Tropical Fruit Growers of New Zealand membership has soared since a Northern Advocate report in March last year publicised the potential for profit in growing bananas, pineapples and other tropical plants in Northland and other warmer parts of New Zealand.
Back then, the group had about 20 members experimenting with growing tropical fruit commercially. They were trying to contact potential members or gardeners with bananas or other tropical crops from which the group could source stock to expand their activities.
Chairman Hugh Rose this week said membership had since surged to about 100 in Northland, and with the Advocate article attracting interest around the country TFGNZ now had an active Gisborne branch on the East Coast where enthusiasts — particularly Maori — were "planting bananas big time".
In Northland, TFGNZ had co-ordinated the purchase of banana stems and their distribution to members for planting. Mr Rose estimated about 7000 banana plants were now growing around the region, with the largest plantation of almost 2000 stems near Taipa.
Growers paid a $1 levy to the group for each banana stem it supplied, providing the organisation with a trickle of funds for future development.
Mr Rose said the fledgling organisation had managed to make its presence felt at both the Bay of Islands and Whangarei A&P shows.
Owen Schafli, of Parua Bay, had provided a massive bunch of Gold Finger bananas to raffle as well as ripe bananas to sell and for the public to sample at the Whangarei Show last month.
Deputy chairman David Colley, of Pataua, had produced an excellent bunch of organically grown Dwarf Cavendish bananas and the stand was busy all day with many public inquiries.
"The Bay of Islands Show in November also attracted a high level of interest and we learnt that having large bunches of bananas on display is the key to attracting attention and making it obvious what we're about."
He was on the lookout for home gardeners with bananas for sale or with bunches to adorn the TFGNZ stand at the Northland Field Days in Dargaville on March 1-3.
Wake up and smell the coffee beans
Growing coffee for local and boutique markets could be commercially viable, Tropical
Fruit Growers of NZ deputy chairman David Colley believes.
"Coffee is a shrub that grows well in the North and may be worth growing providing
demand for beans can be generated. This would depend upon acceptable tasting coffee
being produced from locally grown beans and a consistent supply,'' he said.
Coffee or coffea is native to tropical Africa (specifically Ethiopia and Sudan), Madagascar, Mauritius and Re´union. There are several different varieties with the two most commonly grown being Arabica (C. arabica), and the less sophisticated but stronger and hardier Robusta (C.canephora).
In Ethiopia in its native habitat coffee grew as an understory plant in the forests, though plantations are mostly now grown as monocultures found at altitudes of 1600 — 1900m with rainfall up to 1500mm, mostly from April to September. Arabica is self fertile while Robusta is not.
"I expect coffee plants growing in New Zealand are Arabica as they set fruit readily without requiring a polleniser,'' Mr Colley said.
"The one I have growing sets large numbers of fruit, known in the trade as cherries, which are ready for picking when they are a dark red colour.''
Fruit can be selectively harvested or strip picked regardless of the ripeness of each berry.
The flesh of the berry and the slimy layer of mucilage is then removed by fermentation (12-36 hours), followed by rinsing in copious amounts of water and careful drying to ensure no fungal growth occurs.
The next step is roasting the green beans which influences the taste of the coffee by initiating physical and chemical changes in the coffee bean. The bean decreases in weight as moisture is lost and increases in volume, causing it to become less dense which influences the strength of the coffee.
Roasting begins when the temperature inside the bean reaches about 200C, causing caramelisation as starches break down to simple sugars (monosaccharides) that begin to brown, which alters the colour of the bean.
Sucrose is lost rapidly during the roasting process, and may disappear entirely in darker roasts. During roasting, aromatic oils and acids weaken and at 205C other oils start to
develop, such as caffeol which is largely responsible for coffee's aroma and flavour.
Mr Colley said above 235C more caffeine broke down and dark roasting was the ultimate step in bean processing.
"Provided beans of good flavour can be grown we could have another industry waiting to be developed,'' he said.