Dead berries cause concern

By Hayley Gastmeier -
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Wee Red Barn co-owner Alan Bissett among strawberries at his orchard in Opaki, north of Masterton. Photo / Andrew Bonallack
Wee Red Barn co-owner Alan Bissett among strawberries at his orchard in Opaki, north of Masterton. Photo / Andrew Bonallack

A Masterton couple say sacrificing strawberries on their berry farm is all part of observing water conservation in summer.

Dot and Alan Bissett, of Wee Red Barn in Opaki, have received multiple calls from commuters who were concerned about large sections of strawberry orchard in a dying state.

The blocks, which are clearly visible from State Highway 2, have had their feed stopped and water switched off since Saturday afternoon.

Mrs Bissett said she couldn't believe how many people had either phoned, stopped in to the shop or left Facebook messages voicing their concerns for the dying plants.

"Dot, there's something wrong with your strawberries," people had been saying to her.

"It looks terrible, like we have sprayed them or something," Mrs Bissett said.

However, she said it was simply a case of a strawberry variety which had neared the end of its picking season, and therefore was uneconomical to continue watering.

"It gets impractical to pick when the berries are smaller, so we leave the better varieties that are producing more and keep them going, and then the ones that aren't up to standard we switch the water off.

"Usually we are in drought at this time of year, so it's good for the community for us to switch off the water to the blocks."

The couple bought the farm eight years ago when it was a vineyard.

Over the years they have transformed it into a farm boasting all sorts of berries.

Mr Bissett said for the last four years they had been sacrificing fruit at this time of year to conserve water.

"People like big fruit. The ones where we switch the water off, it's because they're varieties that give us just six weeks productivity."

He said these two varieties helped see them through the busy summer season - "the time of year when everybody wants strawberries".

The blocks where the dead plants are now will have new strawberries planted in them in May, so they are ready for Christmas 2016.

"People probably haven't seen it looking as dramatic as this."

Mr Bissett said last year when they switched off the water the strawberry plants had been removed almost immediately.

But this year they were waiting for the plants to die and then dry out so they would be easier to transfer to mulch.

"At the end of the season the fruit is smaller. You have to wait to pick the fruit and using all that water it's just not worth it," Mr Bissett said.

"At this time of year we're usually in drought and on water restrictions and switching the water off is our contribution to water conservation."

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