New Zealand Wasabi
Limited was the commercial company developed from the ideas and
vision of Jenny and Michel who put all of their abilities and the future
of themselves and their family on the line in the belief that they would
be able to develop a growing system for Wasabi (Wasabia japonica),
and from there establish an international business for the production,
processing and marketing of Wasabi based products of the very highest quality.
This is the story of that development.
At the start of 1991, research started on the possibility of growing Wasabi within New Zealand, specifically in the upper North Island of New Zealand. As it turned out that there was insufficient information from any source worldwide to indicate if Wasabi could be grown here. While there were several growing trials being conducted by the New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research, they were based a lot further south. [For those readers in the Northern Hemisphere, we should point out that in New Zealand the further north you go the hotter it becomes.]
The only way to see if Wasabi would grow here was to try and grow it. Since the only growing information we had was that obtained from Japan together with viewing the growing system of New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research, our first growing attempt was based on the raised beds in a stream. The initial indications were that this showed promise. However, we found that the water flow through the troughs of the raised beds was such that the holding roots of the Wasabi were being disturbed and the plants were not growing very well. When the water flow was reduced the plants started showing signs of stress, and eventually died.
Our second attempt involved building a growing bed similar to those in Japan, where the majority of the volume of water was through the bed and not down the sides. The setting up of this bed was complicated by the volumes of water involved and the associated reticulation. This system functioned well for approximately 9 months and then almost overnight all of the plants died. Checks indicated that the plants had succumbed to a virus disease, which we suspected had been transmitted by aphids.
We cleaned out the system, and replanted with new plants. This time however, we carried out a strict organic spraying regime in order to reduce the amount of aphids on the plants and also on the rest of our property. This did not work as the plants again died at approximately the same time in their growing cycle. However, we were able to save half of the bed by transferring them into another growing system which we had been developing in order to reduce the initial setting up costs.
The new growing system allowed the saved plants to survive and carry on growing. We added more new plants to the new system for comparison purposes. Even with the set back we found that within 15 months the plants exceeded over a ½ kilo (1 lb) in weight. When we compared these growth rates with documented growth rates, it appeared that our results were comparable with the best presently available.
Now, we had a large amount of experimental data to work with that related specifically to our situation. With this data and our increasing experience we were now in a position to make a leap into the dark and follow a path that led to a growing system which produces high quality Wasabi and possibly other crops in places where it has not been possible to grow them before.
The system we have developed has been patented, and is based on the concept of ensuring that individual plants have all the environmental requirements for optimal growth potential. These requirements vary, dependent upon whether quantity or quality is required. In our opinion, quality is the important factor and must not be sacrificed for the almighty dollar.
The new growing system turned out to exceed our wildest dreams. The Wasabi grew to exceed 1 kilogram (2 lbs) in size in a 15 month period.
We were told to expect between 10 - 15% plant losses as that was the industry norm. We had less than 2%, and they normally died straight after transplanting.
Our expected problems with insects did not materialise.
The plants were exceedingly healthy. We achieved three flowering's and five growth spurts in a 12 month period.
We did not use chemical sprays or fertilisers. The only sprays were bicarbonate of soda in a spraying oil to combat mildew and aphids, and the only problems arose when the plants grew too large and started shading their neighbours.
The major problems revolve around harvesting and planting the Wasabi plants. It is exceedingly time consuming and also very boring. We have found that at the planting stage the plants are exceedingly tender and must be treated as a very fragile object. Once the plantlets are over the transplant shock, it can take a month or more, then they start to grow very well. Problems can still occur, but all the problems we have encountered, such as plants dying, have been traced back to ourselves being clumsy when working with the plants and damaging them without realising it.
The problem that still occurs is that of the plant starting to deteriorate for no particular reason after a length of time. It is almost as if the plant has run out of energy, and the stem starts to go soft and dry out. There are indications as to when this is likely to start happening, and regular individual inspections enable the plant to be harvested with minimal losses. Anything that is remotely suspect gets thrown away, no matter how long we have cared for them.
Our development of the growing system is continuing with the intention of making it easier and cheaper to set up and operate without sacrificing the high quality that New Zealand Wasabi Limited and their clients demand. To date we have achieved a yield of 22 tonne per hectacre, and we believe that with some more development a yield of 50 tonne per hectacre on a continuous basis is not out of the question.
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Last update: 23rd December 2016
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