When Shane and Alica Barwell set up their hydroponic herb business in 2018 they had no way of knowing what was just around the corner. But when Covid-19 blindsided their flourishing business they – like many small businesses – were faced with a choice: pack it all in, or pivot. Having invested heavily in their hydroponic setup at Eyrewell Forest, packing it all in was unfeasible, so they turned to their experimental hydroponic strawberry plot for inspiration.
“Pre-Covid, we had a small strawberry crop in with the herbs as an experiment,” explains Shane. “Our first crop of hydroponic strawberries was extremely well received so it seemed the obvious answer to plant a hydroponic crop post-Covid.” It wasn’t only their friends and family who loved the sweet, juicy strawberries the couple were growing. They also approached a greengrocer in Christchurch who, with 30 years’ industry experience behind her, proclaimed Mountain View Produce strawberries the best she’d ever tasted.
The Barwells attribute the superior taste and quality of their strawberries to the hydroponic process. Growing in natural water-based nutrient solution means the plants have no nutrient stressors and can focus all their energy into flavour development. Growing under cover also means the strawberries attract fewer pests and diseases, which means no nasty chemical sprays.
Things were ticking along beautifully in the approach to their second strawberry season when, unexpectedly, their strawberry crops were decimated by a bug infestation. “Unfortunately, with the heat, the humidity and lengthy delays in getting beneficial bugs down from the North Island, we lost the advantage,” explains Alica.
Facing their second business disaster, it would have been easy to walk away. But the couple are nothing if not resilient, so they circled back to their original idea of growing herbs. Their hydroponic set-up, spray-free ethos and careful plant care all lend as perfectly to herbs as they do strawberries, and the results of their herb crops (which included coriander, lettuce leaf basil, Thai basil, Genovese basil, thyme, parsley, celery, watercress and rocket) were – unsurprisingly – once again exceptional.
With both crops now confirmed as solid successes, the Barwells have created a year-round income stream for themselves and a year-round supply of delicious produce for their dedicated customers.
Why North Canterbury? Shane is a Rangiora lad born and bred. Both of our families reside in North Canterbury, so it was a no brainer.
Favourite thing to do in North Canterbury? Can’t decide between hanging out at home and going fishing. Home is our happy place. We have 2 dogs, a cat, sheep, turkeys and pigs on the property. We love waking up and watching the sun rise and set with our stunning mountain views. Fishing is our fave thing to do (haven’t had much free time to indulge this passion lately).
Your top three North Canterbury brands? Black Estate Wines, Harris Meats, Karikaas Cheese (preferably all consumed at the same sitting!!)