WORDS: Joanna Grigg

A successful bespoke manuka plantation needs a cultivar that suits the site and climate, to produce high-quality nectar when the bees are active.

The Manuka Farming NZ website has video presentations on planning manuka plantations and selecting the right cultivar for honey production.

Five cultivars are available commercially through Manuka Farming NZ, with more in development. Manuka Farming NZ is the commercial arm of the Manuka Research Partnership (MRPL), formed in 2011 with support from the Primary Growth Partnership Programme.

Research has shown that flowering time, the number of flowers and tree height and shape is related to genetics. For landowners seeking carbon sequestration income from their plantation, then the cultivar needs to mature to five metres height in that chosen location. Some cultivars may not make this, leaving the block ineligible. Good site selection and planning is vital.

A site of at least 40 hectares and contained within a steep sided valley, increases the chance the honey will be the higher-value manuka mono-floral honey. A hill perimeter helps keep bees in the valley and on to the manuka.

Blocks should be mapped, at a suggested scale of 1:10,000. This helps with budget accuracy and so enough plants are ordered from the nursery.

An example timeline would be site selection, grant application and mapping done prior to ordering of seedlings in January and February.

February the tracks and fencing should go in, ready for weed control access and planting.

March to May is the time to spray woody weeds (or re-spray) and control goats, leading to planting in June. Good liaison between the nursery and the planting gang helps ensure plants have minimal time out of the ground.

Block maintenance should be actioned every year and by aged five, the manuka should be hitting its straps for flowering.

Maggie Olsen, Manuka Farming NZ, says there are options to grow more of the manuka already on your land. This spot planting of trees using the existing local cultivar is known as eco-sourcing.

The idea is to add more of the better-quality manuka genetics to an existing stand.

These stand-out trees are identified by a visit to the block and testing of the nectar for sugar content and DHA quantity.

The flowering time of different trees in the area is assessed and the trees are judged for flower quality, floral density and tree shape. Seeds are collected from the best tees and grown out to plants.

These are then replanted out.

One negative is the potentially longer timeframe to producing seedlings compared to a nursery purchase. Beehive density is likely to be one hive/ha, compared to two hives/ha for plantations.

A positive is that the honey reflects the district manuka nectar.

Two clients of Manuka Farming NZ have used eco-sourcing to build an existing manuka area so far, she says, but this is expected to grow as Manuka Farming NZ works more closely with iwi, where for many this is a preferred option.

“There are people who believe they have good cultivars on their land so it is worth exploring.”