Rosie’s Diary: Part 3
It was no surprise that last month was confirmed as the driest May since records began. So, after a very sunny and warm spring, farmers across the country, including myself have been very happy to see some much needed rain in recent weeks! The fields have really needed the wet weather, as across the farm we are trying to produce this year’s crop, along with putting on growth for next year.
Time in lockdown has gone fast! Whilst out in the fields I found myself shocked to see that some of the currants have changed colour – instantly thinking something must be wrong with them before realising they are exactly where they should be for June. It’s lovely to see! The later variety which we will harvest in August are still green, whilst the Ben Gairn variety are currently red, changing to black soon in time for the harvest.
Here at Gorgate Estate, we hope to begin harvesting in the first week of July. As in any other year, we are very much looking forward to the harvest but are considering how we can do it safely whilst following social distancing guidelines.
Although we use a machine to harvest the blackcurrants, some manual labour is still required. One person to drive the harvester and two or three people to remove debris such as twigs and snails from the blackcurrants; this is known as the fruit quality exercise. This practise ensures that only the highest quality fruit goes to Ribena and nothing else. This year’s harvest will be slightly different as to maintain a 2m distance, we will have one less person on the back meaning that the machine will need to run slower than usual for all debris to be removed.
As coronavirus signified a shortage of fruit pickers, messages flooded in from people who were willing to offer their time to pick blackcurrants by hand! Lots of people did not realise the harvest is mechanically completed these days, unlike 50 years ago where 1000’s of pickers would be brought in on buses each day from Norwich. My uncle can remember spending all of his summer holidays picking blackcurrants as a child.
We appreciate that for the harvest this year we have a few more things to work around, such as social distancing, but it’s incredible to look back on the progress that has been made over the years. We have a remarkable farm team on hand here at Gorgate and if everything ripens exactly at the time we predict, we could harvest the whole farm with only four people!
In preparation for the harvest, we have recently completed our first aid-courses and are currently running health, safety and risk assessments on our harvesters. Making sure the machines are in tip-top condition is essential, as once the currants are ripe they need to be harvested relatively quickly.
We are very grateful for our cotton face masks which have been made for us by locals in the village. Through these difficult and upsetting times, community spirit has definitely brought us new connections and an overall feeling of positivity. Looking after each other is more important than ever.
I am really looking forward to the East Anglian pre-harvest meet up, which is taking place virtually this year. This event allows the farmer (me), the haulier, the presser and members of the Ribena team to all meet prior to the harvest to discuss improving logistics and how we can help each other through the following months. It’s wonderful to be able to discuss processes and talk about how to solve any challenges we are facing together; one of the many benefits of being a blackcurrant grower – you are never alone!
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