When Geoff Mansell wants to go to the tropics, he has to walk only as far as his greenhouse at Maungatapere, west of Whangarei.
The extra-high roof on the greenhouse allows for the graceful arches of large palms, where he and business partner Roslyn Norrie are experimenting with varieties of subtropical and tropical plants.
Mansell said bananas, pineapples, mangoes, papaya, custard apples and other exotic fruits were being grown in New Zealand on an increasing scale.
"Until recently, these have been mostly sold at farmers' markets and gate stalls.
"Imagine walking into any supermarket in New Zealand and being able to buy a wide range of subtropical fruits grown here.
"That's becoming increasingly possible due to some key developments,'' he said.
Kotare Subtropicals is a certified multi-site grower based in Northland. The business aims to bring together growers who are teaming up to offer sustainably grown and harvested subtropical produce to a wider range of retail outlets.
Mansell said plantings of subtropical fruits, including bananas, pineapples and sugar cane, are expanding in frost-free areas of New Zealand.
"These plantings reflect a surge in interest among landowners to try growing different crops. Northland's climate meets requirements for growing subtropical and some tropical fruits.
"There are plantings of bananas, pineapples, coffee bushes, cherimoya, prickly pear and sugar cane.
"In more marginal climates, plantings of subtropicals are being grown in unheated greenhouses,'' he said.
Mansell said locally grown fruit was allowed to ripen naturally, unlike imported fruit, and could be grown without sprays or fumigants.
"Naturally ripened fruit is always sweeter as they can be picked when they are ripe, unlike imported fruit. Increased local production will also mean New Zealand consumers have more varieties from which to choose.
"Many different kinds of bananas are grown here, including Cavendish, Hybrids developed in Honduras and Australia, and Lady Finger types from the Pacific Islands. These varieties provide us with a wider range of flavours and choices.
"Locally grown pineapple types range from a smaller and more tender Queen through to the larger and more acidic Red and Cayenne-type pineapples,'' he said.
Mansell said his crops were being grown in a double-skinned, unheated greenhouse, and most have been thriving.
"I have to be selective in how they are fed as different crops have different requirements. We just try to mimic what they need in our Northland environment,'' he said.
Each variety requires a particular fertiliser regime, and regular soil tests help him to keep conditions in balance.
The huge banana leaves have been popular with local restaurants where they are cut up and used to enhance the presentation of dishes.
"We need to be able to grow the plants in an unheated greenhouse as we don't want to get into having to use coal or diesel for heating.
"We also have fewer sunshine hours so we are experimenting with what will grow well,'' he said.
Mansell also has about 3ha of the 4.7ha property planted in figs, feijoas and bananas planted outside.
There are about 1000 feijoa trees, with varieties chosen to cover harvesting for as many months as possible.
"We have early varieties such as Kakariki, mid varieties such as Apollo and Kakapo, and late varieties such as Wiki Tu.
"The orchard produces about 13 tonnes. We sell as many as we can grow,'' he said.
He said commercial feijoa trees were kept well mulched and pruned so "their skirts are lifted" and top growth is open and in the shape of an upside-down umbrella.
"We cut the branches back by one-third each year and the fruit forms on the new growth,'' he said.
"There were about five varieties of figs, but we have narrowed it down to what grows best in our locale including the sweet French Sugar and Gross Longue Verte.
"They are quite different to the figs that were commonly grown in old home orchards,'' he said.
Mansell said the next step for smaller-scale New Zealand growers and emergent growers was to utilise Kotare Subtropicals for its pathways to market and for infrastructure and support.
"Through Kotare Subtropicals we have achieved NZGAP [New Zealand Good Agricultural Practice] certification for multiple sites which gives us the ability to sell in supermarkets. It has traceability and food security requirements amongst a suite of other regulatory requirements to meet.
"By teaming up, we hope to provide an outlet and encourage more growers into this industry,'' he said.