Blackberries Begin June 1
We will open for blackberry picking on June 1, and then be open every other day for picking:
Beginning Saturday June 10, we will be open every day. Blackberries should be going strong by then, with pre-picked berries regularly available.
If you are making a special trip for pre-picked blackberries, it will be important to call first to make sure pre-picked will be available.
Blueberries - Forecast June 10-15 ish to start.
There may be a few u-pick blueberries starting June 10 but not a lot (due the March freeze). We are thinking the volume in blueberries will pick up around June 16-17. We will not have pre-picked blueberries until at least mid-June maybe later.
Regular Hours being June 10
If you cannot come to the farm - find us at the markets.
We won’t have a lot of harvest at the markets the first few weeks, but should increase as season progresses.
Crop Out Look
Early March there were 6 nights that the temperatures went down into the upper twenties. The first night we ran the wind machine and suffered little to no damage but the Manifold cracked and leaked exhaust, burning up the spark plug wires. Despite our best efforts to weld the manifold the second night it only ran for hour and we had to shut down for the same reason. We were unable to locate another manifold so we did suffer some losses.
We lost some king flowers but otherwise they are looking pretty good. Harvest is starting June 1. We are impressed with Caddo. Because of the large number of viruses blackberries must be replanted very 5-10 years and we are transitioning to more thornless varieties or varieties with less thorns. We also had a fertilization error in the summer 2022 that killed a bunch of the new plants or slowed them up significantly. So our total volume for the season will be down but there are still lots for you-pick. Stay tuned to our website home page for updates between newsletters.
The early varieties Climax and Premier were the most severely impacted. Tifblue will have a reduced crop but it appears fair. Other varieties which bloomed later have a full crop. There will be some early berries but it will be probably June 15 or 18 before the volume starts to pick up.
Seedless Table Grapes -
We are having severe problems with Botryosphaeria, a fungus which kills the cordons ("arms" of the grapevine that extend from the trunk and run along the trellis). Botryosphaeria is associated with 1-Pierces Disease (PD), 2- grape root borer and 3-drought. We address all three by 1-controlling the vector of PD, 2-mating disruption for the borer and 3-irrigation. Despite our efforts, when we got done pruning we found that we lost more plants than anticipated. They are reasonably late bloomers so frost has not been an issue. We are forecasting the grape harvest to start about July 15, 2023.
Seedless Muscadines –
We are impressed with the Seedless Muscadines!
They have a great taste with a very good balance of sweet and tart. They are full of flavor and I (Walker) am betting they will come out very high on the nutriceutical list - especially the blue/black ones - with lots of antioxidants that remove free radicals that damage our DNA.
The Razzmatazz are getting better and bigger as the plants age but are still small. The Oh MY are now in their third leaf and have full cordons so they should set a decent volume. They are very vigorous and in a good spot need little to no fertilizer. The “Oh Gosh” are blue but not quite as vigorous. But like its sibling, has a great taste and so far little problems. The “Oh Goodness”, is a black seedless muscadine, which will be slightly larger than its siblings. When picked, they will have a small pedicle(stem) that rolls off with your thumb… but leave it on. The shelf life of these berries is really long if the pedicle is left on. Months! The Oh Goodness plants are only in their second leaf this year, so probably will not fruit enough to harvest this summer.
So far these seedless muscadines appear to be mostly resistant to disease and insects, except maybe Japanese beetle, for which we have been promoting a native parasitic wasp. We don’t know yet if the seedless muscadines are susceptible to the root borer. As a preventative measure, we are using pheromones and mating confusion to disrupt the grape root borer just as we do for the table grapes. We hope that, like their Muscadine parents, the seedless muscadines will be resistant/tolerant. (Resistant/tolerant means it takes 10 to 15 years as opposed to 1 year for the plant to succumb to the root borer.)
Our longterm plan is to transition largely to these seedless muscadines. It will take a few years, but worth the effort. We love that we can grow them almost organically and we are not spray anything on the actual berries.
Figs are still just breaking buds. Unfortunately, they were heavily damaged by the March freezes. We also had to prune them pretty heavily to get the height down. To be honest we don’t know what to expect. We will be removing dead branches and will update you as get closer to the Fig season.
We lost a tree or two to ambrosia beetle, and the Persimmons also got zapped pretty hard by the combination of March freeze and pruning shock. But… They bear their flowers on the current season's growth. The secondary bud as we understand it will not typically have fruit but…we are seeing primary buds break and start growing… That have flowers. We think buds that normally would not grow are growing now and that these buds would have remained dormant if the first had grown off normally. Since we are the first to grow persimmons in this area we have nobody to compare notes with.
Bottom line is: it is looking like we will have a good crop of Persimmons.
New Crops -
Some new crops we have put in the ground, in small areas to test to see if they will do well here, are: Pomegranates (one of the Varieties is doing well in protected areas in Pennsylvania); Mulberries, a dwarf variety; Jujubes (a small red oval fruit with a single seed inside which is eaten fresh Like an apple or can be dried); and Hardy Kiwi (a variety known as Kens Red). We have extra plants of Kens Red that we can sell to you if if you would like to try to grown your own. Our tea plants are doing well.
Conserving the Farm –
We have been successful in conserving the farm!
Conserving the farm means that we have sold the development rights to the farm through “Upstate Forever.” Upstate Forever is a conservancy and the job of the conservancy is to enforce/make sure the current and any future owner of the farm does not sell to or try to make it into, a housing development, hotel, apartments or something else other than a farm. The lands of The Happy Berry will be a farm forever. What the farm produces could change overtime, for example it could be changed from fruit to trees for wood products, or grains (hopefully Perennial). The funds received for the sale of the development rights will come from the state Conservation Bank along with Upstate Land Conservation Fund and a “319” grant.
Where do those funds come from? The SC government and the Department of Agriculture has the objective of conserving 30% of the state lands by 2030. Specifically, they want a portion of that to be farm land. We (citizens of SC), the State, are setting aside funds to make these Conservation purchases, such as the one we have worked out, but it is currently a year to year decision by the legislators. Specific legislature is still being worked out and is still pending. There is discussion to reinstate deed stamps as a source for a portion of this funding.
Why is the state and others doing this? Why are we doing this?
Because it is very difficult to make money farming, most farmers end up selling their land to provide a pot of money to provide for their retirement. And the best price is almost always for development so - decreasing farmland. Furthermore, only 3% of the Earth’s land ecosystems are ecologically intact; and about 75% of the land surface has been ravaged by human activity. Our state (our world) is being paved over and, as result, carbon fixation via photosynthesis is steadily decreasing. The SC government, the Deparment of Agriculture, and we at The Happy Berry, would like to reverse these trends. One of the ways to do that, is to conserve farmland.
Reducing the Cabon Footprint
Part 1- By selling the development rights, we are ensuring that the lands of The Happy Berry will stay in farm production, continuing to provide valuable photosynthesis processes.
Part 2 - Loss of photosynthesis is reduced when farmers practice, no-till agriculture, restoration agriculture or regenerative agriculture. In the latter, instead of a single crop in the field there are multiple layers of crops in the field. We at The Happy Berry are moving our farming processes to incorporate these ideas, what some are calling Climate Smart Agriculture. For example, when we added pine trees interpersed throughout the fields, one of the many benefits is that the trees are then capturing carbon from up to 100 feet from the land surface. In our Seedless Table Grapes fields we have planted clover underneath the trellis, which captures nitrogen when feeds the plants, also reducing our need for fertilizers, and cuts back weeding under the trellis.
Part 3 - a Biochar Kiln
Our plan is to use part of the money from the sale of the development rights and invest it in an on-farm batch kiln to make charcoal (char) from our waste stream. The char is converted to biochar. You can think of bio-char as huge apartment complex with trillions of microorganisms housed in the empty spaces between the stacks of 6 carbon molecules including bacteria and fungi. The fungi and bacteria play a role in moving nutrients (calcium, phosphorus etc.) from deep in the soil profile to the exchange complex in the char. From there plant roots and different bacteria and fungi move water and nutrients into the plants. Hence, a very fertile soil is created at the same time we are sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
Why are we doing this? In fact, we believe that agriculture can be a major contribution to the solution of the climate change problem by putting carbon back into the land. We have been doing this on our farm over our 40 some years- moving our stored carbon from a 1/2% or so in 1979 to where we are now pushing 10% carbon capture. Biochar is very recalcitrant (meaning it persists in soil) and depending upon what temperature it was formed in can persist for up to thousands of years. It increases cation exchange, anion exchange, water holding capacity, and water infiltration rate. In short, increases soil fertility. And thus increases our production while we are sequestering carbon for our kids and grandkids to help them in their fight to stabilize the planet for their kids and grandkids.
2022 Farm year in review…
The profit and loss statement is in. We lost money big time last year. So if we squeak a little bit about money it is because we are “tightening our belt” - including working without getting paid and paying for things out of off-farm income until the seaon kicks in.
What went wrong? In a nutshell - labor costs were up, equipment is old and having to be repaired, and or replaced, and while we raised prices last year, it was not enough to cover the increased outflow.
To put it more specifically, the first thing that pops out as you look at the profit and lost statement is labor. Despite, or with the pandemic, we went up about 15 to 25% in what we pay in order to attract, and keep, contract labor (what we pay pickers), summer help, and our relatively permanent help.
The second thing is equipment. Our tractor is old and gave out last summer. This problem is complicated as we designed The Happy Berry plantings for small narrow equipment. Our rows are 10 and 12 foot wide. This requires a 4-foot-wide tractor but needs to have approximately 32 to 35 horse power to run our equipment properly. Bigger horse power is available in narrow size that wastes energy. So we/I decided to invest, so far, about $5000 in getting it operable. Still no tractor at this point. The standing joke around is where is the tractor? I am hoping that along with paying of family debit that we can invest in a new or newer tractor. We are open to the possibility of an Electric tractor. Golf carts are also part of this equipment issue. Right now they are working good but several thousand dollars went into them.
Not only does it cost to fix, maintain, and replace the equipment, the failing of the equipment can impact the harvest. When our wind machine failed this spring, as a result, our volume of blackberries, blueberries and figs all took a hit. Reduced volume equals less income.
Third, although we went up price last year, it clearly was not enough. You would be surprised, I think, how vigorous the discussions on price in family have been. We pride ourselves in providing affordable, healthy wholesome food for our community, but it is tough to compete with the big box stores in price. While none of us want to raise prices, it is clear from last year's loss that we have to raise prices to cover our costs and keep the farm going.
So prices will go up this year. The good news is that in the you-pick prices; the changes will be minor. In the pre-picked, however, we will have to go up. We have not yet agreed on the full price chart, but for now, with blackberries starting this week, we are setting the pre-picked price for blackberries to what comes out to about $6 per pint and $11 per quart ($12 per quart at the market).
We are depending on our reputation for quality, for fresh, ripe and flavorful fruit, and for our environmentally soft production methods being the draw for you. We hope that you will see the same way we do, that the value our product brings to our local community is worth the extra you would pay here than at a box store, and that you will continue to choose our local, fresh, SC grown fruit!
Thank you for your support. We would not be here without you!
Walker Miller and The Happy Berry Bunch