Sweet and juicy, pink and tart, raspberries are one of our favourite summer fruits – and they’re finally coming into season!
Our dedicated raspberry team pick around half a million punnets each year!
From mid-June until late October, these bursting berries are at their juiciest, biggest and most irresistible. But there's a lot that happens behind the scenes before they reach our shelves...
Meet the producers
Brother, sister duo Simon and Elaine Clarke are third generation fruit farmers and owners of Manor Farm Fruits - one of Asda’s biggest summer berry producers. 19 acres of their 55-acre Staffordshire farm are dedicated to growing raspberries.
Since their father began growing strawberries in 1972, their fruit farm has grown and grown, from one of the first pick-your-own strawberry farms in Staffordshire to supplying over half a million punnets of raspberries and (even more boxes of strawberries) to one of the country’s biggest supermarkets.
Simon and Elaine use the latest, most innovative growing practices along with a great team of staff who make sure only the best quality fruit leaves the farm.
We caught up with Elaine ahead of the beginning of picking season to see how the fruit is grown, and how they keep up with the ever-growing demands while still meeting the strictest of quality standards.
When does prepping for raspberry season begin?
“We start preparing the crops in January, which is when the first staff come back after Christmas. There’s a lot of pruning to do. Cutting back the canes to let the new crop come up is quite labour intensive — there’s never a quiet moment on our farm, not even in the dead of winter!
“Raspberry canes are tall and heavy and have to be tied up, otherwise the weight of the crop would cause the branches to droop and sag, potentially damaging the fruit. There’s more labour with raspberries than strawberries, because the latter is a low crop, so there’s no need to tie up the branches.
“Once the canes are pruned back, we cover the bushes with polythene tunnels to protect them from the British weather. This happens around March.
“Tunnels stay up for the whole of the growing season (until the beginning of November) to protect the fruit bushes, but we’re constantly adjusting them depending on the weather to make sure the fruit gets what it needs - on warmer days, we push the tunnels up to help air circulation. If the fruit gets too hot, it can affect the quality, flavour and shelf life of the berries. Raspberries like cooler conditions than strawberries. It takes a lot of effort to get a punnet of raspberries on the shelves, but we love doing it.”
How much care do your raspberry bushes need?
"We grow all of our fruit in coir – a type of peat – which gives the plants a lot of their nutrition. All of the watering and the rest of the feeding happens through trickle irrigation. This is where a small pipe runs all the way down the field with a dripper going into each individual pot. This means that we can feed them and water them very precisely, straight to the root.”
How do you harvest the ripe fruit?
“All of our picking is done by hand, as it’s a very specific process that can’t be mechanised. We’ve got a great team of staff (just under 100), many of whom have been with us for a number of years. The whole harvest team live on site.
“For raspberries, we tend to train up a dedicated team to pick the berries. It’s a different picking experience to strawberries, and different fruits have to be handled differently. Our dedicated raspberry team pick around half a million punnets each year.
“We make sure that we pick the raspberries every day. If the bushes are left, one or two can go overripe which can affect the berries on the canes next to them. To avoid this, we see to the bushes constantly."
Which varieties do you grow?
“We choose varieties that produce lovely big berries with a fantastic fruity flavour. Our two main varieties are called Maravilla and Margerita. Both of those varieties have a good berry size, great shelf life, and are very popular varieties all-round. Our propagator (a greenhouse-style enclosed area used for germinating seeds) is constantly trying to grow new varieties to increase the quality in stores, but Maravilla is very popular and brilliant for us, and isn’t likely to be replaced any time soon."
What other fruits do you grow on your farm?
“On a large scale, it’s just strawberries and raspberries. But on the pick-your-own side of the business, which is where our farm started, we open fields of gooseberries, blackcurrants, blackberries and blueberries up to the public too.
“Dad was one of the first pick-your-own growers in Staffordshire back in the early 70s. He planted his first strawberry bushes in 1972 which he opened to the public the following year. In those days, there wasn’t the availability of soft fruits in the supermarkets that there is now, so we used to see lots of customers come in and buy huge quantities to make preserves and jams.
“Pick your own has boomed in popularity, especially in recent years, and we love it when people that used to come with their own parents now come back with their children - or even grandchildren! People want to see how their food is produced and where it comes from; it’s both a great education and a fab family day out."