T&G’s Redcliffs Orchard, Lemons

Meet Pieter – Redcliffs Orchard

Pieter Traas is a Yen Ben specialist, the varietal of lemons grown by T&G on 54 hectares in Kerikeri , Northland (three hours north of Auckland).

Sort after for their thin skins and high juice content, Yen Ben lemons are a popular choice for drink manufacturers and the perfect hero for Barker’s Squeezed Lemon with Lime, Cucumber and Mint fruit cordial.

Pieter TraasYen Ben’s are unique as they flower 3-4 times a year. While the bulk of the harvest is from May-September you’ll find several generations of bud, young fruit and pick-ready crop on the tree at any one time. The variety is a prolific cropper.

With around 550 Yen Ben trees planted per hectare, Pieter looks after approximately 30,000 lemon trees in total. Boasting tall canopies 3-4 metres high and trees planted some 3 metres apart, there’s lots of ladder work and keeps their tree maintenance crew busy.

Proud to be the biggest lemon grower in New Zealand, citrus growing is not without challenges for Pieter and his team at T&G. Northland enjoys long, hot, dry summers as other famously known orange growing regions such as Florida, California and Uruguay. New Zealand has typically has wet winters however, there lies the challenge. This wet climate brings with it its fair share of rain, hail storms and flooding headaches not typically experienced elsewhere. Lemons generally don’t like wet feet!

redcliffs orchardNew Plantings

Redcliffs Orchard is one of several lemon orchards that Pieter manages and was planted in Yen Bens in the late 1990’s. While in many parts of the world a lemon tree can have a very long lifespan of around 60-70 years old, for a commercial grower consideration is taken to ensure each tree delivers quality fruit with the best productivity possible.

Regular new plantings are a common occurrence as tremendous planning is required.  The trees will start fruiting from year 1 but the crop is managed so that tree growth is maximised. From about year 7 onwards they can harvest reasonable commercial volumes.

The initial holes may be drilled with the assistance of a tool but much of the plantings are done by hand, row by row. To keep the tree healthy, new plantings are planted on considerable mounds, some 500-750mm high. In times of high rainfall the shallow feeding root zone is kept dry.  

Pesky Pests

Whether a home gardener or a commercial grower one the main banes of contention of a citrus grower is citrus borer.  These critters can tree hop!

Pieter recommends that the best method of prevention is to never prune in the summer as the insect is attracted to the smell of the sap when you cut the wood; a strong, powerful scent drawing interest from far and wide. The borer will lay its eggs on the cut wood which will then drill into the vulnerable surface.  Not only are the pruned limbs a target, borer can also drill into the fine twigs once fruit has been cut off. 
  • To spot citrus borer look for fine sawdust and have a dig around with a knife to reveal the extent of the damage.

  • To treat them a can of ‘No Borer’ spray from your local hardware store will do the trick nicely. It has a nozzle attached to the aerosol can which, when poked down into the hole as far as you get it, will kill the grub. The tree will be recoverable and once the borer has been eradicated, the tree will continue to produce good crop.

Yen BensOrchard Life

Orchard life is a busy one. There is little time to rest as Pieter looks after a total of 130 hectares of citrus owned by T&G including Navel Oranges and Satsuma (the delicious, easy-peel variety of mandarins).  

Before being planted in Yen Bens back in 1994, Redcliffs Orchard was a melon farm for many years prior. Pieter has fond memories picking watermelons there when we was a kid. He’s seen quite a lot of change in the district since the 1970s.

But with any spare time up his sleeve Pieter enjoys nothing better than spending it with his young family. A favourite is to head off to Taupo Bay; off the beaten track it has a beautiful beach, good swell and majestic headlands – a perfect spot for swimming and bodyboarding.

Redcliffs Orchard, T&G Global
Kerikeri, Northland