TOPICS OF SPECIAL INTEREST
NOTES ON STRAWBERRY FARMING
Strawberry farming has now become an important industry in our midst, and a few notes on it, chiefly from a local point of view, may not be uninteresting to the readers of this new venture of the society of "light and learning".
The strawberry is one of the few fruits indigenous to Britain, and is found, like the blueberry (bilberry) and juniper, in a wild state in uncultivated spots. Nature has endowed it with the means of extensive multiplication; from the main bush or stems there spread forth tentacula or suckers over the surface of the ground, and these fastening themselves by a root at every joint, as many new plants spring up as there are roots. It is not too much to presume that it was from this habit that the plant derived its name, straw being a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon strae, from which we have the verb stray.
The cultivation of strawberries, for the market, was introduced to this district by the late Mr David West, about 1848, at his few near Rosemount station. At first he merely planted a small quantity, but the venture proving successful, the area was speedily increased. It says much for Mr West's discrimination that the variety he used, the "Alpine Pine," is today, after the many and varied tests it has undergone, the favourite with growers. His market, at that date, was entirely confined to Dundee, the fruit being conveyed there in the carriers' carts and manufactured into jam. The price then given was £42 per ton.
The area now under cultivation is about 200 acres. This is mostly held under feu, the feu-duty ranging from £2 per acre to, in an exceptional case, £16 per acre. The average feu-duty, however, in the Muir o' Blair, the principal seat of the produce, is £5 per acre. Some of the ground is held under lease, at rents varying from 30s to £12 per acre.
It is, as may be supposed, difficult to strike and average annual crop, as one acre may not produce half-a-ton whilst the yield of another may be four tons according to the quality of cultivation, but estimating it, as nearly as possible, we would calculate the annual yield at 400 tons, of which, perhaps, 300 tons will be sent the preserve manufacturers. Estimating the value on this basis at the present rate, the crop would be worth about £5600, but, in past years, the price per ton has varied from £9 to £40.
The markets, to which the fruit is sent, embrace all the towns of any importance between Aberdeen and London. For preserving purposes, it is sent to the factories in casks holding one cwt. each. For the retail market, some send it in large boxes containing a great number of smaller ones.
The varieties now in common use are, for early berries, "The Rifleman," a very high flavoured fruit, coming to maturity nearly a week before any other, and the Prince of Wales," with hardly so good a flavour as the former, but bearing a heavier crop on strong land. Many other varieties are used, but these are the favourites. For later cropping, we will also mention only the two principal – "The Alpine Pine," considered to be the heaviest cropper grown; and the "Garibaldi," which bears a very fair crop and seems a favourite with some.
A few facts as to the mode of cultivation pursued may be interesting to the uninitiated. Planting:– The plants are cut from between the rows of old berries, early in the spring, and planted in rows thirty inches apart, with a space of 12 inches between each plant. This allows room to thoroughly clean the plants. This is performed by grubbing with horses, followed by hand-hoeing. About 150 persons will find employment at this. Of course, during part of the winter work on the strawberry farms is at a standstill. In gathering the fruit for the retail markets the berries are picked with the husks on, but, when for preserving, the husks are removed in the picking. At the ingathering of the crop, a considerable number of extra hands are, of necessity, required, and at this season there will be from 800 to 1000 pickers employed, including children.
The prospects of the strawberry farmers at present are, unfortunately, not the best, the fruit having been so considerably reduced in price during the last two years, while the expenses of production have slightly increased. Last year the price was reduced owing to the rise in the sugar market, which prevented preserve manufacturers producing their goods at a saleable price. This year no explanation for the low price can be given, except the abundant crop. At the end of this season, growers may congratulate themselves, prices had a tendency to rise, which augurs a greater demand next year, at, it is to be hoped, increased prices.
Ingar Nilsson from Swedent sent us a copy of her recently published book about raspberry growing all over the world. Her research for the book led us to our website and she has included Blairgowrie and Rattray in her book. The text, of course, is in Swedish, but many of the illustrations will be familiar to local people. You will be able to see this beautiful book on our stall in the Wellmeadow on May 28th 2016.