Fairview Orchards | Apricots
Meet the Grower
Think ‘apricots’ and your mind may instinctively wander to the Central Otago region of Roxburgh. With its extreme daily temperature variation and high sunshine hours, the area boasts an ideal growing climate. Roxburgh is world-renown for its apricots and other summer stone fruit such as cherries, peaches, nectarines and plums.
Meet one of our growers in the Roxburgh region, providing delicious apricots for Anathoth Farm Apricot Jam, Stephen Jeffery from Fairview Orchards.
Stephen comes from a long line of fruit growers. Apricots have been grown on his mother’s side of the family for 5- 6 generations, spanning some 150 years in the Roxburgh region. With approximately 12 hectares of apricots, he estimates the apricot trees in his orchard number in the vicinity of 14,000!
Ripe for the Picking
Apricot harvesting typically begins in January and picking continues through until the first week of February. As fruit ripens from the ‘tips and tops’ of the branches first, an apricot tree may be picked several times in one week – at times, a race against mother nature and the birds!
A young apricot tree may be 5-7 years in the making before the first fruit is harvested, however once mature, may be fruitful for a further 10-15 years. Some of the trees in Fairview Orchard have been 50+ years old and still producing fruit.One of the secrets to a fruitful tree is keeping it well pruned each year. It’s an important part of tree maintenance during the winter season.
Pruning allows for better light penetration to filter through to the lower branches which ultimately results in a sweeter fruit. Whether you are growing apricots in your backyard or commercially, branches will need to be thinned of young fruit so not to be over-burdened once the fruit begins to grow with vigour. Over-crowded branches will produce smaller fruit and possibly break under the duress of excess weight.
A range of apricot varieties are used in our Anathoth Farm preserves. Varieties include: Sundrop (one of the first of the varieties to ripen and be picked in the season), Clutha Sun, Clutha Gold, Vulcan and Valley Gold, to name a few.
Central Otago is a naturally ideal climate for growing apricots due to its cooler nights and milder winter as apricots are quite susceptible to cold and frost damage. Weather, birds and pests can all be a challenge and can ‘make or break’ a season.
Unlike blackcurrants, whereby the use of helicopters to circulate the air above frost zones is common, apricot orchardists take a different approach. At a critical time in spring when the flower bud is most in danger of frost damage, frost fighting is conducted using water. Sprinklers shower the tree in water producing spectacular ice-covered branches. Using the science of ‘latent heat’, as the water freezes it releases energy, protecting the flower encapsulated in ice.
Pollination can also be an issue, particularly during a cold snap in Spring as bees are sensitive to the cold wind. Limited pollination has a direct impact on the yield of fruit harvested.
New varieties of apricot are prone to bird damage as they are so vibrant in colour, birds see them as irresistible targets. Who can blame them!
The team at Fairview works closely with the MAF’s Summerfruit NZ Compliance Programme and the orchard is an approved site. The aim of the programme is to control insect pests while using the least amount of insecticides and they aim to produce summer fruit with almost nil residues.
Spare time, what spare time?!
While summer is dedicated to harvesting, there is always plenty to do any time of the year on the orchard. There is branch thinning to be done in spring, pruning in winter, paperwork to be completed, maintenance of the tractors and trailers to be undertaken, blocks to be prepared for replanting and new irrigation to be installed.
Stephen ensures there’s a work-life balance however and takes every opportunity to take to the hills on his bike. With a stunning Central Otago backyard, there are plenty of mountain biking options. His love of cycling has seen him help build the newly formed Roxburgh Gorge track. For a winter getaway, he’s been known to cycle Vietnam and Cambodia too!
Stephen’s wife Rowena manages Fairview Orchard’s roadside shop which is open daily between November – April so that locals and visitors passing by can purchase their fruit at its absolute best, shortly after it has been picked.
Roxburgh, Central Otago, New Zealand