Into the blue…

The first Monavale berries of the season were on sale at last weekend’s Cambridge farmers’ market.

Twelve months ago, Waipā’s Monavale Blueberries was dealt the cruellest of blows.

The 2022-23 crop from a 44ha orchard boasting than 30 varieties of blueberries in flower was literally frozen to death by a five degree October 7 frost.

Where Monavale planned to harvest five tonnes of berries a day from January to March, it was looking at just 100kg.

Then, to complete the orchard’s worst season in its 38 year history, Cyclone Gabrielle arrived in February to do more damage.

Orchard manager Oliver de Groot told Country Life the 2023-24 crop is -weather permitting – poised to be a good one.

But it, too, has had challenges.

“By the end of our season last year, we had lost 98 per cent of our crop and unfortunately Cyclone Gabrielle had a significant impact,” he reported.

“This year we had a couple of close calls, with two instances where helicopters were called out to protect our crop.  Thankfully this time there was an inversion layer and the helicopter was able to protect our crop with minimal losses.”

He said about half the orchard’s plants have produced fewer flowers this year as a result of the 2022 frost shock. That does present hope that with the plants growing vigorously without as many flowers, they will produce a lot more fruit in the 2024-25 season.

But, de Groot said, there will be fruit available in summer.

“Due to the recent cooler spells, our early season fruit has been delayed by several weeks, and instead of picking in the first week of November, we are expecting to be picking from the first week of December.

“The fruit itself looks to be of excellent quality and we are excited about the coming season.”

Monavale is selling it first berries of the season – from its tunnel houses –  at the Cambridge and Hamilton farmers markets and it is planned for its café, Café Irresistiblue, to be open for pick-your-own berries over the summer this year.

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