Tararua farmer Trudy Riddell’s native tree nursery is complementing the family’s farming operation. Rebecca Harper reports.

The name of the farm is Pine Grove, but there are more than just pine trees being planted on the Riddell family’s hill country sheep and beef property at Ti Tree Point, Tararua.

Big believers of the ‘right tree in the right place’ mantra, Charlie and Trudy Riddell have established a native tree nursery, Ti Tree Nursery, to help supply their own needs, and to the public.

The couple are committed to improving environmental outcomes on the 1350-hectare property and trees have an important role to play.

Pine Grove is a breeding and finishing property, with all progeny finished, and a large area of the farm has already been planted over the last 10 years – 250ha in pines and 40ha in manuka.

A Whole Farm Plan with Horizons Regional Council was completed 12 years ago and since then about 350ha has been retired in pines, manuka and re-generating bush, with fencing and planting. They also plant 200 poplar poles annually.

Last year, a number of areas were fenced off and earmarked for planting with natives and that’s when the nursery kicked into gear.

Trees have quickly become a passion for Charlie, who Trudy describes as a ‘tree man’.

“We ended up planting all these trees and it’s become a bit of a passion of mine, watching things grow,” he says.

“We had a chat about how we could make it more economical and thought it could be beneficial to grow our own plants from seed.”

Trudy likes to eco-source as much of her seed from the same environment as possible and says it all snowballed from there – now they’re able to offer plants for sale to the public because they’ve grown so many.

A greenhouse was built last January and it’s been full steam ahead since then. While Charlie says the nursery is 100% Trudy’s domain, she’s quick to point out it’s been a team effort, with Charlie building the shade house and greenhouse and her efforts focused on growing the plants.

Coming from a city background, working in a law firm, the nursery has given her a project to get her teeth into. “For me personally, it was to feel I was contributing and to help diversify our income sources.

“I had never lived in the country and it was important for me to find something I could contribute to, more than just being a farmer’s wife and mother. Those are important roles, but this has given me a new purpose and sense of contentment.”

She’s always had an affinity for natives and grew up in a family with a long-standing interest in conservation. “Conservation has always been part of my life, and my mum’s side of the family are great gardeners – but nothing like this scale or propagation.”

Growing natives has been a ‘learn as you go’ process for Trudy, who is also a busy mum to the couple’s young children Poppy, 4, and Austin, 2.

“Starting the plant business from scratch has been an interesting process. I’ve had to learn marketing skills for the website, as well as about the plants and what suits different species.

“I didn’t realise how time-consuming it would be either. Seeds are easy and growing them in the greenhouse is easy, but potting up is quite intense and I’ve had to employ some local teenagers to help on the weekends.”

All going to plan, they will have about 15,000 natives ready to plant this winter, and Trudy hopes she can continue to increase her numbers. “It’s figuring out how to streamline the process and make the planting out more efficient.

“Overall, the most rewarding thing would be adding value to our business, since we don’t have to buy all the seedlings, it’s saving us a lot of money. It’s also cool to know you have the ability to grow something from scratch, get it out on to the farm and it’s going to benefit the environment and protect our waterways.”

Ultimately, her goal is to have a sustainable nursery that’s self-sufficient in terms of eco-sourcing and, eventually, employ someone to help with the manual work. She hopes to invest in more infrastructure and an automatic potting machine.

They emphasise the importance of right tree, right place. “We’re not saying don’t plant exotics, but they can be used and be complementary to natives. There’s a place for both, but it’s so important to protect our waterways as well,” Charlie adds.

“I think what we are doing is adding value environmentally and economically.”

Either way, Charlie is happy to see the natives planted, whether it’s at Pine Grove or elsewhere. “If it doesn’t work out, we’re quite happy to plant all those trees ourselves and watch them grow, so we really had nothing to lose. The plants won’t be going to waste.”

Tips for diversifying:

Trudy: No question is a dumb question – ask away. Explore your options, if you have an idea you think is worth looking at, do it. Do a budget to see if it’s financially viable too.

Charlie: Look at what can benefit you and your business in the environment you’re in – what is possible with the location and resources you have? Assess your resources and capabilities to find something that fits with your work-life balance.