McConnell Berry Farm
Located 10 miles south of Morgantown WV on US Route 119,
halfway between Morgantown and Grafton WV
Telephone: 304-291-0015

On Our Farm

7/25/2017 - The blueberry season has come to an end.  Last year's cicada damage carried over to this season resulting in a lighter than normal crop.  With a light fruit load the plants are able to ripen the fruit faster so we only got two picking this year rather than the usual three pickings.  However, we got excellent new growth so we should be returning to near normal next year - if we have not sold the farm by then.  We are disappointed that we could not accommodate all those who wished to pick and we missed seeing many of our old friends.  I know many of our readers are happy to still be able to pick blueberries but as we age it is getting harder for us to maintain the business. 

 

We are starting to take the netting down.  This process runs at a more leisurely pace than putting the netting up. This past weekend we received more than three inches of rain.  While we like lots of rain early in the summer, late summer rains stimulate excessive growth that may not mature before shorter days stimulate the initiation of fruit buds.  I don't think this is a serious situation, but I will be watching.  It is always interesting to watch the plant's reaction to these stimuli.  Over the years how to do a better job but we still get surprises. 

 

6/30/2017 - Surprise!  After looking at the berries this morning, we decided to start picking tomorrow, July 1.  We will mail the cards today and send emails tomorrow.  We are now accepting appointments - 304-291-0015.  Picking times are : Mon, Tue Evenings, 4-8 and Thur, Sat mornings 8-12.  Price $2.75/#, containers furnished.  We accept cash or checks only. 

 

6/24/2017 - The cool weather in early June slowed development so that we now expect to start picking blueberries the first week of July.  As the weather is expected to be fairly cool the next few days, the starting date could very well be delayed further.  The crop looks to be lighter than usual, but the berries are looking very nice.  We will announce the starting day here the day we start taking appointments, typically the day before we start picking.  We pick by appointment so we can regulate the flow of customers to match both the size of the crop and the size of the crowd we can handle. 

 

While we are disappointed that we  have not yet sold the farm, we are looking forward to seeing and visiting with our friends and neighbors. 

 

We put the netting up last weekend.  Thanks to volunteers, the netting went up quickly.  We have spent the past week tying the nets down and putting up the sidewalls.  We just got 2.8 inches of rain yesterday and overnight so we have shut down the irrigation that has been running every day for almost a month. 

 

5/23/2017 - Things have been going along very nicely on the farm this spring.  We did not get hurt by any of the cold weather and even escaped damage from the light frost two weeks ago.  While we will have a fairly light crop again this year because of last year's cicada damage, the plants look very good with sufficient leaves to ripen the berries and bring them up to size.  The warm spring has caused early bloom and probably early ripening, so expect to start picking the last week of June.  Obviously, we have not sold the farm yet so look for an announcement here or by email or snail mail if you are on the mailing list. 

 

We will probably put up the bird netting in early or mid June.  I'll try to keep you posted. 

 

3/22/2017 - This Saturday looks to be good weather and warm temperatures so let's schedule a pruning workshop for Saturday, March 25 at 11:00 AM.  Once you get through the gate to the farm, make a left and park just before you get to the woods.  If possible, bring a pruning shear and/or a lopper, but not necessary. 

 

Last week we had a low temperature of 8 degrees.  We were quite concerned that the fruit buds that had begun to swell might be hurt at the at temperature, but a check yesterday found no damage.  I'll do more extensive looking, but for now it appears there will be a crop.  Of course, we have to get through April yet. 

 

3/10/2017 - We got about 2 inches of snow today and the weather is supposed to be very cold for Saturday.  So I think it best to wait for a better time for the pruning demo.

 

3/06/17 - Pruning Workshop - We need to get in the workshop in the next two or three weeks.  Saturday, March 11 may be a possibility.  I've seen two forecasts, one for nice but cool weather, and the other for rain and snow.  We'll keep watching and make a determination later this week. 

 

That week of warm weather at the end of February may be our undoing for 2017.  The fruit buds began to swell which takes them out of dormancy and makes them susceptible to freezing from very cold weather.  We will just have to keep an eye on them for the next month or so. 

 

2/17/2017 - Some winter!  I mentioned earlier that I thought I might not get the pruning done.  I'm almost done with only about 200 plants yet to go.  With the warm weather this week, I'll probably finish by the end of the month.  Thanks for the folks that offered to help.  I expected to put together a work session or two in March but now we are not going to need it.  I will save a few plants so we can do a pruning workshop one Saturday in March when the weather is nice.  Start watching for an announcement or send me an email.  We will need help putting the netting up in mid June.  

 

Cicada damage from last summer carried over into this year's crop.  From the looks of things now, I don't expect much more crop than last summer.  The current forecast for an extended warm spell is troubling.  Our most devastating losses have come from just such a set-up in late February.  The warm temperatures cause the fruit buds to lose dormancy and start to swell.  Then a week or two later we have a sharp temperature drop well below freezing which then kills the prematurely growing flower buds resulting in a complete crop loss.  We'll just have to wait and see.  Fortunately, these situations don't arrive often. 

 

My presentations at the Small Farm Conference this past week went well.  If anyone reading this post was in attendance or is otherwise interested in commercial blueberries, contact me, we will try to do some networking. 

 

12/11/2016 - Well, we have not sold the farm yet so it is looking as though we will be picking blueberries again in 2017.  Rather than let our planting go to weeds, I have been keeping the fields maintained.  We did weed control during the fall and have now started pruning. 

 

Several people asked me if I would put on a blueberry pruning workshop this winter.  Since I have started pruning, it is time to try to put the workshop together.  If you are interested, please contact me at bob@mcconnellberryfarm.biz   We will try to get it organized for a sunny, warm day before winter really sets in.  Alternatively, we usually get some nice weather in March.  I'm sure there will still be plenty of plants that still need pruning then. 

 

The reason we need to sell the farm is that we are getting older and can no longer keep up with all the work necessary to provide a good picking experience.  I don't think it will be possible for me to get all the pruning done before bud-break in the spring.  Unpruned plants will have poorer quality fruit so our picking areas will be reduced.  There are also other tasks that need to be done in the spring where we will need help.  If you are interested in helping, we will trade labor for berries.  Few jobs are physically hard work.  We are just unable to put in the long hours any more.  Just a few extra hours of help will go a long way toward keeping the farm running.  Helpers will get first dibs on picking times.  Pruning is the major job through March.  I'll be out pruning whenever the weather is fit and can work with you to show you how.  Other than real cold weather, pruning is a task I rather enjoy.  At the end of March other jobs ramp up quickly. 

 

On another note, I will be giving a talk on growing blueberries at the Small Farms Conference at the Charleston Civic Center in February.  The conference runs February 12-14.  The schedule has not yet been set so I don't know which day.  When the information is up online, I'll put the link here. 

 

We were honored by having an article about our farm in the September issue of the American Fruit Grower. 

 

In October, Debby and I took the train from Chicago to Everett Washington for a family reunion.  The train trip itself was an interesting adventure.  We very much enjoyed the family reunion and spent another week exploring Washington and Oregon before returning to Chicago, again by train.  I know some people are bored traveling through the great plains from the Mississippi river to the Rocky Mountains, but I find it fascinating.  We saw the small farms in Wisconsin to the large expanses in North Dakota and eastern Montana, the wide variety of agriculture from dry lands to irrigated lands, the fracking sands, the oil cars from the Bakkan oil fields, the majesty of the Rocky mountains.  We traveled across the great basin between the Rockies and the Cascades.  It was all very interesting. 

 

7/31/2016 - Final Pickings:  Monday August 1 and Saturday August 6

We have closed down the majority of our fields but our new planting of Chandler are a later variety.  These blueberries are too nice to be allowed to go to waste.  We will have two final pickings on Monday evening 4-8 and Saturday morning 8-12.  Rather than call for an appointment, send an email to bob@mcconnellberryfarm.biz  When we are filled up, I will post the notice here. 

 

6/29/2016 - Blueberries are ready to pick.  See below for details.

This will be your final blueberry season as we have decided to retire from blueberry farming.  We have loved having the farm and appreciate your support over the past many years.  The farm is for sale by Vickie Jenkins Realty so now is your chance if you’d like to take over!

 

The cicadas really did a number on us.  In some places loss is nearly 100%.  Other places are not so bad.  We've spent the past several days cleaning up the damage with more to be done.  As a result, picking will be spotty with some places better than others, certainly not up to our standard.  This is not how we wanted to end our blueberry career, but the cicadas are beyond our control. 

 

6/12/2016 - Well the cold weather this spring couldn't wipe us out, but the cicadas are doing a fine job.  It looks like we will lose at least 25% from cicada damage and they are not done yet.  We are starting to put the bird netting up this week.  We expect to start picking about the first of July.  Speed of ripening is very weather dependent so this projection could easily be a week off, plus or minus. 

 

5/22/2016 - With the sale of our farm in limbo, I've been reluctant to make any predictions about this year's crop.  However, the farm has not yet sold so we plan to be in business as usual this summer unless something dramatic happens soon.  With this in mind we expect to have a normal crop this year. 

 

Based on results from the last two years, we changed our pruning strategy.  We removed a large number older canes to reduce crop load in an attempt to produce larger berries.  We expect a somewhat reduced crop but the berries should be larger.  The weather played many tricks on us during late winter and spring.  Warm weather in March brought the plants out of deep dormancy causing the fruit buds to swell too early making them vulnerable to extreme cold.  We had several cold nights in April culminating in 14 degrees.  We thought the blueberries were goners, but miraculously, they survived with only spotty damage.  Then during full bloom, we had another cold spell with the temperature down to 32 degrees with a very light frost, when it was predicted to go down to upper 20's.  Dodged a bullet again.  Since then it has rained almost every day making it difficult to get much done, but so far the crop is moving nicely.  With the early bloom we expect to start picking a little earlier than usual, but the dates are weather dependent. 

 

Our blackberry crop was damaged by the cold weather but it looks like there will be some blackberries.  They are in bloom now, also a little early this year. 

 

Late April we had a heavy rain that did a lot of damage to our roads and even washed out some of the sawdust mulch in the blueberries.  The damage to the sawdust was messy but not serious.  The roads are a different matter.  A friend has brought in some heavier equipment and we are in the process of making repairs. 

 

11/22/2015 - The leaves held onto the blueberry plants longer than anticipated, until last week when I started to prune.  As there are about 2000 plants, this will take quite some time.  About 600 are less than full grown and take less time than full grown plants.  As you recall, we had a very large crop this past summer, in fact it was so large that the plants could not bring all of the berries up to size so many went to waste.  We recognized this developing situation early on and took steps to help with extra fertilization and irrigation, but were not able to fully overcome the problem.  Now that the leaves are off, it is clear that we will have to remove more material than usual during pruning and that we may end up with a smaller crop next summer.  However, we have found that fewer berries allow the plant to make the berries larger.  So we anticipate nice picking next summer. 

 

On a more positive note, I have been working in the blackberries.  I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a blackberry crop next summer because I am seeing less obvious cane blight as I prepare them for winter.  Four years ago we had a very large crop of blackberries and a smaller one the next year.  Then cane blight took over and we had virtually no crop the last two years.  Working with Dr. Raman at WVU we have found a new fungicide that seems to control the blight.  We will still have a berry mite problem that can harm the quality of the berries, but it appears the mites can be controlled with lime sulfur and oil sprays, both organic materials.  Our major blackberry crop is Triple Crown, a large berry and fairly winter hardy.  As the canes are upright and very stiff, we can no longer lay them down and cover for the winter.  They are hardy down to -10 degrees, but the last two winters we got down to -15 and -13.  The first caused severe winter damage, but the second did less damage.  We would normally expect damage only 1 in 5 years.  So the odds are pretty good for next year.  Keep your fingers crossed! 

 

10/25/2015 - I've been lax in updating our progress this fall.  In short, these last almost three months have been spent taking down the netting, doing weed control, mowing, irrigating, and putting on sawdust mulch.  We still have most of the sawdust to rake out but the blueberries are otherwise ready for winter.  The plants are starting to lose their leaves so we will start pruning in the next two weeks.  Trees around the farm have been beautiful the last three weeks and now the blueberry plants have changed color as well.  Some leaves are dark red while others are more brilliant red with some orange, depending on variety.  Once color changes, the leaves drop fairly quickly and when gone, pruning will start as then we can easily see plant structure and can tell what needs to be removed. 

 

Debby and I started this blueberry operation with the first planting in 1980, 35 years ago and have steadily increased the plantings since.  This past season was particularly trying, and since we are now in our mid-70s, we feel it is time to start cutting back.  Ideally we would like to find someone to take over the farm but if that does not occur in the near future, we will start reducing the size of the operation. 

 

8/4/2015 - We had our last picking yesterday so our blueberry season is now over.  Debby and I always enjoy visiting with all our berry picking friends and meeting new ones.  I'm convinced the nicest people in the world pick blueberries. 

 

Some people have commented that there are a lot of blueberries still on the bushes.  In some places there are still berries, but they are quite small and of poor quality

 

We have started to take the netting down.  This task takes some time but is not urgent like when the netting is put up.  We still want to get it taken down fairly quickly as it's lifetime is limited by ultraviolet exposure.  The task consists of taking down the sidewalls and putting them away for the winter.  The top nets are pushed back to the middle of the field and covered to protect them from sun exposure until next June.  Once the nets are taken care of we can get in to mow the rows and start getting the fields cleaned up.  This process will probably take about two weeks.  All the while, we will be taking care of a lot of minor maintenance tasks that were neglected during the picking season.

 

While we had a pretty good season this year, I was frustrated that we still have not reached the full potential from our plantation.  In previous years, growth, and hence production, was limited by low pH in the soil.  I finally diagnosed the problem and have been adding lime to raise the pH.  Last year we finally saw adequate growth.  However, I still pruned the bushes based on the earlier regime.  This pruning left too many canes and branches so that the bushes were overloaded with fruit.  In many plants the heavily loaded branches layered down on top of one another and were very difficult to pick causing many berries to go to waste.  In other cases the bushes were so overloaded that they could not bring the berries up to size.  I recognized the potential berry size problem in early spring so I put on a good helping of nitrogen fertilizer and ran the irrigation all through the dry weather in May and early June.  Had I not gone to these measures, we probably would have been faced with even more small berries.  With all the fertilizer and water we did get good growth for next year's crop.  I will have to change the way I prune this winter and remove even more canes than I did last winter.  Hopefully we can get closer to the optimum trade-off between berry size and number of berries. 

 

Blueberries   U-Pick by appointment: 304-291-0015

    Recipes       Blueberry recipes, health and nutrition
                                                     information 

    Apples          Summer apples, mid July-early August

Apples are gone for this year

 

    Bee Plus     Pollination supplies and services for Osmia
                                                    mason bees, a safe and super-pollinating
                                                                             pollen bee for spring flowering fruit
 

Contact Us: Debby McConnell , Bob McConnell