Strawberry Sheilas owner Lesley A'Court jokes about her teaching career being necessary to support her "horticultural habit".
Having now reached retirement age, she is looking back on her achievements as she enters her final strawberry season at Maunu, Whangarei, with her final harvest targeted for next summer.
She says the delectable fruit has not made her a fortune, but she has had a lot of fun along the way and helped employ six local women, including her daughter, Penny, who joined her in the business about 16 years ago, and her granddaughter, Hannah, helping with packing this year.
Her rather large "horticultural habit" covers strawberries in summer and preserves sold under the Pickled Sheilas label over winter.
Trying new concoctions, chutneys and pickle recipes, including her own brews of kombucha, satisfies her intellectual curiosity.
"It's all hard work but I really enjoy it,'' she said.
Hanging gardens have made a huge difference to the success of her strawberry crops.
The table-top planting system involves planting the strawberries in coconut fibre-filled bags which have a hydroponic feed and watering line threaded through.
"The bags are expensive but the table system really works well.
"There is plenty of air circulation so I don't have any problem with diseases. The birds tend to leave the crop alone as the fruit is just out of jumping range," she said.
"I don't have any problems because the strawberry plants are kept happy with plenty of sun, feed, fresh air circulation and water. This allows me to be spray-free."
While strawberries are perennials, A'Court uses new plants each season for her commercial production needs.
The 35,000 strawberry plants arrive in bunches of 25 and she grows two varieties to cover production for all of the summer.
The Short Day variety, which makes up three-quarters of her crop, finishes production in mid-January and is aimed at the Christmas market.
Taking over production now is the Day Neutral variety which will keep producing "until I've had enough". This variety has to finish before May when planting is being accounted for.
She recommends home gardeners to be careful of the variety they choose so the strawberry has plenty of time to flower and fruit.
"If they plant a Short Day variety late and expect a big crop for Christmas, they might be disappointed.''
Gherkins are coming on stream now and are grown using the same table-top system which works really well.
"I only started experimenting with growing them in bags last year when the strawberry plants had died off."
These are pickled using traditional recipes that always prove popular.
The Pickled Sheilas range includes fermented condiments such as sauerkraut, kimchi and chilero.
Sauerkraut is traditionally all cabbage while kimchi uses "everything out of the garden" and chilero is based on carrots.
"Kimchi and chilero are traditionally quite spicy but my versions are a bit milder.''
Her kombucha flavours include lemon and ginger, strawberry, pear, hakanoa ginger with turmeric and spices, and beetroot and carrot.
She has also been experimenting with the Russian kvas beverage which is commonly made using rye bread and which has a particularly earthy taste.
"I love to watch people's faces when they try drinks like this for the first time at the markets. It's very entertaining," she said.
Chutneys and sauces include tomato and date, gherkin, bread and butter pickle, hot chilli, sweet chilli and plum.
Strawberries also feature in the preserves range, with a jam, icecream topping and strawberry-infused vinegar.
A'Court sells through a variety of cafes and markets in Northland as well as from her home shop in Austin Rd.
"Unlike supermarket fruit, my strawberries are picked ripe so I can always be confident that they are the sweetest available. If I want them to be any sweeter, I can just turn up the fertiliser feed.
"When strawberries are picked ripe and full of sugar, they will keep really well for at least two weeks.''
Her shop is open at this time of year from Monday to Friday 2pm to 6pm. She keeps customers up to date through the Strawberry Sheilas Facebook page or a sign on the corner of Austin Rd. The sweet crop is so popular she often quickly sells out.