With the success of strawberry growth greatly influenced by the type of growing media used, it is imperative to ensure that growers not only choose a quality substrate, but also one that suits their operational needs.
Ashley Wensak of New Forest Fruit has found success growing strawberries in coir substrate growbags. So much so that managing director Sandy Booth is driving to transition the whole operation to the latest growbags on the market. Ashley explains some of the key features he looks for when choosing a substrate, giving his top tips for selecting the right supplier to suit the needs of the individual farm.
“We’re in the process of moving all our strawberries over to Botanicoir Precision Plus Ultra, after we trialled the new bags, which proved to be superior to our previous substrate, and suit our operational system perfectly. When looking for a new substrate, for me, the quality of the coir is always paramount – it needs to retain moisture throughout the day. When the plants are in full production, we can irrigate 10 to 14 times a day, so we don’t want the water to run straight through the bag, as the roots needs time to absorb water and any fertiliser applications,” says Ashley. “On the other hand, it should also have the ability to drain effectively when required. The strawberry plants effectively ‘go to bed’ at night – they stop photosynthesising, and generally you only see growing processes in the plant above the growbag, rather than in the roots, so there’s little need for water.”
Ashley goes on to add that it is important that strawberry plants do not sit in wet substrate overnight, especially at the start and end of the season, when it can be particularly cold, as this creates a favourable environment for disease. “While it’s key to have a bag that dries down quickly, I’d also recommend choosing one that’s easily wetted up before planting, as growers are often under time pressure. Our new Botanicoir growbags only take around 24 hours to become totally hydrated.”
After the initial wetting of the bags, Ashley explains that a substrate with a flexible water holding capacity will help to minimise stress conditions, as water and nutrients can be delivered to the plant without delay. “Choosing the right substrate for the farm hasn’t just streamlined operations, it has also proven to increase our yield by 4%.” Ashley believes this is mainly down to the consistently sized particles in the coir that provide an optimum air-filled porosity that creates a good structure for uniform strawberry rooting and healthier plants. “For us, it’s imperative to have a well-structured bag, not only for the good rooting properties, but because we often re-use them for two or three seasons in a row, so they’ve got to remain productive for a prolonged period,” he says.
A final point to consider when selecting a supplier, is that they should have a sustainable and secure supply of coir, this factor is essential for Ashley. “The recent investment in drying facilities by Botanicoir ensures a regular supply, and this, coupled with the support they provide by adjusting the planting holes to our specific requirements, gives us the security of supply we need,” says Ashley.