Windsong Orchard

May 2016

An organic orchard grows plums to sell at farmers markets in Marlborough and Nelson

Jennie and Bob Crum established Windsong Orchard in parallel with their work, amongst others, establishing the Marlborough Farmers’ Market. The certified organic orchard allows the Crums a “good living with a small footprint”. Lots of “good wholesome hard yakka” affords the Crum’s a sustainable lifestyle with Tuesday afternoons indulging their passion for sailing, and winters in Bob’s native California.

Windsong Orchard is a 2.5 hectare mixed fruit orchard, BioGro organic certified since 1986. The orchard has over 20 varieties of plums, 7 varieties of blueberries, table grapes, kiwifruit and 3 kinds of feijoas. The orchard is owned and operated by Bob and Jennie Crum with help from woofers.

The crops are sold largely through direct selling at local markets – the Marlborough Farmers’ Market and the Nelson Market, as well as wholesaling to a chain of local greengrocers. An honesty box operates at the gate of the orchard and the blueberry harvest at it’s peak is opened for “pick your own”.

Jennie says in some respects they are “selling memories” – growing and supplying old and tasty varieties of plums that people remember from their own childhood. The table grape varieties they grow often invoke memories from older folk of stealing them from neighbour’s vines.

The Crum’s have a particular passion for plums. Jennie says, “I like to think I can find a plum for everyone”.

Windsong Orchard was established in the 90’s. Jennie and Bob Crum were ski instructors, but with their first child due they were looking for a more settled lifestyle. An opportunity presented itself in Blenheim – Bob’s brother needed someone to oversee his small nectarine orchard. Being hyper aware of the toxicity of chemical spraying during pregnancy, the Crums moved into organic growing.

The nectarines were a difficult crop. Bob had noted how well a plum tree grew in the area (Jennie referred to it as “bullet proof”) so the couple enlisted the help of a knowledgeable old gardener in the area and he taught them how to graft and they grafted the nectarine trees with plums. They then went on to buy the property from his brother.

The growth of the orchard paralleled the establishment and growth of the Marlborough Farmers’ Market in Blenheim.

Bob and Jennie had been impressed with the burgeoning farmers markets in Bob’s native California. In NZ, the Hawkes Bay and Whangarei Farmers markets had just been established. Bob and Jennie were founding members of the Marlborough Farmers’ Market. Jennie was also involved in the setting up of the NZ Farmer’s Market Association with chef Chris Fortune and others from existing markets. As the term ‘Farmers’ Market’ couldn’t be legally protected they developed a firm definition as a guideline to help developing markets and wrote a handbook for both new stallholders and market managers.

The key to the ‘Farmers’ Market’ is that the term denotes edible produce (or flowers/seedlings) grown, caught and/or processed in a defined local area and sold by the producer.

These markets also enable immediate feedback and a direct 2-way conversation between customers and producers. Jennie said they’ve planted specific varieties after requests from customers. For example they’ve had a lot of German customers asking for Zwetschgen plums (used in traditional German plum cake etc) – this has led to the Crum’s planting the variety.

The development of the market and the orchard has seen Bob and Jennie planting fruit varieties to assure they have ample produce to sell at the market 6 months of the year.

Jennie notes that selling at mixed markets that have crafts as well as food, she has to work much harder to sell the fruit even if customer numbers are much greater. People are there for many reasons and higher price items like craft etc. can soak up a person’s money.   At the Farmers’ Market customers are there specifically for edibles and sales are therefore easier.

Bob and Jennie were one of the first 100 orchards certified by BioGro in the 80’s. At that time most people saw them as “crazy hippies”. The Crums have a strong belief in being BioGro certified – it assures they’re offering a legitimately organic product, especially as other growers seek to bend the definition of ‘organic’ in order to market their own produce.

Jennie sees their way of growing as conventional gardening, pointing out that it is the agrichem growers that are really the ‘new kids on the block’.

Their key methods are:

  • Don’t burn prunings – thy mulch them all back into the soil
  • Comfrey is their “weed of choice” – the deep roots help to bring up nutrients from below and their carbon/nitrogen properties are perfect for adding to compost. They also scythe off the leaves – it rots down quickly while shading out other weeds.
  • They have self seeding parsnips and grow parsley around the orchard – the flowers provide homes for natural predators for aphid control
  • The plums are fed in Spring and Autumn with a fish fertilizer that they run through their irrigation system.
  • They apply EM (‘Effective Micro-organisms). This is a natural product with a unique composition of a diverse group of bacteria, yeasts and fungi (more than 80 strains) that was developed in Japan. The product is an advanced microbial inoculant that jumpstarts and/or restores the beneficial biology leading to better soil structure. “Micro-organisms are the hidden magic that allow a healthy soil to flourish.” The Crums first encountered the product when they were looking to better the health of their early ailing blueberries. (Notably blueberries are quite a difficult crop in the stony soil at Renwick but they are a drawcard for the orchard stall.)
  • Key concerns at present are water. The aquifer has not been recharging as it did in winter – it’s suspected this is due to local flood work. They have one bore but have attached a smaller pump and this seems to be working for now.

Bob is a sustainability champion, a master of “making do”. For example he has an ancient tractor that has an old Green Party hoarding on the back of it that he uses for mowing.

Bob and Jennie do the harvesting of the plums, as they’ve developed the detailed knowledge of what fruit is ready to eat now or tomorrow. Jennie tells a great story about a customer whom she supplies with 7 days worth of plums with each plum selected to ripen each day over the week for eating.

Woofers are sourced online though they are now recruiting through word of mouth and have some returning season to season. The woofers are given accommodation in a flat attached to the pack-house and stocked with food. Jennie cooks a big mid day meal for all. Woofers work from 8.30-12.30 each day.

Only during the blueberry season do they need to employ 1-2 people to help with picking the crop.

Looking to the future, Bob continues to hunt for the best plum varieties to enlarge the range and is even keen on ripping up the feijoas to plant more plums.