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Story: Market gardens and production nurseries

Market gardening is a multi-million-dollar business in New Zealand. Māori were the first commercial growers, trading fresh vegetables with early European settlers. At first produce was mostly for the local market, but after 1950 exports of fresh and processed vegetables began to increase. Potatoes, onions and squash are the main crops but there are over 50 different varieties of vegetables, flowers and seeds grown.

Story by Maggy Wassilieff
Main image: Immigrant worker Shinda Singh picking lettuces at Patumāhoe

Story Summary

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Vegetable growing is a multi-million-dollar business in New Zealand. Export of fresh and processed vegetables earned $566 million in 2007. Potatoes, onions and squash are the main crops but over 50 varieties of vegetables, flowers and seeds are grown for sale in New Zealand and overseas.

Early gardening

Māori were the first to grow vegetables commercially. They traded with early settlers, and exported potatoes to Sydney. As European migrants took up land and cleared forests, European market gardening took over.

Potatoes, onions and squash

Potatoes have been grown in New Zealand since the late 18th century. Until the 1960s they were bought fresh and cooked at home. Now more than half the potatoes grown are turned into French fries or crisps. Half a million tonnes of potatoes were grown in 2007 and most were sold locally.

Onions are the highest-earning export vegetable – worth around $120 million per year.

Land suitable for market gardening is found around the country. The climate and soils of Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay are particularly good for growing squash, which is another major export vegetable.

Other outdoor crops

Other crops grown outdoors include:

  • brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage
  • leafy crops such as lettuces and spinach
  • carrots and parsnips
  • kūmara (sweet potato)
  • sweetcorn
  • asparagus.

Greenhouse crops

Crops that are grown intensively in greenhouses include capsicums, tomatoes and salad greens.

Processed vegetables

Vegetables that are grown to be dried, frozen or canned include potatoes, sweetcorn, peas, tomatoes, carrots, beans and asparagus.

Nurseries, flowers, bulbs and seeds

Cut flowers, especially orchids, have been air freighted overseas since the 1970s. Nurseries grow seedlings and mature plants, mostly for sale at garden centres.

Since the late 1990s Dutch companies have grown bulbs in the South Island for sale in Europe.

Northern hemisphere seed distributors buy seed grown in New Zealand during their winter, ready for planting in the European spring.

Horticulture organisations

There are several organisations for vegetable growers and other market gardeners. The Crown research institutes Crop and Food Research and HortResearch do most of the research and development in the industry.

How to cite this page:

Maggy Wassilieff, 'Market gardens and production nurseries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/market-gardens-and-production-nurseries (accessed 27 May 2017)

Story by Maggy Wassilieff, published 24 Nov 2008