Behind the Scenes – Queensland Strawberry Farm

Strawberry Farm - Queensland

As the sun rises over the strawberry fields on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, a team of pickers are already bent over the plants, moving up and down the rows on trollies as they pluck the ripe red fruit.

There are approximately 150 strawberry growers in Queensland, covering more than 600 hectares of land. The Ashbern Farm is one of the smaller, family operated businesses in the region, and have been growing strawberries for 11 years.

Ash Hoyle, Ashbern Farm’s marketing manager and mother of three, says they grow over a million strawberry plants over the summer, which are then picked in the cooler months of May through to October.

“During summer, we plant cover crops in our patches,” Ash explains. “These will later be cut and left to break down to add to the soil nutrition. We start preparing the new beds by laying plastic mulch in the peak of summer – it’s hot work! Planting starts in late March. We plant runners, which are offshoots from a mother plant.”

The runner varieties they have grown this season are a range of strawberry varieties including Red Rhapsody, Suncoast Delight, Scarlet Rose (which are bred in Queensland) and Fronteras and Petaluma (which are Californian varieties). 

“We select varieties for their flavour, shape, and shelf life,” Ash says.

“Our favourites at the moment are Red Rhapsody because they are so deliciously sweet, firm and tasty at this time of year, and Petaluma, which are known in our house as the ‘milkshake berries’ because of their creamy sweetness!”

Ash says her children love to help out and learn about the the farm.

Strawberry Farm - Queensland

“They could tell you the entire process from plant to punnet to shop shelf,” Ash laughs. “And they never get tired of eating strawberries!”

Ashbern Farms is owned and run by Jon and Bernadine Carmichael and Ash and her husband Brendon. The name “Ashbern” is a combination of the two wives’ names. 

Strawberry Farm - Queensland

After planting, the strawberry patch is watered and nurtured and in May the first strawberries appear. At Ashbern Farms, the picked fruit is ferried to the cold room as quickly as possible. Once it has cooled, it is taken to the packing shed where it is packed and stored in another cold room.

“The packers grade the fruit by size and shape as well as check for blemishes,” Ash says. “We treat our strawberries like milk! Each night the packed fruit is collected, to be delivered to produce markets and shops.”

When wandering the aisles at the local supermarket, it’s easy to forget all the hard work that has gone into producing our punnet of berries.

“Our work is nearly always seven days a week,” Ash says. “But we manage with the help of a great team. Our family are also constantly helping to look after our three children and cook meals for us.”

And despite being exposed to strawberries all day every day, Ash says she still includes strawberries as part of her regular diet.

“Our family eat strawberries for breakfast, snacks, afternoon tea and dessert, but mostly straight out the punnet,” Ash says.

“We do have a pancake breakfast nearly every weekend and that’s of course with lots of strawberries, paired with cream or yoghurt. We also have them on toast with avocado or peanut butter, as well as on our cereal!” 

To ensure production of strawberries year-round, Ashbern Farms also have a farm at Stanthorpe, Queensland’s coldest town, which bears fruit over the summer months.

From October to May, families can visit the Ashbern Farm in Stanthorpe to pick their own strawberries or enjoy a strawberry treat from the onsite café.

“On the menu are scones, waffles, pavlova, pies, sausage rolls, chocolate dipped strawberries, strawberry parfait, milkshakes, smoothies and coffees,” Ash says.

“And if you don’t want to pick your own, you can still take home a punnet or two of farm-fresh strawberries from our farm shop.”

For more information, visit https://www.ashbernfarms.com.au/.

Ash’s tips for choosing and eating strawberries

  • The redder the better, for flavour, with nice green leaves (called the calyx) and glossy skin, for freshness.  
  • The Queensland bred varieties are a deep red, almost maroon colour, showing how high they are in antioxidants, not that they’re over ripe.
  • Strawberries are at their best if they’re kept cold and then brought to room temperature for eating, so take them out the fridge for a little while before you eat them. 
  • Strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside. They are part of the rose family because of their fragrance. They also contain more vitamin C than oranges. 
  • The organic strawberry season begins at the end of May and continues through to October. Keep an eye out in your local organic stockist as Ashbern organic strawberries are sold in Victoria, New South Wales and other areas in Queensland, as well as in local Sunshine Coast stores.

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