Strawberry farmers in the region are enjoying a bumper crop and a great season – but it didn't start out that way.
It's been all eyes to the ground for months at Brocksbushes Farm Shop and Tea Room at Corbridge, Northumberland, as the season got under way.
Owner Caroline Dickinson has been growing strawberries on her farm since 1984 and has about 40 acres.
This year the crops are around 10 days late as the wet, cold spring meant they weren't ready. Luckily everything has turned out so much better thanks to the recent heatwave, and Brocksbushes is reporting a bumper crop, with plots of perfect berries.
Dickinson said: “Warm dry weather is the best thing for them, and when it's wet, it can be disastrous. In the autumn it was incredibly wet and you weren't able to work the beds or get the land prepared to plant the strawberries.
“You can plant strawberries in the autumn or spring, but we didn't manage to plant any in the autumn last year. We were worried and were hoping for a good spring.
“The downside is that when you plant in the spring, the plants are much more expensive because they have been overwintered in cold stores.”
Last year's deluge still failed to dampen the spirits of fruit-pickers.
“Despite the bad weather last year, we had some wonderful intrepid customers who came out in the rain to pick them! But it's much more fun digging them in the sun,” said Dickinson.
This summer has started early for Dickinson and her team, who held their summer fair last week with a record turnout.
She said: “This year's varieties include two early seasons which are Vibrant which is a new variety in its second year, and one which is in its first year.
Dickinson said: “Our main season variety is called Elegance which is a fantastic strawberry. It's really tasty, good colour and size and it keeps well. It's a really soft fruit to eat and this is a proper English strawberry.
“We also have a late variety called Malwina and that hasn't started yet, so we hope it's going to be good.”
The strawberry season usually lasts from June to mid-August and Dickinson said the farm has a tremendous crop this year.
She said: “You need nice good warm, relatively dry, soil conditions so you can work the soil and plant the plants. We have to monitor them all the time. All our fruit have trickle irrigation systems, so they are being irrigated all the time on a timer basis.
“We also crop walk once a week to check for disease and insects which can take all day.”
Dickinson believes the secrets of success lies in having a good team and strawberries that are grown out in the fresh air. She said: “We used to grow for the supermarkets when we first started, but they insist on you growing your fruit in tunnels now and I think a strawberry out of a tunnel doesn't taste the same as one grown in the fresh air.
“I have a really good team of three men on the farm who work really hard. At the moment we can only spray at night or very early in the morning because the bright sunshine scorches the plants.
“So sometimes Chris, who works incredibly hard, is sometimes on the tractor at midnight in order to keep the quality right.”
The UK is home to hundreds of berry farms, but because of the shorter season this year it's best to get out there before they're all gone.
I think a strawberry out of a tunnel doesn't taste the same as one grown in the fresh air