Earlier this year, we led a group of soft fruit growers from Wales on a study tour to a successful family-run ‘Pick Your Own’ farm in Cambridgeshire that has been in business for more than 40 years.
Our tour was led by David Wood, Senior Advisor at horticultural consultants DLV Plant UK Ltd, who tailored the location and itinerary of the visit based on feedback from growers who attended two soft fruit meetings he headed up for Horticulture Wales last spring. Here is his feedback from the day…
Based in the village of Milton around four miles to the north of Cambridge, the Harrold family have been growing and selling soft fruits at Sunclose Farm since 1972. Originally a small-scale PYO focusing on strawberries, over the years the business has developed by expanding its range and elongating its growing season. Amongst the seasonal crops now grown at the farm include strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, and blackberries, while asparagus and carrots are also available.
In addition to the thriving PYO side of the business, it also has an increasingly successful on-site farm shop, while it supplies strawberries and raspberries to multiple retailers from May to October via the Mack marketing group.
The crops at Sunclose Farm are produced using a diverse range of varieties and growing systems and it was chosen for the visit because of the wide range of experiences it could offer the group. It was hoped that some of these techniques and methods would be suitable for adoption by the visiting growers to help improve their own businesses back in Wales.
The tour started with a look at early strawberry production in small French polythene clad tunnels. The growers were able to look at crops grown in coir bags on a low bed system. There was a lot of discussion about coir, irrigation systems, and feed recipes. Particular interest was shown in the leaf and truss support system developed by the Sunclose Farm team.
This part of the visit also exposed the growers to the new variety Centenary for the first time and it made a big impression on the group. The growers also saw 60 day plantings of Centenary for sequential cropping, a grower trial looking at new varieties of Junebearers and Everbearers. They were also introduced to table-top growing of strawberries in Coir and a range of Everbearer varieties.
Discussion was an important part of the day and subjects raised included variety performance, cropping patterns, suppliers, types of plant material and its uses and performance. We looked at irrigation systems, pump and control systems, types of drippers and dripper numbers, as well as water quality and its effect on the crop. Pest and disease issues from the growers’ own farms were also raised and solutions discussed, including for some of the group who had organic production as part of their business.
A number of the growers wanted a steady flow of fruits for their market or wanted to target periods when demand from farm visitors was high. We discussed how what we had seen could be applied to achieve these aims.
The tour then moved onto raspberry production. We looked at both substrate and soil-grown crops of both floricane and primocane varieties. The use of double-cropping primocane varieties was also demonstrated to the group, along with the husbandry methods required. Long-cane raspberry production was also demonstrated as a way to provide fruit in a particular period when otherwise supply may be short.
As with the strawberry section of the tour, discussion ranged far and wide. The concept of single cropping and then removing the crop was particularly difficult to comprehend for some of the smaller-scale growers, who need to maximise yield from the plants they purchase.
One aspect that the growers were particularly taken by was how the farm used strips of plastic to stop plant roots growing through mypex ground covers used to suppress weeds. By laying the plastic on top of the mypex, with the growing bags placed on top, it ensures the plants are completely separate from the earth beneath, leading to a fully-protected growing medium.