We grow table top strawberries for sale in our farm shop.
The plants are grown under poly tunnels in plastic troughs approximately 1½ meters above the ground. Filled with compost and watered by trickle irrigation.
Growing Strawberries using soil less systems and under re-locatable multi bay tunnels (also known as Spanish Tunnels after the country where they were first developed) are two new advances in production that have arisen as the answer to a number of problems that many British growers have faced in recent years and we at Bellis Brothers have been keen to take advantage of these techniques to provide our customers with the quality and reliable supply of fruit that they expect.
Why soil less? Most long term strawberry growers (over 100 years in our case) find that the build up of pests and diseases in the soil is impossible to control by crop rotation alone and soil sterilisation was the only solution. However, the removal of the main sterilant (an expensive and environmentally harmful product) means this approach is on the way out. By taking the strawberries out of the ground and growing them in disease free peat based compost, growers have developed an alternative system that also allows the plants to be grown at a more convenient height which is a definite advantage for pickers!
The use of Spanish tunnels over the crop is a direct response to the unreliable summer weather that has become a nuisance in recent years. Ripening strawberries can be spoiled very easily by rainfall and wet fruit that is picked goes bad much more quickly.
Our system uses plastic troughs filled with compost and supported on a framework of steel pipes. Each line of troughs is planted with strawberry varieties chosen for their flavour and fruiting season. Planting begins in mid January and fruit are usually available from mid June until mid September. All the troughs are fed and watered using an automatic irrigation system that is monitored daily to ensure the plant receives the optimum amount of water and nutrients. The covers are put over in late March and remain in place until picking finishes when they are removed to avoid storm damage.
Table top growing has allowed us to grown the number one strawberry variety, Sonata, for the very first time and also to significantly reduce the amount of agrochemicals used in strawberry growing. It is because of advantages like these that we have decided to invest in this exciting new system and we hope that our customers will enjoy the benefits of easy picking, under cover throughout the season, whatever the weather.
Try table top strawberries this year and let us know what you think!