Strawberries: June Bearers VS Everbearers

When we first started our berry patch, we planted several different varieties of berries. Very quickly, we realized which varieties were our favorites, and therefore we put all of our focus into those varieties. Lately though, our perspective has changed.

Strawberries- June Bearers VS Everbearers (2)

Early on, we realized that we like the June Bearers better than the Everbearers (Day Neurtal).

  1. You get a lot at once. Once the season is over, you can focus on other crops.
  2. They taste better…plain and simple.
  3. They are bigger. It take fewer large berries to fill up a container, increasing our overall yields. Plus the customer gets enticed by the size of the large berries. They are also less work when you are slicing them.

This strawberry season has gone a little different than in past year. The first big reason is because we have sold every single berry from our farm…no farmer’s markets, festivals, or roadside stands. This was a huge goal for us, and we are glad we reached it so quickly.

The only problem is that people aren’t always the most prepared for strawberry season. You go from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some customers begin calling in April wondering when they will be ready, and then others call after they are all gone and are upset they didn’t know. It doesn’t matter how much advertising you do, you never are going to be able to reach everyone. This has sparked a new idea to add to our business plan.

Strawberries are our staple crop. People LOVE them to eat fresh or cook with. They will drive for fresh strawberries…sometimes very long distances. And when they get here (because they want strawberries) they will often add on a little bit of something else, some blueberries, fresh salad greens, onions, etc. So we have decided to try to elongate our strawberry season by planting some Everbearers and early June Bearers.

Up until this year, planting early varieties of strawberries was not an option. Our best picking time was when school got out, and we just were not able to manage the farm while working other jobs. Now that Berry Man is working the farm full-time, we think adding the other varieties is a very good option to help us increase our strawberry production.

Everbearers do have some perks.

  1. They produce strawberries all summer long, and often into the fall. We hope this will entice people to continue to stop by to see if we have any, and maybe pick up a few more things from our farm.
  2. They produce about the same amount of berries as the June Bearers, just not all at once.
  3. They are fresh, and taste far better than store-bought.

My heart and taste buds are still into the June Bearers, but the idea of some strawberries all season long makes me happy. We do not anticipate being able to sell the large quantities like we can around Memorial Day, but we hope to be able to meet our customers’ desire to eat fresh strawberries all season long.

Which strawberry plants to you prefer? Why? Leave a comment below.

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How to Store Fresh Strawberries

One of the biggest questions I get during strawberry season is, “What should I do with my berries when I get them home?” People today are so used to getting their produce from the grocery story, that they really have no idea what to do with something that is actually fresh.

How to Store Fresh Strawberries

There are different options of storing your fresh berries, but ultimately it depends on what you want to do with them.

  1. Leave them out on the counter-This is my number one recommendation to all of my customers who plan to eat their strawberries plain. We sell all of our strawberries within 24 hours of being picked. If they are going to be eaten within 48 hours, they don’t need to go in the refrigerator at all. Just leave them at room temperature and eat them. This is the way they taste the best.
  2. Put them in the refrigerator-This will help your berries stay fresh the longest, but they just won’t taste as well as keeping them at room temperature.
  3. Slice them up and refrigerate them-Remember, once the skin is broken on a berry, the quality will begin to deteriorate. As soon as you cut into them, they won’t last as long as they would if you just put them in the refrigerator whole, but they sure are handier that way. If you choose to add sugar, that will help preserve them a little more as well.

What is your favorite way to store fresh strawberries? Leave your comments below.

How We Plant Blueberries in Clay Soil

How We Plant Blueberries in Clay Soil

Today is one of my favorite days of the year…Blueberry Planting Day! In order to be able to cash flow our farm, we have limited our blueberry purchasing to 100 blueberries bushes per year. That amount has proven to be beneficial to us because we can actually plant that many in a timely fashion and get a price break from our nursery.

We have learned to grow blueberries completely through reading. Supposedly, “blueberries can’t grow in my area” because the soil conditions are not right. Blueberries require highly acidic, well-drained soil. Our soil has a fairly neutral pH and is mostly clay…not the ideal environment for blueberries. We combat this less-than-ideal home by hauling out our soil and hauling in organic peat moss.

Yes…blueberries are that important to us.

In order to keep our soil optimal for our blueberries, we fertilize and adjust pH on a weekly basis using a fertilizer for acid-loving plants. While everything else we use on them is organic, we have not switched out the weekly fertilizer and pH treatments yet. We have had much success going this route, and are a little afraid of going completely organic with our blueberries at this point in time because they are so finicky in our native soils. Hopefully, once we have several thoroughly established, we can begin experimenting with some using organic fertilizers and pH adjustments.

Luckily, we had some good weather early this spring so Berry Man could get our soil prepared to plant. We got a lot of rain earlier this week, so the conditions are not ideal for planting, but we’ll get it done.

We plant our blueberries in a hill to help keep the roots drained. It is easier to irrigate them than it is to get them out of a puddle. Blueberries don’t like “wet feet.”

We surround the root ball with organic peat moss before mixing our own soil in. That seems to give the plant roots a better start.

When we can, we top the blueberry bushes with old pine needles for a sustainable mulch. Since our big land clearing project last fall, we don’t have many pine needles available this year. The chickens enjoy scratching in the pine needles we have, and they are just too hot to put around the bushes at this point in time. We will have to try something different for this year, but I know it will be excellent organic fertilizer for next year.

When the need arises and the time allows, we will lay drip line in the rows to irrigate. Thankfully the days of hauling water in buckets are over!

At this point, we have nearly 400 blueberry bushes. We are hoping to stop there and wait for them to fully mature before we plant any more. We don’t want to have more plants than we can care for.

How well do blueberries grow in your area? What experiences have you had growing them? Share your comments below.

Mid-April Homestead Happenings

Mid-April Homestead Happenings

A lot is happening on the homestead this spring.

Strawberries are coming through the winter straw. The plants look healthy and vibrant.

This year’s strawberry patch

If you search hard enough, you can find some strawberries blooming.

Rows of blueberries in full bloom

The bees are happily pollinating the blueberry blooms.

Our honeybee hive survived the winter. We are so excited to have these helpful workers on our homestead.

Rows of blackberries

The blackberries are opening.

Raspberries are popping through the ground. We are hoping to have a few to sell for the first time this year. 

What’s happening on your homestead this time of year? Are you as excited as I am? Share you comments below.

The Day I Broke Into the Tater Stash

The goal was to make it until March or April, but I broke into the tater stash in the middle of February.

I was making one of our favorite meals, Swiss deer steaks with mashed potatoes and corn, when I was getting ready to peel the remnants of our fresh potatoes. One thing I hate is peeling small potatoes. Then I looked into the bucket with the remainder of our fresh potatoes.

This is what I saw.

tater bucket

Now I know I could be patient and peel several of these little guys, but then I started getting visions of my taters stash in the basement. Those taters were already peeled and ready for mashed potatoes.

mashed

 

I also started thinking about how good the home fries I have been making several times a week have been. Canned fried potatoes are good, but not nearly as good as fresh ones.

And then I made the decision…to break my March or April goal…and dig into the tater stash.

Copy of The Joy of Finishing the Woodpile

Honestly, I felt somewhat defeated. We worked so hard to try to put away enough to last the whole year. We still have almost 100 jars, canned and ready to go. I know that sounds silly, but I really was hoping that I could hold off a little longer before I dug into them. It is still possible that we can make it until our next potato crop comes before we have to buy potatoes, but it seems like once we break into the stash, they go awful quickly.

But now I can set my new goal for next season.

Growing Lettuce in the Winter

Growing Lettuce in Winter (1)

One of our homestead goals for the near future is to be able to grow lettuce year round. That can be quite difficult with winter temperatures often reaching below zero. While we have not perfected our process yet, we have a pretty good plan to be growing lettuce year round by next year (hopefully).

Using Low Tunnels

We have had success the past couple of years using simple low tunnels. The key has been to start the lettuce and try to get it full-grown before the first frost in the fall. Usually that means that we plant in late August or early September. Lettuce likes the cooler weather, so we try to do our final planting when the soil gets cooler.

Once the weather gets cold, the lettuce does not grow much at all. It does fine out in the open as long as temperatures do not drop below freezing. My family really likes mixed baby greens, and they do not do well if they get a frost on them. We also grow romaine, which can handle cooler temperatures. Kale is hearty and can handle cold temperatures pretty successfully.

Our kale is a little yellow here. We got several inches of rain after Christmas. This picture was taken in early January.

When the temperatures start dropping below freezing, it is time to cover the lettuce. We use the tines of an old hay rake to make the arches for our low tunnel. The cover is just a cheap piece of plastic painting dropcloth.

Bricks seem the best way to keep the plastic down. Our dogs will chew off any little piece that flops around, so it is really important to keep the excess tight.

On rare days when the temperatures rise into the upper 40’s or 50’s, we take the plastic off to let the lettuce get some air. This is nice on days we get a winter rain to wash it off a bit. Be careful though and watch the weather for dropping temps.

Increasing Protection

One thing we have added this year is a fence around the outside of our tunnel. In the past we have had some issues with the dogs wanting to run over them. This year, we have to increase security to keep the chickens out.

It amazes me how warm it stays under that little low tunnel. It’s 15 degrees outside here and the lettuce looks happy inside.

Future Goals

Our goal for next season is to add a high-tunnel hoop house where we can grow enough lettuce to last us throughout the winter. With our current setup, we can eat up our lettuce pretty quickly and it doesn’t grow back quite as well as it does in the spring.

A perk of having the hoop house is that you can put a low tunnel inside it, raising your growing temperatures even higher. I am hoping this will act more like a greenhouse so I can continue to start seeds throughout the season, and therefore have several plantings to eat from.

Have you ever tried growing lettuce in the winter? What was your experience like? Leave your comments below.

Why We Started a Berry Farm (Part 2)

When we planted our first blueberry bushes in 2012 we really weren’t sure how successful they were going to be. The more we talked to people about planting blueberries, the more stories we heard about locals trying to plant blueberries in their home gardens with little or no success.

While we were determined to figure out how to get the blueberries to produce, we knew it would be 5-7 years before they would reach full production.

Instead of just waiting until then, we needed to continue adding to our homestead.

Our Short-lived Tree Farm

With this in mind, we actually started our business plan as a tree farm, rather than a berry farm. That first year (around the time we planted 100 new blueberry bushes), we planted 1,000 Norway spruce seedlings. All of them were planted by hand, in open space on our land and in the woods.

We thought this could bring us some variety, but with the drought, all it brought us was 1,000 dead Norway spruce seedlings.

Water was an insurmountable challenge. All the trees needed to be watered by hand with watering buckets. The trees were even further from the water source than the blueberries.

It came down to the fact that we had to choose what to keep alive. The cost of the blueberry bushes and the potential profit years down the road resulted in us fighting for those little bushes instead of the trees.

Just a Few Strawberries

While I was so excited about those little blueberries growing in the field, my husband wanted to grow a few strawberries, just for us to eat. I went to the local gardening store and purchased 18 strawberry plants and put them at the edge of a field. I knew that we wouldn’t get many the first year, so I just planted them, watered them once and a while and forgot about them.

We decided not to even straw around them in the winter time. If they made it through the winter, they made it. If they didn’t we weren’t out but a few bucks. I figured we could try again another year, when the weather was more favorable, and I felt like I had more time to devote to them.

Besides, who would want to spend all that time bent over picking strawberries?

Strawberry SURPRISE!

The following spring, my husband took the day off from his other job to get caught up around the homestead. While he was evaluating what needed to be done, he noticed that the strawberries went a little crazy over the winter. There were runners rooted in everywhere!

So…he gets an idea…

By the time I got home from work, he had broken the sod and tilled up about half an acre with an 18″ hand tiller. Then he transplanted all of the new strawberry plants, enough to almost fill the area he tilled.

Screenshot 2016-01-08 at 7.43.34 PM - Edited

Our 18 strawberry plants turned into 125, with almost no day-to-day effort on our part!

We sold every strawberry we didn’t eat that season. A few people heard we had strawberries, and before we knew it we had more demand for than we could possibly fill.

This really got us thinking and evaluating all the time we were spending on the blueberries, irrigating, mulching, adjusting soil pH levels, and checking for nutrient deficiencies.

This was when we made the decision to go “all in” on strawberries, at least until our blueberries were producing. We ordered 2,000 strawberry plants to plant that summer. It takes a year before they really produce, so we were hopeful that by the following summer, we would have enough strawberries to be able to fill the demand in the area.

The First Sign

One day while we were planting some of the 2,000 strawberries we ordered, my husband stopped me and wanted to talk.

Apparently he had been praying for a sign that we were doing the right thing starting our berry farm. As he went out the door that morning, he asked the Lord to give him a sign that he was making the right decision to move forward with the business. We had no idea how we were going to make everything work.

That day he experienced his first direct answer to prayer. He was working on a planter for a local farmer. This farmer was unsuccessfully battling Stage 4 cancer. The two of them were talking about the work that needed to be done when all of a sudden the farmer grabbed him and said, “Boy, if there is something you are wanting to do, you better do it!” Then he went right back into the conversation.

This conversation was exactly the sign we were looking for. Following our own hearts and our Lord, we decided that a berry farm was exactly what we needed.

Want to learn more about why we started our berry farm? Click the link below.