Brent Bertelsen of Te Horo-based Penray Gardens carries on a long family tradition. You could say market gardening is in his blood. And you’d be right.
The grandson of Victor (Vic) Bertelsen, a long time Ōtaki market gardener, Brent continues the growing of vegetables and fruit in the rich soils and temperate climate of Ōtaki. Tomatoes in particular do well in our district, producing quality fruit, especially later in the growing season.
Born into a market gardening family in Naenae, Hutt Valley, Victor worked with his father on the three acre holding, growing vegetables (like so many families in the early 1900s). Victor reports in the 1986 Ōtaki Historical Journal, Vol.nine, “All power for transport and cultivation was supplied by Jack — a draught gelding strong enough to pull the plough and yet lively enough to pull the cart loaded with a ton or so of vegetables, the twelve miles to Wellington markets, at a trot.”
Life must have seemed a lot easier later in the century when the family settled in the milder, calmer Ōtaki climate. By then, most flowers and vegetables, including tomatoes, went to market by rail, and “the scene on the eastern side of the railway tracks at Ōtaki Railway Station, was hectic, with queues of trucks unloading produce that was stacked by hand into railway wagons.”
At Penray Gardens today there is a strong focus on ‘pick your own,’ depending on the season. You’ll find plums, apricots, apples and pears, squash, zucchini, beans, peas as well as several varieties of tomatoes, and of course, Christmas lunch or dinner isn’t complete without a bowl or two of Penray’s delicious strawberries. However, for most of us, it’s the sight of their crammed carpark during the late summer and early autumn period, when folk arrive from far and wide for the traditional chilli picking — bucketloads of fresh, chillies, jalapeno and others, and crisp, crunchy Hungarian sweet peppers.