7/05/2020

Brocksbushes Farm PYO - Strawberry Picking Top Tips


A basket full of strawberries on a pile of hay. A strawberry plant in the background, with strawberries attached to it's stems..

When I was younger, there was a Pick Your Own (PYO) farm just down the road from us and, much to my parent's expense, it was always my favourite place to go. Fast forward about 15 years, and I can confirm it is still just as fun to go hunting for your own little basket of fruit.

At the very beginning of July, we travelled into Northumberland to a farm near Corbridge, Brockbushes Farm. I'd seen many other local people visiting and decided I needed to check it out myself too since it had been far too long since my last visit to a PYO farm.

It is, however, an experience that may have been a little different given the Covid circumstances. For our visit, we had to book in advance. And we had to be quick. After missing the first 2 ticket releases, we finally got booked into our 9am Wednesday slot for a £2 pp deposit. The tickets are only released a few days before, a week at most because the farmers have to monitor the amount of fruit being picked and grown each day.

If you're a family, it's extremely welcoming and equipt. Around the well-signed entrance, there are porta-loos as well as 2 sanitising stations. When we arrived at the kiosk it was pleasantly quiet so it was more like a sprinkling of people than a queue. Here, a staff member gathered our attention and ran us through some basic directions, pointing out where was best to go picking. If you don't hear any of that, though, you just follow the big strawberry signs which are hard to miss. He also asked us to separate different fruits into different baskets, making it easier to weigh the produce and pointed out that one full basket was typically around £10.

Brown haired lady in a leather jacket crouched on the floor picking strawberries from the plant


Entry was via a ticket scanner through a small slot below the perspex kiosk guard then we grabbed a white basket from a big pile and headed on our way to the top of the hill (where we'd been directed). The walk wasn't strenuous, despite the word 'hill', so you could easily get a wheelchair or pushchair around. The strawberry patch itself, though, maybe a little more difficult to navigate with such equipment, since it's lined with hay. However, we did go on a morning after a heavy downpour and found the ground to be pleasantly kept. 

In terms of the fruit, it was a marvellous crop. There are, of course, a few mouldy ones knocking around amongst them so I'd recommend making children aware of them. We chose not to pick any strawberries which had been in contact with any showing signs of mould as we wanted them to stay fresh as long as possible. Speaking of which, we were advised to leave the stems on the strawberries when picking to prolong freshness too.

If you have any chemical allergies, I'd recommend you alert the farm beforehand, since we did find the fields were being sprayed, but can't find any information online to suggest what the produce is treated with. This did not deter us at all, and my guess is that they were simply being fertilised, but it might be worth checking for others.

After filling our box three-quarters full, we headed back down the hill (all via a one-way system) and landed at the weighing kiosk. After another round of hand sanitising, we popped our basket on the scales and the staff member told us it would be £6.16. I found pretty reasonable since the strawberries we picked we big, juicy and smelled delicious. 
Despite seeing on Facebook that they were cash only, we were pleasantly surprised to see that we could actually pay by card.

Brown haired girl in a floral blouse eating a strawberry and smiling


As we were leaving, we had a little peak at their farm shop too which, as you would guess, was filled with a wonderful range of local artisan product - I was very tempted to pick up some of the cheese on offer.

Now, forgive the cliche, but I will honestly say that these are the best strawberries that I've ever eaten. They are super sweet and smooth and will make a wonderful contribution to any recipe, as well as on their own. By the time we'd got home, we'd both already eaten a handful each!

TOP TIPS FOR FRUIT PICKING
1. Go early
We opted for the earliest slot, 9am. And, yes, we did have to drag ourselves out of bed but it was definitely worth it. Getting there early means the space is lovely a tidy, free of any mess that customers may make before you. Also, we reckoned the strawberries may have had the chance to grow overnight, undisturbed, so decided to catch them while they were ripe. 

2. Walk further
When the small crowd is walking up towards the crop field, it only takes one small red dot to get everyone excited. The first strawberry usually means 'PICK IT' but for us, we were strategic and continued a little bit further, away from the eager children, to a quieter patch at the top. This way, I got to take plenty of my pictures in a bit more privacy and potentially had a lot more strawberries to chose from.

3. Lift the leaves
Get your elbows in! There may be some flies knocking around here and there or some spikey weeds sprouting (Be careful) but if you want the big, juicy strawberries, you've got to hunt for them. Often, the ones on the outside of the plant are just the tip of the berry flavoured iceberg. 

hands picking strawberries


4. Sign Up for early access
With many farms operating the same way as Brockbushes, you may find an online system. Since Brockbushes is very well known and loved by local families, the tickets sell within hours. To guarantee you get your desired space, sign up to the newsletter and pop your email alerts on!

5. Follow the rules
Many farms state their rules online or around the farm entrance and it is important that everyone follows them for a fair experience. This includes not allowing people to 'eat-as-you-go' as it can be regarded as 'stealing' and, especially in current circumstances, potentially unhygienic.

6. Have fun
I passed one lady who was rigorously pulling the strawberries off their stalks, chucking them in the basket, and ploughing her way through. Nevertheless, she seemed to be having just as much fun as the small child carefully inspecting each berry. However you wish to pick your fruit, as long as you are respecting others and following the rules, it is always guaranteed to be a great experience. Finding your own little glowing red treasures, hunting down the best ones you can find, and showing them off to your friends gives you a surprising sense of pride and achievement, not to mention the fresh air that you get to soak in as well.

I'll definitely be back!

What recipes should I create with my strawberries?

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