A man went into a doctor’s office for a check up. He was told to "strip to the waist". So he did. He took off his shoes, socks and pants! ... Now this may not have much to do with the berry business, but it does make a point. There are many ways to do something or grow and sell blueberries, blackberries raspberries, grapes and figs. Some ways are better than others but it is rare when there is only one way! We would like to share with you the way we grow and market berries at the Happy Berry. Perhaps from our mistakes and successes you can improve your opportunities. Is it sustainable? We will let you be the judge!
Below you will finds a description of our operation, our goals, production methods (and how they have changed over the years), marketing and finally plant heath issues.
DESCRIPTION OF OPERATION
The population of our home county- Pickens County- is 110,000 plus and the population of the greater Greenville area is over 3/4 of a million. Our county is a growing bedroom community of Greenville. We are located on a dead end road leading to a boat landing and summer vacation area of Lake Keowee. On the lake are 110 plus communities with lots of retirees. We are 0.9 miles off Route 183, which is slated to become a 4-lane highway in the next 10 years. Route 183 is a gathering artery, if you are heading west, to route people around the lake. The lake, which is about 1/2 mile from the farm, is about 25 miles from one end to the other covering 18,300 acres with a crossing in the middle. The lake is pristine and local groups like the Friends of Lake Keowee Society actively promote conservation to prevent physical [erosion etc], chemical [septic nutrients etc] and biological [invasive species] pollution in the watershed.
The farm is 13.5 acres, plus another 3.5 acres added by our youngest daughter in 2005, located on steeply sloped, highly erodible Hiawassee series soil. The area was totally planted with cotton during the wood depression days of the late 1800's and early 1900's. What was left in 1979, when we started The Happy Berry, after a 30-to-70 year abandonment was a highly variable mosaic that ranges from dead sand to clay with high organic loam at the bottom of the hills. The residual pH is 4.7 to 5.2, which will drop to 3.9 or 4.0 with just a couple of applications of ammonium sulfate. Forests surround the farm. We anticipate that urban development will surround it in the future.
Our current goal is to pay for our next daughter's education and to provide for retirement employment for my wife and I. Sub-objectives under those global goals were not to be in debt and to increase our net worth while accomplishing these goals. Our current objective is to gross $1,000 a day for 100 days a year. We were a long way from it for many years but we are making progress and approaching that goal in 2005. We could have invested in the stock market or something else but we had no knowledge, desire or experience. What we, Walker and Ann, do know about and have experience in is horticulture and plant health and poultry respectively.
Limitations, or other goals that we believed should limit our operation, were that we were both employed full time off the farm [Walker retired in 2000], that we maintain a cohesive family unit and that we continue to develop our home. In the early years of the farm, we were able to pay for our oldest daughter's education through a well-deserved salary earned working on the farm, that she was able to combine with student loans and working while at school. We have helped a little but without further borrowing. We own the farm and equipment free and clear except for a small operational loan each spring. We keep coming up with emergencies that use up set aside operational capital each year. We both have made reasonable progress in our jobs (Walker serves on the board of several community service or support local agriculture organizations since retirement) and we believe we have a cohesive family. Both our girls are super in school or work and are tremendous workers, of which, we are extremely proud.
If we have failed, it's in the development of our home. My sister, who used to be in the real estate business, says that you should invest $75/month in either labor or materials to just maintain a home. With the effort expended on the farm since 1979, when we started, that put us $9,000 down plus the interest through 1989, just for maintenance, let alone any enhancements we might have made which increased the amount. To bring things back to our standard of living it took a loan of $40,000 plus interest. This cycle repeated it self again in 2005 with another $15,000 investment in our home.
Goals are "not cast in concrete". They are flexible and should be changed as the business environment changes and as your family or personal situation changes. We are wrestling right now with what should be our goals for the future. We want to create an opportunity for our daughters. Are they too ambitious or not ambitious enough as stated above? The point of all this is that resources are finite. We had an unused resource or an opportunity. We did not correctly inventory available resources adequately. If we were to give any advice it would be to carefully match your goals to your available resource. I can tell you it is difficult… we are “still pressing the envelope.”
We have 5 acres (approximately 3106 + plants less 400 that have been lost to disease and pestilence by 2001) of blueberries and 2 acres of erect blackberries, 0.8 acres of semi-erect blackberries, and 0.3 acres of raspberries.
Starting in 1994, because of a pollination deficit problem with Tifblue and because this variety splits badly when it rains, we started cutting down some of the Tifblue bushes (300 bushes) and replacing them with Britewell, Powderblue and Centurion. We cut the bushes to the ground after harvest, allowed them to re-sprout and then sprayed with Roundup. This technique did not worked well. If we do more, we will pull them up. We also believe there is a replant problem with rabbiteye blueberries. Re-growth is much slower in these rows. In 2006 - 2007 we plan on pulling Delight and replanting all vacant spaces with newer varieties. Our new mix will be Robeson - 2 wk earlier than Premier, Premier - mid June, Columbus – July, Ira – July in frost pockets, Onslow - late July, Powderblue, and Centurion - Late July.
All of the berries are irrigated. We use city water for irrigation. In 1989 we used a little better than 1.2 million gallons. In 1991 we used almost none. In 2001 water cost $2.70 per thousand gallons. The price of water is going up again in 2006. We have gotten DNR to use submarine navigation technology to locate a potential well site but have not been able to find a well driller who will work where we want the well plus it is expensive. The well issue is very high risk as we need 50 gallons per minute and that is very rare in our area.
Our planting procedure consists of: (1) establishing fescue and fertilizing it to carry phosphorous and calcium deeper into the soil profile without plowing, (2) killing the fescue out in strips with Roundup, (3) planting blueberries in 2 ft. diameter holes generally at Thanksgiving with a 5 gallon bucket of very old saw dust (we experienced nitrogen deficiency and therefore went to 1/4 cubic ft of dark peat moss in our next 2 acres and now we use compost for any replants), (4) in the first year we gave them 1/8 cup per month, starting in March continuing through the summer, of ammoniacal-based 19-19-19 and let the cold weather injure what it will. We delay application if there has not been three inches of rain or we get behind in other work. We abandoned ammonium sulfate due to low pH problems. We have limed 1 year and used gypsum for 2 years to raise our soil calcium levels at the rate of 1 ton per acre in the row. We have a magnesium toxicity problem but it is much improved with liming and the addition of gypsum. We still have a magnesium problem in poorly drained areas due to anaerobic fermentation solubilizing the magnesium. We have a manganese deficiency in areas where we used mulch high in cellulose, which in time resulted in excessive calcium levels. In subsequent years we increase our fertilizer to 1/4, 1/3 and 1/2 cup per plant per month but limit applications to just the spring months of March, April and May. If they slow down we will go out and give them an extra little bit. For the first 10 years we used a balanced fertilizer such as triple 19, since then, 16-4-8. We do not worry about fall or winter injury. It has not been a problem except in nursery plants gotten from a warmer climate. In fact, because of the lack of significant winter injury we believe that you can plant in the fall just as soon as water levels return to field capacity without supplemental irrigation. After 20 years of experience we feel that once the bushes fill the space the fertilizer rate can be decreased significantly. Our current experience would suggest reducing it by 1/3 in the 6th year, continuing at this level in subsequent years. With weaker varieties than Tifblue, if they have a heavy crop, we give additional 20 units of N/ac as 16-4-8 or on an as needed basis.
In 2006 we started investigation organic fertilizers. The cost is significantly more. We are evaluating plots using organic sources. We anticipate fuel prices to continue to increase [nitrogen is captured from air using fuel] and thus this gap in price will narrow. Organic fertilizers recycle waste material from other agricultural enterprises such feather from chickens. We also think our customers are willing to pay more for us use organic sources. It is the environmentally responsible thing to do.
Weed management is difficult. Hand weeding takes too much time although we do a lot of hand weeding. Herbicides are generally Casaron, Simazine and/or Surflan in the first and second years and adding Karmex in subsequent years for blueberries. We have learned from our neighbors that Sinbar is pretty hot and on our mosaic soils it is hard to avoid injury. We generally use it at 1/8 of a pound/ac. We have since 2004 stopped using Simazine in blueberries. We tank mix these materials with Round-up in the late spring and use Rely if touch up is needed later. Our problem weeds are horse nettles, maypops (Passiflora 2 spp), briars (Smilax), Virginia creeper, poke and blackberries. We generally go with a winter application and a late spring application. Test plots have revealed that the Delight variety is sensitive to Velpar (when it was legal in SC). We have used wick applications of Round-up and frequently use hand pulling on hard to control perennials. Research has shown that diuron [Karmex] and simazine interfere with the fruiting structure that produces the spores, which cause mummy berry primary infections. We now make sure we time winter application prior to March first. These fruiting structures are normally produced in March or very early April.
In early years our pruning system in blueberries consists of hedging as soon after harvest as possible. We were always late! The later we are the lower the yield next season. The tractor will run over drooping canes anyway and the customers will not pick what they can't reach so hedging low hanging and the high shoots does minimal damage. We discontinued this practice. We tried to cut them at an angle so light and foliage develops low down in the bush. In the winter we remove 1/5 to 1/6 of the oldest canes in bushes 6 years and older. We make the cuts at 12 to 18 inches from the ground, being sure to select the oldest canes. Pruning this way controls bush height. In addition, we cut hangers in the row at this time. The big stub is so Oberea stem borers do not make it to the crown if they invade the young vigorous shoots. Eventually after the planting got to be 20 + years old we had to start cutting some of the big stubs. Oberea continues to be a problem.
We are promoting the hedgerow system and make no attempt to keep the crown small for mechanical picking. We try to keep pruning time down to 10 minutes per bush. Delight is the variety most likely to have cold-injured cambium at the base of the cane so we try to leave them until last to prune. In general the delight variety has a shallow root system, is susceptible to leaf rust and falls into alternate year bearing. Although it is a big berry we will take it out in 2006.
For pollination we have brought in honeybees at $44/hive for good strong hives in the late 1980's. Usually about 7 or 8 hives along with the wild population will give us 30 + bees per bush any time we want to count. Trachea and Varrow mites have essentially wiped out the feral honeybees in our area since the early 90's. We have a lot of carpenter bees and we agree with the literature that the combination is not very effective. We have a few blueberry bees and you can sure tell the area where they are. We have planted Redbud trees for early forage for blueberry bees. Their populations are very variable from year to year. In response to this situation we tried growing Japanese orchard bees. We started with 650 bees in 1988. I am here to report that they did not work.
To promote bumblebees we added 1 acre of blackberries (Navaho, Shawnee, Arapaho, and Choctaw) as both bee forage and a sellable crop. We have also added Butterfly bushes (Buddleia) on the ends of rows as bee forage. Zoe and Ann started experimenting with cut flowers in 1992. The Buddleia is intended to supplement this effort as well as serve as bee forage. We also planted Bicolor Lespedeza around the entire farm perimeter in 1994 as late summer bumblebee forage. In 1996 we jumped from 1- 2 bumblebees per bush to 10 - 12 per bush. We gibbed (Pro Gib [a growth stimulator]) the plants in 1991 by backpack spraying. The purpose was to compensate for pollination and as a rescue treatment when frost occurs. This organic practice has become standard since 1992 and is done each year.
We used a similar procedure, planting fescue then killing it out for erect and semi erect blackberries. We plant root pieces 2 ft. apart, plugs 3 ft. apart, and handled plants of Navaho 18 inches apart. The varieties in order of ripening are Choctaw, Arapaho, Shawnee, and Navaho. In 1996, we added the semi-erect varieties, Triple Crown and Chester, on a "Stiles Shift Trellis". These were planted 6 ft. apart. In 2000 because of unknown virus problems in Triple Crown and Raspberry bushy dwarf in Navaho we took these varieties out and replanted with Apache and Kiowa 2001. We are experiencing severe problems with oak root rot in the Chester variety and severe virus problems in the Apache variety so that in 2004 we took them back out. We have planted desert muscadine grapes [black - Supreme, Ison, Nesbit and Coward and bronze - Early Fry, Late Fry, Janet and Dixieland] in the Stiles shift trellis area. The shift trellis was bolted into an upright position. [See grapes below and blackberries in the Plant Health section below]
We generally fertilize the blackberries at 80 units per season. We apply 40 units at bud break and 40 units immediately after harvest.
Weed control in blackberries is Gramoxone plus 0.75 lb ai/ac of Simazine immediately after harvest and pruning out the old floracanes followed by a fall application in September or October and/or a spring application prior to bud break all at the same rates if needed. It is usually applied by a tractor-mounted sprayer or in difficult locations backpack in 30 gallons of water per acre.
We prune blackberries by hedging first and then cutting the floracanes out. We feel it is important to do each variety right after harvest. This is especially important on the late maturing Navaho and those susceptible to double blossom disease. We will come back tip the blackberries at least one or more times. Some varieties like Chickasaw will overbear. It is important to prune them back enough that good crop of replacement canes is obtained.
The raspberries we are trying or have tried to establish are Nova, Heritage, Josephine, Caroline, Jaclyn, PCS1 and PCS2 and Mandarin. We are also trying the black raspberry Jewel and Purple raspberry Royalty. After 10 years of trying the results are not good. Phythphora root rot, virus, spur blight, and botrytis have been severe. The Caroline, Jaclyn, Josephine, Royalty and Jewel are still in the ground in 2006. We have planted some of the raspberry area with Chester it is a good producer and is the latest blackberry around. We hope that area will be oak root rot free. Again we used the plowing with tall fescue and roundup as a site preparation procedure except where we are taking out varieties. Then we rototill and incorporate lime and phosphorus covering with straw immediately to prevent erosion.
We fertilize the muscadine grapes the first of April, March and June. When the vines are young after 1.5 inches of rain or mid month we apply calcium nitrate. Once they have reached full production we limit the application of fertilizer to 3 applications or less if the crop is reduced. Blue tubes are used to get the plants to the wire in the first and second year. This also protects the young plants from herbicides. We prune muscadines last just before bud break. They always bleed but this not a problem. We space the fruiting spurs out 6 inches along the cordon. Leaving 2 to 3 buds per spur.
We conducted a variety trial for several years and based that trial selected the cultivars Nova and York for an expanded the planting. The varieties tried were John, Adam, Korsar, Sambo, Samyl, Samdal, Black beauty and most recently Scotia was added. We also have two selections of wild elderberries. Nova and York were selected based on size, flavor and vigor. We just plant them and leave them keeping the weeds cut so they can shade out the competition. Our pruning system is to take older canes out after they have seen three fruiting summers. They have several problems. (See plant health)
We start picking blackberries the 30th of May, blueberries the 15 to 20 th of June and our last sale in some years is around September 27. We hit our peak about the 1st through the 18th of July. We keep the grass close clipped (hard on fescue) and resort to hand weeding if we have to keep the place well manicured. The clients tell us that it's worth the extra money they pay us. We have picnic tables. We provide cold water, even carry it out to them while they are harvesting if we are not to busy.
We provide a free recipe book to all who would like them. We provided a brochure made up by the "Foothills Direct Market Association" of other direct marketing growers, including our competition until they ceased to function. When it comes to marketing there are two aspects. One is how big is the pie, and the other is how big is your slice. Our experience is that the size of the pie is much more important than how big is our slice. We are dealing in a product, which our surveys of clients in the 1980’s told us that less than l% of new clients had ever eaten a fresh blueberry before. To this end we play an active part in our local direct marketing organization. In 1989 & 1990 I was the president. My wife did the brochure for the organization for many years. She was on the board of directors for several years. Lack of leadership both within the organization and from Extension has led to discontinuing the directory in 1994. In 2006 we are members of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) and Walker serves on the Board. We are members of Discover Upcountry Carolina (DUCA) and Walker serves on the Board. We are members of Heritage Corridor Farmers Association (HCFA) and walker serves on the board and finally we are members of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) South Carolina Direct Marketing Association (SCDMA). All of these organizations, in one fashion or another support Ag tourism. We have found that 38 % plus of our business is non-locals. Many vacation in the area.
We pick in a wave across the farm. All rows are numbered and many labeled as to variety. We do not request that they pick a bush clean. They are taken to a particular bush that is at the head of the pack and told that when the person behind finishes they will get on the bush in front of them and so-on. They will play leapfrog down the row. We instruct on how to tell if a berry is ripe, encouraging sampling till they get it right. We talk about plumpness and how sensitive fingers can tell when they are plump (ripe) and when not to pull them off the bush. An experienced sales person knows when to keep the wave moving or when to slow it down. The important thing is that the customer leaves with the best quality product.
We start our advertising about the 10 days before opening. In 1988 and 1989 we had 5 billboards for 2 months that cost $2500 plus paper costs. In 1990 we had 3 billboards and the company did a lousy job. In 1991 we had 3 boards with a new company. Paper costs work out to about $300 per year for just 2 colors. We have not used billboards since 1992 but believe it is effective. This is supplemented with weekly newspaper coupons (free pound). We put the initials of the paper in each add and keep track of which ones we get the best response from. In future years we increased the size in better response papers. We leverage the adds in local news papers and more recently tourism magazines into feature articles about our operation. The tourism ads (3 to $500) and articles are done during the winter and are a little risky. They cannot be done at the last moment when you see you have ample crop. We have an "army" of road signs that we put up each year. Most locations are rented one way or another. We are very concerned about federal, state and county sign laws. Our customers tell us the signs are extremely important. We work through the associations above to get the state into doing way finding sign for farm tourists.
We have a computer and operate a database (PC File for many years and now Access) to manage the mailing list. Currently the database is about 4,125 strong and has been purged by "address correction requests". We use to get a reduced postal rate by bar coding and sorting for the post office. The US Postal Service restructured rates in a way that now discriminate against small businesses like ours so we use first class stamps. Our objective is to build the database to 10,000. We make one or two surface mailings during the season. We should probably do more. We use to distribute flyers in local stores within a 15-mile radius. We now do Brochures ($450/3000) at other local tourist attractions, state and county parks and local museums. We have participated in Christmas parades. We took three first places and one honorable mention. We also compete for farming awards. We won the county and the state of SC conservation award. We have been on PM Magazine's TV program and several others. We have been able to luck up on a feature article about us in one newspaper or another virtually every year. Marketing is our single biggest expense.
We have a website: www.TheHappyBerry.com. The web site has a coupon, prepicked ordering capability, directions, recipes, a little advocacy on buying local, archived newsletters, weather button, a vacation button, information on our management and a few pictures. When we started, our initial site was hosted through another provider's website: www.innova.net/~hberry. Innova Communications, a local Internet provider, originally sponsored the site. The owners were customers at the farm before they moved to another enterprise. They truly gave us a jump and enabled us to find out how important a web site is. We have moved from them to using Netsonic as our service provider and own website: www.thehappyberry.com. We get a lot of prepicked orders from the site and we get a lot of coupons that come from the site. We know it is working for us. We have 1350 email subscribers to our newsletter.
As for ripe blueberries, anthracnose is the biggest problem in blueberries. The symptom of ripe rot in blueberries is that the berries just look dirty. The disease will show up after the berries are picked. For commercial sales it is a serious problem.
Mummy berry in blueberry has shown up but was not a major problem till 1991 when we lost about 40% to the disease. It was serious in 1992 and 1993. In 1994 a full mummy berry program of 3 sprays was used with little disease evident. A full 4-spray (Indar) program was the standard in 2001. We purchased a sprayer in 2000 for $3000 because I just could not get the job done with a handgun every year. We have had some problems with Botrytis in cool wet weather on the flowers. We did an application of benomyl initially as last mummy berry spray till it was canceled for lack of company support; Rovral was then used once they start to drop the corollas (bloom) if it is wet. If frost occurs it can become epidemic. This is, in essence, a fourth or fifth mummy berry spray. We also integrate our herbicide program so it supplements mummy berry control as indicated above.
Pro Gib [aid in berry set and especially when frost occurs] is tank mix it with fungicides for mummy berry control depending on the stage of bloom. We apply 200 ppm at stage 4/5 in 40 gallons of water/ac and another 200 ppm at stage 5/6 about 10 days later. We have also used it at 100 ppm 4 times per season. It depends upon the how fast bloom is occurring and the rain. It’s expensive, about $132/ac for the Gib treatments not counting the fungicide. Funginex was canceled due to lack of company willing support the label. We have used ProGib with Indar and it seems to work equally as well. We are now moving to Serenade, an organic fungicide, for mummy berry. We use an organic material, Dipel (BT), for fruit worm control too. I also ran a bloom delay experiment using Ethrel (ethapon) applied in early-November under what was pretty much optimum conditions for IR-4. It did not work.
The cranberry fruit worm in blueberry is the next problem we address. It is always a problem to know when to put the first application of insecticide. Scouting is difficult. Blueberries usually bloom for about 8 weeks (March 15 to May 15). On the average, two sprays are applied of Bacillus thuringensis (Dipel an organic product) with the last 2 mummy berry sprays. Two sprays just about do the job. These and ProGib sprays are done at night, too, for maximum effect.
The next blueberry problem is the obera stem borer. We don't spray for this problem. Everybody is sensitized to the problem and whenever you see girdling, stop what you are doing and break it out. The first flags of the borer will show up about the 15 th to 20th of June. Stem blight frequently comes in on borer-damaged stems. These damaged stems must be pruned out before the blight reaches the crown. As the planting ages and bushes are big it is easy to miss these shoots and this problem becomes more severe. Most problems are not found till pruning time when a major stem in the bush appears weak, it is cut out and the borer hole is discovered and you have to keep cutting back to get below it. This makes a major cut that may not sprout or sprouts very weakly because of insufficient light penetration. The stem blight fungus colonizes this stub and moves into the root crown and eventually kills the bush. Research by Dr. Culin and students at Clemson University showed that Lecuothoe and native azaleas supports obera as well as its predators. The students showed significant predation at The Happy Berry. In older plantings a replanting program is required associated with this problem.
As the planting aged blueberry maggot became a major problem. This worm shows up after the customer gets home puts the berries on the counter. They exit the berry and accumulate in the bottom of the bowl. The blueberry maggot lives in native blueberries and closely allied species in the surrounding woods. They are weak flyers so move slowly into a planting. These are controlled by using Spinosad, an organic insecticide in molasses bait. The bait is sprayed on the inside stems of the bushes of every third bush. The problem was cleaned up in two to three years. Yellow sticky traps are used to monitor for the adult flies. Bait application is started about 7 days after the first fly catch and continues till no more flies are caught in about 2-3 weeks. Once under control perimeter treatments are made around the farm to prevent reentry with no bait applied in the bush.
A major problem for us is robin (Turdus migratorius) management. We have found that one application of Mesurol timed exactly right will give us 6-to 8-week control. The key is to apply the Mesurol before the birds start feeding but as late as possible with regards to the presence of palatable berries to birds, usually about the 15 to 18th of June. Mesurol is gone because of cancellation. We have tried Scare eye balloons. They seem to work in a small trial area (about 6 yards). The cost of balloons and something to put them up on, when buying in volume, is about $350 per acre, not including labor. There is also a biorational compound under development called Rejexit. We now use a computer chip that mimics the distress call of the common robin. It turns itself on and off automatically. As long as there is not an equipment failure and we start it before a feeding is established, it seems to work for about 3-4 weeks. We supplement this with small windmills with reflective tape that works on the same basis as the scare eye balloons but they last longer. The reflective tape needs to be repaired each year and they seem to have bigger area of effect especially when moved into the area after starting up the computer chip. A third integrated measure is the use of Screech owls discussed below. The screech owls get young fledglings while still in the nest, keeping local robins down which act as scout birds for the migrating flocks near the end of summer.
Another major problem is voles. We have used Rozol. This is a very labor-intensive baiting effort. We have discontinued Rozol and installed Barn owl, Screech owl and Kestrel boxes. The percent occupancy for Screech owls is best. If we feel we must apply poison bait, we use zinc phosphide. It does not bioaccumulate but is much more hazardous to the applicator. The screech owls are small enough to get between the bushes and can sit in the bush waiting for the prey to show up. Although we initially used Fescue, the heaviest vole population was always in the dense fescue area. With close clipping in the summer the crab grass has taken over and more recently Bahia grass. Where these grasses are present the vole problem has gone a way. The Bahia grass is manageable with Round up and holds the soil together well to handle winter traffic. The seed heads do cause a mowing problem. We are trying other summer grasses.
Other plant health-related problems we have investigated in blueberries are: solutions for winter cover crops (rye) for erosion control [very competitive and slowed growth] and use of compost as a layer to organically control weeds, mummy berry, and root rot. Both compost and acid mulch are very expensive even if you get it free. It is very labor-intensive to get it in place. I believe it promotes shrews (a natural enemy of voles), and enables bushes to tolerate root rot better. Mulch does not seem to impact mummy berry, at least in 5 foot wide treated areas.
We scout for Strawberry clipper and use-to-use Sevin XLR at night for it. We did not like the persistence of Sevin and it was hard on mite predators. We now use Malathion and Capture. The Choctaw variety has the most problem with Clipper and we base our control tactics based on scouting in the Choctaw. We anticipate the Prime Jim and Jan will also have the same problem as they bloom even earlier than choctaw.
In the Thorny varieties, especially Shawnee, Chickasaw and little in Choctaw and less in Kiowa and Chester double blossom is a very serious problem. We hand pruned it out and sprayed with Benlate till it was canceled. We now use copper, strobilurins, Rovral and Elevate. We delay the first application till the rosettes start to bloom. We continue spraying and hand pruning till harvest is complete. Immediately after harvest we prune out the floracane and stop spraying. During harvest we use Rovral.
The above spray program also limits Botrytis, which is a smaller problem on blackberries than Raspberries. Chester has the most problem with Botrytis. Its late bloom always seems to get at least some Botrytis.
Mites are significant especially on Choctaw and Chickasaw but if left unchecked will damage other varieties too. Savey applied once a year 30 days prior to harvest works well. Since the preharvest interval is 3 days this adds to the safety factor.
The most significant problem in Blackberries is the virus complex. In the most of the thornless varieties to date the exceptions being Chester, Arapaho and Navaho the virus complex results in death of the plant. In Navaho, raspberry bushy dwarf virus results in small knobby berries. In Triple Crown and Apache the floracanes are killed outright with virtually no harvest. Arapaho suffers a dieback and small knobby berries also. The importance of virus free plants and eradicating wild brambles for at least quarter mile can’t be overemphasized. The thorny varieties Shawnee, Kiowa, and Chickasaw although susceptible to the viruses seem tolerate it and still have acceptable quality berries.
I guess I would like to end up with what I call the 80-20 rule. It's a trap to be on guard for. The trap is you end up putting 80% of your effort into 20% of your production and 20% of your effort for 80% of your production. For example, Close-clipped weed-free middles are real important when the customers are around and, also prior to, during, or shortly after bloom, to control tarnish plant bug and lower frost risk. The rest of the year they contribute little.
Is it sustainable? Based on wholesale markets, long-term average production and projected volume of plantings nationally and globally, I would argue no! If it were not for niche marketing, and agritourism I would not be here today. Perhaps with another 5-10 years of experience..... How about our goals...yes, barely... net worth, education, family... but cash returns to management and labor average well under $1.00 per hour but is increasing recently. Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to Clemson University, Auburn University, Sustainable Ag Program for Southeastern U. S., Georgia Agricultural Extension, University of Florida, Southern Region Low-input Systems Research and Education, and S. C. Department of Agriculture for the invitations and support to attend the meetings.
The Happy Berry, Inc.
Mailing Address Only: 120 Kelley Creek Road
Farm Address-No Mail Receptacle: 510 Gap Hill Road
Six Mile, SC 29682
Phone: (864) 868-2946
Farm: (864) 350-9345