Posted by: SandraDeeble
March 15, 2014
I had never thought of growing cranberries until recently; this is brand new to us. When we started, one grower came over from the US to advise us and I think he thought we’d gone mad. We’re trying to see if cranberries can be grown in the UK using a totally different system to theirs.
Over there they are largely wet harvested. They grow them in a field and build a bund – a soil wall – around it. They build a lagoon beside it and when it comes time to harvest, they then flood that field with the lagoon water. The plant floats so it’s sticking up in the air and they then mechanically harvest it using a picker a bit like a little combine harvester.
It rakes the fruits off the plant, which then float to the surface where they are lifted into punts and then tipped into a bulk lorry. I guess over here we’d have problems with the Environment Agency, I’m not sure they’d be happy with us flooding the ground. Some call the system we use here tabletop, or bench growing. The plants are in pots rather than in the ground. We use the plastic trays that our strawberry plants come in to create the tabletops and we cover them with Mypex, a black, semi-permeable material.
We’re the only people growing cranberries in the UK; it’s part of a commercial trial. The challenge will be to get big enough yields. Then we could go for import substitution. The Americans harvest tons of fruit, because it’s so mechanised, but we are picking each tiny berry by hand. We’re considering semi‑mechanisation, but we don’t want to damage the plants. Last year, our first year, we had a very small crop and the cost of picking was far more than the value of the fruit. This year it’s a better crop.
Fruit farming is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m the fourth generation of fruit growers in my family and one of the highlights of the holidays was coming to the farm with my grandfather. I suppose that’s what kindled my interest.
But Mockbeggar had been fruit land for many generations even before my great-grandfather took it on, and it’s very good ground; slightly south facing, just on the Hoo Peninsula between the Medway and the Thames. It often means the climate here is a little bit milder.