Saturday, April 13, 2024

Autumn is my annual reminder of why I fall for trees

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Steve Wyn-Harris enjoys the rich reds and a side of mixed nuts.
Steve Wyn-Harris’s hazelnut hedgerows make good shelterbelts, but the trees are a variety with small nuts, which makes getting a good feed hard work.
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I mentioned recently that one of the distant past authors of this column was a fellow called Roland Clark or Nor’wester, which was his pen name.

He wrote a lot about trees and their importance on farms.

Partly as a result, I became interested in trees myself.

I feel like this column is channelling Roland.

It’s a wonderful time of the year as the deciduous trees clothe themselves in their autumnal splendour.

I used to love browsing the tree catalogues or wandering around nurseries looking at what was on offer. Most planted out on the farm were bought at end-of-season clearance sales to keep the cost down.

Hard to beat are the claret ashes, which are at their absolute best now. They have gone a rich claret red with a carpet forming beneath them as the leaves fall.

That is their drawback – they’re showy, but it’s all over in a week or two.

The golden ashes are also looking great, but like all ashes are wind prone and get blown apart at times.

Liquidambars grow well here in Hawke’s Bay and put on a great display of colours.

I’ve planted several varieties and they colour up with rich reds through to glorious yellows.

They are also known as sweetgums, and I was always shooting possums in them. The possums loved them so much that the trees were often multicrowned, given the possum damage in the leaders.

However, our regional council brought in a possum control programme 15 years ago and they are rare visitors now. The trees and birds have certainly benefited from their absence, but you never get something for nothing; there appear to be a lot more pigeons and magpies about now.

I planted a couple of Zelkovas just so that I could have a tree starting with Z.

They have done well and are promoted around the world as they are elm-like but don’t suffer from Dutch elm disease.

There are heaps of golden elms on this property as my parents were fond of them. I asked them once why they planted so many golden elms and pin oaks and they said that in the 1960s that was pretty well all you could buy at the local nurseries.

The golden elms look great much of the year and grow well. They are starting to yellow up now.

We have had a couple of incursions of Dutch elm disease into New Zealand, and stamped them out at large cost. We are the only country to have eradicated this fungi. It destroyed the elm forests of Europe and America. 

There was talk, after the latest eradication in Sturm’s Gully in Napier in the late 1990s, that because elms are not a commercial species, it wouldn’t be controlled again. Let us hope it doesn’t get back here for a third time.

Roland was also keen on trees grown for food production, so I followed his lead and joined the Tree Crop Association.

I went to lots of their fieldays and planted all sorts of things here.

Most successful have been the walnuts, but only in places where they don’t get wet feet on my heavy clay soils. Mind you, that is the case with almost all trees except radiata.

I do have a few pockets of silt loam beside creeks, and they have done well there and crop heavily.

The chestnuts grow well and look great, but I don’t get the size of nuts that Waikato has. At this time of the year, I gather them up and feed any visitors with roasted chestnuts.

Hazelnuts crop heavily. My hedgerows make good shelterbelts but are a variety with small nuts, which makes getting a good feed hard work.

The pecans have grown well enough but are even more wind susceptible than ashes. They form nut cases but I’ve  yet to get a nut like I’ve seen on trees in Northland. Perhaps I don’t have enough heat units.

Scattered in little nooks and crannies on the farm are things like medlar, quince, carob, lots of crab apples planted for their flowering, and other things I can’t remember the names of, and which will have my successors scratching their heads as well.

Of course, I’ve also planted lots of forestry and had the pleasure of a couple of harvests to date. Having planted, pruned and thinned them and then waited 30 years for the crop, it would be the most satisfying experience of my farming career, watching those logging trucks ship the harvest out.

But over the past decade I’ve planted only natives.

It took 30 years to find my way to them and that story will have to wait for another time.

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