Tag Archives: strawberries

Sprouts out & promising strawberries

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Some of you may have found (or will be finding this week) the sprouting tips of broad beans in your boxes. We have been ‘pinching these out’ (the farming term for removing them from the plants) for several reasons:

  • They offer something a little different to eat at this time of year and go well in a salad or stir fry
  • It can spread a crop out so it doesn’t come all at once: if you wait until the first pods have started to form before pinching away, this won’t affect overall yield
  • This can (not always) help prevent blackfly infestations. This pest tends to attack a plant from the tip downwards and by taking the tip out the whole plant becomes less inviting
  • We need the work! Harvesting bean tips is a labour-intensive job and although we would like to do it, at this time of year we usually find ourselves swamped by more urgent tasks: Harvesting and weeding spinach and lettuce for instance. The unusually low temperatures in spring have slowed down several of our crops and the wet has written off others, so we find ourselves in the rare situation of having a labour surplus; so picking out a few bean tips suddenly becomes a viable proposition.

More optimistically we can see some of our summer crops finally rearing their heads: The lettuce is picking up, our spinach is nearly there and our strawberries are too: I found a few half-ripe ones in the field earlier this week and we may start picking as early as Monday.

The mild winter has been kind to our strawberries and as you look down the field early indications are that this could be a good year: but we never know with strawberries and a poor summer (weather-wise) can ruin 10 months of preparation. All of our fruit is grown in the open air and strawberries cannot be harvested in the rain; not only do the cardboard punnets turn to mush but the berries swell up and bruise easily, drastically reducing shelf life. The following day all this bad fruit has to be harvested anyway to prevent it rotting on the plant and spreading disease, so one day’s heavy rain can easily wipe out two days’ worth of productive picking: it is understandable why so many farmers opt for protected cropping. We might consider it ourselves but the relatively small amount of strawberries that we grow would make the required investment hard to justify.

Our Earliest varieties grown on the farm are Vibrant and Christine which will be closely followed by Fenella, Alice and Elegance. Our strawberry season is fairly short – about eight weeks all told – but we feel that many of the later varieties trade off flavour for longevity and so we prefer to keep things simple. Strawberry harvesting can be pretty back-breaking work and although they taste great I think that, come July, most of our pickers are glad to see the back of them!

Growing strawberries on our farm in Devon

Strawberries are a traditional sight at the start of the UK summer and on a sunny Tuesday in mid-June we took a trip to our fields in Devon to take some photos of thempicking strawberries at Riverford Organic in Devon being picked.

Strawberries will usually be ready from late May to mid July but the timing has to be right. If they have a little green on them they will be able to ripen in the punnet, but if they are too green they can’t. If they’re too red, they don’t keep for long, even in the fridge.

For something different, try our recipe for strawberries in balsamic vinegar and orange juice

strawberries from Devonstrawberry fields in Devonpicking organic strawberries at Wash Farmstrawberries

Strawberries and plastic: are tunnels worth the eyesore?

Over the last twenty years the huge majority of the UK strawberry crop has moved from open fields to the protection and intensification afforded by hundreds of acres of polytunnels, largely in Kent and Herefordshire. Plastic can advance a crop by perhaps two weeks, but the great advantage is the protection it gives from the vagaries of a British summer. Fruit must be picked dry to avoid bruising and to give a reasonable shelf life. Even more importantly, persistent dampness leads to a build-up of fungal disease, particularly botrytis, which can reduce a good berry to a foul tasting pulp in a matter of hours.

Our strawberries are grown extensively on high ridges at wide spacing which, in a normal year, gives enough airflow to dry dews and rain before botrytis sets in. There can be no doubt that polytunnels are a blot on the landscape; the question is whether they are justified by the economic and environmental benefit they bring by reducing wastage, extending the UK season, excluding exports and thus reducing food miles. For twenty years I have stubbornly persisted with growing outdoors, with the result that we have a relatively short season and, over the last few years, have not been able to pick up to a third of the fruit. Initially I was convinced that growing outdoors gave better flavour, but now I am not so sure and wonder if I have been overly dogmatic in my resistance. Across the five regional farms we would need eight acres of tunnels to provide a good supply of strawberries for the 45,000 homes we deliver to each week. Your views would be welcome.

Guy Watson

Strawberry season

Strawberries mark the start of summer and provoke Pavlovian dog style anticipation but, as in so many years, the first pickingsStrawberries close up had very disappointing flavour. Just as I was despairing and the first complaints started arriving, the flavour developed (no one knows why) and I am confident this will
improve further as we get into the main season.