The Forest Foodie Meets.... New Forest Fruit Co
Updated: May 5
Last week we were invited to meet Kate & Laura from New Forest Fruit Co in East Boldre. I imagine some of you might have (naively) had the same initial images in your head as I did – some poly tunnels in a field with lots of lovely Strawberry and Asparagus…. Maybe a smallholding on a farm. How wrong was I!
On arriving at this farm (1 of 3) I was overwhelmed! A few things really stuck with me – 1) the expanse of what they are doing. 2) How incredibly, meticulously well-kept and maintained it all was. 3) How peaceful it was with only the sound of birds. A truly eye opening and wonderful experience – so thank you for having me.
As we wondered around (it took an hour and a half – to give you some idea of scale) I took lots of notes and thought I’d share our ‘interview’ here with you:
What do you grow here and what are the seasons for you?
The majority of what we grow here is Strawberries (March-December). Thanks to being able to grow plants in controlled environments in glasshouses we are able to extend the season on both ends. We grow 5 main varieties: Malling Centenary, Ania, Murano, Favori and Sweet Life.
We grow Asparagus from the end of February to the end of April, which is much earlier than the traditional English Asparagus season – we can do this by protecting it with tunnels and covering with fleece.
We also grow Raspberries (June-October), and Blueberries (June-August) – but on a much smaller scale available for local sales.
What makes what you do so special?
We grow our Strawberries in ‘Coir Bags’ (a by-product from Coconut – dry husks) which we import from Botanicoir in Sri Lanka – they are similarly a very sustainable company. Once the strawberries are finished with the Coir (1-2 years) – we then use it to plant the Asparagus Crowns. We also add sand to the Asparagus beds to make it more akin to their natural environment and it keeps the spears clean when they emerge.
Once picked it takes between 6-24 hours from field to shelves
We are also members of LEAF (Linking environment and farming) which promotes sustainable food and farming. We actually will participate in LEAF Open Farm Day on 27th June 2021. Come on down!
What part do you play in helping the environment?
We try and encourage as much nature as possible to come here. You have probably noticed how peaceful it is here. We have our own reservoir and we are building more. We collect the rain water and also catch any waste water to make sure we are working as sustainably as possible which we use to water the crops. We plant trees, hedges and specific flowers to encourage wildlife. We also put bat boxes, bird boxes and beetle hotels up.
We encourage as many natural insects as possible and work closely with a local beekeeper Sylvan Apiaries. We have bee hives on all farms but we also have additional helpers – bumble bees which we buy in. They forage for nectar and pollen earlier in the spring, earlier in the day and during cloudy weather unlike honey bees.
I can see some garlic amongst the Strawberries, what does this do?
Yes, that is garlic, it’s actually a natural deterrent from pests – we call this companion planting. We are working with the nature through the use IPM (Integrated Pest Management System) – using natural predators present on the farm as well as releasing nematodes, parasitic wasps and using traps
When I arrived, I couldn’t believe the scale of your wonderful farm here. How much do you grow?
Since 2018 we have planted 180,000 Asparagus Crowns, and this year we are planting another 70,000. We will pick between 30-35 Tonnes of Asparagus spears this year. When we stop picking – all of the spears are left to grow into fern to help the plants to store energy for the following season.
‘In the right weather conditions Asparagus can grow up to 10cm per day!’
For Strawberries – our main crop – in peak season we pick on average 10-20 Tonnes per day and hope to harvest 4,000 Tonnes this year.
You must need a lot of staff?
Yes, in peak season we employ up to 350 staff, we have 70 full time staff and 20 office staff.
Where do you sell your produce?
Locally you can buy it in farm shops such as Shallowmead Farm Shop, Queensmead, Setley Ridge, Beaulieu Farmshop, Village Veg in Brockenhurst, Everton Post Office. Further afield we supply Waitrose, Sainsbury, Tesco, Aldi & Lidl.
Thank you so much to Kate, Sandy, Laura & the team for enlightening us. Do join them on their open farm day via LEAF on 27th June. Do taste their yummy produce and support this fantastic local business.
Flora. April 2021.