On Our Farm
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.
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 email@example.com 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
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
We have closed down the majority of our fields but our new
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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