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 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.

How We Expanded Our Homestead Without Buying Land

 

land revised (1).jpg

As our berry farm has grown, we have been contemplating how we are going to have enough land for proper crop rotation. All strawberry farmers know that long-term success evolves around the ability to rotate crops. We were left with the question, “How can we expand our ground without purchasing land?”

The Problem

Growing conventional strawberries requires proper crop rotation. Strawberries can stay in the same place for a few years, but as time goes on the berries get smaller, risk of disease increases, weeds get thicker, and insect damage increases.

Space is essential to start new strawberry patches and eliminate older ones.

When we started our berry patch, it seemed as though we had enough ground to do everything that we wanted to do, until we realized that we needed to keep our strawberry land separate from much of our vegetable land. You see, strawberries are not friends with many of the vegetables that we enjoy growing…tomatoes, beans, squash, potatoes, etc. They attract the same insects and diseases, therefore, it is best to keep them separated throughout your crop rotation.

We like to grow about an acre of strawberries. With crop rotation, that means we need about four acres of land devoted to strawberries (and cover crop during the rotational years). We already had about an acre planted in blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. So, in order to continue keeping the quality of strawberries that we wanted, we needed a little more land.

Just purchasing a little more land is quite an obstacle. We really needed something within walking distance from our homestead so we could tend to it on a daily basis while watching the kids. Plus, the risk of theft with specialty crops increases greatly without constant surveillance.

We inquired with a few neighbors to see if they would sell an acre or two, but nobody was interested.

So we started thinking about a different way…

Our Solution

Clearing some pine trees from our own land seemed to be the best option. When our place was first built, this area was intended to be a Christmas tree farm. The trees just grew up and took over the area.

 

A before look from the east

Before clearing the trees, our new strawberries didn’t get quite as much sunshine.

 

Clearing pine trees from the west

After it was cleared, we planted cover crops to help rebuild the soil and reduce the possibility of erosion.

We kept a few pine trees in the front for some landscaping.

 

We also cleaned up the edge of our woods to bring in more sunlight to our existing field. This also gained us several more feet of farmable area.

What We Gained

Clearing our land gave us exactly what we needed. We now have more farmable land in order to handle our strawberry crop plans. Proper crop rotation will help us be sustainable with our berries in the future.

Now we have land exactly where we want it…right within our homestead.

Although we began clearing the trees ourselves, we did decide to hire a crew to clear the land. We felt our time was needed elsewhere continuing to build our business. Using our own tools, this would have taken all year. Hiring a crew with the appropriate equipment was still a substantial savings from purchasing land.

We are excited about all the possibilities we have with our new space. Our chickens have already been busy trying to rebuild the soil.

What was your biggest obstacle when beginning your homestead? Leave your comments below.