On The Land

11 February, 2023

Golden fruits of the region

ALTHOUGH one of the hardest crops to grow, gold kiwifruits are thriving thanks to the passion and dedication of Rocky Creek Orchards.

By Ellie Fink

Fourth generation farmer Robbie Masasso of Rocky Creek Orchard amongst the freshly harvested kiwifruit vines.
Fourth generation farmer Robbie Masasso of Rocky Creek Orchard amongst the freshly harvested kiwifruit vines.

The orchards have been owned by the Masasso family since the 1920’s, when Lorenzo Masasso emigrated from Italy to start a new life.

Lorenzo’s vision was to grow a variety of dif-ferent crops, believing that the diversity of fruit would always provide food to his family and be a solid strategy in his now-century old business.

Believed to be one of the very few kiwifruit plantations in the north, Rocky Creek Orchard’s third generation owner Lawrence Masasso has dedicated endless hours to growing the fruit that is commonly grown in New Zealand.

Choosing the gold variety as the best fit for the farm, he began his almost decade-long journey to get his little furry fruits on the market.

“We were initially doing avocados and they were going really well, and we were looking to diversify,” he said.

“I have always had an interest in kiwifruit and like many, I really like eating them.

“I had been to New Zealand where they grew them and when you go through the area they grow, it looks very prosperous and without much more research besides that, I found some varieties we could grow in Australia and planted them.”

In the first year of growing, Mr Masasso used a plant tissue culture – a collection of plants cells, tissues and organisms protected in sterile conditions often used to clone plants – to start his first crop.

They decided that starting from a tissue culture would be the best way due to a disease that was affecting plants in New Zealand.

The first selection of plants did not succeed as Mr Masasso thought, with the variety contracting a handful of diseases and attracting pests.

He soon realised that growing kiwifruits was not as simple as they made it look in New Zealand.

After a little more research and trying again, Mr Masasso was able to perfect his crop and get them on the market.

“They were very difficult to sell early on and it probably took about eight years before we started to make money off it," he said. 

“It has been a lot of hard work. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we didn’t think it was going to be that difficult.”

Gold variety is grown on goal trellises, which essentially looks like a soccer goal post with the vines growing up a wire and across the top beam.

The fruit then hangs down from the beam which makes it easier to spray, prune and harvest.

Creating the trellises was a challenge for Mr Masasso and his team, motivating them to call in a farmer from New Zealand to teach them the ropes.

Since installing the structures, growth in the plants has continued to go above and beyond.

“There is still a lot of pruning and a lot of training (of the plant) that needs to be done to get the vines to sit the way we need them too,” Mr Masasso said.

“In the first year, the first tissue cultures reached a height of approximately six inches tall but in the second year they started to grow over and form a canopy.

“It was in the third year we actually started seeing a bit of fruit.”

This year, harvest was quick and short due to sudden heavy rainfall, with the fruits being picked just before ripening and sent to the cold room.

This prevents the fruit from going too soft and easy to damage whilst allowing them to develop their sugars in the cold.

“We harvest all the kiwis at once because if you wait for them to start ripening on the vine, they start to get soft and easily damaged,” Mr Masasso said.

“They are definitely harvested more immature so then, they have that time (in the cold room) to develop their sugars.

“Once they do that, the kiwis are lovely and sweet and really nice to eat in my opinion.”

As Rocky Creek Orchards gold kiwis continue to grow stronger with every harvest, Mr Masasso believes there is room for expansion but it will be a difficult task.

For now, the arches of golden kiwifruit will continue to grow and improve amongst the variety of unique tropical fruits of Rocky Creek


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