Andy Drummond’s fondest childhood memory is of a warm December night when he stretched out beside his Dad on the back of the farm truck, parked among the hop-rows.
“Back then, we used to shift around huge irrigation pipes during the night. Dad had a mattress on the back of the truck so he could just sleep out there under the stars until it was time to move the irrigation pipes again.”
That night, in the total silence of the wee hours, Andy’s Dad quietly asked him: “Hear that?”
Listening intently, but hearing no cars in the distance, no machinery rumbling, no dogs barking and not even the night-call of a ruru, a puzzled young Andy asked: “Hear what?”
“Listen. That soft rustling sound – can you hear it?” his father explained. “That’s the hops growing.”
Almost 40 years on, Andy and his wife, Julie, will assure you healthy young hop plants can indeed be heard growing, as their newest leaves bud and unfurl while the plants’ stalks creep higher and higher toward the canopy strings.
“It’s true. Dad was right – though I’m sure some people would say that’s a load of rubbish,” Andy laughs. “But, on those quiet, still nights, if you stand in the hop garden when the plants are at their fast-growing stage, you can actually hear the movement of the foliage. Hops grow phenomenally fast when the conditions are right. They’re an incredible plant.”
Fascinated by the bines’ rapid advance up their support strings, Andy remembers once taking to a hop string with a marker-pen, right alongside the very tip of a young bine.
“It was exactly seven o’clock in the morning when I marked the string. When we went back at exactly seven o’clock that night, it had grown 15 inches.”
Proudly a fifth-generation farmer, he says the Drummond name is synonymous with horticulture in the Motueka and Riwaka area. His great, great grandfather established The Pines farm at the base of the Takaka Hill in 1862, growing a wide variety of crops, including boysenberries and blackcurrants, peaches and tobacco. Today, the business produces apples, kiwifruit and hops.
Hops are the easiest plant to grow, Andy says, but their harvest is “the most intense,” when the days and even the hours and minutes need to be carefully monitored.
The property’s very first hop garden was planted in 1890 and, through hours of research, he discovered those were the first hops to be planted in New Zealand. That same garden is still producing hops, some 130 years later.
Apart from a fleeting moment when a local builder offered him an apprenticeship, Andy says he was always going to be a farmer and has many good memories of “being a farm kid.”
“When Dad got up in the mornings and pulled on his boots, I’d get up too and go with him to help, even if it was just to get on the end of a broom and sweep the shed floor.
“During harvests, I’d lay in my bed late at night and listen to the ‘click, click, click’ of the elevator lifting bags of hops up to the kiln when Dad was loading the kilns throughout the night.”
Andy’s parents, Owen and Shirley, built a new family home on the property in 1964, just a dozen steps from the hop shed. It’s now Andy’s and Julie’s home and his parents live in nearby Brooklyn.
Their son, Matt, lives on one of The Pines’ nearby hop gardens with his eight-year-old son, Toby. Matt works fulltime in the family business and, as an experienced engineer, his expertise with the hop shed’s new Wolf hop-picker is invaluable.
“Toby is only eight years old, but he often helps out before and after school, particularly during hop harvest – just as I did when I was a kid,” Andy says. “Julie and I have always worked as a team, each of us playing a vital role in the business. One can’t work effectively without the other. This is truly a family business. I’m hoping young Toby will one day be the seventh generation running The Pines.”
Written by Victoria Clark - 2021