Our pine nuts come from planted orchards of the European stone pine tree, (Pinus pinea).This tree is also sometimes known as the umbrella pine because of the broad spreading convex crown of the mature tree. In southern Europe along the Mediterranean coast the stone pine is an iconic tree and it often appears in tourist posters along with azure seas and white villas.
The Marlborough region in the north-east of the South Island of New Zealand is most famous for its vineyards and wineries. With a climate very similar to parts of the Mediterranean region, it is ideal for growing pine nut orchards. Our first trees were planted in 1998 and we have planted more area in most years since then. The seedlings are planted in the winter time and apart from keeping the grass down around them, they don’t need much tending for the next five or six years. We started to see a few pine cones on our orchard in 2005 but have had to wait patiently until 2010 before having enough product to bring to the local market. Since then we have added other orchards which are younger and yet to reach production age. Like with all plants, our orchards thrive with good soil nutrition and rainfall, but stone pine trees are hardy and will survive on a wide range of soil types.
When Pinoli was established it was still possible to import pine seed from overseas into New Zealand. Soon after we sourced our seed, New Zealand government authorities tightly restricted pine seed importation to protect the local forestry industry from accidental introduction of fungal or bacterial diseases or insects that would threaten pine forest viability. Before those restrictions took effect, through extensive research efforts, we were able to source seed of stone pine from multiple locations throughout the whole of the Mediterranean region. While we haven’t tried to prove this, we suspect we have accumulated the broadest genetic base of European stone pine held on any single orchard site anywhere in the world. We have trees grown from seed originating from multiple locations in Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia. We also collected some seed from a few trees already growing in New Zealand that were of course themselves once imported as seed from places unknown. It’s a valuable genetic resource that we plan to protect and care for. We expect to be able to produce improved cultivars in time from selective tree breeding and have started some experiments along those lines. We have experimented with other edible pine species and hope to expand our range of pine nuts at some point in the future as we determine which species can be grown within a reasonable time and will produce a commercially viable harvest.
Our orchard trees need to be pruned and thinned as they develop to ensure only the best producers are given the maximum space and sunlight to thrive. Cone harvesting is currently done manually, using hooked poles to pull cones from the tree. When the trees get big enough we will use tree-shaking machinery to get the cones on the ground. We graze sheep and cattle under the trees to control grass growth and recycle nutrients effectively.