The strawberry season has started for Delphine Diot, strawberry grower in the French town of Chavagne. For Delphine, her team and the Solarenn cooperative (Saint-Armel), the strawberry marathon has begun in order to harvest the 42 tons of Gariguette strawberries between March and July.

Delphine Diot, whose parents and grandparents were also growers, is starting her 5th strawberry season at Solarenn. After 23 years managing a road sign company, she took over the family business in Domaines (Chavagne) in March 2017: 8,000m² of glass greenhouses, including 5,000m² of early strawberries and 3,000m² of late strawberries. She wanted to grow strawberries. “It is a nice product, tasty and quite feminine, both delicate and fragile”, explains Delphine, adding that she chose for the Gariguette variety. “This is probably the most famous one, with its refined and tangy taste.”

A delicate and very feminine harvest
As the sole manager of her company, Delphine is also the sole strawberry grower at Solarenn. Fifth largest operator on the tomato market in France and 3rd largest producer in Brittany, the Solarenn cooperative (Ille-et-Villaine) brings together 32 growers over 65 ha of greenhouses.

That means that the start of the season is a busy period for her, as the strawberries do not wait. Seasonal workers, packaging – everything has to be in order as the next 4 months, she will provide Solarenn twice a day with her fresh supply.

Femine team
With her feminine team (1 man only for 12 employees) during this marathon, Delphine harvests between 200 and 800 kilos per day. The gariguettes are harvested by hand, when they are ripe, and placed delicately next to each other in the trays. “Strawberries are a very fragile product. There is a very particular technique to pick them, without touching them. Restaurants love them because they keep for 3 to 4 days without getting spoiled.”

Between expertise and respect for the living
For the past 5 years, Delphine has been refining her production methods by paying attention to the environment. Bumblebees are used for pollination and she does not use any chemical crop protection, instead ensuring a proper level of IPM to let the auxiliary insects deal with pests as aphids and red spiders. Her greenhouse has the HEV level 3 label, a French label that stands for High Environmental Value.

“The strawberry is a very delicate undergrowth plant that does not like heat or too much water. We grow in gutters, which results in the gariguettes being picked at shoulder height,” she shows. “This technique makes harvesting quite a comfortable task. No need to bend over. The well-being of my ‘girls’ at work is indeed a very important aspect.”

Irrigation automation
The automatic drip irrigation allows for the fine management of water and nutrient supply and prevents from watering daily if it is not necessary. “This gives the strawberry its taste and flavor,” explains Delphine. “The plant in its core already has potential, but it is necessary to take good care of it and give it exactly what it needs. Everything pays off when people tell you that your product is good and keep asking for more.”