Published May 29, 2018
Despite some Freeze damage (a result of early warm up in February and then 9 Freeze events in March and 1 in April) the overall summary is good to excellent! Blackberries will begin Saturday, June 2. The picking conditions will be slow and the volume limited, but we anticipate the volume will increase rapidly
The plants are looking great! With all this rain, they are saying "ooh! aah! yes! more!" They are lush and they are growing very rapidly! All the rain during primary cell division made lots of cells and with the more recently continuing rain, the cells are growing nicely. The result being that I, Walker, think we are looking forward to big berries this year!
More details follow on various harvest problems and successes.
Blackberries- The Freeze damage was to mostly king-berries and very early blooms in Black Magic, Prime Ark 45 and Chickasaw. The Black Magic and Prime Ark 45 are still loaded! We have planted more of both these varieties at much closer spacing and changing our training system to emphasize spring floracane crop. Despite the problems of double blossom, leaf and cane rust diseases, poor site selection on my/our part and mites the 12 +year old Chickasaw variety has an excellent crop but not quite loaded. Kiowa's excellent, Von and Chester are loaded! Ouachita is suffering from viral decline after 5 years similarly what few Natchez we have left are in decline but both do have good crop.
Blueberries - They are loaded except for the north ridge Climax which had smaller than normal flower set last fall... My fault! I let blueberry leaf rust get ahead me and we did not have enough leaves during the critical 12 hour days last fall when flower set occurs. The rest of the Climax has an excellent crop despite some frost damage to the early flowers. We will be transitioning away from Climax but do not have a specific plan at this time due to lack of knowledge of performance of new varieties in our location. The new blueberry area below the drive way, mostly Ochlocknee with Powderblue and a couple of centurion as pollinators, has a good crop on these third leaf bushes...So we will get a good taste of this late season berry. The midseason variety Montgomery inter-planted in the Delight are doing well. We will continue the removal process of Delight transitioning to the more rust resistant varieties like Montgomery.
In addition to Leaf Rust - other disruptors of the blueberry system include mummy berry, cranberry and cherry fruit worm, spotted wing drosophila (SWD) and the Oberea stem borer.
Mummy Berry: By careful monitoring of temperatures and scouting we are able to get what appears to be 100% control with just 2 fungicide sprays during the bloom (before the fruit is visible on the bush). Compare this to university recommendations which were calling for 7 fungicide applications - every 7 days over the extended 7 week bloom season. Universities are developing a model to forecast inoculum presence- inoculum presence being the trigger for needing to spray- but the model has not been released yet so we are flying by the seat of our pants – but so far with good results.
Fruit worms and the Obera stem borer: We are able to control the fruit worms and the Oberea With "organic" procedures.
SWD: For the spotted wing drosophila (SWD), we need your help. The SWD (a fruit fly) is limited and killed by cold temperatures. We need you to refrigerate or freeze your berries immediately after harvest. We have done our best to control this invasive species but you can finish the job. SWD have, to date, extremely few natural enemies. One natural enemy, the hummingbird is a fruit fly specialist for whom fruit flies are a main source of protein. This is why you will see hummingbird feeders all over the farm.
The Seedless Grapes are loaded and we will get a taste of the two new varieties: Joy and Hope. They, the seedless grapes, seem to be pretty much on schedule. We had to replant 21 Jupiter, 24 Mars and 18 Venus grapes due to insect and diseases. Our long term plan is that we will eventually replace all the Venus with Joy variety, also a blue grape, by doing a gradual transition from Venus to Joy. Similarly we are transitioning the Saturn to Hope.
The reason we are having to replant, is due to infestations of the Grape Root Borer (GRB). The disease scenario goes like this. The roots of older grapes are damaged by the grape borer. We have been using male Grape Root Borer (GRB) confusion technology (a pheromone as a twist tie in every plant) for 5 years. The good news is that when we examined every plant as we dug them up we only found one GRB. The bad news is that these plants had all been infested/ damaged by GRB before the start of the confusion technology program and they did not recover. As result of the damaged root system by GRB and the resultant stress, a fungus called Botryospheria spp. colonizes the cordons and trunk presumably at pruning wounds, producing toxins which in turn result in diminutive growth, leaf puckering and the slow death of the plant. Even after the adoption of a fungicide spray to treat pruning wounds and a rigorous program of cutting out infected areas (the whole plant when necessary) the Botryospheria decline has continued.
A newly emerging problem is a disease I am calling "blackfoot" as it fits the description of a malady described in Europe. We don’t know what is causing it, but the root damage that we are calling “blackfoot” is also resulting in symptons of Botryospheria spp. caused decline. There were only 3 vines of the 63 vines examined this year, but we fear more in the future.
We believe that if grapes are to be a successful production system on our farm and in the southeast these disruptors will need to be addressed. Currently, to our knowledge, there is no research addressing these issues in grapes.
Figs - We believe that the February warm up, 245 growing degree days (GDD) to the base 50 degrees, when the ten year average has been 119 GDD, followed by a cold early March(only 71 GDD through almost the whole month) resulted in cold damage. Many young plants were damaged to the ground line but are now growing rapidly. Older trees have been much slower leafing out but now seem to be actively growing. We pruned out obviously damaged limbs. To be frank, we do not know what this means for the fig crop. Figs are born on current seasons growth so we are hoping for the best. We will update you later.
One of the disruptors of fig harvest are yellow jackets. Yellow jackets and other bees have a rough tongue which they use to lap up the sugary fluids on the surface of fig and with persistence and help from their brethren they will cause a conical hole in the fig that many think are caused by birds but the real culprit is bees. To manage yellow jackets we use "Why Traps" available at most hardware stores along with refills. I have heard, use 6 traps to the acre but have not seen any good data on this number. The traps attract bees three different ways and the traps must be tended to about every 2 weeks. If put up early enough they will catch queens and limit the number of ground nests.
Muscadines - We got them pruned in time and the field is uniform in appearance. We do a detailed pruning on each vine thinning fruiting spurs, limiting the number of buds on each spur to 12, removing dead tissue branches and any cordons that show evidence of brown discoloration of Botryospheria when examined in cross section and old fruit rachis. The detailed pruning, a half hour or more per vine, removes the sources of inoculum for disease, especially of the fruit. Muscadines by virtue of their thicker skin are resistant to spotted wing drosophila. They are much more resistant to the GRB than seedless grapes but over a longer period time can still have a problem, so we use male mating confusion in the muscadines also. All-in-all the muscadines are almost organic.
Persimmons have made significant growth and the trees are loaded with flowers. We expect them to start about September 15. Because we keep our non astringent varieties (Izu and Matsomoto Fuyu) separated to achieve seedless persimmons, the flowers and developing fruit will naturally thin themselves. This can become disconcerting to persimmon lovers when halfway through the summer the tree drops developing fruit. The dropping of fruit is normal. Persimmons are bore on current seasons growth hence are always at the end of the branch. To date, only ground hogs and squirrels have been a problem. Both eat the fruit but the ground hogs, because of their size, also break limbs as they climb to the end of branches.
Mulberries - We are making zero progress. The deer are eating the trees so they have not made any growth. Meanwhile our daughter has three wild mulberries on her place which the deer have been ignoring...resistance? The quantity of fruit is low though and won't be enough to harvest.
Strawberries - We do not do strawberries but there are local growers that do. Check out our link to local farmers for more information. A note on the strawberry harvest: All this rain has been very conducive for disease but the cool weather will favor a late set of new flowers. It takes about 30 plus days for strawberries to go from flower to fruit. Usually strawberry season ends June 10-15 but may a go a "tad" longer.
Tea- The tea plants are growing and look good. Table Rock Tea Company has a book on how to make your own tea. Just Google them. Perhaps in a year or two you can pick your own tea leaves.
Chestnuts - They are growing. We are growing Bouche de Betizac, Maravel and Szeao. All three varieties are resistant to ink disease, a root rot and chestnut blight, the reason chestnut trees are no longer found or are very rare in the USA. Three of our trees have died back to the graft union and two have been replaced. The cause is unknown. We plan to replace the other or perhaps try top working it??? Since these trees are hybrids the seedlings segregate and seed quality declines. To prevent this the nursery germinates Maravel seeds then grafts the parent, high quality seed, scion to the Maravel rootstock. Same is true of the other varieties. Perhaps someday you will be able to go chestnut picking of these sweet nuts. But for now, we are still trying to figure it out.
All in all though, we are looking forward to a great season and hope to see you on the farm! Thank you all for your support!
Published March 30, 2018
Weird Weather!? Cold Damage report
You are right! It has been very cold. It is March 25 at this writing and for the month of March we have had only 71 Growing Degree Days (GDD) to the base 50 where the 10 year average is 245 growing degree days and last year we had 290 GDD in March. The flowers have grown extremely slowly. This has been a blessing as the more immature the flower the greater it's tolerance to cold. We have had 8 nights in March so far where it has been very close to significant damage. We have had no significant crop loss in the blueberries except for the variety Climax... We have been reduced down to about 80% of a crop in this variety.
Blackberries appear to be all right... you can see just an occasional king flower bud.
Wind Machine Status
Our wind machine is still not working. When we swapped out gear boxes last year we did not realize that the new gear box was running clockwise. Our new blade requires counter clockwise. We have the right gear box now and hope to get it changed out in the next day or two.
Blueberries - done! Grapes - 1/2 done, Figs and Muscadines - zero done. It just takes time!
The Happy Berry “Doings” - aka Upcoming Events
The following is a list of events that we have coming up. We hope to see you soon!
March 31, Farm Day at Bart Garrison Agriculture Museum, at 120 History Lane, Pendleton SC from 10am until 3pm. Our booth will be listed as the Clemson Farmers Market. In addition to having willows for sale we will give free lessons on how to grow-your-own. We will also bring eggs, jams and jellies.
April 7, We will be at the Easley Spring Fling from 9am until 3pm, selling woody floral sticks and stems including willows
April 10, Easley Rotary Club at West End School beginning at noon. Walker will speak on "The History of Agriculture."
April 14, Anderson Library from 10am until 2pm. We will teaching how to grow your own willows as well as having them for sale
April 21, The Azalea Festival on Main Street in Pickens, an all day event. We will have sticks and stems for sale.
April 23, Upstate Seekers at Keowee Keys. We will make a presentation on the history of agriculture in the upstate with a peek at a possible future. Willows and woody florals will be available for participants.
April 26, The Garden Clubs of South Carolina at the Embassy Suites, 200 Stoneridge Drive, Columbia SC. An all day event.
May 1, Walker will be speaking to Newcomers Club of the Foothills.
May 3 the Clemson Farmers Market at Patrick Square will start and be every Thursday this year 3 to 6pm. Note this is a change from Fridays to Thursdays for 2018.
Also the Six Mile Farmers Market will be on Thursday evenings 3 to 6 PM. We don't know the start date yet. If Zoe is not working off the farm, she will be handling this event. Otherwise we will not be able to be there.
May 26, will start TD Farmers Market on Main St. in downtown Greenville SC, Saturdays from 8-12.
June 5, will start Mauldin Farmers Markets at the Mauldin Cultural Center, 101 Butler Road in Mauldin Tuesdays from 5-8 PM
We so appreciate each and every one of you, and all of your support!
The Happy Berry Bunch - Walker, Ann, Zoe and Betty-Ann
Published March 2, 2018
Pussy willow sale at the farm this Saturday March 3, 2018 from 11am to noon
Bouquets, plants, grow-your-own cuttings (with instructions) and handmade wreaths by Zoe will be available. Eggs and Jams will also be available.
We are still pruning and sweating out whether we will get it done in time... Blueberries 80% done, Blackberries 98%, Grapes 5%, Muscadines 0%. Any volunteers?
Chill hour report
Just like you need to sleep at night so your body can sweep/clean up all those chemicals in the brain generated by thinking during the day... Chill Hours are when plants organize all that energy stored from the previous season, prepare growth regulators, other instructive chemicals and gather nutrients for that burst of growth when temperatures warm up.
Chill hours are recorded from November 1 until end of February of each year. We use a web site called getchill.net and our own Weather Underground station [free app] ( our station number is KSCsixmil4) for our results. This year we recorded a total of 1126 chill hours, which includes hours below 32 degrees. The really good chill hours, called chill units, are when the temp is between 32 and 45. This is when the plants are able to clean out the old, organize their energy and prepare for a burst of new growth. We recorded 791 chill units this year. This is the most chill hours and chill units we have measured in several years.
Once the bushes satisfy their required chill units, they will start to respond to warming temperatures. Generally warm-up is measured in Growing Degree Days (GDD - base 50 F) and for us, we start measuring the first of February each year. You can get a free App entitled "Growing Degree Days" in the App store (it has a corn stalk on its icon) if you want to try this at home.
We are at 245 GDD for the month of February and we think we are ahead of schedule by maybe 10 to 12 days. Blueberry bushes are already budding. Flowers are from buds "well cracked" to "well defined flowers" all the way to Pistils extending beyond the Corolla (flower petal). In blackberries we are in bud break (buds are starting to swell) to mostly 1 inch bud burst. These stages of growth are susceptible to frost, so now we start to sweat the weather forecasts.
Our current forecast is calling for 34 degrees with 21 degrees dew point for early Sunday morning March 4, with light to no wind...so frost damage is likely. If nothing changes we will probably run the wind machine 3/4/18, the earliest we have ever run it in ten years!
Wind Machine Report
Last year we ran the wind machine with a cracked blade...really scary! So we invested $3750 in a new blade.
Image left: Brad from Superior Wind Machine Michigan Is 37 feet up the pole grabbing the new Plastic blade to mount on the top gear box. The blade is about 21 feet long and weighs a little over 200 pounds. Michael Marchbanks of Six Mile is operating the 60 foot boom truck.
In addition to the blade repair, each year it is a challenge to make sure the motor (314 Chrysler industrial) is running properly because if the motor dies while the blade is running it will tear up the gear box(s). Just this year, we have already had a bad starter solenoid, bad bushing, water condensate in the gas tank and replaced spark plugs. The bottom line, we think we have it running, and we anticipate we are going to need it.
Why spend the money and what does the wind machine do? Because of the inversion effect that is created by our geographic location near the east side of Lake Keowee, there is warm air above the farm when lower temperatures set in. The wind machine creates a vortex which sucks the warm air down and spreads it over the farm. The moving air keeps the flowers from super cooling and keeps them at the ambient temperature of the moving air. The difference of 1 to 4 degrees can mean the difference of a crop or no crop.
Right now, barring a catastrophic event like a frost, (or damage from the marauders- see below) things are looking good for this year’s harvest.
Threat very high for mummy berry and Exobasidium leaf and fruit spot Over the last several weeks, we have had several 24, 48 and 72 hour periods of continuous wetness with temperatures in the sixties and even low seventies. This kind of weather creates ideal conditions for these two diseases to infect blueberries. We use lime sulfur to control both. Stinky stuff but it is considered organic. It does a great job on the Exobasidium which resides on the stems of the plant to spread to developing berries and leaves and is a onetime spray. It also kills mummy berry spores on the buds and also burns back the source of the spores on the ground if we get the timing right. We tried. If we prevent primary infections then we do not need to spray for secondary infections. The problem is it is readily washed off by rain.
That is it for now!
The old timers say that if you can get past Easter without frost damage you are probably good. Let's hope we make it. Easter is early this year.
Thank so much for your support!
Walker for "The Happy Berry Bunch"