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.

Frugal Living on the Homestead: Make Homemade Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt

When we started planning our transition to a homesteading lifestyle, one of the things I tackled first was trying to find ways to make some of the things we eat the most. For me, yogurt is on the top of the list!

I eat yogurt every…single…day. I have always struggled a little from digestive issues, and yogurt seemed to help regulate the problem. I figured I was spending about $10-$15 per week on yogurt. Once I realized that I could make a gallon of yogurt for little more than the price of a gallon of milk, I knew it was worth my time and effort. Luckily, it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort…just a little wait time.

Since learning how to make my own yogurt, I have now transitioned to making organic yogurt. Even considering the purchase of organic milk, I am still at a considerable savings from what I was previously spending. The yogurt lasts over a month in the refrigerator (although I run out long before the yogurt has gone bad).

One thing that has helped stay prepared for my yogurt-making excursions is keeping a steady supply of organic milk in the freezer. It still blows my mind that you can freeze milk! We just pour a little off the top (to allow room for expanding when frozen) and plop it down in our freezer.

When we’re ready for a new gallon, we just set it in the kitchen sink the night before. It is not totally thawed in the morning, but it has a big milk ice cube floating in the middle. There usually is enough to pour out for our daily need. We just pop it in the refrigerator in the morning and off we go.

How to Make Homemade Yogurt

  1. Heat one gallon of milk in a crockpot on high for 2.5 hours. When it is done, the outside will look bubbly and there may be a layer of dried milk across the top.

2. Cool the milk to 110 degrees. You can do this by waiting a long time, or pouring it into a different pan and put in a water bath for around 5 minutes. I use a candy thermometer to read an exact temperature. I have also heard that it if you can dip your pinky in for three seconds without getting burned that it is the correct temperature. Whatever suits your fancy!

3. Pour the milk back into the warm crock. Add your yogurt starter. I buy organic yogurt and freeze it in ice cube trays. Two cubes is enough to turn the whole gallon of milk into yogurt. Just set them out to thaw while you are heating your milk. Make sure you choose a yogurt that only has two ingredients: milk and several yogurt cultures.

4. Stir the mixture well. Put the lid back on the crock and wrap it in a thick towel. I use a beach towel.

5. Do not touch it for 8 hours. Yogurt bacteria do not like to be moved when they are working their magic. After the 8 hours, unwrap the yogurt and put it in the refrigerator to cool.

6. After cooling, the yogurt is ready to eat. It will be runnier than yogurt you purchase at the store. It works good for smoothies when it is thicker. I prefer a thicker yogurt to eat so I strain the whey out of my yogurt before I eat it. I line a colander with coffee filters, and fill it up with the yogurt. Put the colander into a larger dish so the whey strains in. Then I cover the yogurt with a coffee filter and sometimes put a ziplock bag full of water on top of it to apply a little pressure. I put that back in the refrigerator while it strains. The longer you let it strain, the thicker it gets.  

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Add a little raw honey, fresh berries, and granola, and you have yourself quite a treat!

What have you tried to make from scratch to save some money? Share 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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Why We Started a Berry Farm (Part 1)

Why We Started a Berry Farm (Part 1)

Some of the questions we so often hear are, “Why on earth would you ever want to start a berry farm? Isn’t that A LOT of hard work? How do you have time? Why not just go to the store like everyone else? You pick all those berries…BY HAND?!?”

I could spend hours addressing each of these questions, but for today let me just start from the beginning.

Some Family Background

Since my husband and I got married, we have been discussing the possibility of starting a small business. Both of us had decent paying jobs, but were looking for something more. We wanted to share our skills and passions with our community and be able to work from home doing something that we love.

We just were not sure what that was yet.

We considered a bunch of possibilities, such as gunsmithing, leather working, opening a gun shop, etc, but none of those things seemed to be able to meet all of our needs.

Fast forward several years…

After surviving the child-bearing years, I revived my love for gardening. Our county had a small farmer’s market which I had considered growing for. The children were getting old enough to help a little…or at least not be much of a hindrance. Plus, I truly enjoy being outside working with my hands.

My garden…Before starting the Berry Patch

We had been working on becoming debt-free using Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. Saving money was a daily discussion.

In our minds, money was the key to being able to establish the life that we wanted for our family. We thought if we had everything paid for, we would be able to start any kind of business that we wanted.

How It All Started

One sunny morning, my husband and I were drinking our morning coffee on the porch while discussing our hopes and dreams…Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

This sunny, morning I just happened to be reading an article from Backwoods Home Magazine about Growing Blueberries as a Cash Crop. Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits, so I turned to my husband and asked him, “Do you have any idea how much money I spend each week on blueberries?”

I do all of the grocery shopping in my family, so I figured he had no idea.

I bought blueberries either fresh or frozen every week. I estimate that I spent at least $5-$10 per week just on blueberries. That’s $260-$520 per year…just in blueberries!!!

This was definitely something that was up our alley.

We started evaluating our space to see where we could put some blueberry plants for our family to enjoy. I thought I may be able to sell a few, but didn’t know how much interest there would be in this area.

Increasing Interest

Over the next few weeks, I began talking to my “foodie” friends from work about our plans to grow our own blueberries in the spring. Most of them questioned the ability to grow blueberries in our area. Many had tried to grow blueberries before with no success.

Blueberries require well-drained acidic soil…not the clay soil from our area, but we were up for the challenge. One thing about me is that if someone tells me that I can’t do something, I go on a mission to prove that I can.

Before I knew it, I had several people lined up who wanted to purchase their blueberries from us.

With this in mind, we decided to purchase 100 1.5 year-old blueberry bushes in the Spring of 2012. Buying bushes this young was not a huge monetary investment, and we figured it would be enough to make sure that we could get blueberries to grow in our area.

As soon as we made the decision, my husband was on the tractor with the plow trying to turn the sod the best he could. We knew it would need the winter for the sod to break down and be ready to plant in the spring.

The winter before we planted the blueberries

The First Season

We planed our first 100 blueberry bushes in March of 2012. We did not have the land ready for the bushes yet because we were not planning on getting them until much later. It was an early spring, so the company we purchased them from insisted that they go ahead and send them.

Because the soil was not properly prepared for planting, we decided to just spade the bushes in the ground. We figured we would try to prepare the soil around them at a later date when the ground dried up and we could get out there easier.

The spring was always a busy season for us. My husband worked in the agriculture industry, so spring and fall were his busiest times of year. I am a teacher, so my free time  is June-August.

Finding time to tend to those first berries was difficult. We would work all day on our full-time jobs, and then work until dark putting organic matter around the blueberries, monitoring our soil, and watering the plants.

We did not have any means or irrigating besides watering buckets. The berries were about 30 yards from the nearest water spigot, so it could take hours to water all 100 of them by hand.

That first year, we had to pull all of the blooms in order to help the roots produce a strong bush. I did keep a couple, just because I had to see if they would produce.

Berries on one first-year bush

As the summer progressed, the irrigating became more difficult. In the Midwest, 2012 is regarded as “The Year of the Drought.” Watering was never-ending.

At the year’s end, we had 60 of the 100 blueberry bushes survive. I thought that was pretty good considering the survival rate of the seedlings we purchased was only about 50%.

We beat the odds, even during a drought.

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