We select varieties to produce crops over a long season, thinking about their adaptability to our farm, and our customers’ needs.
Strawberry varieties are divided into short-day types (Junebearers) and day-neutral types (Everbearers). Junebearers make their flower buds under short days in the autumn in Kent, and produce fruit from these flower buds when they grow the following summer. Everbearers form flower buds whatever the daylength, so produce flowers and fruit all summer long as long as the plant is healthy and big enough.
Raspberry varieties are divided into summer-fruiting 'floricane' varieties, which produce berries from cane grown the summer before; and the later-fruiting 'primocane' types which produce fruit on first year canes. Some varieties can produce two crops each season.
We work closely with world-renowned plant breeders such as Driscoll’s, www.driscolls.com who use old-fashioned techniques to painstakingly create better-eating varieties of berry, such as the premium strawberry Driscoll’s Jubilee www.jubileestrawberries.co.uk and the raspberry Driscoll’s Maravilla.
We also require varieties adapted to Kent growing conditions and so many of them have been bred or selected locally, for example Driscoll’s Diamond; Driscoll’s Jubilee, Vibrant and Finesse.
Planting and pruning systems
For quality berries it is essential we start with good quality, pest and disease -free planting stock. We use many different types of plants grown for us by specialist nurserymen.
- Waiting bed plants - These are plants grown on from runners planted when young into a 'waiting bed’ to produce a large plant which is then lifted when dormant and cold stored for spring/summer planting. The "60 days" refers to the average length of time from planting to picking the crop. Frigo or A+ plants are similar but do not go through the 'waiting-bed' phase instead being lifted directly from the runner bed when dormant, and then graded for size.
- Tray plants - These are produced from runner ‘tips’ harvested from mother plants in July. Grown inside heated glasshouses until crown size is around 17mm, they are planted under protection for an early and long season crop.
- Misted tip plants - These are also produced from tips as above, but are forced quickly under tunnels for 4-5 weeks and then planted out in the field in early August for a crop the following May/June. This method is effective for varieties which do not perform as well as 60 day cold stored plants.
- Bare root runners - Smaller runner plants can be used to establish an everbearer crop. These are produced as rooted runner plants around a field-grown mother plant and lifted and cold stored until planting in March.
- These crops are established from root material direct from the propagator.
- Summer- fruiting ‘floricane’ raspberries are trained on wires strained between posts to support what can be a heavy load of canes, fruit and leaves. The floricanes which fruited during June/July/August are cut out during pruning in October, and the new canes grown during the summer are tied in to take their places. These are later tipped to stop them growing too long. Alleyways between the rows are drilled with grass, which is kept mown, to conserve soil and soil moisture.
- Primocane raspberries are not tied in except by some strings in a temporary fashion to allow pickers to pass easily down the rows. The old cane is cut down in early spring, and the new cane begins to emerge just after, rapidly growing to 1-1.5m in height.
All soft fruit crops at HLF are protected by tunnels for the majority of their cropping life. This protects the crop from rain damage, advances and prolongs the picking season, and helps create a favourable growing microclimate to combat the spread of disease as well as encouraging beneficial insects which control pests, and pollinators such as bees. Our tunnels over rotational crops are moved at the end of the life of the planting bed. 100% of our polythene is baled and recycled. For more information on tunnels and their use in soft fruit crops, see http://www.britishsummerfruits.co.uk/html/news_polytunnels.htm
Growing in soil and substrate
We grow our soft fruit crops in both soil and substrate. We look after our soil by using wide crop rotations and ploughing in green manure crops. Some of our strawberries and raspberries are planted in pots or grow bags and grown under semi-permanent tunnels. The strawberries are often suspended on shoulder high 'table tops' which make for easier picking. The pots or bags are filled with coir, a peat-free growing medium which can support several successive crops and is then recycled as a soil conditioner.
We have worked hard to make our farms almost self-sufficient in water for irrigation, collecting the run off and rainwater from our tunnels to reservoirs from which water is recycled onto our crops.
Pests and Diseases
The farm uses integrated crop management techniques, combining good husbandry practice with careful monitoring of pests and diseases. Chemical controls are only used when strictly necessary, as naturally-occurring beneficial insects are introduced into our crops to control pests. We also encourage beneficial insects by planting flower-rich field margins.
This is the most crucial operation at Hugh Lowe Farms. Berries are harvested continuously from April until November by groups of pickers under the supervision of skilled harvesting staff. High standards of food hygiene and crop handling are maintained.
Our pickers are carefully shown how to handle the plants and fruit so as not to damage the berries, as all are hand harvested directly into the final container (punnet).
Early morning starts ensure the fruit is picked when it is not too hot. The picked fruit is transported directly to the rapid coolers at the packhouse, where its temperature is reduced to 2-5 C to preserve shelf life.
All trays are clearly traceable back to the picker responsible, and the field it came from, thorough a bar coding system, so the field supervisor has constant feedback about the quality standards achieved. This traceability persists through the whole chain, on to the supermarket shelf.