Steiner principles for berries

HARVEST: Joanne Turner with some of her frozen raspberries.
HARVEST: Joanne Turner with some of her frozen raspberries.

Joanne Turner runs a biodynamic berry farm at Kairanga, near Palmerston North. JILL GALLOWAY talks to her about the marketing and growing.

Joanne Turner was the secretary to the Palmerston North mayor in a former life, and while she loves growing berries now, she still misses the buzz of knowing what goes on.

She and her husband Greg Turner have 0.4 of a hectare in mainly raspberries. It's part of their 2.04-ha block near Kairanga on the Manawatu plains.

They grow biodynamically and are Demeter registered, meaning they grow according to Rudolf Steiner mores. It's organic, in that everything must be done naturally, but biodynamics mean it's more than organic.

There are the preparations, such as the one most people know, "500", the burying of cow muck in a horn which turns to humus and then is spread on the property, to trigger organic soil particle growth.

While most Rudolf Steiner preparations are mixed with water, they act as a seed to spur the soil on, Turner says.

She says keeping a biodynamic berry garden means a lot of hard work.

"I work to a schedule. Weeding by hand every six weeks, mowing and pruning the canes is hard, physical work. Then there is applying the compost and mulch."

She left her job as mayor's secretary in 2001 after working for Palmerston North's Paul Rieger and Jill White, in order to start growing raspberries.

It must have been tough, going from a position where she came into contact with many people, to one of working alone. Turner is a vivacious woman and talks easily.

"I don't mind working alone, but I do miss knowing what's happening in town.

"One of the the biggest problems I have is that I am no longer a secretary and have to think of myself as a grower."

Turner and her husband live in an old house. He works in Palmerston North.

The property used to be part of a dairy farm and Turner says her husband's family have been in the area since 1905.

But the 2.04ha, or five acres, was cut off only a few years ago.

The old house was moved onto the site in 1995 and the garden put in by a previous owner.

"Greg and I moved here in 1998. It was bare land and we started Demeter certification before we had decided what to grow. We bought the property and didn't want another large garden, but we only had five acres, so we knew we'd have to do something intensive."

Berries got the nod over nut trees.

"It was all new to us. I didn't know anything about raspberries. But biodynamics made sense as it fitted in with what we thought."

They used a horticultural consultant who gave the Turners lots of free advice as well as what they paid for, she says.

The soil is fertile Te Arakura silt loam, but the place is a bit windy and they had to drain the soil.

Cutting down the wind has been a major issue and the area has mature shelter belts surrounding it. One area of berries, more exposed, does not grow as well.

The other big pain are the birds.

"Blackbirds. I net all the berries, but some birds still get in."

Her spray of choice is a garlic one in the orchard near the house.

The problems are aphids and bronze beetles and the worst pest is raspberry bud moth, which lays eggs in the bud, and the caterpillar, which eats its way through the new tips of the plants.

The sprays Turner can use with their biodynamic registration are neem oil and BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), which breaks down quickly in sunlight.

"You can't just spray Roundup around and we can't use a sticking agent. The theory is a healthy plant can withstand attacks by pests."

They also have to contend with downy mildew, and spray a horsetail plant to try to get rid of it. She says the 501 preparation helps strengthen plants.

Turner and her husband get a soil test done every year. They have the pH about right now for berries, but it was a challenge.

"We buy the preparations. We did make our own 500 but it was still a bit green, when it should have gone from cow manure into humus. Not so great. We're trying again."

She hopes they will produce a tonne from their acre of raspberries. Some are sold fresh, some frozen.

"Raspberries and boysenberries, of which we have a few, are so fragile. They have a shelf life of only three days, so picking and packaging and getting to market is hard."

There are also a few blackcurrants. The berries go to Commonsense Organics shops in Wellington, Organic Living and the Cloverlea Market in Palmerston North and they sell at the Feilding farmers' market.

Picking the raspberries is done from the end of November to the second week of January, taking in the boom Christmas time as well, says Turner. There is also an autumn variety which fruits from about the middle of February to mid-March.

They're hoping for a boom year, good yields, little disease, no birds and healthy canes.

Central Districts Farmer