Despite being raised on a quarter acre town block, the influence of his green fingered father, and even greener fingered grandfather, definitely rubbed off on Horsham Downs lifestyle farmer Phil Thomson.
Phil has spent his working life as a Wildlife Service Officer (later the Department of Conservation). When work brought him to Hamilton in 1987, the family bought 10 acres in Horsham Downs.
Thirty-three years and a subdivision later, the remaining 0.5 hectares is an abundant, year round food store, with berry bushes, vegetable beds, and dozens of mature nut and fruit trees. Phil is extremely knowledgeable, understanding his soil, and the requirements for the species he grows.
Passionfruit are notoriously hard to grow, often flourishing for a year or so before collapsing and dying.
They are susceptible to rain damage and various diseases, mainly greasy spot and root rot.
“The Waikato’s climate with its humidity and high rainfall does not offer ideal conditions,” says Phil.
“If you look to the Bay of Plenty, where they are grown commercially, the climate there is less humid and has lower rainfall.”
After unsuccessful attempts, Phil planted a vine in an old glasshouse in 2010, and it’s still thriving.
Air flow isn’t great, and the soil inside is dry. But, the roots have extended outside, giving them access to the water they need.
“Where the glazed panels are missing, if any tendrils grow out there and it rains, they go brown and die.”
In 2016, Phil experimented with another vine on their Raglan property. For shelter from the prevailing south westerly winds and rain, he put up a two metre fence. The passionfruit was planted on the north facing side with a 900-millimetre wide, plexiglass roof above it and space behind it for air flow.
“The soil had a pit sand base, and I add a deep layer of horse manure each year.”
This vine also thrived, so Phil has gone one step further and planted another at Horsham Downs, using the same process, except it is under a carport roof that doesn’t let light through from above. So far it is doing well and growing fast.
Using his experiences, Phil has put together a guide for growing passionfruit at home:
• Free draining soil. Add pit sand to improve drainage
• Water during dry times
• Protect from prevailing south-westerly winds/rain
• Plant under a 600mm deep, north facing eave
• Train up a trellis set 300mm away from the wall
• Control slugs and snails
• Prune yearly to maintain good airflow and keep tendrils 300mm above soil
• Add plenty of horse or other animal manure on top the soil each year and allow the worms to “dig” it in