For the love of boysenberries

Papamoa boysenberry farmer Craig McNaughton. Photos: Chris Callinan.

Craig McNaughton is carrying on a 30-year family tradition of growing boysenberries at Papamoa.

And it's a tradition that let's many families – from the Bay and all over New Zealand – continue their own festive family pastimes. Picking boysenberries together.

Craig's parents Barry and Lyn McNaughton started growing boysenberries on the site – back then 22 acres – in 1986.

“This makes our plants and orchard 30 years old – it's sort of like an anniversary really.”

Today, and for the last 21 years, Craig's been growing the same fruit on 2.5 acres of the same site – on the corner of Bell Rd and the Te Puke highway – as a hobby.

So at this time of year, when the crop comes to fruition – he faces long days, picking, harvesting and freezing boysenberries – and opening his gates to the public to pick their own.

But he loves it. He loves seeing families make visiting and picking boysenberries from his orchard a traditional family pastime.

“We have heaps of people who travel to come here and pick the berries. They come to the Mount and they just have to come and visit us.

“So it's a tradition for Aucklanders and people from all over the country.”

His partner Jo Riddington– as does Craig's mum Lyn – plus other family members help out through the short, sharp boysenberry season – usually from mid-December to mid-January. And Craig and Jo's sons Cameron, four, and Jacob, six, are starting to take an interest too.

Craig is actually a full-time builder. So when the crop's ready he starts at 6.30am each morning and works until mid-morning, goes to his day-job, and returns to the orchard at night to close up and deal with any frozen packs.

“I'm grateful to my employers Thorne Group Ltd – who I've been with for 12 years – because they've given me time off to do this hobby. They're a family business too so they understand where I'm coming from.”

Craig and his partner Jo Riddington with their sons Jacob, 6, and Cameron, 4.

Jo says people who come to pick boysenberries as children now come back with their own children, to carry on the family tradition.

“It's another generation of families coming through now – and it's a cool thing to do together.”

Craig says the public probably don't realise what a high-risk business boysenberry growing is. “Your crop can be gone before your eyes.”

Craig says weather conditions can hamper the narrow window cropping y season just like that.

“Wind and heavy rain can see a crop be destroyed within days; and there's always the threat of botrytis, which is mould.

“So we're always watching the forecast to determine when we can pick the fruit and open our orchard to the public.

Craig says it's up to the public “how hard they pick it” and afterwards it takes a while to get the fruit to ripen again.

“That's why we close sometimes – because the area and our popularity has also grown so we can get picked out pretty quickly.”

But the taste alone makes them a popular item to be sold from the gate, with excess berries going into freezers to sell as smoothie and jam packs.

“The berry itself is an original boysenberry. The size and how it freezes means it can last in the freezer for up to two years,” says Craig.

So why are boysenberries so popular? “Well, you don't get them in many supermarkets because they're a delicate berry with a high water content and they bleed – so they can't be moved too often. They're quite fragile.”

And if you're finding the berries too sour, Craig says it's usually down to the picker's skill level. “They don't ripen when they're picked like strawberries do, so you've got to pick the ripe black ones.”

But he sticks with his challenging fruit ‘hobby' for some very good reasons. “A lot of happy faces – and it's probably in my blood from my parents. And it is some income but I don't rely on it.”

“And I put the signs out and everyone thinks it's summer. So the orchard has a festive feel.

“But mainly the public does it for me – I don't have to be here, but I like to be here.”



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A great ’reflection’ of the wet day at Harbourside finals on Saturday. Photo: Tierre Thompson.

Send us your photos from around the Bay of Plenty. kendra@thesun.co.nz