hastings and the surrounding Hawkes Bay region is renowned for its ideal climate and fertile soil, making it a prime location for growing a wide variety of fruit & vegetables. In particular, stone fruit, kiwifruit, citrus and grapes which make delicious wine. However, this year, the region was hit with utter destruction as Cyclone Gabriel tore through orchards, vineyards and homes, resulting in people’s lives and livelihoods being turned upside down. We recently had the privilege of visiting Hugh and his wife Linda, the supplier behind Wonky Box’s Kiwifruit, and heard firsthand about the trials and tribulations his family and orchard faced in the wake of this devastating force of nature.
Hugh's orchard, which also cultivates cherries in addition to green and gold kiwifruit, had high hopes for the upcoming season before they were met with Cyclone Gabriel's devastating blow. The cyclone ravaged the orchard in the first week of February, wiping out a staggering 60% of their crop. The aftermath left in the cyclone's wake was equally crippling - standing water, about a meter deep, suffocated many of the thriving vines. And the relentless rain that followed ensured that the waterlogged ground remained unyielding, dealing a final blow to the trees, many of which now need to be dug up.
We took a stroll through the orchard where patches of vines once vibrant with kiwifruit were now barren, replaced by patches of green grass. The grass grows as there is no fruit on the trees to cover the sunshine above. The vines that survived were marked with ribbons, signalling their need to be removed. Hugh reported that a staggering 2000 trees will need to be replaced this year alone, highlighting the long road ahead for the orchard to regain its footing.
In a typical year, Hugh and his team would send their kiwifruit to Zespri, a renowned packhouse and distributor in the industry. However, as Hugh aptly put it, this year’s circumstances made sending the remaining 40% to the packhouse non-feasible “as the economies of scale didn’t add up.” Determined not to let their hard work go to waste, they reached out to Wonky Box. Due to the challenges posed by the scaled-down harvest, Hugh and his family took it upon themselves to personally pick the Wonky Box kiwifruit each weekend. This step was taken out of practicality, as it wasn't financially viable to hire a team of pickers, given the circumstances. The remaining green kiwifruits, some meeting retail specifications and others not due to their size and appearance, have found a new purpose within Wonky Boxes across the North Island.
Whilst walking through the orchard, Hugh shared valuable insights into what makes kiwifruit "Wonky." These are the fruits that don't conform to the market's aesthetic norms:
- "Too Small" or “Too Big”: Kiwifruit sizes that don't meet standardised expectations.
- "Too Flat": This anomaly results from the fusion of two kiwifruit flowers, creating a larger, flatter fruit. Hugh notes that these are the best-tasting kiwifruit due to the increased surface area. He reported that the ‘dry matter’ or the fluff on the outside of the fruit helps it sweeten; therefore, the bigger the surface area, the better tasting the fruit. They are still rejected!
- "Too Ugly" or Scarred: Marks from branches brushing against the fruit in the wind give them a less polished appearance.
- "Hayward Hook": a small hook on some fruits can lead to skin tears during sorting, hastening the ripening process.
Amidst the challenges posed by Cyclone Gabriel, Hugh and his steadfast team in Hastings are determined to restore the orchard's former glory. Their admirable dedication to the land and orchard is truly commendable, and Wonky Box is pleased to assist them on their journey.