1. Planning for Potential Oversupply
As the summer sun graces your berry fields, you may find yourself with an abundance of fruit! Whether you're a seasoned berry farmer or just starting out, an oversupply of berries can be a challenge! Some tips and tricks:
Prepared Ads for Local Newspapers
Harness the power of your community: have ads prepared for your local newspaper if you find yourself with too many berries. Create irresistible offers like "Buy One, Get One Free!”
Picking for Juice
Berries are a coveted ingredient for jams, jellies, beer, ice cream, wine, and more! We keep a "wait list" of customers to contact when juice berries become available. This is helpful after weather events where you may have an abundance of imperfect fruit.
Keeping a List of Loyal Clients
Keep a list of your loyal customers’ preferences and contact information, and offer them exclusive deals or early access to your berry harvest. These relationships and support can be a lifeline during times of abundance.
Social Media Marketing
Showcase your berry fields on social media. Share recipes, behind-the-scenes glimpses of farm life, and more. Encourage customers to share their berry experiences using a unique hashtag!
Coupons or Discounts
Offer special coupons or discounts to incentivize customers to purchase more berries, like "20% off your next purchase with every berry basket." This promotes sales and encourages repeat visits to your farm.
With a little creativity and some strategic planning, you can turn your surplus into a win-win situation for both your farm and customers.
2. The Importance of Chill
Chill refers to a plant’s exposure to chilling temperatures, normally measured from 32°F–45°F. There are two stages to chilling, first to enter dormancy and then to complete dormancy. Strawberry plants are considered dormant after about 400 hours of chill; raspberry and blackberry plants often only require 200 hours.
- Plants accumulate chill hours to enter dormancy.
- Warm days can keep the plant active. Once the initial requirement is met, dormancy is irreversible.
- Plant is fully dormant.
- Can withstand colder temperatures.
- Related to vernalization or the plant’s ability to flower.
Why is Chill Important?
- Chill is required for many fruiting plants to go into and out of dormancy and to bloom.
- Many fall pesticide treatments must be applied when plants are partially or fully dormant.
- Strawberry dormancy is challenging: apply winter protection too early and plants may not be dormant, too late and they may be damaged by cold.
Methods for Calculating Chill Hours
There are two main methods of measuring chill hours. The Modified Chill Hour Model is done by counting hours where the temperature is between 32°F and 45°F. The Utah Chill Units Model measures only down to 35°F, and reduces hours for warmer temperatures. The Utah model can be a more accurate measurement in temperate areas with colder winters.
Some extension agencies track chill hours for their area, but this data often comes from a centralized weather station and may not reflect specific fields. Collecting data from in-field stations or from a local weather station and using a spreadsheet may be a better option.
3. Long Canes & Tray Plants
Interest in cultivating berries in soilless media has surged recently. Europe, renowned for its berry cultivation, primarily focuses on raspberry and blackberry long cane plants and strawberry tray plants. Nurseries nurture these plants under ideal conditions, preparing them growers to begin fruiting shortly after transplanting. Both the nursery and the fruit grower must carefully monitor and manage the plants for this production system to be profitable.
Ensure proper management of water and nutrients as well as pests and diseases.
Unlike traditional soil-based cultivation, soilless substrates have limited buffer capacity, leaving little room for error. Simple mistakes, such as overlooking watering or failing to monitor fertilizer applications, can lead to loss or failure.
Irrigation & Fertilization
To ensure optimal results, employ computerized systems for irrigation that adjust fertilizer applications based on irrigation water electrical conductivity (EC) and metering dependent on soil moisture.
The choice of media significantly affects water and nutrient movement, impacting the grower’s approach to irrigation. Coconut coir is the preferred medium for growing berry plants due to its lower water-holding capacity. It necessitates more frequent irrigation but uses less water per cycle, promoting better drainage and reducing soluble salt buildup.
In North America, obtaining high-quality long cane and tray plants can be challenging, as most plants are grown on contract for large fruit growers.
Where to Start?
Managing irrigation and nutrient needs can be challenging in soilless production. Experimenting with bare root plants of primocane raspberry and day-neutral strawberry varieties allows growers to manage risks while gaining experience with substrate-based cultivation.
4. Smarter Site Selection
In recent years, growers have faced surges in extreme weather events. As they prepare for new plantings, choosing the right location becomes pivotal in mitigating losses due to adverse weather.
Key Factors in Site Selection
When selecting a site, consider field orientation, grade, sun exposure, precipitation, wind direction, soil texture, water table, and field history. Delve into sitespecific historical weather data, including temperatures, precipitation, frost dates, and extreme event frequency.
Soil Texture and Drainage
Soil and drainage impact water and nutrient flow. In heavy soil or poor drainage areas, consider drain tile installation. Address low-lying water pooling by adjusting field grades.
Field Layout and Sun Exposure
Field layout influences crop health. Row orientation impacts light and air circulation. South- and west-facing fields warm faster than east or north.
Use weather stations and soil sensors for real-time location-specific data.
By weighing these factors, growers can reduce risk and losses, enhancing crop resilience to unpredictable weather. Thoughtful site selection paves the way for successful harvests.
5. Raised Beds on Bare Ground
Raised beds provide numerous benefits for small fruit cultivation, particularly for strawberries, and offer advantages for other small fruits as well. Here we explore essential steps for creating and maintaining productive raised beds.
Creating Raised Beds
Begin by discing and chisel plowing to prepare the field, ensuring optimal soil conditions. Firm soil is critical for uniform plant placement.
Form the beds with a crown in the middle, gently sloping to the sides for effective water drainage. The shovels making wheel marks push soil onto the newly formed bed. Discs ahead of the shaper move soil to the bed’s center, ensuring firmness. The shaper should be angled downward away from the tractor, pressing the soil to create the bed. Beds are shaped twice to ensure proper filling and firmness.
Consider soil moisture during bed shaping. Excessively wet soil becomes sticky and challenging to work with, while overly dry soil won’t maintain its shape. To address this, irrigate the field or wait for rain before bed shaping to reduce excess air space and enhance soil cohesion.
Maintaining Raised Beds
One year later, the strawberry field is due for renovation. A well-prepared raised bed should maintain its original height for many years with proper care.
After the standard renovation mowing, rototill the beds to incorporate straw and plant material. We utilize a Lilliston Rolling Cultivator with adjustable “gang” attachments to facilitate precise cultivation near plant rows on the bed top and at an angle on the bed edge. These cultivator shovels push the soil back in place to maintain bed shape.
By following these steps, you can ensure the longevity and productivity of your raised beds. Raised beds provide an efficient way to cultivate a variety of crops while maintaining soil health and consistency.