1. TIPS FOR MEETING INCREASED DEMAND
Growers throughout the country have experienced good demand for locally grown fruit. A recent news story indicated berries in supermarkets are now the number one commodity.
How do we as local producers take advantage of this trend to increase our berry sales?
The incentive for increasing your berry production is the value of the crop. Very few crops can compete with the potential cash value per acre of berries. Buyers recognize the value of locally grown fruit and will pay the extra costs.
One important component for increasing your berry production is the planning that is required. Things to be addressed include:
- The availability of land with the best soil types.
- Availability of land that is in rotation to plant back to berries.
- What berry types are your customers requesting? More strawberries, different colored raspberries, or fruit in a different season?
- What berry types are you most comfortable in expanding? Do you want to expand into another berry type or increase your acreage of an existing crop?
Opportunities we have experienced in our fruit production efforts:
- Continued demand for blueberries, particularly mid and late season varieties.
- Greater interest in raspberries, especially primocane raspberries. The season requires control of SWD (Spotted Wing Drosophila) which is challenging.
- We have experienced continued demand for strawberries. In our market area, there is a void of day-neutral strawberries.
To summarize, all indications show there is increased demand for berries. Buyers are willing to pay for the increased value locally grown berries bring. As a result, there is opportunity to increase production and overall revenue generated from the small fruit portion of your business.
Contact us if you have any questions that we can assist you with as you think about this opportunity.
2. ASPARAGUS FERN MAINTENANCE
At this time of year, we see asparagus ferns changing color as they begin to enter dormancy. Be careful not to take this as a sign that it is time to cut your ferns!
As asparagus plants prepare for winter, they send sugars from the ferns down to the roots to store as energy for next year’s harvest. They won’t complete this process until the plants are fully dormant, and the stems are totally brown.
We recommend waiting to mow until you’ve had several freezes. Whether you choose late fall or early spring, be sure you aren’t compromising next year’s harvest by cutting too early!
3. STRAWBERRY PLANT STRUCTURE & MANAGEMENT
The strawberry plant is made up of six basic parts: the root system, crown, trifoliate leaf, inflorescence (flower truss, fruit), stolon (runner), and the daughter strawberry plant. The crown of the strawberry plant is a shortened stem from which all leaves, inflorescences, stolons, and roots emerge.
During the growing season, the crown produces branch crowns (side stems) which add to the yield of the main crown. Having 2–3 branch crowns at the end of October is ideal for optimal yields during the first fruiting year. Planting time is essential for achieving desired branch crown numbers. Planting too soon in plasticulture can lead to excess growth, which decreases berry size and quality.
Renovation is a key practice in crown management in strawberry production. The removal of old leaves and flower trusses should be done shortly after the completion of harvest. This timely practice allows for better control of pests, elimination of some foliar pathogens, and in matted row allows for runner establishment. If renovation is not completed prior to early August, it should not be done as late removal will negatively impact fruit bud induction, and therefore yield. For matted-row growers that miss renovation, be sure to manage bed width and plant density to maximize crop potential.
Runner management varies by production method but in matted-row and plasticulture proper management can greatly affect yield. Runners act as an energy sink on mothers in plasticulture and any day neutral production. For matted row growers, daughter plants are necessary to fill rows, but allowing excess plants to set causes competition, limiting branch crown development, increasing fungal pressure and decreasing picking efficacy. We recommend selecting the first 2–3 daughters per mother plant to allow about 5”–8” between plants.
4. pH – WHY IT MATTERS!
Why are soil pH levels so important for all small fruit crops and asparagus? Not only can soil pH levels impact the availability and uptake of mineral nutrients but crops like asparagus and blueberries have very specific pH needs.
Asparagus performs best at an alkaline pH of 7.2 or higher; blueberries require a very acidic pH in the 4.5 – 4.8 range. For strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, we recommend a relatively neutral pH of 6.5 – 6.8. The chart on page 5 outlines nutrients essential for plant growth and how their availability is affected by soil pH. An autumn soil test is a key way to evaluate not only nutritional levels in soil, but also pH and Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC). CEC is important as it will measure the ability of a soil to absorb calcium (Ca), potassium (K), and magnesium (Mg) ions (among others) and its resistance to change of pH in response to liming and sulfur additions. Clays and soils high in organic matter have a high CEC, whereas sands have a low CEC. Silt loam and clay loam soils are more difficult to impact pH due the soil structure and its particle size.
5. STRAW MULCH – HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
The application of straw mulch is a time-tested process for protecting strawberry plants from winter injury. It can be an expensive practice, but the cost of winter damage and subsequent crop loss is typically more. It is difficult to say how many bales should be applied because straw spreads and covers differently depending on how it is processed. We suggest applying enough straw, so the plants are well covered before and after the first rain after application.
Double check that once the straw settles, the entire plant is still well covered. Since we never know how cold our winter is going to be, it’s worth the extra effort to have the plants protected.
A question that often comes up is “When is it safe to apply the straw?”. The answer is after the plants have experienced 400 hours of chill.
Chill accumulates when temperatures are between 45- and 32-degrees F. The foliage can still be green, but plants can be dormant. Keeping track of temperatures daily, is the sure way to determine when it is safe. Spreading the straw too early can damage the plants so ensuring adequate dormancy is very important.