Hello to all the wonderful people and friends I’ve met along the way in my journey of becoming an organic berry farmer.
It could be easy to think that the works starts now with the furious growing of new life, but winter is where the action has been and the spring time is when the warmth and sunshine push the growth up from underground to take in what the sunlight delivers.
This time of the year is important for the development of leaves with the strawberries we’ve planted in Autumn and Winter. Hardly anything happens when you plant these little runners in the ground and look at your fields for months wondering how you’re going to go for the next season.
You get impatient, looking at the weather, the clouds, the warmth in the air, how much more frost are we expecting, until the right moment occurs. Days over 15c. That’s what we need to warm up the ground enough to wake up them up and say – it’s time.
We start by giving them trace elements that we know are needed to help start the growing cycle. We need to wait until the weather is warm enough, we need to apply in very small, minute amounts, and we need to be patient with nature. The minerals and nutrients we’ve given them over the last month, just as the warmth started, sees leaf growth.
It starts off with a few small leaves bursting from each plant, a couple of flowers, often lost due to the still, frosty mornings we get until as late as November.
Then when the stars are aligned, the nutrition is on point, larger leaves appear. The flowers still grow but what we’re looking for is large shiny leaves.
The large, shiny leaves tell us that they’re ok with how they’re being fed, and, plenty of photosynthesis happening. It’s a fancy word for the conversion of energy from the plant leaves to the roots. That’s what we need to produce great fruit because it’s the conversion of the sunshine received through the leaves that helps the roots grow and reach the other nutrients in the soil that don’t move far.
Just imagine, it’s like all the goodies are here but you’re going to have to get to them yourself, at the right time when you need it, so sometimes you’ll need nutrients to build up muscles, and sometimes you need nutrients that help you get through a long walk or race.
The amazing conversion between the sunshine and the plant roots is something that always amazes me. When I read up about what makes a successful strawberry field, there is so much detail available for me to follow. I look at the size of the leaves, how shiny they are, the colour, is there any discolouration around the edges, the amount of leaves on a plant and that will dictate how much fruit the plant is able to grow, and grow out to be a mature, ready to pick fruit.
Fruit will only be as good as it’s lowest important mineral. For example, if I have 100 things, I need to have right, to get the perfect sweet strawberry, and I miss out on getting the calcium levels right, it won’t be as sweet as if I did.
It will look amazing, it will have rich bright colours, the size could be large but missing out on that valuable calcium at the time it needed it, means the fruit just doesn’t get that sweetness. Crazy but true and you can’t just put calcium in as a mineral and hope that it all works, because it’s got to follow the natural sequence of the uptake of nutrients at the right time.
Nature’s funny like that. And because we don’t put any long life or slow release fertiliser in our strawberry beds, like most others, we’ve got to be on top of our game.
Missing out on nutrients at each step of the growing process can affect that flush of fruit. I’m not sure about this but I think one year, we simply didn’t have enough nutrition applied on the plants and they weren’t as full of flavour as I hoped they would be.
Although people loved our fruit, I thought it should have been sweeter, so we’re trying something different this year.
Each year is incredibly different. I admire the older farmers who have the wisdom to reflect to the past and have some memories of what a year was like to compare with another. I often wonder if they write all this down because I find it all so hard to remember.
We’re moving into our final year of conversion so we can call ourselves certified organic berry growers after August 2020. I’m not even sure if we’ll be growing the same amount of strawberries in the future as our blueberries become more commercialised.
I wonder if I’ll ever get the raspberries to grow like they should. Learning for us has been very painful, financially and morally in the mistakes we’ve made and if not for our wonderful clients and friends who encourage us on through supporting us, I’m not sure how we’d keep going.
It’s crazy to think this, but although I’m getting older and taken the biggest risk in life that I could imagine, I’m more positive about my future, growing healthy food that people love. In a world of uncertainty, particularly around food, I think growing healthy food is as important as pretty much anything I can think of.
Thanks for being part of our journey as we navigate through the world of soil stewardship, understanding nature, working with, not against the natural forces we can’t control.
And for providing you with food that is so delicious and healthy because of how it’s grown and makes your day happier for having eaten our strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
We’re looking forward to a tremendous season for the year 2019 and 2020.