This week The English Apple Man joined fellow EKFS members on a visit to Hugh Lowe Farms
Strawberries and Wimbledon are one of the great occasions of an English summer!
Below: Marion Regan - Managing Director - Hugh Lowe Farms
On Tuesday evening The English Apple Man joined around 50 East Kent Fruit Society (EKFS) members for a soft fruit walk at Hugh Lowe Farms at Mereworth in West Kent. This is a family business with 120 year history of Strawberry growing since Marion Regan's Great Grandfather Bernard Champion planted the very first strawberry crops for Champion Bros at Barons Place Farm. Between 1894 - 1915 more land was taken on at West Peckham, East Peckham, & Mereworth.
If there is a UK Strawberry Queen, that title must surely belong to Marion Regan who has been at the head of the 'family firm' - 'Hugh Lowe Farms' since 1996 when she took on the 'mantle' from her father Hugh Lowe, who in turn had taken on the farm in 1954 and increased the soft fruit production.
Today Hugh Lowe Farms extends to 700 hectares (1680 acres) with 100 hectares of Stawberries, 50 hectares of Raspberries and the remainder growing arable crops; the arable land allows a rotation for Strawberries and Raspberries grown in the soil.
HLF grow Strawberries and Raspberries in soil and substrates; the benefit from ploughing in green manure crops is 'sustainable' soil.
Strawberries and Raspberries grown in pots or bags are filled with coir, a peat free growing medium which can support several crops before being recycled and used as a soil conditioner. Pot or bag produced Strawberies and Raspberries are grown in semi-permanent tunnels.
Over 3,000 tonnes of strawberries and 700 tonnes of raspberries are grown from tunnelled production and from glass. While half the production is in substrate, the balance is rotated with arable crops, around farmland close to the main farmyard and packhouse at Mereworth, Kent.
First stop for EKFS members; the glasshouse Raspberry production unit at Ashes Lane. Hugh Lowe Farms have rented the Venlo glasshouses since 2005 and recently purchased the freehold allowing much needed investment in the facility.
As a member of BerryGardens, Hugh Lowe farms have access to the Driscoll range of Strawberry and Raspberry varieties. The benefit of new variety development is paramount in the very competitive world of soft fruit production. In the glasshouse Raspberry production unit, Driscolls 'Maravilla' has reached 20 tonnes per hectare so far this season. Planted in 2013 as a 'Primo Cane' in pots, the first crop was in the autumn of 2013; in 2014 a Floricane crop of 20 tonnes per hectare in the early summer was followed by an Autumn crop of 15 tonnes per hectare.
Primocane varieties produce flowers and fruit on stems grown in the same year. Most Autumn fruiting varieties are primocanes producing fruit in their first year of growth. Summer fruiting varieties are usually Floricane raspberries which have stems that grow for one year before bearing fruit and flowers. Because floricanes and primocanes produce crops on different aged stems, they require slightly different pruning techniques.
Below: Maravilla raspberries (planted in 2013) pictured on Tuesday 23rd June this year after producing (to date) 20 tonnes per hectare.
Tom Pearson is the Farms Director who has overall responsibility for all the crops grown by HLF; Tom briefed the EKFS members and hosted the tour of HLF - assisted by Lance Mansell - Glasshouse and Cane Fruit Manager.
Below: EKFS Chairman Alex Cooke introduces HLF Farms Director Tom Pearson - Tom Pearson with Jon Regan husband of Marion and a Director of Hugh Lowe Farms
Below Maravilla Raspberries
The scale and intensity of the Raspberry production in pots is staggering, but Lance told us the prime reason for producing under glass is to 'fill the shoulders' of the season - e.g. maintain production for early summer until late autumn to complement the main season production. The yields under glass are only about 20% above field crops and the cost of heating + the expense of glass does not generate high margins.
Below: EKFS members listen to Tom Pearson - and - a view of the Raspberry pots with linked irrigation pipes
Below: a view of one of the Raspberry Bays, gives an indication of the scale of production
Back to the beginning!
These Primo Cane - Driscoll 'Margarita' will replace the Maravilla (once cropping is finished) and become the next production phase in the Autumn. The existing Maravilla Pots will be taken out and continue production in a field environment.
Below: Driscolls Margarita 'Primo Cane Pots - and - EKFS members discuss the production process
Next on the itinerary was a visit to tunnels with pot grown Strawberries; the variety Driscoll's Jubilee planted in a coir medium in square pots located on a gutter support system.
Below: One of the production tunnels growing Driscoll's Jubilee Strawberries
The gutter support system can accommodate 'grow-bags' as well as (instead of) pots and the novel structure at the end of each row allows the 'support tape' to be easily positioned.
Below: the gutter set up with the adjustable support system for tapes - and - the square pots which are more cost efficient
When table tops Strawberry production started in the UK circa 20 years ago, growers soon realised with 'no ground support' the weight of the strawberry trusses required some assistance. Over the years this support has developed from some rather 'basic systems' to the much more 'sophisticated systems' of today.
Below: a view of the gutter structures - and - the tape system used by HLF to support the strawberries
Below: Driscoll's Jubilee Strawberry is known as 'The Queen of Strawberries' because it was named after The Queen's Jubilee and due to its high visual and eating quality.
Hugh Lowe Farms is a very large and successful business and it was not possible in the time available to see more than a 'snapshot' of the business, however the glasshouse Raspberry production and the Jubilee Strawberry tunnels, demonstrated the very high standards integral to the success of HLF.
Below: Lance Mansell and Tom Pearson our hosts for the evening
For a much more detailed view of Hugh Lowe Farms - Click on Hugh Lowe Farms website - it is well worth the visit, telling the family story over 120 years in a well constructed timeline!
Finally; They take seriously the issues which really concern their customers. Biodiversity flourishes on the farm under their management, and the whole farm is in the Environmental Stewardship Scheme. They support LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and work closely with the Kent Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and the Campaign for the Farmed Environment. They promote biocontrols for pest and disease control, and have credible carbon saving, water efficiency, waste reduction, community engagement and ethical employment practices.
Just one extract from the website - "Hugh Lowe Farms is committed to Biodiversity - This is a balanced farm: over 75% of the land is either: in arable crops - resting in the rotation between soft fruit crops - or - uncropped but managed for wildlife as grassland, margins or trees.
That is all for this week......
The English Apple Man >