Show sees high-quality fruit win prizes

Heavy rain in the run up to the 78th Cherry & Soft Fruit Show did not dampen the ardour of the cherry growers supporting the event, despite serious cracking of their fruit. There were 113 entries - four up on last year - and the quality was superb.

Twelve or more hours of continuous rain two days before the three-day event - held from Friday 11 July until Sunday 13 July in conjunction with the Kent County Show at Kent Showground in Detling, near Maidstone - could not have come at a worse time for cherries. On average, it rendered an estimated one-third of what was a 75 per cent crop unmarketable due to cracking.

This made it all the more remarkable that exhibitors were able to find such excellent fruit - none better than Mount Ephraim Farms' (MEF's) champion entry. It was a 4lb (1.8kg) chip of Kordia from four-year-old trees on Gisela 5 rootstock in a polytunnel at Hernhill, near Faversham, Kent. This was the fourth consecutive year that the variety - a chance seedling found in the Czech Republic in 1963 - reigned supreme.

Sandys Dawes, a loyal supporter of the show, who runs MEF, said: "We grow 4.9ha of cherries, of which 2ha are in polytunnels. There was no cracking to speak of in the tunnels but outside 10 to 30 per cent of the fruit was cracked. Stella and Sasha were the worst affected, with 70 to 80 per cent cracked."

Until about 2000, all of Dawes' cherries were on Colt rootstock, but now only half of them are on this type - the rest being on the dwarfing Gisela 5 stock. Over the next few years his remaining Colt will be grubbed because it induces the worst cracking under wet, humid conditions and crops far less heavily and consistently than Gisela 5. Dawes plans to increase his cherry area to 10ha, all on Gisela 5.

MEF also entered the best Stella and won the loose fruit market pack class with a 5.45kg container of tunnel-grown Sunburst, each cherry easily covering a 50p piece.

Strawberries were also of high quality and entries were way up on last year - totalling 29, compared with last year's nine. This improvement was largely thanks to the efforts to increase entries of Doug Kemp, who helped judge the strawberry classes.

The champion strawberries - four 1lb (450g) punnets of Jubilee - were entered by New Growing Systems (NGS), based at Alan Firmin's Wares Farm in Linton, near Maidstone. They were grown in a new Spanish perlite hydroponic system. It is installed in 1.3ha of polytunnels and is claimed to have a much higher-than-normal yield potential. NGS is planning to market the system in the UK.

Jubilee has won the strawberry championship ever since it was launched in 2003, and for the past four years it has been grown on Wares Farm, which is managed by Brian Tompsett.

Show chairman Henry Bryant said he was particularly pleased that strawberry growers had made an effort to enter fruit for the show, although with virtually the entire supermarket crop grown in tunnels their fruit quality had not been impaired by the rain.

Although cherry and strawberry entries were up on those at last year's event, total entries remained more or less the same. This was due to the almost total absence of entries for the gooseberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, loganberry and "any other soft fruit" classes.

On a more positive note, Bryant said: "I do believe we are seeing the renaissance of the English cherry industry. More than ever we have the chance to show the general public that (our) soft and stone fruit is at least equal to the best in the world."

OTHER WINNERS

Most meritorious cherry exhibit - FW Mansfield & Son, Nickle Farm, Chartham, Canterbury (various)

Most meritorious soft fruit exhibit - Gaskains, Norham Farm, Selling, Kent (Duke blueberries)

Best raspberries - Gaskains (Tulameen)

Best strawberry market pack - JR Clarke & Partners, Manor Farm, Tamworth, Staffordshire (Jubilee)

Best raspberry market pack - Clock House Farm, Coxheath, Maidstone (Maravilla)

Best blackberry market pack - JW Parkes, Mockbeggar Farm, Cliffe, Rochester (Kotata).


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