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Back in time for hops and apple growers

(February 25th 2012)
Report by Coralie Smith, photos by Wendy McGregor

Hops and apples are ready for harvest once again, and as the growers strive to bring in their crops and make a living, the Motueka and District Historical Association visited two private properties where the history of these industries are being preserved by two stalwarts who have worked in both of them most of their lives.

We were taken back to those hop picking days by the smell of drying hops hanging from a picking bin, with the grower's bushel measure at the ready. All the paraphernalia needed to string the hop garden, cut down the vines and then dry and bale the finished product were set out as if the farmer had just stepped outside to have a smoke.

The rings used to throw the string over the wire, the hop cats to cut them down again in autumn, the hop press ready to receive the dried hops from the drying and cooling floors above. Here was the bed where the farmer snatched 20 minutes of sleep before the coke burning fire had to be stoked to keep the heat even. Everything in tip top condition.

Although hops have not grown on this property since about 1982 there is a hop vine climbing its own way up a pole nearby - they are a hard plant to get rid of. The wooden hop kiln has been registered with the Historic Places Trust.

Similarly, at a former apple grading shed, old wooden apple boxes stand at the ready beside a Bensemann grader waiting for the apples to roll once again. The labels used in over 100 years of apple growing in our district cover the walls and boxes of photographs record all the ups and downs of the industry in that time.

The silver cups that were competed for to find the fastest and neatest packers of the season sit waiting for another competition. Everything is stored so neatly, and with such care that you can sense that those who have preserved these things are serious about rescuing the history before it disappears.

How many local families have hops and apples in their blood? How many have wept when their hop garden collapsed just as the harvest began but were buoyed up by the community who came to their rescue? How many had hail sweep through their orchards and saw a year's work shredded but had the neighbours knock on their door to offer them help and consolation. These are the families who are preserving their history either with items stored in a shed or archives under a bed.

Just as much material is being tossed away with no thought of the people who produced it, used it, profited or lost by it. From minute books to pay books, family histories to photographs a wide range of items associated with local businesses, industries, clubs and organisations, are being thrown out with no thought of what they can tell us.

The Historical Association plea would be that before you toss it on to the fire or send it to the recyclers check in with a museum or an association like ours and see whether they can use it to build up the history of our district before it all disappears.

Stencils for hop bale

Hop bushel measure

Wooden hop kiln

Apple box labels

Rings to help string hops

Apple picking bag

1950s apple box

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