Belvoir Fruit Farms is making its annual call for pickers from the Lincolnshire area to help bring in this year’s elderflower harvest which is scheduled to arrive right on time (26 May) despite suffering almost drought conditions a couple of weeks ago.
The continuing popularity of elderflower drinks and the growth in domestic and export sales for the family run business means that Belvoir sold record amounts in 2014 and has invested £4.5 million in a new bottling factory, creating 18 new jobs in the process. However, regardless of the state of the art factory, the business still hinges on the willingness of locals to roll up their sleeves and help with the harvest, picking the blossom by hand.
Keith Challen, Farm Manager for Belvoir Fruit Farms has been keeping an eye out for signs of the start of the harvest. He works closely with a local weather expert who uses the lunar cycles and sea temperatures to predict what the weather will do and its effect on the elderflowers.
It’s been a funny season this year. Three weeks ago we had slower than average growth due to the lack of rain but now we have faster than average growth thanks to the combination of recent heavy rainfall and sunshine. It is fascinating how nature has just balanced it all out and we’re now right back on schedule for what I think will be a very good harvest.
Belvoir needs in excess of 50 tonnes of elderflowers or over three million elderflower heads in order to produce the cordial and pressé for the coming year. This has to be achieved in a very short period – the elderflower harvest only lasts 4-6 weeks – hence the urgency to recruit as many people as possible to help pick the frothy blossoms that erupt throughout Belvoir’s own 84 acres of elderflower bushes, but also those growing wild in the hedgerows across the countryside.
Belvoir invites anyone to join in, but it tends to be folk from the surrounding counties; Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Cambridgeshire who participate in the bucolic act of hand picking the elderflowers. Many people come back year after year much like hop picking in Kent.
Pev Manners, MD of Belvoir, himself a picker with over 30 years’ experience explains the appeal:
Helping with the elderflower harvest is wonderfully evocative – like stepping back in time. It’s hard work but it’s an opportunity to get back in touch with nature – away from technology and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Many of our pickers return every year to meet old friends but also because they just enjoy taking part in something as traditional and timeless as bringing in the harvest. We couldn’t do it without them and rely on their hard work to ensure we collect enough elderflowers to keep up with demand for our drinks. We’re enormously grateful.
Belvoir offers pickers £2 cash per kilo and an experienced picker can harvest up to 45 kilos of elderflowers a day. It’s simple to do – there’s no need for expensive or specialist equipment – all that’s required is a bin bag to put the flower heads in. Belvoir can only accept flowers at their freshest best and so the blossoms have to have been picked that day and should not have any stalks. From 26 May and for the duration of the elderflower season, Belvoir Fruit Farms is open from 3pm until 6.30pm, six days a week for pickers to bring their blossomy booty to the weighing point located at the new Belvoir site on Barkestone Lane, Bottesford, NG13 0DH. Elderflower collections will also be accepted at Sacrewell Farm Centre just off the A47 near Peterborough from 26 May onwards between 3.30pm – 5pm. Pev and his dedicated team at Belvoir would just urge that anyone who does decide to help harvest the elderflowers should be careful not to trespass and please always respect the countryside code.
One last piece of advice. If you can’t decide which day to come and pick, consider St Barnabas’ day – 11 June. According to weather and folklore this day is always fine! And what about the rest of the summer? Well, those in the know predict there will be rain at the end of May and the beginning of June but then the weather will pick up – there won’t be a heat wave but neither will there be prolonged spells of rain. A traditional English summer in fact – perfect for enjoying a glass of elderflower cordial!
For more information on how to get involved with the harvest, visit www.belvoirfruitfarms.co.uk or call 01476 870286.