Our pine nuts come from plantations 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 plantations. 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 first started to see a few pine cones on our oldest trees in 2005 but had to wait patiently until 2010 before having enough product to bring to the local market. Since then, we have added other plantations which are younger and are now just beginning to produce cones. Like with all plants, our plantations 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 Ltd. 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 believe we have accumulated the broadest genetic base of European stone pine held on any single plantation 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 may one day 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 plantation 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 on our youngest trees. On older, taller trees we 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.
Pine nut trees are forest trees just like many pines, and they produce valuable wood from the stems thinned from growing plantations. When the trees truly grow too large for cone harvest, they will be felled and replaced again with young seedlings, but we don’t expect that stage for over 100 years. In Europe there are plantations of trees over 200 years old, still being harvested each year!
We have made furniture and cone bins for our own harvests from pine nut trees in the region, and we have sold logs into the market for sawn lumber and firewood from trees thinned from our oldest plantations.