Our family have been farming at Parkside Farm since 1938, when it was a mixed dairy and arable farm. We still have some arable land (i.e. wheat/beans/oilseed rape) and grassland, but sold our 140 dairy cows in 2002.
We first grew strawberries for Pick-Your-Own back in 1979 on a fairly limited scale (i.e. 4 acres), but have subsequently added many other fruit and vegetable crops. The total PYO area is now close to 50 acres with about 20 different crops grown!
A crucial element to growing these crops is access to water for irrigation. We built our own reservoir in 1983, together with an extensive network of underground mains. We subsequently added more complex drip irrigation systems, which can be controlled from the farm.
Over the years our fruit and vegetable crops have also benefited from the generous use of farmyard manure (courtesy of own cows in the past and now our neighbour`s cattle), which greatly helps soil fertility, and ultimately the quality of our produce.
In recent years we have been investing very heavily into producing strawberries on a “Table-Top System”, which means you can pick without bending down! The plants are grown in troughs filled with peat, supported by a steel structure, and crop for 1/2 years. When the plants are finished, the troughs are emptied out, composted and spread onto our grass fields. Most of our production is now on this system. We also utilise different varieties and techniques to spread the harvest from early summer, right through to first frosts in the autumn.
These include the setting up of several new areas of “Potted Raspberries” and “Potted Blackberries” which we now grow in coir (coconut fibres), and plan to replant on a 2/3 year cycle using special long cane material. This helps to give a much better spread of harvest and alleviate the soil-borne disease problems we have had in the past.
We are continuing to experiment with growing tomatoes on the “table-top” system, under cloches that we designed ourselves. These keep the plants warmer but also keep the rain off, which is largely responsible for spreading the dreaded “blight”.
We also now use a biodegradable clear plastic to cover the early sowings of sweetcorn, which brings the crop on earlier in the season. A degradable black plastic (made from maize starch) is also used on our squashes to warm up the soil and suppress weeds.