Drum roll please… In early June we’ll open the doors to the biggest development at Kenyon Hall Farm in years. Our brand new indoor strawberry patch will be brimming with fruit waiting to be picked! I'll go through the highlights of our new venture here: what we’ve done, why we’ve done it, and what other changes we’ve made to our Pick Your Own operation this year.
If you’re short on time, all the essentials to know before you visit are on our Pick Your Own page. But if you've got a few minutes to read the back-story, then here we go…
If you’ve read any of my blog posts over the last year, this won’t be the first time you’ve heard of our vision for new indoor fruit growing facilities inside polytunnels. For the benefit of any new-comers, here's a quick re-cap:
- Our customer survey last year confirmed our hunch that lots of you (a 90% majority) want a bigger and better Pick Your Own season.
- We made a New Year’s resolution to meet this demand by growing strawberries indoors for the first time in 40 years.
- We’ve stuck to the plan and by the time of our Easter update we'd built four tunnels and planted our first crop of strawberries ready for picking from June.
Why Are We So Excited?
Having grown strawberries since the 1970s, you might wonder why we’re so chipper about adding a few polytunnels to the Pick Your Own operation. A fair question!
It’s all about reliability. In the good old days, strawberry seasons would last for six weeks – summer-long bonanzas of fresh fruit. By contrast, both the 2017 and 2018 seasons lasted under two weeks! In recent years it's been tricky to produce reliable crops of soft fruit. There are a number of reasons for this, but the biggest is the weather: months of continuous rain, months with no rain at all, temperatures hotter than the Sahara, freezing Beasts from the East. Never mind trying to plan what to wear each day, try growing strawberries in extreme weather like this!
The best way to tackle such unpredictability is to try and take the vagaries of the British weather out of the equation – grow the fruit indoors where it’s protected and we can keep our eye on it. Using polytunnels, in conjunction with our usual outdoor fields, should mean we have a strawberry season lasting not just the 6 weeks we used to enjoy, but a full 12 weeks throughout June, July and August. And that’s why we’re excited!
It doesn’t really matter how giddy we are about the polytunnels, they’ll only be a success if our customers are happy too. So here’s three reasons why I hope you will be:
- Opportunity – A three month strawberry season will give you plenty of chances to Pick Your Own fruit during the summer. There’s no need to worry about the blink-and-you-miss-it seasons of the past or to rush down to the farm the first time you see strawberries are ready – you’ve the whole summer to visit.*
- Comfort – Our indoor strawberries are grown on ‘table-tops’ that are waist-high to adults, meaning much less bending over than with outdoor strawberries, so much easier on the back! Also, unlike in the outdoor strawberry patches, your ankles won’t get attacked by prickles when you’re in the tunnels and maybe best of all the polythene roof always keeps you dry when picking, even on a typical drizzly British summer’s day. The tunnels are also lovely and warm, but you might want to avoid coming at mid-day on a really sunny day – they can get a bit too toasty!
- Mmmmm – By growing indoors, our strawberries will enjoy protection from wet weather, creepy-crawlies and other nasties than can damage outdoor fruit. The indoor strawberries should grow bigger and healthier, giving a higher quality fruit for you to pick that will last longer when you get them home.
If we’re busy one day (or maybe just one morning), there may not be anything to pick for a couple of days until new fruit ripens. With this in mind, we’ll update our website at least once a day so you can check for the latest news before visiting. This will always be the most current and accurate source of information.
Growing indoors is new to us and we're learning as we go. We hope in a year or two to be able to offer better continuity in the availability of fruit, but for this season we expect it to be quite variable.
Well yes - the changes for 2019 don’t end there! To facilitate access to the new polytunnels we’re re-locating the entrance to the Pick Your Own fields. This year we’ll ask you to walk past the old entry station by the play area and stroll through our plant centre to find the main entrance to the fields.
On arrival, you’ll find another change for this year: we’re charging a small per person deposit to enter the fields. The deposit is a pre-payment to be redeemed against the value of fruit you pick to take home - a minimum spend, rather than an entry fee. The prices and reasons for the deposit are explained on our Pick Your Own page but it should add no extra cost to a visit for the vast majority of our customers. The BBC came and spoke to Dad last summer about the context behind this change:
I really hope you'll feel we’re changing things for the better and for the right reasons. I guess there’s only one way to find out… we look forward to seeing you over the summer!
James Bulmer, 9th May 2019