How to grow organic berries

A bunch of berries starting to ripen up
Berries starting to ripen up

We had the pleasure this week of visiting Sunny Creek Organic berry farm in Gippsland, and spent a happy afternoon touring the farm and picking berry farmer Phil’s brain.

Not that we’re planning to start a berry farm!

But we’ve grown raspberries before and know what a successful, in-demand and high-value crop they are, and we think berries would be a perfect add-on to the mix we’ve got going here at the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op.

Green berries not yet ready to pick
Green raspberries not yet ready to pick

So we were very interested to see how the experienced folk at Sunny Creek have overcome some of the problems we ran into with the berries, and boy, did we learn a lot in one short afternoon!

First, berries need sun-protection or they get sunburned. We thought this only happened on super-hot days with a scorching hot north wind, but in fact it can happen at much lower temperatures. Interestingly, it can also take weeks for the damage to show up, which maybe explains why in our few short years of berry growing we didn’t always realise when sun damage had occurred.

Netting and shade cloth over a berry patch
Netting and shade cloth over the berry patch

The good news though is that this problem is almost completely alleviated with shade protection (like shade cloth). So, lesson 1—include shade cloth covers in the design from the get-go!

Another topic we were interested in was disease control. One of the big problems we encountered when we grew raspberries was Phytophthora (a fungal root-rot disease), so we were particularly interested in solutions, and we came away with a much better understanding.

Strawberry with Botrytis fungal disease
Strawberry with Botrytis fungal disease

For example, we discovered that raspberries are prone to a raspberry-specific strain of Phytophthora. This means that a patch of ground where we used to grow peach trees that were affected by Phytophthora may be more suitable for raspberry growing than we previously thought—hooray!

We also learned that:

  • Some varieties of raspberries are more resistant to Phytopthora than others;
  • Brambles don’t get it at all;
  • Mounding the soil helps;
  • One of the biggest risks of infection is from the public!
The pick-your-own farm map at Sunny Creek Berry Farm
The pick-your-own farm map at Sunny Creek Berry Farm

We also learned about nutrition, seasonal care, pruning, variety selection, running the pick-your-own operation, marketing, and value-adding!

Field trips to fellow farmers are one of the fastest and most useful ways to learn new things about farming in a short space of time. We know from experience how busy farming life is, and so are incredibly appreciative when farmers like Phil give so generously of their time to share their knowledge and expertise.

So next time you’re over Trafalgar South way, pop into Sunny Creek Farm and pick some amazing organic berries and tell Phil Hugh and Katie sent you!

And if you’re interested in starting a berry enterprise in central Vic and joining the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op, please find out more here and get in touch!

Apricot bottling and berry tarts!

Have you done any fruit bottling this year? Never tried it before? It’s really easy, and a great way to preserve the summer bounty to enjoy through winter.

Our farm is a demonstration of how you can grow and preserve an entire year’s supply of fruit for your family, so each year we practise what we preach and bottle a heap of fruit to see us through winter.

We aim to preserve enough each year so we don’t need to buy fruit at all, so we’re busily filling the pantry at the moment.

It’s still early in the season, so there’s not much fruit around, but apricots and cherries are some of our favourites, so we’ve filled lots of jars with them already.

We’re also harvesting lots of berries at the moment as well. We don’t bottle these, as they tend to go mushy. But they freeze really well, and we also eat as many as we can while they’re fresh and in season.

 

This is one of our favourite ways to eat them – berry tarts! They are quick, delicious and really easy to make, the whole thing only takes about half an hour from start to finish.

Here’s the recipe to make about 24 tarts:

Gluten free pastry

  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • 1/4 cup cornflour
  • 1/4 cup besan flour
  • knob butter
  • milk

Make pastry your usual way. Roll out, and use a glass or pastry cutter to cut tart-sized rounds. Cook in greased tart tins (like shallow muffin trays) for about 8 mins or until done.

Berry filling

Put about 400g berries in a saucepan, add about 1/2 cup sugar (or enough to sweeten to taste). Cook, stirring all the while until the sugar is completely melted and a syrup is forming. It’s great if some of the berries retain their shape.

In a cup mix 2 heaped tsp cornflour with just enough water to make it liquid. Add to berry mixture, and stir until the cornflour is completely cooked and the mixture starts to thicken. The mixture will go cloudy when you add the cornflour, so keep cooking until it has gone clear again.

Fill pastry cases with berry mixture and set aside to cool and set.

If you’re interested in finding out more about fruit preserving for home use, try Fabulous Fruit Preserving. It includes instructions for how to bottle fruit using equipment found in most home kitchens, as well as details about freezing, jam and dehydrating (and even includes instructions for making your own fruit dehydrator!)