Niue........not a place I knew much about but had always been interested in as my grandmother was born there. She came to NZ when she was school age and sadly, never went back to her place of birth. With this family link, Niue has always intrigued me and this is what I learned when I finally managed to visit myself.
Being a land of rock and coral, the poor quality of the soil does not lend itself to growing much and the tropical temperatures dictate what kinds of vegetables will grow in such an environment. Back in the 1800’s the island had traded arrowroot that was grown on the island. Money had been provided by the Niue Development Board since the 1960’s to increase crop varieties from bananas and coconuts. Some of the first successful crops grown under this Board were passionfruit and limes. The taro and yam crops continued to be the main staples.
My first visit to Niue last year gave me the opportunity to see how fresh produce was grown on the island and what was included in the Niuean diet. Thanks to a couple of Kings Seeds customers on the island I was able make some contacts and the markets, supermarket, cafes and hotel restaurant gave me a good insight into what was available for consumption. The fruit varieties were quite limited compared to other pacific islands which I figure is due to the poor soil. Surprisingly, there was quite a lot of salad greens for such a warm environment where the supply boat only comes once a month.
I found there was some experimental programs in place to create good soil that could grow a more diverse range of vegetables. This was a government generated project and then there were individual growers who were glad to accept the challenge of expanding the variety of produce growing in their gardens. Gerard had kindly given me quite a bit of seed to donate to this program and this was duly distributed amongst some of the growers. They have recently sent me a photo of some great looking beetroot that they are very proud of, being some of the first they had grown.
A Grower in Niue
The main grower I was keen to visit was Niue Fresh. They had recently been purchasing seed varieties to trial in their hydroponic growing system. The business is owned by Mark Blumsky and James Douglas and was created in an effort to provide more greens and veges on the island. Mark had been the Governor General on the island before deciding to marry a local and turn his hand to running a few business ventures, including Niue Fresh.
The Array of Greens
The first thing that hit me was the array of produce they were managing to grow in a tropical environment and explained the salad greens that seemed to be readily available. There were lettuces galore of all kinds, growing happily on covered tables. The herbs they were growing were really intense in flavour and thriving in the sunshine and heat. There were rows and rows of cucumbers trailing over the ground and pots of eggplants and chillies all around the edges of the netted growing areas. Pineapple plants tucked under the lettuce benches were starting to produce little pineapples. Tomato plants were growing up strings. Cabbages with tight heads and healthy green leaves thrived. Kale and pak choi were starting to mature.
Growing & Picking
The produce is picked fresh each day and sold to the supermarket, restaurants and cafes. From what I could see, the experiments are paying off and providing a bigger variety of fresh greens for the island. I had to laugh when talking to a young lady running the Yacht Club. She was due to return to NZ and said that all she wanted was to "have a good feed of broccoli" (obviously not readily available if at all).
Netted areas were everywhere and these are necessary to allow the crops to be closed up to avoid being attacked by bugs, especially the tomatoes. This unfortunately means a lack of bees for pollination so they were using the strings for the tomatoes. By knocking the strings when the plants are in flower they are able to distribute pollen to other plants. Impressive!!!
Growing the Business
Not long before my visit, Niue Fresh had been visited by a couple of well-known NZ chefs. They were most impressed by the intensity of flavour of the herbs due to the growing conditions and there were plans underway to export a small amount of fresh herbs to NZ each week for the restaurant trade.
I am lucky enough to have been able to plan another trip back to Niue later this year and I look forward to visiting Niue Fresh again to see how the crops have expanded and how the new growing area is being utilised.
Blue waters on coral