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.
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.