Essex farming: Revolution in Tiptree

PUBLISHED: 10:00 19 September 2016




When you think of the famous Tiptree jams of Wilkin & Sons, you may first think about centuries of traditional farming and preparing the best quality fruit. But there is innovation in Tiptree too and this summer sees an exciting new growing system that may revolutionise the art of fruit picking. Sally Carpenter explains more


While you may not think it, strawberry picking and strawberry growing has changed much from the times when pickers crouched down on soggy straw as they scrabbled along the rows to search for a few berries. But this year, on Tiptree farms, an innovative new growing system has been introduced to make the biggest change yet in the way fruit is picked – where the strawberries come to you, the picker.

Imagine walking into a huge, modern marquee-like structure where the atmosphere is pleasant and airy, even on the hottest day or the chilliest morning – perfect conditions for pickers and strawberry growing at Tiptree. This is now the reality at Tiptree where Wilkin & Sons has invested in an innovative New Growing System (NGS), which is the first of its kind in the UK, although it is similar to systems used in Spain, Portugal and South America.


As you walk along the wide central path of the NGS ‘building’ you can see rows of thigh-high troughs, each with fruit in different stages of development. In May and June the bees were busy pollinating thousands of strawberry flowers that developed into delicious berries for the fresh fruit market. In mid-July one side of the vast NGS area had rows of empty troughs waiting to be replanted so the new strawberries would be ready for picking in September, while other troughs were overflowing with ripening berries ready for the pickers to harvest.

The new system uses growing troughs which alternately raise and lower rows of strawberry plants to both maximise the cropped area, while also allowing easy access to the pickers for harvesting, where they can stand and pick. The system makes better use of space and more than doubles the growing area as there is no longer any need to allow large alleyways between rows. The result is that instead of 50,000 plants per hectare in a traditional table top growing system, the planting density can now be increased to 100,000 plants per hectare, and possibly more, in the NGS.


‘The NGS is a high-tech, environmentally-controlled growing tunnel. It was a substantial investment for the company and we hope to see the results of our faith in the unit over the next 12 months. Essex is one of the driest parts of the country and Tiptree has a very low rainfall, averaging 20 inches per year, so we are delighted that the new growing system is 80% self-sufficient as it uses rain water from the roof and run-off from the crop to keep the plants watered,’ explains Chris Newenham, director of Wilkin & Sons. ‘It is a highly sustainable system, maximising the growing area and minimising water use while ensuring pests and disease pressure is minimal through growing in a sealed, environmentally-controlled unit.’

Company chairman, Peter Wilkin, explains that the location of the innovative NGS is particularly pertinent as it is on land once farmed by John Joseph Mechi, an inventor and far-sighted man who understood the value of irrigation and innovation in the 1880s.

Many Essex families can recall family outings to pick strawberries and some will have been paid to pick fruit, but it was hard work crouching on the ground to pick the berries. Today most strawberries grown at Tiptree are grown at table top height, making it much easier to pick and to tend the plants.


As the fields of fruit stretch out across the farm, visitors can see several different varieties of strawberries, each one carefully selected for their flavour and for a particular purpose: for the fresh fruit market or for the jam factory to make fine conserves such as Little Scarlet Strawberry Conserve, Tiptree Strawberry or East Anglian Strawberry Conserve. Others are grown for use in the recently released Apple and Strawberry Fruit Juice and now the new Little Scarlet Gin Liqueur.

In contrast to NGS, most of the tiny Little Scarlet Strawberries are grown on raised beds in open fields and are more vulnerable to the changes in the weather. In fact, the annual Tiptree Strawberry Race had to be postponed due to storms this year and was eventually held on June 28. The race is an opportunity to find the best and fastest picker, as well as having some fun, with pickers donning fun hats and fancy dress costumes.

Many of the traditional strawberry pickers who return in their caravans each summer to pick Little Scarlets will pick in the cool of the early morning and then have time to relax with friends on their site that overlooks the Blackwater estuary. While these traditions will continue, with the NGS, picking and growing strawberries just got a whole lot easier.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Essex Life


Escape to the Chateau star Angel Adoree is currently reaping the benefits of her incredible vision and drive to build an overseas wedding and lifestyle business from scratch with husband Dick Strawbridge. Here she tells Essex Life about series five of the hit Channel 4 show and how a strong Essex work ethic helped her dream so big | Words: Denise Marshall

Read more

Being home to so many wonderful places to eat choosing where to go for dinner can often be difficult. With that in mind we’ve picked 20 of our favourite places to help you decide

Read more
Wed, 13:28

Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office tells the story of an exciting project that is taking memories on tour around the county

Read more
Wed, 13:03

For those still figuring out how to spend your Friday through Sunday, we’ve rounded up 5 of Essex’s best things to do to ensure no second of your weekend is wasted

Read more
Tue, 16:32

We’ve put together 15 questions that will push your knowledge of Essex to the limit - let us know how you’ve done on social media!

Read more
Tue, 14:57

Stephanie Mackentyre continues her tour of Essex’s best eateries by stopping to eat at Dedham’s Sun Inn with her pooch

Read more
Tue, 14:17

From James Bond to Batman, Essex has been known to bask in a little Hollywood glitz. Here are 19 that have used our county’s incredible locations on the big screen

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With the Christmas celebrations seemingly starting earlier every year, it all feels a little too ‘soon’ sometimes, but what if you want to look your best for Christmas & New year celebrations and are considering having cosmetic non-surgical procedures? The Bella Vou Pantiles Clinic offers surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures and treatments from a purpose-built private clinic in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Whether you know him for his madcap antics, his reality TV appearances or his unique voice, Essex boy Joe Pasquale has earned his place as one of the nation’s favourite entertainers. Kate Everett caught up with Joe to hear what’s next in his 30-year showbiz career

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

How do you fancy winning a weekend away to relax and unwind in the stunning Cotswolds countryside? Well, here is your chance!

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search