Growing hardy, high-quality organic strawberries can be a challenge, but Queensland’s Ashbern Farms have been working hard to meet this market need since first growing organic varieties in 2008.
The business operates from farms in Stanthorpe and the Glass House Mountains, with organic strawberries grown at the latter location across 4.2 hectares of land.
All in all, Ashbern Farms grow approximately 20 per cent organic and 80 per cent conventional strawberries, making them one of the largest suppliers to organic consumers in Queensland, as well as New South Wales and Victoria. A range of local wholesalers including United Organics and Eco-Farms stock Ashbern organic varieties, as well as consumer stores such as Kunara Organic Marketplace in Forest Glen.
Organic strawberries tend to have smaller fruit and leaves than conventional varieties, and can be susceptible to diseases. To combat this, the Ashbern Farms team have worked with entomologists, deploy beneficial insects, and even utilise an innovative bug vacuum to control fruit fly and Rutherglen bugs. Several of these techniques have since been adopted for their conventional strawberry crops too.
When it comes to nutrient density, the Ashbern Farms team have observed excellent nutritional balance in their organic production. Soil health is of high importance with several natural composts utilised and beneficial soil microbes added to enhance plant health.
Ashbern’s organic strawberry season begins at the end of May and continues through to October/November. The fruit is planted in early March and picking commences in May, with the strawberries at their best during the cooler months when glossy red in appearance, firm and packed with flavour. Strawberries are harvested, packed and dispatched on the same day, with tight controls in place to prevent fruit damage throughout the packing process.
Ashbern Farms are committed to engaging with industry and pushing for registration of inputs across organics. On the whole, the team have noted that organic consumers of their strawberries are very engaged and conscious about growing practices. While organic berries are only grown in the winter months on the Sunshine Coast, Ashbern also operate a conventional strawberry farm in Stanthorpe that operates through summer.
You can visit the Ashbern website to find out more about their organic offering, and make sure you keep an eye out for their in-season berries at your local organic stockists.