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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 2 (May 1, 1935)

Care for an apple? — Then Visit Nelson

page 45

Care for an apple?
Then Visit Nelson

(Railway Publicity photo.) Apple Orchard at Stoke Valley, Nelson, New Zealand.

(Railway Publicity photo.)
Apple Orchard at Stoke Valley, Nelson, New Zealand.

On a platter before me, for the sake of what we writers term atmosphere, I have grouped a number of apples, their sun-rouged skins reflecting themselves in the polished wood beneath them; and, at the side of these is curled a cream and red peeling, snuggled amid the coils of which is a very small core. The lamplight is selecting from all for my entertainment, a kaleidoscopic maze of sparkle and colour ravishing to the poetic eye. The rose and amber hues of health, the golden gleam of wealth, the sparkling jet of wet seeds, the scintillating sheen of nectar dripping from broken cells—to all these does the soft finger of Light point, saying: “Mark you, her beauty is more than skin deep.” But I remove my eyes from the contemplation of too much pulchritude and my mind turns on more serious things.

I had spent the day in orchards, grading and packing sheds along the Moutere hills and at the apple port of Mapua in the height of Nelson's apple season. The apple-lands, they are called—a local term embracing the Waimea Plains, Moutere, Tasman, Mahana, Motueka and Riwaka, the garden of New Zealand. You must see to believe. Acre upon acre, row upon row in their hundreds of thousands of evenly spaced, evenly pruned, heavily laden apple trees. Can you picture them in blossom? Then you have kissed the hem of Beauty's wedding gown.

Like you, I have eaten many apples in my day. Like you, no doubt, I ate innocent in thought of all that goes to bring the sweet, red apples to my waiting teeth. But now I know.

Forgetful of all that was before the fruiting, I see the orchard trees staggering beneath a weight of fruit. Step-ladders support the pickers—girls, boys, women and men—who just pick and pick and pick. Sledges and carts convey the rough boxes (so precious these) to the packing sheds, and here begins a selecting process that is, possibly, even more important than are the arduous duties of the judges in our beauty competitions.

My friend who brought in the last load tips the contents of the cases on to a large, sloping tray, gives them a skilful push, and departs for more . . apples. From below the narrowed end of this tray there runs a double line of little canvas “buckets” attached to an endless chain running over a series of cogged wheels far down into the length of the packing-shed. Between the pairs of “buckets” is a belt with raised sides which moves in opposition to the “bucket chain” so that it returns to the delivery tray, turning downwards not far from it. To each side and a little below the delivery tray stand a number of girls, who are the sorters.

The engine starts up. Comes the creak of cogged wheels, the clanking of the long chains, and the intermittent clicking of the “buckets” as they tip. Comes from further down the shed the quick, regular swish, swish, swish, of wrapping paper, and beyond this the snap and thud of hammers the trampling of feet and the sound of occasional voices all blended in an apple grading symphony.

Fascinated for awhile I watch the sorters and that ingenious grading device, the “bucket chain.” The apples slide down the delivery tray on to two sets of parallel and oppositely revolving poles, each of which is wound with rubber ropes in such fashion that a screw is formed which rolls the apples slowly into the hands of the girls who sort them. Quick fingers seize the anxious little pome, others passing on to a like fate, none escaping. Trained eyes, immune to its blushing coquetry, appraise its worth, decide its doom. It is rejected. It is placed on the return belt between the “buckets.” It moves back happily towards the tray. But, alas! The sudden dip over of the belt precipitates it into a bin below the tray, from which bin it will be loaded roughly into rough boxes and stacked aside. If the market is worth while, these rejects will again be picked over and may find a local consumer. If not, then for them the ignominious dump, the pig's jaws, or the plough. I watch this rejecting process in utter consternation. Why, Oh, why reject these lovely looking apples? Because—this one lacks the right percentage of colour; this one has no stalk attached; this one has a spot; this one a bee sting; this a minute dent; this one is too large; this too small; this one is too ripe (beautifully ripe, she means). I watch in dismay. Am I dreaming? These luscious apples … ? Pass . . reject . . reject . . reject . . pass . . reject . . reject . . pass . . pass . . reject . . “Many are called, but few are chosen.” For about one in three seems to pass, and I follow one of these fortune favoured successes, free from blemish, both colour and shape perfect, and—yes—it has a stalk and it has not been stung by a bee! So it is placed in and runs down a narrow trough to be caught in an up-coming canvas “bucket” and carried off down the chain. Proud apple! No chorus girl ever was subjected to such inglorious inspection; no fishing-fly, and certainly no M.P., ever chosen so meticulously. And now comes an act in this selection of immaculate grace that is as effective as it is mechanically simple. Seated on its square of canvas—the magic carpet awarded the chosen few—the self-conscious apple goes joyriding on . . on . . on . . on . . until, click! The carpet tips, rolling the page 46 page 47 chosen one gently down a canvas chute into a bin already holding others of its own particular weight and approximate size. Actually it has been weighed, the balance being achieved by a long line of “set” apples of increasing size, resting on scales at intervals down the bucket chain. When a given apple comes abreast of its counterpoising equal, then—click!

Opposite one of these graded bins a packer is at work, so deftly, so surely. On a wheeled trolley line before him, is an export box. Convenient to his left hand is a stack of wrapping papers stamped with the Associated Growers' brand. With his right hand he seizes an apple from the “sized up” bin. Swish! The apple, now decently robed, is placed swiftly and accurately in its order in the box, the order of this packing being so arithmetically perfect that a number of apples of a given size fits exactly into the case in all respects save height, for, to the obvious glance, the contents overtop the case a clear inch or two. But no adjustment is made and the case is shot down the lines to the lidders where, lids and all to hand, men nail our choicest apples down for foreign lands—in, hitherto, foreign cases. But it has been found that New Zealand-grown pinus radiata, suitably seasoned, makes good cases, and a local firm manufactured nearly one million of these last season. At the apple shed doors, the cases are worth nearly as much as the fruit that fills them!

Two boards to a lid, strengthened by narrow slats, four nails to each board, and one blow of the hammer to each nail, and then the wiring of the cases. A clever instrument, this wirer, and a New Zealand invention. It tightens the wire, twists it securely, and even tucks under the cut ends. But our now lidded case still bulges ominously top and bottom, and on enquiry, I learn the trick. For, when these cases reach their overseas destination they will be flat and full, and without bruise, mark or sign, the whole package of apples can be removed from the box like dates from a packet—only less so, as it were! The equality of size, the wrapping paper, and the packing arithmetic ensure this effect.

Next comes the labelling. We have all seen these New Zealand fruit labels with their numerous brands of numbers and letters indicating the growers number, grade and variety of apples, the number in the case and other whatnots of information for the marketing authorities—not mere “Red Tape” but the signs of that vigilance that is the safeguard of the whole export industry.

To the apple port at Mapua is the next stage, and here, about one case in twenty is opened, inspected by a Government official, passed for export or returned, with the whole consignment it represents, to the grower awaiting anxiously in his packing shed. I was present what time one such consignment was returned to a shed from Mapua. Too ripe! A sad enough sight, all considered. The platter of apples I mentioned above, consists of some of these, rejected by that last, final and fateful inspection. Sad, I say, but no doubt right. For so much depends upon the upholding of our hard won supremacy. Last year sixty-four million pounds weight of peerless apples left our shores for other lands. And—each of these nearly two hundred million apples was handled at least three times in the packing sheds alone! And these apples go out to the world in ships as far away as the shores of the Baltic Sea. An interesting and romantic calling. I have learnt that the South Americas prefer the large and highly coloured apples, and that Germany, too, has a penchant for size, whilst English taste runs to the more genteel type. I could not learn as to Scotia's peculiar choice, so we must infer by convention.

But what a pandering to fastidious appetites in an anxious trade! What appalling local waste of rejects! What straining efficiency! What ingenuity of devices! What science, art, work and knowledge! What . . what . . what, Ah, what lovely apples!

Philosophically I select an extra luscious reject from my platter and sink my teeth deep into its mellow flesh, wondering the while why careless old Adam accepted that First Apple without examination, grading, or official inspection of any recorded kind. Surely, at least, a bee sting marred its belle tournure! And then a terrible feeling comes over me. What if he had rejected it! Ye gods! Perish the thought!

How did briar pipes originate? The story goes that a manufacturer of meerschaums who visited Corsica in 1844 chanced to drop—and break—the meerschaum he was smoking. By way of a temporary substitute he carved himself a pipe from Corsican bruyere (briar) root. That was the first briar! And the experiment proved so successful that the manufacture of these pipes soon developed into a flourishing industry. To-day briars are produced by the million! The finest briar-root, by the way, still comes from Corsica, and the best briars cost money. But your “dyed-in-the-wool” smoker cares little for the expensive pipes. With him it's the tobacco that counts! Some folks can smoke anything; the tobacco lover wants the best. Tastes differ, but the constantly growing demand for the toasted tobacco, so pure, fragrant and free from nicotine, is proof positive that New Zealanders are not slow to appreciate a really good thing. All four brands: Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold, and Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead) are in every-day request all over the Dominion.*

(Rly. Publicity photo.) A Typical Apple-grading Machine, Nelson, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A Typical Apple-grading Machine, Nelson, New Zealand.

page 48