January 18th, 2024Berry fine way to spend a day
Going summer berry picking makes for an idyllic holiday activity whether you’ve got kids along for the fun or not.
At Eganstown just west of Daylesford, Claire Gunner and Peter Monea operate Morningswood Farm growing strawberries galore and plenty of different types of cane berries including raspberries, boysenberries, youngberries, loganberries and blackberries.
At any one time, they’ve got 20,000 strawberry plants growing on the property which, although not certified, is run as a spray-free organic operation.
Berry-growing season is in full swing right now with the season running right through to March and plenty of demand from locals and visitors to get out and pick the delicious ripe fruit, or snap some up pre-picked.
Claire and Peter say the recent deluge over the Christmas weekend didn’t cause as much damage as you might have guessed, because at that particular moment they’d just been temporarily picked out of strawberries, while the cane berries are growing under protective netting.
But since then there have been plenty of new berries ripening up to be picked, particularly strawberries, and a good range of different cane berries.
“It’s a big job,” says Peter, who has a background as an accountant.
“We do everything sustainably so we don’t use single-use plastics. We use heavy duty plastic for weed suppression so it can be re-used.”
Several years back, with a little creative input from a neighbour, the couple devised their own special compostable punnets for people who go fruit picking on their farm to use.
The neat little hand-made punnets are created using the sustainably sourced timber veneer discards of a Melbourne-based timber business, Peter says.
For the cost of entry to the farm to pick their own berries, visitors receive one of these nifty little punnets to place their haul in and take home.
As far as Claire and Peter are aware, they are the only people in Australia offering such punnets, although Peter says they are in pretty widespread use in Europe and Asia.
“Before we started sourcing it, the timber veneer was going straight into the rubbish bin. It’s taken us on a five year journey. No one else in Australia is using these timber punnets,” he says.
In an interesting twist, the little hand-woven punnets that they devised to help run their pick-your-own berries business, have since led to another additional enterprise and income stream, producing more elaborate natural packaging boxes using the same timber veneer industrial by-product.
“They’re used by a large online retailer and by Source Bulk Foods. It’s actually become as much of a business as the berries themselves,” Peter says.
“We also use the veneer under the mulch to help with weed suppression.
“We’ve had the berries in the ground here for the past seven years and the farm has been open for four years.”
During the summer berry season, picking your own berries at Morningswood Farm is available to the public on weekends (unless they’re picked out or they’ve been impacted by a destructive weather event) with updates going out on their Instagram and Facebook sites.
“This has been the earliest start we’ve ever had to our picking season,” says Claire who has an environmental science background and also works at local properties as a professional gardener.
“This year it went off with a bang in the second week in November.”
She says the berries they grow at Morningswood also go to supply local restaurants including some well known top end eateries.
Meanwhile, Peter is also on site “chief jam maker” cooking up a delicious range of berry jams, including triple berry options, which make for another source of income.
Peter says dehydrated berries have also proven to be a real winner for use in their own household.
He says rain in itself is not necessarily a problem at this time, providing it doesn’t hang around too long and is not accompanied by too much high humidity.
It’s been almost eight years since the couple have had the farm at Eganstown, and the berries they grow, and the pick-your-own activity they offer visitors during the warmer part of the year have won them a legion of fans and followers.
“We get a lot of locals and a lot of tourists who travel easily up to an hour from Bendigo, Ballarat and Melbourne, and a lot of regulars,” Claire says.
“Some of them will come and pick berries every second week.”
Words: Eve Lamb