Jen Scoular’s orchard

At 0.2ha, Jen Scoular and Bob Sutton’s avocado orchard is never going to replace their day jobs, but that’s not the aim.

“I recognised that I needed to know more about growing avocados than I could from field days and from behind my desk,” says Jen, who is CEO of the New Zealand Avocado Growers Association Inc and NZ Avocado.

So five years ago she and Bob planted 50 avocado trees on part of their 2.023 Ha property, well aware that at 150m above sea level, in the Kaimai Ranges, and often subjected to severe frosts, it wasn’t the ideal avocado environment.

Jen had attended field days, talked to technical experts and read extensively about avocado orcharding, but the gardener in her knew there is nothing like watching trees through the seasons to understand each change in their cycle, and the impacts of pests, disease and weather.

Jen told the — people who attended a field day at the orchard in August, that in 2014 she couldn’t buy trees. “Avocado trees were in demand and none of the nurseries were able to sell me even a few trees. I told Ashby Whitehead, (the then chairman of the board) that I wanted some trees and he offered 50 he was about to mow over in his kiwifruit orchard.”

Hedging his bets, Ashby had planted the trees in a new block of G3 kiwifruit. When the kiwifruit vines performed well, Ashby planned to remove the avocado trees, and shortly before receiving Jen’s request, had Hi-Caned the kiwifruit and avocados, leaving the trees completely defoliated.

Knowing how they’d been treated, Jen nevertheless took the risk, and the trees were transported, bare-rooted, three to a bucket and planted with little preparation, on the sloping grassy site.  Jen says it is “sort of north facing – if you turn a bit to the right”.

“On reflection I should have done more preparation including improving the soil before planting the trees. This part of what is in effect our garden, had received virtually no attention for the 20 years we had owned it, and probably not much before that.”

Despite their poor start in life, around half of Ashby’s trees survived and this season many have a promising crop of fruit. Jen and Bob have since planted another 40 Bounty and Dusa clonal avocado trees, this time following the avocado planting guide, and are expecting their first harvest this season.

Technical manager with Just Avocados, Erica Faber is consultant for the orchard, guiding Jen and Bob in its management. “We are following her advice and industry best practice using foliar sprays and take regular leaf and soil samples to monitor tree and soil health.”

In her quest to truly understand avocado growing, Jen does much of the work herself, including pruning, applying foliar fertiliser and copper, (via a 15 litre backpack sprayer) and pest monitoring. Bob looks after mowing and spraying.

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