See the extract below and download the full technical advice sheet at the bottom of the page.
From a growing perspective this has been a difficult season so far. We had seven months of wet weather, followed by two months of hot, dry weather and this has caused problems in soft fruit. Avoid re-using old bags even through the current crop may be looking strong and healthy as the risk of disease and pest carry over can be difficult to avoid.
Picking and Selling
As plants are coming into fruit consider your plans for harvesting each crop.
- This is especially important if you are picking for the first time as an alternative to PYO.
- Dedicated pickers, if trained correctly trained, should leave a much tidier crop than the general public would as they will be removing all ripe fruits which can be graded as first and second class or unmarketable, this will result in less wastage of so a higher percentage of marketable fruit
- In addition by the picking, removal and disposing of unmarketable (i.e. over ripe, damaged, diseased and pest infested fruit) away from the plantation they will improve the cleanliness of your tunnels to help pest/disease control most notably of spotted winged drosophila.
- While it may be inappropriate to track the productivity of individual pickers as you would see on larger farms, it is essential to spend sufficient time training your staff on how to pick and grade fruit especially if you are selling lower grade as a secondary product for jam making.
- If you are new to picking fruit and the crop is being grown on table tops you should provide the pickers with picking trollies. For a small investment you can make use of trollies which were originally designed for use in tunnels to improve the speed and efficiency of your pickers working both in protected and outdoor crops.
- These can also be used not only as picking aids but also to transport plants down rows when planting, for carrying tools when de-runnering, crown thinning or leaf plucking crops
- Chilling (field heat removal) can also be a new challenge if you are selling picked fruit for the first time. You should aim to get your fruit to at least 10°C or preferably 5°C or below within an hour of harvest to maintain quality and extend crop shelf life.
- You will probably find that in the main you’re able to sell your fruit within a few hours or at most a day or so of harvest but especially when the weather is inclement and there a reduced foot fall on the farm being able to remove the field heat and too cold store fruit that has had to be picked during or just before the weather changed will help you to have quality product and continuity of supply to your customers no matter what the weather and to even out peaks and troughs in fruit ripening and picking.
- The renting of mobile trailer fridges could be worth considering, particularly if you’re only going to be using it for a relatively short period of the year.
- Remember to keep up with social media to let your customers know what you have on offer, and consider how you can continue with other parts of your business – cafes, pre-picked vegetables or cut flowers will also be attractive to customers. For pricing, don’t be afraid to update your prices for a new season, especially if you’re selling ready-picked. Prices of around £5-6/kg for PYO can be increased to £7/kg to help cover your extra costs of picking. Remember that you are not competing with supermarkets, you’re selling a very different product!
Other Crops for the PYO Market
As you move through the summer and make plans for next year, you could start thinking about crops for next year. A number of other products fit well with the PYO model and can supplement your business in a number of ways. Sweetcorn can be planted cheaply but sold at high value particularly as it will be at much higher value than that seen in supermarkets. Cut Sunflowers could be sold at three-for-£1 for basic varieties.
Think about what sort of customers are visiting your site and what products are likely to be attractive to them. Other crops like gooseberry can be helpful in bridging harvest periods and can be very popular even if only grown in small areas, in contrast the appeal of black and redcurrants is likely to be less but many growers are surprised how many people still want to use currents to make cassis, ice cream and redcurrant jelly, so find both crops easily sell out. Both crops (notably the redcurrants) have the added advantage over other soft fruit crops that if the correct cultivars are planted they will ripen relatively late and provided that the temperature in July and early August are not excessively high will stand sometimes for weeks and still be marketable e.g. the redcurrant Rovado .
More products will also increase the average spend per customer as there will be greater choice for them to take home. In recent years many growers have observed that customers like to visit more often these days (several times/week) pick your own or farm shops and relatively small amounts of fruit or vegetables at each visit, so make sure you have a good range of crops available to them at every visit throughout the harvest season. To do this with vegetables and flowers will require as with the strawberries and if your raspberries are now grown in substrate several plantings or sowings to obtain a harvest (selling period) of months rather than just a few weeks).
Download the full technical advice sheet here: Technical Advice Sheet Soft Fruit Notes – June